Imposter

I had a tree taken down in my backyard two years ago. I had gotten rid of some of the wood by offering to cart it over to the new neighbors who had just put in a fire pit. The rest of this massive tree sat stacked up against the shed with the idea it would be burned. 

Common sense took over, and maybe a touch of generosity as I considered getting rid of it. I saw a sign at a store that a small bundle of it was selling for $8, so I thought maybe someone could use it since I probably would not outlive the pile.

On the first day, I did a small test run to see if it would attract any attention. Because it was only 30 degrees at the time, I had the beginning of frostbite set in, so I lost the ability to feel my hands, forcing me to quit. 

I put out smaller pieces with a FREE sign and left for about 30 minutes. I returned to see that where I had placed it was empty. 

The following afternoon, I returned to the backyard with gloved hands, warmer weather, and an anger infused attitude. Like seething, yet justified. They say that faith can move mountains. When you are unhappy, you can use that to your advantage and throw heavy logs around like toothpicks. When you think of one injustice suffered, you can suddenly think of a million of them. They all come flooding in with friends. 

You consider your losses and how they occurred, and why. The things you wished you would have said at the time, but the maddening knowledge it wouldn’t have made a difference. So you turn to the woodpile and take it out on that because it’s an inanimate object that you cannot damage or offend. 

To the outside observer, I looked like a workhorse ripping through a spring clean-up job, getting ahead of the summer heat by performing a strenuous activity in cooler temperatures. My outward rage was really masking a stab directly to my heart that I somehow couldn’t run away from. Whatever barrier God had placed before was gone, so I had to feel it thoroughly to get rid of it. 

Talking about it wasn’t helping me go around it. Praying for it to go away had done nothing. I had to go through it to release it. 

At one point, I stopped for a second and realized that the nagging thoughts about a different issue had gone away momentarily. A while ago, I read that the brain can only have you address one conflict at a time, which is why multitasking leads to overload. My long list of concerns had been whittled down to this one upset consuming all of my emotions and attention. 

What had been bothering me so much earlier was now forgotten as this painful grievance took center stage. It had been ignited from a few words sent my way by text that had set me spiraling into this hurt that had been waiting in the shadows for its time to come.

I went to grab a gigantic piece of trunk, and because it had been untouched for two years, the bark easily slid right off. Before, it had been heavy with water, almost immovable, but now after drying out, I could manage it somewhat without pulling every back and arm muscle. 

I made one trip after another to the front yard, stacking all shapes and sizes, pushing a wheelbarrow up an incline with adrenaline leading the way. As the physical exhaustion hit, I moved to stage two, where the flowing tears slowed me down. The confines and darkness of the shed gave me a minute of privacy. 

Like the tree, I had gotten down to the inner layer of the turmoil. My bark had slipped off, and I let all the water that had been trapped inside of me out to make me feel lighter to let go of this burden that I had been carrying below the surface. 

I stood there alone, wondering why it had come to this and how. 

When I returned to what I was doing, I decided only to take one more load. I knew I was pushing myself beyond my capability. With a lot more to go for a few days ahead, I didn’t want to leave myself physically incapacitated and unable to finish. 

I took smaller pieces this time, feeling weak and barely able to get to the boulevard. I saw him loading his car. He smiled at me as if I were his best friend.

“Take it all,” I said to him as he raced back and forth, and I unloaded what I had been able to manage. 

“I will. You have no idea how happy this makes me. We love building fires, and wood is way too expensive.”

“I put some out yesterday, and it disappeared quickly.”

“That was me. My wife drove by and called me, saying I had to get over here. We live up the street and my neighbor cut down a tree. I knocked on their door to see if I could take some, but they never answered. Then she saw this.”

“I have more,” I said.

“Really? I will take as much as I can.”

When he couldn’t cram anymore in, he said,

“I will come back,” just as another car pulled up to take his place. A lady with two kids rolled down the windows. A boy in the back said, 

“Is the wood free?”

“Yes. You can take as much as you want. I’m trying to get rid of it.”

“Really?”

I didn’t realize how unbelievable this was to people.

“Yes. Whatever I put out here is to be taken, and I have a lot more. Even larger pieces than this.”

They jumped out and started loading their trunk.

The woman asked,

“Is it okay if we come back later to get more?”

“Yes,” I said as I trailed off to keep going. 

Now that I had seen the gratitude, I had to keep going despite wanting to quit. Sometimes you put yourself aside during a struggle to bring joy to others. 

I made one last pile and let the rest go for the next day. I stopped because my daughter came outside and saw my condition. Strangers couldn’t recognize the anguish I had just been through, but she could. Sometimes, you need someone to come along and tell you that you have done enough. 

As I was getting into my car to leave, the woman had returned with her kids and others.

“I told my neighbors so they could take some too.”

“Thank you,” I said. “I thought no one would want it.”

“Are you kidding me? Do you know how much this costs? We should be thanking you!”

We don’t always know the value of things or even ourselves. 

I have been working on writing out an affirmation ten times daily for almost a month now. I follow this by writing out what a dream life would be. This piece of advice was presented to me, and I knew it was God’s direction. 

As I sat writing out everything that came to my mind about how I want the rest of my life to go, I heard,

“If something or someone doesn’t fit into what you write on this paper, let that be the test by which you determine what stays and what has to go. This is the way to make it be what you want so you avoid making mistakes. Only allow what will open the door to the life you want.”

I put together an artificial Christmas tree I no longer need the following day. It was from my past and had been up in the attic for years. When I hear in my mind that “someone can use that,” I don’t hesitate to put it out so it can go to its owner. 

I set it up by the woodpile and realized I was looking at a counterfeit tree up against something that had been living and breathing in my backyard at one time. The one that had provided shade and towered up so high now was in jagged pieces. Disease had brought it to its end, and it had been brought down in mercy. 

Both serve a purpose with the same title, but one is fake, pretending to be something it is not. It’s a green glorified bristle brush that can be beautiful if adorned with sparkly additions. Without all the glitz, it doesn’t hold a candle to a genuine creation by God. 

It never ever will be real, no matter how hard it tries. 

That pine scent in a can? It’s manufactured. You aren’t fooling anyone, especially when you have to spray it to keep the facade going. 

You can’t go on like that, wanting to live an authentic life all the while covering yourself with a smile, hoping that circumstances will line up to how you want them to be. If God has designed you for a purpose, and you have surrendered yourself to heaven’s call no matter what, all the deceptions and situations that hold you back or keep you in your place will be removed not to hurt you but to free you. 

When the saw gets taken to dismantle what isn’t aligned to your spiritual advancement, you are cut through to your core down to the root. Only then do you find what you were missing.

We spend a lot of time stringing up lights and throwing tinsel on ourselves, trying to fit in because that’s all we have ever done. And maybe without realizing it. 

In Matthew 16:25-26, an important truth is revealed:

Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me, and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for? (Message)

I have been shown there’s more to gain by living in honesty, no longer an imposter.

One of these things is not like the others…

Death

I quit my job in January. One that I had done for a long time. Unless there was something new to learn, I could work with my eyes closed throughout my daily existence. When I started, I knew nothing about the industry I was helping in; everything was an acronym. When I was in the presence of seasoned business world employees, I felt so stupid, not knowing what anyone was talking about.

I had to go to the local jail and have my fingerprints taken to do my job. I remember feeling so frightened by the presence of so many in authority and this overwhelming feeling of sadness mixed with aggression. I had to wait, and out of mounting anxiety, I stood with my back against the wall to ensure that no one would be unexpectedly behind me. 

I was alone and didn’t feel safe, even though I was in the presence of law enforcement. I watched as a man went through the process I was there for, but he was not going to work, but rather a cell. Some have said their jobs are a prison, and his was about to be at that moment. The female officer took his fingers, rolled them on an ink pad, and placed them on a white card. 

They said nothing to one another. 

When he was moved on, I was summoned forward with her motioning to me with her hand. There were no pleasantries spoken. 

I went in her direction, not fully knowing what I needed to say. I was adjusting to encountering uncertain circumstances as I had never been in before. 

Just as I was going to speak, a man was escorted past me in handcuffs by two police officers, one on each side. He had his head down, like he was ashamed of himself, not wanting any of us to make eye contact with him. His sins had caught up with him, and he couldn’t bear to look humanity in the eye. 

How does a person get there? He was once a small boy, innocently set into the world, and now going into a cage that clearly wouldn’t offer him any forgiveness. He had to be held accountable for whatever transgressions he had done, but what had created this life along the way? This dejected individual had participated in activity that had landed him here, but why? What had been the mixture of mistakes blended, putting him on a path of self-destruction? 

As a mom of two, newly divorced, and wanting to raise them right, I wanted to know. I turned away quickly and told her what I needed. 

She mechanically went to work, doing the same as the man before me. I glanced nervously around, keeping my purse secured across the front of my body. I was in a place where many thieves were gathered, so I felt this overwhelming need to protect myself. 

As she finished my last finger, I said,

“This is the only time I am ever doing this.”

This brought on a smile from her and a slight laugh.

“That’s a good idea,” she said.

I was given a copy of my identity, the one God gave me at birth, and I left the jail that day a free woman. 

The intimidation there was nothing compared to what was up next. 

I recall being at a meeting and overhearing someone commenting on another assistant. She had asked a basic question, which was being made fun of. It was along the lines of, “Can you believe she asked that? She should know that.” This was when I was brand new. 

I wasn’t up for exposing myself to ridicule. From that point on, I listened intently, wanting so much to learn the language. Never fully revealing that I was so lost, especially not in public. 

I found myself flying under the radar like I always had to smile and nod as if I knew what was going on. I didn’t realize I was advancing as I sat day after day, trying to overcome what felt like a learning disability. While the rest of the class was moving on, I felt the dead weight, looking at paperwork with many questions and writing it down. Multicolored sticky notes graced everything in those early days, or I would spend a lot of energy trying to remember who was who and what was what to exasperation. 

They say it takes six months to comprehend a new job. Don’t give up until you hit that mark, is the advice, so I stayed for fourteen years. Sometimes not fully comprehending what was happening but desperately wanted to do a good job. 

I could have quit many times during that span, but I held on, not fully aware of all the understanding I was getting. God had put me there for a reason, and I knew that I would miss out on something of importance if I quit. 

One day, as I looked at the piles and stacks of everything that needed a proper place, I had a vision of an abandoned field. It had rocks and weeds all over it, left unattended for a while. 

“Don’t give up. Help clean up the field so the ground is good again. I will help you do it; you can do this no matter how difficult it might get.”

Then I was shown a field filled with healthy crops, growing strong, every inch producing as it should.

“Help make that happen,” I heard in my mind. 

I never can say no to God. While I wanted to run and find a different place entirely, I knew that this was what I was being asked to do. I instantly remembered telling God a while before this that I didn’t want my will anymore and was giving myself away to heaven’s lead. I was fully aware of having my own “will,” and many a preacher had expounded on this; God and I would forever be at odds, me wanting my way against His. 

I chose to give mine up, and whenever faced with a moment of possible tug of war between my Creator and me, the still small voice would say,

“Did you give me your will?”

That is still all it takes for me to drop the fight. 

The place I found the most helpful to navigate the unknown waters of this job was one that many would have overlooked. But, God led me in the way I was to go, true to the promise. 

One of the biggest challenges was organizing all the paper that used to accumulate. There were boxes and boxes filled with filing to do, so I began sorting through it all by name, putting everything in alphabetical order, still not fully seeing the bigger picture. This was before the idea of going green existed. To help my mind keep things straight, I implemented a system of colors, with each folder representing a specific type of client and what they had with the company. 

I was so wrapped up in trying to grasp every concept that any small mistake I made was like an absolute failure. When I thought I had mastered something, it would be called to my attention that I hadn’t done something right. That wasn’t easy to swallow and put my self-confidence back at zero. 

In reality, all those missteps taught me how to become what I was striving to be. 

As I went through the organization process, I began creating “dead files” boxes. These were shoved into a far dark corner, known as cold storage. They had no purpose anymore, some from customers who had moved on to other advisors and others who had moved on from earth.

After getting the active cases put away, which took months, I looked around to see what I could fix next. I opened the lid on the first of many. When I had been trying to focus on the “living,” I had randomly placed all of the old ones haphazardly aside to deal with later.

Now was later. 

A critical component of my position was to be sure that past information was locked up and shredded, adhering to the law. If a client no longer was with the company, their files had to be kept for a certain amount of time and then destroyed. I went about creating a database, cataloging everyone, especially those who needed to be disposed of, so we would comply. 

Amazingly, this is what held the key to my understanding. 

Day after day, I spent an entire summer alone, sifting through unneeded material, either shredding on the spot or marking it to be done later. Because these were no longer viable contacts, I became relaxed, and specific ideas and thoughts would become illuminated that had been so dark. It was as if a silent instructor stood by me, telling me what to do, taking away the struggle. I finally started to learn the language. 

I remember being shocked that I could carry on an intelligent conversation, putting words and sentences together because I finally understood what I was doing. Even though it took a lot of trial and error, I was thrilled that I knew more than before. 

Somewhere amongst the dead files, I had found life. 

I did what I knew I was to do, behind the scenes digging up a plot of land, making room for a productive venture that could function at its highest, bringing great benefits to the clients under the company’s care and even myself in some ways I had not imagined at the onset. 

To leave that behind wasn’t easy. But, again, I started to hear that voice telling me there was something else I was needed for. 

I ignored it for a while, not wanting to go back to a time of uncertainty. I had overcome the hurdles, and now I tried to coast along, believing this was it. I had made it. Why mess with something that I had worked so diligently to construct? 

Because I don’t belong to me. 

Driving alone with nothing to distract me, I heard,

“I have something else I need you to do. You will thank me later.”

It wasn’t easy to see the road after that, but I knew I wasn’t staying where I had been. 

It isn’t until you no longer do what you have been that you are mindful of how much of yourself you had committed to that. You have flashes of memories where you see you did what you were told to do even when you didn’t want to. You put everything of yourself in it, and now what? Do that again? 

Within days of resigning, I heard one morning, when I was barely awake, 

“You need to be a hospice volunteer.”

I had wanted to go into this for a while, but I had put it off. Three years ago, I looked at getting a higher education to my B.A. in Psychology to do this and earn money doing it, but as I tried to, doors seemed slammed shut. I was given wrong information, left messages that never got called back, and was told the only way I could do the work I wanted and get paid was to spend at least four years in school far and away from the actual work. 

While out on a walk in deep frustration, again the voice came,

“Work with people for now. Not paper.”

I knew this was an answer to stop pursuing school and sign up for the work, even if it meant doing it for free. 

Then Covid hit, closing the door for a bit.

Now unemployed, I was being told to pick it up again. I looked up hospice in my area, which there are a million, but picked the one that appeared first. I have learned that doors fly open when God leads you, despite trying to reason your way out of it. 

Filling out 21 pages of the orientation requirements made me wonder what they do to a person who they hire for real. I had to submit a resume, give them three references from people who would vouch for my character, do a background check, and even give blood. 

The technician was new, and it sprayed everywhere. I felt so emotionally beat down that it was a sign I was still alive. Usually, that might have bothered me, but I didn’t even care. 

“I am so sorry!” She said, embarrassed, eyes wide behind her mask. 

“That’s ok,” I said, remembering what it was like to start a new job that I had just left. I had moved quickly enough so it missed my clothes. For a week, the massive bruise on my arm reminded me that I had signed up for this. 

I was given some patients and began the journey. It’s a lot of listening, praying, and sometimes just quietly sitting still and observing. 

I often listen with my eyes. That sounds strange, but it’s true. 

A few weeks ago, as I said hello to one under my care, she looked at me, and I knew. 

Nothing was different about her health situation, and it appeared the same, but I was made aware with the voice speaking to me again of what was to come. She wasn’t going to be here much longer. So I did my best despite knowing that it wasn’t going to be long. 

Last week, when I went to see her before I got to her room, I heard in my mind, 

“If you see her lying in bed, this is your sign that you know she’s leaving soon.”

Usually sitting up in the sun in the day room, I found her lying on her bed, sound asleep. I didn’t wake her, but I knew this would be the last time I saw her, so I quietly said goodbye.

I thought of her this past week, the day before I was to visit again. I even commented to my daughter that I felt I wouldn’t see her. Just before I left the house to go to her assisted living, I felt like I was to check my email. There I found a note telling me she had passed that morning. I was thanked for making her time left more pleasant.

I was glad I said certain things to her and made her laugh. It was the only indication that she was okay with me being there. When you know things ahead of time like this, a mixture of emotions follows. 

“I will check in on you next week,” I would say as I would leave. “I wanted to see how you were doing.”

She would then smile and say,

“I am so glad you did.” 

Her door was shut to her room when I got there the other day, and the spot in the day room where she sat was vacant. It appears as if it’s over to those who don’t see. On the other side, however, she is beaming in bright light, fully back to the fullness of her youth. I know that she walks now alongside those who have gone before her, and she is happy to be next to her husband, who she loved on earth so very much. 

This isn’t a job where I shuffle papers, and it’s not going to pay a single bill. 

It is a moment to become more aware of my days and those ahead of me. 

Again I find myself trying to understand something new about life while looking for answers to what is deemed as death. 

 It’s what we trust in but don’t yet see that keeps us going. Do you suppose a few ruts in the road or rocks in the path are going to stop us? When the time comes, we’ll be plenty ready to exchange exile for homecoming. (2 Corinthians. 5:7)

He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less. (John 3:30)

(One of the places, I listen with my eyes)

Seeking

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

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

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

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

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

“What are you doing, Chris?”

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

“Are you having trouble with this?”

It was obvious. 

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

“Yes.”

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

I looked at it again from a different perspective. 

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

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

Having the teacher say,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re blessed when you follow his directions,

doing your best to find him.

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

you walk straight along the road he set.

You, God, prescribed the right way to live;

now you expect us to live it.

Oh, that my steps might be steady,

keeping to the course you set;

Then I’d never have any regrets

in comparing my life with your counsel.

I thank you for speaking straight from your heart;

I learn the pattern of your righteous ways.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Seek,” she said to me.  

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

“What?” I asked my youngest daughter.

“You need to seek.”

“No, I think you do.”

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

“NO, you do.”  

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

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

Seek Ye First

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

In Matthew 6:30-33 it says:

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

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

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

    incomparable, irreplaceable—

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

All along letting you in

on what is going to happen,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trust

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

“What is it?”

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

“I don’t know,” she said.

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

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

“My name is on it,” she said.

She picked up one of the three mystery items.

“I’m not even sure what this is.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Does that have it in it?”

“Yes.”

“What about that?”

“Yes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

It makes one wonder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s wax.”

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

“I think for anything.”

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

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

“Each of these is worth $20.”

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

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

“What is this?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Succeed

I don’t know how the thoughts started, but they were relentless. I had difficulty concentrating in school, and the only way to describe it was like living underwater. I still managed to get all of my work done, and my classes passed, but it was a challenge to overcome this dark voice that constantly told me to end it. 

I recall listening to one of my friends speak to me in a hallway, and while it appeared I was listening, my mind was a million miles away. I could go through the motions of pretending all was well, but it wasn’t. I couldn’t exactly figure out why it had suddenly come out of nowhere, but now I see it was years of hiding who I was and trying to conform to what was expected.

I had to get perfect grades because I lived with a perfectionist. On the one hand, she would tell me to do my best, but then if I came home with less than an A, she would ask me why I hadn’t achieved that—residing in a home with someone like that makes for instability.

I never knew when I would hit the right mark to make her pleased with me. I knew for sure when she was unhappy, which was a lot of the time because I was not exactly one not to fight the system.  

Her way of parenting was control, and I was her subject. She didn’t take into account how I felt about most things. There was a house to clean, food to buy, kids to cart all over for various activities, and that did not leave time for her to sit down and interact with me. She had a list of chores to get done, and a lot of the time, I felt like I was one of them. 

These thoughts became more prevalent and would be right with me in the morning when I would wake up. It was like having a person around nagging me and giving me reasons why I should execute it.  

It would have been the classic case of a straight-A student suddenly snapping and taking her life. Every time I hear of this happening, it isn’t a surprise to me like it seems to be to others. When you are under that much pressure not to make any mistakes, and it has been years of it, it eventually becomes like a volcano. Issues are going on under the surface that no one knows. 

There was a gigantic disconnection between what I was showing on the outside and what really was going on inside. All of her insistence of me attending every single church service with her was not working its magic like she thought it was. I recall that I defiantly refused to leave the house with her one time. My dad was gone on a fishing trip, and she expected me to go to mass with her.

“I am going to go start the car,” she said.

“You go right ahead,” I said.  

“Hurry up. You are going to be late.”

“I am not going.”

You would have thought I said I murdered someone.  

“Oh, yes, you are.”

“No. No, I am not.”

“Okay,” she said, trying to use reverse psychology on me. “I guess I will just go without you.”

I was never so happy to hear her say it. I went to my room and decided to enjoy the peace. It was rare to be alone, and I wanted to be.

“Christine Ann..”

Oh, here it was.

“You get yourself in that car right this minute!”

And, as usual, I dragged myself to the vehicle and sat silent the whole time while she talked about how great it was to go to church.  

Was she out of touch with reality? Yes. Often, she was because she had a filter through which she saw life.

I didn’t know this until a lot later, but her dad’s sexual abuse of her affected my entire upbringing. She had cut herself off emotionally from all people. While many were drawn to her for her wisdom and immense problem solving, she was not one to be invested in feeling what others felt. It was a mixed bag of spiritual insight, but she kept everyone at arm’s length.  

And, after years of that with me, I had come to a place where it was all breaking down. One day, I was walking past her as she was ironing.  

“How was school?”

“Fine,” the typical response just to get it over with. 

“Are you starving yourself? What have you been eating?”

When she spoke to me, I was taught that I was to stop what I was doing and engage. But, it was the last thing I wanted to do.

“I don’t think you are eating. Is this true?”

She was now on to me. I had subtly been using that as a way to self-destruct.  

“Yes,” I admitted.  

“Why are you doing that?”

I decided to tell her what my thoughts had been. She started checking on me more often and made sure that I was eating. She would put food on a plate and stand over me while I ate it, so I had no choice. 

That’s what most people do. They don’t look inward to solve the problems, and everything externally is exhausted to bring relief. She saw her daughter exhibiting a particular behavior, but she missed the point of what was at the root of it. 

We quickly judge people’s outward behavior but miss what is driving the real issues.

If you see someone doing something that you know will destroy them in the long run, that’s a sign that something on the inside is not okay. Sometimes, God will call you to help them, and other times you aren’t the one. 

Many years later, I continued to conceal my emotions. I recall filling out a lengthy intake form for therapy, and at the end of it, I heard in my mind,

Go back to page eight. You lied.

When I flipped back to that spot, I realized I had answered no to some questions that clearly should have been yes regarding some of the things I had endured. I had gotten so good at denying it, I believed my lies. I had been trained to do that. To cover up the truth and soldier on. 

In my case, the complete healing of the wounds inflicted by her didn’t come until after her death. During her transition, I was able to see where she was, what she was experiencing, and she told me everything. In the beginning of being in heaven, she started making amends.

I watched her walk into eternity for many days over a long bridge before she was fully there on May 28th, 2019. 

On June 2, 2019, she told me this:

On that bridge, I saw every place where I missed the mark. And I couldn’t fix it, but I asked God to fix it. There is nothing that can’t be fixed by the hand of God. I couldn’t go on and rest if I left such pain behind. I wish more people knew that. Every word. Every action. No one is perfect. Perfection is only obtained after you walk through the gates. And, yes, there are gates. They aren’t pearly. Just beautiful ornate gates that are open wide. I got to walk right through!

Not one time did she tell me she experienced remorse, but she was shown where she chose herself at the expense of others. But, this didn’t keep her out of heaven. That is how loving God is.  

She went on to tell me this:

I see how people fit into my life. It was all God’s plan. It was a beautiful work of art that I didn’t always understand. I tried to control the brush in the painter’s hand. That was a losing battle. He had such a good life for me, and I always didn’t see it that way. How I wish I could take back those days of storming around acting so nuts. I lost my mind, Chris. All the junk I thought was so important was not at all. I saw Jesus hold all of that in His hand and blow it away like pieces of tiny dust. That’s how important it was.

In another conversation with me, she stated regarding the fallout of her abuse and never dealing with it,

I became tough on the exterior to show the world that I would never put up with anyone treating terrible me again. It’s so regrettable I did that. The fullness of my life got squashed down. And I squashed down others in the process.  

When I told her I wished we could have a do-over, she said,

I know. But I am now. So this is why you are here with me. God saw that you always wanted a real mom. Your prayers have come before God, and I can do it. I am not on earth, but I am a new creation here. Isn’t that exciting to know you can be changed? 

Revelation 21:3-5 says,

I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate.” (Message)

My understanding of what happens in the afterlife has been changed. I never knew that those who had gone on would be given a chance to continue to help us. It’s not to earn an award or ascend higher. It’s the goodness of God who has created an eternal bond between you and others. The most amazing part of all of this for me is that even someone who might have been an obstacle to your growth while they were here, can now be used to help you along your path.

This isn’t something you can purchase online or do externally. This is all work that comes from a place that is unseen and from a spiritual standpoint. There will be signs and people put on your path if you start to pay attention. All of this will point you into fulfilling your purpose on earth as heaven wants to see you succeed.

(Even the word ‘feelings’ is hiding itself.. don’t do that..it’s not good)

Be Awake

“Mom?”

“What?” I answered.

“Mom?”

“What?”

“Mom?”

“What! What do you want?”

“Mom!”

I realized she couldn’t hear me. I thought I was responding, but I wasn’t.

I could hear her voice, but I was trapped, unable to move or make my vocal cords function.

I was answering from a deep state of sleep paralysis where my body was completely nonfunctional, but my sense of hearing and mind was wide awake. I tried again to answer, but nothing happened.

I had never had this happen before, and I started to panic, wondering if I would snap out of it.

I wanted so desperately to be able to move, but I couldn’t. And the more I tried, the more stuck I seemed to be.

The closest I had ever come to something like this so horrifying was when I fell asleep once with my left hand in the air.

For some reason, I had put my elbow down on the mattress, and my hand was up. I don’t know why I had fallen asleep in that position, but in the middle of the night, it fell right into my face. I opened my eyes and thought someone had broken into my house from a graveyard and slapped me with a cold hand of death. I don’t know what would be more troubling. An actual intruder or a zombie. I assumed it wasn’t mine because I didn’t feel myself doing it.

I went to sit up to defend myself, and my arm slid lifeless to the side. Great! I was at a disadvantage to fight this invisible enemy who had stolen into my bedroom in the dark of night.

I woke up more, stared straight ahead, and figured out I was the only person in the room. That was a relief, but now I had to compensate by moving and transferring a body part that was sound asleep.

I have also awakened to having both arms exactly how that one was. You don’t realize how much you use your appendages for leverage first thing in the morning until they lay unmoving. The only thing you can do is flip and use your legs to get into a sitting position. You feel so accomplished until all the blood starts circulating again and the tingling starts to take over, causing pain. Having no feeling didn’t seem so bad after all.

“Mom!”

I don’t know where I got the willpower to overcome the prison where my body kept me. I was so overly tired that it had shut down and wasn’t about to let me open my eyes and have a conversation with someone. By the time I broke free, I had sat up quickly and was out of breath as if I had been underwater for longer than I should have been.

“What?” I finally said, sucking in as much oxygen as I could.

Against my better judgment, I flicked on my light switch. Now I had taken away my ability to see, but I was fully conscious, so that is all that mattered.

“I heard a loud explosion.”

It went without saying that I hadn’t.

“Where?”

“Outside.”

“How far away?”

“I don’t know.”

As long as the house wasn’t hit and there wasn’t a crater in the front yard, all was well.

“It was so loud. The house shook.”

I wouldn’t know.

“It was so scary.”

Both of us then realized how far gone I had been, what an odd sensation to want to talk and be aware of someone’s presence but not be able to say a word.

The next day it was reported that a meteor had passed by, breaking the sound barrier. How often had I said that even a bomb going off wouldn’t wake me when I was so depleted of energy?

Recently, this phenomenon happened to me again.

I could hear her yelling,

“Hello! Hello! Hello!”

I thought I was still awake, but I wasn’t. The sound of her voice was faded. This time on some level, I recognized that I wasn’t going to be able to communicate, so I chose to remain nonresistant. I let myself stay stationary until I opened my eyes.

Of course, she had taken that opportunity to shoot a video with her phone of me fast asleep while she was repeatedly trying to get me to respond. She had made a loud noise, told her sister she should run the vacuum cleaner, and started shouting ‘hello’ over and over.

When I opened my eyes, I started laughing, and I couldn’t stop for some reason. It wasn’t the same way I had felt the last time it had happened.

“I was starting to get worried,” said the younger daughter, who was not filming me. “You were not moving at all.”

I have met people who have walked through life like that in a half-sleep state where the world is going on around them, but nothing of eternal value is being accomplished. They are going through the motions. The lights are on, but no one is home.

Looking into a mirror has revealed a truth that I cannot deny. You put on a smile, say all the right words to get yourself out of conflict, and you feel nothing. Your goal becomes blending in and looking like everyone else, so you don’t stand out.

The first time I walked into the storage facility my daughter rented a unit from, I was amazed at how everything looked the same. The multiple rows of garage-type doors and the gleaming bright white floors, and the buzzing of fluorescent lights overhead all in the same order.

Locked up in each one are memories, outdoor equipment, stolen merchandise, and important documents. And you try really hard not to recall that one episode of Dateline where they unlocked one and..forget it.

“What is your number?” I asked. She took out a piece of paper and told me. Without that, we would have wandered for days, not knowing where to go.

It felt like being in a maze where each row was the same as before, and it would be easy to get lost with no direction.

When we got to hers, she had to look again to know what the lock combination was so we could open the door.

God has the answer for escaping your self-prescribed, small way of living. Just like my body going numb from being cut off from the blood supply, you can live in that state for a while and be content with it. But you have to be willing to change. You have to fight to get yourself out of a bed built on a false identity.

The opportunity will present itself where you can either be free or keep doing the same things that only lead to your withering away. If it makes you uncomfortable and it seems impossible, that is just your spiritual circulation kicking in. On the other side of that is liberty.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:5-7, there’s a reminder of this:

You’re sons of Light, daughters of Day. We live under wide open skies and know where we stand. So let’s not sleepwalk through life like those others. Let’s keep our eyes open and be smart. (Message)

You can settle for taking a passive approach to life where God constantly gives you nudges to do something that is not your usual, but you ignore it. You choose to hit the snooze button.

You have to come to the understanding that you weren’t put on earth to look only to serve yourself. Doing the same thing with no new results will only lead to self-destruction. Where there isn’t growth, there is eventual death in some way, shape, or form. You deny yourself and the world your gifts and talents.

A sobering fact is that along with keeping your eyes stubbornly slammed shut, you pass up on the chance to help others who need you to be awake.

(What lies hidden behind all these locked doors?)

Welcome Everyone In

I ended up in the second row of seats. It wasn’t the plan as I rode along with my dad and sister. She was at the permit stage of obtaining her license.

Because there were eight of us, my parents owned a station wagon. This was before any of us buckled a seatbelt. They hung unused as we flew at high speeds down highways, never thinking.

I would often play in the car because it was somewhere I could be by myself, out of the chaotic house of all the uproar. The far back was my favorite. It was designed with benches facing each other in a circle, much different than the middle and front.

When it was parked in the garage, I would bring in toys and entertain myself away from the tension of parents and four teens. I was so much younger than the rest of them that I had to separate myself from the noise I didn’t understand.

My brothers were often assigned to sit there when we went somewhere, so I did when I got the chance to have it to myself.

My dad had handed me a pack of MMs just before we got in to go on this drive from hell.

If he had to pick something up on the way home, he would get me some and slide them into his pocket. When he walked in the door, he would put me on top of the refrigerator and ask me if I had been good. It was like a truth serum because it was high up, and I was at his mercy to get me down. I always said I was, so he would secretly hand me the packet so my mom didn’t see.

When I found out he was going out on a drive with her, I begged to go and sat way in the back.

I wasn’t aware of the fact that in her driver’s education classes, she had been exposed to so many scenes of accidents and life-threatening situations, which caused her to be extra jumpy with the brake.

And like I found out later when it was my turn to practice with him, he wasn’t exactly the voice of calm. He could make the most seasoned driver nervous before starting the car.

We had barely left home when it happened. There was a truck turning at a distance. I heard my dad tell her to go, but she stopped abruptly, sending me forward. I smacked into the back of the front seat with a thud. I landed, and I didn’t know how I had been displaced so fast.

This was way before all the commercials showing the crash dummies and the consequences of not being strapped in.

I recall sitting on the floor, dazed, much similar to when a bird flies into a window. You are there, but you aren’t.

His raised voice brought me back around.

“That truck was two blocks away! When I say go, go!”

Both of them were so focused on the road that a few moments went by.

When it got quiet, he suddenly realized he had another child in the car, and I was no longer where I had been. He looked down and said,

“Chris, you can’t sit there! Get up on the seat.” As if that was safer.

Not, “Hey, are you okay?” That speaks volumes to what our life was like then, where every man had to look out for themselves. There wasn’t time for me to be flying forward out of control in a car. It wasn’t convenient.

He said it like I had chosen this for fun. When the realization hit me that my candy had also been a victim, that is when I got upset. Not that I could have gone through the windshield headfirst, but that I was holding an empty bag in my hand. I had no idea the danger I had been in.

That wasn’t the only time I was a passenger and subjected to a scary ride. A part of my social service job was to visit potential residents in their homes, other care facilities, or hospitals. I had a waiting list a million miles long. Legislation had been passed that no more nursing homes could be built in our state. Many needed long-term care, so we were never short of possible cases.

This was before the luxury of speaking into a device that would direct you to your destination. It entailed getting on the phone and having someone give you directions that you had to write down.

“So take a left by the restaurant that is operated by my friend’s brother’s sister’s cousin. Then, take a right by the gravel road, come to a stop sign, and then go about two inches before you run right into a gas station that got robbed last week and take an immediate left. Continue straight until you see a white picket fence that needs a fresh coat, and then there will be this huge sign that you cannot miss. The entryway will be right there. But, you can’t park there, so you will have to drive around to the back, and there is this small section where visitors can park, or you will be towed. Does that make sense?”

Sure, it does. And you drove with a piece of paper in your hand with things scribbled on it that made sense when you wrote them, but now they are not readable.

It was madness, and if I was unfamiliar with an area, I could easily get lost. I struggle with getting left and right correct at times. Throw in a snowstorm, then that was a whole other variable to contend with.

I had to work closely with nursing. While I assessed the person’s personality, they determined how much care we would provide. Depending on where the opening was, we had to match the resident to the proper location in the building.

“I am ready to go,” she said, entering my office.

“Okay,” I said, not knowing much about her. She was a new hire, much older than I was, but she seemed very knowledgeable about her profession. This was her first time going on a visit like this, and her supervisor knew I had gone on many of them and would be able to help her.

“I will drive,” she said.

“Do you have directions?” I asked.

“Yes. I wrote them down. You can help me get there.”

I didn’t notice her edginess at first, but then I did detect her breathing seemed a bit more rapid. I kept my eyes on the road as we had started to get into more heavy traffic. While we had been discussing the details of the family we were about to see, she had seemed relaxed, but as we went, she suddenly got quieter.

That is when she started applying the brake too much. There wasn’t any reason to do what she was doing, so I said,

“Are you having trouble driving?”

Cars were going around her, and I could see that people were getting annoyed with her sudden stops.

“I have a trigger leg,” she said with a choke.

I have this weird thing where I see pictures when people say certain words in my mind. I pictured the horse Trigger.

“What?” I asked. “I don’t understand.”

“When I drive, and I get scared, I can’t control my leg.”

I looked down.

“Which one are we talking about?” I asked. I was hoping to God it was not the one she used to drive.

“The one I drive with.” I saw her hands gripped tighter on the wheel, and her forehead looked sweaty.

“I think we are okay. There isn’t anything to be afraid of right now.”

I said this as if I believed it. I was not frightened by the other cars around her, but more so by her behavior.

“Why didn’t you tell me this? I could have done the driving,” I said, feeling trapped in. I controlled my voice so she didn’t know how terrified I was.

“It embarrasses me to tell people,” she said awkwardly.

It got more pronounced with my neck being jolted forward and back, and I was starting to feel sick. I would have to be admitted to the hospital for whiplash by the time we arrived.

I had that familiar feeling of something else taking over and speaking through me to her. The more I told her she was safe, she seemed to stop doing what she said was so uncontrollable. A peace seemed to take over the car, and she quit repeatedly pushing on the brake.

When she parked the car, she told me that she had never been able to get it under control like that before. After our appointment, she asked me if I wanted to drive.

“No,” I said, not believing I was going to let her take me on another ride. “I think you will do just fine.”

It was now rush hour, and she had no problem getting us back without one hiccup or trigger or anything.

In both cases, I was unknowingly in places with the potential for bad outcomes, but it seems like I had been given some heavenly help to protect from injury or death. I was not where I am spiritually now. I was not even giving God the time of day during those periods of my life. But, I was extended what is described in Psalm 34:7,

The messenger of the Eternal God surrounds everyone who walks with Him and is always there to protect us and rescue us. (VOICE)

That says to me that God looks beyond our faults or ignorance and is not a fire and brimstone deity that has been professed by those who don’t know the truth.

The other day, I saw a man standing by the gates of heaven as he waited for someone to cross over. A lady was in hospice and expected to pass soon. She did that night.

I saw him waiting with a big bouquet of flowers that took both hands to hold. I told her daughter this as she was afraid of the process and felt as if her mom would be alone. There was uncertainty about the afterlife and what to expect. Would she be accepted into heaven?

The flowers represented how much he loved this one about to transition. I saw some specific details of this man who resembled a relative that had passed on. When I don’t personally know the family, I feel like I am shooting in the dark, but it was suspected he was a person the dying woman had been very close to by the way I described him. I was able to comfort the daughter, who was feeling uncertain. That is how God works. Even at the point of leaving this world, we are cared for.

Every time I have seen heaven, the gates are never closed. He doesn’t want to shut us out but longs to welcome everyone in.

Dark Days of Debt

“I need to transfer a balance,” I said.

“Okay, Christine, we can help you with that. I just need to collect some information from you.”

It was the usual rundown of my work history, wages, and place of employment.

“We will have to check your credit report to see what that is. Can I put you on hold?”

“Yes,” I said.

It had been eight long years of feeling the burden of this crushing my spirit. I had transferred the balance more than a few times, and luckily, I had been able to.

I had found myself owing $10,000 because a situation went sour. Decisions were made that didn’t turn out as planned, and I was swamped under what seemed like a giant. I had never had this happen before, and it won’t again, but I learned a few things.

At one point in this financial desert, God told me to give money to a person who needed it. While everything in me screamed no, I did it anyway. After doing so, I had unexpected money come my way, and in a matter of months, I had cut my amount down to $5000.

After that, I stopped believing I could get out from under it. I blamed myself for not being smarter and denied myself many things as punishment. I reasoned inwardly that I would go without anything new for myself if I had money to pay toward offsetting the monster.

Not that I ever spent money like water anyway, but I went down this very depressing path, believing money and I were at odds. My messed up beliefs drew in more pain and self-inflicted whippings to ensure I knew how stupid I was. The more I embraced this, the easier it was to let a poverty mentality take over.

I had become my own mob boss, making threats and degrading myself. I didn’t know this,

If they obey and serve him, they will have a good, long life on easy street. (Job 36:11/Message)

I felt that God could trust other people with finances but not me. Yet, I had an outstanding credit score after coming through a difficult divorce. I had forgotten how much God had shown up for me during that time.

I let the idea that I put myself into trouble at my own doing, so I had to get myself out of it. I didn’t expect heaven to take pity on me and send out a rescue team. I needed to be taught a lesson.

It was always there breathing down my neck, the clock running out on another balance transfer. I had managed to keep the amount low until my water heater went out. I had gotten the total down to under $5000 by making minimum payments, but then it went up to $8000 overnight.

I had no savings because every dime went for bills and food. If I had wanted clothes, I would have talked myself out of it because I wasn’t as crucial as that credit card payment. It was ruling over my life like an evil Queen.

“It looks like you are approved,” she said, coming back on the line.

“This is the last time I’m doing this,” I said.

She laughed like I was crazy.

“No. I have moved this money since 2013. This is it. I’m not doing it again.”

“Your card should arrive in 7-10 business days.”

“Okay. My goal is to pay this off and never use the card.”

“Good luck to you, Christine. I’m glad we could help you.” She couldn’t get rid of me quick enough because I was talking nonsense. She had probably heard people say this a million times.

I meant it. I decided that would be the last time I would ever do that. I was starting to wake up to the notion that I was using it as a crutch instead of paying it off. It was an easy way out until the time expired. It doesn’t take any faith to play the game that way. You put it off and put it off year after year. Like a good victim of misfortune.

I had never paid interest, but I had fees on a few of the transfers, which just increased the problem. I was done living like this after all that time. It was January of 2020. I made up my mind that even if I had to leave it at the end of the promotional year, and pay interest, I would.

I was not moving it again. Ever.

I had been given a journal that I found in my room in August. I started writing this every day: I am living a happy, fulfilling, all-expense paid life, fully funded by God.

Those words had dropped into my mind, and they were easy to remember. I then would ask myself: How am I happy? How am I fulfilled? How is God funding my life?

After writing the short affirmation, I would go through and answer those every day. I wrote down what I had left as a balance: $4,229.00. That was August 28th. Then as I made payments, I would write the amount I paid and the total left. On November 4, 2020, I paid it off. I had done what I told myself was impossible for eight years in three months.

I could breathe again. It had felt like a chokehold on me for many days and nights. Once I decided not to settle, the money came so I could free myself. It was like thinking I had a padlock on my arms and legs when really, it was a loose rope that I was able to slip out of.

As I go back and read what I wrote during that time, I see that I thanked God for every small thing, and I put down on paper what I wanted even if it hadn’t happened yet. This is what last year’s entry looked like:

December 8,2020
How am I fulfilled? I can be myself, do what I want, and live free with God by my side. I know that He is helping me with all things.

How is God funding my all-expense paid life? I am happily paying all my bills, putting money aside to do with as God directs. Money is my friend that goes to work on my behalf. Money works for me.

How am I rewarded in this life? I am surrounded by good, like-minded, and supportive people who love me and help me without any conditions applied.

At the end of these passages, I always wrote down five things I was grateful for that went back to the ideas listed in the opening sentence. It was repetitive, but that’s how you start to believe it.

What I noticed and still see occurring is that my words have created my surroundings very different from how I used to function. Once I decided to let God work with me, instead of fighting against it, all my circumstances changed. I was no longer “surviving.” I was actually living.

When I started off to make it better, I had no idea how it would happen, but I listened to every message from heaven and applied it.

I was the problem. Not God. Me. You. Us. We are. You think you don’t deserve it. She thinks she isn’t good enough. He convinces himself he is not worthy. It’s all wrong. I assumed I was a bad person because I made a mistake. I thought there was no divine intervention for me. I found out how wrong I was. I didn’t even have to believe that diligently. I just had to block out all the negativity that surrounded the issue.

I set an intention with God and put it into His hands, knowing I would be given something extraordinary. I had a goal to pay that off in one year. It was gone in three months. Why? Because God’s ways are not our ways. What if I had insisted on making it a year? I could have walked around telling everyone I would pay it off by the end of the year. I hoped.

Instead, I kept it between God and me. I did what I could, didn’t put limitations on it by talking stupidity, and watched the magic unfold. Silence is golden. Whoever made that up, they get it. Keeping my mouth shut unless I blessed it was the most significant piece to succeeding.

In 1 Peter 5:7, it tells us what to do that I didn’t do for eight long years,

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. (Message)

If you are under the weight of something that seems like it will take you out, turn to the One who has all the answers. What I owed got paid off, but what I cannot get back is the time I wasted. I don’t recommend doing what I did.

Ask for help quickly, watch as God gets out an eraser, and let the bondage be broken as you are granted your release from the dark days of debt.

More Than A Number

“Are you near your computer?” He asked me.

“Yes.”

“I need you to type in..”

He went into turbo speed talk, trying to give me a string of numbers and letters to put into the browser to get to a website.

“Wait,” I said.

He was on number or letter fifty, and I was still putting in one from the beginning. I was on the phone with a helpline representative.

“Are you at the portal?”

Like to leave earth? No. But sometimes I wish.

“No. I’m still trying to get what you said in.”

I went back and read off what I had been able to keep up with.

“Oh, ok. I didn’t know you were that far behind.”

He started off where I was, and I hit enter. I knew when I saw code error 404, it wasn’t going to work.

“It says that the link is broken. I can’t go to that site.”

“Well, I’m there, so I know it’s working.”

I went back to where we started.

“I will go through each letter and number one by one.”

“Okay,” I said.

“A as in apple. Do you have that now?”

For real, guy? You go from speed talk to now acting like I’m four years old.

“Yes. Got it.”

“Are you ready for the next one?” He said in soft tones so as not to mentally break me.

“Yes,” I said.

He went at a snail’s pace to ensure I didn’t miss anything.

“Did we make it?”

Like we were hiking a treacherous mountain.

When I am made to feel ‘old’, I recall what I have read in multiple publications: age is a mindset. Most of these are written by people from a long time ago in history and are dead, but their words make sense. When more than one person says something, and they are not associated, that is when you know you are on to the truth.

A year ago, while visiting my dad at his assisted living when restrictions were still in place, he proved this theory. He was in lockdown, so his meals were being delivered to his apartment, and there was no contact with the outside world, really.

I had arrived before noon to find him still in bed, fast asleep. His days and nights were mixed up, and I often found meals stacked up in his refrigerator untouched, which led me to believe he was sleeping around the clock.

I clicked on the tv trying to find Christmas music but landed on a community channel. I could hear music playing, and with his hearing being impaired, it was like a live band had suddenly rushed into the small space.

He slowly came around the corner and parked himself. I realized it was polka music, and he was all entranced because of his polish heritage. He used to play the accordion when he was young, so it didn’t take much to make him stop in his tracks, and he forgot all about eating.

Over the noise, he said,

“Look at all those old people dancing!”

They all appeared slightly younger than him, but who wants to ruin his perception?

“What song is this?” he asked. “I can’t tell.”

That type of music makes me cringe, so I didn’t inherit some of his DNA. But, out of some long-forgotten memory bank, I said,

“I think it’s called Help Me Make It Through the Night.”

“Help me make it through the night? These people are so old, they aren’t going to make it through this song!”

“At least they are up and moving. You barely made it out of bed today,” I said. He laughed.

When I fill out a survey that asks me my age range, and I’m at the first number in the series, there’s still something to celebrate as I check off the box. I wonder how I will feel when I’m in the last bracket like him?

While it might appear that the world has sped up, it’s really about keeping up with changes and learning new things.

Speaking into the remote control has been a monumental leap forward. I purposely say the wrong thing just to see where it will lead me. It takes its revenge, though, and refuses to hear what I have said correctly at other times. It’s a love/hate relationship. It knows we have no buttons to use like the older models, so it owns us.

Then there are those times when I hear someone of my age say,

“Rewind that video.”

“You know we don’t have VCRs anymore, right?” I say nicely. I can’t let this soul wander around so blatantly showing their age.

I asked my daughter when she knew I was no longer breezing through life.

“When I had to teach you how to copy and paste on your computer.”

And she said it real quick, like it was just minutes ago. So apparently, that was a pivotal point in my aging process.

Isn’t that why I had kids? To take all the guesswork out of life? If I can’t figure something out, I just hand it over, they give it back, and I am on to my next technical issue.

One of the things I do not like is when an older person who may be related to me is in the middle of a health crisis and says,

“Just wait until you are my age!”

They say this from their hospital bed like they will feel better knowing someone else in the future will be in the same poor condition. Misery loves company, and when someone doesn’t have the answers, they will pull you in to make themselves feel better. They are just hoping that you will start talking about the ailments that plague you.

I stopped being quietly polite along the way and will say I refuse whatever they are trying to make me believe. I have said back,

“We were designed to be in good health and heal. That is what God wants.”

That usually changes the direction of the conversation for the better. I realized I didn’t have to agree with something just because it was spoken. The ‘respect your elders’ idea is fine unless they talk negatively. It’s wise to counteract those ideas before they take root and replace them with thoughts like this from 3 John 2 that states,

God wants me to prosper and be in health, even as my soul prospers. (KJV)

Why expect to get sick just because your cousin Nancy did? If you look at what others in your bloodline have as a diagnosis and claim it for yourself, you will live out what you believe.

I was reminded over the summer that age can be positive when I visited a cave that was discovered in 1881 by two brothers. As I stood in the depths of the caverns that had existed for way longer than I had, and they were still growing and bringing to life various gems, it reminded me that even as we age, we can be useful.

The history of its existence was made up of many new discoveries as explorers found new passageways and hidden places. As they kept searching, they kept finding.

That is how your walk with God can be. You toss aside what the world says is so important, like the number of candles on your last birthday, and know that there are many things you haven’t even understood yet.

The space was treated with great reverence, and while on tour, we were told to be very careful along the way, so we brought no harm to it. We were many feet below the surface, and for some reason, it felt safe to me, not suffocatingly frightening.

“When a horrible tornado went through, the owners came down here because they knew they would be safe,” our guide told us.

One of the advantages of being a little further along the way is that you can provide security for someone who hasn’t been down the same road. You have had experiences, some good, some not, that can shed light and bring revelation to someone who needs help.

One thing is for sure. No, not taxes and death, but yes. Other than those, there will always be problems that need solving, which is why we are here. When you can stand firm in the face of adversity and when someone younger than you witnesses this, their faith is allowed to grow.

Don’t fall for the lie that you are no longer valid because you think you’re too elderly to be of any use anymore. Digits are used in our society for crowd control. Like at the DMV, when you are standing in a sea of humanity, you are looking at a ticket that says 3000, which signifies that is the year they will get around to you.

The message is sent many times over to us through media that once you hit a particular time of life, you might as well hang it up. It’s a lie, so don’t fall for it.

The world may tell you that, but to God, you are more than a number.

(You can handle being number 2..you are only one step away from being the first.)