Found

I had looked everywhere and couldn’t find them. They had disappeared into the same vortex that had been sucking up our socks for years. The weather had turned bitterly cold, and I knew I would quickly morph into a walking reptile if I didn’t cover my hands.

“I cannot find my gloves,” I said twice a day every day.

I searched all the familiar places. The closets, the garage on the off chance that I had left them there, the shed, the basement, my car, under every seat, the pockets of my winter coats, under the kitchen table, cupboards, and the junk drawer. I would be doing something and suddenly have an image of where I hadn’t looked. I thought for sure I would locate them. Dropping everything, I would search and come up with nothing.

I had purchased them the fall before, so how could I have misplaced them over the summer? This was the mystery I was faced with every year. I didn’t just toss them into the trash, but somehow they ran away from home when the seasons changed.

If I didn’t do something to put a barrier between me and the weather, I would have to suffer through cracks that would bleed. While at the height of raising kids and changing diapers, I had a pediatrician take one of my red, chapped hands and say,

“You need to take care of this. You are probably washing a lot and need to put on moisturizer.”

Until he pointed that out, I had no idea how awful they were. I was too busy trying to sleep when I could and think straight. It wasn’t like I was being chased down to be a hand model.

It had been an ongoing problem even after they were grown. If I let it get out of control, it was the worst session of burning one could imagine when I tried to put a cream on them. It had to be applied with eyes shut, and mouth closed screaming.

“I cannot believe I lost another pair!” I told my daughter. She watched as I pulled items off of shelves and ransacked the entire house.

I decided to let myself suffer until I found them. If it got too bad, I would jam my hands into the pockets of my coat.

I found two mismatched options that were thin and should not have counted as mittens. They did nothing to stop the cold air from going right through to my skin. I searched for the hand lotion and discovered that this had also vanished. I imagined my gloves and the bottle sitting somewhere in the sun laughing at me while I frantically tried to hold off the incoming damage.

By Christmas, I was still periodically slathering on the product I had gotten made especially for ‘working hands.’ It had a picture of a guy with a hammer, so at first, I thought maybe I shouldn’t get it. I didn’t go about my days putting nails into wood. But, my hands were never idle, so I decided I qualified. They should rename it for those who multitask, otherwise, it cuts off a whole population of people who think they aren’t good enough.

Even with that on, I was still walking on thin ice. I am not the best at remembering to apply it because other than winter, who needs it? By the time I would go to bed at night, and as my eyes closed, I would drift off thinking about how I forgot to put it on. I promised I would do it the following day, and by night time, when I was falling asleep again, I realized I had forgotten.

Then I lost the gloves that were doing me no good.

On Christmas Day, my self-inflicted torture came to an end when I opened up a brand new pair of gloves from my daughter, who had stood by sighing, telling me to buy another pair.

When I first got them, I was mindful of where they were at all times. I tried to keep my mind focused on when I put them in my purse. On occasion, when I was in a hurry, which is every day, I would slide them into my coat pockets. Then, I would check my purse and wonder where I had put them. I was fighting a monster, and it was me.

One night, I had to run multiple errands to various places. It was warmer, so my evil twin put them in my pockets. The next day, I checked my purse and went through the entire crazy search again. This time, I only found one of the two in my coat. This led me to my car, under seats, the trunk, the garage, and back to square one. It wasn’t even spring, and I had done it to myself again.

All day I tormented myself with thoughts of how careless I was.

“I don’t deserve gloves,” I texted her.

“You lost them?” she asked.

“One of them,” I said.

At least I was getting better at not losing both. The difficult part was that she had gone out of her way to help me, and I had returned immediately to what I had always done.

“Where were you last?” she asked.

“A lot of places,” I said, thinking about where it could have gotten left.

After not being able to forget it, I decided to be shown where it was. I said out loud,

“Nothing is lost or stolen in the kingdom of heaven. Please let me see where my glove is.”

I had read that in a book, and it had worked to help me find other things. Why I hadn’t thought of it sooner, I don’t know. Maybe because I had decided to punish myself, and that was all I was focused on?

In a flash, I saw my wayward black glove in a parking lot that I had been in the previous night. I drove there, parked where I had, got out, and was reunited with it. Out of all the places I had been, this was the one I had seen when I asked for help. I didn’t delay in acting on it.

When we condemn ourselves, we shut off the divine assistance that would so readily come. In 1 John 3:20, there is an excellent reminder not to follow my horrible example:

My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves. (Message)

What else don’t we see because we write ourselves off as unworthy? God has other great ideas for you, but you are too preoccupied going over all your failures and can’t imagine being forgiven or counted as productive for heaven. As unreal as it sounds, being mean to yourself is a comfort zone. It feels safer to stay in self-condemnation mode if you have practiced it for years.

So when God whispers to your spirit to take on something new, you recall every single thing you have ever done to mess up. You couldn’t possibly be a candidate for the job you are being asked to carry out. And, just like that, you stay where you are because it’s familiar.

It’s so much easier to drift with no strings attached instead of being on a steady course, advancing and going forward. It’s also miserable. At the heart of it, you aren’t happy while you pretend to be content. You have the choice to self-destruct or move in the direction that will have you fulfilling your purpose. It’s up to you, and it won’t be forced upon you.

No one is ever too far out of reach for God to heal and retrieve from the lost and found.

(I still have them. Who is winning?)

Untangled

“I have to be sick to die, Chris,” my dad said.

“No, you don’t. Where did you learn this?”

“I just thought that was how it happened.”

“People move on to heaven all the time that haven’t been sick. They just go from here to there.”

“I don’t want to get sick.”

“Then, you don’t have to. Do you think that God wants you not to be well? It isn’t a requirement to be at your worst when you leave earth.”

“I didn’t know that. I don’t have to be sick?”

“No.”

For weeks, he and I have had discussions about heaven, and I knew something was blocking his complete understanding of how eternity and God operate. Many times, his response to me would be,

“I don’t think about living and dying.”

The last time he said that to me, I said,

“Well, you should.”

He looked at me, surprised, but I was serious. A peaceful passing generally doesn’t make news. We don’t talk about it enough. We spend a lot of our time preoccupying ourselves, using distractions, and social distancing ourselves from death. With a pandemic at the forefront of our minds and the count, I can understand why we believe we need to die in a tragic or ugly way.

His attitude had been formed by a mindset that had somehow been programmed into his thinking for years. We all can fall prey to that unless we start to think for ourselves and question what we are so sure of.

A while ago, I read about a man who was golfing with a friend. One of them made a shot, and the ball landed off the fairway into the rough. As they approached where they had to go, the one who had sent it there was upset that he now had to correct the problem. His friend said to him,

“It’s all how you look at it. If you see yourself hitting it straight, you will. But, if you think it’s going to be difficult, it will be.”

He listened to his friend, closed his eyes, and saw himself hitting it perfectly. He then did that.

Authors from different periods, many of them not knowing one another or the material they wrote about, have stated that the mind doesn’t know reality from false information. If given repetitive images, a belief is formed, then manifested externally. That isn’t good news for those who want to maintain their victimhood. If what goes on around us is a direct result of how we think, then we can’t blame anyone but ourselves.

It felt freeing when I read that for the first time, but some may feel condemned. That means we have to pay attention to what we conceive in our minds. If you think the world is out to get you, it is. If you consider that good can come your way and you can work with God to make things better for yourself, it will.

In Proverbs 23:7, it is stated that what a person thinks in their heart, they become.

Do you believe yourself poor? You will be. Do you consider yourself debilitated? You are. Many say that the evidence showing up on the outside is proof that you are these things. It is projected to your outside world when you have created it on the inside.

That isn’t what we are taught in school or by our authority figures. We learn at a young age to hope for the best because we aren’t in charge. The world is. But what did Jesus say? He tended to state things that directly opposed what we were taught as rock-solid truth. In John 16:33 it says,

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”(NLT)

He also said this:

I tell you for certain that if you have faith in me, you will do the same things I am doing. You will do even greater things, now that I am going back to the Father. (CEV/John 14:12)

It is clearly stated that we can overcome the world. We can reside here but not be ruled by it. That means giving up becoming immersed in it. Turn off the news because it’s a form of brainwashing. It’s the best thing I have ever done to get closer to seeing and hearing from heaven only.

Our realities are distorted because our thinking has become that way.

“That makes me look ugly!” she said as I was scanning items. I glanced up at what she was pointing at. The camera directly above the register was focused solely on us.

“That’s to be sure we don’t steal anything. They want us to look as criminal as possible so when they review the tape later, we will fit the profile of shoplifters.”

She pointed out how it made her appear so much bigger than she really is. I stopped what I was doing and took a good look at what this machine was doing to me.

“I look twice my age and seventeen months pregnant. Am I? No. It’s a lie.”

That is what social media and all the rest do to us. It takes strong discernment to understand that not all we see is as it is. We form impressions based on false information, and then we judge that. Soon we hate ourselves, we despise our neighbors, and life takes on a dark outlook. Some overlook all their own faults and take out their aggression on others around them. A time of silence, prayer, and self-reflection can go a long way when changing your mentality.

I recall working with a woman many years ago who was quiet. She had a strong work ethic, and her job was highly stressful. Before I knew her, I thought she was very standoffish and anti-social. Cold and not very friendly.

I discovered that underneath that exterior, she had a reason for her behavior. She didn’t want to be distracted, so she gave the least amount of energy to what was not going to help her accomplish her job. I found out that she was a nice person, but she had to cut herself off from what would distract her.

I heard coworkers speaking harshly of her once, so I told them what I knew. I changed their opinion of her in just one conversation.

The way we view things is probably the biggest obstacle we will have to deal with while we breathe. And our attitude regarding it determines the outcome. Do you want peace? Then be it.

Where do you start to live a life drama-free and one that has a foundation based on wisdom? Look to 2 Corinthians 10:4-6:

We can demolish every deceptive fantasy that opposes God and break through every arrogant attitude that is raised up in defiance of the true knowledge of God. We capture, like prisoners of war, every thought and insist that it bow in obedience to the Anointed One.(TPT)

You actually can take your thoughts when they come and decide to allow them or not. Did you know that? I didn’t either until I read that verse. When a negative thought floats in, you can say no to it. If you do it enough, it will start to transform you into a different person who will have the eyes of God.

When I got out my Christmas lights this year, they were a tangled mess. I was about to start the process of trying to straighten them out. Instead, I plugged them in, and they were all burnt out. I spent a small amount of time checking where the problem could lie. They were getting older, so I got rid of them and bought new ones.

Take responsibility for your life. Tell God what isn’t working anymore, allow it to be changed, and it will be untangled.

(I love this mess said no one ever…)

Fenced In

“I think your dog got out,” she said when I came around the corner. “My boys opened the front door, and she ran off.”

She was still speaking while I was flying toward the front yard. The way it was said so casually indicated to me that she had no idea the jog I was about to take. Or the danger that my pet was in.

It was pouring rain, and I had dashed out without shoes so my socks were soaking wet in seconds. I could see her way up ahead, nose to the ground, oblivious to the cars zipping by.

This wasn’t the first chase I had been on since getting her. I had no idea when I was researching dog breeds and which one to get that this would be something to contend with.

She had been born and raised in a place that wasn’t the best. When I got to the location, there were beagle puppies running everywhere. The mom hid under an old beat-up car and looked at me with sad eyes. I didn’t know about puppy mills back then, but the conditions looked rough. When I took her to the vet because she had so many parasites, I was given medication actually to save her life.

“If you hadn’t taken her in, she would have died soon,” I was told. She was so wild and full of energy that I would have never known.

It appeared to be a farm that hadn’t been taken care of, so dog breeding had been thrown in to raise funds. There were so many dogs going in all directions that I decided to sit on a gravel path to see what would happen.

A very tiny girl puppy came and started pulling on my shoelace. The harder I tried to get it away from her, the more ferocious she held on and threw in a little growl while wagging her tail. When she was tired of that, she curled up in my lap.

“She’s the runt of the litter,” the breeder said. So was I, and she became mine.

My backyard had no fence, but we were told she was so small that we could probably catch her. Probably not. A chain-link fence had to go up immediately.

I took her to obedience classes. While all the other students ran to their owners, she visited everyone else and their dogs around the room. I wasn’t even an afterthought.

“Beagles have a heart of gold, but they will not listen. They will follow a scent and forget what is around them completely. They get focused and do not hear. It’s really difficult to train that out of them.”

So I ran down the sidewalk yelling her name, trying to catch her attention during a spring thunderstorm. We never went out the front door, and the people there were looking to buy something listed in the paper.

A neighbor waved at me from his garage as I tried to get closer to her. All of them had seen this happen so many times between the two of us.

She would spend a few moments on one spot of grass and then suddenly zoom away as if triggered by a smell of something she just had to investigate.

It ended the same way every single time. I was now blocks from home, within inches of her, out of breath, and she would realize I was behind her.

“Libby!” I would say for the millionth time, and she would stop.

“You stay.” And she would, now worn out from her half-crazed jaunt.

She wasn’t sitting still out of realizing she had done wrong; she was exhausted and wanted a lift back home.

Curling into a small ball, she would wait until I picked her up to carry her.

I walked back into my house with a dripping wet dog. I peeled off my socks in the kitchen.

“Oh. You caught her,” the lady said, smiling. My hair was dripping into my eyes. One of her teenage boys went through the front door, and Libby charged again, ready to have a second round. I grabbed her before It could happen.

I went over and locked the door. The lady looked at me like I was being rude, locking her son outside.

With a tight grip on the dog, I said,

“Either they stay in the garage or come in the house. I have had my exercise for today.”

I stalked off to find dry towels with her securely in my arms. If given a chance, she would do it all over again. And that lady didn’t get it.

Some would say that an animal can’t control their behavior, such as Libby, who once on a trail had to follow it.

I have met people who have been on that path. It’s operating on no filter and sheer determination to satisfy something that may be a bit out of balance.

During one of my shifts as a shelver at a public library, I was approached by a woman.

“Can you tell me where the adult videos are?” It was a low whisper.

I held a stack of DVDs that I was putting back. I knew what she was asking me, but I decided to pretend I didn’t fully comprehend.

“All of the material for adults is right here. The children’s section is toward the entry.”

I made no eye contact and went back to my task. This was one of those moments when I wished she had gone to the reference desk. I was a lowly shelver, and they were paid and trained to deal with these issues.

“No,” she insisted. This is not what I am looking for. I want movies for adults.”

I held up what I had in my hands.

“These are for adults.”

I was trying to have her give up and walk away. Inwardly, I was screaming for God to help me. I kept my facial expression neutral.

“You don’t seem to understand me,” she retorted. Now she was getting snippy, not realizing I was brushing her off for her good.

“I want movies made for adults only.”

“You are looking right at them,” I said, not budging for the third time.

“I want X-rated movies. Porn! I want porn!” She said this not with an inside voice, and her quest to get what she wanted had overtaken her ability to practice self-control in a public place.

A couple of patrons glanced our way. It was a quiet weeknight, so the crowd was thin, but the older man looking at the history selection looked a bit shocked. I smiled weakly at him. I knew it was part of my job to keep things orderly, and that wasn’t just the books.

My subtle efforts to redirect her had gone unnoticed, so I had to set her straight now. Her drive for something like my beagle escaping was taking her to places she shouldn’t be.

“This is a public library. Are you aware of how the media gets paid for so you and everyone else can come here and check out material for free? Do you know how that system works?”

She blinked when the realization hit her that I was a lot more intelligent than I had come across initially. I didn’t demean her, but with as much professionalism I had within me, I continued to inform her about the ways and means of purchases made so the community at large could enjoy them.

“This is all possible with taxpayer money. Do you think people will sign up to pay for what you are looking for?”

Now she had gone silent. I had killed the mood with talk about taxes. You can pretty much make a room go silent if you start talking about the IRS.

“You aren’t going to find what you are looking for anywhere in this building. Does that make sense?”

She nodded.

“I don’t want to see you wasting your time going from place to place searching for something that doesn’t exist. You will not find that here or at any other locations.”

I was helping her but also sparing other employees from this conversation later.

I kept my voice low and made sure I didn’t make her feel bad. If anyone felt horrible, it was me! I wanted to drop everything and run for the break room. But I fought off my awkwardness to help her understand.

Suddenly, she looked ashamed, mumbled thank you, and walked away.

She just needed someone to put down a boundary to bring clarity.

No one is immune to saying or doing things based on habits or even false ways of thinking. Self-discipline isn’t always at the top of the priority list, and something that starts out innocently can run amuck.

I learned this when I was in elementary school. Every Christmas, my dad would make homemade chip dip. This was the only time of the year that we would have it, and it was my favorite. I basically ate nothing else but that when he brought it out on Christmas Eve. It was like a bowl of an addictive substance I could not leave alone. And every year at midnight, I was violently throwing up.

When I was nine years old, my mom anticipated my upcoming vomit session by addressing me before it hit the table.

“Chris, try not to overeat that this year.” She told me this while he had the mixer going and was in the process of putting it together.

As she gave me this speech, my brother’s girlfriend asked,

“What are you talking about?”

“Chris throws up every year because she overeats chip dip. Every year!” She had to add a sigh like it was the end of the world.

“I will give you a quarter if you don’t get sick this time,” she said.

As the night went by, I thought about the deal struck, and it made me consider my choices. I limited my indulgence. It was my first year that I didn’t have to run for the bathroom in the early hours of Christmas Day. My mother rejoiced and offered me a quarter until my late thirties to ensure I never did it again.

All that was needed was a guideline so I could adjust my actions. While I had to be the guardian of Libby and give assertive instruction to a stranger in the library, I had control over my own fate.

When it gets difficult to see past the addiction or the behaviors that aren’t for your highest good, that’s where God can help. Heaven will come gently to your side and offer assistance so you can advance. It might be in the form of a counselor, a sign that change must occur, or a quarter. In 2 Corinthians 3:17, it says,

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (NIV)

And if you are wondering if God wants to be there for you, read this from Psalm 91,

If you’ll hold on to me for dear life,” says God,
“I’ll get you out of any trouble.
I’ll give you the best of care
if you’ll only get to know and trust me.
Call me, and I’ll answer, be at your side in bad times;
I’ll rescue you, then throw you a party.
I’ll give you a long life.” (Message)

All it takes is realizing that you want better for yourself and a simple prayer. Strength will come to you to get past the situation where you can live at a higher level, with no limitations, never feeling restricted or fenced in.

(Just Say No…)

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)

Golden

When I chose to homeschool, it wasn’t as popular or understood as it is now.

“How will she socialize?”

“Won’t she be different than everyone else?”

“You can do that?”

“What about college?” This one I got asked when she was in kindergarten.

There were more fear inspiring inquiries, but I pressed on, trying to listen to that inward guide telling me to put aside the voices and give her an education that was meant to be.

I countered the naysayers by seeking out groups where I ended up teaching gym classes, arranged field trips, and wrote a newsletter to create a bond between all of us who were supposedly insane for wanting to teach our kids from home. We had relatives, neighbors, and friends looking at us with skepticism as if we were corrupting the next generations.

I met families with multiple children and watched as mothers utilized fantastic parenting skills to have each child learn responsibility by assigning the older ones to help out with the younger. We all had a common goal to see our kids learn but also be able to grow into their true selves

I signed my oldest daughter up for an ice skating class that was described for those who were home-educated. When we arrived, she ended up being the only student.

“We usually have more sign up, but I am willing to work one-on-one with her.”

So instead of a group class, my daughter was given private lessons.

Her first attempts were brutal. She fell over and over. But the teacher would pick her up and have her try again. It looked like a mess from where I was watching. And painful.

At the end of the first session, she said,

“She is a great skater with a lot of natural ability.”

That was the exact opposite of what I saw, so I thought maybe she was being nice.

“Go and get her a new pair of skates. What she is wearing is the problem. They aren’t supportive enough. With the right ones, she will fly on the ice.”

She wrote down the name and address where I could find her some.

We drove to the location, and I was able to rent her a pair. At her next class, she laced up and did as the teacher had said. She stumbled only slightly and stayed upright. The boots gave her the ankle support she needed to keep her from meeting the ice face first.

“Did you see the difference? She will move up on skills very quickly.”

She did, and by spring, I enrolled her in a nightly class where the same teacher was in charge of a group. The application of various techniques came easy for her. As I watched over the years from the stands, I saw her perform moves I never thought possible.

The night I saw the instructor do a single axle and then looked at her to repeat it, I thought…no way! I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see her feet leave the ground. It was one of those moments where you want to close your eyes but can’t because then you will miss it.

She did it perfectly.

Every year she performed in a show, similar to a dance recital. And while she was taking the ice by storm, I had a four-year-old who suddenly started dancing across the room.

I decided to enroll her in a preschool dance class. They learned simple steps by walking on their tiptoes, pushing small grocery carts, and leaping over strategically placed carpet squares. After a few sessions, I was approached by her teacher and was asked if she could go professional. At four?

“She’s got something the others don’t. Just think about it.”

All the kids got stage fright at the dance recital but not her. It ended up they all crowded around her and followed her steps. The teacher was right about what she had told me.

I considered the offer until I saw the next group of girls perform. They were in their young teens, if not preteen, and danced in a way that to me was not how I wanted my daughter to in her future. The outfits were revealing and the music sexually explicit. I knew as I watched, this wasn’t going to be her world.

The following fall, I had her go to a dance school that emphasized modesty and worked diligently on skills. It seemed to be a holistic approach to the art versus students throwing their bodies at the audience.

She thrived with other home-educated kids. And just like her sister, taking the stage caused her to act calmer. I could never fathom having to dance or skate in front of an audience. But not those two. They suddenly lost all fear and became so immersed in what they were doing that it looked effortless.

“She is so mean!” My daughter said, getting into the car after class.

“Who?”

“Maggie. She sticks out her tongue at me and glares. She’s mean!”

I had never heard her talk about anyone like that before. The following week, I figured out why this child was not so pleasant.

I was in the waiting room and overheard Maggie’s mom berating her.

“You are so stupid, Maggie. Get your stuff and get into class.” I observed a highly aggressive mom who verbally took shots at her daughter. She never said a kind word to her. I tried to start a conversation with her to see if I could uncover an underlying problem to help, but she was just as abrupt with me as her daughter.

I spoke with the teacher in private to clue her in on what I had witnessed. Not to gossip, but to see if someone else could develop a solution.

Nothing seemed to be working.

Christmas was coming, and a note was sent home that the kids could bring small gifts for everyone. My daughter chose to do gift bags. One of the things that she was giving was pencils that were glitter encased. We got a twelve-pack since there were eleven girls. This meant she could have one too.

To a seven-year-old girl, anything that sparkles makes life better. There were various colors but only one gold and one silver.

“Which one is yours?” I asked.

“I really want the gold one, but I’m giving it to Maggie,” she said as she put items together.

“You are? Even though she has been so terrible to you?”

“Yes. Her mom isn’t good to her, so maybe if someone is nice, she will change.”

This was beyond even what some adults were capable of.

She handed out the bags and noticed going forward that it helped her interactions with Maggie somewhat. Sadly, you can’t always undo years of damage with only one act of kindness. In time, Maggie returned to her old ways, but my daughter would smile back at her instead of getting upset.

That spring, for the dance recital, one of the costumes was a red leotard that had a matching feather that I had to clip into her hair. Before the performance, I saw Maggie and her mom snarling at each other. While I peacefully worked on my daughter’s outfit, those two had an awkward barking session in the corner. I never saw them enjoy each other’s company.

As the class was in the middle of their routine, Maggie’s feather broke free and started floating above her head. The kids had been drilled with the idea that nothing should stop them. If the music quit, they were to keep going. If a wardrobe malfunction happened, they were to solider on.

And they did, except for Maggie. She got distracted and chased her red feather across the stage. She batted at it, which only created more of a draft, sending it up higher, out of her reach more.

I heard the laughter begin and ripple through the audience. To those who didn’t know the situation, it was funny. It made me feel sad because this was just one more thing for Maggie to feel like a failure.

The song ended, and it floated to the ground next to a stressed-out Maggie.

Backstage as we picked up to leave, I heard,

“Just go get in the car, Maggie!”

And I saw her dejectedly go down the hall with her mom racing ahead of her.

That’s the last time I saw them.

This was a moment where my young daughter learned that there would be times when you can’t save everyone from their problems. Even though she tried to be compassionate toward Maggie, it went seemingly unnoticed. She was spending more time in a hostile environment, so my daughter’s actions weren’t enough to offset that. It was only a temporary fix for a short time once a week. Then, Maggie would go back to what was familiar, and even though it was destructive, it probably felt safe, so she didn’t know there was better.

“You tried,” was all I could think of to say. “And God knows that.”

Sometimes you have to be okay with that kind of result.

I am hoping that this girl and her mom had a divine intervention somewhere along the way. What a terrible pattern to keep repeating in a family line.

My daughter’s small attempt to disrupt it could have been a catalyst for change. You never know what God can do later when you aren’t looking. In Luke 6:35 it says,

I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind. (NIV)

It’s like learning how to skate without the proper footwear; you fall and don’t want to get up, it hurts, but when you let God take over, you suddenly can glide along even with someone you are at odds with and they can be considered a frenemy.

It’s always good to apply the rule that is universal: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. With that, you will be golden.

Unity

Art class was never my favorite, but the public school system was always on a mission to create a well-rounded individual. So for those who were going to pursue basket weaving or making paper chains, we had to put in our time so our future would be successful.

There is artistic talent in my family that my daughters inherited, but it seemed to bypass me. It is so frustrating to see mentally what I want to put on paper but then produce something that is not even near what was intended. There’s darkness between that part of my brain and my hand.

I had always been under the impression that the ability to draw was given to some, not to others. There are claims out there that this isn’t true. If you work at it, like playing the piano, you can pick it up just as if you have natural talent.

I was never given this insight in school. Most of our instructors floated into the room and seemed abstract, like the projects they expected us to complete. We were supposed to glue things and apply paint to blank pieces of paper.

It was to reveal my deeper self with no directions, and it was a “do what comes to mind” type of thing.

This was the exact opposite of books and writing that I was drawn to. Those have rules like reading left to right, and there’s a point.

An article I read recently about this topic lost credibility for me with its grammatical and punctuation errors. It solidified my theory that we each have strengths and those we should capitalize on. Literally, use capital letters and punctuation when you write, and complete sentences are great, too.

I recently attended an evening of decorating glass ornaments with my two girls. It’s bad enough that I lack in this area, but then to sit next to those two who can whip out masterpiece work in seconds, my efforts look like preschool.

Within minutes, I was unimpressed. The idea was to take ink and apply it to the outside of frosted white glass globes.

After a while, it started to remind me of another object the more I had to labor over it.

“If a lamp burns out at home in the next 24 hours, I’m leaving it. These are making me hate light bulbs,” I said to my youngest daughter, who was in the middle of applying her magic effortlessly.

“And it reminds me of dying eggs for Easter. You know what happens when I mix colors.”

They always somehow turned out looking like grey rocks.

She was a bit annoyed but was making the best of it. She had set aside her colors right where she was going to sit, but when we left the room for minutes and returned, someone had taken all of her choices. Looking around, we realized we were immersed in hostile territory where some were taking this little craft way too seriously.

The person leading this had shown us how to use sponges and plastic wrap. During this demo, one woman kept saying,

“Wow! That is so amazing!” Like she had come from another planet.

What was I missing? I wasn’t catching the vision, just like all those times in school.

I was in great company with a lady across from me. She was throwing back one cocktail after another to cope, and this wasn’t her interest either. While she drank away her evening, I struggled to get through the task at hand. All the alcohol started to catch up with her, and she became a great distraction for me.

“Do you know what would make this even better?” She said.

“What?”

“If I went outside and smoked a cigarette.”

Every time she picked up a bottle of ink to start applying it, it was empty.

“I think that is a sign,” I said.

“I think it is,” she said, trying to squeeze any stray liquid from the bottle.

After making absolutely no effort, she quit. Her friend across from her was intricately painting like Martha Stewart, and all of hers were identical and perfectly done. She then started telling those around her how they could improve their efforts.

“I think you should add some gold to that,” she said randomly as she took another swallow of the never ending liquid in front of her.

She looked like she was going to doze off at any minute.

The lady seated at the very end of our table was going with an all blue motif.

When it was time to quit, my hands were covered in various shades that would not come off that easily.

“Oh, look at that!” A lady said, gushing over the heart that my daughter had meticulously added to hers. She had somehow gotten over the adversity of having thieves take her supplies.

My other daughter was glad it was over as she found herself in my shoes for once. This just wasn’t a match for her artistic talent.

“Could you take my picture?” I heard to my left. The room had cleared, and she was alone; I thought she was with the group that had been there.

“I’m going to give these balls to my boyfriend for Christmas. I painted them blue, and he will get the joke,” she said, laughing. I wanted to say: there are children in the room, but there weren’t.

She just threw that at me. Like she knew me her whole life, and even then, that wouldn’t have been long enough. As usual, I didn’t flinch outwardly, but I cringed inwardly. She started to hand me her phone, but then pulled it back.

“Wait! Let me show you what he looks like.”

I wasn’t sure what I was about to see, but we had come this far, and there was no turning back.

“He is 65, and so am I.”

She flicked through pictures of his house, seemed to be focused and enamored with his wealth, and spoke like she had been with him for centuries. It felt a little desperate to me, and I had a bad feeling creeping in.

“How long have you known him?”

“A month. I went on a dating app. That’s how I meet everyone that I date. The guy I was with before him cheated on me, and the one before that too, but I went on the app and picked another one.” Just like shopping for eggs at the grocery store. Dozens to choose from.

I would rather be thrown in a pit of snakes than live that kind of life.

“Doesn’t that get frustrating? Going from one person to the next? Searching?” I asked.

“Sometimes. But, I really think this time he is the one. My husband died in 2012, so I have been dating since then.”

I saw a brief flash in my mind of her on her phone and looking for another option.

She posed with her creations while I snapped this precious moment in time. A year from now, it would probably be a long forgotten memory and deleted.

How do you tell someone that history is about to repeat itself while they gush on excitedly about their circumstances? You don’t.

She asked me where I lived, and apparently, one of her former cheaters lives near me. She warned me to stay off a specific street. Like I was going to be his next target on a drive-by? What powers did she think this guy had?

Suddenly, she started to talk about God and the church she attended. And then came the question I’m always asked,

“Where do you go to church?”

My standard answer is: online. Otherwise, it’s like attending a timeshare presentation, and they want you to sign up and commit on the spot.

I thought about her later that night, and I heard: She’s worried about her age and being alone, which is why she keeps making the same mistakes. Fear is motivating her, and that always leads to failure.

I was shown that while she wants to connect with God, she keeps getting swayed to look for protection and security in men. And while she sets her sights on the outside, she cannot graduate to a higher level on the inside. If she would, the striving to find what she thinks will make her happy would cease.

Do you know that God is okay with you coming close to Him, or were you taught to be afraid and to keep a distance? In Psalm 17:15, there is an answer that could clear up a lot of unnecessary chasing:

And me? I plan on looking
you full in the face. When I get up,
I’ll see your full stature
and live heaven on earth. (Message)

The invisible realm is challenging to rely on because you cannot always see it, but it can be felt. The more time you spend seeking that instead of what the world claims to give, you find peace beginning to settle in. You have to get comfortable with not always being able to view it as we usually do.

In Philippians 4:6-7, it is explained how to let go of the dating app and hold on to God’s hand:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. (NLT)

Instead of looking at all the broken pieces and trails of disappointments, God can use it all to create an original mosaic that can be viewed as magnificent.

There is an art term that sums up what can happen if we let God do the work in us:

Unity: The arrangement of one or more of the elements used to create a feeling of completeness. Everything in the work seems to belong and contributes to the overall picture.

When you let go of your plan, and let heaven direct circumstances for your highest good, you will come to realize a new level of existence that is known as unity.

Best Gift

When I had to go through my parent’s house and sort through 60 years of possessions, the one thing I would have taken if it still existed would have been the original nativity set.

But, it had long been gone after seeing its days spent in the hands of all the kids. I don’t think one of us didn’t take them out of their places and play with them. By the time I got to them, they were chipped and dented.

With three boys, I can only imagine what they did to those, and they were made out of ceramic. Nothing fragile or plastic was ever safe around them. Many of the things that had survived their childhood path of destruction were barely hanging on.

Like the Monopoly money that was taped together, one of them got so mad that he ripped the fake currency in half. When my mom saw what he had done, she made him piece it all back together. Her purpose was twofold. They probably couldn’t afford to buy a brand new game, and for the rest of time, this temper tantrum would be long remembered so as not to repeat itself. It was a message to all of us that consequences might last forever if we did something once.

Because of his brief tirade, I had to hand over bills with yellowing tape every time I wanted to buy Boardwalk. The question was always asked when I played with friends,

“Why does this look like this?”

I had to explain that one of my brothers had gone crazy momentarily long ago. They would look at me like I was related to a notorious criminal.

My mom told me that one year she and my dad had bought toys for Christmas on credit.

“Before we had it paid off, every single thing we gave them had broken. We never did that again.”

So it was no surprise that the pieces from her nativity were beaten up. When she put them out, they would soon be scattered all over the room. It took mileage to get the wise men from point A to B.

First, Mary and Joseph had to get to the stable, which wasn’t a short jaunt. I had to pack up my tiny Barbie suitcase with clothes for the journey. And the camel that got them there ran on green energy with no fuel emissions, so the going was slow.

If my mom had to vacuum the carpet, that just set back the trip, and I would have to start the process all over again.

I would get the two of them all the way to living room Bethlehem and take them from the couch to a chair, the stereo, the end tables, and finally, the stable that was losing its roofing.

“Chris, I need to dust. You need to leave.”

It never failed! She always thwarted the birth of Jesus.

That meant I would have to start all over again later, and I hadn’t even gotten the wise men on their way yet.

I have a hazy memory from about four, where I pretended to be the Virgin Mary. I had a light blue blanket that I would drape over my head because every movie that depicts her puts her in a blue-colored head covering. I grabbed whatever doll I could find, Raggedy Andy would do, and I would put him under the tree.

My mom had told me that God had sent the world a gift in the form of a baby. In my mind, then, he should be where all the other presents were.

“They were expecting a baby to come, and God surprised them. It was a great plan because no one could figure it out,” she always told me.

I was taught young, growing up Catholic, that Mary was to be worshipped. But as I grew up, I never felt she was any different than anyone else. God just handpicked her because He knew she could accomplish a mission that not many would be able to, and we all can do that.

A lot was expected of her that the world was not going to understand. I can relate as more supernatural events keep on showing up.

Because I was the youngest, I got the job of putting Jesus in the crib on Christmas Eve. My mom would leave him in the box until then. She always made a cake, sang Happy Birthday, and handed me the tiny figure wrapped in a little cloth. If she had put it up high to keep me from moving the pieces, someone had to lift me so I could reach.

I was the only one of the six who had the longest record of having this assignment. With them all so close in age and as an outlier, I had no one to compete with. I begged for a younger sibling, but she always said,

“You will have to wait for someone else in the family to have a baby someday.”

I thought she was being mean to me, not realizing she was past 40, and all of her patience was long gone.

And so was mine when her house had been left in disarray without a single thought of who would have to deal with it. They lived like death didn’t exist; I don’t recommend doing that to your children.

I had started working on it in June, and by October, it was listed. Just before that, my daughter and I went back over, which we had been doing daily.

All of the Christmas decorations were long gone, but in the middle of one of the rooms was a handmade ornament with my mom’s name on it. There was absolutely no reason for that to be there, with all of that having been removed months before. Just like a little thank you note.

It had become her way of getting my attention during that time so I wouldn’t forget that she was still around. She let me know that just because I couldn’t see her didn’t mean that she wasn’t still alive.

In the first year of her moving on to heaven, I wrote daily passages. I would get a vision of her sitting at a table, and she would put on a pair of glasses.

I wondered why she wore glasses in heaven, and I was made aware that it symbolized wisdom and that I was about to learn something. I knew I was to start writing, and it wasn’t the greatest to see that while I was driving. Her timing wasn’t always the best.

When I go back and read some of the passages from two years ago, I see a subtle warning about an upcoming pandemic, encouraging words on how to stay strong in the face of adversity, and a lot of details of her heavenly home. Basically, she reiterates a truth to me repeatedly. God loves humanity. In this entry from my journal on June 5th, 2019, I was having one of these learning sessions:

“Chris, God is God. People can make Him into whatever they want, but He is the Creator. And there are no shifting shadows in Him. The spin that the world puts on Him is nonsense and makes no difference. God longs to come and be in communion with His creation. The pain you see in the world, the confusion and the self hatred is lack of communion with God. When His love floods the body and the mind, all these things will flee.”

It fits right in with John 3:16, where we are told that God loves the world.

I try to keep that in mind as I am given reasons to hate it more and more. But it must not show because people are drawn to His presence like a magnet.

I continually have people smile at me when I walk through stores; some say hi, some want to know where the soup aisle is, and others want to tell me their life stories. Like the guy who saw me put back something, I was considering buying as an ingredient.

“You really didn’t want that anyway,” he said.

This is how it always starts. I’m minding my own business, and someone appears.

“I love my grandchildren, and I am getting them candy before I go see them.”

He started grabbing boxes and examining others, trying to decide what they would like best. He chatted on about anything he could think of while I kept trying to find something on my list.

He explained to me that his car wasn’t working right; he and his son had to fix it.

“The tires are shot. You know what I wish?”

“No. What.” It could be anything.

“I wish I could ride a horse everywhere I go, and that would be great.” And, he kept right on looking for what he wanted.

I laughed. Where did he come from, and why?

“I love horses. And they are more reliable than driving a car. I got to spend ten days on a ranch, and I wish I could go back, and I want a horse. That’s all I need.”

“I think you are going to need a lot of money for food and vet bills.”

“Ya, that might be more expensive.”

He talked about his kids, his job, and everything that was going right in his life. He was a fountain of positivity. And as fast as he appeared, he said goodbye to me.

As I drove home, I heard: It’s not all bad. See? I just showed you that. That man is happy even when things aren’t going right with his car. He found other things to be grateful for, which will keep him going through all that is ahead of him a lot easier.

God can be straightforward like that and not complicated at all. So keep an eye out for those encounters that offset the negative.

When you need encouragement from heaven, and it arrives in a way that you weren’t looking for, that is the best gift.

Simple

Brittle

“Chris, the timer is going to go off. Can you turn the cookie sheet and put five minutes on the clock?”

I grew up in a house that had a dysfunctional oven. Nothing was ever done to correct it, and when it was in use, care had to be taken to watch the time or half of what was in there would burn.

It seemed that my mom was always off in another room when it had to be handled. If not done right, there would be smoke, a scorched unrecognizable and inedible object. A pizza could quickly become a plastic frisbee and a pan of brownies transformed into a brick.

So when she told me I had to deal with whatever she was baking, I moved fast because that night’s meal hung balanced precariously between life and death.

The heat blast that came from it when the door was opened was nuclear radiation quality. With my eyes closed and oven mitts on, I repositioned whatever was the scientific experiment that night. We were in unfamiliar territory and what came to the table in the evening was anyone’s guess.

My dad was put on a low fat diet, and a doctor’s visit had revealed that his cholesterol was out of line. His Saturday breakfast of eggs and bacon was replaced by whatever was considered devoid of the ‘F’ word. Not a thought was given to high sugar content as long as he was eating artificial, man made products with enough preservatives to provide it with a shelf life of at least ten years. But, by God, he would have triglycerides that would be phenomenal.

It was a sure fire way to help him live longer and make him hate his existence.

He was raised on meatloaf, pork chops, and chocolate cake that he poured gravy on. The first recollection I have of him doing that, I knew it was wrong. I tried to tell him not to eat it, and maybe I would have warded off his cholesterol issues, but he turned a deaf ear to my gagging. He sealed his fate.

All of his favorites were off-limits, and he was undergoing a massive adjustment with his taste buds and mentally trying to cope with what she was throwing at him.

One night she tried to use crispy rice cereal to make a coating on the chicken. I don’t know what other ingredients she put in it, but when he went to take some, all of these tentacle-like strings inhibited his ability to get it on his plate, and it kept bouncing away from him like a gigantic Slinky.

In exasperation, he put the spoon back and said he was not going to eat it. It had become like a workout for his bicep. She somehow got some of the glop on his plate, and he ate it to make it to another day. He was almost living the dream.

Occasionally, I was the unlucky recipient of his lunch because she sometimes mixed the bags up. He basically ate a sandwich heavily laden with mustard and crammed with lettuce. When I got that by mistake, I fasted. He, on the other hand, had the best meal he had in weeks.

“Chris, I got your lunch today. It was great.”

I had taken one for the team.

Somehow, he adjusted, and she found recipes that he accepted half-heartedly. When Christmas came around, though, he relaxed a little, took a vacation from it almost entirely.

She baked a variety of cookies which he had a hard time staying away from. She would stuff them into their big freezer, and he would grab a handful because calories don’t count when you steal them away from the watchful eye of the prison warden.

I don’t know how this started, but they joined forces to make peanut brittle at that time of year. I have made it, and I have never needed help, so I still am unclear why this was a team effort. It just shouldn’t have been.

One year, my arrival was way off as I went over to their house at the height of him stirring the liquidy syrup on the stove. It has to get to a specific temperature, and a candy thermometer is needed so you know exactly when it’s done. It has to get to 300 degrees usually to create a hard crack texture. The only thing cracking up was him.

He nervously kept an eye on it while the bubbles began to increase the whole time he stood there.

Meanwhile, she stood by with a box of baking soda and a teaspoon. The mixture gets thick as it cooks, and you have to keep it from scorching. This is when the yearly argument would ensue.

“You have to throw that in quick.”

“I know, John. I have done this a million times.”

“I don’t want to burn this.”

“Keep stirring. Move it around more.”

“I can’t move it around more. It’s getting thicker.”

Two bags of spanish peanuts had been added; those weren’t the only nuts in the room.

“Let me do it then.”

“No. You will burn it.”

“I will not. Just let me see.”

He would not release the spoon to her, but he kept voicing his anxiety.

“If we don’t get this to a certain temperature, it’s going to be sticky and will get stuck in your teeth when you eat it. I don’t like it like that.”

“I know. Let me see what it’s like.”

I should have left. It doesn’t get better from here.

“I am sweating,” he said. This was common for him, and not so much from standing over the burner, but his nerves.

She realized I was standing there watching. I still had my hand on the doorknob and was considering going back out to my car.

“Hey! You’re just in time to watch us fight,” she said, laughing. She and I tried to talk about other things while he kept sighing, stirring, and fretting. It was good he wasn’t in charge of national emergencies.

“He gets too upset over this.”

“Why do you two do this every year?”

“It’s tradition,” she said with a smile.

“So, you purposely put yourselves in a position to argue every year?”

“It makes us closer.” She always had this way of trying to diffuse him while in the heat, literally, of the battle.

“Hey!” he said. “Stop talking and pay attention to what I am doing. I need you to throw that in right when I say to.”

This elicited a frown from her. No one told her to stop talking, ever.

“I can talk to her all I want,” she said.

Here it comes; I still stood right by the door.

“You always are talking. I need it quiet.” He said, staring straight into the saucepan in front of him.

“You would think a man who had six kids running around here at one time would be able to handle us talking. Chris, what are you up to today?”

Now she was going to drag me to take her side, and he had tripped her rebellious switch.

“I..uh..” I didn’t want to commit.

“Are you paying attention?” he barked. As the temperature rose, so did he.

“Yes, John. I can do two things at once. I can talk and pay attention to what you are doing, but I don’t get all bent out of shape about things like you do. Why are you here, Chris?”

I had words forming in my head that kept getting stopped before being spoken. I did not want to be in the middle of this madness.

“You better be ready with that baking soda when I say it has to go in.”

She grabbed the oven mitt and whacked him with it.

“I will be!”

It didn’t phase him.

“Don’t goof around. I need you to be ready!”

“This is why men don’t have babies, Chris.”

We were all over the board on subjects, just because they were both in the kitchen at the same time trying to accomplish a task.

“I think I could have had kids just fine,” he said in his defense.

“No way! You stub your toe, and you go down for days! A little sniffle sets you back. Having a baby would kill you.”

“Being quiet would kill you.”

Her response was always to act hurt, laugh, and keep on talking.

“See? He isn’t nice to me, Chris.”

Still trying to get me on her side.

“I am very nice to you! Do you have the teaspoon and soda ready?”

“For Pete’s sake! I am right here with both of them. Can’t you see me?”

His glasses were fogging up from the steam rising upward.

“I am so hot!”

“Let me see what you are doing.”

“No. Just wait until I tell you what to do.”

“So, why are you here, Chris?”

“I don’t know,” I said, forgetting why I had even come in the door.

I saw him lean in to read the small print on the thermometer.

“I think it is time. I can’t read it.”

She tried to see it, so both of their heads were close together as they fought to see what the number was.

“I can’t see with you sticking your nose in here,” he said.

“I can’t see with you not moving out of my way!”

“Get the glass of water!” He said.

They didn’t trust the reading, so the old-fashioned way of doing things was still used. A small drip was put into a cold cup of water, and if it wasn’t sticky, it was good to go.

Both of them huddled over the glass and saw the crystal shape form.

“It’s ready! Get the soda! Right now!”

He moved the pan over to the next burner but accidentally pushed her across the room, making her drop the teaspoon and the soda that she had ready.

“Get it in there!” He said.

“I am trying to!”

She scrambled to pick up what he had knocked out of her hand.

“What is wrong with you, woman? Hurry up!”

I was in crazy land. These two had been my role models as a kid. Now, I wasn’t sure why I ever listened to them.

“I have to get a new teaspoon. This one was on the floor, and it’s dirty now.”

You did not take anything off the floor that was dropped and use it in her world. Her nurse’s training was in full gear to sanitize all things.

“Hurry up! You have to throw it in right now!”

She started finding another measuring spoon in a drawer that was not known for its ease in locating anything. Forks, knives, and other metal objects were being tossed around as she rummaged through, trying to find a clean one.

He was having a stroke and a heart attack all at once. Maybe even a brain embolism.

Finally, she did her part and threw in the key ingredient. The mixture puffed up like it was supposed to. But, the next step had to be executed.

“That has to be put on the cookie sheet now,” he said.

We weren’t out of the woods yet.

There was more pushing, shoving, trying to get past each other. Their workspace was small, and when one moved one way, so did the other. They kept crashing into each other.

“John, just slow down. You are going to drop it!”

“Move. I can do it.”

She felt the need to keep on stirring while he transported the pan across the room to the kitchen table. She was on her tiptoes because he was taller than her.

It finally made it to its destination. I knew if I came back the following year, I would be a witness to it all over again.

“You are spreading that too thin,” she said.

Not able to take it anymore, she grabbed the spatula out of his hand. He stood over her watching her every move.

“You aren’t moving that quick enough. One side of that is going to be thinner than another.”

“John, I know what I am doing. Just let me do it!”

He sighed, looked at me.

“When did you get here?”

I was inches from him the whole time.

“I have been here too long,” I said.

Once he saw that she was not inept, he said,

“I am out of here!”

“We are making two batches,” she said. “You aren’t going anywhere.”

“What? I thought we were done!” His whole Saturday was going to hell in a handbasket.

“We always make two.”

He rolled his eyes at me.

“I am going to go sit down somewhere for a second. I am sweating!”

At this point, his glands should have been running on empty.

“So, why are you here?” she asked, turning to look at me.

Now that she had finished using the spatula, she decided to taste it, and she bit off some and started chewing.

“I had nothing better to do than come here to see this,” I said. My time was free-flowing before I had kids, so there was no real reason to be there other than to enjoy their marital bliss.

“This is chewy,” she said. She ripped off another piece with her teeth while holding the spatula up and looking at me.

“Is work busy?” she asked. “He is going to be so mad that this turned out so chewy.”

Her jaw was working overtime. But she kept trying to engage me in a conversation.

She had no idea that she was eating the spatula, and I could see a huge bite taken off the hard plastic corner. She kept on struggling to eat it.

“You might want to stop doing that,” I said.

“Why? I am taste testing it to see if we did okay. It’s just really hard to chew!”

I grabbed the spatula out of her hand.

“Look at this. Don’t eat anymore of that. Spit it out!”

Her eyes got huge, and she ran over to the garbage.

“What’s wrong with it?” he said from the living room.

She and I started laughing, so we could not speak.

“Is it sticky? Is to too chewy?” he yelled.

That just made us laugh more.

“What is wrong with you two?”

If a stranger had come into that house and observed, a determination could have easily been made that they had the worst relationship. But, I knew it was only a tiny snippet of the entire picture.

Our walk with God is sometimes the same way. We get in the way, worry about the outcome, and if someone from the outside sees us, we might be marked as having no faith. But, all that is required is a mustard seed, and they must have had that going for them.

Anytime she asked him to do anything, he did it. Maybe not without a grumble or two, but he complied because he wanted her to be happy. And when he needed her, she was right there to help. They worked together most weirdly at times, but at the foundation of it, they kept each other a priority, working to keep their hearts soft and not brittle.

(No spatulas were harmed or injured in the making of this year’s double batch)
(Unassisted and in a meditative state)

Less Tears

“Did you see that?” She asked as I walked through the store, trying to focus.

I stopped to look at what she wanted me to notice. It was a display of cardinals. Glassware, plates, and mugs were adorned with the red-winged symbol. I picked up a miniature one and saw that it had a small card associated with it.

My eyes were so swollen from crying I could hardly read.

“It says that when someone wants to send you a message from heaven to tell you they are ok, a cardinal will appear.”

I was having a lot of other signs happening, but not this one. When my mom moved on in 2019, my life dramatically changed as I could easily go between the two realms.

I had seen a few videos where people described their encounters with birds, but I hadn’t had the experience. I picked up a small charm to purchase and went back to looking around.

It was the day after my dog had passed on to heaven in my lap. I had gotten out of the house to distract myself and was trying to feel normal.

I felt guilty for being so lost without him. How could I feel this way about a dog? People had died that I knew, and I wasn’t this upset. I felt like I had watched my child go away, and I kept trying to tell myself I had to pull it together.

I had been trained not to feel anything as I grew up, so I was used to being able to pretend the pain wasn’t there. But, this time, I couldn’t make it stop. It kept coming in waves, and I knew that he wouldn’t be there when I got back home as he had been for 12 years.

Over the noise in my mind, I heard it playing on a speaker above my head.

“Do you hear that?” I asked my daughter.

It was Ave Maria. That was always a strong indication that my mom was trying to tell me she was around.

I have found that music is an easy way for those in heaven to communicate with us. My playlist on my phone will suddenly go to a song with lyrics that tells me how to look at a situation in a helpful way. Or there will be words that will comfort me when I don’t understand circumstances that seem so out of control. It will happen while I am driving or shopping.

At first, I used to ignore it or explain it away. That’s one way we keep ourselves safe and try to understand what we don’t understand. It’s just a coincidence, and it means nothing, right?

But when you start to listen closely and pay attention, it becomes so pronounced that you can’t brush it off anymore.

While my mom was days away from her transition into eternal life, I could not go anywhere without hearing Rod Stewart sing Forever Young. After the third time, I started to notice this, and I would suddenly catch the lyrics while in a store, restaurant, or even on hold. It really hit me when I was in the freezer section of a small grocery store I rarely went to.

The realization of it was astounding. All knowledge is given where she is, so songs, books, anything is available to send subtle messages.

I had to unlearn what I thought I knew about the other side. I had been taught not to mess with the dead because that was demonic. Evil can come as light, so don’t go near it, like when you are taught as a kid not to touch a hot stove. So I had tried for years to push away what was trying to break through into my existence.

As I stood there not twenty-four hours after his departure, I listened to this significant tune being played just for me. I knew I was being told I wasn’t alone.

Grief can do that in the most unrelenting way. It comes in and covers you in darkness. No unseen forces are working against you; this is you against you.

While I knew I had to feel what I did, I didn’t want to stay stuck in it, which is easy to do. So I was trying to remain mindful of how much I was getting swept up in the sadness. I had wanted to leave with him, and I couldn’t. I was trying not to think about the long dark tunnel that was ahead for me without him.

And then the guilt.

When I told my daughter about that, she said,

“People are always going to do things that make us upset, and they are going to hurt and disappoint us, but he never did that to you. He gave you unconditional love, and sometimes you had to correct him, but he never hurt you.”

That helped.

So as Ave Maria played, I turned and saw a shelf of battery-operated lanterns. When the switch on the bottom was moved, it lit up, and a fan started to move glittery snowflakes like a snow globe but with no effort to shake it.

One of them had a male and female cardinal in it. My dad didn’t want a Christmas tree put up the year before, so I thought maybe he would like this instead. It had a significant meaning attached to it as he went through his second year as a widower. Having her favorite song play nonstop was guiding me on how to help him and me.

When I gave it to him and told him I had one, he said,

“Maybe we will be looking at them at the same time.”

“Should we communicate by telepathy through the birds?”

At first, he thought I was serious, and he always gets this look on his face that makes me laugh. The same one that put her into hysterics.

“Is that possible?” He asked.

“I’m just kidding,” I said. Who knows at this point. Maybe.

“Oh. You had me a little worried there for a minute.”

After all I had told him about my supernatural life, this was a worry?

“I do have strange things that I can’t explain happen to me all the time.”

“Accept it, Chris. God has chosen you to give this gift to. Just accept it.”

We didn’t access supernatural powers through our Christmas lanterns, but mine would turn itself on at random times. Even if the off switch were on, it would startup, and I just accepted it.

I had been searching for something to put on my tree in memory of my dog. I couldn’t find anything in the store that day, so I went online. I was briefly disappointed to see that a particular one had sold out. It was a cardinal looking into a window. He had always sat with one eye toward the living room windows to be sure we were protected.

“I want this,” I said, showing my daughter. “But it’s gone.”

I tried to find something else, but I kept coming back to that one.

One day as I was walking past my tree, which I had put up early as another distraction from my grief, I said,

“I expect to get that ornament, and I am going to put it right on this branch!”

I was somewhat moving into the anger portion of my loss. Not severe, but enough to not put up with the lack of supply for something I wanted. I wasn’t asking for the world, just something small. And if God owned everything, then I could have it.

Every day, sometimes more than once, I would go up to that spot on my tree and say out loud,

“That ornament is going right there, and it’s going to hang on that branch.”

I never looked at it online again, but my daughter did.

A handful of days into this, she was woken up at 2 am and told to search a particular website. To her amazement, there was one available, and she purchased it before falling back to sleep.

Every day she had to listen to my speech about how great my tree looked with the ornament on it. She waited as time went by, and there was no delivery. She messaged the seller and was told that it had been delayed, but it was coming.

Meanwhile, I kept repeating the same mantra every single time I walked by the space. It was mine, and I wasn’t taking no for an answer.

On December 19, many weeks after all this began, I got home late and I was trying to tell her something. She kept shifting her eyes away while I was speaking. Finally, I said,

“What is wrong with you? Why do you keep doing that with your eyes?”

She didn’t answer me but looked away again. I squinted, trying to get a reading on what was up. Had the stress of her career gotten to her? What problem was I now going to have to help her solve? Was she overworked? I came up with nothing. Usually, I just knew.

“What is going on?”

More of a head nod this time made me look toward whatever had her attention. The entire house was dark except for the lights on the tree, and I stepped closer to the spot that had been empty.

I could not believe it! The sold-out ornament was on the tree!

“What? How did this happen?” I said.

She told me about her late night purchase with my mom’s voice telling her where to get it.

I thought that was the end of it, but we had two cardinals repeatedly show up in the yard over the summer. They were replicas of the ones in my lantern, and I had never had this happen before. One of them started to fly so close to me at times, I had to shut the door quickly so that it wouldn’t get in the house.

During all of this, my grief still raged on at times so harshly that it would stop me in mid-sentence or come out of nowhere when I thought I was fine.

I was sitting in my friend’s salon chair in mid-July as she mixed up hair color. She had her dog go to heaven days after mine did, very unexpectedly, so she knew first hand the sorrow I was feeling.

She stopped what she was doing and stepped in front of me. This was unusual for her as she is a very driven person who doesn’t stop once involved in a task.

She took off her glasses and said,

“God just said me that He is going to show you the love that your dog had for you in a different way. Stinky was an example of what is coming next into your life.”

Then she went back to work on my hair. But that became an anchor for me as I have drifted in and out of rough places, being tossed around, wondering if life would be okay without him.

We are being taken care of in so many ways, and we don’t even know it. To see, though, it requires expansion. I still miss my dog, but the sting of it has gotten easier. I still want him to materialize next to me on the couch and scratch my hand to get me to pet him, but that’s not going to happen. Instead, I have to move on because there is more to do here. He isn’t coming back no matter how much I want him to.

But, what I can do is keep myself as close as possible to the One who created him just for me.

In Psalm 34:18 it says,

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. (NLT)

This I have found to be true. As I have drawn near to God, I have overcome some of the hurt to get through the darker days. As I have allowed healing to come without resistance, my capacity to help others has grown. I can’t go anywhere now without someone telling me they have had to say goodbye to an important person.

Last weekend, I was in a hardware store getting zip ties, and the cashier randomly said his best friend had died at the end of October. I could see a tall man standing next to him, around fifty years old.

“Do you feel his presence? Was he tall?” I was testing the waters.

“Yes, I can feel him by me every day. He was much taller than me and died at 55. But it’s like he never left.”

And I thought I was going to get zip ties.

My faith has increased through all of it, my spiritual ears have become more receptive, and my eyes opened to more incredible things with less tears.

Come To The Table

At the beginning of November, my daughter and I began the quest to find a table for our kitchen.

In 2011, we had packed up our house and moved to Arizona where we thought we would reside indefinitely. Within 11 months, I was back to where I started, however, I had given away my dining room table and six chairs. I had put all of it under a tree on my boulevard with a free sign. A lady came to my door and asked,

“Is that really for free?”

“Yes, I am moving and it is just too much to take with me.”

“I need a table just like that.  I have six kids and can’t afford one right now. Is it okay if I have a friend help me haul it to my house?”

“Sure.”

I ended up standing guard by it until she returned. As it was being loaded up into a truck, she had tears in her eyes.

“Now we can have a meal at a real table with chairs.”

After moving back to my house, we ‘temporarily’ filled in the space by putting up a long white plastic work bench. It served its purpose for longer than it should have, and six years later, we couldn’t stand it anymore. It was a good place to lay a purse, work on a project or throw junk mail, but without enough chairs, it certainly was not a table to have a meal or gather around regularly. It had really become an eyesore.

Off we went one Saturday to find the replacement. I learned quite quickly how to spot the hovering sales people. I would see a clipboard and suddenly my pace would go into turbo speed, and I would weave in a pattern much similar to what I have heard survivalists teach if you don’t want to get shot. If you move fast enough, and change direction repeatedly, you have a better chance of not getting hit.

I did find myself trapped on one occasion. I think I got so wrapped up in looking that I didn’t see him coming out of my peripheral vision.

“Do you need any help with anything?”

I gave the customary response, “No, we are just looking today.” Smile.

I really don’t mind having help when I need it, and I know he needs to make a living, but sometimes I feel like I cannot have a moment just to contemplate and think as we were shopping.

He nodded politely and said,

“If you need me for anything, let me know.”

I assured him that I would as she and I continued to browse.

Less than five minutes later, he was back by my side. This is when I really had to paste on a happy face because I don’t like to be pressured.

“Anything yet?” He inquired.

“No, we are still looking,” I said less enthusiastically.

Putting his clipboard under his arm so he wouldn’t drop it, he put both of his hands together in the form of a prayer. He slightly bowed and said,

“Your journey continues then.”

I expected a gong to sound as if I was on an episode from the old 70’s show Kung Fu.

“Yes, yes it does,” I said trying not to laugh because he was being serious.

Many furniture stores later, and two Saturdays lost, I said to my daughter,

“We are done looking. The table needs to come to us. God is going to have to send it to us.” She agreed as she was not enjoying the search any more than I was.

On the Saturday night after Thanksgiving, I came home and put on my comfy new pajamas, got something to drink and plopped on the couch ready to relax. The big meal was over, I had gotten some baking done over the weekend, and I was ready to be quiet. I started watching a show I had recorded while my daughter was sitting in a chair working on her computer.

I suddenly woke up with a jolt to my own loud snore! Very unladylike, but the fatigue was real.

“Darn! I have missed part of my show,” I said. Just as I was reaching for the remote to rewind, a furniture commercial came on.

I saw a table and set of four chairs.

“Hey! Have you looked into this place?”

“No,” she said. I rewound the commercial which was quite short so we could see it again. Had I not woken up, we would have missed it.

We both went online and saw that they were having a sale that ended the next day, so we agreed that it would be worth the trip.

Interestingly, no salesperson greeted us at the door. We zipped over to what we both knew we would like and took a few moments to admire it and picture how it would look in the kitchen. I had to track down a lady for help.

Less than 24 hours later, a table and four chairs had been purchased and ready for delivery.

I realized that while I was not paying attention, literally snoring on the couch, the table and chairs had indeed found us. Instead of sweating it out searching, I had just thrown up a request before heaven, and my prayer was answered.

The set was delivered today, and as the delivery guy put it together he said,

“This is a nice table.  I don’t know why they discontinued it.  You aren’t going to find this one again.”

He didn’t know it had found me.

How much more could be accomplished on our behalf if we would just ask, rest and trust? Our loving Creator tells us to freely come to the table.

 

Matthew 11:28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (NIV)