Sweet

Being raised in a family where five people are ahead of you, you learn by observation. They all taught me the basics of functioning in life, and sometimes I understood these things by having someone read a book to me or play a game.

One of the first was Candy Land, where concepts can easily be grasped by color recognition and counting out the spaces on the board. I recall one of my brothers so patiently showing me how to move the gingerbread marker down the path. If you were lucky enough, you might draw a card that gave you the ability to move two colored spaces.

Mixed throughout the deck were unique landing spots that could either propel you forward closer to the finish line or send you way back to where you began. To almost be at the home space and then have to go back just because you drew the candy hearts located on the first part of the path was frustrating.

There were two big blue dots on the board, and if you were unlucky enough to end up there, you had to draw the exact color of the square you were on to resume moving on. Getting stuck in Molasses Swamp was not my favorite. The other, Cherry Pit Falls, was equally irritating.

It was modeled how to be happy while playing no matter what. Nowhere in any competition with my older siblings as they taught me was it demonstrated that poor sportsmanship was allowed. They all implanted the idea in me that I was to be content no matter what was happening, and it was just a moment in time that was to be fun, not to be taken too seriously.

It was interesting to discover that during the outbreak of Polio in the 1940s, a school teacher developed the concept of that game to help quarantined children pass the time. As much as recent events have put fear and isolation into the minds of many, that time period did the same.

An uncontrolled virus was sweeping through, targeting only children, and those affected by it had to spend many long days fighting to live, away from all that had been familiar to them. Out of that misery, someone invented something that, by the time I played it, was used for another purpose.

It taught me how to take a turn.

Teaching a person how to do that can be tricky, especially one who has no idea how the world operates. As I have moved through life, I have witnessed the total breakdown of this easy to adhere concept that extends courtesy to others.

Several years ago, there was a family-owned video store near my house. Blockbuster had long fallen to the wayside after other options for watching movies at home came to light. However, this particular one was fighting to stay alive, so I went there. Because they required a membership, I approached the counter.

A woman who looked right at me swooped in with two small children, almost knocking me out of the way. I stepped back and said nothing.

As I stood there, I realized the guy behind the counter was, shall we say, a bit too customer friendly. I was the only one in line at the time, and he was the only staff person in the store to help. So I was subjected to the entire conversation about an assortment of topics that, if given a choice, I would have skipped. From car repairs, grocery shopping to his plans for later, I knew more about his life than my own.

Neither of them seemed to notice how restless her two kids were becoming as he kept on talking. By the time he finished his speech about his love for video games, they were rolling on the floor, punching each other.

When it was finally my turn, I told him I hadn’t been in before. He took my driver’s license and started typing on his computer.

As we were going through the usual 20 questions for security reasons, a lady and her husband (I am assuming) came up. She began to hang herself over the counter like she was trying to find a movie that she couldn’t find on the shelf.

She shifted papers out of her way, grabbed a stack of DVDs, and began going through each one.

This caught his attention, so he said,

“Can I help you find something?”

This interaction stopped the process of my details going into the computer. She asked for a particular movie.

“Oh, we just rented our last one last night.”

She then complained and asked why they didn’t have more copies. He continued to speak with her while I stood there. She continued to ask questions. He continued to answer. I continued to wait. He suggested another movie. She made a face at him that indicated her disdain for his suggestion.

She gave a long list of reasons why she would never view what he was recommending.

When she quit speaking, and he once again went back to the keyboard to complete my membership, I turned to her and said,

“Do you still need his help? Or can he finish helping me?”

She somehow picked up on a clue that she was being rude. Snappily, she said,

“He asked me what I wanted first.”

“I know. And, now I am asking you if you still need his help, or is it okay if he finishes helping me?”

Her lips clamped together.

He said,

“Oh. It’s all good. I will finish up here.”

Then, the phone rang. It was like throwing a stick and yelling, “Fetch!”

He explained to the caller that a particular title wasn’t in and when it would be. Another long conversation ensued.

I think he heard my sigh.

“Hang on a second while I help this customer who is in my line.”

This was all happening while the lady customer continued to try and see if the movie was behind the counter. As if he were concealing it so that she could discover it.

Finally, he gave me a total, and I paid. When he handed me my items, I asked if I could have a receipt.

While answering my question, the lady who had been like a heat-seeking missile that was not finding what she wanted, stepped into the place I had been occupying and started in again on how annoyed she was that they didn’t have her movie.

He again began to address her and was not getting me my receipt. I waited and listened while she whined.

Not wanting to give this guy or lady another second of my life, I said,

“I have somewhere to be. Can I please have my receipt?”

Somewhere was anywhere but there.

She glared at me like I was imposing on her time in line.

“Oh, I forgot all about you!” He said.

Really? I didn’t notice.

I exited hell with receipt in hand and got back to my life outside the building. Molasses Swamp did exist.

I found out recently that it is possible to get bumped out of circulation even when you call ahead.

A food truck had a pop-up event on a Saturday about thirty minutes from my house. They offered an online option to order and do a pickup. Who wouldn’t do that when the temperature is in the negative numbers?

My daughters and I got to the location after parking and dodging traffic on a busy street.

I approached a girl with a clipboard and told her my name.

“Okay. We will put your order in now.”

“So doing this online and paying didn’t get me ahead of standing in line?”

“Technically, yes. We will put yours in immediately, and you will be ahead of everyone standing here right now.”

She took my phone number and said she would text me when it was done, so I could go back to my car and wait.

Not in line. Sort of like an invisible one.

After 30 minutes of waiting, the three of us started to wonder if they had lost us in the shuffle. My youngest daughter went online to their page to see if they had issues.

“They are giving priority to those waiting outside in line.”

“Wait a minute. We ordered online. We paid. I drove a half an hour to get here, and we are less important than people who didn’t plan?”

“They don’t want them to get cold.”

Welcome to Cherry Pit Falls.

I had shut off my car by this time because I didn’t want to run out of gas sitting there. I still had a 30 minute drive back. I was becoming Queen Frostine.

I walked back over to the worker I had given my phone number to. I was going on a 45 minute wait.

She looked up at me, and when I said this, she glanced at her list and the time she had written by my name. Meanwhile, I watched one person after another waiting by the truck being handed their orders.

“I will send you a text when it’s ready,” she said.

I went back to my car, which was so fogged up that I could not see the two occupants inside. Right as I got in, I received a text.

I turned, got out, told them to stop breathing to keep the fog down, and went back to the truck.

She handed me only half of the order. More confusion because they had made the customers standing outside their focus of attention.

I didn’t return to my car this time but thought it would only be a few moments. It turned into another 30.

By the time I got back to my car, they were on the brink of perishing, and we now looked like we had been camping for a week instead of going for a lunch run. All of us had chugged down all the water we had brought with us so that we could cope.

I decided to drive back home, and I ate my fast food nearly 3 hours later. That can kill your entire day.

And your hope for humanity.

Sometimes, the only thing you can cling to is this from Matthew 20:16 to make sense of things,

So the last will be first, and the first will be last. (NIV)

Most of what you encounter as you walk through your days here adds to a deeper understanding. It’s a far cry from being four years old and having to contend with moving a game piece along a board through gumdrop mountains. It begins there with many moments after that can test you to your last bit of patience as you grow.

If you are sensitive to the world around you, you see the injustices, suffer the consequences of allowing your heart to be broken, and you are very much aware that you are taking your chances by going outside of your house, subjecting yourself to places where you can be unknowingly targeted by unfair circumstances.

Yet, you keep moving ahead, not hiding away, isolated, but rather, following this as your guide from Romans 12:17:

Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. (NLT)

And Romans 12:21:

Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good. (Message)

Why? Because you are called to rise above and be a good example, making life less bitter by being sweet.

(It’s not all fun and games out there…)

Overload

I saw her drop everything and run. It wasn’t the first time I had witnessed this, but it always made me stop whatever I was doing to watch her make a fast trip down the stairs into the basement, around a corner, and into the laundry room.

Usually, this happened when we were in the kitchen, but I had also seen her sprint from a far back bedroom to get to the machine before she thought it would blow up.

She would come back up out of breath but had stopped whatever catastrophe was about to happen.

“What was I doing?” She would ask me. I had to remind her because the event gave her temporary amnesia.

Pretty much every time she washed clothes, this happened. The laundry chute in the upstairs bathroom was to save her from having to haul clothes from one level to the other.

The colossal bag hanging in the corner of the laundry room caught everything. She would unzip it and let it all fall to the floor to sort through. I recall throwing things down into it when I was little, hoping that I didn’t go with it.

I got into trouble for following the instruction of my brother, who told me to throw toy cars down into it. I thought they vanished into thin air, so it seemed somewhat frightening and magical. I was slightly afraid of sliding down with them.

She made me understand clearly that it caused her more work if I did this. I didn’t do it again.

One time, unable to correct the familiar slamming sound herself, she told me to lift the lid to get the noise to stop. I had to quickly get there like I had seen her do, and it scared me. It appeared as if a person were trapped inside, trying desperately to beat their way out. I had no idea what was happening, but I did what she had told me.

“I think I put too many pairs of jeans in here,” she said, taking them out and putting them in the sink. They were heavy with water. I watched her close the top and let it go back to work.

“If I put too much in, it causes the drum not to work right. I had it break once, so I try not to let it do that. And I never know for sure what is going to set it off.”

That explained the reason behind why she went into hyper-speed when it started to act up. There were eight people she was washing clothes for, and money was not free-flowing. My dad could fix anything, but she didn’t want to be the cause of having to tell him she damaged it with too much in it. He was already working long hours to keep it all together. If something broke by accident, that was one thing, but she was never careless to cause him extra chores.

Once the size of the family dwindled, the problem disappeared as less had to be washed.

But, as a faithful daughter, I carried on her tradition at my house. Not as frequent, but enough times that both of my children have been highly entertained as I make the run like I saw her do multiple times. Usually, it’s a comforter that’s the culprit. Not that I crammed too much in, but in a way that it needs to be rearranged to get everything back in order.

The second I hear the first banging noise, I’m down the stairs to fix it. Recently, I cleaned out a closet, forgetting I had put many things in the hallway leading to the washing machine.

I moved fast, and I knew my way there without a light, so I didn’t turn one on. While the machine was loudly sending out signs that it was in distress, so was I as I tripped and fell my way there over all the stuff I forgot about.

Sometimes you have to deal with baggage as you try to fix a problem. In my case, it was many pieces of baggage impeding my progress.

Once I fought my way in, I thought I had it all settled down. It went back to running right, so I went upstairs. Within minutes, it was at it again, but this time I jumped over the junk and cleared it like a hurdle. It pays to stay in shape just for these times when you leave a mess for later.

I took the time to research how to stop this when a person does laundry. What could save me from adding Fitbit steps to my day through a panic run? The advice I found was to weigh all your clothes in a bag before putting them in. Then, you must check the owner’s manual to see what the recommended weight is. No problem.

What a great idea not to do.

I don’t even measure the soap. I’m not totally irresponsible. I bought one that gives the exact amount I need when I squeeze it. If clothes need that much attention, talk to all the houseplants I have killed from lack of watering.

I have tried, though, much as my predecessor, not to put too much strain on the machine. It’s not good in the long run.

Just like taking on many tasks just to be nice so people will like you. I have said “yes” to many things I would have instead said no to. And I have driven myself into the ground trying to do too much while others didn’t feel obligated to offer any sort of help.

When you finally wake up to that, you might find resentment toward those so self-centered. Yet, you decided to give up your time. You have no one to blame but yourself.

A famous motivational speaker told how she became chronically sick and exhausted from such a rigorous schedule. One day while contemplating this, God spoke to her and let her know that she was the one who got to decide what she did with her days. No one was forcing her to do anything. Something she had started out loving, now was becoming a burden because of pressure being exerted on her. She made the decision to do a little less to cut the stress.

People will take advantage of a willing spirit. On the one hand, it’s great to be of service to those who have a need, but it’s not beneficial to create a monster that cannot handle the idea of not having you at their beck and call. Along the way, you learn this, and you begin to set appropriate boundaries.

I have had to remove myself from the presence of those who didn’t get it. That is never an easy decision, but when you see that the “to do” list is long and the expectation hoops keep multiplying no matter what, you make a decision to quit sacrificing all of yourself to please someone else.

That sounds horrible to say, but why should you? Is it to your advantage to take up all of your energy on that while possibly bypassing the reason why God put you here? If you are running yourself ragged doing something out of guilt or obligation, you are missing out on being a blessing to others who need you. And the joy of it.

Just like you should make sure that your washing machine isn’t beyond its capacity to handle what you put in it, your life is going to work better and feel more carefree if you operate from a balanced mindset to serve others and keep yourself from overload.

Irritant

I had finally escaped the pain that was zipping through my face by falling asleep. Once it started, it would sometimes last for three days before subsiding. When you do everything you can to stop it, and nothing seems to be working, you start to wonder if it will go back to normal.

Acupuncture and chiropractor visits had offset it, but stress was the culprit that had promoted it. Mentally, it was wearing, taunting me to forget everything I knew was true about healing. Even when it subsided, there was this low level fear that it would return without warning.

I had used a TENS unit to send electrical pulses to the area as a way to activate the central nervous system, which can create a temporary respite.

The one thing I learned not to do was increase the intensity quickly. With the pads adhered to the side of my face and down my neck, I had to turn the dial slowly. At the lowest level, nothing could be felt, so I had to move it up until it was tolerable.

There would be this slight pinching feeling that would begin and spread out into a wave. I always felt a tingling on the inside of my cheek.

I found out the hard way that if the dial were accidentally bumped up to the highest level, you would have an impromptu shock therapy session.

Like in a movie where someone is being tortured to cough up the truth, this self-inflicted move will have you become vocal so that every person around you knows that you would be indebted for life if there were a swear jar. The current that shoots into your body could light up a small town.

I felt like someone was watching me as I blinked my eyes. It seemed like my jaw, where it had started, felt better. Maybe I was on the mend, and it followed a pattern, it seemed. Once at this point, from past flare ups, I knew I was probably past the worst of it.

Just as I was about to say this, she appeared above me with something in her hand. Like she had been waiting for me to wake up. I wasn’t quite fully conscious.

“What are you…”

I felt a coldness on my temple as she went to work rolling on some liquid in a glass bottle. I don’t know how this had happened, but somewhere along the way, my daughter had become a holistic medicine person, researching, buying, and applying it to me. Just to see how it went.

I had flashbacks from my childhood when remedies would be forced upon me with no explanation. Ointments, sprays, or yucky tasting liquids, all slathered, spritzed, or presented on a spoon, were given without warning. It was futile to refuse.

“I read that peppermint oil is supposed to help this type of pain.”

She put it across my forehead and on my other temple. I had to close my eyes as the scent was strong like one gigantic after-dinner mint.

“It feels better since I slept,” as she continued to put more on.

I was starting to detect the coolness turning to warmth on my face. Similar to going near a source of heat when you are chilled. At first, it was soothing until the burning started.

I stopped her mid-application.

“Something isn’t okay,” I said.

“What?”

It was going up from mild to scorching rapidly. When I felt drips of it reach both corners of my eyes, I knew that I was going to have to wash some of it off.

“How much of this are you supposed to put on?”

“I don’t know. Maybe I should do it differently next time. This is supposed to be good for this type of thing.”

At that moment, I recalled that sometimes less is better. I had to remove the pads and run blindly for a sink without opening my eyes. That was impressive. If I ever had to leave my home in an emergency, I had just proven to myself I could do it without having sight.

The nerve pain in my face was long forgotten as I tried to remember what I had learned in chemistry when hydrochloric acid had spilled and splashed at me. This felt worse.

When you are a part of an experiment not conducted by any scientific means, you run the risk of coming to your own rescue.

Hanging over the sink, I said in between handfuls of water that I was drowning myself in,

“What happened to me waking up in a blissful state? You pounced on me the minute that you saw I was awake!”

She came into the bathroom to check on me. As usual, when she is standing there looking at me, it makes me laugh. I don’t want to, but it’s something about how she looks so bewildered as to why her carefully laid plans have gone astray.

I grabbed a towel to dry off, but I had to plunge back in and continue to try and remove it.

“What is this supposed to do? How was this supposed to help? What did you find online that said this was a good idea?”

I said all this as I choked on all the water in the world I could get.

“It is supposed to relax the nerve.”

“I am not relaxed right now. None of my nerves are at peace right now.”

The next time I used it, I put it on my wrists, as far from my face as I could get it. You can do that, and it will still bring results without incinerating your skin.

Worse than an adverse reaction to a substance is to be forced to deal with a person that has become a nuisance, gotten under your skin, and possibly on your last nerve.

There was an Aunt Sophie vs. my Dad period during my childhood, which was tumultuous. When I was seven, I recall seeing him struggle with dealing with his mom. My grandma had gone through a series of strokes and health issues, so she was considered a vulnerable adult, but back then, it was not viewed as it is today. She lived with her sister, Sophie, who was not the best at taking care of herself, let alone another human being.

People were left to their own devices and the help we have today to deal with these types of situations was not there back then.

He would always get this impatient tone when he had to field a call from Sophie. I noticed that he held the handset far from his ear when she spoke like he was putting as much distance between her lips and his ear as possible.

I could visualize her in my mind. She always had on the brightest shade of red, usually smeared across her front teeth.

His only response strategically placed was,

“Uh, huh.”

She could talk his face off, and he was not one for being on the phone when he wanted to be outside doing a task he considered enjoyable, like building something out of wood. He didn’t want to listen to a woman talk at him. It was never a pleasant exchange.

There always was some upset that he was expected to deal with. I was too young to understand what the pressure exerted on him was, but I saw his blood pressure go up the minute he had to speak to her.

If I came in the kitchen when this was going on, my mom would whisper,

“It’s Sophie. You might want to leave.” She didn’t want me to be subjected to more of his language than I had to be. She knew that he would go off at some point when he had reached his limit.

Her calls were the worst timing when he would finally be free from work, and it was a Saturday where he had no schedule.

“Sophie, stop crying. I can’t understand what you are saying.”

This was usually the opening statement, and it was stated mechanically.

I often stood there looking up at him to see if he would notice me. He rarely did because something had to happen to bring him back once he went into this far-off state. His eyes would glaze over like he wanted to leave his body.

I could hear her shrill voice on the other end. When he took me with him to see her, I asked him later why she chewed gum every time I saw her.

“That’s not gum, Chris. That’s her nerves. She can’t sit still. She is crazy.” And this was the person in charge of his mother.

On one particular day, he was at his wit’s end. My mom had yelled out the front door that he was wanted on the phone.

“Who is it?”

“Sophie. I think something is wrong.”

It was always the same thing to guilt him into coming in.

I could tell the minute he stepped in the house that this wouldn’t go well. I heard a deep sigh as he said,

“Hello?”

For a few brief seconds, it was silent. Then after months, and maybe years of this, the explosion happened. He had been stuffing down his frustration for so long he could not hold it back anymore.

The whole thing ended with him yelling super loud, and he smashed the phone back into the cradle. He stormed back outside. My mom looked at me. I looked at her. It was like someone had pushed his final button.

It was a warm spring day, so all the windows were open. From the garage, we heard him yelp. Like one of those Fred Flintstone shriek’s that seem fake, but this was not.

“What was that?” she asked me. I shrugged. We both looked out the kitchen window to see him coming back, holding onto his hand.

“John, what did you do to yourself?”

Always the nurse ready to get out her bandages and splints.

He held out his thumb, which was quickly becoming double its size.

“I was going to hammer in a nail, and Sophie made me so mad that I hit myself instead. I cannot stand that woman!”

An ice bag was applied to his injury, and the coldness in his heart toward his aunt didn’t improve, especially once he found out that she was stealing funds from my grandma.

He had to learn to tolerate her even though he looked like he was being scraped with sandpaper every time they had to be in the same room together.

He tried his absolute best to follow Proverbs 15:1:

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (NIV)

Sometimes that is all you can do. Did he roll his eyes when he would have to see her? Yes, every time. He made sure to look at me and do that. But, he kept his mouth shut and his temper under control. He found out it wasn’t worth getting all bent out of shape or almost breaking his thumb.

He had to learn to limit his time with her to keep his peace. Just like I had to learn how to use the oil sparingly to help my physical pain, we have to do that with people sometimes. And believe it or not, you might be the object of someone’s angst. We all can be.

I have a list of the eight most common emotions hanging on my refrigerator. Each one gives examples of what is felt, such as frustration or resentment associated with anger. But, with each one, another column tells what gift is earned as you work with each one.

So that friend or neighbor who drives you up the wall is building your inner strength, helping you put up boundaries, and allowing you to develop some assertiveness skills.

God can do that, even with the worst irritant.

Peaceful Balance

Garbage day shouldn’t be that difficult to remember. Only a handful of times have I missed it. You don’t soon forget it, though, when you do because it becomes a full-time job figuring out how to deal with the excess.

It’s one of those moments when you are minding your own business in a deep sleep that you desperately need after a night of insomnia, and you hear the faint sound of beeping. It floats into your mind, and it tries to make sense of it, turning it into a weird dream where you are disarming a bomb. You have to decide what color wire you should cut to save the world.

Just as you are about to snip the black one because it makes the most sense, you come into consciousness just a bit more as you hear your neighbor’s trash going into the truck.

In a half-sleep state, you start to consider time. Isn’t it Wednesday? No. That was two days ago when you had to take the dog to the vet. It must be Thursday. Maybe not. It doesn’t feel like a Thursday. It seems more like a Tuesday, but you know it isn’t because you had a Zoom meeting you attended where you had to turn off your camera because you were zoning out from lack of sleep. It has to be Thursday, then. But something says it isn’t.

That something is the garbage truck that drives past your house at ninety miles an hour because they don’t need to stop at the next place by yours because they use a different company. It is long gone into the next county by the time you are near the front window.

The last time this happened, it was a short day due to a holiday. They usually will send a driver back later, but they didn’t want to keep anyone from their family this time. I agreed but knew I would have to get creative. A week of garbage plus a week more was going to be trouble.

But when you set your mind on succeeding, you do. By the time the following week came, I had skillfully stacked as much as I could short of needing a ladder to get the final bag on top. It was artistic and practical. There was no way I was missing it again.

Our service was delayed a day, but my structure stood firm even though we had heavy gusts of wind come through. I had proven the saying that necessity is the mother of invention. You learn what your dormant natural abilities are. This is the crucial stuff they will never teach you in school.

If there were an award for cramming as much as possible into a garbage bag, my house would win it, hands down. The metal container I have is not all that big, so often, I will place the bag outside of it and continue to fill it.

The idea is to not waste room toward the top. I am often amazed at the ability of all of us who strategically place more into it just to avoid a trip to take it out. You would think it was a five-mile walk to the garbage cart, but it’s steps from the front door.

The plastic drawstring, used by normal people, is generally cinched together to close it off. Not ours. Those are there to strap down the contents that have been piled over the capacity of what it can hold. They become the glue that holds it all together.

I always have the right intention when I think I could fit just a little more in. And then it becomes a competition to see just how far we can go. If there’s the tiniest space on a side, for sure, someone will find it and force another thing in.

You tell yourself just one more item tossed in there won’t hurt, so you jam in one more paper towel and walk away, not considering that moments later, someone else is going to repeat what you just did.

When it finally looks like the Pillsbury Doughboy with arms, legs, and the beginning of a head, you make the difficult decision to stop the madness. They have outlasted you, and you know it. You now wish you would have trekked it out the day before when there wasn’t a blizzard happening outside with sideways winds.

Now it’s a six-mile walk from the kitchen with a 500-pound bag that is bigger than yourself, so you use both hands to drag it to the door.

We cause ourselves a lot of problems. I could just end this with that sentence and let us all go into a deep depression. Have a nice day.

It’s the truth, though. We take something like trash or dishes and leave them to accumulate; then, it takes more effort and adds time to deal with a task that would have felt like nothing had it been attended to in increments. We let it build up, and now it’s a monster.

Maybe instead of a stockpile of old newspapers, it’s unresolved irritation over something that started so trivial and now has mushroomed into full-blown unforgiveness. It has grown in stages to bitterness.

As you recall the event or moments of the past, the details get uglier, and more gets added to the storyline, making it into a heap that is difficult to see past.

That’s where God comes in. With divine help, you can get over it and move on instead of letting it create a larger mess, like stuffing a bag of garbage to death.

Hebrews 12:17 says,

Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent. A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time. (Message)

I have let God work with me while also keeping myself away from the source of my contention. Sometimes it’s only possible to have no emotional reaction about another person by not being in their presence. You can think neutral thoughts from afar. That’s okay, and there should be no beating oneself up over that.

I used to think that my forgiveness of someone hinged on whether or not I could be in the same room with them. If I can think of them and I have no thoughts either way, good or bad, that indicates to me that they have lost control over who I am.

Pushing your feelings down isn’t a bright idea either. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. In Ephesians 4, there is some guidance on how to handle your emotions.

What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself.

Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. (Message)

Nowhere does it say to hide your feelings, but you are given parameters on how to conduct yourself. You are not to be a doormat nor a raving lunatic that cannot see anything but red twenty-four hours a day. Why? Because you stay stuck, unmoving spiritually, and cutting yourself off from seeing beyond this realm. You start only to see what’s wrong with the world instead of what’s right.

And that final banana peel that someone carelessly tosses on top of your already packed and ready-to-burst emotional trash bag has you saying and doing things that stunt your growth. Not theirs. Yours.

To put it in scientific terms, to remove the mystery, your choice of how you react and what state of mind you live in most will determine your frequency, like a radio wave. Negative responses keep you in shallow conditions. Heaven is high.

Your spiritual insight and advancement depend on how long you allow yourself to operate in lower states of mind, such as fear, anger, or depression. This doesn’t mean God doesn’t love you. You are limiting and blocking your potential.

If anything, try as much as you can not to do this:

Don’t grieve God. Don’t break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don’t take such a gift for granted. (Ephesians 4/Message)

Believe it or not, when you live in a place where you are not happy, either is God. There is the temptation to believe that you are being punished, causing a victim mentality. If you think that you are supported by a power greater than yourself, you will be.

Gradually, what burned you before, won’t be there, and more won’t be added on. You won’t have to try and find a place to put more of your unhelpful perceptions, causing the problem to linger. It will dissolve itself, and you will be given a peaceful balance.

(That’s not even full yet…)

Simple

In the winter, the sun can be deceiving. Some days when the thermometer is at its lowest, way past zero, everything will be bathed in brilliant light. You can look out the window, and it will appear as if it’s warm.

I was in the bank, and one of the tellers looked longingly out the window. Like she was missing a day at the beach.

“Oh, look,” she said. “The sun is so pretty. It looks nice out there. Is it?”

Both of my hands had the beginning of frostbite just from the short walk from the car. I was astonished at her question because this lady has worked there for a really long time. If she had just flown in from Tahiti, this inquiry would not have been surprising. It’s just a well known fact that the most bitter of weather is accompanied by sunlight here.

“I want you to imagine crawling into your refrigerator, and the tiny light bulb is the sun. It’s like that outside.”

“So, it’s cold then?”

“You aren’t missing out on anything,” I said, trying to have enough feeling in my fingers to sign my name.

If you have to drive somewhere, it’s necessary to have sunglasses unless you don’t value your retinas.

The challenge on days such as this is how to get your windshield clean. Subzero weather causes the fluid to freeze instantly. So at times, you just have to wing it until you can deal with it later. In fact, your entire car can look like you went off-roading because of the salt and the sand that is put down.

You are in good company in traffic, though. Every vehicle looks the same, its original color muted and encrusted with a white ash, chalky like coating.

You really do not want to brush up against that. If so, your clothes look like you just came out of a fireplace. That white jacket that you just had to have will be in the wash every other day with a heavy dose of a whitening agent. The minute you dare step outside with it on, all the dirt in the world jumps on you.

One time, I couldn’t figure out why my steering wheel seemed to have a mind of its own. It wanted to keep veering me off to the right for some reason. I fought with it until I pulled into a parking lot.

My wheel wells were full of thick, heavy snow that was stopping my tires from working correctly. I had to kick it all off. From experience, if you let that sit long enough so it freezes and you go to use your foot to remove it, it’s like stubbing all your toes against a brick wall. You learn as you go.

So you would think there would be nothing new until there is.

I got into my car on a frigid morning, after an overnight temperature of thirty below. We have lived through a polar vortex, so while that might seem unreal to some, we don’t bat an eyelash. You can’t. They are frozen solid.

I pulled out into the street and put on my sunglasses because squinting leads to deeper crease lines and wrinkles which is the gateway to more purchases of anti-aging lotion.

While I was sitting at the light, I heard a weird cracking sound underneath my left eye. That’s when the entire lens fell into my lap. The cold air and the heat blowing at full blast onto my face had created a situation that had caused the plastic to split apart. Similar to putting an ice-cold object into a hot oven. The two extremes don’t mix well.

I examined them and saw the small but fatal crack. It didn’t seem fair to let one of my eyes be shielded while the other would take the brunt of it all. That’s what happens when you raise two kids. You apply it to all aspects of your life forever.

I had to forgo the shades, and I struggled to see the road, but I didn’t have that far to go.

The next few days were cloudy, so I forgot about not seeing until, on a Sunday afternoon, I found myself driving directly into a highly blinding sunset. With my windshield filthy, it was nearly impossible to detect where I was going. I tried to clear it, but it froze, which I then had to defrost. This caused a fog that didn’t help either.

To add to the challenge, I was going somewhere new and not close to home. I was listening to the directions being read to me.

I had this verse pop into my mind:

You walk by faith, not by sight.

No kidding. What about driving?

I made it to my destination, where I stayed until after dark with no glaring orange orb to fight with on the way back.

My sunglasses are an item so mundane, but they play a significant role in my ability to function. I don’t think many of us realize how important something is until it’s no longer available. We take it for granted. It’s always going to be at our fingertips until it falls apart, sometimes right before our eyes. Or on our face.

It gets me to think about what else I don’t give enough credit to. Hand soap, for example. Hand sanitizer. What if that was unavailable or paper products or over-the-counter medicines? What if toilet paper suddenly disappeared from every store shelf because people started hoarding it for no good reason?

Crazy, to think of, I know. Like that’s going to happen.

I can replace what has been damaged, so that’s a good thing. Other times, you just have to learn to go without.

Driving with my vision obstructed was not easy, and I found myself instantly asking God to guide me. Cars were zipping all around even while I was going the speed limit. So while it was slightly scary, I felt that familiar sense of protection encompassing my car.

There was no need to panic but to trust that everything would be okay. God has promised us a helper who is always available to send assistance no matter what occurs. It can be applied to any circumstance. In John 16:13, it says,

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

There isn’t anything that is beyond heaven’s help if we allow it. If you ask, even if it’s the most complicated request ever, there will be a response that will be given.

A highly respected spiritual leader said that her one and only prayer in the morning is this:

“Help!”

The rest of her time with God is gratitude. She doesn’t go through a long list of requests but feels that this is all that is needed for heaven to send what is required.

She has embraced Psalm 139:4 that says,

God, investigate my life; get all the facts firsthand. I’m an open book to you; even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking. You know when I leave and when I get back; I’m never out of your sight. You know everything I’m going to say before I start the first sentence.
I look behind me, and you’re there, then up ahead, and you’re there, too, your reassuring presence, coming and going. This is too much, too wonderful—I can’t take it all in! (Message)

Sometimes you find exactly what you need when you pay attention to and apply what is simple.

All Around You

There is a walking trail nearby that is somewhat hidden. Once you cross the busy street, you step into a place that wraps peace and quiet around you. The wooded area closes you in so you can focus on nature and its simplicity.

It represents how life can change from one moment to the following, often against one’s will. The trees don’t get to decide if their leaves change color and die off. It just happens.

Every wildflower imaginable shows itself in the spring, allowed to grow free and unbothered by anything. These are the fortunate ones who aren’t sprayed and gotten rid of so a perfect lawn isn’t ruined. They aren’t under the control of anyone; they don’t hold back any of their natural ability to be what God intended.

The message that presents itself is that while we spend a lot of our time caught up in planning, organizing, shifting schedules, and delegating, this space is involved in none of that. There are no rules, and time doesn’t matter. The tranquility that can be felt there results from the lack of stress.

All the inhabitants are carefree, not concerned about a single thing.

Everything that exists there relies on an unseen force that has exactly what it needs to happen when it happens. Nothing is chased after or tried to be obtained with a struggle. Birds fly from branch to branch, making their homes without any thumbs. They know what to do and how to do it, guided by the One who put them there.

There is a creek that runs alongside the paved trail. It’s clear enough to see the muddy bottom as it winds its way along, with a current that at times can move quickly. In other seasons, it’s almost at a standstill. It becomes frozen into place in the winter, unable to budge until the temperature increases. It has to wait to flow again, given a rest period that it has no say about.

My daughter and I were walking in the late afternoon on a day that had been nearly 40 degrees. When you have been subjected to twenty-two below windchills, it’s as if spring is right around the corner. That’s until you look at the forecast and see the plunge is about to take place again in the next twenty-four hours. So you get outside while you can.

As we were in deep conversation, I heard to my left a sound that reminded me of a time way long past.

“What is that?” She asked as we both immediately stopped.

“I think it’s the ice.”

We stood there and listened to loud cracks as they moved their way up toward where we were. Nothing was visible but only detectable by our hearing.

When you can’t see something, there’s a slight bit of concern involved as you wonder if you have time to run. It’s that fight or flight mechanism that automatically kicks in.

Because I recognized it, I knew we weren’t in danger.

Unlike the time I had gone into a fish house for the first and only time in the middle of a frozen, gigantic lake. I wasn’t too thrilled about it, but I accommodated an acquaintance who talked me into it. This person loved to spend hours over a tiny hole in the middle of nowhere waiting to catch something.

I kept thinking about the safety of it. Or, the unsafety. But I was assured that nothing terrible could happen. I trusted this person who basically called me a chicken and said I was afraid for no reason. Not only did one say it, another chimed in to let me know that I was being absolutely ridiculous for having such fear. After all, years and years of this had been nothing but fantastic for them.

The place was heated, and it was a home away from home. It would be like I was sitting in my living room, they said.

I was talked into it, not remembering my house doesn’t sit atop an iceberg. Reluctantly, I decided to try it.

I had to put on layers but was told that it would be like a tropical haven with heat enough to strip down to a short-sleeved shirt once inside. It would be a mini respite from the harsh winter that swirled about us.

I got on the back of a snowmobile and was driven way far from the shoreline. I tried to tell myself that there was solid ground below us. Not a lake. Not a hypothermia death trap. I stopped myself from seeing the obituary page with my name on it.

I saw other houses along the way, and no one looked like they were having any issues. I started to feel more relaxed when nothing dangerous happened. By the time I was inside, I wasn’t afraid anymore. It felt like I was walking on a solid piece of ground, so what was there to be upset about?

The heat had been left on as the previous user had just come in. So I started the process of taking off each piece of clothing.

I don’t recall what we were talking about, but I found myself at ease as I looked around. What had seemed so frightening had not been that at all. My imagination had gotten the best of me, I thought to myself.

I turned to look at something to my left, so my back was to my “friend”. That is when I heard thunder as a weird storm had suddenly come upon us. I looked up, wondering why this was happening in January, but in Minnesota, you never know. We might not have hurricanes or typhoons, but abnormal weather conditions can come out of nowhere.

The sound kept coming in waves, and it wasn’t minutes, but seconds, that were going by. The house moved slightly.

Finding no answers in the ceiling, I looked to my right, just about to ask what in the world was going on.

This stalwart, nothing can frighten me individual had bolted without a word. The door bounced off the outside of the house and slammed shut as he ran at top speed away from whatever fate was about to befall me.

The loud rumble kept on going as I walked over and looked out. I could barely see him in the dark, but headlights from another vehicle made it possible as he sprinted like there was a gold medal at stake. Not my life.

I still had no idea what was happening. All had gone back to normal as I stood there.

“Get out of there!” I heard over the strong wind.

“Why?” I yelled back.

You would think that I would have done exactly what I was seeing modeled with all my hesitation beforehand.

“Nothing is happening now,” I shouted back.

Hesitantly, he returned, totally pale. As he quickly grabbed all his stuff, I stood there wondering what the matter was.

“I don’t understand what is wrong.”

“That sound was the ice giving away below us. I have never heard it that loud before. I thought the whole thing was going to sink.”

He was again out the door before I was. A word to the wise: if the people around you run during an emergency and don’t care about your well-being, consider a new social circle. There wasn’t even any indication to me during the trouble that I was to race out of there. I was left to go down with the ship or house.

Do you know there is only One who you can rely on in your times of despair or uncertainty? In Deuteronomy 31:6 it says,

Be strong. Take courage. Don’t be intimidated. Don’t give them a second thought because God, your God, is striding ahead of you. He’s right there with you. He won’t let you down; he won’t leave you. (Message)

The good thing about a crisis is discovering who is for you. Words can be deceiving, but actions never lie.

In Psalm 55:12-14, there’s a stinging truth that I believe we all have had happen at one time or another:

For it is not an enemy who taunts me—
then I could bear it;
it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—
then I could hide from him. But it is you, a man, my equal,
my companion, my familiar friend.
We used to take sweet counsel together;
within God’s house, we walked in the crowd. (Message)

When you realize that someone you trusted is more into their self-preservation than anything, even at your expense, that can be difficult to fathom, especially if you try and see the good in all.

One of the most amazing things I witnessed on that tranquil, isolated trail was the ducks that would glide into the water. Often noisily, they would announce their arrival as they found a spot amongst the other swimmers. I wish I spoke their language.

It was like watching a bunch of people gossip with all their noise.

On one occasion, I saw something I had not noticed before. One of them got startled by something, so the entire group suddenly, in unison, rose with wings flapping to get to safety. It was such an unexpected uprising; I had no choice but to stop because I didn’t know which way this large group would go, and I didn’t want to be in their way.

This time the sound wasn’t one of imminent danger. It was unity as they all got together on the same page. Some struggled to understand, but they weren’t about to be left behind. With the alarm signaled, they all joined together to fly off in a flock, with one leading the way.

It looked like mass hysteria, but on the other hand, not one of their own was left behind or abandoned. They were all looking out for one another.

If you take the time, you can learn a lot from a place where no words are spoken, but profound, powerful lessons are always underway all around you.

King

Some would say she was a determined leader, and that was true. She had to manage many employees, and one catastrophe could pull the rug out from her perfectly orchestrated day at any moment. I could hear her shoes stomping down the hall before she made an appearance.

Her expectations were extremely high, from the dress code to the volume of your voice. If she found a person’s choice of clothing for the day distasteful, she would engage them in a lengthy conversation and then tell that person’s supervisor she disapproved of their appearance.

She was not above producing a ruler to measure where the hem of a skirt fell in relation to a knee cap. She mainly did that to the younger ones she wanted to see wearing apparel from the Victorian era. If anyone questioned this, we noticed they disappeared shortly after. Yes, just like the mafia.

It left us all wondering who her next unsuspecting victim would be.

It was done with the purpose to maintain her position of authority. Literally, she threw her weight around by being intimidating.

The place didn’t run on respect for her; it operated on fear. When I heard her heels coming and saw her entering my office, I knew it usually meant we were about to get reprimanded for some unwritten, vague infraction.

She had at least thirty years on me. Her speech was like a machine gun going off directing, telling, and commanding. As fast as she whipped into a room, she flew out onto her next mission of ridding the place of any peace.

“You are stealing money from the company if you are socializing when you should be working.”

We were forced to attend monthly meetings with that kind of team-building inspirational speech.

“It is considered theft.”

Hypocrisy at its highest.

At one time in my career there, I had worked in the kitchen when I was a teen in high school. At least twice a week, this individual would walk into the cooler and devour the chocolate pudding ordered explicitly for the residents. I never saw a spoon in her hand.

Because the floor was tile, I could hear the cadence of her approach quite clearly. We all would freeze, hoping she didn’t stop to inspect our hairnets and purse her lips as she took in our appearance. We all breathed easier when she disappeared.

“The sergeant is here, I see,” said one of my coworkers who was putting water glasses on a cart.

Once she had ducked into the refrigerator to eat to her heart’s content, an older woman I worked with would always whisper to me,

“It must be her time of the month again, dear. She’s on the rag.”

“That’s what you said last week,” I would reply in a hushed tone.

When she came back out, we knew she hadn’t been in there to run an inventory. Not with pudding as lip liner.

“Make sure you check expiration dates. I think I saw some that were outdated.”

“Okay,” we would say, going along with her game. The clicking of her heels signaled the departure.

Once I moved up into a higher position, the office I worked from was right next to hers. I was fully aware that she was your ally one day, and the next, you were on the hit list.

How did I deal with the madness? I found my sense of humor. I didn’t realize what a great coping mechanism this was. God will have your finest gifts come to the forefront when trying to survive a horrible situation.

When she would swoop in acting uptight, I would say something that would diffuse her anger. Instead of getting her wrath, I would make her laugh, and she would find someone else to chew out. It was a part of me that I had never known that I possessed.

Soon, she was coming in to sit down and rest. She no longer was showing up to rattle off orders but to take a few minutes to talk about life issues that were bothering her. I still would make her laugh, but I also asked her questions to try and build a rapport with her.

It never got to where I wanted her as my best friend, but I understood her better. She conversed about the pressure of her job and the stress of her home life. I got a better understanding of who she was, but she never was a staff favorite. I had learned how to circumvent her tirades and tongue lashings.

I often would walk into the gossip of those she had run over with her harsh behavior. The worst complaint about her was that she would make life miserable behind the scenes if someone weren’t up to her expectations. Every discussion always seemed to revolve around her eventually. She had planted herself firmly in all of our minds by way of bullying.

If a decision had to be made about anything, it always came down to if she would give it her stamp of approval. It had to be strategically laid out step by step, looking for landmines that could trigger a volatile reaction. Even a man’s best-made plans can still be for naught. I heard many staff weeping through the thin walls of my office and hers. Walking on eggshells doesn’t always guarantee bypassing a wicked reaction.

I had watched from my desk people get escorted to their cars after being fired. This wasn’t a gesture of courtesy. It was like watching someone on death row go to the executioner.

We were drilled on state requirements and prepared for drop-in inspections. We were always told to act calm when a state inspector showed, and if they suddenly came, every one of us knew who to contact so the entire facility was aware. There was a chain of command to follow. Her ultimate badge of honor was to be deficiency-free no matter the carnage of staff she left in her wake.

The idea was not to let them see us sweat. She thought if we showed any nervousness, this would go over as guilt. Like we were hiding something.

I was on the phone gathering information on a potential client, and over the loudspeaker, I heard her scream,

“They are here! I repeat! They are here!”If she would have had a nuclear button on her desk, she would have hit it with a hammer.

So much for serenity. I heard the familiar beat of heels getting their workout as she ran for the front door. The atmosphere changed from tense to unbearable. This would be a week of intrusion that we all hoped would result in the news she wanted to hear.

None of us wanted to get a poor result, but the added layer of how she could potentially make us pay if we did was foremost on the minds of all.

As an assistant, it would be rare for me to go head to head with anyone representing the state. Usually, the supervisors of each department were introduced to batten down the hatches. It was one of her worst nightmares to think that one of us underlings would be able to handle a situation and say the right thing.

It was viewed like the segment in the Miss America competition where we had to give answers on the spur of the moment. Minus the swimsuit or evening gown portion. She didn’t want anyone to stumble over their words and appear uneducated. She feared that someone would babble.

Imagine her coronary arteries going into an uproar when I was suddenly greeted by one of the inspectors from the state.

“Can I come in?” He asked, knocking on the door. My supervisor had just left for a few moments, and I had to be her substitute because that was the rule. They could quiz all of us at any given moment.

He extended his hand and introduced himself. Sitting down, I knew from training, I was to close the door. This is when I saw her look at me through the window. Eyes wide and a hard swallow, with a slight head shake, were signs signaling that she thought I was about to blow her perfect record.

I heard her go into her office next door. Probably with her ear to the wall to be sure I was the perfect Stepford Wife.

He started to ask me a series of questions about finances and how payment was processed. I went through each type, pulling out examples of paperwork, explaining each one. About halfway through, I realized he had no idea what I was talking about. He seemed nervous.

“Could you repeat that?” He would say as he took notes on his sheet. So I asked him,

“Do you know the difference between Medicare and Medical Assistance?”

“Not at all. I’m new to this, so you are helping me learn.”

I went from feeling put on the spot to being his mentor in seconds. I knew what it was like not to understand something complex but necessary to perform well on a job.

By the time our interaction was over, he left like he had attended a seminar on the subject and thanked me.

She immediately vaporized in the hall.

“How did it go?”

She had listened through the wall, so she already knew.

This is how I remember her all these years later. I don’t think it was necessarily a personality disorder as it was a drive for perfectionism and power. She conducted herself in a way that left mental scars on many. Some of us could withstand it, while others escaped, often feeling like failures.

No longer able or willing to undergo her temper tantrums, they departed with awful memories of her. For those of us who somehow managed to stay aboard the Titanic, it was for a check. None of us had any loyalty toward her.

Her life stressors didn’t excuse her brutality.

She never considered the pain she inflicted on those around her. While she was so consumed by being monitored by the government, she never thought that God was watching. Every unkind word, act, and power play was being observed by heaven. She didn’t just break the Golden Rule. She crushed it into the ground under her mauve-colored pumps with many spirits attached.

No one is God, so her fate is in His hands.

The other day I saw this advertisement by a fast food restaurant looking to hire:

Why work for a clown when you can work for a King?

I knew the reference, but I saw it in another way.

In many church circles I have been in and out of, one of the repetitive phrases has been that we are “daughters and sons of the King.” So often, we slave under conditions where a message is sent loud and clear. We aren’t valued for what we do.

You might hear a thank you once in a while, but you are very aware of how ungrateful your boss is the rest of the time. You are made to feel that your paycheck is a gift, not a given. While you put in your best effort, you are subjected to the cruel nature of a dictator who is on a power trip.

When you wake up to it because your self-worth increases, there really is no going back. You are done with what was accepted by you before. Boundaries are put into place where there had been none, and you no longer can sit under the weight of someone else’s darkness and be suffocated by it.

You have this epiphany that the fear no longer holds you down. You don’t have to settle anymore to play the punching bag at the office. God has shown you the way, and He is your source for all you need.

You throw all caution to the wind and walk away, freeing yourself from the false tyranny.

In Psalm 37:18-19, God’s character is revealed,

God keeps track of the decent folk; what they do won’t soon be forgotten. In hard times, they’ll hold their heads high when the shelves are bare, they’ll be full. (Message)

Further in verses 25-29,

I once was young, now I’m a graybeard—
not once have I seen an abandoned believer or his kids out roaming the streets. Every day he’s out giving and lending, his children making him proud.
Turn your back on evil, work for the good, and don’t quit. God loves this kind of thing, never turns away from his friends. Live this way, and you’ve got it made, but rotten eggs will be tossed out. (Message)

The choice is yours—Trade in the clown for the King.

(Clowns to the left of me..jokers to the right…)

Unmoved

I didn’t know what I had signed up for. How in the world had I said yes to this? Who in their right mind would want to go on a large machine that would make frequent stops, dangling its occupants above the earth for what seemed like years? 

It didn’t look as bad from the ground. But when I was in the car and slowly moving in a gigantic circle, it was not what I thought it was supposed to be. Why did people flock to do this? Why did they stand in line to be put through such torture was all I could think of. And, when it stopped, to let passengers off, I wished I was one of them. 

I didn’t realize my fear of heights had been so severe until I ventured on to this ride. The person who went on it with me rocked the entire thing like a swing for fun. I decided to close my eyes so in case I died, I would wake up on the other side and not be a witness to my demise.  

That is how I dealt with my fear of high places for a long time. If I didn’t have my vision, I could pretend I wasn’t there. It was similar to a state of disassociation to cope with it to try and calm my racing heart. If I barely opened one eye, all of the colors and sounds would rush at me, paralyzing me with sheer terror. 

I had chosen to go on something that didn’t continually move. That was a poor decision. Just go fast, get it over with. This was stop, start, stop, stop, start. Die, breathe, is it over, no. 

It was different than having motion sickness, which I didn’t have. That is a physical issue, while this one was purely mental. I always felt somewhat guilty after an experience like this. Why couldn’t I act like everyone else and not have this reaction? I don’t think they have support groups for persons with this affliction; if so, they would have to meet at the lowest level of the building. Even the basement might be too high for some. Then you then run the risk of claustrophobia. 

I think most keep it hidden because we know it’s irrational, and it makes you feel like an outsider.

Some people stood up dangerously while they were at the top while others were getting engaged. You might just as well skip the formality and get to the ‘until death do you part’ portion because it could be minutes away. 

There was laughing while most people were thrilled, and all I envisioned were bodies falling headfirst to their deaths.  

Every time I went through this self-inflicted trauma, I should have looked at it as nonsense. Instead, I just thought I had gotten lucky. I had been spared, but what about the next event? One of these times, I just knew it would end with me departing. I was dodging death, I thought. Really, it had gotten to a form of paranoia. 

While at a waterpark, there was a zipline that went across a big pool. Both of my girls wanted to go. I had gotten to the point of dying a million times internally so that they wouldn’t see me afraid. I climbed the ladder with them in front of me and a long line of people behind. If I had been given a chance to go on it immediately, I would not have had time to think. Usually, I could distract myself, but for some reason, all of my mental tricks weren’t working.  

There was no way down except to go across or turn around and weave my way through the masses. I considered my choices, and fear got the better of me. I had to go past elementary school-aged kids and their parents to get back on the ladder to the ground. Even in the middle of that, I felt such disappointment in myself that I couldn’t just stay where I was and endure it. 

The downside of giving in to the panic was that the next time I was in a high place, my body wanted a repeat performance. I had to fight myself to go through with it. Everything screamed at me to not go forward but to turn around as I had previously, but I knew if I did that, it would only get worse. 

I was standing on a set of stairs with water dripping all around me from the slide that they wanted to go on next. That made me feel like every single screw was on the verge of coming undone. 

This is so unsafe! Why is there water falling? The whole thing will fall apart around you, and you could have avoided this. You won’t feel guilty for dying later if you just leave now. Make them get off these stairs. What kind of mom lets her kids go into something so dangerous like this? You aren’t protecting them.  

As drops of water fell on my shoulders and my head, these were the thoughts that relentlessly pursued me. 

When they looked at me, I would just smile and pretend that nothing was going on with me at all. That becomes easy to do if you do it enough. You say you are fine, you act like nothing is bothering you, but it is absolute misery as you stand there, feeling alone like no one gets it. 

Once at the top, I was fine; the standing to go would get me.   

“You always would start to stare off,” my daughter told me later. “Or talk about things that didn’t matter, and you would look at other people.”

That is precisely how I got myself not to flee. I looked around, trying to focus on something that would make me feel safe. I found comfort in knowing that I wasn’t the only irresponsible parent if something bad were about to happen. 

I have not been up high for a while. So, I am not sure whether or not I have beaten it thoroughly. I had at one time gotten it so under control that I did not react physically to what would have before made me feel extremely scared. 

It took sheer willpower to continue to face it, and while I wanted to rush through it, I was often made to stand in it to get over it. 

When you are forced to do that, all the ugliness of it will come to the surface, and you find out how patient you are. Or not. 

You discover whether you trust God when all of your surroundings tell you just to give up, don’t try anymore, surrender and live the way you always have. Comfort zones provide safety, even if they are dead ends and are miserable in the long run. Have you heard the saying that misery loves company? 

Some voices will come from outside yourself to convince you to do the same. It’s so impressive how people will show up during these times to interject their voices of negativity to let you know that they are experts and you should not pursue what God tells you to.

I recall having this happen and being influenced by it, but now that it has been such a repetitive occurrence, I see through it for what it is. When you know the tactics that work against you, you don’t fall for them anymore. It is all orchestrated to keep you down, in your place. They lose their power as you take yours back. I also learned not to tell everyone all my plans. 

Some things are best left between you and God. 

That is where I found my freedom over fear in this particular area. I didn’t have a therapist standing by on speed dial, waiting to hold my hand through every situation. I am all for therapy; I have been there myself, but there comes the point when no one but you will be able to overcome. I had to do the work by listening to what I was told. 

The other day while working with a computer that takes its time being ready to do its job, I was tempted to shut it off and start all over again. I had my finger poised above the off/on button, ready to show it that I was not about to be on its schedule. Yet, I knew that I would probably have to wait longer if I did that. That had been my experience in the past.

I also realized that if something isn’t working, it will be replaced by something new. Eventually, no one wants to keep putting up with something that wastes time. Years you can’t get back. 

God will do that. If He has a specific time for you to act, you must even if you are afraid. Because He shows you and tells you that it is for your good. 

Then, there are other times like what I ended up doing. I walked away from it. I let it malfunction by itself while I was productive doing other things. You will be led to do that as well. If it’s not working for your highest favor in life, then it’s probably not what you need to focus your energy on. Do something else while it sorts itself out without you.  

God does not want you to live in fear. If a person, place, or thing is causing that for you, you can work with heaven on resolving it. It might take a while to get there, but you will realize you are free one day.  

In 1 John 4:18, it is explained what living exempt from worrisome thoughts should be like:

There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love. (Message)

I don’t live utterly devoid of it. I know that if you are trying to combat it, running away usually isn’t the answer because it’s easy to do that, and it never gets repaired. You just move on to the next scary test and are no further along. 

The idea is not to let outside forces alarm you after you have asked God for help. In that strong presence, you can stay undisturbed and unmoved.

Precisely Calculated

I would come home from school and see the chalkboard propped up on my bed. Neatly written, there would be four rows of math problems to solve.

It was the basics of addition and subtraction. She knew I was struggling in this area, so she would sit down and go over my work from school during the day, where she saw that I was not grasping a concept and would write it out.

I actually did not appreciate it, but there was a method behind her madness. While she was trying to help me, I only saw it as more work to do. The first time she did this, she was not so sure I would fill in all the answers. It was a wild card moment because she knew I had this inward drive to do what she said, but there had also been times when I would try to put her on ignore. If even for just a few seconds.

“You got all of these right,” she said later after she checked them. Her tactic of using praise was another way for me to be swayed into continuing with her plan.

This started in the lower grades, and she kept it going. It wasn’t every day, only when she noticed that some of my homework had errors. It increased when I was subjected to a new teacher in second grade. I could not learn from him, and she recognized this.

“You have never had a problem with reading and writing; what is happening?”

They had us rotate to another classroom for other subjects at the school I was in. He was not my permanently assigned instructor. I spent an hour being taught by him about verbs, subjects, and the basics of reading. I usually had no difficulty, but I began to disassociate mentally.

“You have a personality clash with him,” she said.

I had no idea what this meant. All I knew was that he targeted me with unkind remarks, then expected me to treat him with respect. This was confusing and made me withdraw as a way to protect myself. When he spoke, I would become afraid he would run me down. It would happen out of the blue, so I became on high alert to prepare myself.

Because of the mental torment, this shut off my ability to learn.

The way public school worked back then was if you were not scoring the greatest, it was overlooked until it got so bad that it was clear that concepts weren’t being understood. You could move along at a subpar level and not fully comprehend ideas built on one another.

She knew this, so she took it upon herself to make sure I wouldn’t get too far off course. Math challenged me, but literacy and reading had never been a problem.

She spoke to this instructor directly. Of course, he was on his best behavior with her on the phone as she was challenging him and looking into why I was not performing well. I was so young I couldn’t articulate what was occurring to me. He felt threatened, I think, and started to leave me alone. There was some inclination that his treatment of me in his classroom was beginning to go too far, so he retreated.

“Chris, you and I will work on this at home. He’s not getting through to you somehow.”

She still wrote out math problems on the board, and every day she worked with me on the other subject.

Because of her tenacity, I got through that grade and on to the next. Amazingly, this is where my ability to write became pronounced. Being aware on some level that God had given me a gift, she was not about to let him steal it away from me.

I had to face him again in sixth grade for math. (See Problem Solved listed below)

One of the phrases that she said repeatedly was,

“It’s not the problem. It’s how you solve it.”

The first time she said this to me, I shook my head at her. It was like she wasn’t listening to what I was trying to tell her. I knew that girls at school were shoplifting, and they wanted me to do it with them.

I kept declining the offer because I knew it was wrong. Day after day, they would talk of what they had stolen after school and how fun it was. When I refused to go along with them, they turned on me. This was the beginning of my awakening that I needed to cut off certain members of society for my good.

When I finally told her the pressure I was under, her response was,

“Chris, it’s not the problem. It’s how you solve it.”

And that was it. No matter what I would bring to her, that would be her answer. I would go over all the details of the injustice or who said what or was acting like a fool. She would look at me and throw out that answer for everything.

“You ALWAYS say this to me!” I said back to her more than once.

“Because it’s the only answer. You already have the problem, so now you have to focus on responding to it. Are you going to keep going over the issue a million times, or are you going to deal with it and move on?”

I didn’t understand her point then, but I do now. The energy one expends on continually bashing against the wall of what was said or done could be channeled toward getting on with your life. She told me that to stop the situation from mushrooming, I had to see the solution, and you can’t do that if you are emotionally stuck in the situation.

Not everyone will like you or get along with you. What I surprise, I know.

Some people will use you and not give it a second thought. They will deceive you. There will be words and actions taken against you that will not be pleasant, and that is a fact. That was not a concept I easily accepted as a child and sometimes as an adult. She was trying to tell me then not to let it devastate my world.

In Matthew 10:14 it says,

Any city or home that doesn’t welcome you—shake off the dust of that place from your feet as you leave. (TLB)

Nowhere does that say to linger.

God had a higher calling on my life, and He does for everyone. When something comes along to disrupt that, this is when you decide to move past it or hang on to it. You get that choice.

I had heard on so many occasions that if you genuinely have forgiven someone of their trespasses against you, you will continually be in their presence. Not true. I have had God physically separate me from what wasn’t working. It might have appeared that I was shutting people out of my life, but I was prompted to move ahead and leave the toxic part behind. The dead end will not lead you anywhere, and while you are expending your thoughts on it, you are missing out on what is valuable.

You are trading your time for something that will not bring you to go where God wants you to.

In Matthew 8:21, Jesus addressed this concept when he said,

First things first. Your business is life, not death. Follow me. Pursue life. (Message)

Not one time did He sweat it out over what people said about Him or their actions toward Him. And that is a great example to follow. Not always easy because of the pain that gets inflicted. How can you be healed if you are so focused on what caused the wound in the first place?

It’s not about stuffing down your feelings or pretending all is well and slapping on a smile. Been there, always done that. That doesn’t work either. So what is your option? Give it to God. There is a promise in Psalm 147: 3-12,

He is the healer of the brokenhearted. He is the one who bandages their wounds. He determines the number of stars. He gives each one a name. Our Lord is great, and his power is great. There is no limit to his understanding. The LORD gives relief to those who are oppressed. (Message)

The one thing that I have come to understand from her simple response is that the work was to be done by me. It wasn’t up to the other party to take responsibility for their actions. To wait around for that or to expect that would have amounted to absolutely nothing. I had to take what had been presented and transmute it into something that no longer harmed me. That has to happen at a spiritual level, not an exterior one. Until you drop the “I am right” fight that can go on mentally for years and years, your peace won’t manifest itself.

I thought that the worst class I ever had to take was geometry. It was an exhausting study for one who just wanted to read a book and not think about numbers. All the steps involved to get from point A to Z were laborious. There were theorems and proofs to work through regarding shapes and how they related to one another. The concepts started slow but then built over the course.

One of the most straightforward ideas to understand was intersecting lines. This is where two lines meet and share a common point.

We will have to deal with this for the rest of our time here. There will be no way around it. The commonality of it is that God is in the middle of it. As two cross paths, for whatever reason, good or not so great, there will be something learned from it.

As we go on, we will be better at discerning, returning to peace more quickly, able to help those who we are supposed to who are having a rough time and waste less of ours on things that have no eternal meaning. This all opens the way to fulfill your true purpose.

Each time you decide not to let a person or concern roll you and take you down, your insight becomes sharper, more accurate, with fewer errors, and precisely calculated.

(This is not the kind of pie I prefer…)

*Problem Solved

Posted on  by Christine

Please don’t call on me. Please don’t call on me.  This was my daily mantra during his math class in sixth grade. I had a history with this man and had hoped to never be his student again.

Previously I was in one of his classes in second grade, and I had gone from being an avid reader with great pronunciation skills to not being able to comprehend sentences.  I began to bring home extra work to do with my mom to improve my understanding.  She noticed that I was not struggling as she and I worked together.  After a couple of these sessions, she said to me,

“I don’t think you like your teacher.”

“No. I don’t.”

“Why?”

My seven-year-old mind could not articulate clearly why I did not like him.  I just knew I didn’t.  In hindsight, it was my first experience with being intimidated, but I didn’t understand it.  It wasn’t that he was a male teacher as much as his attitude. I recall seeing him flirt with the young female teacher across the hall, and in an instant, his demeanor would become harsh with the children in his room.  He was unpredictable, and I never knew when I would meet his approval or not.  He put me on edge, and I always felt his anger simmering below the surface. To add to my fear, he towered over me. One of my brothers was just as tall, but it was the way this man glared at me from above that made me cower.

During our one on one reading sessions, he would often laugh and ridicule those who were not pronouncing words correctly.   He would use another student to ‘correct’ the one who was making a fool of himself.  It was a form of public humiliation amongst the peers.  Not being able to take the pressure, I shut myself down, and with that my favorite subject became my most difficult.  My voice, which once was strong, became small and weak with the idea that he was going to lash out and make me feel horrible about myself.  The best part of my day was when our hour of reading with him was over, and I returned to my homeroom next door.

When second grade ended, I wasn’t only glad to welcome in the freedom of summer but to be away from him forever.  Forever lasted until the sixth grade. He picked up right where we had left off. This time, he was my math instructor which wasn’t my best subject.   His eyes would scan the room looking for his prey to call up to the board. Hands across the room would fly up, but I always put my hands under my desk to be sure there was no mistaking my desire to stay seated.   Regardless, he would pick me.  I never got used to being in front of the entire class sweating over the board trying to appease him only to be interrupted.  I would just begin to write and he would snap.

“No! That’s already wrong. Go sit down.”  I would quietly put the chalk back in its place while he would then call upon his star math student who would go up and show us all how it was to be done.

“Now, that is perfect,” he would say shooting me a satisfied sadistic smile.

The worst part was the homework.  He would hand out our assignment and expect it back by the end of the day.  For a person who caught on to numbers quickly, this would have been easy.  But, I had such a mental block, partially due to him making me feel stupid, I needed the extra time in the evenings to complete the work.  If a student didn’t turn in the homework of the day, then she was expected to ask him permission to take it home and turn it in the next morning.  Every day I made the short but long walk to his door to ask if I could have an extension. It was a ritual short of bowing and kissing a ring on his hand. Some afternoons when he was preoccupied with impressing some of his young female students, I would get a head nod followed by a grunt. Other times, he would torture me with tormenting questions.

“Can I take my math work home tonight?” I would squeak.

“Again? Why can’t you get it done during the day like everyone else?”  He knew full well I needed the extra time.  After making me feel like an absolute idiot, I would finally get the approval to take my work home.

One day, as I walked slowly down the hall, I noticed him standing in his classroom doorway facing his students.  He was quiet and so was the entire class.  Looking back now, I should have known to just turn around and forget it, but I didn’t realize what I was walking into.  As I neared him, he began to yell at the top of his lungs.

“I told you all to shut up, and I mean it!  I don’t want to hear another word until the bell rings!”  His voice echoed off the walls around me.  Sensing I was behind him, he whirled around.  Screaming in my face he said,
“WHAT DO YOU WANT?” Spit flew from his mouth and his eyes were crazy looking.

“I need to take my math home….” I think I actually whispered my request.

“I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU DO!”

He spun on his heel and slammed the door so hard that the floor beneath my feet shook.  I ran back to my class. When I came in the door, my teacher asked,

“Are you okay, Christine?”

I kept my head down and nodded.  He looked at me for a while like he wasn’t so convinced.  I don’t know how he hadn’t heard the commotion out in the hallway, but I was so paralyzed with fear I could not speak.

I left elementary school and went on to middle school, high school, and college bearing the unseen scars that he inflicted.  I was amazed by the other kids who could whip out math answers while I struggled over each and every problem. I had a teacher tell my mom at a conference that he felt sorry for me because he could see that I really wanted to comprehend the material but it just didn’t stick.  Something was blocking my ability to get to the right answer.  When she told me this I must have been touched by it because on the next test I whizzed through it.  By the end of that year, I had gotten a low B in his class.

The damage wasn’t just confined to school.  If I was with a group of people playing a game where a score needed to be tallied, and I was questioned on my accuracy, I would immediately say,

“I am bad at math.” I was merely verbalizing the thought I was having twenty-four seven.

Usually, I hadn’t made an error, but due to early childhood programming by a bully math teacher, I constantly defaulted to what I thought was true.  If the person in my social circle was somewhat aggressive, I found myself thinking for certain I was at fault and he or she was right. I was continuing to exist as a sixth-grade math student.

The pattern of living this way began to dissolve when I decided to home school my daughter. I knew that I was going to excel with instructing her on reading, writing, spelling, and basic math, but there was the nagging question of whether I had what it took to effectively teach math at the sixth-grade level or higher. The summer before she was to begin that grade, a packet came in the mail that included a math placement test. Before I gave the exam to her, I took it. I was shocked to see that I scored rather high. Calculations that would have been confusing made absolute sense. How had I become one of those kids that I had envied so much?

That is when I realized how my thinking was not correct on this matter.  There were other hints along the way, but I had brushed them off quickly because after all, “I was bad at math.”

When I began home school, I purposefully bought a math curriculum that used a hands-on approach to teaching not only basics but also some geometric and algebraic principles. As I showed her the logic to solving equations, I began to understand that I had not been taught properly. I was slowly beginning to see that I was not the stupid idiot I thought I was. I actually had not been given good instructions nor was I treated like I should have been.

This made me begin to question what other lies I was believing about myself that were not true, and I made a determination to begin an ‘uncovering’ process to free myself from deceptive thinking.  This meant asking God to reveal whatever wasn’t right so I could correct it.   After all, it is promised that ‘all crooked paths will be made straight.’  I am realizing that this is an ongoing process.

This man was in my life more than 36 years ago.  And all these years later I can conjure up his face, his words, and his demeanor.  The difference, however, is that I no longer believe him.  I have put a loving arm around my sixth-grade self, and I have told her,

“You are good at math.  Problem solved.”

Thirst

We all have that one cupboard or drawer, or maybe several of them that we approach with caution. It might even be a closet that holds more than its capacity. You know you have put way too much into it, and you only have yourself to blame when you are subjected to the avalanche that ensues.

The accumulation of plastic containers and lids is one of them. This is where I go and search for two matching pieces and never can find them. They have gotten a divorce and parted ways somehow, even though I paired them only days ago after washing them. I end up looking at every single piece and usually have to put two mismatched ones together just to have a place to put leftovers.

When I move one, there is always another one stuck to that, and when I attempt to shove that one out of the way, two more join forces and try to fall to the floor.

Usually, I am standing on the counter, trying to block the whole shelf of them from getting by me. If one goes, they all will, so it takes a careful hand when shuffling them around. If not, it’s like watching a waterfall, and you just let it happen because it’s a no-win situation. I end up cramming a rectangle lid onto a square shape and call it a day.

Worse than that is the space that houses all of my spices. I have learned not to yank open the door by trial and error because I never know what will come flying out at me. It’s not fun to be knocked between the eyes with an enormous container of seasoned salt. It hurts.

The best way to approach it is to move slowly, and if I see one starting to tumble down, I can use the door as a defense shield to control the onslaught. It gives me a chance to catch them one at a time.

The trouble started long ago when I would go to the store and never recall having a specific one at home. If I needed it and didn’t know if I had it, instead of chancing it, I would buy another one.

That is why I own 10,000 bottles of garlic powder now. If vampires attack, they won’t know what hit them.

“Where is the oregano?” I ask when I am exhausted from wading through all the choices. My daughter has this insight to find what I need, no matter what a mess it is.

“It is on the second shelf toward the back,” she will say from the other room. And sure enough, when I look in the location she speaks of, I find it. Spiritual gifts come in many forms. The Bible says to cast your cares on God, so it counts.

Then comes the process of trying to stack them all on one another so I can walk away peacefully. Because some of them are bigger than others, it’s a puzzle, and if one of them falls, it’s a domino effect that sets me back a while. That box of toothpicks you decided to throw in there for fun, also is not your friend as it empties itself like an offering.

Before I have to make something, and if I remember, I will put the ones aside that I need so I don’t have to go through the hunt. That usually works out well unless someone comes along looking for what they need and rearranges everything. My cinnamon is now long gone into the abyss, replaced by paprika. You don’t dare just grab and go without reading the label, or a disaster awaits. You can easily measure out pepper, thinking you are working with poppyseeds. It’s not a good exchange.

Not long ago, we decided to go through the entire cupboard and toss the ones that had expired. It was so out of control. I thought for sure we had conquered it, but then in less than a month, it was jam-packed.

Have you ever heard of the phrase: Nature abhors a vacuum? This was something that Aristotle observed and said to mean that if there is a space, it will soon be filled, as this is how the laws of nature operate. This theory is clearly at work.

God expanded on this. Instead of seeing it as too much, I started to see it as abundance. While I really could stop this horrible habit of overstocking, it also shows me that we do not live in lack.

I grew up with the mindset of not having enough. This was a prevalent idea based on the statement that ‘money was the root of all evil.’ But, here is what that scripture says,

“For the love of money is the first step toward all kinds of sin. Some people have even turned away from God because of their love for it, and as a result have pierced themselves with many sorrows.” (1 Timothy 6:10 TLB)

It was assumed that if a person had money, they would lose their faith and relationship with God. When that is implanted in your belief system at a young age, you believe that you have to carefully keep yourself from slipping over the edge where material possessions become more important than God.

There was no balance to it, so there is this hidden operating system going on within a person’s subconscious mind where finances must be repelled or mishandled. Maybe you get yourself in and out of debt repeatedly. Or, if extra comes your way, you have to try and get rid of it as soon as possible by spending it. Another possibility is the notion that you deserve nothing, so you live with a poverty outlook.

You aren’t managing money, it is running you.

Several years ago, I started waking up to the fact that I was instructed totally wrong on this subject. God began to have me take notice of nature and all the things around me that had been created. Nothing is lacking or in short supply.

Every tree on my street had too many leaves to count. The same went for all the blades of grass on the lawns. In the winter, the snow piling up reminded me that we were not living without plenty as I tried to move it out of the way so I could get my car out of the driveway. When a couple of flakes got together, it would create an impassable mountain in no time.

In the spring, the weeds and dandelions were a representation of excess. When I walked along a beach, the grains of sand and the vast ocean spoke to the surplus of what surrounds us all the time.

There is no good reason to believe that we will go without when God is in charge. We don’t need to exist in scarcity. If we do, don’t blame the Creator because there is proof that this is a lie.

What stops it, then? Why does there seem to be not enough? Because we have fallen for the falsehood that there isn’t an overflow. Somewhere along the way, we were convinced that we had to scrounge to get what we wanted. It all goes back to what you think.

I saw a movie recently where a man went into the family business even though he had been reluctant to. He became a cold-hearted, ruthless person. We are made to assume that the increase did this to him, so the intention is to send a message to audiences that this can happen to anyone at any time.

When Jesus healed some men that were blind, He said:

“Become what you believe.” It happened. They saw. (Matthew 9:29/Message)

If you transform into what you believe, then you live it. If you think money will make you greedy, and you are a good person, you will block God from bringing in all that He wants to. If you already have miserly ways in your heart, that will be the outcome. It’s not the provision that creates it.

In Psalm 84:11, there is comfort given for those of us who think we are going to become changed by what the world has to offer,

The Lord God is our protector and glorious king. He blesses us with kindness and honor. The Lord freely gives every good thing to those who do what is right. (ERV)

From this, you will become an excellent example to those around you. Many just like you think they cannot have it better because they have absorbed it into their minds. When you know that God is your source, and you are excelling, people will want to know how you stay so calm when there are tidings of bad news daily. The stock market might crash, and then it might not. The gas prices might go up, and what if food becomes so outrageously expensive that you starve? Come to my house. I have some garlic powder I can share if things get tough.

How do you possibly have this reassurance that everything will go your way? Because you trust God. And when you do, you can help others rely on this as well. They can cast aside their anxiety and fears, and soon, others are following the same path.

Have you ever gone to put a sprinkle of seasoning on something, and you aren’t sure how much came out, but you decide to live dangerously and taste it anyway? And you need to hang your head under the faucet running full blast because it’s burning your tongue off? Neither have I.

“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth.”(Matthew 5:13-14/Message)

If we get ourselves in order and are willing to rethink what we thought we knew, others will ultimately be led to wholeness. You will make them want to pursue the steady peace that you possess in the chaos, and it will bring on an unstoppable thirst.

(I forgot all about the candles..)