Death

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

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

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

They said nothing to one another. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

As she finished my last finger, I said,

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

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

“That’s a good idea,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you give me your will?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now was later. 

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

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

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

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

Somewhere amongst the dead files, I had found life. 

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

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

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

Because I don’t belong to me. 

Driving alone with nothing to distract me, I heard,

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

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

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

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

“You need to be a hospice volunteer.”

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

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

“Work with people for now. Not paper.”

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

Then Covid hit, closing the door for a bit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She would then smile and say,

“I am so glad you did.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trust

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

“What is it?”

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

“I don’t know,” she said.

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

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

“My name is on it,” she said.

She picked up one of the three mystery items.

“I’m not even sure what this is.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Does that have it in it?”

“Yes.”

“What about that?”

“Yes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

It makes one wonder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s wax.”

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

“I think for anything.”

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

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

“Each of these is worth $20.”

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

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

“What is this?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yucky Parts

Sometimes it’s the smallest of things that make you realize how much God sees the details. Heaven seems to show up at just the right time to remind you that you have done alright, no matter what memories you might have surface to say otherwise.

She handed me a book that I forgot I even had.

“Where was this?” I asked.

“In my room.”

That happens quite often where we share without me realizing it. But, if it had not been in my possession for that long, then I guess I didn’t really miss it.

I recognized the cover and title from a while ago. I had gone through this phase where I could not absorb enough about people experiencing miracles. It can help you to believe when you read about the circumstances of others, prompting you to follow those leads that God is always putting in front of you.

To say you don’t have any isn’t the truth. You have to get quiet, and one way to do so is to read material about the very thing that you are seeking. While memorizing scripture is excellent, sometimes you need to subject yourself to multiple stories where people of various walks of life have all had incredible things happen to them.

The unusual happenings in the Bible, from the parting of the Red Sea to Jonah being swallowed by ocean life, sometimes don’t seem relevant unless I am stuck in traffic and I need an act of God to move cars along so that I can get back to my real life. The whale thing doesn’t really coincide unless I have to tell someone bad news, and I would rather not. I don’t live where there are whales readily available, though.

What does resonate is when a mortgage gets paid off unexpectedly, a child is healed of an incurable disease, or someone escapes a life that was leading to destruction. The themes are generally the same, with a person needing an unseen hand to intervene and come to the rescue seemingly out of nowhere.

I think it’s difficult to imagine God doing that because we always believe that it’s for everybody else. Our neighbor might fit the bill up the street, but we aren’t good enough to have it happen to us.

Isn’t that what blocks the miracle? Not God, but us.

“I was told to give you that book, and you need to look in the front cover.”

“Why? I haven’t seen this for so long.”

“Just look.”

When she tells me to do something, I do it.

Inside the cover was a note from her that I had used as a bookmark. She had written this to me during the height of a very tormenting and dark time in my life. My marriage had turned into divorce, and I had to figure out somehow how to keep it all on track.

I was constantly concerned that I wasn’t doing enough or being a good mother while working three jobs at once and homeschooling. I struggled to keep a stable environment for them while the world around me looked nothing like it had before.

While some of the existing problems were now absent, a host of other troubles seemed to be cropping up all the time.

One way I can describe it was like walking into one of those rooms where the whole structure is built at an angle. You have to navigate your way through using force to lean and move. You might have to hang on to a few walls to get through it, and right when you think you can let go of the support, you start to fall again. In the middle of it all, you come to a new understanding regarding the instability of life.

Believe it or not, it’s a gift. You realize that what is here today can be quickly gone tomorrow.

I would be rushing through the living room, trying to get to the next responsibility on my list, and she would tackle me with her eight-year-old self. She knew I was faking my way through it all, hiding my pain and trying to convince everyone that all was well.

In a death grip, she wouldn’t let me go and would repeatedly say,

“You are strong, mom. You are strong.”

I learned not to fight to get away because, one, it was pointless because she would suddenly have an iron hold on me that I could not release myself from. She would have both of her arms wrapped around my legs, making it impossible for me to move.

I know it sounds strange, but I had to stand still against my will when this happened. After a few times, I realized that God was speaking to me through her.

I felt the exact opposite of what she was saying. Totally weak and broken down, I was running on fumes, forcing myself out of bed every day, fearing that I would not be able to keep up with it all. And in the chaos of that, I had this shorter version of me stopping me in my tracks, giving me the advice I would give anyone else I saw in the same situation.

I had taught her without knowing it.

When I gave my life to God, I made it my mission to make sure both of my girls understood its importance. I didn’t want them walking the same trail that I had, not knowing who God really was. There were pitfalls along the way as we all learned, and still do, what spirituality really means. My goal was to have God be real to them, not some fictional guy in a book. And here it was on full display as she forced me to take a minute to listen.

“You are strong, mom. You are strong.”

One time, I said to her,

“Our house has been destroyed. Your dad is gone.” I thought that would make her quit doing this. It was inconvenient most of the time.

She looked me in the eye and said with much assertiveness and on the verge of anger,

“He is my real Father!” She pointed up. I couldn’t argue with that, and she made me stand there longer than usual. I learned not to be resistant to it anymore.

When I look at what she wrote back then, I can see now what she meant. Those sessions of making me stop what I was doing were times that God infused me with the strength I needed to go on. I just didn’t know it then like I do now.

She brought to life this verse from Psalm 46:10 that says:

Be still and know that I am God.

Sometimes when you look in the rearview mirror of your life, you see that all isn’t lost. It makes sense now.

In those places that seem impossible to endure, something is changing on the inside of you.

She and I went to a yoga class at a very early hour on a Saturday when the temperature was fourteen below. The drive was nearly forty minutes away, but the class was free, and there would be a litter of puppies.

“I want to go to this,” she said.

I did, and I didn’t. I know dogs and me, and I will want them all. I wasn’t so sure I could do all the moves either, but I was willing to try. Above all of that, I can never say no to her.

As we progressed through a flow of maneuvers that required balancing, many in the class around us were trying not to fall over.

“Relax your face as you move along,” the instructor said randomly with her back to us as she demonstrated, and we followed.

Immediately a woman in the back row said,

“I feel called out,” and started to laugh.

When it got quiet, and all of us were shaking uncontrollably, trying to stay upright while forcing our muscles to be more productive, the leader said,

“Breathe through the yucky parts. You are becoming a better person.”

If I have learned anything, you must know that God is holding your hand, everything will work out when you think it won’t, and now is the time to breathe through the yucky parts.

(I’m not crying..YOU are crying….)

After the Burn

It was a great idea born out of not being able to leave the house safely. We had been warned that the worst blast of cold air was coming, and if you stepped one foot outside, you better have your funeral arrangements in order. 

You don’t take your chances with a windchill forecast at almost 60 below. We were making history, they said. With that announcement, the frantic rush to the grocery store always comes, and as I don’t panic, I watch others who do. I just happen to pop in, and I forget we are on the verge of the world coming to an end. Again. 

If it’s not a meteor ready to scrape up against the globe, sending us spinning off the axis, it’s the ice age resurrecting itself that will for sure this time put us into deathly hypothermia and kill us all. 

I have seen things in stores that I often do not understand when we are on red alert, like the lady in the spaghetti aisle grabbing every jar of sauce while wearing multiple black trash bags. This was to ward off the virus when it first began. 

I think there may have been some time spent on the internet researching what germs may or may not adhere to. She was on the cutting edge of an unknown scientific fact, I’m sure. It definitely wasn’t to create a fashion statement.  

I felt guilty taking the one I did. She wasn’t in the organic section, but she eyed me from afar as if I was stealing, with sweat on her brow.  

I walked away from Darth Vader, hearing the sound of her plastic wardrobe crunch with every move she made. I wanted to tell her to hang on to that for when we experienced a cold snap again. Make it versatile for pandemics and artic freezes.  

Once you get past the hunting and gathering portion of the impending doom, and you know you will be inside, you start to think of those chores you have not gotten around to. Tasks that you push aside because no one will ever know if you did it or not, except the people who live there. 

I used the oven, and someone, probably me, had the unfortunate mishap of a piece of food falling on the burner below. Every time it got hot, smoke would start to roll out. It caused me to look further and see that not one of us had taken the time to attend to it. 

With it being so cold, I figured why not turn on the self-clean cycle and let it do the work while I buried myself under a million blankets? 

I had to look online to find the instructions as the owner’s manual was long gone. Once I shut the door and set it at the highest setting, I walked away to live a life of polar vortex luxury. 

As long as the furnace kept up, we were secure. I figured with the stove going at its highest heat, it would help the house stay warm. I had done this in the summer one time, and it caused the air conditioner to be on the whole time it went through the process. 

I thought I was being so bright this time.

Until we all couldn’t see each other over the black haze that suddenly started filling the entire upstairs, and the smoke alarm went off. 

My first inclination was to open the oven door, but it has that safety feature where it locks until it cools down, so a crazy person trying to open it can’t. Someone at a drawing board had thought this through. I guess it was so that I wouldn’t burn off important parts of myself.

There will be a person who needs to open this, and we have to make it so they cannot do that for their own good. Let them inhale the smoke instead. That’s much safer. 

The next thing to do was grab a dishtowel and try to get the loud blaring sound to quit. If this was going off in the dead of night, that is one thing. But, this was not an emergency that warranted the alarm. So this life-saving device was now just annoying. Once I got it under control, I knew I would have to open up windows.

“I cannot believe I am doing this!” I said to the two people who already think my ways are a little off.  

One of them puts tags on my Christmas presents that say: To: Danny Tanner.

The dad from Full House who has this weird cleaning obsession on the show. 

There are crucial moments with your kids where you just know they live their lives trying to just get past your dumb ideas. And, it was so apparent in their eyes as they watched me frantically claw to get fresh air in. The air that most wanted to keep out and we had been warned about to avoid. 

I heard the furnace click on, and the smoke alarm went off again. We were freezing, breathing in cough-inducing fumes. But, the oven was the cleanest it had been in a long time. Whatever had been burnt to a crisp in there was long gone. Looking back now, I probably wouldn’t make that same decision. 

There are other situations such as that one that I would not ever repeat, like being in the sun with no protection on my skin. When I was younger, I gave it no thought. You learn as you go, and when you fall asleep on your stomach while floating on a lake, it helps you to understand why that was not a good life choice. Food isn’t the only substance that can become scorched. 

It wasn’t so bad right after I woke up and went back inside. It was that night when I was unable to move without a billion needles going through my whole back. Just moving my toothbrush across my teeth was volcanic. 

My mom had a lotion that she attempted to rub into the area. With her hands. On my skin. Not a spray from halfway across the room. No, it had to be applied by her rough, calloused hands all over me. 

“Chris, just stand still. I need to put this on you. Why did you stay out there so long?”

These were the questions that I never understood when she asked me. My lips were too cracked to even answer. 

“My face hurts,” I said, barely able to speak.

“It hurts me more,” my dad said as he came whipping by, laughing. Never helpful. 

The worst part of the healing process was when that area was accidentally exposed to sunlight too soon after. It was instant pain. Or if any type of noun touched it. Like bed sheets, clothing, anything. It all was excruciating.  

The next part was gross as my body shed off all the dead skin. I flaked everywhere I went as a reminder that I had made a bad mistake. 

Years later, I had a few moles removed because they claimed they were precancerous.  

“It must be from that time you spent too much time in the sun,” she said.  

I had taken sunblock seriously after that. To the point of getting the highest SPF possible. Still, I have always had this slight paranoia that it might happen again when I least expect it. You just don’t forget the experience of a charring session like that. 

I have found that the same can be said for an emotional torching as well. When you have been through a situation that has been difficult, but you make it, anything that comes close to reminding you of that time makes you want to run away, just like finding shade to not inflict more hurt. 

I cannot go through life avoiding the sun completely. And, really, it’s not the light’s fault. It was the amount of time I spent in it which caused the damage. I then had to learn how to handle it differently and not let history repeat itself. 

That is what boundaries are for. You know those things that you put down to make it clear that you won’t put up with certain things happening in your life anymore. Maybe you figure out your value, so you don’t want to be around people who don’t see you as God does.  

Another thing that happens is you start to see those pieces of yourself where you still struggle and need God’s help. They are there to remind you that you spent too much time being fried. And when you feel that familiar uncomfortable feeling, it is time to acknowledge it and address it. It’s better to bring it into the daylight.

When something triggers a bad memory, that is not the time to run and hide, but to give it to God so it can be taken care of. Like this from Psalm 34:18:

If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there;

if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath. (Message)

I slept through my sunburn. The difficult part came later when I had to let my skin re-establish itself. I had to take precautions, be more mindful and let myself regenerate to live without suffering. 

Whether it is physical or mental, this same treatment can be applied after the burn. 

Get the spray..for real..

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…)

Small Stuff

Going into the building was the last thing I wanted to do. So many changes were happening at once, but I was moving forward, trying to make life seem normal after the wreckage.

I was newly divorced with two young girls, one eight and the other barely thirteen. It was up to me to make sure they saw me as confident because I felt enough damage had already been done.

I had a mix of emotions, from guilt, fear to relief. It was as if I would circle through those repeatedly, never really staying secure at any given moment. I expected bad news to come all the time.

My lawyer had me complete paperwork to apply for medical assistance through the state. I had a family member make sure to tell me I was on “welfare,” which disturbed me. It was stated in a way to let me know that I had fallen to a level of low that they for sure never would.

I had difficulty believing I was relying on taxpayer money to live. It brought me so much shame that even with “free” healthcare provided, I rarely went to see a doctor, even if I was deathly ill. And during this time of high stress and negative thinking, I was sick a lot.

I chose not to accept food stamps, which seemed like I totally hadn’t plunged into darkness. It gave me a shred of hope that I could at least buy food and household items without it being a handout. The comment by my relative had bothered me so much that I brought it up to the therapist I was seeing. I had been given a court order to attend counseling sessions, so the girls and I complied.

The therapist’s response was,

“I would gladly pay for you to get back on your feet again. For you and your girls.”

I never forgot the remark that was made to me because it was cruel, but it also made me see how far I had come to understand all of this where before I hadn’t.

If someone mentioned that their marriage was over, I used to let it go in one ear and out the other. I had absolutely no understanding of the pain involved, so I stood silently by. But after mine, I was able to ask questions, understand, and put myself in that person’s shoes. I wanted details so I could help if I could.

I realized that the demeaning comment that was made was from ignorance.

I had to deliver the applications to the office building following legal advice. I waited in a room with countless others who all had the same dead look in their eyes. Many had small children with them while others were like me, sitting with a number in hand and a packet in the other.

A few floors down, there was a community food shelf that my dad volunteered for. Every Friday, he would get up early and drive to various grocery stores to pick up boxes and donations. He would then drop them off and go to work handing out items to those in need. He knew I was struggling mentally with all of this, so he would pull up into my driveway and carry in what had been left after every one of his shifts.

“I just brought you a few things,” he would say to get past my objection.

Because my kids were so happy to see him, I allowed him to help me. But, I hated that I was in this situation, to begin with. It took a while for gratitude to replace my low feelings.

Because money had been so scarce, I had even cut back on what I ate; It was a form of self-punishment for being one half of a failed equation. I felt like I deserved nothing good, and the girls were innocent victims, so I wanted everything to go to them.

I worked three jobs, home-schooled, and felt like I was living in hell. All the outdoor work was mine to contend with, from raking, mowing, and snow removal. I couldn’t afford to hire anyone, so I had to learn quickly.

When they wanted lights on the house for Christmas, I got on a ladder and did it myself.

I had asked for help from someone who knew how, but instead of coming over and showing me what to do, he tried to explain it over the phone. This was not helpful at all. It reminded me of this verse, 1 John 3:17:

If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love? It disappears. And you made it disappear. (Message)

It sent the message to me that I wasn’t worth the time.

I went to church, prayed, read my Bible, and taught various children’s classes, but I was fighting off panic attacks, sleepless nights and felt dread as if something terrible could happen at any moment. Yet, I slapped a smile on and pretended that all was well.

Somehow, a friend convinced me to go in to have a physical. I think she could see the stress wearing on me.

“If something happens to you, what would happen to your kids?”

Because I solely existed for them, I listened and went in. A few days later, I received a phone call.

“The results of your mammogram show something abnormal on your left side. We need you to schedule a follow-up appointment so we can run more tests.”

The next phone call was from a support counselor.

“Are you afraid of getting a cancer diagnosis?“

“No,” I said. And I meant it. I was so numb and worn out from all the turmoil of my life, I didn’t care anymore.

“Are you sure you aren’t worried?” I didn’t have any of it left.

“No,” I repeated. “God will help me. Whatever the outcome, I will be okay.”

I could say all the right things robotically, but I didn’t trust God altogether because of all the bad that had come my way.

A few weeks later, I was in another waiting room with a lady who had the same appearance as what I had seen in the financial assistance office. It was the look of dejection and uncertainty. The person with her tried to cheer her up, but she kept crying. When her name was called, she slowly got up, slumped shoulders, and went off to find out her fate.

Usually, that would have made me afraid, but I wasn’t. When you don’t care anymore, fear can’t even find you.

“We saw a shadow on the left.” The room was dark and only lit by the machine. “We want to do a test that will give us a sharper image,” the technician said.

As she went through various procedures, she asked me about my life. So I told her everything. All of it. It poured out of me without any emotional upheaval.

She stood back from me for a minute and said,

“Do you know how strong you are? Do you see that in yourself?”

“No,” I said.

“You are so strong. I have never met someone as strong as you.”

And, yet, I felt alone and weak.

When she said “strong,” I instantly saw my youngest daughter hugging me. When the breakdown of our family began, she would run up to me, throw herself around my waist and not let me move. No matter how I tried to get away from her, she would hold me in place, and she would say over and over,

“Mom, you are strong.” This little eight-year-old child was the voice of God, and I hadn’t even realized it.

The results came back that nothing was out of the ordinary, so I was spared.

Many more trials have come since then, and most not pleasant; however, I have learned in each instance. And I have seen the faithfulness of God.

The other day, when I said something out loud that was bothering me, the same girl who told me I was strong 15 years ago looked at me and said,

“Mother, you hear from heaven! Why would you even worry about this?”

She’s right. Sometimes we don’t see in ourselves what others can, and a reminder is necessary. God can bring that to you when you need it most. Even in a coffee shop.

I was with my oldest daughter at a mall, and to our surprise, all drinks, no matter the size, were $1.00.

So I let her pay. On the wall, we saw a row of pins hanging. A guy who worked there said,

“Take one. They are complementary.”

I chose the one that has been my lesson while here on earth. The enormity of a problem is only as much as you worry about it.

When you put it into God’s hands, you become an observer, as you watch heaven take over and transform it, you stress less about the small stuff.

Burn Out

It all starts with a simple sentence, spoken by one of the three of us, that causes time to slip away as if we have been abducted by aliens.

“Look at this candle.”

That always begins a session of smelling, comparing, discerning, deciphering, and sometimes gagging as we go along the shelves searching for the perfect one. And just because it is displayed in an attractive jar does not mean that is the pick. We have specific criteria that have to be met.

Not too floral. Not too much like a dirty sock that hasn’t seen a washing machine in years. Not the scent of a deceased relative’s musky perfume. Not anything that resembles something forgotten in the fridge for a while. Or an armpit in need of deodorant.

There’s a whole section to be avoided at all costs. The enticing aroma of cinnamon rolls, sugar cookies, or salted caramel needs to be handled with discipline. If those get lit, we all become ravenously hungry, causing a storm of binge eating and wanting to bake. Anything with the word “grandma” on it usually means something associated with a calorie-laden concoction that will lead us down a diabolical path.

We have rigorous standards, and sometimes none of them meet the requirements. When the sneezing starts and the sinus cavity is burning, it’s time to stop.

We have fallen prey to purchasing specific ones online that, once burned to a certain point, a small jewel is exposed. Just like the lottery, it could be worth millions. So far, not.

On the more conventional side, those once burned can be converted into a wine glass. While the candle is a long-forgotten memory, the jar can be used until it gets knocked off the counter shattering into a thousand shards of glass, and you wish you were not barefoot right then.

“Put a light in every room so you are aware of my presence.”

This was at a time when life was at its height of uncertainty. I was not sleeping, eating very little, and worrying about everything. I told a counselor who I was seeing at the time that I felt like I had jumped out of an airplane and was in a free fall every day, anticipating a crash into the ground.

Panic attacks came out of nowhere as I tried to regain some normalcy even though God remained with me. The shadows would descend, leaving me unable to breathe and wanting to die. When I would return to reality, I would beat myself up for not having enough faith.

So when the simple message came to me while I wrote in my journal, I knew that God was sending me an answer.

I had very little extra money, so I had to find a way to buy inexpensive candles for every room. We had some, but I needed more, and I couldn’t afford to purchase the high-end kind made with exotic ingredients. My existence had become low-budget.

The dollar store was my best friend for things such as this. I placed tall, white, unscented candles throughout my house to remind me that I wasn’t alone. I was aware of them enough to have my daughters help me blow them out at night or when we left, but I often forgot about them until I would come across one burning brightly. This would instantly ground me in the fact that I was protected and God was in charge.

“Help! Oh, no!”

I heard this from the bathroom. That is never my favorite thing, and I must have been out of energy because I did not jump up as usual. When your child yells for you, particularly from that part of the house, you dread what will be asked of you.

“Mom!”

I looked at my older daughter, and she looked back at me. I did not budge. Neither did she.

“Help!” came another plea.

I couldn’t handle another thing.

“What is going on in there?”I said to the one staring at me. She got up to investigate and cautiously opened the door.

I watched the expression on her face go from neutral to horrified in a millisecond. She kept cringing and flinching, not saying a word.

“What is going on?” Now I was on high alert just because of her body language.

“There’s a fire,” she said, staring blankly forward.

“What?!”

Now I was on my feet.

“The rug is on fire.”

My youngest daughter, fully clothed, was standing on the toilet seat, trying to avoid the potential raging inferno going on below her. She had decided to wave a piece of toilet paper over the open flame for fun, thinking she could flirt with fate. When it caught ablaze, she threw it toward the floor onto the rug, setting off a more significant problem.

I quickly threw water on it, and from that moment on, the bathroom went without God’s presence.

While flames can be beautiful, I have seen them get out of hand. My dad demonstrated this quite professionally.

My parents had gotten a fireplace built into their basement when I was twelve. My mom was in seventh heaven, while he wasn’t so much enamored because he had to put in all the work.

“I want you to make a fire,” she would say, and his whole countenance would immediately drop.

This meant his evening would be spent building it, messing with the damper, and keeping it going. For him, it was a chore, and it would infringe on his time to not exert himself.

I knew he hated every minute of it, not only because of the effort but because he wasn’t totally confident in his abilities. A night of tranquility would take a turn when all was going well, and then the smoke would be pouring into the room out of his control.

There would be “why” questions from her, all the lights turned on, and swear words flowing from him.

One Sunday afternoon, I came home from ice skating, and the minute I walked in, I could smell burnt wood. My mom was in her room reading, so I surmised he must have attempted to learn how to use it better during daylight.

The dark haze burnt my eyes the minute I started going down the stairs. It appeared that no one was there through the heavy air, but then I saw him lying on the floor as if he had suffered from smoke inhalation.

They say where there is smoke, there is fire. In his case, there were barely glowing embers.

He was sound asleep just below the thick fog. Now the hard decision. To wake or not to wake. He never liked it when his nap was interrupted, but I threw all caution to the wind.

“Dad!” I said. Nothing. “Dad!”

Still no response. I had seen him sleep like this many times, so I knew he had not died.

I shook his shoulder.

“Wake up!”

“Chris! What do you want!” Yelling before his eyes were even open.

“The room is full of smoke.”

He blinked, trying to see me.

“You need to get up.”

Now I knew first hand the misery my mom went through every morning trying to catapult him out of bed for work.

He looked at me like I was a ghost materializing out of a mist. He committed to sitting halfway, came to, and suddenly realized that he had made a fire. That’s when the swearing started, and I left to do my homework.

The final straw came when the entire family was over, and he started a fire outside the fireplace. He always used a small propane torch to get it started. He set it aside, not realizing it was still on. While he frantically poked and stirred up the kindling, a vase filled with dry, ugly weeds that she thought were decorative went up in seconds. He was oblivious while everyone yelled to get his attention.

That was one of the last fires I ever saw him attempt; he was over it.

Our walk with God can be just as contentious. A burning light in every space in my house brought me peace, but the same element made my dad highly frustrated. When things start to go wrong, it’s easy for some to turn on the One who would offer the most help. But it’s vital to remember 1 John 1:5:

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him, there is no darkness at all. (NIV)

When you start to believe that God isn’t on your side or has your best interests in mind, that is when resentment or distrust can begin to take hold. And the lie has to be dismantled.

Romans 8:28 states:

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (NLT)

When you find yourself feeling as if all things familiar seem out of control, apply this: 1 Peter 5:7:

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (NIV)

Instead of carrying the weight of what seems like a burden, give it to God, so you can go on being a glowing lantern in the world and never burn out.

Remaining To Be Seen

How many times did I have to hear her tell this story? It was ingrained in my mind, and I didn’t fully believe it. It would come out of nowhere, and it made me uncomfortable sometimes because it gave off the idea that I was “special.” I didn’t want to be perceived as that.

“Your dad thought you were going to be a boy, and I knew we were going to have another girl.”

This is how the soliloquy always started. She would get this far-off look and go back in time.

“We chose your name because we knew we could go either way with it, and you were destined to either be a Christine or a Christopher.”

When I started printing my name, I realized the first part looked like a major holiday. She displayed all of the cards after getting them in the mail. I took one of them to her and said,

“Is Christmas named after me?”

I pointed out the first five letters. If she said yes, my life at six years old was about to change for the better.

“No. It’s named after Christ and not Christine.”

What a major disappointment!

“The “mas” part means mass. So together, it means Christ’s Mass, and to celebrate his birth.”

This is why I was at church on Christmas Eve at midnight, trying not to fall asleep. I would never make kids do that if it was named after me. There would have been one present after another, candy and no school, ever for the rest of our lives. Instead, it was a hot environment with lung-burning incense and words spoken in Latin in low monotone voices. That was a tranquilizer right there.

“Your dad was so sure that you were going to be a boy that he went out and bought a set of infant pajamas that said little slugger on them. He wanted a boy to play baseball.”

Somehow his wish was granted. I played softball for eight years, and he was at every single game.

He was so accustomed to having three sons ahead of me; he tried to lure me into the fold. I think he secretly wanted to outnumber the girls and get an advantage over my mother.

If I didn’t want to eat something, he would look at me and say,

“Chris, eat that! It will put hair on your chest!”

“John! Don’t tell her that! She really won’t eat it now!”

She was right because I visualized everything. I was not about to leave that table looking like a gorilla because he convinced me to eat beets. No way.

I watched every football game with him, and he always had me open the numbers that he had bought at the office.

“Open these, Chris. You have better luck than I do.”

It never made sense to me, but I took the paper that was sealed and opened it. He always won some small amount based on the score, and I recall two zeros won him $50.

“Here. Sip the foam.”

He would hand me his mug of beer. I absolutely hated the taste, but it was his, so I slurped as he said to.

It was an indoctrination to tip the scales in his favor.

“The day I went into labor with you, he took his time. I told him we had to go, and he made himself a cup of coffee, took a long shower, slowly shaved every hair off his face, and had breakfast. I kept telling him to hurry up. He thought it would be like the other five. A long, laborious process and him sitting in a waiting room. I told him it wouldn’t be that way this time.”

The nurse had gotten her into the room and settled.

“I think you should call the doctor right away,” she said.

“Oh, it will be a while.” I will be back to check on you in a little bit.”

“That was so frustrating not to have anyone listen to me. I knew it was going to happen fast.”

She pushed her call light, and when the nurse appeared again, she insisted.

“You need to get the doctor now!”

The nurse saw that my mom was right and ran to get help.

“The obstetrician slid into the room and caught you at the last second. And then the moment came!”

This is when the story always took a higher, dramatic turn.

“I told your dad that I didn’t enjoy looking into a baby’s eyes because they never looked back at me. It was like a blank slate with nothing there. But not you! You looked at me, and I said…look! She has an understanding of things, and she came here with knowledge, and God sent her here with a message.”

I didn’t fully believe her recounting of this because she also went around telling everyone I had blue eyes way past the point of it being a possibility. She desperately wanted one of her children to have my dad’s colored eyes, but her predominant brown always won out.

“I never got my blue-eyed child! Actually, his eyes can be blue sometimes and switch to green. I would have taken either one.”

I innocently asked him once,

“Why do your eyes change color?”

“They are green when I have money and blue when I don’t.”

I believed him, so I always looked at him closely before executing my begging session for spare change.

“You had something that no other infant I held ever had. Instead of a dark void, you were born with wisdom, Chris.”

She had seen her fair share of dealing with births, from her own to those she assisted with as an RN.

In later years, I searched the meaning of my name and found out it means “follower of Christ.” She knew what she was doing, sealing my association with God.

She also gave me this piece of advice,

“You can always tell what’s going on with a person by looking them in the eye.”

Her words came to life for me recently when I was at a restaurant with a friend. She travels with her small dog everywhere she goes, and she puts her in a high chair. The staff at this particular place think something is wrong if she doesn’t show up with her pet. Not a single patron took offense, and everyone who looked our way would smile brightly.

We had been there for a while, and a lady on her way out stopped.

“That is the cutest thing I have ever seen!”

Then, she broke down crying.

“I had to put my beagle down a few months ago.”

She was so overcome with grief we had her pull up a chair. She told us that her significant other of twenty years had died unexpectedly in March. He was driving his semi-truck, and an autopsy later showed he had suffered a blood clot to the brain, killing him instantly. A man saw what was happening and took control of the truck, and called for help.

I found out she was in her mid-70s, while he had been 64 and one year away from retirement.

“Do you feel his presence?” I asked.

She wasn’t drawn to us to just admire the dog.

“Not really. I miss him terribly.”

Her pain was so severe, and I felt a crushing pain in my chest. She felt as if her life was turned upside down financially, and fear gripped her regarding how she would take care of a house all by herself. As she spoke of all of her worries, she cried harder.

I knew this type of fear, not from death but from a divorce. Except she was much older than I had been when my unexpected adjustment arrived.

“He’s standing right here. I can see him, and he isn’t gone.” I tried to break past her pain for just a second.

I start to feel like I’m saying the same thing to different people, but this is how it seems to be. Those who have gone on stand near or behind those to who they are connected to. This seemed to calm her down a bit.

“I do feel him sometimes on the side you say he is.”

“What about lights? Mine used to get clicked on and off when my mom first wanted my attention. I would suddenly be sitting in a dark room, and then they would blink back on. Does that happen to you?”

“Oh. Yes. I have a lamp that does that all the time.”

“That’s him. He’s trying to tell you that he is around. And I know you have to grieve, but try to take yourself out of it for a little bit. When you feel happy, that is the frequency he is on. Heaven isn’t on anything but joy.”

“I kept seeing a cardinal in my daughter’s yard all last summer, and it would come to sit by me. Do you know about what is said about that?”

Do I know about the symbols of cardinals showing up to represent a message from heaven? Definitely.

“Yes. I know about that a lot. So, you said at first you didn’t feel his presence, but you do. He isn’t gone from you at all. You miss the physical part of who he was, but if you can feel his presence, it will help you heal. It will help you overcome the loneliness.”

I took her hand and asked God to have her start seeing what I could.

By the time she said goodbye to us, I saw her smile reach her eyes. I was witnessing Psalm 147:3 in action:

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (NIV)

“I’m so glad I met you both,” she said on her way out. There wasn’t a trace of one tear because I helped her realize this from Psalm 32:8 that says:

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. (NIV)

They say that the eyes are the window to the soul. When you allow God to take over your life completely, all else will fall to the wayside and that will be the only thing remaining to be seen.

I still think it should have been named after me…

Do Over

“We had a common-law marriage so that we could get a tax deduction,” she said in a monotone voice.

That was a new one, I thought, as I wrote it down in the margin. It didn’t exactly fit into any of my categories, and I would have to work my magic and present it less shockingly.

“I thought he would someday commit, but he wanted his freedom. Signing a paper made him feel trapped, and I held on waiting, thinking he would change his mind.”

Her voice was lifeless, like she was tired of answering this question.

She wasn’t my usual interview for a social history. As part of the intake information I had to gather, I met with those who were newly admitted to the nursing home to get their stories. Most of them were similar with staunch religious upbringing, early entry into matrimony, 19 kids and counting, traditional roles of running a household, and then the death of a spouse.

I usually could write it with my eyes shut, and I hadn’t had this type of answer given to me before.

She was a bit younger than most of our residents, with long, wild grey hair and clothes that were somewhat more modern. This was back when assisted living, and home health care was not yet prominent like it is today, which she would have been a prime candidate for now.

While physically she was in good shape, she had developed mental issues that caused unsafe living conditions.

She had done a lot of drugs that had contributed to the problem as she aged. Her life experiences were the exact opposite of what I usually had people tell me.

“We didn’t have any children, but I thought I was happy.”

“You weren’t? This wasn’t what you wanted?”

I was under the false assumption that everyone from the free love movement was blissfully content, living contrary to what everyone else was doing. That’s how it had been advertised.

“No. Toward the end, I tried to say that I wanted more, and he walked away. By then, we couldn’t have kids, but I wanted the paper signed. We ended up getting into a huge fight over it, and he left. He came back later to get all of his things, and that was it. He immediately moved in with someone else. I knew his behavior wasn’t right for a long time, but I just put up with it. I kept thinking he would change his mind.”

“That’s too bad,” I said.

I recall being at a loss for words. She had bought into a non-traditional way of thinking that hadn’t worked how she thought it would.

“I most regret not having kids. I feel like that was taken away from me. I thought I would be okay without that, but now I feel I have made a mistake.”

She had chosen to isolate herself as a way to cope and was struggling now to reside where she wasn’t alone.

These were the times during my social worker days where I had to help people grieve a loss. Sometimes, like in this case, I just listened and held her hand.

“None of this will be public knowledge,” I told her. “But you can talk to me anytime you want about it. You did the best you could, right?”

Somehow God would come in and calm the situation down when I had no idea how to. This was before I even had a prayer life; that is how good God is. I was rescued from many situations when I didn’t know what to say.

“Yes. I did what I thought was right at the time. I have not ever gotten over it, though.”

“You can’t go back and change it, but you can make a new life.”

She did have extended family, nieces, and nephews that visited. Slowly, she adapted to her surroundings, where I often saw her talking to other people, and she looked more relaxed. When we had kids come into volunteer and do activities, I made sure to pair her up with one because I knew she had missed out on raising her own.

Little by little, she let go of her past and let God fill in the empty places with new experiences. She quickly found herself surrounded by a supportive group of women that had gone through loss differently, but she could relate to.

Years later, I actually met a woman who had come through a worse situation.

I started with the usual questions of birthplace, parents’ names, and sibling count.

“I got married at sixteen. My family knew his, and they had a bakery in a town next to ours.”

While she became pregnant multiple times and ran the house, her husband’s responsibility at the bakery grew. He assumed the role as sole owner, and he was gone for long hours at a time, but she accepted it because they had a family to raise.

She spent many evenings alone as he would decide to stay overnight instead of making the commute home. He had to be up at the crack of dawn to bake, so it made sense not to trek back to her.

“We had eight children, so I was never without something to do. I sewed their clothes, helped them with school, made all the meals. It wasn’t an easy life, but I did what I had to do.”

I jotted down her words, and I was going to move on to the next subject.

“I thought he was at work day and night, but that’s before I knew he had a whole other family.”

I remember looking up at her trying to conceal my true emotions. Did she say that he had another family? I thought people only did shady things like this in the 1970s. This man was way before his time, and I had a lot to learn back in my early twenties.

“I don’t understand,” that is all I could come up with.

“I found out from someone in town that he was married to another woman in the town where the bakery was, and they had children. He wasn’t working all those hours as he told me.”

I had to write this angle into her biography, but I didn’t want it to be like the National Enquirer!

This was supposed to be a way for the staff and other residents to get to know her. We used this as an ice breaker technique so a new person was introduced to the community. Her picture and what I wrote would be posted in the main lobby.

This was to tell others about her interests and strengths. I was going to have to do a lot of cutting and pasting.

“It was hidden from me for years. I’m not afraid to talk about it.”

“So what happened? You found this out, and then what?”

“I went looking for the truth. He had set up a whole life with this other woman, and they had as many kids as we did. He spent holidays with them and everything, but his lies were so good, he had me fooled. I was young and naive. I remember the worst thing was that I found out he spent Christmas with his other family. He was so good at making sure he covered his tracks that he got gifts for the children and me. That really hurt me. All of it was hurtful.”

Explaining it to the kids wasn’t the easiest either. They couldn’t figure out why their dad was gone and not coming back.

After her husband’s unfaithfulness surfaced, her parents stepped in and helped her get past the rough time. An older man came into the picture, and she got remarried.

“Was it hard for you to trust him?”

“Sometimes. But he went out of his way to prove to me that he wouldn’t do what my first husband did. He took on eight kids, and most men wouldn’t do that, so that helped. We had a great life. I had to put all of that behind me.”

Both of these women had given their best efforts and had been left holding an empty bag. They recovered from a betrayal in their own way. One chose to live a closed off existence while the other decided to take a chance and trust again.

God leaves that up to each of us.

What do you do when life presents you with a person described in Psalm 41:9?

Even my best friend, the one I always told everything
—he ate meals at my house all the time!—
has bitten my hand. (Message)

No one is immune to having this happen, and in my own experience, it takes time. A lot of people say…just forgive and move on. What if it doesn’t come that easy? For some, it might, and for others, it may take longer. The key is not to get stuck in it.

God wants us to see it for what it is and heal. But if we stubbornly refuse to get past it, we cripple ourselves, and we will miss out on this from Jeremiah 29:11:

I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. (Message)

Some relationships aren’t going to make it to the ‘until death do us part’. For one reason or another, it happens. Having been through a divorce, nothing is certain except the promise that we always have the opportunity to brush ourselves off, figure out how not to repeat a mistake, and let God lead us in a new direction of a do over.

(They took the Until Death Do We Part..a little too literal…)
(This had the song I Got You Babe playing…shudder…)

Growing Up

It seems that no matter where I attended church, I always worked with the kids, and I found that I fit in better with them than sitting in the sanctuary with the adults.

I think the reason was because of the spontaneity of the atmosphere. Children are so much more open to the voice of God and aren’t usually afraid to say it out loud. I’m not against listening to someone speak, but I found so much more value in being in a classroom thinking I was the teacher, but really, I would often be the student.

At one time, I was in charge of a class of thirty, four-year-olds. I had one older woman who struggled to walk but would always help where she could and my daughter would come with me.

Every Tuesday, while their moms would go to a Bible study, I would go to work on helping them understand God better. I had them do role-playing, skits, and team-building exercises to expand their awareness of the spiritual side of life. It was always fun to see someone their age acting in the role of an important Biblical figure. I had so many who wanted to be Noah, Moses, or Jesus. I was never short on volunteers.

At the start of the day, I would ask them to tell us what they needed prayer for, so everyone knew what might be troubling their friend. Some would make requests for a new dog or bike, and I put no limitation on it because I wanted them to know that they could ask for anything from God. And many times, by the next week, they would return to tell me that their prayers were being answered.

They did love to have the spotlight.

“Miss Chris, look at my new shoes!”

That statement and others like it led to all of them wanting me to comment on their new shirt, hair cut or whatever else they were proud of. Once that started, it was a chain reaction of them jumping to their feet to gain my attention. Did I say there were 30 of them and one of me?

You would think that there would have been a lot of crowd control or discipline needed with a group of children that big. There wasn’t. I don’t know if it was all the prayers we said together, but they were the most unusually well behaved kids I had ever seen. They always wanted to help, and they actually shared with one another. There wasn’t the tug of war over hot ticket items.

I witnessed a live, in action expression of how life should operate if one is surrendered to God. There was no backbiting, complaining, whining, competition, or hating someone because they were different. None of that existed, and I did not have to put in much effort to make it go so easily. There was no conflict at all, and without the negativity, God showed up all the more.

One day, I had them close their eyes, and I shut off all the lights. This was way off the prescribed plan of what I had been told to teach them. One of the women who ran this ministry of the church had looked in through the door window. She wondered what I was doing, but she said there was so much peace flowing toward her, she let me go ahead.

I had each child become very still and see whatever came to mind. This was with preschoolers, and they did what I said without any hesitation. No one made a sound. Right there, that was a miracle. Afterward, I had them stand up and tell me what they experienced. One boy said,

“Miss Chris! I saw a huge angel standing next to me!”

“You did? That’s great,” I said.

Others had similar experiences, and I told them to go home and continue to practice this.

The following week, the boy’s mom told me that her son had been having nightmares, but they had disappeared after he saw the angel, and he continued to see it. She said his fear of bedtime no longer existed.

While many good outcomes such as this happened with the kids, I had the opportunity to put my faith into action.

I walked into the church office, and one of the other teachers held a tissue to her eyes.

“I might have you take my kids into your room today. My eyes are burning and won’t stop watering.”

I looked at her in total shock. I already had 30 of them! Taking in all of hers would have my number rocking the boat at 50. I decided that wasn’t going to happen. I had a nice little thing going, so I stepped forward and said,

“What is wrong with your eyes?”

“I don’t know. I have tried eye drops, rinsing them with water, but they hurt so much. I can’t see. I am not going to be able to lead my class today.”

Her eyelids were bright red, and tears dripped uncontrollably down each side. She had to keep catching them with the cloth in her hand.

I had no idea what I was doing, but I just followed what I heard in my mind.

“Close your eyes.”

She complied, and more wetness covered her cheeks. I had to close my own eyes as I prayed because her symptoms were stripping down my faith. It looked horrible, and who was I to come along and help her?

I started praying that she was healed. At the end, I opened my eyes, and I snapped my fingers at the center of her forehead while saying, “dry up!”

What was I doing? I would have never thought to do that. Other people were watching us now.

She mopped up her face and blinked.

“They don’t hurt anymore.”

The next few minutes were critical because the moms and kids would be arriving, and she had to decide. I saw her eyes clear, she smiled, looked at me without squinting as she had been, and said,

“It’s gone. “Thank you. It’s all back to normal.”

I was just glad I didn’t have to corral 50 kids.

That all happened during a time where I had just had a 17-year marriage end. I would tell people that I felt like I was jumping out of an airplane without a parachute, waiting to hit the ground. I was in a daily free fall of anxiety, not knowing what would happen to me next.

But, in that, I had been given little ones who showed me who God really was and how I could walk in a quiet place on the inside and see the good happen on the outside. Their childlike faith had strengthened me in my most desperate time, where rejection and abandonment were running high. They demonstrated to me that God would never leave even if people did.

They brought to life this verse in 1 Peter 2:2 that says: As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby.”

I had been stretched to a place in my spiritual life that I didn’t even know existed. And it continues to this very day. Every step is one more leap than the last.

There is a verse that says not to despise the days of small beginnings. Just when I thought I had something important to impart to those who were so very young, they surprisingly gave it back to me and set me on a lifelong course toward growing up.

(I walk every day..this was on my path the other day…there’s always more to learn from God)