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.

 

Honorable Discharge

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

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

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

“What is that?”

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

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

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

“I wonder why he does it?” She asked.

See? Like that.

“Did you ask him?”

“Yes. He didn’t hear me.”

He was a master.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you hear her say to get up?”

“She did?”

“Yes. Can you stand up?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Can you hear me?”

He looked right at me and said,

“No, Chris. I can’t hear you.”

That was my sign it was functioning correctly.

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

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

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

I repeated my question with no response.

This time I decided to upgrade.

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

“Selective hearing,” he said, then smiled.

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

Unfortunately, it isn’t.

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

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

“What was that for?”

“To shoot down airplanes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another event he went through was not as humorous.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My dad saw Proverbs 12:1 in action:

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

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

I equate that to when we ignore God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trust

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

“What is it?”

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

“I don’t know,” she said.

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

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

“My name is on it,” she said.

She picked up one of the three mystery items.

“I’m not even sure what this is.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Does that have it in it?”

“Yes.”

“What about that?”

“Yes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

It makes one wonder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s wax.”

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

“I think for anything.”

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

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

“Each of these is worth $20.”

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

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

“What is this?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vision

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

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

Then the world should be full of short people.

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

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

Well, sort of.

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

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

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

“Ick.”

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

I would often hear him say to her,

“Have you seen my pipe?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seeing her about to leave him brought on a meltdown.

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

There was a reason why she had done this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I backed up with more crunching.

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

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

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

“What do you have in your hand?”

I held up the bag.

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

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

“He told me he quit!”

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

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

“John! Where are you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cringe. Not good.

“This is it?”

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

A coincidence? I don’t think so.

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

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

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

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

I didn’t fully get it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Combination

She opened the refrigerator, and a plastic container flew out and hit the floor with a loud smack. The force of the impact made the lid disengage. The contents then were free to splash upward toward the poor unfortunate soul who was standing nearby with clean clothes on.

His pants were immediately covered in some sort of leftover that I am sure he would have instead had presented to him on a plate. We all stood in shock as he had both of his hands outstretched, looking down in horror at the red meat sauce that was rapidly seeping inward past the outer layer into deeper regions.

She sprang into action to attend to the spill, totally focused on that, not really coming to his aid. He had just been involved in an unwanted food fight and now stood immobile, not wanting to traipse the problem through the living room carpet to get a change of clothes.

While she was absorbed in trying to reign in the mess that had splattered the walls, cupboards, and doors, his annoyance was on the rise at her lack of attention toward him.

“Wipe me! Wipe me!” He suddenly yelled.

My brother, ever the quick-witted comedian, passed by and said,

“I would never want to do that!” Clearly with a different scenario in his mind. He dropped that comment and darted away.

This made my mom burst out laughing to the point of not being able to get up off the kitchen floor.

“Jean! Get up right now!” He ordered.

She laughed louder. She loved physical comedy, and once something struck her as humorous, it would be a while.

As she became more caught up in laughing, he kept on hollering, trying to snap her back to reality. While he swore through the entire process, she could not control what had overtaken her. Finally, she just threw the wet rag in her hand at him and let him start on disengaging himself from the problem.

It must have been contagious because suddenly, he started laughing with her. It was one of many odd things I saw happen between the two of them. I stood there, not knowing if I was witnessing anger or joy.

On another occasion, she came out of the laundry room hysterically laughing, trying to tell me something.

“Your dad…he..he…” she tried so hard to say what was going on, and she couldn’t. Taking a deep breath, she said,

“He was outside staining wood.”

“Okay.”

She had to pause between each sentence to get it out.

“He took this big lid off and set it aside.”

Another round of bent over laughing.

“He sat on the lid!”

“What?”

After many minutes of questions, I pieced together the facts that he had forgotten he had set a lid on a chair and then sat down for a second. When he felt wetness soaking in, he jumped up and raced for the house for her help.

“He has a huge brown target on his butt! You have to come to see this!”

I only got up to help her in case she was not capable. It was almost identical to the sauce incident with him standing there helpless and her not functioning.

“Is it bad?” He asked me with his back to me.

“I think those are going to have to go in the garbage,” I said while she hung on to my shoulder, doubled over in a silent giggle.

“Jean! You have to help me get these off!”

The minute I heard that I was out. Like, bye.

From the other room, I heard her say,

“You actually have stained your skin! Like a big tattoo!”

She never understood the art of telling someone terrible news slowly. She just blurted it out like that, which caused him to go into orbit.

“I have to go in for my physical exam! What will the doctor think?”

“Maybe if I scrub it with cold water. That might help!”

This is when I cut off my visualization skills. There are just some things you don’t even want to see in your mind’s eye. In moments such as this, I didn’t want to possess the ability to have insight. I hit the pause button mentally.

“That is freezing cold!” I heard him screech.

“It’s not coming off!” She said, delivering more bad news.

Cue the cuss words. And more laughing. The blending of these two individuals never ceased to amaze me.

It wasn’t always him having bad luck either. Sometimes it was caused by his own doing.

“I hit him right between the eyes with a spoon one time.”

“Why?”

“I was eating cereal, and he said something that I didn’t like. I was pregnant.”

That would do it, simple as that.

Other times, he did fall prey to unexpected circumstances inflicted upon him by her hand.

One time, he had just sat down to eat this massive plate of food. This man would take his time doing this. Seasoning things. Moving slowly like he was getting it ready for a magazine shoot.

She tripped on her way past him with a bottle of wine in her hand. She fell directly on him, pouring the entire contents on his plate. He was so taken by surprise that he still had his fork in his hand above her head while my brother quickly whisked his plate away, saying,

“You’re done!”

He had not taken one bite.

“What. The. Hell,” was all he said as she laid there laughing, crumpled upon him.

This went on for years.

“John, do you want a cookie?”

“No.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“Yes, you don’t want one, or yes, you want one?”

By now, she had lost him as he was in the middle of watching something.

“John!”

“What?”

“Is that yes or no?”

“For what?”

“A cookie! Do you want one?”

“I already said no.”

“I thought you changed your mind.”

He was gone again.

“Are you sure?”

“About what?”

Feeling that she wasn’t getting through to him, she placed herself and the container of cookies in front of him.

“I can’t see around you!”

“Are you sure you don’t want a cookie?”

Right as he was about to answer again, the entire thing fell out of her hands, and every single cookie landed on his lap.

“Leave me be, woman!” He shouted like he was casting a demonic entity out of his presence.

As she scrambled to pick them up, the laughter and the swearing again.

The other day I was talking to him about heaven. I have seen it and was giving him details.

“Mom is there, right?”

“Yes.”

And you would think with their history, he might not want to spend eternity with her. Life on earth just might have been enough.

“That’s good. I miss her.”

For all the times they were in conflict or nearly at their wit’s end with one another, there always was and still is this invisible chord that kept them together. Not once since her transition has he wanted anyone else in his life. Some would say that he finally has peace and quiet.

But he was very adamant with me when she first went on to heaven.

“I will not ever be married to anyone ever again. She was it.”

So all I can do is make him remember the funny moments that maybe weren’t so humorous to him then. But now, he sees it for what it really was.

One of the morning routines that they adhered to was that she would get up early, ahead of him, but she didn’t let him rely on his alarm to wake him up.

She would always say,

“John, it’s time.” And raise the shade to blind him with light first thing.

“I hated that so much!” He told me once. But she did it every day.

I have a feeling that when God calls him up, he will hear that familiar voice saying,

“John. It’s time.”

Some things you look at and think, who decided that this would be good? Like waffles and syrup. Who conjured that up? I think a lot of people are glad it exists.

And while I didn’t always understand them, and I still really don’t, I am grateful that God decided to put them together into a weird, sometimes ugly, but purposeful combination.

Stumbled

While out on a walk where there was absolutely no ice or treacherous conditions, I started to fall. Weirdly, I had a few seconds to think as I knew I was headed for the concrete.

I was trying to determine the reason I was going down as it was happening. I hadn’t tripped, there was nothing to have made this happen, so the “why” question was ever present on my mind.

Somehow, I was able to land more on my right side than anything else. And as I was lying there, I thought I had done an outstanding job of not breaking anything.

I got up, and I felt a slight discomfort in my right shoulder. I thought I had fought off a problem until the following day when I couldn’t raise that arm more than a few inches upward. I had limited mobility for a few days, but I kept doing my usual workouts, which seemed to help bring healing.

By the end of the week, it was back to normal because I had kept using it, not to an extreme, but enough to strengthen it again.

I had no idea that I had done what you are supposed to do when this sort of thing happens. I found an article devoted entirely to instructing people to calculate the perfect landing. I didn’t think that was possible. I thought all that was reserved for stunt people thrown from a burning car on a movie set.

Who knew that they have community classes set up entirely to help the public when they end up doing a face plant? Do you wear a name tag? Hello, my name is…klutz. The first step toward recovery is admitting you have a problem with gravity. I imagine a classroom that doesn’t have any throw rugs.

If you have a plan for this, it can ward off a bad outcome and cause only minor damage. One of the most surprising things is that you must lean into it. It’s like you are giving in and cooperating, which leads to another step involved. Relaxing.

A body that is not tense fares better when it makes contact with the ground.

I saw this demonstrated recently while watching an extremely volatile tennis match, where two men were engaged in a long back and forth battle. Both were hitting toward the far corners making their opponents run from one end of the court to another. One of the players slid in an attempt to send a shot back. When he did, it threw him off balance.

He was moving fast, but it was so noticeable that he purposely concentrated on what was around him as he began to crash. He let go of his racket and seemed to be in total control of how it ended. Like he was planning on doing a plank, he used both arms and legs to wind up in a push-up position. He popped back up and continued to play. Using his entire body, he spread out the impact coming his way.

Sometimes, though, there is no way you can think fast like that.

Taking an unexpected trip down the stairs happened to me quite often when I was a child. My parents had slippery wooden stairs with nails sticking up in random places that my dad had to hammer back down. I think when someone screamed and went airborne, that was his cue to fix it again.

If one of your socks got caught on that, you generally went from the top to the bottom really quick without your sock. And then my mom would sew up the hole, and the process would begin again.

It was anyone’s guess who would become the next victim. I always forgot how dangerous they were and what small child is not in a hurry? I mean, there are important things to do when you are little, so you run.

When I was around five years old, I recall putting one foot on the first step and then landing on my back after not touching anything all the way down. It was a silent descent that no one was even aware of. It would have appeared to a passerby that I had grown weary of life and just decided to give up by staring at the ceiling at the bottom of the stairs. Somehow I had pulled off the most brilliant gymnastic move without an audience.

As I lay there, I felt so alone. I remained motionless, wondering how I had ended up like that. Nothing hurt, and I was probably stunned. One of my sisters happened to come around a corner. She looked down at me and said in the saddest tone of voice,

“Chris? Did you fall down the stairs?”

Up until that second, I had not made a sound, but the pity in her voice triggered me.

“Yes! I did!” I said, hardly able to speak as I started to cry.

“Are you hurt?” She asked in that same time of voice.

“No! I’m not!”

“Then why are you crying?”

“I don’t know!” I wailed. We both started laughing.

Around that same age, I made a huge mistake while playing hide and seek.

I was under the watch of a bunch of teenagers. My parents had gone out for the night and left me in the care of a few of my siblings. I liked it when they left because it felt like the whole house took a deep breath for a few hours. No one did anything crazy while they were gone, but it felt different not to be under an authoritative person.

Someone at some point had an eye on me to be sure I wasn’t running wild in the street or touching a hot stove.

It was suggested that I hide so someone could find me. Thinking back on it, it probably gave them a break from having to pay attention to me for a little while.

I heard the usual countdown indicating that I better hurry up and get out of sight.

I don’t know how I decided on the upstairs bathroom tub, but I went behind the shower curtain and stood there waiting to see how long it would take before I was discovered.

I knew someone was coming, so I moved slightly, and that is when I fell backward, cracking my skull on the porcelain tub.

I don’t remember much except for a headache and throwing up. I know my mom was suddenly standing over me in a strange place, which I now know is an emergency room. From that, I only recall being put back into my bed at home.

The next day I was told I had a concussion. It doesn’t only happen in full contact sports, apparently. I didn’t understand that complex of a medical term. But I knew I had done something wrong from how I felt. The room was spinning, and I had this constant feeling of nausea.

“Do you remember hitting your head?” She asked me.

“No.”

“You had socks on when you went to hide, and you slipped and fell.”

That made sense, and I never did it again.

When you hurt yourself physically, you usually know what to use to promote healing. You get ice, heat, a pain reliever, elevate the area, stay off of it, don’t touch it, bandage it, wrap it up, and be careful.

When you are hurt emotionally, it’s a bit different. You can use external devices to try and help, but generally, it’s all work that has to take place on the inside. You can find a brief reprieve from the pain momentarily, but the problem doesn’t get solved.

Just like an unplanned tumble, events that seemingly came out of nowhere can leave you wounded. But, I have learned that once the dust settles, there is something in it for you to gain. You become more thoughtful, more discerning, and can see where you can improve. Like I never wore my socks into the tub again, I learned what to avoid.

Some have taken a mental spill because they knowingly did something in a hasty decision that maybe they wish could be taken back. Guilt, shame, and unworthiness are their company, keeping them down. It looks like this from Proverbs 16:18,

First pride, then the crash— the bigger the ego, the harder the fall. (Message)

Do they make a bandaid that big?

So how do you get up after that? You lean into it, don’t resist, and do this from 1 John 1:9:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (NLT)

God is always ready to assist you up after you hit a wall, collapse, or lay motionless, almost left for dead even if you caused the trouble. Heaven’s biggest priority is to set you back on your feet and help you forget the part where you stumbled.

Yes, I have fallen going up the stairs as well…

Haunt You

When I was employed as a shelver at the library, I was one of the oldest. I was working with high school kids while I was in my forties. But, I got along well with them. It was some of the patrons that were a little rough.

I had been told on day one to be on the look out for a man who frequented the location and would perversely snap pictures of the workers. I was always aware of my surroundings and who approached me.

Usually.

Some of the places I had to put the heaviest books, usually in the reference section, were high up. And that section was the most secluded, it seemed. So not only did I have to lift the weight up over my head, but I often stood on my tiptoes to reach. This was probably the most challenging part of the job.

I actually felt him breathing loudly on me before I turned around.

“Well, aren’t you just vertically challenged,” he whispered down my back.

There was a tone to the voice that had me instinctively move to protect myself.

I let go of the large volume I had in my hand, sending out a loud thud like a bomb. I backed up so I could see who had invaded my space.

The smell that surrounded him indicated he had not been near a deodorant stick for a while, and he had this crooked smile of yellow teeth.

He came towards me, and I grabbed my cart and put it between us.

“I’m looking for documentaries. Can you help me find those?”

I pointed.

“Over there,” I said, indicating the farthest corner on the other end of the building away from me.

He moved closer.

“I want you to show me.”

The last thing I ever want to do in situations like this is seem afraid. Somehow along the way, I learned how to flip into another mode to combat an unwanted advance.

I never want to bring out my best weapon in my arsenal, but I do when it’s necessary. I cannot see what I look like when someone has gone beyond their boundaries with me, but my girls have said it’s frightening after they have witnessed me doing this in public.

And from the look that came across his face, I knew I was doing whatever that was.

“I believe you are capable of walking yourself in the direction I have indicated. It’s a few short steps away from here, but the people at the reference desk can help you if you get lost on the way there.”

I saw his body language change from aggressive to defeated. Like a dog that had been reprimanded, he hung his head, turned, and walked away.

On another occasion, I had to wear a shirt for a week to promote an event that the library was hosting. Typically, I embrace the idea of not deciding what to wear to a job, especially one where I spent a lot of time crawling on the floor putting books away.

The downside to this was what was written in bold letters across the back: Please ask me for help!

That is like walking into a room full of hungry wolves wearing meat.

Within moments of my shift starting, I had to put something on the tallest shelf. Both of my hands were occupied, and I was again trying to elevate myself up.

There were times when the spaces between the books were too big, so I had to bring an entire row together, hold that and slide a metal bar down to keep it there. All of this while I’m stretching to make myself reach.

A low voice spoke into the back of my head, near my right ear, making my hair move, so way too close for my comfort.

“I could use your help.”

It made me jump, but I executed the same technique as before by putting distance between myself and him.

“Your shirt says I am to ask you for help.”

“Yes, it does. But it isn’t a requirement,” I said.

I had a feeling he wasn’t there for reading material. He towered over me with this weird smile, expecting me to speak or go into fake friendly mode. For some reason, he thought I would be an easy target.

That was part of the problem for the younger girls who did this job. They would end up trying to back out of an intimidating situation with laughing and small talk, which only seemed to prolong the awkward and uncomfortable encounter. I had a few of them run to me afterward just to feel safe.

I did none of that. I continued to stare him down, waiting for the realization to hit.

I saw the same wilting look as he became more aware that his approach toward me was unacceptable.

I was in the mystery section, next to many titles about murder.

He tried to fill in the blank space with words.

“Uh. So…uh..can you tell me where the newspapers are?”

I pointed in the direction that they were kept. He stood there, blinking, waiting for a reaction from me. When he got nothing, he slunk away.

One of the most elusive people was the visitor, who seemed like a phantom. I wasn’t even sure if this was a female or a male, but they went out of their way to find and display every book the library had about human anatomy. I would be moving along quickly, returning items where they belonged, and would stumble right into their handiwork of propped open material that was not rated for general audiences.

I took issue when I started to find them in the children’s section. I wanted so badly to catch this individual.

One evening, as I approached the young adult selections, an elderly lady almost ran into me. Her eyes were huge, and she looked alarmed.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

If she had been wearing pearls, she would have been clutching them.

Trying to spit the words out and short of breath, she said,

“That shouldn’t be there!”

I walked into the aisle where she came from and found at least ten titles standing up, opened for all to see. I pulled them all down. She unknowingly had strolled through skin row.

“That’s terrible!” She said as I came back.

“I know. We have someone I am trying to catch. I’m sorry that happened to you.”

She staggered away.

There was an inconclusive sighting where one of the front desk employees saw a middle-aged man running to his car right after I found his signature calling card. I wanted so badly to get this person. I came close, but again, they dodged me, and I only saw a blur. It was like trying to grab wind. Big Foot got away, and after he was almost apprehended, it quit.

I actually came across something even a bit more ominous than that. And like that situation, it wasn’t easy to comprehend.

Sometimes, while in certain places working, books would fly off shelves. At first, I thought it was gravity, but some were coming from tightly in line places. They were holding each other up, leaving no room for anything to tip over.

I would stop, pick it up, and put it back. Once this started, it would continue in other rows around me. Usually, I was alone, but one time as I heard one hit the floor, a woman said,

“How did that happen?”

I popped my head around to see what she was talking about.

“That book looked like something pulled it off the shelf.”

“I don’t know,” I said as I fit it back into its space.

I tried to implement the same approach I had with intimidating humans coming in. Don’t engage too much, and move on.

Then I heard that there was talk of a ghost or two roaming around. I started praying over myself for protection, just in case. With all the energies entering that location, I just felt it was necessary.

What would it hurt? It could ward off real-life creepers as well as anything ominous in the unseen realm.

I had no inclination to engage with whatever was following me. If I sensed something near me, I would start talking to God. And within moments, I would feel it leave.

“I don’t believe in that stuff!” said a young coworker of mine. He and I usually worked evenings together.

Highly intelligent and extremely likable, he and I always found subjects to discuss and made each other laugh. He was nearing the end of high school with a career aimed at using his natural abilities in architecture.

His nature was to see fiction versus reality very clearly. There didn’t seem to be room in his way of thinking for any grey areas, such as a spirit wandering at his place of employment. He had great insight into solving problems for his age, but this was too much for his belief system that was a little bit on the black and white side.

This was a topic we parted ways on.

“I believe in it. I just try not to disturb anything.”

“This is not real!”

I looked at him and shook my head.

“Listen. Don’t tempt it. Just don’t say anything else.”

“Or what?”

“Just don’t.”

It was the end of the night, and we were in the back setting up carts for the next day’s workers.

He looked right at me and said defiantly,

“Hey, ghost! Come get me!”

“No! I wouldn’t do…”

I tried to warn him.

We had lanyard name tags around our necks that had a stretchy cord. Suddenly, as if someone had taken a pair of scissors, the line on his was snipped real quick, and his photo fell to the floor at his feet.

He looked at me like he had seen a..well..you know..

And, he let out a slight scream.

“I told you to stop!” I said, laughing.

He couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

I had always been taught never to disturb a bee’s nest, and much like that, interacting with a spirit I don’t know, I had learned to shield myself with the first line of defense not to antagonize. Second, I asked for angels to surround me.

It takes discernment to know how to navigate your way through certain circumstances. This is when hearing God’s voice is imperative. Some might have told me to “cast” out that spirit. Some might have said to hug it. At that moment, it wasn’t my job to “fix it.” I did what the voice of the Creator told me to do. Ignore it and carry on.

The same way with the two men who approached me. My reaction in those situations was to send a message that the door was slammed shut and there would be no exchange of energy between us. I had no guilty conscience doing so, hoping that they would stop behaving that way toward me and others.

It takes practice just like anything else to know what to do, how, and when. But that’s the great thing about having heaven speak directly to you.

One of the areas I spent a significant amount of my time reshelving was in self-help. The name can imply that you are working out your issues on your own, and many people must be doing so with the number of books I was putting back.

If you view authors as voices, that’s a lot of talking and advice. While I have found much inspiration from that, it can also become contradictory, leading to confusion. What works for one may not be the answer for another.

But, God knows you through and through because you were a special design put here for a specific purpose.

In Matthew 7:7, it says,

Ask, and you will be given what you ask for. Seek, and you will find. (TLB)

If you are looking for an exclusive answer made just for you, all you have to do is make a request, and it will show up. It will be extremely accurate, give you exactly what you need for the situation, and always comes with peace.

Following God’s voice over all else won’t ever come back to haunt you.