Day by Day

I could not believe that my eyebrows had disappeared overnight. This was supposed to improve the look of my skin and not erase my face. 

My forehead looked like it would after too much sun. I brushed at it, and it appeared to be snowing. The peeling reminded me of a National Geographic documentary where a snake sheds its skin. 

She walked into the bathroom and started laughing. 

“What is going on?” 

“The retinol you got me is causing problems.”

“It’s not supposed to do that.”

That always doesn’t make me feel better. 

“Maybe you are allergic to it.”

She looked up information while I continued to uncover my true self. 

“I guess you aren’t supposed to use it every day.”

I looked at the jar.

“It says right on this ‘daily retinol.’”

Was daily not the same anymore? Was this like new math where getting to the answer was more complicated than ever? I couldn’t handle old math very well.

Had I missed the post on the changing of this word? Was the meaning now vague and whatever one decided? Did daily mean weekly? Monthly? This would disrupt a lot of habits like taking vitamins, teeth brushing, exercising. 

So when someone says,

“I work out daily.”

It might not be what you think, and that could mean they went to the gym over a year ago in our world of ever-shifting terminology. 

“I’m on day 3. This didn’t happen the other two nights.”

The regime was to use a cleanser first and then apply it like a moisturizer. I did recall a slight tingling feeling similar to a chemical burn. 

Those I know about. I had used a product on my face a long time ago, and it had left a burnstache on my upper lip for days. A long, red angry line reminded me that if the product smells like varnish, it should probably not be trusted. But, I had forged ahead and slathered it on. My skin took revenge for my careless regard and let me enjoy my scarlet letter for weeks. Putting concealer over it was torture, so I had to display it proudly.

I didn’t want history to repeat itself.

“It says that when you start, to build up your tolerance to it,” she said reading on.

I wasn’t drinking it like a bottle of whiskey. 

“And you are supposed to mix it in with your usual cream, so it is an adjustment.”

“None of this is on the packaging.” 

I had scrutinized it before I had tried it. The green tea scent was inviting, along with the bottle design. One pump of the top produced a convenient pea size amount to be applied, so I thought there was no overdoing it. 

“Other people are saying they have had the same reaction.”

It was comforting to know that a club was forming, and I wasn’t the only flake in the world. 

“It’s on the product website in the reviews. The company is advising on how to avoid a reaction like this from happening.”

“Are they telling people if they never used it, it wouldn’t have happened?” 

Those words have never been more accurate over time when we fall prey to advertising. 

Like the self-tanner that turned my skin into an Umpa Loompa color just before I was expected to attend a church service; it was spring, and the idea was to get that summer glow before the season officially started. It was claimed that this healthier option would replicate hours spent in the sun without the risk of damage. 

It said nothing about the transformation into a bright unicorn orange. As the minutes passed, it got darker. So did my thoughts. 

I had to bundle myself up like it was winter to cover the ever-changing gobstopper look that was happening to me. I reached for something during church, and part of my wrist escaped, just slightly. No one noticed but me as I quickly pulled my sleeve down. This was the start of what looked like extreme modesty on my part. I had visions of winter mittens and a scarf tied tight around my neck through August. 

I had no idea how long of a haul I was in for. By the time summer arrived, I was back to where I had started. Pale never looked so great. 

The most painful experience to achieve beauty was a product called the Epilady. The word “lady” was so misleading. They knew what they were doing when they slapped that on the product to lure in women. It denotes high sophistication and a socialite quality. Drinking tea with one pinky raised. It was anything but ladylike. 

There was a metal coil that promised to remove leg hair effortlessly. This was created by a room full of men who would never have this grace across their kneecaps. 

It felt like a million tiny tweezers ripping and pulling at once. And you were making it happen. You weren’t being held hostage at gunpoint by a band of marauders. No, someone gifted you this thing, and you decided to scrape it across your limbs in the pursuit of smoothness. 

You tell yourself it has to get better as you go. But it doesn’t, and you keep trying to be its best friend while it leaves some of the unwanted hair, so you have to go over it repeatedly, subjecting yourself to multiple needle-like stabs. They are still out there claiming that women worldwide love the device. Who are these people?

It rested in peace on the shelf with the self-tanner until I cleaned the linen closet years later because the individual who gave it to me is long gone. Who needs enemies when you have a friend like that? 

Most recently, I realized I might have a slight intolerance for niacin. It’s in one of the supplements that I take every day. Yes, daily. In the morning. Daily. The old daily, just to be clear. 

I noticed that it only happens sporadically and comes out of nowhere. It generally starts in my face and then spreads. I will feel the heat that begins and radiates into a flush. Usually, this happens if I down the dose too fast, often in my rush out the door. 

When this came upon me recently, I drank the ounce straight like a shot without mixing it with water and drove to the bank. It was one of those days where multiple things were about to happen, and I needed to execute each task to get around to everything. 

Right as I pulled into the drive-thru, I felt the familiar tingling begin. Maybe if I got the person to help me quickly, they wouldn’t notice it as much. Time is the factor as it seems to get worse and then disappears. 

I hastily placed the canister into the receptacle and hit send. I could feel it increasing in intensity. Of course, this was the one day I had to wait longer than usual. Finally, he appeared on the screen. 

“Christine, is this just a deposit?”

I thought about facing forward only to show my profile, but that felt rude. So I decided to let this person see how a visitor to a nuclear power plant might look. 

I saw a lot of blinking and covering up. He wanted to ask me, but he didn’t dare for fear of a lawsuit on Judge Judy. 

“Yes. It’s for deposit.”

In the five-minute drive to get back home, my color returned to normal. 

Trying to stay healthy and maintain what God has given us is complicated at times and requires discernment. What is too little? What is too much? On the one hand, you can easily binge-watch an entire six seasons of a show on demand and not move for hours at a time. Or you can insist on working yourself to death beyond your maximum.

What can help you stay in the middle, centered and grounded? Here’s a great guide found in Luke 12:22-32: 

“Don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or if the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your inner life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the ravens, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, carefree in the care of God. And you count far more.

“Has anyone by fussing before the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? If fussing can’t even do that, why fuss at all? Walk into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They don’t fuss with their appearance—but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them. If God gives such attention to the wildflowers, most of them 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 get you to relax, 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 yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Don’t be afraid of missing out.”(Message) 

We can function at a level that isn’t God’s best, racing from one thing to the next in pursuit of elusive contentment. But when we relinquish control of the outside and connect inwardly, all we are responsible for will easily transpire as we are given instructions on how to care for ourselves best. 

Falling for social pressure and hurrying on to the next thing will never bring you close to what God can do. While the world says, “Rush!” Heaven says, “Rest!” 

And we are admonished to live in this present moment because tomorrow holds enough trouble of its own. Build up your relationship with the One who created you to do great things and take it day by day. 

True Purpose

“I think you are all going to be blown away by what I have written,” he said.

This was such a bold statement from someone who was about to share an excerpt from his manuscript with a roomful of strangers. Most of us were cautious about letting anyone hear what we had written for fear of ridicule. Not this guy. He was all out there, ready to wow us.

The person in charge told him to go ahead. The next few minutes, which seemed like hours, became one long stream of consciousness with not many stops along the way, such as pauses where punctuation had been added. A good edit job would not have helped because the content was so confusing.

Details of a hitman, a machine gun, and the typical violin case housing a weapon were all there. As he read, I tried to visualize what he said, and just as I had an image form, it was quickly erased like on an Etch A Sketch that was violently shaken.

There was a lot of blood, maiming, and murder. Just dangling pieces of information that made absolutely no sense, and I wasn’t the only one not getting it. He would read the names of characters who would appear and exit quickly just because they could, for no reason at all, without any depth.

I looked at the other faces around me, and they all were frowning deeply. We all wanted to like it, we all were trying to find a shred of something to cling to, but right as it would get to a place where I thought it was taking a turn for the better, he would plunge us back into a dark area of nothingness. Random pieces of scenes and fragmented sentences with no substance kept on coming.

My mind couldn’t take it anymore as it searched for understanding. Instead of a sample reading, it felt like I was undergoing a form of brainwashing where I was supposed to make sense of what he was presenting and accept it. He had set the stage by saying this was right up there in excellence, like Moses reading the Ten Commandments. What was I not getting?

When he uttered his last sentence, he said smiling brightly,

“Isn’t it great?”

I looked to the ceiling to avoid eye contact as he was seated across from me. I was trying to give the impression that I was in deep thought. When really, I was trying to recover from the mental assault we had all just experienced.

The silence in the room was like none I had encountered before. There was throat clearing and hard swallows as we all tried to come up with a response. This was why we were here. Getting hit by a truck was all I could imagine.

We met weekly in a classroom at a church as fellow writers to discuss what we were working on. And the goal was to get feedback on how to improve and where we were hitting the mark perfectly.

He was expecting us to comment, and no one could think of anything to say. I could tell that the man running the group was calculating some thought, as was I. The only thing that came out of my mouth was,

“After hearing it out loud, how do you think you did?”

It was a clever trick I had seen Randy Jackson use as a judge on American Idol. When a singer was at their worst, he would turn it around and have them explain their view rather than give his opinion. It was a way to discuss without causing any harm.

And none of us wanted to make him feel bad. He thought what he had put down on paper would be the next New York Times bestseller.

“I think I could clean it up in a few places,” he said.

“Like where?” I asked.

“I could take out a few of the killing scenes because that got to be a bit much.”

I was out. Someone else, though, picked up on that and began to explain how to improve. Another attendee pointed out another aspect where he could rearrange some things for better meaning. Instead of taking in the ideas gratefully, he got angry, hastily put away his manuscript, and said,

“You don’t get it.” That was the first thing he said all evening I understood.

We were the problem, not him.

As I went to more of these sessions, I noticed that the best writers had extreme difficulty exposing what was on their pages. That is how I felt. Like I was letting reckless people look after my children. I recall one woman reading the most enchanting children’s story with a timid voice.

“I don’t think it’s my best,” she stated at the end.

“Why?” I asked. It was so well done.

“It sounds boring.”

“How many times have you read it?”

“Too many.”

“That’s why. Put it aside and then come back to it. It will be brand new to you then.”

“I feel like something is missing, though.”

“While you were reading it, I kept seeing it as a pop-up book where each page is three-dimensional versus flat.”

“Oh! I like that idea! I already have an interested publisher. I just felt like I needed it to stand out in the crowd from other material like this, and that would help.”

On another occasion, a woman gave us a glimpse into her recent work. Without much fanfare, she led us into a world of a man who had committed a crime and was on a prison bus, pondering his existence. It was easy to get caught up in the storyline, and her words were vivid. You could feel the anxiety of this character coming right through, along with his deep regret.

We all were awestruck at her talent. She was very unassuming looking with her hair half combed, a dirty, stained tee-shirt, and stretchy pants that had seen too many days. I knew her background as a single mom who was struggling like I was at the time. I had engaged in conversation with her to listen and tell her that what she was going through would have a good outcome.

I had no idea she housed such a gift inside.

“That was amazing,” said the leader.

“Really? I thought you wouldn’t like it. I almost threw the whole thing away yesterday.”

“No. I think you should keep going with it and see where it leads you. You have the start of something great.”

“I usually don’t write about topics like this. I write erotic romance novels.”

It was one of those moments where you think you heard wrong, and inwardly you are saying to yourself…huh?

The look on his face told me I had heard correctly.

Stumbling over himself, he said,

“Go in this direction. See where God takes you with it.”

“I guess so. Writing smut is easy for me.”

It was like being punched directly in the chest.

He looked at me to add help to the situation, and I was thinking,

“You are in charge, buddy, not me.”

“Smut just flows off my pen so easily.”

This felt like it was turning into an after-hours 1-900 phone chat. Before she got into any further details, I said,

“Maybe God wants you to do something else. What you have been doing was just for a period of time until you got to this point.”

I was trying to tone it down and break the uncomfortable feelings I sensed from all around me. She was being honest, so I didn’t want to be anything but delicate in how I addressed it.

I had seen a lot of nonverbal reactions in my time, but the expressions around the table were unreal. Wide-eyed and pale, I think most of them were shocked to their core. My goal was to get her to see she was better than where she had been, and she needed to embrace it.

“Your writing is from God. You know that, right?”

“I never thought of it that way,” she said. “I just did it.”

“God wants you to be aware of the idea that you can tell a story that you are given, and it will have deep meaning to many people. Maybe the genre you were writing was limiting God speaking through you.”

No one in that room would have ever read what she said was her usual. Well, maybe one guy, but I could tell by the muted reaction that most would not have touched it with a ten-foot pole.

“You have a choice. You can do what is easy, or you can move to where you have never been and see what you are made of.”

She had been in a comfort zone where what she produced would show up without effort, but now she had to put some work into it with genuine feelings. Right away, she was ready to throw the entire thing into the trash because she believed it wasn’t good. But, when she got outward recognition and support, telling her the truth, then she was willing to keep on going.

Moving from one place of being into another isn’t something most of us excitedly sign up for. We like safety nets and the false assumption that life will somehow change before us if we keep on doing what we have always done. We cannot walk a higher road until we decide to get on another path. That is the scary part. Leaving behind what is familiar to seek out something that is calling us to unknown territory. Sometimes we need another voice in our lives to come along and tell us we can do it.

Many creative or spiritually gifted people often hide their talents for fear of what others will think. Proverbs 29:25 explains,

The fear of human opinion disables; trusting in God protects you from that. (Message)

There’s that word again: trust. And if you have been criticized or hurt in the past, it’s easy to want to protect yourself. So you self isolate and cut yourself off from the world.

The other illusion is that we are just a tiny drop in an ocean of others who are so much better than we are. What do we have to offer the world? We convince ourselves that we aren’t anyone of value so that painting goes undone, the book isn’t written, the speech is never delivered, and a healing prayer is never spoken. It’s just another way to keep ourselves safely tucked away out of the limelight. Yet in Proverbs 18:16, this is stated,

“A man’s gift makes room for him.” (NKJV)

So instead of sitting on the sidelines making excuses while God waits to do the best divine work ever in your life, be willing to step into the real reason why you were created and live out your true purpose.

Selling Yourself Short

“I know exactly what the problem is,” she said as I was laying face down on the table.

I had just explained that my lower back on my right side had been sending out painful messages, and I didn’t know why.  She had walked down by my feet.

“Are you going to tell me that one leg is shorter than the other?”

The only reason why I said this was because a friend of mine who is very intuitive had told me this months prior after I had sent out a text explaining that I had to crawl out of bed one morning as sharp spasms gripped my entire lower back.

“Yes. Your right leg is shorter than your left.”

For three months I had put up with it figuring it would go away after awhile. Simple tasks became horrible as I would lock into a certain position when trying to put on a sock or grab a pen that had fallen to the floor. Things I had taken for granted now were difficult to perform.

Many hot packs and Epsom salt baths later, I was ready for the truth to set me free.

“This is something that we can fix today.”

The only reason I had finally gone to the chiropractor was because my youngest daughter had complained of stiffness and aches in her lower back. When it comes to the kids, I will go in immediately, but for myself, I will wait.  I had reluctantly put myself up on the table out of necessity.

She came back up toward my head and began to run her thumbs along my spine. The familiar humming of a tune began.  The first few times I saw her for treatment this struck me as odd. Just before the snap and crunch, she would hum a melody that usually consisted of long drawn out notes that made me relax.

“Okay,  I need you to lay on your left side facing the wall.”

This was something we had done before, so I was well versed in flipping over.  She pulled my right leg across my body.  This also was usually part of the procedure, however, she did something different this time.  When she performed the maneuver,  I let out a surprising,

“OOF!”

My eyes must have gone wide and my face pale because my daughter who was observing said,

“Mom, are you okay?”

I did a mental check of my body and realized that she hadn’t caused me pain, but she had taken some of the oxygen out of my lungs.  Whatever she did felt like my right hip had been relocated to its natural spot. I no longer felt the grabbing twinge on my right side.

Afterward, she took out a plastic skeleton and showed me that when a person has an injury on one side of the body, later in life it can cause that side to become shorter than the other.  I left the office feeling so much better now that I wasn’t walking a crooked path.

When I returned home, I checked my home phone for messages and saw a number from a local technical college. I clicked the button to listen.

“I am calling to see if you would like to come in for a free massage at our school in the next month.  Please call us back and let us know.”

The year before, I had been looking for places that gave massages and found that I could volunteer for students.  I had put my name on the list but hadn’t heard anything.  I dialed the number and spoke with a student.

“Sure.  We can get you right in here.  Oh, the other thing is, if you want, you can actually have three free massages over a period of three weeks.”

“Really?” I said astonished.

She booked me for two hot stone massages that would last an hour and a half per session and an hour Swedish massage.  I got off the phone in slight amazement as I was suddenly realizing how small actions can lead to blessings.

Four days before this, I had splurged and sought out a massage therapist close to home who specializes in pain therapy.  I was drawn to this particular spot after reading online that it wasn’t just about the massage but the idea that healing could come to my body.  I felt I was to spend some money on myself as there still are times I catch myself worrying about my finances.  It was to be a two fold mission.  One, to seek out pain relief, and two, to make myself a priority.

I was greeted by a woman who had a calming, welcoming demeanor.  We made our way to a dimly lit room where she and I talked for awhile.  It became clear that she wasn’t just a therapist, but a person who took interest in her clients.  I had given her very little information to go on in my paperwork other than where the location of my discomfort was.

She suddenly said,

“Are you concerned about money?  I sensed that when I said hello to you.”

I smiled but I actually could not hold in my tears.  Whether it was the pain taking its toll on me or the soft spoken words of truth, it hit me emotionally enough that she had to hand me an entire box of Kleenex. I explained a few of my underlying fears revolving about money since my divorce and how eight years later, with my youngest graduating from high school, I felt uncertain about my existence in general.

She openly confessed to me that her marriage was in a shambles, and she was trying not to consider divorce.

“I made it this far,” I said gulping down another round of tears.

“Then, you will make it even farther.  You are a strong person.  I can see that from only you being with me for such a short time.”

We proceeded on to the most wonderful ninety minute session where we spoke very little.  At the conclusion of our time together she said.

“When I treat people, I often pick up on things that they are feeling or thinking.  It’s just part of my job.  I feel like you have a lot of pain built up that you need to keep releasing. I usually will feel a tingling sensation with people, but with you I felt a large amount of burning almost as if a fire is trapped inside of your body. This can cause inflammation as well.   Just let things go and get it out of your system.  Don’t hold things in so much.  So what if people know you aren’t happy all the time? Let it out either through laughter or crying. Whatever makes you feel better.”

To some, her words would be nonsense, but to me they made sense.  I felt relief not only on the outside but on the inside as well.

When I went to pay my bill, I knew that the charge was going to be an amount that I normally would have balked at.  But, this time, I had made up my mind to take care of myself.  In addition, I felt led to give a tip that would bring honor to this person who had just helped me so much.

As I got into bed that night, I wondered how I could get another massage.   Where would the money come from to enjoy such an experience again? Each morning after, I contemplated how I could ‘afford’ to have another treatment.  Not so much by the same person, but to allow myself the indulgence because it made me feel so much better.   Little did I know that by allowing myself the treatment ,and giving her a tip, that days later I would be the recipient of three more free treatments.   Along with the care of a wonderful chiropractor, I felt like I was being offered more help to resolve my painful problem.

I attended my first free massage the other day.  I was assisted by a woman who looked at least ten years older than me. She didn’t fit the description of the typical ‘student’.  I wondered as I got prepared for the session how her hands would hold up because it was to be an hour long.  Gently, she went over all of the instructions, made sure I was doing okay, and at one point while lying on my stomach I started to drift into a dream where I saw myself and my daughters laughing.  It was so real that when I snapped back to reality I didn’t know at first where I was.  She leaned down and said with a smile,

“We are all finished.  What do you think?”

“Thank you. That was great.”

She smiled brighter, and I could see that she loved the work.

Am I totally healed at this point?  No.  I still have moments of residual pain across my lower back that requires an ice bag or two and an occasional adjustment. But, what has this done?  I listen to my body more.  I don’t blow off the signals that tell me something is amiss.  I rest when I need to. I sleep and don’t force myself to stay awake.  And, I have become more mindful of the word ‘short.’  You see, when the chiropractor said my one leg was shorter than the other, I began to consider how many times I have worried about being short on money.  Each month I have fought a small amount of fear that this could be the ‘big one’.  I could be one of those people who suddenly find themselves destitute, so I limit doing nice things for myself because there are more important expenses to take care of.  There is an inner system of judgment that says: “If you can afford this, then why aren’t you paying this particular bill faster?”

There has to be a balance between obligations and taking care of oneself.  In John 10:10 it says: “The thief comes only to kill and destroy.  I have come to give them a rich and satisfying life.” (New Living Translation)  I am the one who robs joy from myself through my worry and unfounded fears. When I limit help, I limit God.   But, the desire of heaven is for all of us to live our days in health and peace. I am grateful for the people who have been put on my path to show me this.

Take care of yourself because it brings honor to your Creator and it stops you from selling yourself short.

 

 

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