Beautiful Sunset

When my oldest daughter was two, I began a home-based daycare. I had been working evenings and weekends, so this would give me a chance to be with her, she would have friends, and I could continue contributing to the household income.

I revamped the basement with new carpet, paint, bought many toys, and got my training and licensing through the county.

I put a sign in my front yard, and the kids showed up. At one point, it was seven against one, but somehow I learned how to be a conflict resolution director quickly. Daily, I dealt with perfect angels one minute who could turn on a dime and bite their best friend. There were episodes of mutual hair pulling, tussles of arms and legs in wrestling matches on the floor to get a specific object, and name calling that would make a peaceful temper flare. Something as simple as “dum-dum” would cause a barroom brawl.

My day started at 6 am and would often go until 6 pm. There were times when parents were under pressure by their employers to be at work no matter what, so that meant I would get sick kids drugged up with Tylenol. I got to know them so well that I could look into their eyes and detect something was wrong. The parents were often aware they weren’t well, but the pressure of losing their job would win out. So I took them in and tried to make them feel better when they often just wanted their mom.

I always provided them with structure no matter their ages. I taught colors, numbers and read one book after another. There had to be a balance of free time versus activities, or the restless energy would descend, and trouble would start.

I tried to keep God at the center of all things. If aggression popped up between two or more of them, I would try to explain that they should treat each other how they want to be treated. It seemed to work, and just when I thought I was not making any progress, I would leave the room for a second and come back to find them all hugging each other. I had unseen help around every corner.

My daughter loved having friendships, and at one point, I had to stop her from giving all of her toys away. She had a very generous personality, so she felt that she needed to give each child a parting gift at the end of the day. Every single day. I went out and bought items for her to continue to do this so her room wouldn’t end up empty.

The oldest of the group was Molly, who was four. She knew she was the top dog, and I had to often bring her down off her own self-made pedestal where she tried to control the rest. While they all wanted to do their own thing, she wanted their total undivided attention. She was most upset when the other kids would run away and not do what she wanted.

“Miss Chris! They aren’t listening to me!”

“Then stop trying to make them listen. Maybe they will later.”

“I want them to be over here, not over there.”

“They don’t want to be.”

She was coming to me to see if I would give her back up to enforce her rules.

“But I want them to listen to me!”

“Why don’t you just tell me what you want to say.”

“That’s not fun.”

“This is as good as it gets for now. It’s either me or no one.”

She would grumble in frustration and start trying to read or go into a very long dissertation on how life should be. Soon, all the others would notice and come sit by us. She would get her way the minute she didn’t try to force it.

She also had a reputation for not telling the truth. I caught her multiple times doing things that she would deny.

“Molly, did you hit your brother?”

“No.”

“Then why is he sitting on my lap crying with a red mark on his leg? How did that happen?”

“I think he bumped it over there.”

“Are you sure that’s your final answer? Do you want to think about it for a second? I just want you to tell me the truth. So does God.”

Her eyes would go everywhere but look at mine. It was an inward battle as a younger sibling had given testimony against her, I had exhibit A as physical proof, and now she had to scramble to come up with an alibi.

“I think he tripped and fell.”

“For sure?”

There were more hard swallows and no eye contact.

“Well, he was bothering me.”

“She push me!” Her brother was at the stage of having less speaking ability, but enough to verbalize he had been wronged.

“So you pushed and hit him?”

Now there was hair twirling involved as she nervously shifted from foot to foot.

“He was trying to take away something from me.”

It was always the usual speech about not concealing the truth and letting me know to intervene.

No matter how many times I tried to help her see this, she feared the punishment, even though all I had her do was tell him she was sorry. It killed a part of her to have to apologize and admit wrongdoing. Something that should have taken minutes turned into a long, drawn out process until she would finally come clean.

One day, during lunch, she was accused of another offense. There was a witness list against her a mile long.

“I did not do that!” She said adamantly.

The noose was tightening as each of her companions gave me details of something she had done. None of them were changing their story, and I had a feeling she was guilty as charged. Her demeanor suggested total deception like all the other times I had dealt with this.

“Molly, I want you to tell the truth, and that’s all. Lying isn’t a good habit because it won’t seem wrong to you at some point.”

It was a breezy, nice day, and I had all the windows open. There was work being done off the back of the house as the porch was being constructed, and I had pulled the curtain closed across the sliding glass door. The person out there had overheard what I had said. None of the kids were aware that he was there, and he had taken a break and was sitting quietly.

“Molly, God is always watching, and you need to remember that. You need to be nice to people, and God wants you to be good to others.”

She still wouldn’t cough up the truth. The wind made the floor-length curtain billow inward toward her back.

“Molly….” came this deep voice from behind her.

I saw her jump.

“What was that?” She said, looking at me, and now I was suddenly her lifeline.

She turned to see the curtain blow toward her, and it was the best visual effect I could have asked for, especially if God was showing up to reprimand her for me.

Again…

“Molly…”

I had a hard time not smiling. Instead, I pretended to be as in much shock as she was. Because they all trusted me, the entire table had gone silent. If I was reacting in surprise, then it had to be God!

With eyes wide, she blurted out,

“Miss Chris, I did do what they said, and I was lying. I am sorry.”

“Really? Just tell the truth all the time right away, okay?”

She was utterly unnerved that God had spoken her name out of nowhere. In a split second, she went from deceitful to the most honest person in the room, thinking the Creator had appeared to deal with her.

I pulled the curtain back and had her see it wasn’t God but a person.

She went on to correct herself after that. She often still wanted to cling to her false stories, but that moment solidified what I had been trying to tell her all along.

Many years later, way after I had quit childcare, I was outside raking. And I heard:

“I am what you think I am.”

What does that mean?

“If a person thinks I’m revengeful, then they don’t think they can approach me. If they think I’m forgiving, then they come freely. If they think I put sickness and disease on them, they blame me for it. If I am seen as a healer, then they come for healing. People put their own restrictions on me. I am unlimited in the reality of all things. I am who you think I am.”

Molly thought she was dealing with an angry God from the many times outside of my care when the hammer was thrown down after she confessed. So she decided it was easier to try and sneak out of it. I kept saying that while she needed to not act like an animal from the wild, there is always a way of humility and taking responsibility for wrong choices.

Psalm 86:5 says: “You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you.”(NLT)

Molly should have had Proverbs 28:13 stamped on her forehead:

Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy. (NLT)

Your view of God is what you will get, and you will create it.

Proverbs 23:7 says: For as a man thinks in his heart, so is he. (NKJV)

Are you ducking and running from a God who is ready to blast you with a lightning bolt and requires you to feel horrible every single second of your life? Even for something you did a long time ago? Or, are you walking in the light of the truth where no matter what, you can always ask for forgiveness from the One who offers peace and closure?

Being taught anything other than this is an illusion. All things can be forgotten and concluded. Just look to the sky at the close of the day, and you will see this message displayed in full array in every beautiful sunset.

Second Chance

I was raised in the Catholic Church, and at a very young age, I became aware that there were many rules to follow. With God so elusive, and when we struggle to grasp what we can’t explain, someone has to lay down laws for comfort sake. Without standards to follow, who knows where the train could go off the track? The masses might all get the crazy idea that God cannot be put into a box. 

So there were the incense-infused ceremonies, no meat on Friday during Lent, and a series of steps a young person had to go through to achieve the accolades of the institution. 

The basic level was first communion. Barely six years old, I was expected to sit and listen to a really old guy speak. It was on a Saturday morning. How do I remember that? All of my weekend cartoons were on, I was finally out of school for the week, and I had to absorb a lecture that made no sense. I’m sure his intentions were great, but my thoughts were back at home. He didn’t seem to understand children. 

To make it worse, we had homework, and I had to pray these long, boring paragraphs that were just words on a page. If anyone was trying to get me to have a connection with God, I wasn’t getting it. Somewhere in my little self, I knew that I had a spirit, but this was not helping me to uncover it. 

One of the experiences that kept occurring was I would feel separated from my body. The only way I can describe it was like looking through my eyes from behind my eyes as if you were looking through a pair of binoculars. 

These feelings were so strange; I decided to tell my mom. At this young age, it wasn’t easy to make her understand, so I said,

“I don’t feel like me.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t feel like I am myself.”

“Who do you feel like?”

“Not me.”

“I feel like a floating feeling.”

“Floating how?”

“Outside of me.”

Our circular discussions amounted to nothing. This started to happen more frequently, even while other people would be speaking to me. I would become an observer, which she began to notice. When she would say something and expect a specific response from me, and I would reply, “I wasn’t feeling like myself,” she started to worry. 

“Chris, you are scaring me.”

Well, who wants to frighten her mother? So I quit talking about it. But it continued. 

Funerals and visitations were another thing. She took me along, and I was so freaked out at first to see an unmoving person displayed in a casket. Everyone was standing around casually talking, and there was a body in the room! Hello?! A dead person! Why was no one feeling alarmed about this? At first, I forced myself to adapt, and then I started to notice something once I got over my initial horror. Around certain dead people, I saw a very bright light. The first time I did, I tried rubbing my eyes to make it go away, and it only expanded farther out. 

With this new feature added, I stopped fearing attending these and started looking for the shine. It made it more like a game. Instead of listening to an adult speak about topics that were way beyond my ability to comprehend, I would stare straight ahead, start to squint, and then look for it. I’m sure the people around me thought I was a little off, but then again, I kind of was. 

I began to notice that most people had this heavenly glow to them while others did not. I also picked up on conversations around me. “I can feel her presence here listening to us,” or “He was such a good man.” Those were the brightest lights. 

One night on the car ride home, I said,

“Isn’t that light around the dead person weird? And others don’t have it.” 

I saw her glance up into the mirror to make eye contact with me in the backseat. 

“What do you mean?”

“The dead people. Some have a bright light around them, and others don’t.”

The silence was loud. She looked back at the road. 

“You see a light around some of them? And not others?”

“Yes. Don’t you?”

“No. Some people call that an aura or an energy type thing. When do you see it?” 

“While I’m sitting there waiting for it to be over.”

“No. I don’t see it at all. I’m too busy listening.”

I felt like she was sending me a message to stop talking about it. We had already dealt with my other odd revelation, so I kept my thoughts to myself from then on.

In the spring, I had to go to confession, and I was petrified. To receive communion, this was an absolute necessity, or the world would end. My infant baptism had begun the process of keeping me from going to hell, but who knew what eternal damnation I could get myself into at the age of six? 

There were a lot of question-and-answer sessions. 

“What do I do? It looks like a closet.”

“You go in, sit down and tell the priest everything you have done wrong,” she said. 

“Like what?”

“Have you lied?”

“No.

“Do you do everything I ask you to do?”

“Yes.”

“You can’t think of one thing?”

I didn’t like getting into trouble, and she had gone out of her way to enforce rules, so no, at that point, I had no infractions to account for that I could conjure up. I tried to avoid punishment and guilt at all costs. 

Seeing that I didn’t have sin on demand, she said,

“Something will come to you. You will know what to say.”

The big day of my unleashing my burdens arrived. I was hoping to wake up sick—no such luck. 

During the drive to the church, I was racking my brain trying to develop a stellar story that I could ask forgiveness for. My quiet demeanor got her attention. 

“What are you going to say?”

“Nothing. I have nothing to say.”

Her mouth popped open.

“Chris, you have to say something. You can’t just go in there and not say a word.” 

Yes, I could. But then I would feel like I let her and the entire Catholic Church down. 

“Ask God to tell you. I thought by now you would know.”

I did know, and I had nothing to say. But that wasn’t going over so well. My mind was blank. 

The church was incensed up when we walked in, and it stung the lungs to inhale. Again, on a Saturday, I was ripped away from my pleasant day of freedom. I stood in a line watching boys and girls enter and exit the tiny closed off rooms. No one looked worse the wear as they walked past me, and most looked happy to have it over with. 

I was up to the plate. I opened the door and sat down. 

In the dark, I could see an outline of a man, and I heard him clear his throat. 

“Bless me, Father, for I sinned,” he whispered.

Oh! I was supposed to say that! I already had messed up my lines. 

Quickly, I repeated it. 

He then instructed me to tell him the biggest offense that was ruining my relationship with God.

On the fly, I said, 

“I hit my brother.”

As soon as the words came out, and he went into some sort of incantations, it was like scalding water was rained down on me. 

I had NOT hit my brother; he had hit me in the arm, hard. And I had just lied to a priest in confession! 

I couldn’t wait to leave that stifling little box. I found my mom sitting with her eyes shut, probably begging God to help her youngest child. I was relieved it was over, but now I had a crushing weight on my chest. I was a liar! In a church of all places! 

She looked down at me and said,

“Do you feel better?”

I started crying so hard she couldn’t believe it. Crying was deemed a weakness in our house and in public? Never! In her eyes, I was obviously having the ultimate spiritual experience. 

“You must have had something that was bothering you. Didn’t it feel good to get rid of that? To free yourself of that burden?”

I sobbed harder, unable to speak. I was going to hell! I had just sealed my eternal fate while in elementary school! 

“No. I lied.”

“What? Chris, what did you say?” She took her hand off my back. The comfort session was over. 

Hunched over ready to throw up, I choked, 

“I lied. I told him I hit Bob. But, Bob hit me.”

She shook her head, accompanied by a sigh. I just wasn’t an easy student. Miraculously, she didn’t make me go back in and undo the damage. She said God would forgive me in the car on the way home. What?! That was an option? 

It is impossible to get through life without missing the mark. If we think we are perfect, we are delusional. But, we also don’t have to swing to the other extreme and live in self-condemnation and write ourselves off as unforgivable. If we do, we are as useless as the prideful and arrogant. 

There’s a nice balance between the two.

In 1 John 1:8-10, it says:

 If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins—simply come clean about them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. (Message) 

Why do organizations complicate things? 

Just recognize where there needs to be a minor fix, ask for assistance, and gratefully accept the second chance.