Reverse

“Jack!”

It was early morning, and my bedroom was next to the kitchen. I’m not sure how the floor plan of the house was determined, but I was residing in what had been the nursery, and while the other five kids had to share rooms, I had my own space.

My two sisters were stuffed in a back room, and my three brothers were stacked military-style with bunk beds.

As each child arrived, there was shuffling that had to take place. Since I was the last, I landed and got to stay where I was. I had my own closet, dresser, and room for a desk. Compared to the rest of them, I was living the dream.

If I was upset or sick, I closed my doors and spent time alone. I wasn’t simulating dorm life, so right from the start, I was given a different perspective.

From the outside, it looked inviting, but at times I was a bit jealous that they had people to talk to. Being alone was isolating, and at night, when I had nightmares, which I did every time I fell asleep, I woke up in a dark room with no one to help me chase away the fear.

Not to mention the noise.

My mom was up every day to start breakfast at 5:30. On one side of me was the kitchen, and the other was the bathroom. Between the two, I was bound to wake up to a flushing toilet or the clatter of silverware. Usually, it wasn’t the sound of her screaming.

I heard him swear, and the back door flung open with such force it bounced off the wall, nearly off the hinges.

That did it for me. My self-perseveration skills kicked in. There was no way I would be a victim without trying to escape.

I got out of bed and ran into the kitchen, expecting to see her, but she had vanished. The heavy fragrance of coffee hung in the air. I wasn’t dreaming, and the evidence was in front of me. There were used juice glasses and cereal bowls on the table.

I heard a noise from the living room, so I moved on to find out what was happening at 6 a.m. I joined her at the picture window. It’s supposed to bring more natural sunlight into dark places.

We needed all the help we could get.

On this cold winter morning, my dad was in the middle of the street, trying to get his car under control. While I was tucked in my bed, trying to suck up all the peace I could before the onslaught of school began, my dad was in an episode of the Twilight Zone.

He had started his car to warm it up before the drive. Until I was in my first snowstorm behind the wheel, I never realized his seasonal plight of getting to and from work. I usually was asleep when he left.

To be sure it ran right, he had a routine. When the last bite of his cereal was gone, he would go out and raise the garage door by hand. The electric opener was available, but they liked the old-fashioned, difficult way to preserve their history of pilgrim times.

Back in the house, he would get his coat, secure his lunch bag and kiss my mom goodbye. Once in a while, I heard this when I rolled over into a deeper REM state.

“Goodbye, dear,” she would say. He would murmur something back, indicating his mind was still asleep.

I could not figure out what had disrupted their morning schedule that was as sure as a national holiday on the calendar.

I looked at her, watching him corraling the car. When her brows came together, it was an unspoken signal that something serious had happened.

Why was the car in the street? And why was he trying to open it, but it was locked?

Before I could ask, he dashed to the front door, which they always kept locked. His frantic knocking didn’t phase her.

She took her time opening it. One lock, then the other, and looked at him like he was there to sell her a vacuum cleaner.

“I need the extra set of keys!”

This was another clue. Commanding my mother was not how it went. Usually, she told him what to do, and he never questioned it. She didn’t do well with snappy communication unless he was in an emergency.

“Where are they?”

“Aren’t they in your purse?”

“I don’t know, John.”

His formal name. Another red flag the tension was high.

When in the middle of a problem, it always seemed like they had another issue surface that added another layer, like a jello salad.

She noticed he was gripping his hand.

“What is wrong?”

“Get the keys, Jean!”

The car was running on fumes, and he had one eye on her and the other on traffic. The road that ran in front of their house was always busy, so he had many concerns.

I still had no idea why they were in this mess.

“Did you hurt yourself?” Her attention was entirely on a potential injury, and she had left the nursing profession behind to be at home full-time.

“Jean! Get me the keys!”

“Are you bleeding?”

“I need the damn keys! Yes! I’m bleeding! Get me the keys!”

The change in her body language went from concerned to offended the minute he used foul language.

“Don’t speak to me like that!”

She was not making any effort to get what he was asking.

“I have to get the car out of the street! Please get me the extra set of keys! The car is locked!”

Now that his tone was more cordial to her liking, she hurried off to their bedroom.

I stayed out of the way. There was no way I was getting into the line of fire.

She put them in his hand forcefully, still showing irritation that he had spoken so coarsely. Her trip and back through the house had given her a few seconds to replay the scene. She didn’t like it when he sunk to a low level of speaking obscenities, especially around me.

She returned to the window as he unlocked it and got into the car.

When he pulled into the driveway, she said,

“Dad’s car drove itself out of the garage.”

Before I could ask why, he was back, hurrying to get what was needed.

“John, let me see your hand.”

“I have to go.”

“I need to take a look at your hand.”

“I’m fine. It’s not that bad. I cut it, trying to grab the door handle on the car.”

Another piece to the puzzle.

She said nothing else, but this was when the magic always happened. Against his will, he presented his wound so she could assess the damage.

“I have to go!” He said like an impatient toddler.

She turned it side to side, running her fingers along it to see if it needed a stitch or two.

It was hard to believe this man had served as a sergeant in the military, blowing up mortars to practice taking out an enemy, but she could turn him into a docile human being without saying one word.

He was the seventh child in the family. That’s awful to say about an adult, but it was how the roles were. She was contemplating if he needed a bandaid or not. She didn’t like to waste them if the skin wasn’t broken.

The cost of a box of bandages over a flesh-eating bacteria was at stake.

He had his limits, though.

“I’m leaving!” He got free of her and zoomed out.

No affection at the door.

She stood at the sink and watched him leave through the small window.

I heard him hit the gas and race away like a madman. He was trying to beat the clock.

“You can go back to bed, Chris.”

What?! Go back to bed! I was wide awake and had just watched two episodes of a soap opera take place in front of me.

“Why was the car in the street? What happened to dad’s hand?”

I wanted answers. I had given up my rest free of bad dreams to watch a display of marital dysfunction.

She started laughing so hard she couldn’t talk. As time went along with them, I realized that after the crisis had passed, she thought his poor luck was the best comedy she had ever seen.

I waited, more confused than ever. It was a school day, and I was out of my unconscious state, wasting precious time over something that made absolutely no sense.

“Your dad’s car slipped into reverse and backed down the driveway.”

Now that she heard herself say it, the hysteria took over. She hung on to the counter to keep herself from falling over.

I looked out the window at the neighbor’s driveway that had cars parked in it.

“He came over here to wash his hands after he ate, and he saw his car go by. He was worried it would crash into the ones parked across the street.”

In haste, he had chosen door number one instead of going out the front, which would have been the sensible thing. Going in the opposite direction of where the car was headed wasn’t to his advantage. With the motion, the door locks had activated.

His luck had run out.

He had been electrocuted and brought back to life, broke his back on a sled, and been shot at. His car was about to be the ruin of him. Would his insurance cover multiple car crashes without anyone driving?

With angels on his side, he had to stand by, unable to do anything. Miraculously, it took a slight turn and came to an abrupt halt.

The curb had saved the day.

My alarm went off.

“Get dressed for school, Chris,” she said, back to normal.

As everyone left the house to start their lives, I was suddenly the only one living with them. Now that there were fewer mouths to feed and options for me to inhabit, it was a matter of relocating me.

They converted my room into a formal dining room, and I was transferred to the basement where my three brothers had been living like inmates.

I didn’t mind the move because it gave me more privacy and my own bathroom. I didn’t have to share anymore, so I could come and go as I pleased. But, the limited shower rule was still in effect.

My dad didn’t want our hair clogging up the drain, so we could rinse off but had to use the stationary tub next to the washing machine. He feared we would all shed and clog up the drain, forcing him to fix it.

Liquid plumber products existed, but his theory was these would “hurt the pipes,” so none of us could risk it due to his apprehension.

It was unpleasant to come out of a hot shower shivering to get clean hair, so it was wise to do that first.

When I was little, I had to stand on a stool with my body bent over the sink while she sprayed water on my head. It was rare to be asked if the water temperature was too hot or cold. She decided, and usually, scorching was her setting.

Germs were her thing, and kids didn’t realize how to kill them.

I endured the hair washing ceremony, often freezing, while she scrubbed and pretended she was a beautician, using the cheapest shampoo and conditioners. It wasn’t about healthy hair but something that stripped out the natural oils and smelled like strawberries.

With my new room, I uncovered an unbelievable family secret.

I was in bed with the bifold doors open, barely awake. The flimsy doors would not have kept out any light or noise even if they had been shut. They were designed for a small closet, not an entry.

It was Saturday, so I didn’t have to rush out anywhere. It was dark, but I heard my dad go into the shower. A few minutes later, he stood by a heat vent near the furnace, drying his hair.

In my haze, I wondered how he had gotten his hair washed in the dark laundry room. I hadn’t heard the familiar loud squeak of the faucets. There was no way I would have slept through that.

The whispering started, so I turned over to see him better.

I thought he would notice me, but he was so far gone in his thoughts and self-talk, he was not in the present moment.

I could make out only a few words, but it was a rehashing of conversations he had from a different day as if he were going over his statements to be sure he had said them right. Then, it switched to what he would say if it happened again.

I made a slight noise, but he was so engrossed mentally with his stream of consciousness he didn’t hear me. It sounded like static from a tv caught between channels. He was working something out in his mind, exercising his mental capacities.

He told me he had read The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale and his other book, Stay Alive All Your Life. In both, the author heavily encourages his readers to visualize and rehearse scenes to help relieve anxiety. Maybe that’s what he was doing. This was way before I began to read self-help books.

I was trying to comprehend why someone would stand so long whisper talking.

Wait a minute! His hair was wet!

Suddenly I didn’t care about the conversation he was having with himself or a dead relative. He took a shower and washed his hair against the rule he had imposed on all of us. He was bypassing all those frigid hair-washing sessions to stay nice and warm.

I rapidly sat up, and he saw me.

Cut off mid-sentence, he cleared his throat and pretended to hum.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

He was not getting off that easy.

“I’m drying my hair,” he said calmly to throw me.

“Oh.”

We knew. We both knew I had caught him red-handed.

On my next trip into the shower, I suds up and never looked back. I made sure to wipe down the walls with my towels.

The next time my mom cleaned it, she found a strand of my long brown hair.

“Chris, did you wash your hair in here?”

Following the advice of Norman, I conjured up an image of my dad drying his illegal wet hair by the furnace.

“Yes, I did.”

There was a breach in the allegiance, and I wouldn’t let it get past me.

“Dad doesn’t want anyone doing that.”

I wondered if she believed this or if he lied to her. I took my chances and decided that honesty was my best option.

“Well, I saw dad drying his hair after he got out of the shower last Saturday. He was by the vent drying it and talking to himself.”

She took a minute. Which one should she address?

The next card she played was always a good one but slightly overused. When all was falling apart, she asked a question. A tactical move that served her well for years.

“He washed his hair in the shower?”

It wasn’t that she was telling a lie outright, but pretending to reflect what I had stated.

“Yes.”

She knew she had nowhere to go.

It wasn’t ever spoken about again, and I took that as a green light.

After his runaway car situation, there was a heightened sense of awareness when leaving it running unattended. Due to a bad experience, he didn’t fully trust it wouldn’t go rolling by starting the horror all over. Every time he washed his hands at the kitchen sink, he saw the image of it.

After some time passed, and it didn’t happen again, he didn’t give it another thought. He returned to his usual non-thinking mode in the morning before work.

As for the shower, his worries never materialized.

It’s good to look back to where you have been to see if you still have something operating in your present that is blocking your good from coming to you.

It can silently be at work below the surface, but it shows up through your behavior.

There are a lot of people who say, “The past is over! Forget it!”

I agree we shouldn’t dwell there, but sometimes you have to take a glance to figure out why your life is running the course it’s on.

To go forward healed and to promote excellent spiritual and mental health, sometimes you have to throw it in reverse.

Measure

I was washing dishes the other day, and I looked down at a large spoon in the sink. An unpleasant memory floated in.

I heard the gagging coming from the bathroom. I was hidden away but not far enough.

My mom was in a hurry, trying to get a meal thrown together. This was the height of having teens with multiple schedules and carting them all over town. I waited until I was dragged to the car, trying not to be in the way.

My brother Bob was first at the table because he had a meeting to attend, so he ate ahead of the rest of us.

I have heard that she was a great cook, but by the time I entered the family, she was opening cans, heating TV dinners, and had gone the way of convenience because it was easier. Good nutrition had been tossed aside, but no one went hungry. We ate our fill of synthetic substances and washed it down with whole milk.

One of the worst meals I had to get through was creamed chicken. A slab of white bread toasted to near burnt was then covered over with a sloppy mess of cream of mushroom soup and canned chicken. This was one of the higher end offerings that cost under $1 per plate. On the side, she dished out canned beets, the ultimate in disgusting. I learned early not to fight the system. You had to navigate around it.

I would strategically chew what I could with my teeth barely coming together and then take a huge sip of milk. Gulp and swallow on repeat.

“Can I have more milk?” This was usually microseconds of sitting down. I would hand her my glass for a refill.

One evening, I asked, and much to my horror, she denied my request.

“No, Chris. You are drinking way too much milk.”

I looked at what I had to handle without any liquid. It was rough, and from then on, I took smaller sips and never asked for a second cup.

You would think that when pizza was on the menu, I would have been thrilled. They managed to ruin that too. Two tiny frozen discs were put in the oven to feed eight people. To add bulk, canned mushrooms, black olives, and onions were smothered on.

Instead of adding shredded mozzarella like normal people, cheese squares were slapped on after they were unwrapped from their plastic packages.

I opted for a sandwich on those special occasions and refused to eat pizza until I realized it wasn’t a garbage pile like they had created.

So to hear someone gagging in the bathroom wasn’t surprising. It was going to happen sooner or later with the atrocities coming out of that kitchen.

There was yelling too.

“Bob! Hold still! Let me do this!”

More choking. If she was killing him, I wanted to witness it. By then, he and I weren’t on the greatest of terms as brother and sister, so to see him go down was worth taking a peek.

I rounded the corner into the laundry room. Things get slightly fuzzy, but I recall a large kitchen spoon shoved down his throat.

“Gag me with a spoon” wasn’t said until the 80s, so my mom was ahead of her time in the 70s.

My presence must have been noticed because the door suddenly shut, so I only got the audio version.

It reminded me of a situation I had been in not long before. I had an outbreak of canker sores that took over every square inch of my mouth. No one considered this a physical manifestation of stress.

A prescription was ordered, and all of them ascended on me. Where I stood watching my brother being assaulted with a serving utensil was where they all held me down. My arms and legs were immobile as someone else put a vice grip on my head. Her job was to pry my mouth open and squirt a paste that tasted like tin onto my tongue and gums.

Once I knew I was trapped against my will, I screamed. This made it easier for her to spray the obnoxious cream that would heal me.

It cleared up the issue, but I was scarred. I recall being afraid after that because I couldn’t trust anyone. Who knew when they would all snap again and pin me down?

From my five-year-old perception, I was under attack, and no one explained the process. Afterward, they left with no comfort or reassurance while I continued screaming. Now, she had set her sites on my brother, who was not cooperating.

My brother Jim saw me there and tried to explain.

“He ate some spoiled food.”

All the commotion was over a can of vegetables that had gone bad, with the fear of botulism setting in. I found out later that my other brother, a Boy Scout on his way up the ladder to Eagle Scout, had gotten out his manual to mix up a remedy to induce vomiting. When someone is out in the woods ingesting tree bark and wild, unknown grasses, they must be ready to hurl it out of the body.

With his magic spell book in hand, he grabbed a raw egg, milk of magnesia, and a host of other ingredients to cook up something that would save his sibling’s life. I think he added a dash of black pepper to make it more palatable.

The poisoned victim drank it like Happy Hour, and no throwing up resulted. My mom took matters into her hands and decided to force the issue. She plucked the largest metal spoon from the drawer and hoped to use his gag reflex as leverage.

I was ushered away from the scene because I have no recollection of what happened, but he lived to see another day to torment me more.

What my mother feared happening was rare and unlikely. After he had devoured his food and left, she detected a foul odor from the vegetables in a pot. Retrieving the aluminum can, she saw it had a dent, which made her panic.

She had read about the unsafe canning practices at the time, and if one was not fully sealed, this could allow in deadly bacteria.

Not on her watch.

To ensure he lived to a ripe old age, she jammed a utensil into his esophagus. We had emergency rooms back then, but she was on a schedule. There were two other people to drive to their activities, so her method seemed the better option.

For her.

It was one of those landmark moments in our family where I often heard it said: do you remember when Bob ate that rotten can of beans?

No one wanted to think of it as she assembled our plates. Our life was in her hands.

Being in a large family on a tight budget, she controlled our portions. In other families I visited, the entire meal would be on the table and was passed around to each member to take what they desired. In some homes, everyone fended for themselves. Her dishing it up meant we had to conform to what she thought was best. And there better not be any complaints because she was exhausted from opening all those cans.

She put on a good front, not showing her worry regarding the lack of money. One time she said to me,

“Chris, I think it’s an adventure to see how God will provide.”

She seemed like a woman with great faith, but her actions said otherwise. She wasn’t a giver, and she viewed money as evil. Somewhere along the way, she saw it as an idol that could take God’s place, and her viewpoint caused great suffering for all of us.

She decided to play God by controlling every bite taken and all the details of the house. It was a false sense of reality we all had to abide by. After a while, that way of living starts to seem real.

Like the gigantic spoon, she shoved down my brother’s throat, she forced her will on our lives and blotted out God’s. There were better alternatives for her to take, but she decided what was best.

This mindset spilled over into many areas beyond providing food.

We were all told what to do and how to do it. There was no room for independent thinking even though many times she said to me,

“I have raised all of my children to be independent.”

I’m not sure what the badge of honor was, but when you examine the statement closer, you see the flaws in that thinking. While it’s important to be your true self, it’s also valuable to let others into your life that bring support and love.

She believed her actions were done in the best interests of all, but the outcome was fractured individuals who had no sense of security and unable to make decisions that were for their highest good.

Thrown on top of the control was perfectionism, which added to the constraint of having no freedom. While many kids were happy to be out of school and rest in the comfort of their homes, this was not the way it was. There was always some task to perform or rule to meet.

If you stayed in bed too long on the weekend, you were deemed lazy. If you stayed up too late at night, you “weren’t getting proper rest.” It wasn’t a situation you could ever win, and it wasn’t until many years later that I began to see how much her idea of life was flawed.

She never allowed anyone to be themselves. We were to be replicas of who she was. And when it came time to be on my own, I had trouble making decisions.

I was worried about making the wrong ones due to all the years of having to meet her lofty expectations. On the other hand, I was intelligent and considered myself competent. There was a constant war inside of me where I was trying to please others while sacrificing myself. This way of operating leaves no room for balance.

The dangerous part of living this way is you’re never at peace. If you do this for a long time, you become accustomed to the inner turmoil and don’t see you need to break it off yourself.

Until your world completely unravels, and you have no other choice but to ask yourself what is causing certain patterns to continue that revolve around your low self-esteem. Why are you masking the truth and faking it?

That’s when compassion shows up.

I see situations differently than I did before and this branches into more revelations. It’s not a suffocating confrontation that leaves no room to breathe. There might be regrets or unhappy feelings momentarily, but I know I will be a better person once I get past it.

It’s when you have taken in a spiritual toxin and are unaware God will move in and remove it, so you no longer are endangered. That’s how true love works. It doesn’t come at you threateningly, holding you down while you struggle, demanding its way.

A different approach is taken where grace is given in small doses, allowing you to heal and adjust to each measure.

She gave new meaning to being “spoon fed”

Plain

We should have gone to bed, but for some reason, we were awake watching a home shopping channel. I find it fascinating how salespeople rope you in with their description of color. Tomato garden, stargazer blue, dandelion fields, and watermelon rind can be yours in a convenient pack of plastic containers with lids that get lost in a sea of mismatched covers. You will ask yourself later,

“Where did I put the peach margarita? I thought I saw it in here yesterday.” You shuffle pieces and parts around, looking for the orange one, but settle on another after profuse sweating.

Exaggeration while presenting products to generate want and need is the key to a healthy flow of income. Announcing what we already know isn’t enticing. We have to throw a new name on it, usually with something that appeals to the senses, like a tropical island or a favorite food.

What would you rather buy: a plain red pair of underwear or a super slim bikini-ready panty?

Even though we all know it’s a tourist trap in your living room, we cannot find the strength to turn off the tv and leave. We must listen to the exasperated voices, the fantastic way a zipper functions, and the marvelous fringe hanging from a throwback jacket from the 70s.

We were subjected to a woman explaining her blue jean collection. She had them neatly on a rack so the camera could zoom in while she pulled them to the side to show off her handiwork done at a factory by machines. Yet, she took all the credit.

“We wanted to create a line, especially for the older female wanting to feel empowered and the fullness of their feminity.” This was the gateway to more. It started with the soft sell to work on emotions, and when the phones weren’t lighting up, they had to move it up a notch.

“How great,” the host said, in her whispery voice, sounding like this was the first pair of pants she had ever seen.

Then, the material had to be petted like a small animal with the softest fur.

“Now, ladies, can’t you see yourself on a night out rocking these jeans like a teenager all over again?”

I started to fade long before the word ‘rocking’ showed up. I can be visual, so when that word was used, I saw an older woman sitting in a chair, wearing sweatpants and knitting a shawl. When did a musical term become something someone does with clothing?

I was the demographic for this display, as they were advertised for the more mature. They saved the best part for last.

“These are embellished, ladies.”

“What?” said the presenter next to her, acting as if her last shot of whiskey had just kicked in.

For more minutes than humanly possible, they went on a tirade about how there had been a lot of care taken to put special steel inserts up and down the legs. These weren’t your typical choices with rivets adorning them.

That’s when the language took a turn.

“You will feel so sexy in these you won’t ever want to take them off to wash them!”

This caused me to recline back to the fullest extent in my chair and slap my hands over my eyes. The charade was in full swing. They were preying upon the late-night snackers who had insomnia. By the time they received their order, they would have to go up two sizes.

Even then, we kept looking on, waiting to see if there were any more surprises, like a trap door in the back of them. My daughter, unable to take another second of the lies, said,

“The only thing that is embellished is this lady’s speech!”

She wasn’t buying it, probably because she isn’t past thirty. Skinny jeans are normal to her, but to me, they conjure up not eating for at least a week. In my youth, skinny meant no extra fat anywhere, not even on your thumbs. So, for her to take issue with this, it wasn’t just me who saw the facade.

I became curious the other day and searched for the meaning of embellish. It’s a double-edged sword.

Here is the positive side: make (something) more attractive with the addition of decorative details or features.

That seemed to be what the sales professionals aimed for with their post-midnight attention grab.

Here’s the darker side: make (a statement or story) more interesting or entertaining by adding extra details, especially ones that are not true.

There is just the slightest difference between good and evil. My daughter was correct. Would wearing them bring in the height of satisfaction viewers were chasing after? I bet not.

I wanted to know what was said about the opposite of this word. Here is what I found: Disfigure. To spoil the appearance of.

While the items were meant to be a fashion statement that would increase self-esteem, this would not be a long term effect. Anything on the outside, and not from the spirit, is short lived. That’s why the clever, hypnotic subconscious tricks were stated so customers would be reeled in.

I saw how the positive and the negative were not opposites at all. Let’s say someone who dislikes themselves buys these, believing this is the answer to all of their self-hatred. They run for the credit card, place the order, and anticipate feeling better when they slip into them. After a while, the false high fades along with the jeans.

The original intent was to make a purchase to cover up feelings of inferiority, but it will only be healed if the root of the problem is dealt with. Instead of making one discover wholeness, it tears down and disfigures. Something that was to bring a beautiful gain ends up causing pain. The mirror shows the same body, housing the same mindset that holds the worn out thoughts that you are ugly and not of any value. When one looks at themselves, they see distortion, another form of disfigurement.

Isn’t it horrifying to think that when you dress something up to make it more pretty, it can backfire?

For years, I practiced the art of embellishment, and not with clothing items. I did it with my life, covering up the abuse I endured in my marriage. I didn’t tell anyone about the physical, psychological, or emotional turmoil I was living in.

I put on a smile and pretended that all was well. My family and friends may have seen through it; I am not sure, but I was a great actress, taught at a young age how to minimize circumstances and distort reality. I lied so often that I believed my twisting of the truth.

This was not done with malice but to protect my girls and me from more perceived harm. The damage of what I did was extraordinarily serious, causing my spiritual growth to stop as I was so caught up in trying to control the situation with the only tools I had been given in my childhood, modeled by my mom.

If I hurt myself and would go to her, she made me believe it wasn’t that bad. Our house had an unwritten rule that we had to tough it out no matter what, and anything to her dislike was made into something else. I recall having a vivid dream that I broke my leg, and when I showed her, she said,

“Oh, you just cut yourself. That’s not bad at all.”

Dreams tell us what we shove down to avoid. I woke up knowing that I had fractured a bone, but her dismissive attitude was trying to convince me otherwise. This is how I was conditioned to take adverse circumstances and make them disappear.

For years, I felt I could not tell anyone what was happening. I put up blocks, propped us up, and made excuses. I was good at it because it was about self-preservation, but I was stifling the growth in my house, keeping us trapped. I demonstrated to my daughters a worse version of what my mother had done to me.

I see it similar to when a person is building a snowman. You start with a small ball of snow and keep rolling it until you can no longer push it further. Something that once fit into the palm of your hand is now more massive than you, and you cannot move the weight of it anymore.

You start in control, but it gets increasingly out of your control.

It wasn’t until a divorce that I could have stepped into another place that would have set me free from this insidious darkness that had a choke hold on me. But, in the chaos and fear, I defaulted toward what was familiar.

I read a book not long ago that contained research on the brain. When a person deceives long enough, chemicals are released that change the makeup of the organ, causing it to be more challenging to undo the falsehoods. If this person takes a lie detector test, it often comes back as truth because they believe what they are saying, and the body supports it.

When you live in denial since childhood, you aren’t aware of what you are doing. You make decisions without thinking, and it has only been by revelation that I see the damage it has caused me. Living an existence parallel to an authentic life is not what God wants. The word that comes to mind is pretending.

Like characters in a play, we put on our disguises and act our part. Someone else is writing the script, and we are not in a place of authority as we were designed to be. And when you live in such a way, your external world reflects what you give it. Your relationships are fake, people will lie just as much as you are, and you become a shadow of yourself.

This is where you work with God to find your freedom. No matter how frightening it is, you decide to leave the past behind and become who you were put on earth to be, no matter how uncomfortable it gets. The voices of despair and panic scream through your mind that you will not make it, but you fight past it, wanting to create a new life you were always meant to have.

You become honest, and this is where you find yourself, the one that went missing as a child. You understand you can demand that the people around you respect you, disengage from toxic people, and build genuine deep, loving relationships. Anyone who mistreated you in the past is no longer in a close inner circle. You handle it like a drug addict who sets himself free and finds new people to associate with, even if it means moving from one location to another to fully get away from your past.

No one would have said I was a bad person. I went out of my way to be a people pleaser, putting myself last on the list because I disregarded myself and my true feelings. It was a vicious cycle of pretending to be okay when I was hemorrhaging everywhere spiritually.

In Psalm 147:3 it says,
He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds. (NLT)

God longs for us to come out of our prisons and live in abundant peace. We can concoct our plans, but His ways are higher and better. Simplicity is what heaven offers. It doesn’t involve ducking and dodging out of the way of harm or making up one story after another to cover up the last one.

And those embellished jeans? They will always be for sale, hoping some unsuspecting buyer will come along and succumb to the slick sales pitch. The emotional manipulation draws in the weak, but the enlightened woman turns her back on what doesn’t honor her value.

Instead, you can cast all that away and put on God’s garment of truth, only seeking the attention of heaven, keeping your dignity intact, and being okay with wearing what some might consider plain.

They are what they are

Deodorant

When my daughters were young, I trusted them to clean their room. I never set aside a certain time of day or demanded they clear the clutter at the expense of missing an activity. I knew some mothers who put their kids in lockdown if they were not keeping their spaces neat. Being ‘grounded’ seemed like punishment for me, so I subjected no one to it. After all, the area I lived in as a child and a teen often required I blaze a trail to get to my bed at night. 

This could go on for months, and then, a spirit of irritation would hit, and I couldn’t stand to look at the clutter. When I had time off from school or work when my brain wasn’t preoccupied with study or an unforgiving schedule, I would suddenly have to toss everything. Otherwise, I could flop down in the middle of it and not see it.  

Once in a while, my mom would open the door, gasp, and with wide eyes say,

“Chris, you need to clean your room.”

“Why?” I would look at her over a pile of clothes I had worn for about two seconds spread out over weeks. They weren’t filthy dirty, and it was at least ten steps to the washing machine from my bedroom. Why waste my energy on that?

“It’s a mess in here.”

“It is?”  

No matter how much I had to kick objects out of my way or go around obstacles, as long as I could leap into my bed, it was easy to ignore. It would improve my skill when I had to clear the high jump in gym. The one thing I never dared do was to eat in my room. I knew better than that, or her wrath would be immediate. She knew where every utensil was in each drawer. 

She never demanded that I buckle down and do anything about it. There was the suggestion with a sigh that it was awful and I might want to take some action.

I used the same philosophy with my two. When it got bad enough, they would eventually take care of it. It was strikingly obvious when we would be on vacation, and the two of them would share a room. My oldest daughter would make her bed, put her clothes in the dresser, and make herself a beautiful home like Martha Stewart. The other got out of bed and never looked back until we checked out at the end of the week. 

Based on this, it was easy to discern who was not pulling her share of straightening up and needed a little assistance. Occasionally, I would enter the room and check the environment for overlooked hazards. Like when a child stockpiles collectibles in their pockets or a shakedown in a prison cell, it was anyone’s guess what would show up.  

During one of these routine inspections, I opened the door and heard sloshing. A souvenir water bottle was hung on the doorknob and swung back and forth.

A memory surfaced of her sucking up a high sugar, sticky liquid on a hot summer day. I mentally calculated when we had been to that amusement park. It was at least a year, so it wasn’t looking good for me to twist off the cap. I took my chances because I couldn’t leave it there until we relocated. 

The smell was horrifying. Seeing the fuzzy black mold growth raised more than one gag. If it were a homeschool science project, she would have been awarded an A. I learned what time, darkness, and saliva do together when unattended. I am sure there is an unknown algebraic equation that would fit this situation. 

I had to precariously transport it from one end of the house to the other where I could dispose of it in the kitchen. That was the longest walk, trying not to trip and spill any of it on me or the carpet. I imagined one drop being like the sulphuric acid I had to handle in chemistry class in high school. We had gloved up, but I had not yet secured my safety goggles. 

The teacher had just said,

“Don’t let any of this touch your skin. You will suffer burns.” 

Moments later, my lab partner accidentally splashed it in my eyes. My entire face went under the faucet, and everything was okay except for her nerves.    

My daughter saw me, and as I rushed without rushing, I asked,

“Why was this in your room?”

“I hung it there when we got home. I forgot about it.”

I dumped the contents and the memento that had cost triple its production. 

Why do we easily remember some things but suddenly forget others? Usually, if it’s an unpleasant task, we can let it vanish without care. You would think something like personal hygiene generally holds a high priority in memory. 

This is not always the case. 

I was on my way to a family member’s house, trying to concentrate on the food I was to bring. I had made multiple trips from the kitchen to the car, securing a hot crockpot and other containers. Positioning is a priority in case of a sharp turn, and your goal is to not see the contents all over the back seat. 

Nothing is worse than getting to your destination and realizing that you left an item behind, and then you have to drive all the way back to retrieve it. My mind was on nothing but loading the car and arriving on time. 

The three of us got in and buckled up. It started with my oldest daughter seated in the back.

“I forgot to put deodorant on!”

My first thought was,

Oh, no. I have to turn the car off because my house key is on the ring and there is no other way to get in.  

I felt shuffling and heard a slight sniff in the passenger seat beside my right arm. The announcement had triggered her sister to double check herself. 

“I forgot to put mine on, too!”  

My armpits suddenly felt sweaty. No way. I had to admit it. 

“I forgot to put mine on too.” 

Now it was worth turning off the car, so we could run into the house to quickly swipe some on.  

I have always appreciated those moments when suddenly, a quiet voice in my mind reminds me of something I am about to forget at the door when I leave. Or, at the store, just before I check out, while in line, and have to run up and down aisles trying to get back before the cashier is to the final item on the belt. 

The help is always there, but I can get distracted and forget. I fall easily into striving, trying to do it all myself, and disregard the inside communication that could save time. 

All the experts say to make a list before shopping and go after a meal. I generally adhere to both pieces of advice by eating beforehand and writing down what I need. I either forget my list on the kitchen table or lose it, especially if I have to go to more than one store.  

I have been reminded lately to start my day in prayer. Not scrolling through my phone looking at what draws the world’s attention, but making a connection right away when I wake up. Calling in the direction of heaven seems to improve my day. Some would say this is a psychological phenomenon, but what if it isn’t? What if God wants that, and until we do it, there will be a struggle when one isn’t necessary?

If someone told me to bet on a horse they knew would win because it had won before, the odds would be in my favor, and placing my money on it would bring me a reward. What if it worked? If that is the outcome, lying down a couple of dollars would result in a small win. The risk would be worth it.  

It’s the same with asking for help right from your bed before the day begins. What can it hurt?  

In Psalm 143:8 it says,

“Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.” (ESV)

Before your phone buzzes or you have to make a life-changing decision, God will speak to you so when the moment arrives, you may already have an answer.  

Just as powerful as remembering, so is forgetting. In the movie Inside Out, sadness and joy realize they cannot exist without each other. How can someone suddenly laugh in the middle of sobbing their eyes out? Because one overrides the other.

While it is a great thing for us to recall certain events, it is also a gift to forget circumstances that hurt us to the core of who we are. The chalkboard of the mind can be erased as if the pain never existed. That’s another fantastic tool that God employs to help us move forward.  

Isaiah 43:18 says,

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.”

I have a lot of places in my life where I have been physically, mentally, and spiritually hurt, and several years went by where I stuffed down my feelings. Without realizing it, there was darkness residing inside that I was unaware of, but it was running my thinking and influencing what was manifesting itself around me. Before waking up to the truth, I couldn’t comprehend why a loving God would allow so many distressing patterns that kept repeating themselves.  

I had to bravely take the cap off the container I had housed for years, hanging on the door of my heart, collecting sludge. 

With God’s help, I became an observer, able to stand outside the emotions, separate myself and be free. I didn’t have to force myself not to think of the past; I finally looked at it for what it was, saw the errors made, and let it go. 

As explained in the verse, I can now bury the past and look at it no more. It has lost its energetic hold on me so I can walk free of it. Dropping unnecessary, dense energy creates space for new, better experiences.

One of the most helpful things I have done is to imagine making peace with the people who caused me to suffer harm, and I see how in some places, not all, I allowed it. Through supernatural help, I can visualize myself being in the presence of some of my worst enemies, forgiving them, and creating peace. 

You don’t want to walk through your life dragging the heavy weight of burdens along because they will rob you of your peace and joy. The negative emotions will repel your good. 

Just like showing up at a social gathering without your deodorant.  

Never let them see you sweat.

Encounter

“Do I need these?” I asked, holding up a pair of workout pants and showing them to my daughter, standing across from me at a table where humanity had trampled through and thrown all the sizes everywhere. I had finally unearthed what I thought would fit.

I hadn’t paid much attention to the lady standing next to me, folding, sorting, and putting them back in order. I saw her nametag briefly, but I was not focusing my attention on her. Instead, I was consumed by an inward mental battle with a nagging voice telling me to leave the store and not come back.

The harassment started in the parking lot before I was out of the car.

You don’t belong here. This is for people who have money. You don’t have any, so turn around and go back home!

I had not heeded its advice and dragged myself through the door. How I ended up in a clothing section was beyond me. I should have been shopping for food to live, not clothes. That is why I asked, 

“Do I need these?”

The woman next to me said,

“Need? I don’t think that has ever stopped me from spending money. I look at things, decide that I want them, and buy.”

Now, she had my full attention. I grabbed two pairs and moved to her other side. They were on sale for a really low price, and I did need them. My other ones were starting to fall apart. 

“When you go through some things financially, you start to ask yourself that question a lot,” I said.  

I noticed she had a smile the entire time she worked correcting the chaos of what the public had created. 

When I got to the other side of the table facing her, I had the familiar light-headed feeling take over. This comes right when I know that I have been placed in the path of someone who needs to hear something from someone in heaven.  

Without me asking much, she told me she had gotten a divorce from a chemically dependent man and had children with him. She was now with a new person who she said did everything for her.

“I don’t need to work now, but I do.”

As she spoke, I saw a woman, a hologram-like person, stand behind her on her right.  

“Do you have family?” I knew it was her mom, but I didn’t assume. I never do.

“Not really. I have a dad, but my mom died..”

Before she finished her sentence, I said,

“She is standing right behind you to your right with her hand on your shoulder. She is proud of the decision you made to get the divorce. You will go on to have grandchildren, your ex-husband will get remarried, and many more family members will come from that.”

“I like that,” she said. 

I saw her surrounded by many people, resulting from her one decision to give up fighting something that would never change. 

Her smile got brighter and brighter.

“Did your mom have a favorite color? I think you will start to see the color pink, and when you do, that’s her.”

She held up her freshly manicured nails, and they were bright pink.

“Pink was her favorite color, so I picked it.”

“Do you celebrate her birthday? Because I feel she would want you to celebrate her passing to heaven more than her birthday.”

“Yes, we always have a party on the day she passed. She had cancer, and she died 16 years ago. That date is coming up in a couple of weeks. Just before you and I started talking, I saw a lady who looked just like her walk past.”

I told her that her decision to leave behind what wasn’t working would open the door for more to come in.  

All of this over a couple of pairs of pants that I was not so sure I should get. I left Laura to go about her business happily, and I was suddenly not afraid to get myself new clothes. 

From there, I went through a drive-thru, and as I was waiting, I saw a young blonde girl filling up a machine with ice. I got her attention, and she came to the window.

“I think you are supposed to go to school. Are you putting it off?”

Her eyes were enormous, and unlike in my other encounter, she only nodded her head and verbalized nothing.  

“Your grandpa, who is in heaven, is trying to tell you that now is the time. Don’t put it off. This is the time. And don’t worry about the money. Are you worried about the money part of it?”

I saw tears fill her huge eyes, and she nodded yes. It was like a paralysis had taken over, and she was frozen, staring at me while the words came at her. 

“Start filling out the paperwork and go now. You will be able to communicate with animals like no one else can, and you will be very successful.”

It’s incredible for me to watch absolute strangers be told things that I would have no clue knowing. By the time her coworker handed me the bag, she was smiling through the tears and promising to look into becoming a vet. 

A few weeks later, I was in a store with my brother, and he needed light bulbs. A woman came around a corner out of nowhere and asked if we needed help.

He told her what he needed, and she meticulously walked him through every choice of light bulb he could choose. She was very experienced in knowing what she was saying and seemed to do this effortlessly. Thomas Edison would have been impressed. 

As she walked away, I felt that familiar pull to give her a message she needed to hear.  

“I need to tell her something,” I said as I watched her walk away. I noticed her shirt was slightly stained in the back, like she didn’t have a lot of money to buy herself new things.  

I know the feeling, and I have found that what I have experienced has made me hyper-aware of those walking that road. 

As I chased her down, my brother said,

“Is this going to be like Touched By an Angel?” 

He knows I do this once in a while when God asks me. 

I ignored him.  

“Excuse me,” I said, trying not to get the whole store looking our way.

“I have to tell you something.”

I explained that this was just a starting point for her and that she would quickly climb the ladder of success. That promotions would come her way quickly, and her co-workers might get a little jealous, but to cast it aside.  

“You are loyal and trustworthy with a good heart. That is leading you through, and someone on the other side is helping open doors for you. That’s why you are moving up so quickly. You will outgrow this place and move way up higher.” I could see far in advance. 

“I have only been here two months, and they have given me two promotions already, which is unusual.”

That’s about all she said because, once again, I think the shock of hearing all of her life secrets, good ones, being spilled out was overwhelming to take in.

She kept saying thank you and then returned to her work. I feel Emily will never forget that she met God in the middle of the cleaning section of a hardware store. 

We moved on to the cash registers, where a lady was waiting with no one in her line. 

You need to ask her who is sick that she knows.

I didn’t want to do that. I tried to get through and get out the door. The question seemed too invasive and might not even be true. When I got to the door, I had to go back.

She was standing at the end of her lane, waiting for customers to come.  

“I have to ask you a question,” I said. “I can see heaven, and I have been told to ask you who is sick that you know.”

“My sister’s son,” she said. She went on to tell me he was in the end stage of disease.  

“He has an angel standing next to him,” I said.

“My sister has spoken to that angel,”

“Tell her that this confirms she is right about it.”

I saw the future and that a grandfather figure would be showing up to take him to heaven.

She told me that his dad had passed on as well.

Both of us were near tears as I said,

“Both men will pick him up and take him to heaven. Tell your sister he will be okay. He probably will say he sees them before he moves on.”

“We believe. Thank you for saying all this. I will tell her.”

The next night, I visited my dad in a rehab he has been in for about a month. Later in the evening, the med technician came in to give him his pills. She introduced herself, and I told her who I was.  

I began to see a grandmother figure.  

She needs to know she is going to have kids soon. You have to tell her,” said the whisper.

Oh, gosh, no! I cannot tell someone they are going to have a baby. What if she doesn’t want one? I thought I would make a big mistake, but when God wants to use your mouth, you and your opinion don’t matter. 

I started with the soft sell.

I explained that I could see and hear heaven; then, I asked questions about her life. Was she married? Yes. Did she have brothers and sisters? Yes.

And then, she opened the door for me to move in a bit further.  

“Does anyone have kids in the family?”

“My brothers and sisters do.”

“You will. You are going to have kids soon.”

I watched her eyes get that shocked look.  

“You are going to have a big family. They will be musical. I see piano players and singers. And this is probably going to happen before you have thought it possible. You are waiting for the money to show up, right?”

She was wearing a mask, and I could see now that her smile was reaching her eyes. 

“Yes, I will stay home and home-school when we have a family. My husband wants a big family, and his whole family is very musical.”

I told her some more, and she looked at my daughter and said,

“Does she do this all the time?”

I sensed she was a bit scared it would happen the next day.  As if she would wake up with ten kids all wanting breakfast.

“This will come to you naturally, but it is coming sooner than you think. When your husband gets a raise, which will be soon, that is your sign.” 

She said this would make her husband so happy and left with a big smile.

Crisis averted for me. That one seemed like a big and frightening jump. 

I don’t have to look for them; they sometimes come to me. 

Like the nursing assistant who told me she had just visited her neighbor who was dying.  

“Did you feel the angels in the room? There are two, one by the foot and the head of his bed.”

“I told them I could feel the angels in the room when I went to visit.”

“There are two of them, and his grandma is coming to get him.”

“His wife kept talking about his grandparents, and he gets to see them again,” she said.

“Yes. They will escort him into heaven.” 

I can always see when the words bring comfort too.

Ask her if she is a teacher.”

Going out on a limb, I asked,

“Are you a teacher? I hear the word teacher.”

I hadn’t ever had a conversation with this woman who works at an assisted living where I was visiting a hospice patient. 

“Yes. I am a teacher.”

“This job will end, and that will be your job again, but less stressful.”  

She told me she taught English to children who were disabled and that it has been very overwhelming.

“It won’t be next time, so don’t turn it away. You’re a teacher, and that’s your life path.”  

She walked away smiling, raising her hands to the ceiling and thanking God. 

There is a promise that God will always keep you in sight and not forsake you, but the world can convince us otherwise. There’s a wearing down process that can take place, making some of us wonder if any of this has a point.

When I am sent to strangers with details I shouldn’t know, there is no denying that everything needed is seen, and the Creator of all is longing to reach us through a loving encounter.

Two Realms

“God, show me what is happening,” I said in the stillness of her hospital room.

Everyone had gone home for the day. I had watched her breathe while she slept with little to no movement. It was a miracle that I was even there after a year and a half of separation between myself and them. My parents insisted on remaining in their house when it had long passed being safe.

My tears and words of pleading with them to move into a safer location had been met with cold dismissal. They had made up their minds not to leave, and they didn’t care how this affected the rest of the family.

I had just helped my dad off the ground outside after falling, and that was only one of many times. The stress of it all had caught up with me, so as I begged them to make a change, I was ignored, and when I left, he went back outside to resume what he had been doing on the icy walkway.

When he had to take a driving test, he promised me they would move if he lost his license. After he failed, he continued to drive and refused to keep his word. He swore up and down he wasn’t driving, but after my daughter planted a tracker in his car and it revealed he was out and about, I decided to let go.

I spent a year and a half living five minutes away, wondering when I would get the news that they were in a horrific accident, killing others or themselves. I saw him driving during rush hour on busy roads while he told others he only “took the back roads.” Lie after lie.

I had the unwelcome advice that I needed to mend the fence and go back to being there for them. After all, what kind of person abandons their elderly parents?

Meanwhile, I heard God telling me to stay away.

“I will use you when the time is right.”

I decided to go with God and shut off the push from someone who didn’t get it. These are the moments when you must follow what your spirit tells you, no matter how it may appear to others.

I was working in my yard, removing weeds when I heard the siren. I looked in the direction of their house as I had for the last 18 months. Later, I found out she had been taken back to the hospital.

The week before, she had been admitted but had recovered. I hadn’t felt the pull to end my absence from their lives, but I knew I had to see her this time.

I waited until 11 pm to be sure I could assess the situation without interference from my dad. As my daughter and I entered her room, she moved slightly. She lifted her right hand and moved it across her forehead, mumbling in her sleep like she was trying to tell me what had happened. Then she became quiet again.

I saw my grandma, who had passed on to heaven, standing at the head of her bed. Then an image of my mom was next to her. The only way I can try to describe this is I see images like holograms. Someone entering the room would have only seen me, my daughter, and my mother’s sleeping form.

I began to move my hands in a circular motion. Unknown to me, my daughter began to do the same thing behind me, but I couldn’t see her. I didn’t know why I was doing this, but later I read that when a person does this, it draws in healing power to be passed on to another.

Right as I was going to put my hands on her arm, a nurse walked in.

I dropped my hands down to my sides.

“Has she been sleeping like this since she got here?” I asked.

“Yes.” The reply was sharp and snappy.

I explained why I had arrived so late, not wanting to face my dad quite yet. The response lacked all compassion.

“It’s late. Come back tomorrow.”

I was being told to leave, so we did.

Once in the car, I sat in the parking lot, trying to figure out how I had not been able to pray for her healing. Then it hit me.

She wanted to leave.

“Do you think she doesn’t want to be here anymore?” I asked my daughter, who was just as perplexed by our unplanned quick exit.

“Yes.”

“Did she not want me to pray for her to get better? Is that what just happened?”

“Yes,” she said as we both started crying.

I drove home, knowing this wouldn’t end in a miraculous recovery.

The following day I returned, and I tried to convince myself she would be sitting in bed, back to normal. But she wasn’t.

Instead, my dad sat next to her, wondering what was happening.

I chose not to bring up my departure from their lives.

“If she doesn’t come out of this, are you ready for that?”

“I don’t know why she wouldn’t.”

I listened to a lot of denials.

Tests were run and care administered, but no answers were given as to why she was in this condition.

“An MRI has been ordered, but we have a long list of people needing one, so the results probably won’t be back until later tonight.”

As the hours dragged on and the visitors went home, my daughter and I stayed to hear the result.

She remained asleep, looking as if she were somewhere else. I wondered where. I leaned my head back, closed my eyes, and mentally said the prayer that would forever change my outlook on everything.

“God, show me what is happening.” It was nearly midnight.

I was standing off to the side of a bridge. I could see my mom facing forward with her mom, my grandma next to her.

“She’s still looking, Chrissy,” my grandma said. “She won’t turn around to look at me.”

I remained silent, watching, knowing that this was the beginning of her walk into heaven.

I opened my eyes as a nurse entered.

“You are still here?” She asked.

“I’m waiting for the results of the MRI.”

“I will send the physician down here before he leaves.”

Moments later, I was in the hallway meeting him.

“We didn’t see anything abnormal. We don’t have an explanation for her condition, and there’s no more we can do to get an explanation.”

The image of her facing the world with eternity behind her flashed through my mind.

By the end of the week, it was determined she would receive hospice care at home. I had written everything down as I would see it and hear it. I would close my eyes to check in, and on day four, the night before she went home to begin hospice, I saw her and my grandma standing in the middle of the bridge, still appearing to look at what I had come to know as the world. They were facing a giant movie screen with the wind blowing through their hair. This is what I wrote:

“The view up here is beautiful. I can see my whole life. I see scenes of myself, both good and bad. My father never loved me, Chris. But my mom, oh, she did. (She and my grandma laugh. I can see her standing behind my mom, hugging her as they watch. I am asked to join them in the middle of the bridge)

“See? Look at that. This is the day you were born. (I could see her in a scene holding an infant) And you had something. You had it in your eyes. You were the last one. I was proud to be a mother of six, even though I wasn’t good at it at times, I tried. I know you will have scenes of pain in your life because of me, but I loved you even if I never said it or showed it. I am sorry for not hugging or kissing you more.”

“It doesn’t matter now, mom.”

“But I see it now. I see it. And I can’t undo it. I can’t go back and change it. I’m not crying, but I see it. I can’t cry here.”

I wrote down each detail and knew she had been shown all 87 years of her life in a movie, like a highlight reel.

Back now to reality, I sat by her hospital bed. She stirred, woke up slightly, and said to my dad,

“Thank you for everything you have ever done for me in this life.”

This confirmed what I had just witnessed in a world not seen by human vision.

Every day I would shut my eyes and see her progress closer and closer to heaven. She had turned her back to the world after her life review and walked holding onto the hand of her mother.

When I returned to the bridge, I was allowed to be in the middle, but an angel stood next to me. He was tall, illuminated by a white light, and as they walked further away, he held up an old-fashioned pair of one-handled binoculars to my eyes.

I knew he was there to hold me back from going with her. I was at a point where I wished I could have. I could have left it all behind to follow her. But I was told:

“Chris, I see your future. It’s great. That angel is making sure you stay put. You are far from this for a while. And when you accomplish your mission for God, you will meet us on this bridge. You already know what it looks like. It will be familiar.”

As hospice went on and her body went through the process of shutting down, I continued to see and hear everything she did. And the day came when I went to the familiar place and only was greeted by the angel.

The water under the bridge was calm, but the brightness was gone. I knew she had completed her walk.

In Jeremiah 33:3 it says:

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

When I asked to be shown, I was brought to a place outside of the existence I usually live in. And since that day when I requested to see what was unseen, I have continued to be able to communicate with those who are leaving and those who have left. The ability has expanded and proven itself to be genuine.

I have met strangers in stores that I deliver messages to from loved ones who have passed. They always end up in tears from the words that seem to tumble out of my mouth beyond my control. I don’t advertise it; it just shows up to comfort and bless those I cross paths with.

After three years, I’m over the critics who would label me as a witch or a fortune teller. I don’t generally have a message for them because they can’t fathom it nor receive it. Some didn’t see Jesus for what he was either, so I’m in good company.

It’s been an adjustment, giving up what I thought I knew when I knew nothing, and it’s been worth it to live in between two realms.

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…)

Changed

We used the food scale for weeks to accurately measure portion sizes, watching the digital readout grow dimmer by the second. Once in a while, it would flash a warning reading ‘Lo’ indicating that the batteries might be nearing the end of their existence. It was so worn down, it couldn’t even add the ‘w’ to make a complete word.

As with anything that isn’t blowing up or causing urgency, we kept using it, thinking it wasn’t being serious. It’s like when the gas light goes on in your car. You always have some time before you have to pay attention to it.

I don’t take my chances too long with the car, but it seems like it’s jumping the gun a bit when you have to deal with an issue with electronic devices. I could manage fine if I squinted just right and turned it, so the light wasn’t directly shining on the screen.

Even when I could hardly read if it measured in grams or ounces, I ignored it, and once it had given me what I needed, I would forget about it until the next time I had to use it.

“I really should put new batteries in this,” I would say with every single use with absolutely no intention of doing so.

History seems to repeat itself. I have never gotten a different outcome when I have lived on the edge in this way. I pushed the on button, and it remained silent. I hit it again, thinking I had not done it hard enough. No familiar beep meant the unthinkable. It had died.

How could it betray me like this after so much time of it running on fumes, trying to warn me it was on its way out?

I opened “the drawer.” Everyone has one where you keep items, but nothing resides in there that is useful for times like these.

You move aside keys you have no idea what they open, a flashlight that when you flick it on has the same affliction as the food scale and screws. Lots and lots of mismatched screws that belong to something somewhere, essential oils that have names like breathe easy and relax, glue sticks, charger cords that have gotten separated from whatever they are supposed to bring back to life, and underneath everything, you find that package of homeopathic stress mints.

You do get credit for that extra refrigerator light bulb because you bought it months ago and threw it in there, totally prepared for when that burns out.

You wade through it all on the hunt for the triple A’s that seem to disappear the minute you bring the package across the house’s threshold. You have double-A, C, and D. The square 9 volt. When was the last time you ever needed that? The tiny round ones that no one should ever swallow and the flat pancake-shaped offering that belongs to nothing in the whole house.

You are left with only one choice. Go around and start kidnapping what you need from the other devices you own. Because you don’t need one or two, this monster takes three. You swear on a stack of Bibles that you will replace them. Later, you use the remote for the tv, and it’s not working. Why? Because the food scale is now functioning at its best.

It’s not like you haven’t been near a display at the store where you could solve your problem. But it seems that your brain decides to have amnesia, making you forget you have a crisis at home where inanimate objects run your life and drain your energy.

This leads to getting so over the situation that you make a special trip to get them, buy them and find a stash you have put away in that ‘other’ drawer from the last time you did this.

It’s a fun game I don’t recommend playing.

While not only battery challenged, there’s another issue in my home that baffles the mind. No one except me will put a new roll of toilet paper on the holder. I don’t know where this started and how I became responsible for it; I must have signed a contract I am not aware of.

It’s not uncommon to see a new roll sitting next to the holder on the sink or an entire pile of them on the floor by where one needs to be placed. But, never, will it be hanging on display. Never.

When my daughters were younger, I thought maybe removing the old and putting on the new was not something they could handle, but no one lacks motor skills at this point. If they can brush their own hair and swipe a credit card, they can do this; I know it. So it can only mean one thing. I enabled it.

When I became aware of that, I did try to fight back by going on strike and not doing it anymore so that they would understand what it was like to be me. It was an ‘I will show them’ moment. No one seemed to notice, and it drove me to resume the job of replacing it. You just know when you are up against those who are more strong-willed than you are.

It makes one wonder how we get into the habits we do. According to those who have studied human behavior, it’s not always easy to break patterns we have established because they can become unconscious, making it difficult for us to see them in the first place, like fears, worries, and irrational thoughts.

When my youngest daughter was six, she went through a time of having nightmares. It was not uncommon for her to suddenly be next to my bed, waking me up, tormented, asking for me to come into her room and pray. I had the same thing happen when I was young, so I knew the feeling.

I would get her to calm down, remind her that she had protection around at all times, and she would get through it. This kept happening to her for a while, but then it suddenly stopped. When that occurs, you let it go because it means your prayers have been answered, and you get to go back to not being woken up by a frightened child.

Shortly after her bad dreams had ceased, I noticed one day that she put her finger to the middle of her forehead and pushed on it.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I am changing the disc in my head.”

She went on to tell me that one night, while terrified after another alarming middle of the night awakening, instead of having me help her, something told her to pretend she was putting a new movie into her mind. She followed the instructions she was given, and this cured the problem.

“I use it when I have thoughts I don’t like. It works on everything,” she said.

She told me it was like putting in a new DVD and went through the physical motion of pretending to take out something, put something new in, and push the spot on her forehead again. (This was well before all of the streaming services we have now)

Whether by angelic intervention or not, we can change how we process a situation. Once you realize that the way you are thinking is not serving you, that is the minute you can take over and put things in their proper order.

Another way to end the struggle within over outside circumstances is to do this from Romans 12:2:

Let God change your life. First of all, let Him give you a new mind. Then you will know what God wants you to do. And the things you do will be good and pleasing and perfect. (NLV)

Matthew 7:7-8 describes how you can do that:

Ask, and what you are asking for will be given to you. Look, and what you are looking for, you will find. Knock, and the door you are knocking on will be opened to you. Everyone who asks receives what he asks for. Everyone who looks finds what he is looking for. Everyone who knocks has the door opened to him. (NLV)

Pray and ask God to replace unhelpful ideas that play in your mind and hold you hostage. Like old batteries and empty toilet paper rolls, you can be changed.

Sometimes it looks like they are winning…
(Keep these buried in the drawer where the batteries that you need should be…You will have no problem swallowing all 30 of them at once)

Seeking

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

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

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

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

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

“What are you doing, Chris?”

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

“Are you having trouble with this?”

It was obvious. 

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

“Yes.”

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

I looked at it again from a different perspective. 

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

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

Having the teacher say,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re blessed when you follow his directions,

doing your best to find him.

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

you walk straight along the road he set.

You, God, prescribed the right way to live;

now you expect us to live it.

Oh, that my steps might be steady,

keeping to the course you set;

Then I’d never have any regrets

in comparing my life with your counsel.

I thank you for speaking straight from your heart;

I learn the pattern of your righteous ways.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Seek,” she said to me.  

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

“What?” I asked my youngest daughter.

“You need to seek.”

“No, I think you do.”

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

“NO, you do.”  

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

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

Seek Ye First

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

In Matthew 6:30-33 it says:

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

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

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

    incomparable, irreplaceable—

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

All along letting you in

on what is going to happen,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suck

A few years ago, my daughter and I had the pleasure of tearing the vacuum cleaner apart on a Saturday. I needed to use it, and it wasn’t working right. 

After unplugging it, I flipped it over, and this particular model wouldn’t let me remove the beater bar. I got out a pair of scissors and began to cut away all the hair that had wrapped itself around it. With all of our technology, this act feels like it’s a throwback to caveman days. 

It’s just one step up from pounding letters onto a rock slab. 

I looked at the pile of hair I had freed and wondered why none of us had gone bald. Or donated it to be made into ten wigs. 

This same problem seems to cause drain issues with the shower. I always seem to be the lucky one who gets to experience water creeping up to my knees because it clogs during my turn. We only have one, so by some luck of the draw, it decides enough is enough, and soon the tub is filling up. 

There are only two solutions at that moment for this kind of trouble. Either stop the water and try to remedy it while you stand there freezing, which generally isn’t the answer because it needs something poured down it to clear it. Or you move faster before you drown in the oncoming flood. 

It’s a blessing to have a healthy head of hair until you have three adults shedding. 

So after untangling the mess, I expected the vacuum to roar back to life. It didn’t. Unbeknownst to me at the time, my youngest daughter possessed the ability to rip things apart and put them back together. I am not mechanically inclined, so I’m unsure where she inherited this trait. 

We both dismantled what we could, tried to make it look new, and then put it back together—some of the screws that should have been easy to get out fought us. 

After hours, magically, it worked. 

“What is this for?” I asked, discovering a piece on the floor after we were done. 

“I don’t know,” she said, looking at it. That is one of those moments where you decide to ignore the leftover part and move on. 

A different vacuum has been purchased since then, one that claimed it could handle a lot of pet fur, so why not apply that to humans as well?

I have not read the instruction manual one time in the five years since we have had the new one unless I have to. I have a stack of books to get through; who has time to read a book on how to vacuum? 

I read an excellent section about using the attachment that is supposed to be used on the upholstery.  

Thrilling.

It seems every so often, I realize there is a new hidden feature on it that needs to be maintained. It took me two years to conclude that I could separate the entire canister from the inside filter to empty it. 

Then I had the revelation of a filter in the filter that also needed attention. 

I have found at least three places where years of debris had collected that should have been emptied. How do I know this? Because it quit working correctly, I had to go through trying to figure out where the problem was. This is usually when I pull up the manual online, deal with that one issue and move on. 

“I found another plastic clamp that unhooks this thing, and I should have known this five years ago,” I say to her.

“Again?“

“Yes.”

This has happened so many times I have lost count. 

The vacuum my parents had didn’t have tubes and valves to deal with. It was a glorified broom and dustpan. You ran it, threw away a bag, and then forgot to put in another bag before your mom used it the next time, so you got in trouble for not replacing it. Simple. 

I am still, in some ways, not accustomed to using a machine that requires me to think. 

I thought I had finally learned everything there was to know about this current one. No longer was I going around being naive to its functions. If something was amiss, it was no longer taking up my time to fix it or have the worry I was going to break it.

A few Saturdays ago, I hit the on button, and the bar wouldn’t spin. It sent out crud instead of picking up. Along the way, you learn that you cannot ignore certain things. Like the filth it is sending out, making the carpet dirtier, and the smell of scorched hair. 

It never fails when there is the slightest hint of this in the air, I will hear from another room,

“What is that horrible smell?”

I want to say that it’s my Saturday afternoon getting burned up while I waste my time on cleaning something that is supposed to be cleaning. 

I got out the scissors again to cut away the accumulation. This did nothing to get it working right; the bar would not budge. 

“You are going to have to help me,” I told her.

Neither of us was looking forward to it as we sat in the middle of the living room, looking at it like we were about to perform surgery. 

“This whole section comes off,” she said with great confidence. 

I had not seen her doing any research to know this. 

“Are you sure? I don’t want to do that and then find out an hour from now it wasn’t right.”

The sigh speaks volumes. 

I found two new red levers I hadn’t realized were there before, which made the entire piece pop off easily in seconds. We got down to the problem at record speed but then realized the whole bar had to come off. 

Something jammed on one side of it, impeding its spinning ability. She got out a tweezer-like instrument and started to pluck away at the stuff that was sticking out. Small, precise movements that had me looking at the clock instantly.  

This is where the prayers to God began. 

At some point, you realize you are threatening the tiniest screw that won’t turn, and it holds you hostage. One small inanimate object has you at gunpoint, bringing to the surface in your mind every swear word you have ever thought of. 

Then you go into the laughing portion of it where you both don’t know why you are, but you are, and anyone walking into the room would think you have gone off your medication or you require some. 

She pulled on the stuck piece while I tried to free the screw one last time. It broke off. Sometimes there are causalities when you are involved in situations like this. 

You cut your losses, fix it, and go on, knowing the other three will keep it together. 

I vacuumed the entire house without any other issues.

“Why is the vacuum not working?” She asked me five days later. She was cleaning her room.

“What do you mean? It worked perfectly after we took it apart.”

“It won’t turn on.”

It had to be the outlet, so I tried another one. It wasn’t that either.

So we began the process of checking all the usual trouble spots, but I saw nothing wrong. The advice I found online pointed to the on/off switch. Once you take off the brush below, a reset button requires you to hold down one of the two buttons to get it going again. 

Who knew it had a snooze function? 

I was dealing with nothing short of a highly advanced piece of equipment that now screamed overkill. It was like I was dealing with the space shuttle, and it did take rocket science to figure it out. 

I did exactly as instructed, and it sat stone-cold silent. 

We looked at each other like we had committed murder.

“This worked after we fixed it. This makes no sense.”

We went over everything again, coming up with no answers. 

Then she had a lightbulb moment.

“Is the power off?”

The sun was out, so there was no need to have lights on. I flicked the light switch, and nothing happened. I tried others and got the same result.

Others were functioning, and I had this experience many times over the years. It was the trek to the circuit box, looking at the small map that shows me what runs on which one. I heard the vacuum come on above me with two switches dealt with. 

Sometimes what you think is the problem isn’t the problem.

Your ability to solve something in your life can seem so black and white when you look at it logically. You should take part A and hook it up to part B and be on your way. But what if that isn’t the solution? What if God is trying to show you a deeper issue that needs healing for you to get past it and never have to deal with it in the future? Unless you are willing to look further into it, it can lay dormant, waiting to present itself again, just like always, causing the same problems.

Instead of that, it’s helpful to undergo a process where God reveals to you the exact source of the issue so you can fix it. 

In Psalm 139:23-24 it says,

Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; Cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I’m about; See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong—then guide me on the road to eternal life. (Message)

When you allow God to do this, you can move ahead, being led strongly into new power, leaving you able to deal with anything that presents itself that seemed impossible before. 

Heaven’s mission is always to bring you to your highest potential, where your faith runs at its best, you see the good in all, and unlike my rouge vacuum, life doesn’t suck.