Guide

“She’s going to scare me.”

My oldest daughter had come to me with a familiar concerned look that usually accompanied her when her sister was up to no good. 

“If you know she’s going to do this, doesn’t that make it less scary?”

If you see a car is coming, you don’t step out in front of it. You don’t talk to strangers. And you don’t run with scissors unless there’s an emergency, and then you keep the sharp end pointed toward the ground. 

“She’s planning this for the middle of the night when I’m sleeping!”

That threw in a new variable. 

I knew she was not above such tricks as I had seen the evidence. While my oldest daughter was sleeping off an illness, she had picked up a toy camera that had grainy video capability and shot footage of her. She had quietly filmed without disturbing her and even showed herself backing out of the room undetected. I found out about it later after the camera’s film had ended and it was reviewed. 

Her track record indicated she was capable of being a highly trained spy. 

“Did she tell you this?”

The master orchestrater usually never revealed her plan unless caught, and even then, it wasn’t always clear what she had devised entirely. 

“I found this on the floor in my bedroom!”

The two had shared a room for a while, one being four years old when the other was born. I had no idea until many years later when they would laugh and tell me how they would fake going to sleep at night and be in a full-blown tug of war sheet fight within minutes of my exit from the room.  

As they got older and the skirmishes increased, I knew they needed their own space—kind of like when I had to separate my two dogs from sleeping in the same kennel. 

She handed me a piece of paper. On it was the perfect drawing of my daughter’s bedroom. The details of furniture and room arrangement were exact. 

“Is this a map?” I asked, looking at the jagged edges ripped out of a notebook. 

“Yes! She’s going to hide and jump out and scare me!”

They both have fantastic drawing abilities that they did not inherit from me. She had taken her artistic flair and turned it into mental warfare.

“She didn’t just drop this on accident,” I said, catching on to what she was doing. 

“It was in the middle of the room. It wasn’t there when I left.”

“She did it on purpose to mess with your mind. Your room isn’t that big, so where will she possibly hide so you don’t know she is there?”

The thought of being vulnerable while asleep was the key to her distress. It wasn’t the actual act prompting fear but the anticipation of it. 

“She put a big x in the closet. She’s going to hide in there!”

“There is no way she’s going to do this to you. She wouldn’t tell you what would happen and where she would be ahead of time. She’s planting the idea so you stay up all night while she’s peacefully asleep.”

When I presented the paper to the six-year-old who should have been running a branch of our military, she smiled and admitted that she had put it right where she knew her sister would see it. It was all done just to get a reaction, and she had gotten what she wanted. 

Besides mind games, they were competitive. While I was distracted with a grocery list, they would be arguing over the shopping cart and who would get to sit on what side. Back then, they had plastic seats built onto the carts they sat in while I got a major workout pushing them and all the food up and down every aisle. 

Advertisers took advantage of this by putting their products on the back, just as a subliminal message to get you to buy whatever you spent the next hour or so looking at. 

“I want the Oreo side!” 

“I want it!”

The fight was on. It was Chips Ahoy versus Oreo, and it had been deemed that one was better than the other. I hadn’t recognized it the first few times, but once I did, I had to think quickly about how to solve it so there wouldn’t be a scene in public. It was a battle to convince one of them that both sides were the same. The only way was negotiation on my part.

“I will time it and give you the same minutes sitting there.” This technique calmed many storms that often blew in out of now where. That’s when you know you are winning. 

It never was fail-proof, though. Some conflicts that cropped up were beyond fixing.  

Board games were tense, with the two trying their best to outdo the other. There never was outright poor sportsmanship, but somewhat of a subtle feeling that would creep in when one was losing while the other was not.  

One game that both of them liked was Funky Fingernails. The genius who manufactured this is off on a yacht without care, living off royalties. 

The premise was to collect nine slide on nails of the same color and the prized golden nail. 

Cue the angelic music.

It was the most highly sought piece in the game, and there was only one, so that meant the winner had to secure it. But, just because someone had it didn’t mean it was theirs. A spinner was involved, giving your opponent the chance to swipe whatever they wanted from your hand to add to theirs.  

There is a universal truth I have seen in action with every kid on the planet. They don’t easily give up what they think is ‘theirs.’ 

She took MY chair! When there are a million to choose from, they sat in it for less than a minute, got up to get something, and now their sibling has slid in unknowingly because it was vacant.

He stole my favorite pencil! Same situation as the chair but a writing utensil. 

So to have a game that pits one against another is just asking for trouble. Watching an ego die can be ugly. 

Both would work frantically to gather matching colors to form the perfect fake manicure, which was another point of contention if they were trying for the same shade of pink.  

It was an emotional rollercoaster as one would gain an advantage, but then fate would reverse its course and give the other the upper hand.  

Both had gotten nine of their required nails during one of these hot-blooded matches. The youngest one had somehow managed to get the golden nail and only needed one more color, while her sister was eyeing the gold one that she needed to complete her hand. 

As luck would have it, my oldest spun, and it enabled her to take the golden nail from her sister, making her the winner. Before she could remove it, my youngest daughter started flicking and flinging plastic nails in all directions, stood up, and stormed into her bedroom. 

I sat there wondering what I should do. But before I could act, we both heard the mumblings of a person who had obviously snapped.

“I hate my room! I hate my socks! I hate my bed! I hate my pillow!”

The compulsion to compete had overtaken her ability to think straight. This rant of everything she found not to her liking poured out of her in a high-pitched yell.

I gasped when she said,

“I hate mom!”

I almost went in to silence her outburst, but I let it go to see where we would end up. At first, the two of us sat there shocked but restrained ourselves from laughing as it went on so she wouldn’t hear us. 

“I hate the dog! I hate everything! I hate the trees! I hate my window!”

I really struggled and had to put both of my hands over my mouth not to laugh out loud when she said,

“I HATE OUTSIDE!”

Then it went silent. As fast as it had begun, it was over. I waited to ensure that all of it was out in the open before I crawled over to her door and looked in. 

She was sound asleep on her bed. Later, I realized she had been running a fever, so her behavior was partly based on that and that she had been stuffing down her amped-up anxiety that grew with each turn taken.

We can pretend that our childhood gave way to such things, and we are so much further along and mature as adults. But are we?

Two things that don’t go well together are fear and paranoia. Going to the store meant seeing bare shelves as terror gripped the hearts of many. 2020 is a bit farther away now, but this was a daily existence during the pandemic’s beginning. 

I was checking out at an office supply store the other day, and the cashier said,

“Do you want some hand sanitizer?”

First, I wondered if he thought my hands were filthy. They weren’t. Then, I pondered what the sales pitch was going to be. 

“What?” 

“Do you want some hand sanitizer? We have way too much, and we have to get rid of it, so we have to give it away.”

He handed me two large bottles of it. This would have been like finding gold two years ago. The race to get it and horde it had been at an all-time high. Some guy had made national news because he had scooped up so much of it, was gouging people in price for it, and has charges against him. He is not anyone’s favorite person. Now, it is freely being gotten rid of as a burden. 

What was so feared yesterday isn’t so much today, and what was sought after as the must-have item is available everywhere and to excess. 

What does that say? Our emotions are fleeting, and that is where you have to decide if you will be led by your spirit or by your flawed thinking.  

In John 4:1 it states:

My dear friends, don’t believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you. (Message)

This verse was written concerning false prophets and preachers who claim they are genuine, but it could be applied to everything that comes our way. Mass hysteria is built on no one thinking clearly. It’s the insertion of an idea to get a reaction that creates a ripple effect. Instead of reacting to the news, especially what seems dire, take a minute to question it. 

Panic is like watching people do the wave at a sporting event. One section starts it, and it goes from row to row to see if it can make it back to its origin.

Eventually, it dies out because someone decides to quit, and then others make the same decision, much in the same way it got started, just like the highly sought-after hand sanitizer that now is collecting dust on the shelves.

We can learn from these things. 

In 2 Corinthians, 5:7 there’s an additional protective device given to those who wish to make themselves less likely to fall for false appearances, like the possible threat of your sister scaring you in the middle of the night:

For we walk by faith; not by sight. (ESV)

Run it past God; ask to be shown with your spiritual eyes what its reality is. Is this how heaven would deliver a sign or a message? Is it helpful and peaceful? Or is it meant to cause you to go into alarm mode? 

Let heaven be your guide.

(The source of many conflicts….)
(This needs to go right next to that Tickle Me Elmo you bought..and the Cabbage Patch dolls…)

Cross

I sent her to her room for a minute to think. It wasn’t so much for her as it was for me. I had read countless parenting books about how to deal with the unruly. I had gotten it down to steps. First came the warning that someone would be booked on a one-way ticket to another part of the house away from me if things didn’t change.

If that was not heeded by some chance, which was unusual, separation from everyday living occurred. While this would seem like discipline to some, my youngest daughter took this as an opportunity to make the most of it. When many would be beating down the door like it was a prison cell, wanting to escape, she did the opposite.

She got out every available toy, knowing she would not have to share with her sister, and got lost in her imagination as she played alone.

I would have to tell her she could come back out, but she often wouldn’t because she was enjoying herself so much.

One time, she took what should have been isolation a bit too far. She had gotten into an altercation, tested my patience, and landed in solitary confinement. After the prescribed minutes of being in juvenile lockup, I told her that her time of self-reflection was over. The door stayed shut, and she made no move to free herself.

I had gotten to the point where I let her decide, but it was so quiet I decided to check on her. It was just past Easter, and I could tell she had merrily passed the time by living it up, eating her candy, and tossing wrappers all over the room. So much for only bread and water.

As I was taking that in, she ran past me, which I found strangely suspicious. It wasn’t until later when I heard her sister yell her name that she had been up to no good.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

I had given them each a small cross made of chocolate. My oldest daughter had a white one with bright colored flowers in the middle. Unlike her younger sister, she made things last. It wasn’t uncommon for the Fourth of July to roll in, and she still hadn’t finished all of what she had been given.

“She ate my cross!”

You don’t hear that every day. In horror, my oldest explained that she had purposefully not eaten the middle part, but her sister had no problem swallowing it down.

“I had saved where the pretty flowers were, and she ate it!”

She showed me the empty box it had been in.

How do you punish someone that you had already detained in punishment? This was not in any of my parenting books. There were no steps after this one. I found so many times along the way the conflicting emotions that would crop up as I was presented with this type of dilemma.

The first thing you try not to do is smile or laugh at how hilarious it is because of hurt feelings, and it’s so wrong. You mentally repeat that this is not funny, so you can commiserate with the victim whose last bite has been gulped down by a three-year-old who knew precisely what she was doing. You immediately go to the store to try and find something to make up for the loss while doing your best acting job frowning at the other one.

That’s where the forehead wrinkles come from.

Like my daughter, who adapted to wherever her behavior got her, some people can accept unpleasant situations better than others. They make the best of it, knowing that it won’t last forever. They don’t go on social media and rant for hours on end, tell every neighbor they see, and talk to every stranger at the grocery store.

Sometimes I’m surprised when I find out later that a person is plagued with a problem, and I would have no idea until someone told me. It’s not that they are faking their way through it. There’s this heavenly glow about them because they have made up their mind to accept the news, deal with it and still live as if nothing has changed. It’s not a secret, but it’s not been made the focal point of their existence. They don’t seem to be suffering in silence either. They have revealed their pain to a select few who offer steadfast support and give the rest to God.

They have tapped into a part of themselves where the peace that passes all understanding resides.

Since we have been taught that if you receive “bad” news or you have to deal with something that has been identified as unfavorable, this must require you to limp through life, making sure everyone knows how bad off you are.

I have been handed my fair share of circumstances that I would have instead bypassed. But in all those instances, I have learned more about God and a strength that I would have never known.

While embroiled in it, you aren’t always aware of the work that is being done inwardly, but it starts showing up in small ways. You begin to view things differently, as if God has placed a pair of glasses over your eyes and you have keen insider knowledge about situations before they occur.

You get to the point that whatever the trial is that you are involved in, you start to be thankful for it because, without it, you would never have transformed into a better version of yourself—one who can extend herself to those in their times of pain.

In James 1:2-4, it is stated:

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. (Message)

I have to say, this can take a minute to get to this realization. It’s not necessarily an overnight adjustment.

I have been in many spiritual circles where people talk about wanting to be more “mature”. They express that they desire to come up higher and experience the more extraordinary things of God, but I don’t think they understand the sacrifice it takes to come to an elevated level. Usually, this means addressing something you have grown accustomed to blocking your progress. It has become so familiar it can feel like a vital organ or body part needed for survival when it really isn’t.

Take worry, for example. Or substances that disengage you from feeling. And comfort zones that numb your spiritual senses.

When all of those get stripped away because you realize they are only temporary fixes and confront what you don’t want to, you realize there’s a God you can trust. The heaviness of it all seems to lessen even though the trouble may still exist. You get a little wrapped up in this supernatural bubble where you don’t need to run from it anymore because it lost its power over who you are. You only look to God.

When you trade in your default mechanisms for coping, you are rewarded with spiritual tools that far surpass anything else you could ever devise. You are then able to bear your cross.

Bear your cross, don’t eat other people’s crosses…

Yucky Parts

Sometimes it’s the smallest of things that make you realize how much God sees the details. Heaven seems to show up at just the right time to remind you that you have done alright, no matter what memories you might have surface to say otherwise.

She handed me a book that I forgot I even had.

“Where was this?” I asked.

“In my room.”

That happens quite often where we share without me realizing it. But, if it had not been in my possession for that long, then I guess I didn’t really miss it.

I recognized the cover and title from a while ago. I had gone through this phase where I could not absorb enough about people experiencing miracles. It can help you to believe when you read about the circumstances of others, prompting you to follow those leads that God is always putting in front of you.

To say you don’t have any isn’t the truth. You have to get quiet, and one way to do so is to read material about the very thing that you are seeking. While memorizing scripture is excellent, sometimes you need to subject yourself to multiple stories where people of various walks of life have all had incredible things happen to them.

The unusual happenings in the Bible, from the parting of the Red Sea to Jonah being swallowed by ocean life, sometimes don’t seem relevant unless I am stuck in traffic and I need an act of God to move cars along so that I can get back to my real life. The whale thing doesn’t really coincide unless I have to tell someone bad news, and I would rather not. I don’t live where there are whales readily available, though.

What does resonate is when a mortgage gets paid off unexpectedly, a child is healed of an incurable disease, or someone escapes a life that was leading to destruction. The themes are generally the same, with a person needing an unseen hand to intervene and come to the rescue seemingly out of nowhere.

I think it’s difficult to imagine God doing that because we always believe that it’s for everybody else. Our neighbor might fit the bill up the street, but we aren’t good enough to have it happen to us.

Isn’t that what blocks the miracle? Not God, but us.

“I was told to give you that book, and you need to look in the front cover.”

“Why? I haven’t seen this for so long.”

“Just look.”

When she tells me to do something, I do it.

Inside the cover was a note from her that I had used as a bookmark. She had written this to me during the height of a very tormenting and dark time in my life. My marriage had turned into divorce, and I had to figure out somehow how to keep it all on track.

I was constantly concerned that I wasn’t doing enough or being a good mother while working three jobs at once and homeschooling. I struggled to keep a stable environment for them while the world around me looked nothing like it had before.

While some of the existing problems were now absent, a host of other troubles seemed to be cropping up all the time.

One way I can describe it was like walking into one of those rooms where the whole structure is built at an angle. You have to navigate your way through using force to lean and move. You might have to hang on to a few walls to get through it, and right when you think you can let go of the support, you start to fall again. In the middle of it all, you come to a new understanding regarding the instability of life.

Believe it or not, it’s a gift. You realize that what is here today can be quickly gone tomorrow.

I would be rushing through the living room, trying to get to the next responsibility on my list, and she would tackle me with her eight-year-old self. She knew I was faking my way through it all, hiding my pain and trying to convince everyone that all was well.

In a death grip, she wouldn’t let me go and would repeatedly say,

“You are strong, mom. You are strong.”

I learned not to fight to get away because, one, it was pointless because she would suddenly have an iron hold on me that I could not release myself from. She would have both of her arms wrapped around my legs, making it impossible for me to move.

I know it sounds strange, but I had to stand still against my will when this happened. After a few times, I realized that God was speaking to me through her.

I felt the exact opposite of what she was saying. Totally weak and broken down, I was running on fumes, forcing myself out of bed every day, fearing that I would not be able to keep up with it all. And in the chaos of that, I had this shorter version of me stopping me in my tracks, giving me the advice I would give anyone else I saw in the same situation.

I had taught her without knowing it.

When I gave my life to God, I made it my mission to make sure both of my girls understood its importance. I didn’t want them walking the same trail that I had, not knowing who God really was. There were pitfalls along the way as we all learned, and still do, what spirituality really means. My goal was to have God be real to them, not some fictional guy in a book. And here it was on full display as she forced me to take a minute to listen.

“You are strong, mom. You are strong.”

One time, I said to her,

“Our house has been destroyed. Your dad is gone.” I thought that would make her quit doing this. It was inconvenient most of the time.

She looked me in the eye and said with much assertiveness and on the verge of anger,

“He is my real Father!” She pointed up. I couldn’t argue with that, and she made me stand there longer than usual. I learned not to be resistant to it anymore.

When I look at what she wrote back then, I can see now what she meant. Those sessions of making me stop what I was doing were times that God infused me with the strength I needed to go on. I just didn’t know it then like I do now.

She brought to life this verse from Psalm 46:10 that says:

Be still and know that I am God.

Sometimes when you look in the rearview mirror of your life, you see that all isn’t lost. It makes sense now.

In those places that seem impossible to endure, something is changing on the inside of you.

She and I went to a yoga class at a very early hour on a Saturday when the temperature was fourteen below. The drive was nearly forty minutes away, but the class was free, and there would be a litter of puppies.

“I want to go to this,” she said.

I did, and I didn’t. I know dogs and me, and I will want them all. I wasn’t so sure I could do all the moves either, but I was willing to try. Above all of that, I can never say no to her.

As we progressed through a flow of maneuvers that required balancing, many in the class around us were trying not to fall over.

“Relax your face as you move along,” the instructor said randomly with her back to us as she demonstrated, and we followed.

Immediately a woman in the back row said,

“I feel called out,” and started to laugh.

When it got quiet, and all of us were shaking uncontrollably, trying to stay upright while forcing our muscles to be more productive, the leader said,

“Breathe through the yucky parts. You are becoming a better person.”

If I have learned anything, you must know that God is holding your hand, everything will work out when you think it won’t, and now is the time to breathe through the yucky parts.

(I’m not crying..YOU are crying….)

Sucker

I was recently shocked to discover that my long-held belief was based on absolutely nothing.

Long ago, in a land kind of in the exact neighborhood I live in now because I never really moved that far away from my original upbringing, I had a childhood that consisted of discipline, things I didn’t want to do but was told I had to, and candy.

We didn’t get a lot of it, but what I did manage to have come my way still reminds me of how I used it as a way to escape, like other drugs of choice. Sugar in a brightly colored concoction can do wonders to remove you mentally from a trying moment of your youth.

They say that the white granules are more addictive than cocaine in lab rats. That explains why I never understood the role of Willy Wonka and how odd he was. Unless you have taken mind-altering drugs or over-eaten pixie sticks, he didn’t make a lot of sense.

There’s a high competitive undertone in that entry into the highly sought after company which can only be had by finding the golden ticket strategically hidden in candy bars. This brings out the worst in people who try to obtain what they think will buy them happiness.

I understood the concept of the greedy children being taught a lesson. Still, there seemed to be no regard at all for their demise by being sucked up a tube, getting stuck in a television, or expanding into a gigantic blueberry.

As a child watching, it was somewhat disconcerting as he moved along the chocolate factory, not seeming to care that the kids following him were getting picked off one by one. This then cued the singing and dancing of orange colored men. It was almost as bad as the witch from the Wizard of Oz, who gave me nightmares for a long time. I have heard others were terrified of the flying monkeys. They weren’t even in charge.

The only redeeming quality of the entire story is that Charlie, a boy from poverty, who wants nothing, ends up gaining the whole operation where he and his family will live forever. It sends the message that those who are humble and don’t take advantage of others will win in the end.

But you wonder, did the other ones learn from their mistakes, or did they keep on taking despite their abrupt departure? Did they go back out into the world and continue to roll others over to get what they wanted?

It seemed as if the parents had instilled this bratty behavior in them to the point of no return. They placated and gave in to their every demand because it calmed down the conflict. It was easier to be passive than to say no, which would have brought on a temper tantrum. So to not upset the apple cart, they gave in and weakly surrendered their authority.

I have seen this in action where a child insists on their way and is given what they demand, even though it’s not the right decision. This fosters in the next situation over another item, and a pattern becomes established.

It becomes difficult to recall where it all began in the long run. It just appears that a person is a taker. They were created by people who should have corrected it but didn’t want to cause a stir. They chose the path of least resistance to be nice.

I have seen the trials of parents trying to negotiate with their kids in public. It’s the usual screaming and sometimes throwing themselves on the floor over something they cannot have. It can go two ways, but I always cringe when the parent says no a million times and then hands over the very thing that is the source of contention.

It’s not only that the child won the war but also that the parent does not stick to what was said. The idea of wearing someone down until they get their way has been established, which becomes part of a person’s character. Unknown to many, this limits them spiritually.

What are the consequences of such behavior? It’s spoken of in John 2:16–17:

Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity. (Message)

It makes it tough to follow God’s voice and be led when you always get your way.

You are not challenged on any level to die to yourself when you are not in a situation to lean totally on God as your source. Believe it or not, having everything taken away and hearing the word “no” isn’t always a bad thing. I have learned through my tough life stages that there is a realm higher than this one, but it can only be accessed by total submission.

This doesn’t mean God wants to punish you, but things will move in a way to get your attention. Living from an eternal perspective sometimes comes in a way that isn’t always to our liking, but there is always a reason for it.

What might feel like suffering today will open doors for greater understanding tomorrow.

When we are in a comfort zone or pattern of familiarity, these forces keep us from growing into our life purpose and higher state of existence. When you get stuck and preoccupied with minor issues, you cannot expect to be given more important things.

God never gives up, though, because there is work to be done on his behalf. So heaven is always trying to wake us up to a deeper understanding of things if we will listen.

My daughter brought home cherry Tootsie Roll pops. I usually try to eat healthily and not let myself have that type of thing. If I really am struggling with saying absolutely no, I find somewhere on my body a slight bit of extra and tell myself it will only make more. And I wear the tightest pair of jeans in my closet. Anything that stretches gives the illusion all is well when it might not be.

As I looked at the bag, I mentally went through a reasoning process. I had been good all week, worked out every single day not only with resistance training but also getting in my 10,000 steps. When I realized I had cleaned the house, I took one.

I instantly looked at the wrapper and said,

“I wonder if this has a kid dressed like an Indian shooting a star?”

My daughter said,

“What do you mean?”

“When I used to eat these, we were told to always look for that on the wrapper.”

Sure, enough, it was there. But, the star was a heart because it was Valentine-themed.

Her inquiry made me think.

“Why have I been doing this all these years? What’s the point of looking for this certain boy doing archery?”

I had never questioned this. It was something I just did on autopilot. Someone had told me it was necessary, and I had gone along with it. I recall the disappointment of not seeing it, but what for? Not finding this made me feel like a total loser when I was little.

I searched online to find out what I was missing. Apparently, this was a big fat rumor that had gotten started and spread like wildfire. Someone claimed that if you were lucky to have found this on your wrapper, you could mail it in to the company for a free one.

All of it was a lie. The company debunked this myth, but I read that one man who owned a grocery store took pity on those who believed it and honored it by handing out free pops.

News like that makes one reflect on what else has been pawned off as fact but isn’t? It’s so unreal that a person can get this far along in life and keep on doing something mindlessly based on faulty thinking. How gullible can we be?

How many licks does it take to get to the center of the truth? Way more than three, I can tell you.

As long as you stay flexible in your thinking and ask God to show you the path, I believe that you will be guided as much as you will allow. If you give up your will, you will be shown the way.

In Ephesians 6:14 it says,

So stand firm and hold your ground, having tightened the wide band of truth (personal integrity, moral courage) around your waist and having put on the breastplate of righteousness(an upright heart)(Amplified)

There will be individuals who will look to use your kindness for their selfish ways. But, God always brings balance where you won’t feel guilty if you decline to help, and you won’t be a part of promoting greed. Instead, you will be sent to be of help where your assistance isn’t creating more taking.

God loves a joyful giver, but you don’t have to fall prey to being a sucker.

It means nothing…

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)

Small Stuff

Going into the building was the last thing I wanted to do. So many changes were happening at once, but I was moving forward, trying to make life seem normal after the wreckage.

I was newly divorced with two young girls, one eight and the other barely thirteen. It was up to me to make sure they saw me as confident because I felt enough damage had already been done.

I had a mix of emotions, from guilt, fear to relief. It was as if I would circle through those repeatedly, never really staying secure at any given moment. I expected bad news to come all the time.

My lawyer had me complete paperwork to apply for medical assistance through the state. I had a family member make sure to tell me I was on “welfare,” which disturbed me. It was stated in a way to let me know that I had fallen to a level of low that they for sure never would.

I had difficulty believing I was relying on taxpayer money to live. It brought me so much shame that even with “free” healthcare provided, I rarely went to see a doctor, even if I was deathly ill. And during this time of high stress and negative thinking, I was sick a lot.

I chose not to accept food stamps, which seemed like I totally hadn’t plunged into darkness. It gave me a shred of hope that I could at least buy food and household items without it being a handout. The comment by my relative had bothered me so much that I brought it up to the therapist I was seeing. I had been given a court order to attend counseling sessions, so the girls and I complied.

The therapist’s response was,

“I would gladly pay for you to get back on your feet again. For you and your girls.”

I never forgot the remark that was made to me because it was cruel, but it also made me see how far I had come to understand all of this where before I hadn’t.

If someone mentioned that their marriage was over, I used to let it go in one ear and out the other. I had absolutely no understanding of the pain involved, so I stood silently by. But after mine, I was able to ask questions, understand, and put myself in that person’s shoes. I wanted details so I could help if I could.

I realized that the demeaning comment that was made was from ignorance.

I had to deliver the applications to the office building following legal advice. I waited in a room with countless others who all had the same dead look in their eyes. Many had small children with them while others were like me, sitting with a number in hand and a packet in the other.

A few floors down, there was a community food shelf that my dad volunteered for. Every Friday, he would get up early and drive to various grocery stores to pick up boxes and donations. He would then drop them off and go to work handing out items to those in need. He knew I was struggling mentally with all of this, so he would pull up into my driveway and carry in what had been left after every one of his shifts.

“I just brought you a few things,” he would say to get past my objection.

Because my kids were so happy to see him, I allowed him to help me. But, I hated that I was in this situation, to begin with. It took a while for gratitude to replace my low feelings.

Because money had been so scarce, I had even cut back on what I ate; It was a form of self-punishment for being one half of a failed equation. I felt like I deserved nothing good, and the girls were innocent victims, so I wanted everything to go to them.

I worked three jobs, home-schooled, and felt like I was living in hell. All the outdoor work was mine to contend with, from raking, mowing, and snow removal. I couldn’t afford to hire anyone, so I had to learn quickly.

When they wanted lights on the house for Christmas, I got on a ladder and did it myself.

I had asked for help from someone who knew how, but instead of coming over and showing me what to do, he tried to explain it over the phone. This was not helpful at all. It reminded me of this verse, 1 John 3:17:

If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love? It disappears. And you made it disappear. (Message)

It sent the message to me that I wasn’t worth the time.

I went to church, prayed, read my Bible, and taught various children’s classes, but I was fighting off panic attacks, sleepless nights and felt dread as if something terrible could happen at any moment. Yet, I slapped a smile on and pretended that all was well.

Somehow, a friend convinced me to go in to have a physical. I think she could see the stress wearing on me.

“If something happens to you, what would happen to your kids?”

Because I solely existed for them, I listened and went in. A few days later, I received a phone call.

“The results of your mammogram show something abnormal on your left side. We need you to schedule a follow-up appointment so we can run more tests.”

The next phone call was from a support counselor.

“Are you afraid of getting a cancer diagnosis?“

“No,” I said. And I meant it. I was so numb and worn out from all the turmoil of my life, I didn’t care anymore.

“Are you sure you aren’t worried?” I didn’t have any of it left.

“No,” I repeated. “God will help me. Whatever the outcome, I will be okay.”

I could say all the right things robotically, but I didn’t trust God altogether because of all the bad that had come my way.

A few weeks later, I was in another waiting room with a lady who had the same appearance as what I had seen in the financial assistance office. It was the look of dejection and uncertainty. The person with her tried to cheer her up, but she kept crying. When her name was called, she slowly got up, slumped shoulders, and went off to find out her fate.

Usually, that would have made me afraid, but I wasn’t. When you don’t care anymore, fear can’t even find you.

“We saw a shadow on the left.” The room was dark and only lit by the machine. “We want to do a test that will give us a sharper image,” the technician said.

As she went through various procedures, she asked me about my life. So I told her everything. All of it. It poured out of me without any emotional upheaval.

She stood back from me for a minute and said,

“Do you know how strong you are? Do you see that in yourself?”

“No,” I said.

“You are so strong. I have never met someone as strong as you.”

And, yet, I felt alone and weak.

When she said “strong,” I instantly saw my youngest daughter hugging me. When the breakdown of our family began, she would run up to me, throw herself around my waist and not let me move. No matter how I tried to get away from her, she would hold me in place, and she would say over and over,

“Mom, you are strong.” This little eight-year-old child was the voice of God, and I hadn’t even realized it.

The results came back that nothing was out of the ordinary, so I was spared.

Many more trials have come since then, and most not pleasant; however, I have learned in each instance. And I have seen the faithfulness of God.

The other day, when I said something out loud that was bothering me, the same girl who told me I was strong 15 years ago looked at me and said,

“Mother, you hear from heaven! Why would you even worry about this?”

She’s right. Sometimes we don’t see in ourselves what others can, and a reminder is necessary. God can bring that to you when you need it most. Even in a coffee shop.

I was with my oldest daughter at a mall, and to our surprise, all drinks, no matter the size, were $1.00.

So I let her pay. On the wall, we saw a row of pins hanging. A guy who worked there said,

“Take one. They are complementary.”

I chose the one that has been my lesson while here on earth. The enormity of a problem is only as much as you worry about it.

When you put it into God’s hands, you become an observer, as you watch heaven take over and transform it, you stress less about the small stuff.

Made to Last

“Was it love at first sight?” She asked. I looked over at him and already knew the answer.

“What?” He asked.

He looked to me for guidance because he couldn’t hear her behind the mask.

“When you met your wife, was it love, at first sight?”

The inquiry was in its processing stage, and then I saw the understanding hit.

“No!” He said as if having to endure it again.

“Really? Why not?” She asked.

He crossed his arms tightly across his chest and said,

“She was a prude!”

“Well, you were no catch either,” I said in her defense, recalling her version of their first meeting. He smiled at me, knowing I was telling the truth.

It was a blind date, set up by friends that were a couple. They thought the two of them were compatible, but it was an act of God because they were from two different planets.

While she grew up in a small town in North Dakota, highly disciplined, he was on the streets of St Paul, causing a whole bunch of mischief. He had learned how to scam people wherever he could just to get a few cents in his pocket.

While still in elementary school, he took a handful of free pamphlets from the church and sought out the homebound elderly in his neighborhood.

“I would sell them. It was a quick way to make money. I had to sit and talk to them sometimes, which was boring. Sometimes I got a cookie, which made it better. But I always got paid.”

He was also in the recycling business. A small store sold pop in bottles which he and his friends would steal. They would drink it and then go in the shop’s back door where the owner would give them change. Then, they would race around to the front and buy candy.

“You could get a lot of penny candy back then.” He always said it like he wore a badge of honor.

He attended Catholic school where nuns were at the ready to whack him across the forehead with a ruler for any infraction. This did not deter him from getting out of line. He and a friend would sneak into the empty church during recess and roll under the seating.

It was on a hill with a dramatic slope from the back to the front.

“We would get on our sides to see who could get to the front first.”

One day, the back door flew open, echoing across the empty sanctuary.

“Who is in here?”

The two boys didn’t move a muscle, hiding under the pews, hoping she didn’t find them. He saw her long, ankle-length dress and heard the swinging of the beads as she went row by row.

“Jackie! Are you in here?”

Out of all the kids, she could name from his class, he was on the radar.

His prayers were answered, and she didn’t find them. And instead of being led by fear, he and his companion continued their daily race. If he could get away with it, he did it.

He graduated with all F’s and was sent into the military.

Meanwhile, my mom was scoring at the genius level on IQ tests and was the valedictorian of her class. She walked the straight and narrow path and lived under her father’s constant verbal and tormenting abuse. She escaped to nursing school in Minnesota, and this is where their two very mismatched worlds collided.

Doctors were in pursuit of her, and she went out on dates quite frequently. The night before her encounter with my dad, a suitor had brought her a corsage that she had pinned on a dress coat; she left it on because the flowers were fresh.

“I had to come down this long staircase,” she had told me. “He was waiting at the bottom.”

When she took the last step, he turned to her, pointed at the corsage, and said sarcastically,

“What do you think we are going to a ball or something?”

That set the tone for the night. She instantly hated him. And to send the message, she crossed her arms and made sure he came nowhere close to her.

“I was getting long-stemmed red roses and gifts from men who already had graduated from medical school. There was one in particular that I thought was going to develop into something more serious.”

I always envisioned the outcome of that. By some chance, what if she had married a wealthy doctor and I had been born into it?

“But your dad and I were a marriage made in heaven.”

And just like that, the pony, the outdoor pool, and everything else I ever wanted would vanish.

An unseen force was pushing them together; they saw each other again and somehow figured it out. While she loved picnics, he abhorred them. She loved to dance, but he didn’t. But she had a way of getting her way.

One night when he refused to dance with her, she accepted the invitation of another man. He had gone to use the restroom, and when he came back, he couldn’t find her. When he saw she was enjoying herself with someone else, that was the last time he said no to dancing.

Later, they found out they had been at the same party at a house before knowing one another. As they talked about it, all the details were the same, but they never saw each other there.

“We were just supposed to be together,” she would always say even when things weren’t perfect.

“We got into a big fight, and I took my engagement ring off right before the wedding,” she told me. “I was done with the whole thing. But then he came and looked so devastated that I forgave him.”

I guess when a divine plan is at work, anything can happen. I had seen her unflinching attitude once her mind was made up. But he somehow had worn down her defenses.

“He kissed me and slid the ring back on my finger.”

There went my mansion on easy street.

I didn’t come into their lives until way after the initial flames had flickered. One child after another had arrived, and I was the last of the six. When my dad wanted my attention and said my name, he would accidentally rattle off all five ahead of me before landing on mine. One morning I woke up to my mom calling in the dog.

“Chris! Stop barking and get in this house!”

“Did you just yell my name out the door?” I asked from my room that was near the kitchen.

This had now gone to a whole other level. She opened my door and looked at me in shock; it was an expression I came to know well as she tried to keep up with so many kids and things to attend to.

Many years later, while I was in high school, I had come home one evening to find him lying on the kitchen floor trying to fix the dishwasher. He had gotten off work early because it was their anniversary, and he had walked into a pool of water.

He could usually repair anything, build what she wanted, and never took a car in for an oil change. He did everything himself. But this was proving to be a challenge.

“We were supposed to go out,” she said when I came in. “He’s been working on this for hours.”

I could tell that the tension in the room was high as his frustration was climbing, and he was hungry.

Much to his dismay, he could not remedy whatever was wrong. This meant he would have to call for someone to help, but it was way past the time to do that. It was a blow to his ego.

Their evening out turned into a pizza delivery, and she got out paper plates. He still seemed annoyed as he mindlessly ate while still trying to figure out why he couldn’t solve the problem.

Suddenly, he came back to reality and remembered this wasn’t a usual weeknight.

“I got you a card,” he said, jumping up to go get it. He came back and handed it to her.

She opened it and started to laugh to the point she had to put it down on the table.

He looked at her like she needed to be committed to the nearest facility.

“Why are you laughing? That card isn’t funny!”

She tried to catch her breath, and once she did, she read it out loud.

“To my dearest wife, on her birthday!” This put her right back over again while he just shook his head and said,

“Dammit! I hate this day!”

She laughed louder. But, I saw him start to relax. For her, it was the perfect anniversary with no dishes to do, no meal to cook, and he had made her smile unexpectedly.

When something is meant to be, God will make it happen for the benefit of both. In Ecclesiastes 4:9 it says:

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor: One can help the other up if either of them falls down. NIT)

That was the secret to their success, even if it looked worn out, frazzled, and all-out insane. They used their strengths to help one another’s weaknesses.

My parent’s entire relationship was filled with moments where they had to see the good in the middle of big messes. No matter how bad things got, it was made to last.

(All smiles until all the kids showed up; 68 years later this week)

Right Place

Every church that I have attended had a children’s Bible school. For a week every day, I would drop off my girls so they could learn more about God. This was a long way from how I was brought up, and they actually liked to go. My experience as a child, on the other hand, with anything church related, felt like surgery without anesthesia.

We were attending a pretty large church, and they spared no expense. All week they kept encouraging the kids to bring friends. At the end of every session, they made a point to bring out this gigantic plastic bag filled with paper. The more friends a kid brought, the more entries were put in for a prize.

All week, they continually mentioned that they would be giving away an Apple iPod on the final day. This was one of the very first models on the market in the early 2000s.

They gave away smaller rewards daily with the constant reminder that on Friday, all names that had been put in the bag all week would have the potential to win.

On the evening before the final day, my oldest daughter, who was nine years old, told me she wanted to bring a friend.

“I want to win the iPod.”

I remember thinking, you will have one entry after this whole week, and you think you can win that? Kids were hauling in strangers off the street to walk away with it.

I didn’t say that, but I told her I would ask her friend’s mom if she could come along the next day.

She explained that it was the only thing that had appealed to her, and she didn’t want anything else.

Every day I had sat upstairs in a waiting room reading while they attended. That particular day I decided to sit in the balcony to hear and see what they were being taught.

They were all given coins to go to a make-shift store to buy candy or other fun things. Like I said, my fire and brimstone upbringing was nothing like this Willy Wonka atmosphere.

They dismissed the kids by age. I watched her and her friend leave to spend their pretend money.

The sanctuary began to fill up as the time to end neared. She wasn’t back, which didn’t surprise me because it’s not in her nature to spend what she has been given quickly. She likes to consider and contemplate her choices. And then ponder some more.

“Okay, so we are going to do some other drawings before the big one we have been telling you about. We are going to wait until everyone gets back here for that.”

This massive bag looked like it was holding shredded pieces of paper. It was full of names, and I saw a lot of hopeful faces. They started giving away items working their way up to what all of them were eyeing.

Where are they? Her younger sister and her friend were already seated. I leaned over the railing, trying to see the back door.

I saw the children’s pastor scanning the room, trying to determine if all the kids were back. I looked at the clock, and they should have been done, but apparently, they were still hardcore shopping.

“We are going to do the final prize drawing, and if we call a name and that person isn’t here, we will pick another.” Some kids had already left.

I leaned over more trying to see where she was. What was taking this child so long?

I saw him reach in and pull out the tiniest strip.

I looked at him and back again to the door.

He said her name.

He repeated it. I knew I couldn’t get down the stairs quick enough to grab her. So I tried to get his attention from the balcony so he would know she was still in the building, but he could not see me.

He kept looking at all the faces for hers. Because I helped in the children’s ministry, he knew her and me.

He repeated her name.

You have got to be kidding me! What was she doing? This is why they say we get grey hair.

Suddenly she materialized at the door.

He spoke her name, and I could tell by the look on her face that she was unsure what was happening.

She froze in place like she thought she was in trouble for being late.

Her friend realized the meaning and said,

“He said your name! You won!”

Because she wasn’t moving, the pastor started walking toward her.

“You won the iPod.”

I saw the smile spread across her face as the realization sunk in that she wasn’t going to be rebuked but be rewarded.

Into her hands went the grand prize.

We took it to the store later because we had no idea how to use it. After a quick crash course, she was happily listening to music.

A month later, I took them to the state fair. One of the tv stations was doing a giveaway of another version of the iPod, more of a compact one. When you have two kids, everything has to be even. Or at least that was my philosophy.

This time, I was the only one who could throw an entry in because you had to be over eighteen. I scribbled my information on the pink slip and placed it in this metal tumbler with a large handle. There was a little wait until they were going to make the announcement.

I asked the girls,

“Are we in agreement that it’s ours?”

I was attempting to apply this from the book of Mathew:

When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action. (Message)

I was always trying to have them move through life with a simple reliance on God for whatever they wanted.

They said they believed with me for the win.

The canister was spun, and I saw the paper taken out. It was weirdly folded like in accordion style, and I instantly determined by how it looked that it wasn’t mine. Some people think if they shape their entry a certain way, it will make it more susceptible to be plucked up. I folded mine in half, and there was no way it was me.

The lady reading it unraveled it like a scroll and stated that someone from my city had won. What an extraordinary coincidence! I was possibly going to see someone that lived by me.

I said to the girls, “I wonder if I know this person?”

I had mentally abandoned the tiny bit of faith I had moments ago.

When she read my name, I was in absolute shock. I looked at them, and they both lit up.

I handed it right over to my younger daughter. The miracle of winning two of them just weeks apart was a reminder of this in Mark 11:24:

I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours. (NLT)

I don’t even know if my prayer counted, but I think theirs did. Someone out of the three of us didn’t waver.

Or, this was true:

I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.”(Matthew 17:20, NLT)

Why is it so easy to forget the hand of God at work in our lives? We pray, the answer shows up, and then we go on to worry about the following situation.

In both of these instances, the end result was not life or death, and they were each given something that would brighten their days. So if you are under the impression like I used to be, that God only helps if circumstances are critical, then think again. He handed out two iPods, so what else can be done?

I have found that what we think about ourselves determines the strength of our beliefs. If you feel you are unworthy, then you are. And you will get back according to that mindset. If you think you lack confidence, then you do, and your results will reflect that.

What does God think of you? In Ephesians 2:10 it says,

For we are God’s masterpiece. (NLT)

So if you walked into a museum, your picture would be the most important one in the whole place and super expensive. So if you feel undeserving, that is not God’s view of you. That has been something either put on you by others, or you have taken it upon yourself as accurate. It’s an illusion. And it needs to be healed and changed so your prayer life and relationship with God can excel.

You aren’t supposed to cower and come like a scolded child, hoping that you will be heard.

In Hebrews 4:16 it says:

So let us step boldly to the throne of grace, where we can find mercy and grace to help when we need it most. (Voice)

Heaven is waiting for you to take on your actual persona. You were created to be a powerful force and vessel that God can operate through to change the world around you for the better of all.

And once you surrender your made-up faulty image for God’s view of you, life will become more enjoyable, you will achieve more, and you will be effortlessly led with perfect timing to the right place.

(The grand prize that is now in her box of memories kept forever…)

Servant

My girls and I decided to go on an evening stroll with a representative from the local historical society. It was advertised as a “ghost” walk, but I was more interested in finding out how some of the landmarks came to be.

Our guide was in vintage attire from the 1940s with a cloche hat and an old-fashioned Halloween print skirt. She had a personality that was a mix of dramatic flair and knowledge like a librarian.

We traipsed through neighborhoods stopping along the way for her to explain the significance of some of the houses and the strange occurrences that had taken place.

One very elaborate home had been built by a colonel who was known for his kindness. The current owner has kept some of his original belongings where he had them, and she has reported that she feels a presence from time to time. One night, she saw the light on in the basement that no one had used, and she went to turn it off. She noticed a strong smell of gas. This prompted a call to the emergency line at the gas company and all occupants evacuated.

A pipe needed repair, and apparently, if it had gone on longer, the house would have blown up with everyone inside.

He also rescued someone who was standing on a chair and began to fall. She said she felt someone hold her up as she was headed for the floor, preventing injury and ensuring a safe landing.

When our fearless leader started to go over the town’s past plague of tornadoes, an unexpected turbo force picked up out of nowhere, throwing leaves and garbage all over the place. It wasn’t lost on any of us in the group that it didn’t seem like a coincidence. We moved on with wind whipping us all in the eyes. And as quick as it came, it went away.

One of the most impressive locations was a home that a married couple had owned. He was a physician who took a streetcar to his office while his wife, Flora, had her practice out of their residence. Only 6 percent of women were doctors in the United States during that time, so her achievement was remarkable. She focused on women’s and children’s health care.

When I stood outside looking up at the second floor, I felt like I was being watched. It wasn’t a bad feeling but just like someone observing. It felt like a lonely person who wanted to talk but couldn’t.

Across the top of the house toward the roof, a banner was displayed when it was open for visitors. Someone had turned it into a store. We were told that those who shopped there often heard footsteps from the upper floor and smelled cigarette smoke when no one was there. It was not the healthiest habit, but in her era, they had no idea of its ill effects.

It sounded like the perfect place for me to go back and see for myself.

The next day my daughter and I returned. The front of the building looked somewhat junked up with merchandise spread all over. For such a majestic entry, nothing was being done to preserve it.

Inside the door, there was the most beautiful spiral staircase. I instantly felt a stifling, closed in feeling as I saw wall-to-wall items for sale. It was advertised as antique offerings but mostly what I saw were handmade items from the present. It felt like I was in a museum that should have been held in high honor, being disrespected, and used to hock trinkets. It felt all wrong to me.

As we made our way around the lower level, the tightness in my chest got stronger. It wasn’t anger but sadness. From the small speaker, the song Like A Bridge Over Troubled Water started to play hauntingly. That song has significance due to seeing my mom transition to heaven over a bridge. So when I hear it, I know I am supposed to pay attention.

I tried to concentrate on finding what remained from the past. Old doorways and windows were still intact amongst the wares being peddled. I looked past the gnomes and the dishcloths to see remnants of a time long ago.

The kitchen was a step back in time with a bell by the window and a pantry. I felt this was the respite where the two doctors came together after a long day at work to finally have a minute of quiet.

I climbed the ornate stairway with it creaking every step of the way. I have always wanted one, and this one was built to pass the test of time.

The upstairs was jam-packed with more items. But I began to picture Flora treating her patients and using her office to keep records. I walked to a far back room just to take a minute to breathe. It was like someone had struck me across the back, and it was an overwhelming sensation of constricted breathing. Not like I was suffocating but as if I was grieving. It was like being in a room with someone who was weary. I got the impression that this lady wasn’t stuck but visiting and not thrilled to see what had been done to the place.

My daughter suddenly felt an extreme coldness next to her. Again, not in a scary way, and just a presence that something was with us, sending out a remorseful feeling that this space once set apart for medicine was now being used for another reason far removed from that.

There was another spiral staircase in this extremely large wrap around. One big circle would have made it so easy for her to go room to room treating ailments and comforting the sick. And she had two ways to return to the first floor if she had to.

I ended up leaving feeling somewhat dejected that it hadn’t been better taken care of so generations would know of her outstanding work within the community. I wanted to hold something in my hand that she had. Like a stethoscope or a thermometer, anything she had touched would be valuable compared to what was being sold.

I looked up her information online to try and get to know her better. She helped spearhead the town’s first public library. No wonder I like her so much. On top of that, she was a published author who had written over two hundred poems plus a couple of books on better health. The fact that she was a leader of a women’s group showed she wasn’t all in it for her own gain. She was determined to make life more meaningful for everyone around her.

It was reported that her mother had died of an illness when she was twelve, moving her to pursue her life’s work. She was going to be a missionary until she met and married her spouse. It seemed her steps weren’t her own, and she walked where God told her to go.

I started to think about what happens to a person’s legacy once they have departed. A woman who dedicated herself to alleviating pain is barely remembered inside her own home. God used her hands to heal, and there was not a scrap of evidence of that.

That is why seeking an eternal reward is more critical than the flaky accolades of this dimension.

In Matthew 6:19-21, it addresses this:

Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (NIV)

A clearer picture is given in Luke 12:33-34:

Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (NIV)

In Luke 6:35, another route to gaining what matters is stated,

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great…(ESV)

When the time comes for you to leave here, hopefully, you will know that you joyfully served God to your highest ability, you helped those who needed it, and a heavenly welcome mat will be rolled out with congratulations coming your way as a good and faithful servant.

(Flora did it up big with this entry)
(I did this…maybe they will get it together and remember her more…)

Growing Up

It seems that no matter where I attended church, I always worked with the kids, and I found that I fit in better with them than sitting in the sanctuary with the adults.

I think the reason was because of the spontaneity of the atmosphere. Children are so much more open to the voice of God and aren’t usually afraid to say it out loud. I’m not against listening to someone speak, but I found so much more value in being in a classroom thinking I was the teacher, but really, I would often be the student.

At one time, I was in charge of a class of thirty, four-year-olds. I had one older woman who struggled to walk but would always help where she could and my daughter would come with me.

Every Tuesday, while their moms would go to a Bible study, I would go to work on helping them understand God better. I had them do role-playing, skits, and team-building exercises to expand their awareness of the spiritual side of life. It was always fun to see someone their age acting in the role of an important Biblical figure. I had so many who wanted to be Noah, Moses, or Jesus. I was never short on volunteers.

At the start of the day, I would ask them to tell us what they needed prayer for, so everyone knew what might be troubling their friend. Some would make requests for a new dog or bike, and I put no limitation on it because I wanted them to know that they could ask for anything from God. And many times, by the next week, they would return to tell me that their prayers were being answered.

They did love to have the spotlight.

“Miss Chris, look at my new shoes!”

That statement and others like it led to all of them wanting me to comment on their new shirt, hair cut or whatever else they were proud of. Once that started, it was a chain reaction of them jumping to their feet to gain my attention. Did I say there were 30 of them and one of me?

You would think that there would have been a lot of crowd control or discipline needed with a group of children that big. There wasn’t. I don’t know if it was all the prayers we said together, but they were the most unusually well behaved kids I had ever seen. They always wanted to help, and they actually shared with one another. There wasn’t the tug of war over hot ticket items.

I witnessed a live, in action expression of how life should operate if one is surrendered to God. There was no backbiting, complaining, whining, competition, or hating someone because they were different. None of that existed, and I did not have to put in much effort to make it go so easily. There was no conflict at all, and without the negativity, God showed up all the more.

One day, I had them close their eyes, and I shut off all the lights. This was way off the prescribed plan of what I had been told to teach them. One of the women who ran this ministry of the church had looked in through the door window. She wondered what I was doing, but she said there was so much peace flowing toward her, she let me go ahead.

I had each child become very still and see whatever came to mind. This was with preschoolers, and they did what I said without any hesitation. No one made a sound. Right there, that was a miracle. Afterward, I had them stand up and tell me what they experienced. One boy said,

“Miss Chris! I saw a huge angel standing next to me!”

“You did? That’s great,” I said.

Others had similar experiences, and I told them to go home and continue to practice this.

The following week, the boy’s mom told me that her son had been having nightmares, but they had disappeared after he saw the angel, and he continued to see it. She said his fear of bedtime no longer existed.

While many good outcomes such as this happened with the kids, I had the opportunity to put my faith into action.

I walked into the church office, and one of the other teachers held a tissue to her eyes.

“I might have you take my kids into your room today. My eyes are burning and won’t stop watering.”

I looked at her in total shock. I already had 30 of them! Taking in all of hers would have my number rocking the boat at 50. I decided that wasn’t going to happen. I had a nice little thing going, so I stepped forward and said,

“What is wrong with your eyes?”

“I don’t know. I have tried eye drops, rinsing them with water, but they hurt so much. I can’t see. I am not going to be able to lead my class today.”

Her eyelids were bright red, and tears dripped uncontrollably down each side. She had to keep catching them with the cloth in her hand.

I had no idea what I was doing, but I just followed what I heard in my mind.

“Close your eyes.”

She complied, and more wetness covered her cheeks. I had to close my own eyes as I prayed because her symptoms were stripping down my faith. It looked horrible, and who was I to come along and help her?

I started praying that she was healed. At the end, I opened my eyes, and I snapped my fingers at the center of her forehead while saying, “dry up!”

What was I doing? I would have never thought to do that. Other people were watching us now.

She mopped up her face and blinked.

“They don’t hurt anymore.”

The next few minutes were critical because the moms and kids would be arriving, and she had to decide. I saw her eyes clear, she smiled, looked at me without squinting as she had been, and said,

“It’s gone. “Thank you. It’s all back to normal.”

I was just glad I didn’t have to corral 50 kids.

That all happened during a time where I had just had a 17-year marriage end. I would tell people that I felt like I was jumping out of an airplane without a parachute, waiting to hit the ground. I was in a daily free fall of anxiety, not knowing what would happen to me next.

But, in that, I had been given little ones who showed me who God really was and how I could walk in a quiet place on the inside and see the good happen on the outside. Their childlike faith had strengthened me in my most desperate time, where rejection and abandonment were running high. They demonstrated to me that God would never leave even if people did.

They brought to life this verse in 1 Peter 2:2 that says: As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby.”

I had been stretched to a place in my spiritual life that I didn’t even know existed. And it continues to this very day. Every step is one more leap than the last.

There is a verse that says not to despise the days of small beginnings. Just when I thought I had something important to impart to those who were so very young, they surprisingly gave it back to me and set me on a lifelong course toward growing up.

(I walk every day..this was on my path the other day…there’s always more to learn from God)