Peaceful Balance

Garbage day shouldn’t be that difficult to remember. Only a handful of times have I missed it. You don’t soon forget it, though, when you do because it becomes a full-time job figuring out how to deal with the excess.

It’s one of those moments when you are minding your own business in a deep sleep that you desperately need after a night of insomnia, and you hear the faint sound of beeping. It floats into your mind, and it tries to make sense of it, turning it into a weird dream where you are disarming a bomb. You have to decide what color wire you should cut to save the world.

Just as you are about to snip the black one because it makes the most sense, you come into consciousness just a bit more as you hear your neighbor’s trash going into the truck.

In a half-sleep state, you start to consider time. Isn’t it Wednesday? No. That was two days ago when you had to take the dog to the vet. It must be Thursday. Maybe not. It doesn’t feel like a Thursday. It seems more like a Tuesday, but you know it isn’t because you had a Zoom meeting you attended where you had to turn off your camera because you were zoning out from lack of sleep. It has to be Thursday, then. But something says it isn’t.

That something is the garbage truck that drives past your house at ninety miles an hour because they don’t need to stop at the next place by yours because they use a different company. It is long gone into the next county by the time you are near the front window.

The last time this happened, it was a short day due to a holiday. They usually will send a driver back later, but they didn’t want to keep anyone from their family this time. I agreed but knew I would have to get creative. A week of garbage plus a week more was going to be trouble.

But when you set your mind on succeeding, you do. By the time the following week came, I had skillfully stacked as much as I could short of needing a ladder to get the final bag on top. It was artistic and practical. There was no way I was missing it again.

Our service was delayed a day, but my structure stood firm even though we had heavy gusts of wind come through. I had proven the saying that necessity is the mother of invention. You learn what your dormant natural abilities are. This is the crucial stuff they will never teach you in school.

If there were an award for cramming as much as possible into a garbage bag, my house would win it, hands down. The metal container I have is not all that big, so often, I will place the bag outside of it and continue to fill it.

The idea is to not waste room toward the top. I am often amazed at the ability of all of us who strategically place more into it just to avoid a trip to take it out. You would think it was a five-mile walk to the garbage cart, but it’s steps from the front door.

The plastic drawstring, used by normal people, is generally cinched together to close it off. Not ours. Those are there to strap down the contents that have been piled over the capacity of what it can hold. They become the glue that holds it all together.

I always have the right intention when I think I could fit just a little more in. And then it becomes a competition to see just how far we can go. If there’s the tiniest space on a side, for sure, someone will find it and force another thing in.

You tell yourself just one more item tossed in there won’t hurt, so you jam in one more paper towel and walk away, not considering that moments later, someone else is going to repeat what you just did.

When it finally looks like the Pillsbury Doughboy with arms, legs, and the beginning of a head, you make the difficult decision to stop the madness. They have outlasted you, and you know it. You now wish you would have trekked it out the day before when there wasn’t a blizzard happening outside with sideways winds.

Now it’s a six-mile walk from the kitchen with a 500-pound bag that is bigger than yourself, so you use both hands to drag it to the door.

We cause ourselves a lot of problems. I could just end this with that sentence and let us all go into a deep depression. Have a nice day.

It’s the truth, though. We take something like trash or dishes and leave them to accumulate; then, it takes more effort and adds time to deal with a task that would have felt like nothing had it been attended to in increments. We let it build up, and now it’s a monster.

Maybe instead of a stockpile of old newspapers, it’s unresolved irritation over something that started so trivial and now has mushroomed into full-blown unforgiveness. It has grown in stages to bitterness.

As you recall the event or moments of the past, the details get uglier, and more gets added to the storyline, making it into a heap that is difficult to see past.

That’s where God comes in. With divine help, you can get over it and move on instead of letting it create a larger mess, like stuffing a bag of garbage to death.

Hebrews 12:17 says,

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. (Message)

I have let God work with me while also keeping myself away from the source of my contention. Sometimes it’s only possible to have no emotional reaction about another person by not being in their presence. You can think neutral thoughts from afar. That’s okay, and there should be no beating oneself up over that.

I used to think that my forgiveness of someone hinged on whether or not I could be in the same room with them. If I can think of them and I have no thoughts either way, good or bad, that indicates to me that they have lost control over who I am.

Pushing your feelings down isn’t a bright idea either. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. In Ephesians 4, there is some guidance on how to handle your emotions.

What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself.

Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. (Message)

Nowhere does it say to hide your feelings, but you are given parameters on how to conduct yourself. You are not to be a doormat nor a raving lunatic that cannot see anything but red twenty-four hours a day. Why? Because you stay stuck, unmoving spiritually, and cutting yourself off from seeing beyond this realm. You start only to see what’s wrong with the world instead of what’s right.

And that final banana peel that someone carelessly tosses on top of your already packed and ready-to-burst emotional trash bag has you saying and doing things that stunt your growth. Not theirs. Yours.

To put it in scientific terms, to remove the mystery, your choice of how you react and what state of mind you live in most will determine your frequency, like a radio wave. Negative responses keep you in shallow conditions. Heaven is high.

Your spiritual insight and advancement depend on how long you allow yourself to operate in lower states of mind, such as fear, anger, or depression. This doesn’t mean God doesn’t love you. You are limiting and blocking your potential.

If anything, try as much as you can not to do this:

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. (Ephesians 4/Message)

Believe it or not, when you live in a place where you are not happy, either is God. There is the temptation to believe that you are being punished, causing a victim mentality. If you think that you are supported by a power greater than yourself, you will be.

Gradually, what burned you before, won’t be there, and more won’t be added on. You won’t have to try and find a place to put more of your unhelpful perceptions, causing the problem to linger. It will dissolve itself, and you will be given a peaceful balance.

(That’s not even full yet…)

Simple

In the winter, the sun can be deceiving. Some days when the thermometer is at its lowest, way past zero, everything will be bathed in brilliant light. You can look out the window, and it will appear as if it’s warm.

I was in the bank, and one of the tellers looked longingly out the window. Like she was missing a day at the beach.

“Oh, look,” she said. “The sun is so pretty. It looks nice out there. Is it?”

Both of my hands had the beginning of frostbite just from the short walk from the car. I was astonished at her question because this lady has worked there for a really long time. If she had just flown in from Tahiti, this inquiry would not have been surprising. It’s just a well known fact that the most bitter of weather is accompanied by sunlight here.

“I want you to imagine crawling into your refrigerator, and the tiny light bulb is the sun. It’s like that outside.”

“So, it’s cold then?”

“You aren’t missing out on anything,” I said, trying to have enough feeling in my fingers to sign my name.

If you have to drive somewhere, it’s necessary to have sunglasses unless you don’t value your retinas.

The challenge on days such as this is how to get your windshield clean. Subzero weather causes the fluid to freeze instantly. So at times, you just have to wing it until you can deal with it later. In fact, your entire car can look like you went off-roading because of the salt and the sand that is put down.

You are in good company in traffic, though. Every vehicle looks the same, its original color muted and encrusted with a white ash, chalky like coating.

You really do not want to brush up against that. If so, your clothes look like you just came out of a fireplace. That white jacket that you just had to have will be in the wash every other day with a heavy dose of a whitening agent. The minute you dare step outside with it on, all the dirt in the world jumps on you.

One time, I couldn’t figure out why my steering wheel seemed to have a mind of its own. It wanted to keep veering me off to the right for some reason. I fought with it until I pulled into a parking lot.

My wheel wells were full of thick, heavy snow that was stopping my tires from working correctly. I had to kick it all off. From experience, if you let that sit long enough so it freezes and you go to use your foot to remove it, it’s like stubbing all your toes against a brick wall. You learn as you go.

So you would think there would be nothing new until there is.

I got into my car on a frigid morning, after an overnight temperature of thirty below. We have lived through a polar vortex, so while that might seem unreal to some, we don’t bat an eyelash. You can’t. They are frozen solid.

I pulled out into the street and put on my sunglasses because squinting leads to deeper crease lines and wrinkles which is the gateway to more purchases of anti-aging lotion.

While I was sitting at the light, I heard a weird cracking sound underneath my left eye. That’s when the entire lens fell into my lap. The cold air and the heat blowing at full blast onto my face had created a situation that had caused the plastic to split apart. Similar to putting an ice-cold object into a hot oven. The two extremes don’t mix well.

I examined them and saw the small but fatal crack. It didn’t seem fair to let one of my eyes be shielded while the other would take the brunt of it all. That’s what happens when you raise two kids. You apply it to all aspects of your life forever.

I had to forgo the shades, and I struggled to see the road, but I didn’t have that far to go.

The next few days were cloudy, so I forgot about not seeing until, on a Sunday afternoon, I found myself driving directly into a highly blinding sunset. With my windshield filthy, it was nearly impossible to detect where I was going. I tried to clear it, but it froze, which I then had to defrost. This caused a fog that didn’t help either.

To add to the challenge, I was going somewhere new and not close to home. I was listening to the directions being read to me.

I had this verse pop into my mind:

You walk by faith, not by sight.

No kidding. What about driving?

I made it to my destination, where I stayed until after dark with no glaring orange orb to fight with on the way back.

My sunglasses are an item so mundane, but they play a significant role in my ability to function. I don’t think many of us realize how important something is until it’s no longer available. We take it for granted. It’s always going to be at our fingertips until it falls apart, sometimes right before our eyes. Or on our face.

It gets me to think about what else I don’t give enough credit to. Hand soap, for example. Hand sanitizer. What if that was unavailable or paper products or over-the-counter medicines? What if toilet paper suddenly disappeared from every store shelf because people started hoarding it for no good reason?

Crazy, to think of, I know. Like that’s going to happen.

I can replace what has been damaged, so that’s a good thing. Other times, you just have to learn to go without.

Driving with my vision obstructed was not easy, and I found myself instantly asking God to guide me. Cars were zipping all around even while I was going the speed limit. So while it was slightly scary, I felt that familiar sense of protection encompassing my car.

There was no need to panic but to trust that everything would be okay. God has promised us a helper who is always available to send assistance no matter what occurs. It can be applied to any circumstance. In John 16:13, it says,

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 and, indeed, out of all that I have done and said. (Message)

There isn’t anything that is beyond heaven’s help if we allow it. If you ask, even if it’s the most complicated request ever, there will be a response that will be given.

A highly respected spiritual leader said that her one and only prayer in the morning is this:

“Help!”

The rest of her time with God is gratitude. She doesn’t go through a long list of requests but feels that this is all that is needed for heaven to send what is required.

She has embraced Psalm 139:4 that says,

God, investigate my life; get all the facts firsthand. I’m an open book to you; even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking. You know when I leave and when I get back; I’m never out of your sight. You know everything I’m going to say before I start the first sentence.
I look behind me, and you’re there, then up ahead, and you’re there, too, your reassuring presence, coming and going. This is too much, too wonderful—I can’t take it all in! (Message)

Sometimes you find exactly what you need when you pay attention to and apply what is simple.

King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It is considered theft.”

Hypocrisy at its highest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She immediately vaporized in the hall.

“How did it go?”

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

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

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

Her life stressors didn’t excuse her brutality.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further in verses 25-29,

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

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

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

Thirst

We all have that one cupboard or drawer, or maybe several of them that we approach with caution. It might even be a closet that holds more than its capacity. You know you have put way too much into it, and you only have yourself to blame when you are subjected to the avalanche that ensues.

The accumulation of plastic containers and lids is one of them. This is where I go and search for two matching pieces and never can find them. They have gotten a divorce and parted ways somehow, even though I paired them only days ago after washing them. I end up looking at every single piece and usually have to put two mismatched ones together just to have a place to put leftovers.

When I move one, there is always another one stuck to that, and when I attempt to shove that one out of the way, two more join forces and try to fall to the floor.

Usually, I am standing on the counter, trying to block the whole shelf of them from getting by me. If one goes, they all will, so it takes a careful hand when shuffling them around. If not, it’s like watching a waterfall, and you just let it happen because it’s a no-win situation. I end up cramming a rectangle lid onto a square shape and call it a day.

Worse than that is the space that houses all of my spices. I have learned not to yank open the door by trial and error because I never know what will come flying out at me. It’s not fun to be knocked between the eyes with an enormous container of seasoned salt. It hurts.

The best way to approach it is to move slowly, and if I see one starting to tumble down, I can use the door as a defense shield to control the onslaught. It gives me a chance to catch them one at a time.

The trouble started long ago when I would go to the store and never recall having a specific one at home. If I needed it and didn’t know if I had it, instead of chancing it, I would buy another one.

That is why I own 10,000 bottles of garlic powder now. If vampires attack, they won’t know what hit them.

“Where is the oregano?” I ask when I am exhausted from wading through all the choices. My daughter has this insight to find what I need, no matter what a mess it is.

“It is on the second shelf toward the back,” she will say from the other room. And sure enough, when I look in the location she speaks of, I find it. Spiritual gifts come in many forms. The Bible says to cast your cares on God, so it counts.

Then comes the process of trying to stack them all on one another so I can walk away peacefully. Because some of them are bigger than others, it’s a puzzle, and if one of them falls, it’s a domino effect that sets me back a while. That box of toothpicks you decided to throw in there for fun, also is not your friend as it empties itself like an offering.

Before I have to make something, and if I remember, I will put the ones aside that I need so I don’t have to go through the hunt. That usually works out well unless someone comes along looking for what they need and rearranges everything. My cinnamon is now long gone into the abyss, replaced by paprika. You don’t dare just grab and go without reading the label, or a disaster awaits. You can easily measure out pepper, thinking you are working with poppyseeds. It’s not a good exchange.

Not long ago, we decided to go through the entire cupboard and toss the ones that had expired. It was so out of control. I thought for sure we had conquered it, but then in less than a month, it was jam-packed.

Have you ever heard of the phrase: Nature abhors a vacuum? This was something that Aristotle observed and said to mean that if there is a space, it will soon be filled, as this is how the laws of nature operate. This theory is clearly at work.

God expanded on this. Instead of seeing it as too much, I started to see it as abundance. While I really could stop this horrible habit of overstocking, it also shows me that we do not live in lack.

I grew up with the mindset of not having enough. This was a prevalent idea based on the statement that ‘money was the root of all evil.’ But, here is what that scripture says,

“For the love of money is the first step toward all kinds of sin. Some people have even turned away from God because of their love for it, and as a result have pierced themselves with many sorrows.” (1 Timothy 6:10 TLB)

It was assumed that if a person had money, they would lose their faith and relationship with God. When that is implanted in your belief system at a young age, you believe that you have to carefully keep yourself from slipping over the edge where material possessions become more important than God.

There was no balance to it, so there is this hidden operating system going on within a person’s subconscious mind where finances must be repelled or mishandled. Maybe you get yourself in and out of debt repeatedly. Or, if extra comes your way, you have to try and get rid of it as soon as possible by spending it. Another possibility is the notion that you deserve nothing, so you live with a poverty outlook.

You aren’t managing money, it is running you.

Several years ago, I started waking up to the fact that I was instructed totally wrong on this subject. God began to have me take notice of nature and all the things around me that had been created. Nothing is lacking or in short supply.

Every tree on my street had too many leaves to count. The same went for all the blades of grass on the lawns. In the winter, the snow piling up reminded me that we were not living without plenty as I tried to move it out of the way so I could get my car out of the driveway. When a couple of flakes got together, it would create an impassable mountain in no time.

In the spring, the weeds and dandelions were a representation of excess. When I walked along a beach, the grains of sand and the vast ocean spoke to the surplus of what surrounds us all the time.

There is no good reason to believe that we will go without when God is in charge. We don’t need to exist in scarcity. If we do, don’t blame the Creator because there is proof that this is a lie.

What stops it, then? Why does there seem to be not enough? Because we have fallen for the falsehood that there isn’t an overflow. Somewhere along the way, we were convinced that we had to scrounge to get what we wanted. It all goes back to what you think.

I saw a movie recently where a man went into the family business even though he had been reluctant to. He became a cold-hearted, ruthless person. We are made to assume that the increase did this to him, so the intention is to send a message to audiences that this can happen to anyone at any time.

When Jesus healed some men that were blind, He said:

“Become what you believe.” It happened. They saw. (Matthew 9:29/Message)

If you transform into what you believe, then you live it. If you think money will make you greedy, and you are a good person, you will block God from bringing in all that He wants to. If you already have miserly ways in your heart, that will be the outcome. It’s not the provision that creates it.

In Psalm 84:11, there is comfort given for those of us who think we are going to become changed by what the world has to offer,

The Lord God is our protector and glorious king. He blesses us with kindness and honor. The Lord freely gives every good thing to those who do what is right. (ERV)

From this, you will become an excellent example to those around you. Many just like you think they cannot have it better because they have absorbed it into their minds. When you know that God is your source, and you are excelling, people will want to know how you stay so calm when there are tidings of bad news daily. The stock market might crash, and then it might not. The gas prices might go up, and what if food becomes so outrageously expensive that you starve? Come to my house. I have some garlic powder I can share if things get tough.

How do you possibly have this reassurance that everything will go your way? Because you trust God. And when you do, you can help others rely on this as well. They can cast aside their anxiety and fears, and soon, others are following the same path.

Have you ever gone to put a sprinkle of seasoning on something, and you aren’t sure how much came out, but you decide to live dangerously and taste it anyway? And you need to hang your head under the faucet running full blast because it’s burning your tongue off? Neither have I.

“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth.”(Matthew 5:13-14/Message)

If we get ourselves in order and are willing to rethink what we thought we knew, others will ultimately be led to wholeness. You will make them want to pursue the steady peace that you possess in the chaos, and it will bring on an unstoppable thirst.

(I forgot all about the candles..)

Best For Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whatever that was.

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

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

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

Being a negotiator, she said,

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

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

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

When she would say,

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

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

I had other things I wanted to do instead.

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

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

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

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

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

Boots.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I lost my voice.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t care! Where are they?”

They were in my locker, not available until Monday.

“At school.”

This took it up another notch.

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

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

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

She followed me.

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

Not the full name. I faced her again.

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

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

“No! I won’t! I hate them!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Get to your room.”

She walked away.

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

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

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

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

This was the best news I had heard so far.

“Won’t you be mad at me if I don’t?”

This seemed too easy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome Everyone In

I ended up in the second row of seats. It wasn’t the plan as I rode along with my dad and sister. She was at the permit stage of obtaining her license.

Because there were eight of us, my parents owned a station wagon. This was before any of us buckled a seatbelt. They hung unused as we flew at high speeds down highways, never thinking.

I would often play in the car because it was somewhere I could be by myself, out of the chaotic house of all the uproar. The far back was my favorite. It was designed with benches facing each other in a circle, much different than the middle and front.

When it was parked in the garage, I would bring in toys and entertain myself away from the tension of parents and four teens. I was so much younger than the rest of them that I had to separate myself from the noise I didn’t understand.

My brothers were often assigned to sit there when we went somewhere, so I did when I got the chance to have it to myself.

My dad had handed me a pack of MMs just before we got in to go on this drive from hell.

If he had to pick something up on the way home, he would get me some and slide them into his pocket. When he walked in the door, he would put me on top of the refrigerator and ask me if I had been good. It was like a truth serum because it was high up, and I was at his mercy to get me down. I always said I was, so he would secretly hand me the packet so my mom didn’t see.

When I found out he was going out on a drive with her, I begged to go and sat way in the back.

I wasn’t aware of the fact that in her driver’s education classes, she had been exposed to so many scenes of accidents and life-threatening situations, which caused her to be extra jumpy with the brake.

And like I found out later when it was my turn to practice with him, he wasn’t exactly the voice of calm. He could make the most seasoned driver nervous before starting the car.

We had barely left home when it happened. There was a truck turning at a distance. I heard my dad tell her to go, but she stopped abruptly, sending me forward. I smacked into the back of the front seat with a thud. I landed, and I didn’t know how I had been displaced so fast.

This was way before all the commercials showing the crash dummies and the consequences of not being strapped in.

I recall sitting on the floor, dazed, much similar to when a bird flies into a window. You are there, but you aren’t.

His raised voice brought me back around.

“That truck was two blocks away! When I say go, go!”

Both of them were so focused on the road that a few moments went by.

When it got quiet, he suddenly realized he had another child in the car, and I was no longer where I had been. He looked down and said,

“Chris, you can’t sit there! Get up on the seat.” As if that was safer.

Not, “Hey, are you okay?” That speaks volumes to what our life was like then, where every man had to look out for themselves. There wasn’t time for me to be flying forward out of control in a car. It wasn’t convenient.

He said it like I had chosen this for fun. When the realization hit me that my candy had also been a victim, that is when I got upset. Not that I could have gone through the windshield headfirst, but that I was holding an empty bag in my hand. I had no idea the danger I had been in.

That wasn’t the only time I was a passenger and subjected to a scary ride. A part of my social service job was to visit potential residents in their homes, other care facilities, or hospitals. I had a waiting list a million miles long. Legislation had been passed that no more nursing homes could be built in our state. Many needed long-term care, so we were never short of possible cases.

This was before the luxury of speaking into a device that would direct you to your destination. It entailed getting on the phone and having someone give you directions that you had to write down.

“So take a left by the restaurant that is operated by my friend’s brother’s sister’s cousin. Then, take a right by the gravel road, come to a stop sign, and then go about two inches before you run right into a gas station that got robbed last week and take an immediate left. Continue straight until you see a white picket fence that needs a fresh coat, and then there will be this huge sign that you cannot miss. The entryway will be right there. But, you can’t park there, so you will have to drive around to the back, and there is this small section where visitors can park, or you will be towed. Does that make sense?”

Sure, it does. And you drove with a piece of paper in your hand with things scribbled on it that made sense when you wrote them, but now they are not readable.

It was madness, and if I was unfamiliar with an area, I could easily get lost. I struggle with getting left and right correct at times. Throw in a snowstorm, then that was a whole other variable to contend with.

I had to work closely with nursing. While I assessed the person’s personality, they determined how much care we would provide. Depending on where the opening was, we had to match the resident to the proper location in the building.

“I am ready to go,” she said, entering my office.

“Okay,” I said, not knowing much about her. She was a new hire, much older than I was, but she seemed very knowledgeable about her profession. This was her first time going on a visit like this, and her supervisor knew I had gone on many of them and would be able to help her.

“I will drive,” she said.

“Do you have directions?” I asked.

“Yes. I wrote them down. You can help me get there.”

I didn’t notice her edginess at first, but then I did detect her breathing seemed a bit more rapid. I kept my eyes on the road as we had started to get into more heavy traffic. While we had been discussing the details of the family we were about to see, she had seemed relaxed, but as we went, she suddenly got quieter.

That is when she started applying the brake too much. There wasn’t any reason to do what she was doing, so I said,

“Are you having trouble driving?”

Cars were going around her, and I could see that people were getting annoyed with her sudden stops.

“I have a trigger leg,” she said with a choke.

I have this weird thing where I see pictures when people say certain words in my mind. I pictured the horse Trigger.

“What?” I asked. “I don’t understand.”

“When I drive, and I get scared, I can’t control my leg.”

I looked down.

“Which one are we talking about?” I asked. I was hoping to God it was not the one she used to drive.

“The one I drive with.” I saw her hands gripped tighter on the wheel, and her forehead looked sweaty.

“I think we are okay. There isn’t anything to be afraid of right now.”

I said this as if I believed it. I was not frightened by the other cars around her, but more so by her behavior.

“Why didn’t you tell me this? I could have done the driving,” I said, feeling trapped in. I controlled my voice so she didn’t know how terrified I was.

“It embarrasses me to tell people,” she said awkwardly.

It got more pronounced with my neck being jolted forward and back, and I was starting to feel sick. I would have to be admitted to the hospital for whiplash by the time we arrived.

I had that familiar feeling of something else taking over and speaking through me to her. The more I told her she was safe, she seemed to stop doing what she said was so uncontrollable. A peace seemed to take over the car, and she quit repeatedly pushing on the brake.

When she parked the car, she told me that she had never been able to get it under control like that before. After our appointment, she asked me if I wanted to drive.

“No,” I said, not believing I was going to let her take me on another ride. “I think you will do just fine.”

It was now rush hour, and she had no problem getting us back without one hiccup or trigger or anything.

In both cases, I was unknowingly in places with the potential for bad outcomes, but it seems like I had been given some heavenly help to protect from injury or death. I was not where I am spiritually now. I was not even giving God the time of day during those periods of my life. But, I was extended what is described in Psalm 34:7,

The messenger of the Eternal God surrounds everyone who walks with Him and is always there to protect us and rescue us. (VOICE)

That says to me that God looks beyond our faults or ignorance and is not a fire and brimstone deity that has been professed by those who don’t know the truth.

The other day, I saw a man standing by the gates of heaven as he waited for someone to cross over. A lady was in hospice and expected to pass soon. She did that night.

I saw him waiting with a big bouquet of flowers that took both hands to hold. I told her daughter this as she was afraid of the process and felt as if her mom would be alone. There was uncertainty about the afterlife and what to expect. Would she be accepted into heaven?

The flowers represented how much he loved this one about to transition. I saw some specific details of this man who resembled a relative that had passed on. When I don’t personally know the family, I feel like I am shooting in the dark, but it was suspected he was a person the dying woman had been very close to by the way I described him. I was able to comfort the daughter, who was feeling uncertain. That is how God works. Even at the point of leaving this world, we are cared for.

Every time I have seen heaven, the gates are never closed. He doesn’t want to shut us out but longs to welcome everyone in.

Illusion

“Do you see the penny?”

“Yes,” I said.

I knew what was coming next because my brothers had shown me this trick repeatedly. The shiny copper piece would be held before my eyes to ensure I watched. The master was performing it, though, and he had taught the three of them how to do it.

“Now watch. I’m going to rub it into my elbow.”

When I think about it now, that’s the most ridiculous thing I could ever imagine falling for. Why not involve his kneecap? What was so magical about his elbow? A magician has to use whatever he can to get his audience to be receptive.

So he would start to move his hand with the coin in it, but he would drop it at least three times to keep my full attention. He would pretend to be clumsy, let it loudly rattle on the table, and have to start the process all over again.

Then, it would totally disappear. The hand it had been in would be empty. He would take the other hand, put it up to my ear and say,

“It’s right here!” And it would materialize out of thin air. I hadn’t felt a thing, so how could that happen? If I had money stashed away that close by, life would have been so much easier.

“Do you want to see it again?” He would ask.

“Yes,” I would say because I thought I had missed something. My dad could do that at least 100 times, and it was like watching it for the first time.

As I got out of my preschool years, I wanted to know how he manipulated it, but he wouldn’t show me. The other day I said,

“Here. Teach me how to do that disappearing thing you used to do.” I handed him a dime.

“What? That’s so ancient! I can’t remember that, Chris.”

“You better. I have waited a long time for you to tell me this. It will come back to you.”

He dropped the dime I had given him multiple times due to his shaky hands, not for the show. But it did all flood into his memory as he went through the motions.

“So you switched hands,” I said. I demonstrated it to him.

“I never showed you how I did that?”

“No.”

“Now it spoils it for you. It takes away the mystery. But now you can baffle people.”

“Baffle, huh? Really? I wouldn’t say anyone would be in awe of that unless they are really naive.”

He laughed.

“But it does take away the secret of it.”

It wasn’t the first time I had been told the truth about something that had seemed so real.

I was led to think that Santa would show up every Christmas Eve. Presents from him would always appear in the living room while I was in the basement. I was the last one of the kids to accept this, and the others never said a word. They let me have the experience just like they had.

I trusted that what I heard was true. I equated Santa with God. So when my mom announced to me on Christmas Eve that he wasn’t real, I thought she was joking. When it became clear that she wasn’t lying to me, I wondered if everything else I had been told was accurate.

It wasn’t difficult to be in a religious organization and lack a closeness with God. And this upsetting news made it easy for me to question everything. It wasn’t that I had been fooled into a myth, it was how I was told and when. The timing of it was not ideal for a seven-year-old.

When unpleasant things happen, you can decide not to repeat history, and that was my goal with my girls. Because of my disappointment long ago, I chose to skip the traditional man in the red suit coming down the chimney. Instead, I always hid a gift that they had to find. Because after all, the element of surprise was the aim. There were a few wrinkles to iron out, however.

I found out that the game of hot and cold was a challenge for my oldest. As she got closer to what she was seeking, and I would say, “You are burning up,” she would suddenly run away as if she were in danger. It took a few times for her to understand that cold wasn’t what she wanted. I had spent years telling her not to touch a hot stove, so that’s where I think the confusion came in. So, we pressed on, and I had to undo some of my parental training so she could find her elusive item.

I made sure to reiterate not to run with scissors, though.

“You are ruining Christmas!” A family member said who learned of my rouge departure from the iconic Christmas character. I got a tongue lashing on how horrible I was for taking away all the ‘fun’ out of the holiday. There was another person nearby who agreed with my stance, but they suddenly lost their ability to speak, so I withstood the beat down.

I didn’t listen. I bought a book that explained the place St. Nicholas took in history as a generous man who made sure that the poor were cared for. I educated my girls to know who he really was, not the one depicted in movies or cartoons.

I told them both to never ruin it for others but keep it to themselves.

“Santa isn’t real,” said my youngest daughter at the age of three, out loud to her friend as they looked at a display at a mall. Before I could clamp my hand over her mouth to stop more from spilling out, her friend said,

“Oh, I know! That’s Santa’s helpers. That isn’t the real Santa, silly!”

There is a God.

I wondered at times if I was damaging them somehow by not adhering to age-old rules. Was I stripping them of something that others were participating in and they were not? There were small indications along the way that I wasn’t completely destroying their childhood.

“I’m buying this so I will get a Nintendo DS.”

My oldest daughter showed me a game that only could be played on that particular handheld device. At the age of twelve, she set the intention and expected it; soon, she got it. She applied her faith, and the money she needed to buy it showed up.

My youngest daughter was sitting on my lap during a magic show when she was four years old. The guy on stage would hold out his hands, and doves would suddenly fly out. I watched as she put her hands together, trying to recreate what he was doing. It was the beginning of her understanding that she could make things appear that hadn’t been there before.

Throughout the years, I tried to model for them what this verse meant from Hebrews 11:1,

What is faith? It is the confident assurance that something we want is going to happen. It is the certainty that what we hope for is waiting for us, even though we cannot see it up ahead. (Living Bible)

During tough times, I would write down what I needed God to do for me. Like a Christmas list, mine had things on it, such as getting the house repainted, the dishwasher fixed, and money for a car repair. I wanted them to understand that prayer doesn’t only operate during a season, but it is always available to stream to us what we need. There were times I had no idea how problems would be solved, but I let them know I was giving it to God, so they could do the same.

The idea that we can ask for help from an entity outside ourselves is prevalent. It seems to have been downloaded right into our DNA.

Instead of having them put their hopes in a legend, I had them look to the One who owns it all and have lifelong, genuine communication with heaven, which is real and not an illusion.

(He is a good second place, though)

Crown

I knew something was off when I felt a burning feeling across my gums. It didn’t stop there. A headache was beginning on both sides of my skull. My alarm went off, so I had no choice but to fully come into consciousness and deal with the harshness of what this morning was about to bring.

I had braces put on the day before, and while I slept, my memory erased it. I briefly thought it would be like any of my other days. I had no idea what was ahead.

My teeth felt hot, and if they would touch, it felt like electrical shocks, but I didn’t want to look like a monster with my mouth open all day. As each bracket was cemented on, the orthodontist said I might experience some discomfort the next day. His idea of that and mine was light-years apart. This was excruciating.

Pain reliever helped somewhat, but it did nothing for the metal that was scraping the inside of my mouth. I had been given soft pieces of wax to rip off and mold over the places where it was causing the most damage. That pretty much was every square inch.

I had a job as a social worker that demanded I speak, so it wasn’t like I could hide by myself in a cubicle and keep my mouth closed. I had to talk to staff, residents, and families all day long. The protective coating was melty, so it appeared I was drooling like a lunatic.

That was only the first day of many more to come.

The rubber band phase was even worse. I had hooks installed on my top and bottom teeth that I had to stretch bands across. They tended to disengage at the most inopportune times. It wasn’t uncommon for me to be in the middle of a serious discussion at a care conference and have one of them launch itself straight at a family member across from me. It was awkward to be discussing the poor oral hygiene of a resident and as if on cue, have my band go flying.

One man had to dodge it from hitting him in the eye. And that was just because I smiled at him. I said I was sorry a lot during that time of my life.

Everything I ate, I had to cut into pieces. Biting into an apple would have snapped off hardware, and I was told to stay away from anything sticky completely.

Every small change that was made brought on more adjusting. I had started out trying to solve a tooth problem that was slightly behind the rest on the bottom toward the front. I had put up with it for years, but I knew getting treatment was expensive.

Instead of putting that financial burden on my parents, I waited until my mid-twenties to get it resolved. There were many appointments starting with a cast made of my mouth. There were tightenings and band replacements as I went through nearly two years of being a cyborg.

Getting them off was another long appointment that led to being fitted for the retainer.

“You have to wear this twenty-four hours a day,” I was told.

On the bottom, he fastened a little permanent bar to stop shifting from occurring and clicked in a molded replica of the upper part of my mouth.

“How does that feel?” he asked.

“Gwait,” I said, now speaking in a foreign tongue.

Every phone call I had to take at work was a challenge. The tip of my tongue clashed with the plastic making my words sound distorted. I didn’t even understand me.

“This isth Quistine. Thoscial thersevice.” The actual words: This is Christine. Social Service.

I was required to say this at the beginning of every call, or the administrator would have a heart attack. She had rigorous protocols whether or not a person had a temporary speech impediment.

If I had removed my retainer every time I spoke, I would never have had it in my mouth. So I adapted and wore it. Soon, my speech became normal. It’s incredible how that happens when it seems like all hope is lost at first.

One of the long-term effects of straightening my teeth was it caused them to be weak. My treatment was done at a time when technology and procedures weren’t as advanced as now.

My daughters both have gone through the same experience as me, but much more manageable. The dentist I had them see also did their braces, and I became his patient.

“I am going to put a patch on this tooth,” he said to me. “This could break at lunch tomorrow, and you will need a permanent solution.”

It lasted ten years until it didn’t a few weeks ago. It seems everything that can cause trouble happens on a Friday night after ten p.m. when no help is available. And that’s when I crunched into a piece of popcorn.

Looking into the mirror, I saw that his work had come undone. The following week, I was in a chair for a cleaning and check. When I told the hygienist what had happened, she came forth quickly with information like an encyclopedia.

“I need to take your blood pressure,” she said, putting a watch-like band on my wrist. Gone are the days of the cuff on the arm and the air pumping that leads to your bicep being squeezed.

She had me hold out my arm, and she fastened it, hitting a start button. I could clearly see the numbers.

“So with that tooth, he is going to have to remove it completely. You will probably need an implant. My mom just had her tooth pulled for the same thing yesterday. Sorry.”

I kept watching my numbers climb. Her timing was terrible for delivering bad news while she was checking the rate at which my heart was beating. But, oddly, I felt peaceful. I had that happen before where I wasn’t panicked during a highly stressful situation but felt a calm come over me. Like what is described in Philippians 4:7,

Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. (NLT)

After she went through the cleaning, he appeared and said that a root canal was necessary and then the application of a crown. My tooth would not be pulled as she had said.

My biggest worry was that he would lecture me on not having been in to see him for a while. He didn’t do that at all. The rest of my teeth were perfect.

“You had braces, right?”

“Yes. A long time ago.”

“But not by me.” He said it could have happened anytime whether I had been in or not.

“I’m just glad you are back. I love you and your girls. You guys are great.”

I thought there was going to be chastisement for my lack of care for myself. And that’s really what it had been. I kept putting it off because I put myself last as unimportant. In addition, the longer time went on in between visits, the more fearful I became. I never asked God’s advice. I just let myself slip into a wrong way of living, and I had mixed up a cocktail of fear and guilt. But, none of what I thought was going to happen ever did.

Instead, I was met with kindness, and he went to work repairing the damage.

That is the nature of God. Once you stop running away and making excuses, you will find that there is grace waiting. Many don’t do this, though, for fear of retribution. What if I had been met with a harsh response? Would I have died? No. The issue would have been resolved anyway. I would have been momentarily uncomfortable facing my disregard for my health, but it was the truth. I hadn’t kept up with my six-month checks as I should have. He had every right to put me in my place.

But he didn’t. Because he wants me to keep coming back. A good dentist and God operate that way. That’s wisdom and how fitting that this can be found in Proverbs 4:7-9,

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a graceful garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.”(NLT)

(Next up..the castle)

Vessel

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

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

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

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

“No. I’m not thirsty.”

“Do it anyway.”

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

“You didn’t take any. Drink!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I want you to try and eat this.”

Everything in me refused, but she insisted.

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

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

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

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

“Yes.”

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

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

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

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

“Drink, Chris, drink!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of the worst offenders was a church leader.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was unusual for his drums to sit silent.

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

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

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

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

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