Cross

I sent her to her room for a minute to think. It wasn’t so much for her as it was for me. I had read countless parenting books about how to deal with the unruly. I had gotten it down to steps. First came the warning that someone would be booked on a one-way ticket to another part of the house away from me if things didn’t change.

If that was not heeded by some chance, which was unusual, separation from everyday living occurred. While this would seem like discipline to some, my youngest daughter took this as an opportunity to make the most of it. When many would be beating down the door like it was a prison cell, wanting to escape, she did the opposite.

She got out every available toy, knowing she would not have to share with her sister, and got lost in her imagination as she played alone.

I would have to tell her she could come back out, but she often wouldn’t because she was enjoying herself so much.

One time, she took what should have been isolation a bit too far. She had gotten into an altercation, tested my patience, and landed in solitary confinement. After the prescribed minutes of being in juvenile lockup, I told her that her time of self-reflection was over. The door stayed shut, and she made no move to free herself.

I had gotten to the point where I let her decide, but it was so quiet I decided to check on her. It was just past Easter, and I could tell she had merrily passed the time by living it up, eating her candy, and tossing wrappers all over the room. So much for only bread and water.

As I was taking that in, she ran past me, which I found strangely suspicious. It wasn’t until later when I heard her sister yell her name that she had been up to no good.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

I had given them each a small cross made of chocolate. My oldest daughter had a white one with bright colored flowers in the middle. Unlike her younger sister, she made things last. It wasn’t uncommon for the Fourth of July to roll in, and she still hadn’t finished all of what she had been given.

“She ate my cross!”

You don’t hear that every day. In horror, my oldest explained that she had purposefully not eaten the middle part, but her sister had no problem swallowing it down.

“I had saved where the pretty flowers were, and she ate it!”

She showed me the empty box it had been in.

How do you punish someone that you had already detained in punishment? This was not in any of my parenting books. There were no steps after this one. I found so many times along the way the conflicting emotions that would crop up as I was presented with this type of dilemma.

The first thing you try not to do is smile or laugh at how hilarious it is because of hurt feelings, and it’s so wrong. You mentally repeat that this is not funny, so you can commiserate with the victim whose last bite has been gulped down by a three-year-old who knew precisely what she was doing. You immediately go to the store to try and find something to make up for the loss while doing your best acting job frowning at the other one.

That’s where the forehead wrinkles come from.

Like my daughter, who adapted to wherever her behavior got her, some people can accept unpleasant situations better than others. They make the best of it, knowing that it won’t last forever. They don’t go on social media and rant for hours on end, tell every neighbor they see, and talk to every stranger at the grocery store.

Sometimes I’m surprised when I find out later that a person is plagued with a problem, and I would have no idea until someone told me. It’s not that they are faking their way through it. There’s this heavenly glow about them because they have made up their mind to accept the news, deal with it and still live as if nothing has changed. It’s not a secret, but it’s not been made the focal point of their existence. They don’t seem to be suffering in silence either. They have revealed their pain to a select few who offer steadfast support and give the rest to God.

They have tapped into a part of themselves where the peace that passes all understanding resides.

Since we have been taught that if you receive “bad” news or you have to deal with something that has been identified as unfavorable, this must require you to limp through life, making sure everyone knows how bad off you are.

I have been handed my fair share of circumstances that I would have instead bypassed. But in all those instances, I have learned more about God and a strength that I would have never known.

While embroiled in it, you aren’t always aware of the work that is being done inwardly, but it starts showing up in small ways. You begin to view things differently, as if God has placed a pair of glasses over your eyes and you have keen insider knowledge about situations before they occur.

You get to the point that whatever the trial is that you are involved in, you start to be thankful for it because, without it, you would never have transformed into a better version of yourself—one who can extend herself to those in their times of pain.

In James 1:2-4, it is stated:

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. (Message)

I have to say, this can take a minute to get to this realization. It’s not necessarily an overnight adjustment.

I have been in many spiritual circles where people talk about wanting to be more “mature”. They express that they desire to come up higher and experience the more extraordinary things of God, but I don’t think they understand the sacrifice it takes to come to an elevated level. Usually, this means addressing something you have grown accustomed to blocking your progress. It has become so familiar it can feel like a vital organ or body part needed for survival when it really isn’t.

Take worry, for example. Or substances that disengage you from feeling. And comfort zones that numb your spiritual senses.

When all of those get stripped away because you realize they are only temporary fixes and confront what you don’t want to, you realize there’s a God you can trust. The heaviness of it all seems to lessen even though the trouble may still exist. You get a little wrapped up in this supernatural bubble where you don’t need to run from it anymore because it lost its power over who you are. You only look to God.

When you trade in your default mechanisms for coping, you are rewarded with spiritual tools that far surpass anything else you could ever devise. You are then able to bear your cross.

Bear your cross, don’t eat other people’s crosses…

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.

Lying In It

She showed me the bruises that were developing in random places. It looked like she had been in a boxing ring and not on her bed.

“Let me see where else.”

I couldn’t believe the purple marks that were on the backs of her arms and legs.

She had purchased a new mattress from a retailer with locations all around us. We had gone to a furniture store together, but there wasn’t anything that interested her.

I tried to dodge the salesperson at first, but he eventually caught up to us like a heat-seeking missile. He wanted me to understand how forgiving the mattress was by having me lay on my keys.

“You can’t even feel those, right?”

“I do still feel them,” I said.

“Well, you are small, so a heavier person would probably have a better result of what I am trying to demonstrate.”

Who sleeps with their keys underneath them anyway? That’s like the commercials where they cut a tin can in half with a kitchen knife to show how sharp it is. What crazy person would do that?

“This reminds me of the princess and the pea story,” I said.

A potential wife for the prince is put to the test by the queen to see if she is sensitive enough to carry on the royal blood. So a pea is placed under twenty mattresses, and if the would-be bride feels it, she is approved for marriage.

My house key was leaving a mark.

He launched into a discussion about his own back problems and medical issues. Meanwhile, my daughter and I were stretched out like we were in a therapy session, except we were forced to listen instead of baring our souls. Generally, I am sleep deprived, so I ran the risk of falling asleep during his rundown of all of his physical ailments. My keys kept digging into my back, keeping me from drifting off.

We left the store, and she decided to seek out something else the following week. And she had done a great job of it. What she picked she was happy with financially and comfort-wise. Within days, I opened the door to two workers who whisked her new purchase down the stairs.

Everything appeared normal. The adjustable base made it so she could sit up straight or sleep comfortably and not wake up with stiffness.

“What is causing the injury to you?” I asked, perplexed. It appeared she had been sleepwalking and falling repeatedly. I had never seen a person get up in the morning as if they had been in a street fight.

She explained that springs were pushing into her skin the entire time she slept. It wasn’t difficult to see that this was a design flaw that the company would have to resolve.

I went with her to the location where she bought it. I stood by as she explained her case. She wanted to return all of it and get a refund.

The man assisting her looked at the paperwork regarding her items and said,

“You could upgrade to a better bed. You bought one that isn’t the highest quality that we sell.”

It took everything within me not to unleash on this person. The day she had been in the store, her choice was praised, and only good was said about it. He was giving the impression that she hadn’t spent enough money to receive a regular functioning product. In other words, she was the problem, not their faulty bed. I saw the scam, and so did she. Sell a damaged piece of furniture, convince the customer that it’s their fault and rob them of more money.

“Do you want to look at another one?”

“No. I want my money back,” she said. I was grateful she was going that route with the mattress mafia.

He looked at his calendar and said they could pick it up in a couple of weeks. There was no urgency in this for him. I am sure the truck was booked, using it to dump off other beds to victims. And he hinted that there might be a restocking fee. I stayed quiet, but inside I could not believe that he thought we would fall for the bait and switch game that was going on.

Within the week, I helped her move the mattress off to the side while she went with a completely different company for something better that wouldn’t inflict pain on her.

After speaking to the original salesperson, her attempts to return it revealed that a portion of her money would not be given back after they came to retrieve the mattress.

She felt terrible about her decision, even though none of it was her fault. She discovered others who had the same problem. We began to see that in their business model, they were peddling beds that, to some, were perfect, but then, like in her case, they would try to upgrade when the consumer had complaints. Blaming and shaming were the key to keeping business flowing.

A friend of ours decided to take matters into her hands and started a formal complaint, acting as my daughter’s aunt. I followed up by helping my daughter write an email with threats of contacting agencies that could investigate and shut the business down. All of this worked in her favor.

She received a call from the corporate office and another call from the guy who helped her purchase it. They could not move quickly enough to get their product out of my home.

And she slept happily ever after.

The biggest struggle was that she felt she should have seen the warning signs before signing on the dotted line.

“How would you have known that?” I asked her, trying to help her understand that while it wasn’t a pleasant experience to go through, she had gained new insight into how to deal with an issue. She had come out of the entire thing with a full refund, plus she ended up getting a fantastic deal on her second option. With pillows included.

It’s easy to beat ourselves up over mistakes and decisions that we wish we could go back and undo. I felt that way when I moved to Arizona for eleven months. I had come from a bitterly cold climate into a land of sand and heat. Everything that could have gone wrong did. And scorpions.

A lot can be said about the blizzards and harsh temperatures in Minnesota, but the scorching sun can be just as bad. It would be before noon with the air conditioning running full blast, and I would break out in a sweat just making my bed.

The water never ran cool in the shower. Your choices were warm and hot even though there was a cold icon on the label. I had so much to learn and adapt to.

It seemed there was something new every day. We had an exterminator come once a month, but I kept finding scorpions throughout the house. They were small and tan, the same color as the carpet. I wore flip-flops everywhere.

I was given excellent advice to freeze them with hairspray and then send them to eternity. But caution had to be taken even in that process because apparently, the others know and seek revenge if you kill one.

The worst was the night my daughter was sitting at the kitchen table and happened to look up. Directly over her head was a rather large one crawling along the ceiling.

I was across the room with my back to her, but the rapid repeating of “mom” always indicates that horrific things are occurring.

I had heard that the bigger they are, the less poisonous. Like everything that causes me alarm, I study it to know every detail so I can face it. Being in the dark only adds to the fear.

I had gotten to the point of reassuring myself that it wouldn’t kill me if it did sting me as she darted away from it, potentially falling into her hair. I grabbed my can of spray, jumped up, stood in the middle of the table, and blasted nearly the entire contents. It was necessary. I was exhausted by this never-ending war. If I had a gun in my hand, I would have had no problem blowing a hole right into the sky.

The stain it left would just have to come out of the deposit put down during the signing of the rental agreement. It wasn’t as bad as a bullet hole.

I took care of the intruder, but more eye-opening experiences surfaced, like the hornets that would dive into the pool and swim alongside us, undeterred by the chemicals and chlorine. Not to mention the photo I received in the mail of a tiny weed growing in the front yard with a warning that there would be a fine from the HOA coming quickly if I didn’t eradicate it.

Then there were the gunshots and police that showed up just houses down frequently, the neighbor next door who let their dog bark below my bedroom window all night long until it finally slept when the sun came up, and the cockroaches that materialized out of thin air.

A cattle ranch nearby caused the worst smell to drift into your lungs and massive hordes of flies that enjoyed taking up your personal space.

The final nail in the coffin was when we visited a dentist who claimed we all had cavities. It was the weirdest experience after coming from one who we trusted completely. I had made sure our insurance would cover the one visit, but then the bill came. Nothing was covered, so I decided not to pursue the treatment that the three of us had been told was imperative.

After losing the battle over the money, I decided it was time to return to my house in Minnesota and leave this experiment behind. I was in the wrong place, and every door was slammed shut.

It was not easy to pack up everything again in less than a year and return. It cost a lot, it was labor-intensive, and it messed with me mentally for a long while. I thought I was doing the right thing, but it failed. Decision making for me became tough as this incident would rear its ugly head and remind me how stupid I had been. What else could I mess up?

In time, I reestablished myself and found that one error in judgment does not make a person. I saw how my elderly parents needed me back close by, there were other people that God wanted to bring across my path in Minnesota, and my dentist saw us and confirmed that our teeth were perfectly healthy. Not a cavity in sight. Had I stayed, that would have been trying to make something work that was long over. You can choose God’s way or yours, which is your ego.

If you find yourself in a circumstance where you realize that you cannot turn back the clock or just flip over the mattress, realize that this is something everyone has experienced. It can feel isolating, as if no one has ever been as screwed up as you are. But that’s a lie.

I did find in Janes 4 a good piece of advice to implement regularly to avoid future problems for myself.

You’re nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing. Instead, make it a habit to say, “If the Master wills it and we’re still alive, we’ll do this or that.”(Message)

That sounds a little harsh, but when it comes to making a decision, it’s good to realize it shouldn’t be done without asking for some divine guidance. And then you will see this from Proverbs 3,

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Don’t assume that you know it all. Run to God! (Message)

Don’t automatically react or respond to something out of obligation, peer pressure, or mass hysteria. Above all, don’t disregard the help from the unseen realm. This is the way of regret.

But if you take a minute to ask God what to do, an answer will come, and it will be the best one. Gone will be the days of remorse for making your bed and lying in it.

(It didn’t win)

Peaceful

My dad has been residing in an assisted living for over two years, and it’s been an adjustment for both of us. For the first few months he was there, he was given a temporary unit for rent on the third floor while he waited for his permanent apartment to be repainted and freshly carpeted.

During that time, it was chaotic. I never knew what I was going to walk into when I went to visit. The place isn’t that big, but he never stayed stationary and traveled from floor to floor, making it difficult to locate him. One day, I needed his signature on a document. I am his power of attorney, so I go over everything with him and involve him as long as he can comprehend. This is a way for him not to feel that he has lost his independence entirely.

I was in a hurry, and it was approaching his evening meal. I asked the staff where he was, and I was told he was on the second floor, so I went there. No luck.

At that time of day, the line for the elevator is long, and I am able-bodied, so I always take the back stairwells for speed.

“I think I saw him on the third floor,” said another helper.

“Ok.”

Up a flight, I walked the halls that were like a ghost town.

How can one man who is slow as a snail be so elusive?

Another staff person said she saw him on second floor. Even though I had just been there, I tried it again. And got the same result.

Back to the stairs, I came down to first where I had started. I searched the lobby, both community rooms, and looked around the back of the building where he would sit to get fresh air.

Where’s Waldo had nothing on this guy.

I walked back to the elevator, where the crowd was thick with those waiting for assistance. It was wall to wall wheelchairs and walkers. I thought I would go back up to his apartment for one last glance, but in the meantime, I stood in the corner out of the way.

I also figured if I stopped looking, my moving target might eventually run into me.

The doors opened, and one of the aides pushed him out and right past me like I was invisible! He nodded and smiled at me on his way by like he was a king greeting one of the underlings.

He had a cookie in one hand and a styrofoam cup of milk in the other. He couldn’t hear me, and she didn’t speak English very well, so they kept on moving as I tried to fight my way past the throng.

I was on my tiptoes trying to get to him while dodging the masses. He was happily enjoying his ride. This person had just been driving a car on a revoked license two months prior, gripping on to his keys and driving privileges like a mad man and now was too busy with both hands full, slurping down snacks with an escort into the dining room.

My only advantage in apprehending him was that they got stuck in the hallway.

I put my hand on his shoulder.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

He looked up at me.

“When did you get here?”

“A while ago. Where have you been? I went to every floor.”

“Oh, she took me floor to floor. I have been riding on the elevator.”

“Why are you letting someone else push your wheelchair? Why are you not using your walker?”

He took this moment to chomp a bite off of his cookie and said,

“I don’t know.”

“You need to walk, and you need to use your leg muscles every day.”

“I know. I know,” he said like a rebellious teen, sucking down milk. Role reversal had happened somewhere along the way.

“I realize I am interrupting your busy schedule and your worldwide tour, but I need you to sign something.”

Right as I said that, she started pushing him forward away from me like a programmed machine. I stopped her and said,

“He’s coming with me. I will get him in there in a minute.”

It wasn’t like he would starve as I saw him take another cookie out of his shirt pocket.

I have had calls from him at 1 am, asking me what I’m doing, so we talk like it’s the middle of the afternoon.

“Do you know it’s almost 2 in the morning?” I will ask.

“It is?”

“Yes.”

“Why are you up, Chris?”

“Because you called me?”

“Oh,” and then the laugh.

He has no idea some of the stress and poor communication that I have faced on his behalf. But I don’t want him to know. He has given up everything he knew as familiar to be in a safer place like he should be. I have had to straighten up wrong billing, confront staff who haven’t always been attentive, and run errands when I would rather not.

“Chris, I have no Kleenex left, and they just gave me my last Tylenol. I’m going to need more in the morning.”

This was at 9:30 pm, with all stores closing at 10 pm during the shutdown and limited hours. And it was pouring rain.

“I hate to bother you with this.”

I had just finally sat down for a second.

“I will get it. Don’t worry.”

I can never leave him stranded, no matter what.

For weeks he had been telling me that he wanted a new bed. The one he was using had formed a crater in the middle so deep that he would get stuck if he rolled into it.

I ordered a new mattress for him. It showed up unexpectedly on Christmas Eve, and I set it all up. With his apartment at a scorching 100 degrees, I was an absolute sweaty mess, ripping apart the old one. He was thrilled to get it so his back wouldn’t hurt anymore. As soon as it was put together with the new sheets and the comforter I had gotten, he laid on it and immediately drifted off while I continued to battle the old one.

Once the activities started back up again after the lockdown, he made an effort to go. Reading over the schedule, he said,

“I will not go to Bingo.”

“Why? You don’t like it?”

“The lady who does it runs a tight ship. She scares me, and one of her arms is bigger than my legs, so you don’t mess with her.”

This was the man who was in a street gang at the age of 12 with a lead filled baseball bat on a chain and served in the military as a sergeant, but one woman calling numbers put the fear of God in him.

“She is scary, Chris. I stay clear of her.”

When the activity director asked him one day if he wanted to attend a different event, he inquired,

“Does this include beer and women?”

I shook my head.

“Do you see me standing right here? Do you see your daughter? Do you see me?”

“I see you,” he said, looking at me. “What about it?”

“And you realize my hearing is the best ever, right?” I asked.

He looked back at the activity lady.

“So, is there going to be beer and women?”

I went with him to chaperone, and I got looked up and down like he had found me off of Eharmony. I announced that I was his child so they all could relax, and I wasn’t in the competition. After half of a can of beer, he said,

“Where do I live again?”

I had to help him back to his apartment.

“I shouldn’t drink during the day,” he said.

“Maybe you shouldn’t ever if you can’t get yourself down one hallway.”

I don’t know if he heard me because he was dozing off.

When I saw that it was on the schedule to decorate pumpkins, I told him he needed to go.

“What? No, I’m not going to that!”

“I think you are.”

“Why would I go do that?” He put his finger by the side of his head and swirled it in a circle. This is his universal sign that going there was for those who had lost their minds.

I’m not above using the tricks my mom used to employ to get him to comply.

“You need to go do this, and I will take it home with me. I want you to do it for me.”

I saw the switch go off. The old ways still worked.

“Will they give me a knife?”

“Do you really think they are going to give you a sharp object?” I pretended to stab myself in the side of the neck.

His eyes always get big behind his glasses when he is processing.

“I suppose not,” he said, laughing. “That might be a bad idea around this place.”

Not giving him a choice, I took him, and a pumpkin was set in front of him with a paintbrush and paint.

“I gave up a good nap for this?”

“Yes. You did. Get to work on it.”

For someone who didn’t want to be there, he put in all his effort. He used to draw all the time, but his hands shake now, so it was more difficult. He was concentrating.

The person next to him tried to ask him a question at one point, and he said,

“Don’t bother me. I am busy.”

When he was done with it, he commented,

“I think the teeth make the whole thing.”

“I am assuming this isn’t a self-portrait, right?” I asked with a smile.

He laughed.

“What am I going to do with that?”

“I’m taking it with me.”

“Good riddance. Get it out of here! But thank you for coming to see me.”

“Even if you missed a nap?”

“I don’t nap.”

From moment to moment, I don’t know what he will remember or try to comprehend, so I’m very patient and protective over him. At one point, I didn’t know if I would ever speak to him again, but now it’s as if it never happened. I realized that I have been living this from Exodus 20:12:

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”

Without God, it wouldn’t have come back together in the way that it has. People who knew me a few years ago while I was on my anger induced year and a half sabbatical from my parents are astonished at the turnaround of where he and I are now.

It speaks to the mysterious ways we don’t always understand, working for the best on our behalf if we allow it. When you think everything is beyond hope, God can prove to you this from Matthew 19:26:

“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”(NIV)

Adding to that is Psalm 23:2 that says:

He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside quiet waters. (NIV)

Something that was once ripped to shreds and full of strife can be made peaceful.

Driving You Crazy


Teaching your child to drive isn’t mentally easy.  Images from days gone by have a tendency to flash across the mind while she clutches the steering wheel for the first time and you sit like a slug in the passenger seat.  For instance, you  quickly recall when she could barely stumble across the room while hanging onto the edge of the couch or used an end table to support her wobbly legs.  Other mental scenes emerge of her unable to use a spoon or suck liquid through a straw. How was I supposed to let her drive my vehicle up and down streets where potential hazards awaited us at every turn? I would have rather put myself on a roller coaster to be flipped upside down non-stop for an hour. Yet, I had to maintain my composure because all good parents want to see their children succeed and mature into independence.  I wanted to remain calm, I really did.  I didn’t want to repeat the experience I had with my dad when I was learning how to drive.

It would begin before we left the garage.  His discomfort was evident as I turned the key and a battery of instructions and inquiry would follow before we even budged.

“Did you check the mirror?”

“Yes.”

“All of them?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have your permit?”

“Yes.”

“Is there gas in the car?”

“Yes.”

After satisfying all of his questions, I would barely move into reverse when he would say,

“Keep your foot on the brake! I don’t want to go flying down the driveway.”

I would go at snail speed and it was still too fast for him.

One day, before I got the key into the ignition, I couldn’t take it anymore.

“I am not driving with you!” I said defiantly.

My mom and I had gone out that afternoon to practice, and I noticed a remarkable difference.  She let me start the car, back out, and barely said one word except,

“Oh, look at that beautiful bird in that tree!”

As we drove through the familiar streets of our town, she would say occasionally,

“I wonder what they are building over there.”

For her it was a chance to get out of the house away from cooking, cleaning and laundry.  Once in awhile she would say,

“Why don’t we turn left up at the stoplight?  I haven’t been down that road in a long time.”

It became a sightseeing tour for her, and I just drove the car without worrying over every maneuver I made.

If I took a right when she said to go left her response was,

“Oh, well, you will get it next time.”

My experience with him was a sharp contrast, and his nerves were getting on my nerves, so my outburst was to make the negativity stop.  He said quietly,

“Let’s go.  Just start the car.”

It wasn’t said in an angry tone but one of realization that he was not helping the situation with his worry.

I began our nightly trek to a place where we could practice parallel parking and how to park on a hill.  We tried to get it all in before the sun set on that pre-summer night.  There wasn’t much traffic as I made my way back toward our home.

“Turn left up here,” he instructed.

I was feeling so much better about our time together now that I was sensing he wasn’t so anxious.  I had relaxed and he seemed much more at ease as well.  Unless he was faking it, and I couldn’t tell the difference.

As usual, I turned right instead of turning left.

“This is right, Chris.  I said left.”

“Oh, well,” I said parroting what I had heard my mom say.  “I will figure out a way to turn around.”

It wasn’t as easy as that.  I had turned on a road that was leading us forward with no option of a U-turn. We found ourselves slowly creeping along what appeared to be a private road not meant for the usual drive through.  There were beautiful manicured lawns surrounding us on both sides.  I took notice of this and other details because the speed limit sign had clearly stated we could only go 10 miles per hour.   It became quite evident where we had landed when we both saw a large green sign with white lettering.

STATE HOSPITAL

“What?  We are at the state hospital?”  Now a whole new type of fear descended upon him.

“We are?”

“Yes.  You have driven us right into the looney bin!”

I had a hard time not controlling my laughter at his reaction.  He has a tendency to lose all decorum and ability to be politically correct when terror strikes.

The road slowly wound around to the front of the facility where a few people milled about the grounds while orderlies stood by in white outfits.

“Lock the doors!  Roll up the windows!” he ordered.

This was back during the time before our cars mechanically did all of these things for us.

I glanced over to see his eyes wide as he kept them trained on all the residents roaming.

As if on cue, a tall male began walking alongside the passenger side of the car which brought my dad’s mood to a full tilt panic. The car door seemed like a paper thin barrier between him and this stranger.

“Hurry up and get us out of here!!” he yelled.  “This guy is racing us!”

“I am driving what the speed limit says, ” I retorted.  After all, I didn’t want to break the law by speeding, for heaven’s sake. And, I wasn’t the least bit afraid.  I was not going to allow my speedometer to go one inch over the 10 mile per hour mark.

We came to a crosswalk where there was a stop sign.  All of my new training was kicking in. There was no way I was running through it, and a complete stop was what I was taught to abide by.

The guy walking near the car stopped with us and peered in the window at my dad.

“Get us out of here!” he said again.

“I am!”

“It is getting dark!  We need to get out of here!”

There was another man standing by the curb who appeared to want to cross in front of us.   I sat waiting for him to make a move.  But he remained frozen.  Just staring straight at us.  His eyes looked glassy and fatigued.

“Is he going to cross the road?” I asked more to myself than to my passenger.

“He looks like he wants to kill us!  JUST go!”

“What if he steps in front of me?  I might hit him!”

A few seconds went by with all four of us glancing at each other.  Through gritted teeth, my dad made his final plea,

“Go!  Right now!  Just go!”

I slowly edged forward as the two residents watched us glide by.  Neither moved a muscle.

“Keep going to the left!”

I did what he said and soon we found ourselves driving out the exit and back into his comfort zone.  He stayed quiet the entire ride home as I tried not to giggle.

When we walked in the door, my mom asked,

“So, how did she do?”

He opened the palm of his hand and said,

“She did just fine but I lost a tooth.”  He had been clutching on to it the whole way home.

“What?!”

“I bit down so hard while she was driving that I broke my tooth.”

My mother and I looked at each other and started to laugh uncontrollably.

“She drove me to the state hospital!” he said coming to his own defense.

“She should have left you there!” my mom said.  “Why do you worry so much?”

Now that I have had my time sitting in the seat of the car to be the instructor, I do understand his fear so much more.  Isn’t this true when we go through situations in life?  We become more understanding and compassionate when we have the experience for ourselves.  My dad had been taught how to worry somewhere along the way.  We aren’t born in that state, but it is a learned response. The bad news is that it is highly contagious.  The last thing I want is for my daughters to live life from a weakened mental place instead of a bold and courageous stance, so I am aware of it and try to correct myself immediately.

I decided recently to take a drive to where this event occurred. Most of the buildings stand empty with windows boarded up. Long gone are the men and women who walked the halls with whatever was afflicting them.  It struck me how something that once seemed so ominous had now become obsolete. A place that brought my dad such a nightmare moment no longer would illicit such a reaction.

So what bothers you today that may not even exist tomorrow?  What are you fretting over that may not even be a threat at all?  A famous passage tells us that the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, can guard our hearts and minds if we allow it.  It’s really up to you whether you want to live a life of calm or one of torment.  Heaven isn’t withholding it from you.

In this day and age,with stress running at an all time high, it is imperative to know that God loves you and is always ready to help when life is driving you crazy.

 

 

(One of the original empty cottages at the state hospital)

anoka

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Show Must Go On

By the way she slammed the car door and flopped into the backseat, I knew she wasn’t happy.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I don’t want to wear this,” she said showing me a heavily sequined one piece black costume. “It scratches my skin and it’s ugly.”

In the rear view mirror, I could see the red marks on her neck.

“Our costumes haven’t come in yet and they are saying that we might not have them in time for the show, so they gave us these from a bin.  They were leftovers from other shows.”

The skating school where she attended put on an annual performance so that the students could show off their tricks and newly learned maneuvers for their families.

The recital included costumes, themed numbers, photographs for the program and hours of preparation. I had turned in my payment for her participation before December to ensure her outfit would arrive on time.  It was now March and the deadline was coming up quickly.

“If I have to wear this, I don’t want to be in the show.”

I sighed and did what I only knew to do. I closed my eyes and prayed in the parking lot. I didn’t care who saw me or what others would think of me. If this was important to my daughter, then it was urgent to me.

I didn’t recite a long drawn out request but stated the facts that we needed the costume as soon as possible. While praying with my eyes shut, I saw a cardboard box that was sealed on the top. It was a vivid image that came and went as soon as I opened my eyes.

I put the worn out costume away when we got home, and during the week when I encountered it, I would recall my plea to heaven and remind myself that I had asked for this to be made right.  My daughter, on the other hand, was not so sure about it being resolved.  She suddenly would get quiet and sullen as if imagining having to wear the uncomfortable material for the show.  I understood her disappointment and tried to reassure her that it would all work out.

The next time she went in for practice, we reluctantly took the unwanted outfit with us as she was told to do. I had called the school during the week to check on the order status.  The instructor informed me that the company that was to make and send the costumes claimed they had lost the order.

“They took our money and now are telling us that they probably won’t be ready in time for the recital.”

I chose not to tell my daughter this unhappy news.  I hung on to the fact that I had prayed for what we wanted to happen and shut off the idea of it not happening.

That night when she got into the car her irritation was evident.

“I am not going to be in the show if I have to wear this.”  I started the car, pulled out into the street and wondered,

 Why was there no resolution to this?

It wasn’t looking good, so that same week when she went in for another practice, I decided to stop in and speak with the school owner.

“Any news on the costumes?” I asked.

She smiled slightly.

“We only got one box this afternoon, and the company told us that this will be the only shipment they will be sending out in time for pictures and the show.”  There were a lot of kids in the school, so this was not the greatest of news.

She led me to her office where I saw a taped cardboard box.  It looked strangely familiar. She opened it and handed me a beautiful sparkling navy blue skating outfit.  While holding the item in my hands, I was overwhelmed not only that we had received it but that the box was the exact one I had seen for that brief moment while praying in the car.

“Your daughter’s class will be the only one who will be wearing the right costumes.  The rest will have to wear the older ones we have on hand.”

“I have to show her this,” I said.  I could hardly contain my excitement.

Looking through the observation window, I saw her out on the ice warming up.  I waved to get her attention while holding up the dress.  By the smile she gave me, she understood.

It’s these moments that I reflect on when faced with situations that seem to have no end in sight.  A request made is never gone unheeded by heaven, and the love that God has for us is beyond what we could ever imagine. Even the divine is very much aware that the show must go on.

(The actual costume)

dress