Encounter

“Do I need these?” I asked, holding up a pair of workout pants and showing them to my daughter, standing across from me at a table where humanity had trampled through and thrown all the sizes everywhere. I had finally unearthed what I thought would fit.

I hadn’t paid much attention to the lady standing next to me, folding, sorting, and putting them back in order. I saw her nametag briefly, but I was not focusing my attention on her. Instead, I was consumed by an inward mental battle with a nagging voice telling me to leave the store and not come back.

The harassment started in the parking lot before I was out of the car.

You don’t belong here. This is for people who have money. You don’t have any, so turn around and go back home!

I had not heeded its advice and dragged myself through the door. How I ended up in a clothing section was beyond me. I should have been shopping for food to live, not clothes. That is why I asked, 

“Do I need these?”

The woman next to me said,

“Need? I don’t think that has ever stopped me from spending money. I look at things, decide that I want them, and buy.”

Now, she had my full attention. I grabbed two pairs and moved to her other side. They were on sale for a really low price, and I did need them. My other ones were starting to fall apart. 

“When you go through some things financially, you start to ask yourself that question a lot,” I said.  

I noticed she had a smile the entire time she worked correcting the chaos of what the public had created. 

When I got to the other side of the table facing her, I had the familiar light-headed feeling take over. This comes right when I know that I have been placed in the path of someone who needs to hear something from someone in heaven.  

Without me asking much, she told me she had gotten a divorce from a chemically dependent man and had children with him. She was now with a new person who she said did everything for her.

“I don’t need to work now, but I do.”

As she spoke, I saw a woman, a hologram-like person, stand behind her on her right.  

“Do you have family?” I knew it was her mom, but I didn’t assume. I never do.

“Not really. I have a dad, but my mom died..”

Before she finished her sentence, I said,

“She is standing right behind you to your right with her hand on your shoulder. She is proud of the decision you made to get the divorce. You will go on to have grandchildren, your ex-husband will get remarried, and many more family members will come from that.”

“I like that,” she said. 

I saw her surrounded by many people, resulting from her one decision to give up fighting something that would never change. 

Her smile got brighter and brighter.

“Did your mom have a favorite color? I think you will start to see the color pink, and when you do, that’s her.”

She held up her freshly manicured nails, and they were bright pink.

“Pink was her favorite color, so I picked it.”

“Do you celebrate her birthday? Because I feel she would want you to celebrate her passing to heaven more than her birthday.”

“Yes, we always have a party on the day she passed. She had cancer, and she died 16 years ago. That date is coming up in a couple of weeks. Just before you and I started talking, I saw a lady who looked just like her walk past.”

I told her that her decision to leave behind what wasn’t working would open the door for more to come in.  

All of this over a couple of pairs of pants that I was not so sure I should get. I left Laura to go about her business happily, and I was suddenly not afraid to get myself new clothes. 

From there, I went through a drive-thru, and as I was waiting, I saw a young blonde girl filling up a machine with ice. I got her attention, and she came to the window.

“I think you are supposed to go to school. Are you putting it off?”

Her eyes were enormous, and unlike in my other encounter, she only nodded her head and verbalized nothing.  

“Your grandpa, who is in heaven, is trying to tell you that now is the time. Don’t put it off. This is the time. And don’t worry about the money. Are you worried about the money part of it?”

I saw tears fill her huge eyes, and she nodded yes. It was like a paralysis had taken over, and she was frozen, staring at me while the words came at her. 

“Start filling out the paperwork and go now. You will be able to communicate with animals like no one else can, and you will be very successful.”

It’s incredible for me to watch absolute strangers be told things that I would have no clue knowing. By the time her coworker handed me the bag, she was smiling through the tears and promising to look into becoming a vet. 

A few weeks later, I was in a store with my brother, and he needed light bulbs. A woman came around a corner out of nowhere and asked if we needed help.

He told her what he needed, and she meticulously walked him through every choice of light bulb he could choose. She was very experienced in knowing what she was saying and seemed to do this effortlessly. Thomas Edison would have been impressed. 

As she walked away, I felt that familiar pull to give her a message she needed to hear.  

“I need to tell her something,” I said as I watched her walk away. I noticed her shirt was slightly stained in the back, like she didn’t have a lot of money to buy herself new things.  

I know the feeling, and I have found that what I have experienced has made me hyper-aware of those walking that road. 

As I chased her down, my brother said,

“Is this going to be like Touched By an Angel?” 

He knows I do this once in a while when God asks me. 

I ignored him.  

“Excuse me,” I said, trying not to get the whole store looking our way.

“I have to tell you something.”

I explained that this was just a starting point for her and that she would quickly climb the ladder of success. That promotions would come her way quickly, and her co-workers might get a little jealous, but to cast it aside.  

“You are loyal and trustworthy with a good heart. That is leading you through, and someone on the other side is helping open doors for you. That’s why you are moving up so quickly. You will outgrow this place and move way up higher.” I could see far in advance. 

“I have only been here two months, and they have given me two promotions already, which is unusual.”

That’s about all she said because, once again, I think the shock of hearing all of her life secrets, good ones, being spilled out was overwhelming to take in.

She kept saying thank you and then returned to her work. I feel Emily will never forget that she met God in the middle of the cleaning section of a hardware store. 

We moved on to the cash registers, where a lady was waiting with no one in her line. 

You need to ask her who is sick that she knows.

I didn’t want to do that. I tried to get through and get out the door. The question seemed too invasive and might not even be true. When I got to the door, I had to go back.

She was standing at the end of her lane, waiting for customers to come.  

“I have to ask you a question,” I said. “I can see heaven, and I have been told to ask you who is sick that you know.”

“My sister’s son,” she said. She went on to tell me he was in the end stage of disease.  

“He has an angel standing next to him,” I said.

“My sister has spoken to that angel,”

“Tell her that this confirms she is right about it.”

I saw the future and that a grandfather figure would be showing up to take him to heaven.

She told me that his dad had passed on as well.

Both of us were near tears as I said,

“Both men will pick him up and take him to heaven. Tell your sister he will be okay. He probably will say he sees them before he moves on.”

“We believe. Thank you for saying all this. I will tell her.”

The next night, I visited my dad in a rehab he has been in for about a month. Later in the evening, the med technician came in to give him his pills. She introduced herself, and I told her who I was.  

I began to see a grandmother figure.  

She needs to know she is going to have kids soon. You have to tell her,” said the whisper.

Oh, gosh, no! I cannot tell someone they are going to have a baby. What if she doesn’t want one? I thought I would make a big mistake, but when God wants to use your mouth, you and your opinion don’t matter. 

I started with the soft sell.

I explained that I could see and hear heaven; then, I asked questions about her life. Was she married? Yes. Did she have brothers and sisters? Yes.

And then, she opened the door for me to move in a bit further.  

“Does anyone have kids in the family?”

“My brothers and sisters do.”

“You will. You are going to have kids soon.”

I watched her eyes get that shocked look.  

“You are going to have a big family. They will be musical. I see piano players and singers. And this is probably going to happen before you have thought it possible. You are waiting for the money to show up, right?”

She was wearing a mask, and I could see now that her smile was reaching her eyes. 

“Yes, I will stay home and home-school when we have a family. My husband wants a big family, and his whole family is very musical.”

I told her some more, and she looked at my daughter and said,

“Does she do this all the time?”

I sensed she was a bit scared it would happen the next day.  As if she would wake up with ten kids all wanting breakfast.

“This will come to you naturally, but it is coming sooner than you think. When your husband gets a raise, which will be soon, that is your sign.” 

She said this would make her husband so happy and left with a big smile.

Crisis averted for me. That one seemed like a big and frightening jump. 

I don’t have to look for them; they sometimes come to me. 

Like the nursing assistant who told me she had just visited her neighbor who was dying.  

“Did you feel the angels in the room? There are two, one by the foot and the head of his bed.”

“I told them I could feel the angels in the room when I went to visit.”

“There are two of them, and his grandma is coming to get him.”

“His wife kept talking about his grandparents, and he gets to see them again,” she said.

“Yes. They will escort him into heaven.” 

I can always see when the words bring comfort too.

Ask her if she is a teacher.”

Going out on a limb, I asked,

“Are you a teacher? I hear the word teacher.”

I hadn’t ever had a conversation with this woman who works at an assisted living where I was visiting a hospice patient. 

“Yes. I am a teacher.”

“This job will end, and that will be your job again, but less stressful.”  

She told me she taught English to children who were disabled and that it has been very overwhelming.

“It won’t be next time, so don’t turn it away. You’re a teacher, and that’s your life path.”  

She walked away smiling, raising her hands to the ceiling and thanking God. 

There is a promise that God will always keep you in sight and not forsake you, but the world can convince us otherwise. There’s a wearing down process that can take place, making some of us wonder if any of this has a point.

When I am sent to strangers with details I shouldn’t know, there is no denying that everything needed is seen, and the Creator of all is longing to reach us through a loving encounter.

Super

When my girls were young, I wanted to take them to a resort about four hours from home. We had been there before with people who owned a timeshare, so it was paid for, but I discovered that we could rent a cabin on the property and use the pools scattered throughout. Instead of being cramped in a tiny hotel room for days, this was a nice option to try for. And, near to it, there are various waterparks and activities that the girls loved to do.

The only obstacle standing in my way was my ex-husband, who told me he didn’t want to spend the money on it. We had plenty of money to do this, but he decided he didn’t want to go. In an attempt to throw me off, he said,

“If you somehow come up with the money and rent it, we can go.”

If this was a poker competition, his money was on himself, thinking I was an at-home mom homeschooling two young kids. In other words, I wasn’t smart enough to come up with the funds because I was not employed, and he held onto the purse strings.

I knew God wanted this for my kids, so I decided to have a garage sale.

The night before, while marking everything, he walked through the garage shaking his head like I was the dumbest person he had ever met. I had included another mom who also was interested in making the trip with us. We kept our items separate.

The sale of my items netted us enough money to pay for the needed cabins and everything else the kids wanted to do. So much for being dumb.

The resort had listed all of its amenities on the website, including an indoor pool and hot tubs in case there was inclement weather.

When we got to the location, the “friend” who had done the sale with me walked into the registration building. When we got to the counter, we were informed that the indoor pool was being repaired. An electrical storm had somehow wiped out its functioning, so they had to close it.

“We are giving everyone passes to go to the Howard Johnson’s up the street so you can swim in their indoor pool. We apologize for the inconvenience.”

I didn’t think anything of it because many outdoor pools throughout the property were set around a golf course. The forecast predicted nice weather, so the need for an indoor pool was not heavy on my mind.

But, this woman who I was coming to find out was not the nicest, said,

“You advertised an indoor pool here. And, now you are telling me you don’t have one?”

“Yes. We are sorry, but we had a bad storm that left the electrical part of the pool unsafe, so we are in the process of fixing it. You and your family are welcome to use the Howard Johnson’s pool. This has the code on it so you can access that area.”

He pushed a piece of paper toward her with a number on it. She shoved it back at him.

I was filling out a form regarding our car with our license plate identification on it. I had just glanced out the window and was headed back to the desk when I saw this exchange begin.

“That is not good enough!” she snapped.

Her husband was out in the car, hiding, I assumed. Why I thought it was a good idea to bring her along, I do not know. My people-pleasing habits have taken a while to die.

It had gotten to the point where if I called their home, he would answer the phone with a whisper and go into a hall closet to speak to me because she didn’t want him talking and laughing with me on the phone as friends. Her control freak nature was rearing its ugly head more and more. She wanted me all to herself.

Often, he would speak to me and quickly say he would get her. There was no way he would want to deal with her Godzilla attitude at the front desk.

The employee swallowed down his fear and said,

“I don’t know how else to solve this problem for you.”

“I paid to have an indoor pool!”

The guy’s eyes caught mine, and I was hoping he didn’t think I was like her just because we walked in the door together.

“I know. And, we are really sorry about that…this is why we are sending people to Howard Johnson’s to try and accommodate everyone.”

“I am not a Howard Johnson’s type of person!” she said with a snarl. Ugly comes in many forms, not just in appearance but in attitude.

What? She had told me she had hardly ever been on vacation, so I was confused about where this entitled attitude was coming from.

Out of nowhere came another employee who was not as discreet as the man trying to help.

“He has explained to you our situation. Howard Johnson’s is it, or nothing.”

“That is not good enough!”

“What do you want me to do? Build you a pool, lady?” said the fresh helper.

My traveling companion then went to nuclear.

“I will contact the management here and let them know you did not go out of your way to compensate me for not having an indoor pool!”

With that, she swiped her papers off the counter and stormed out.

Both employees looked at me. Great.

“I apologize for her behavior,” I said. “I do not share her viewpoint.”

I could not say it enough. My two daughters had watched the entire exchange along with the lady’s two kids.

When I went to say goodnight to my two that night, I whispered,

“I am setting my alarm, and we are going to the indoor pool.” I did not say a word to anyone else.

The following day, while the two men went golfing, I quickly got my two in their suits, and we drove to the Howard Johnson’s. They had a great time swimming and using the hot tub. This was before cell phones, so no one could get a hold of us. And no one knew where we were.

I faced the firing squad when I returned.

“We were looking for you! Where did you go?” she asked the minute I stepped out of the car.

“Howard Johnson’s to swim,” I said without blinking. I wanted to see what reaction I would get.

“Oh,” she said. “Why didn’t you ask us to go?”

“Because you made it quite clear yesterday that you were not a Howard Johnson’s type person. You said that to everyone at the front desk.”

I did not hear one more tirade from this woman for the rest of the time we were there. I wasn’t as predictable as she thought I was.

Did she and I remain friends? No.

Her controlling nature became so severe that even my best people-pleasing nature couldn’t cut it anymore. The more I bowed down to her demands, the worse she became to the point where she was verbally abusive toward me. When I refused to continue being her friend, she tried to turn everyone against me. I preserved, and she is long gone in my rearview mirror.

I had convinced myself that God would not be happy with me if I let her go, so I kept myself attached to her. It got to the point, however, where I was either going to please her, lose myself or break free and be genuine. Sometimes you have to be not liked. And unpopular. It’s just the way it goes.

Proverbs 22:24-25 says, Don’t hang out with angry people; don’t keep company with hotheads.
Bad temper is contagious—don’t get infected. (Message)

That’s the risk you take. You can morph into what you consistently keep company with, so choose those who are God’s best.

As a side note, the ex-spouse was rewarded for not generously giving me the money for the vacation. Shortly after we got home, he cleaned his closet. He made a pile of clothes that no longer fit him as he had ‘grown’. This was intended for the garbage. The other, he was going to keep.

As I walked through the living room, he watched the garbage truck pick up and dump the contents of the can with all the sludge.

“I put all the clothes I wanted to keep in the wrong pile! He just dumped everything into the truck! I have no clothes to wear now except for what I have on! I have to go buy all new ones!”

I wanted to say..why don’t you have a garage sale? But I was too afraid back then to say anything like that. I just kept on walking. Silence is golden, and you let the situation speak for itself, like swimming at Howard Johnson’s on your own.

Galatians 6:7 spells it out pretty plainly:

Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds. All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life. (Message)

There’s another verse in James 4:6 that says:

It’s common knowledge that “God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble.”(Message)

When you walk in humility and do your best to follow God’s way, it may not always be easy, but I have found that you won’t regret how you treat others. You can end each day knowing that you are doing it right, being led through a life that is spiritually super.

(These usually don’t have a pool, just saying..)

Two Realms

“God, show me what is happening,” I said in the stillness of her hospital room.

Everyone had gone home for the day. I had watched her breathe while she slept with little to no movement. It was a miracle that I was even there after a year and a half of separation between myself and them. My parents insisted on remaining in their house when it had long passed being safe.

My tears and words of pleading with them to move into a safer location had been met with cold dismissal. They had made up their minds not to leave, and they didn’t care how this affected the rest of the family.

I had just helped my dad off the ground outside after falling, and that was only one of many times. The stress of it all had caught up with me, so as I begged them to make a change, I was ignored, and when I left, he went back outside to resume what he had been doing on the icy walkway.

When he had to take a driving test, he promised me they would move if he lost his license. After he failed, he continued to drive and refused to keep his word. He swore up and down he wasn’t driving, but after my daughter planted a tracker in his car and it revealed he was out and about, I decided to let go.

I spent a year and a half living five minutes away, wondering when I would get the news that they were in a horrific accident, killing others or themselves. I saw him driving during rush hour on busy roads while he told others he only “took the back roads.” Lie after lie.

I had the unwelcome advice that I needed to mend the fence and go back to being there for them. After all, what kind of person abandons their elderly parents?

Meanwhile, I heard God telling me to stay away.

“I will use you when the time is right.”

I decided to go with God and shut off the push from someone who didn’t get it. These are the moments when you must follow what your spirit tells you, no matter how it may appear to others.

I was working in my yard, removing weeds when I heard the siren. I looked in the direction of their house as I had for the last 18 months. Later, I found out she had been taken back to the hospital.

The week before, she had been admitted but had recovered. I hadn’t felt the pull to end my absence from their lives, but I knew I had to see her this time.

I waited until 11 pm to be sure I could assess the situation without interference from my dad. As my daughter and I entered her room, she moved slightly. She lifted her right hand and moved it across her forehead, mumbling in her sleep like she was trying to tell me what had happened. Then she became quiet again.

I saw my grandma, who had passed on to heaven, standing at the head of her bed. Then an image of my mom was next to her. The only way I can try to describe this is I see images like holograms. Someone entering the room would have only seen me, my daughter, and my mother’s sleeping form.

I began to move my hands in a circular motion. Unknown to me, my daughter began to do the same thing behind me, but I couldn’t see her. I didn’t know why I was doing this, but later I read that when a person does this, it draws in healing power to be passed on to another.

Right as I was going to put my hands on her arm, a nurse walked in.

I dropped my hands down to my sides.

“Has she been sleeping like this since she got here?” I asked.

“Yes.” The reply was sharp and snappy.

I explained why I had arrived so late, not wanting to face my dad quite yet. The response lacked all compassion.

“It’s late. Come back tomorrow.”

I was being told to leave, so we did.

Once in the car, I sat in the parking lot, trying to figure out how I had not been able to pray for her healing. Then it hit me.

She wanted to leave.

“Do you think she doesn’t want to be here anymore?” I asked my daughter, who was just as perplexed by our unplanned quick exit.

“Yes.”

“Did she not want me to pray for her to get better? Is that what just happened?”

“Yes,” she said as we both started crying.

I drove home, knowing this wouldn’t end in a miraculous recovery.

The following day I returned, and I tried to convince myself she would be sitting in bed, back to normal. But she wasn’t.

Instead, my dad sat next to her, wondering what was happening.

I chose not to bring up my departure from their lives.

“If she doesn’t come out of this, are you ready for that?”

“I don’t know why she wouldn’t.”

I listened to a lot of denials.

Tests were run and care administered, but no answers were given as to why she was in this condition.

“An MRI has been ordered, but we have a long list of people needing one, so the results probably won’t be back until later tonight.”

As the hours dragged on and the visitors went home, my daughter and I stayed to hear the result.

She remained asleep, looking as if she were somewhere else. I wondered where. I leaned my head back, closed my eyes, and mentally said the prayer that would forever change my outlook on everything.

“God, show me what is happening.” It was nearly midnight.

I was standing off to the side of a bridge. I could see my mom facing forward with her mom, my grandma next to her.

“She’s still looking, Chrissy,” my grandma said. “She won’t turn around to look at me.”

I remained silent, watching, knowing that this was the beginning of her walk into heaven.

I opened my eyes as a nurse entered.

“You are still here?” She asked.

“I’m waiting for the results of the MRI.”

“I will send the physician down here before he leaves.”

Moments later, I was in the hallway meeting him.

“We didn’t see anything abnormal. We don’t have an explanation for her condition, and there’s no more we can do to get an explanation.”

The image of her facing the world with eternity behind her flashed through my mind.

By the end of the week, it was determined she would receive hospice care at home. I had written everything down as I would see it and hear it. I would close my eyes to check in, and on day four, the night before she went home to begin hospice, I saw her and my grandma standing in the middle of the bridge, still appearing to look at what I had come to know as the world. They were facing a giant movie screen with the wind blowing through their hair. This is what I wrote:

“The view up here is beautiful. I can see my whole life. I see scenes of myself, both good and bad. My father never loved me, Chris. But my mom, oh, she did. (She and my grandma laugh. I can see her standing behind my mom, hugging her as they watch. I am asked to join them in the middle of the bridge)

“See? Look at that. This is the day you were born. (I could see her in a scene holding an infant) And you had something. You had it in your eyes. You were the last one. I was proud to be a mother of six, even though I wasn’t good at it at times, I tried. I know you will have scenes of pain in your life because of me, but I loved you even if I never said it or showed it. I am sorry for not hugging or kissing you more.”

“It doesn’t matter now, mom.”

“But I see it now. I see it. And I can’t undo it. I can’t go back and change it. I’m not crying, but I see it. I can’t cry here.”

I wrote down each detail and knew she had been shown all 87 years of her life in a movie, like a highlight reel.

Back now to reality, I sat by her hospital bed. She stirred, woke up slightly, and said to my dad,

“Thank you for everything you have ever done for me in this life.”

This confirmed what I had just witnessed in a world not seen by human vision.

Every day I would shut my eyes and see her progress closer and closer to heaven. She had turned her back to the world after her life review and walked holding onto the hand of her mother.

When I returned to the bridge, I was allowed to be in the middle, but an angel stood next to me. He was tall, illuminated by a white light, and as they walked further away, he held up an old-fashioned pair of one-handled binoculars to my eyes.

I knew he was there to hold me back from going with her. I was at a point where I wished I could have. I could have left it all behind to follow her. But I was told:

“Chris, I see your future. It’s great. That angel is making sure you stay put. You are far from this for a while. And when you accomplish your mission for God, you will meet us on this bridge. You already know what it looks like. It will be familiar.”

As hospice went on and her body went through the process of shutting down, I continued to see and hear everything she did. And the day came when I went to the familiar place and only was greeted by the angel.

The water under the bridge was calm, but the brightness was gone. I knew she had completed her walk.

In Jeremiah 33:3 it says:

Call to me, and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known. (ESV)

When I asked to be shown, I was brought to a place outside of the existence I usually live in. And since that day when I requested to see what was unseen, I have continued to be able to communicate with those who are leaving and those who have left. The ability has expanded and proven itself to be genuine.

I have met strangers in stores that I deliver messages to from loved ones who have passed. They always end up in tears from the words that seem to tumble out of my mouth beyond my control. I don’t advertise it; it just shows up to comfort and bless those I cross paths with.

After three years, I’m over the critics who would label me as a witch or a fortune teller. I don’t generally have a message for them because they can’t fathom it nor receive it. Some didn’t see Jesus for what he was either, so I’m in good company.

It’s been an adjustment, giving up what I thought I knew when I knew nothing, and it’s been worth it to live in between two realms.

Imposter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I have more,” I said.

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

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

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

“Is the wood free?”

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

“Really?”

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

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

They jumped out and started loading their trunk.

The woman asked,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of these things is not like the others…

Cross

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

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

“She ate my cross!”

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

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

She showed me the empty box it had been in.

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

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

That’s where the forehead wrinkles come from.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vision

My parents smoked many cigarettes when the surgeon general wasn’t involved with warning labels.

“We were told it was only dangerous in that it would stunt a person’s growth,” my mom said.

Then the world should be full of short people.

Obviously, this was a myth that kept many citizens puffing away, all the while making their lungs turn black.

“Once we found out that it could cause more health issues, we quit.”

Well, sort of.

My dad traded the death sticks over to smoking a pipe. I remember seeing it hanging out of his mouth while he was sawing something in half, driving a nail into a board, or in the stands watching me play softball.

“I love the smell of that,” many of my friends would say.

While some were impressed by his habit, my mom was not. Usually, she summed it up in one word:

“Ick.”

Part of the reason for her dislike of this was that he would leave pipes all over the house. The basement, outside, or anywhere he felt he was going to need to smoke, he would leave one for later. His dresser was always a mess with a few of them there.

I would often hear him say to her,

“Have you seen my pipe?”

“Which one? You have a million of them.”

He would start looking, unhappily wasting his time when he could be outside doing something else. She would leave for a few seconds, unable to deal with his mumbling during the rescue mission.

“Here. I found one,” she would say, handing him what he had been trying to find.

It took me a while to catch on, but I figured out that she would, in an attempt to keep the clutter down, move all of them into one central location that he wasn’t aware of.

While he would happily leave with it in his possession, thinking she was the best locator of missing items, she knew exactly where they were all along.

Their relationship had small, built-in devices like that, where she got her way without him realizing it.

“When we were first married, he wanted to go sit at a bar with his friends and leave me at home. He did this before we were together, but I wasn’t in favor of that once we got married, and I told him. He refused to listen to me. So one Friday night, I got dressed up and told him I was going out without him.”

I knew he had been extremely protective of her. He had never gotten over witnessing her dance with another guy after he had said no while they were dating. Having her about to leave him in her dust to go off to a shady place on a Friday night set him off into panic mode.

She had been raised in a small town, which made him consider her naive and unable to handle herself in the “real” world. He would always say to me,

“I met her right after she fell off the turnip truck.” Or, “She is a country bumpkin that just fell out of a wagon.”

Then he would laugh while she shook her head. He had no idea how much she actually used all that to her advantage. He believed she was not up to his speed while quietly she got him to do her bidding, believing that it was his own idea. So, who was the turnip?

Seeing her about to leave him brought on a meltdown.

“He would not let me leave. He stood in front of the door, refusing to move. I had made the whole thing up to see what he would do. I never told him I didn’t have plans, but he got so upset by it, he said he wouldn’t leave me sitting at home alone ever again.”

There was a reason why she had done this.

“His friends were wild and not married yet, so I didn’t want him out there acting like them and coming home drunk. I felt this would eventually ruin everything, so that’s why I did it. He would not listen to me, so I thought to myself..I will show you. It worked. He knew what men were like at bars back then, and he couldn’t bear the idea of me being on display. We came to an agreement that we would go places together to guard our marriage at the beginning.”

Her tactic was to get him to see her point of view without saying a word as she was about to walk out the door with no place to go.

She became a full-time mom when all the kids started showing up. This didn’t stop her from educating herself regarding the latest health problems and their causes.

Because I ended up being with her the most as the others grew up and moved out, I was often involved in her findings of what was considered cutting-edge information.

“It says here that steak can harm your arteries.”

She was like a sponge when she read the newspaper, learning as she had extra time with fewer children to deal with.

For some reason, I had no idea that she had discovered that smoking a pipe had been linked to lip, tongue, and cheek cancer. This bothered her so much that she demanded he quit. She couldn’t use her usual technique of getting him to see things her way with a bait and switch approach. He just needed to believe her on this one.

Now we know it to be accurate, but at the time, it wasn’t prevalent knowledge, so it could be easily dismissed as “it won’t ever happen to me.”

One night from work, I came home and parked my car in the garage.

He kept his vehicle outside and gave me his spot—another perk of being born last, way after everyone else.

While my siblings had to leave their cars in the driveway in the heat of summer or blizzards of winter, he moved out so I could move in. I had grandparents at that point.

On that particular night that I pulled in, I heard a loud crunching sound near my front wheel on the driver’s side. I immediately stopped, jumped out, and saw a plastic bag sticking out from my tire.

I backed up with more crunching.

I got out, picked up the bag, and saw that I had crushed his pipes. I had no idea where they had come from. These were on their way to the graveyard with no way to save them. The back and forth over them had murdered them.

I thought nothing of it. I didn’t do it on purpose, and I knew he had more somewhere. I parked and took the bag inside. It was summer with the air running at top speed, and the house was closed up, so she hadn’t heard me come home.

She was in the living room reading. She looked up and said,

“What do you have in your hand?”

I held up the bag.

“I think I ran over some of dad’s pipes.”

Her mouth popped open. I got worried for a minute, thinking she was mad at me. I knew that familiar look where her eyebrows met in the middle, and her eyes looked like they could kill.

“He told me he quit!”

Oh. So I wasn’t in trouble, then? But, there was another storm ready to blow up.

She flew by me, snatched the bag, and stomped out the door.

“John! Where are you?”

Just run! I wanted to send him a message telepathically.

She was taking this outside where the neighbors might hear? She was seeing red.

I walked over to the window and saw him trying to develop some sort of explanation. She was an infuriated country bumpkin.

I opened the window slightly to hear what stellar excuse he was going to give.

“How many more of these do you have?” She said, shaking the pieces in the bag.

I knew she was coming at him for a good reason, but I felt a little guilty, like I had just walked him to the executioner.

“That’s all I had left. I put them in the garage so I could still have some without you knowing.”

Cringe. Not good.

“This is it?”

“Yes. I had them hidden, and I must have left them out. When she pulled in, they fell under her tire.”

A coincidence? I don’t think so.

I watched her walk over to the garbage and throw them away.

“I promise that’s it. I don’t have anymore.”

She noticed that I felt responsible for their argument when she came back in.

“God used you, Chris. Don’t feel bad about that. It was supposed to happen.”

I didn’t fully get it.

He stuck to his word, even though it was difficult at times getting past the craving for it, but his marriage was higher up on the priority list. And in the end, her urgency to get him to stop freed him from suffering consequences that would have been terrible.

Sometimes you can sense the detrimental while the other person can’t.

That is how God works. Everything is seen from a viewpoint that we might not always understand. Throw in our free will, then we can ignore that still small voice and go on our way, thinking we know it all.

God will place people in your life to be seers. They may come in different shapes and styles, but they are there for your good, prompting you to come up higher and dodging around hazards you may not think are harmful because it’s a habit. Or you are just plain ignorant. Yes, I said it.

The Holy Spirit is described this way in John 16:13:

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. (Message)

If you aren’t making yourself available to hear God’s message to you, someone will be sent, motivated by heaven, to try to wake you up to what you need to know. This is not punishment or condemnation, but to illuminate something you are not seeing or paying attention to.

From my experience, I don’t walk away feeling dejected or scolded but instead empowered to deal with an issue that was dragging me down spiritually, like fear or worry. A person looking out for your highest well-being is often a messenger, and you might not understand that at first.

In Isaiah 55:9, there is a reason why we might not get it right away:

For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than yours, and my thoughts than yours. (TLB)

Just like it was believed that smoking cigarettes would hinder a person’s height, not heeding what God is gently trying to tell you will slow down your walk to an elevated place, moving in the direction you are supposed to go. When we cling to what is familiar and not useful, refusing to embrace the truth and shutting the door, God will come through another way.

That is how much heaven wants you to achieve your life purpose and protect you from harm.

When you are blind, it is a promise that a helper will come to get your attention and give you the needed direction and vision.

Heart

“Aren’t you supposed to be doing a thing from bread?”

I looked up from the computer. I thought we were highly engaged in a history lesson about Africa and the corrupt government, but she was not fully paying attention. Even with a curriculum that had a video trying to get a crucial academic point across, sometimes a lack of interest won out.

“What are you talking about?” I said, crunching.

She pointed at a bowl that was in front of me.

I kept on chewing and said,

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be skipping bread?”

“Yes,” I said.

“You just ate a breadstick out of that snack mix.”

“What?! No way!”

She picked up a stick, held it up to my eyes, and it was what she said.

I instantly started spitting the contents out of my mouth into my hand, which goes against all that I believe in. Unless it’s an emergency and I am about to die from poison.

This was close. I had been doing so well. I was so proud of my ability to stay away from any yeast-laden food for at least three hours, and I didn’t want to ruin it. I was on a roll. Well, not from the bakery, but you know what I mean.

If I did this now, it would be easy for me. I have done away with most bread and dairy products, but back then, I was giving up something so that I could hear God’s voice better. I don’t recall the point of what I was trying to get an answer for, but it must have been important enough for me to give up a staple that I used to eat every day.

She laughed and was horrified at my reaction.

“Get me a paper towel!” I said.

“Does this mean you have to start all over?”

“No! I didn’t swallow it!”

There was no way I wasn’t going to get credit for this. I had made a vow to myself that I would go at least a week. I was not adding on time to what seemed like years.

This fast was already going way too slow.

I had shopped my options before landing on this particular one. There are a few to choose from, such as an absolute fast, a partial, or complete. The goal is to deny yourself something on the outside to build up spiritual awareness.

I was trying to follow along with the trend of the hour in a church where you had to jump through various spiritual hoops to get what you wanted. It wasn’t good enough to pray. You had to back it up with a sacrifice.

I had never had a good experience with this type of approach when it came to getting to know God better. Being raised Catholic, we had to go through an entire season of denying ourselves meat on Fridays. Short of putting a lock on the refrigerator, my mom made sure that nobody dared to break this life or death rule. None of us were going to hell on her watch.

This never made any sense to me. People could go out and get totally wasted drinking at a bar, but as long as they didn’t eat what was on the do not touch list, they were good in God’s eyes.

What was at the end of all this restriction? Easter. Where I got candy, overate it, and threw up at a buffet. So much for avoiding hell. I still cannot stand purple marshmallow eggs.

Along the same lines of this, I recall being under the impression that to get your faith to
‘work’, there was always a fifteen to twenty-step program to follow. When you have your whole heart set on pleasing God after many years of not really knowing much about it, you will fall for anything that someone who seems to be in authority will tell you.

If you wanted to obtain the ‘higher’ spiritual gifts, you had to be sure that you followed all the rules. I had left the Catholic Church, but I found in many more places that someone always had their own set of instructions that everyone was expected to follow.

The more it seemed that I tried to please people, the dimmer my focus and walk with God became.

I learned that what many were trying to obtain wasn’t always as easy as skipping that croissant or getting baptized in the Jordan River. Some believe you have to really strive to receive elusive gifts from God.

A few weeks ago, I got a strange letter in the mail. It was addressed to me by a man who lived nearby. I wasn’t sure why he would be writing, but when I saw what he had tucked inside, I knew right away.

Covid has made things a little more challenging for people to go house to house, convincing the masses that the world is in dire condition. He had taken the time to write me a full-page letter warning me that everything would end and that my only way of escape was to attend a virtual meeting and join their organization.

After all his writer’s cramp and licking envelopes, he probably wanted the final days to arrive so that he could put a stop to his obligation to all the names on his mailing list.

This method, though, seems safer than the old-fashioned way of ringing a doorbell and having to face who knows what kind of reception.

I had learned many years prior that the motivation behind this was not about making sure I didn’t meet the eternal flames of hell, but rather, it was about the performance of works to ensure that the ones doing them kept themselves out of trouble.

I heard the knock on the front door, looked through the security window, and saw two women and a man standing on the front step. The suit and tie on a Saturday in the sweltering heat and both of his assistants dressed like they were going to a wedding gave it away. Along with the briefcase that was stuffed with handouts.

They were here to make sure I was in the fold.

I stood there, considering what my approach should be. Do I engage, or do I just let them go on to the next house with their pamphlet? So many people I know will either ignore this type of thing or go out and confront in a snarling dog way. I didn’t want them to waste their time on someone they would not make any progress with, but I decided to open the door.

I saw three hesitant smiles as I took a step out and said,

“Can I help you?”

The man extended his hand to me.

“Are you the homeowner?”

“Yes.”

“We are out today in your neighborhood visiting people and talking to them about God. Do you know who God is?”

“I read my Bible every day, and I hear God’s voice.”

It was like a massive gust of wind blew them all off my step and into the yard when I said that. I saw instant fear in their eyes. They were preparing themselves for the rabid dog they had probably encountered before.

He cleared his throat and said,

“You do?”

“Yes. I know the Bible and God very well.”

“You do?” he said again. He had a live one. Now what?

“Yes.”

“Then you must know that we are in the last days.”

This was at least fifteen years ago, so when someone says ‘last,’ I am unsure where we are on the timeline. In 2 Peter 3:8-9 it says:

Don’t overlook the obvious here, friends. With God, one day is as good as a thousand years, a thousand years as a day. God isn’t late with his promise, as some measure lateness. He is restraining himself on account of you, holding back the End because he doesn’t want anyone lost. He’s giving everyone space and time to change. (Message)

“I am more of a one day at a time kind of person,” I said.

“But you have to work to earn your place with God. This is why we are out here. We have to be sure that our position with God is secure.”

“You don’t know that God loves you no matter what?”

They all moved one step further away from me. I was messing with their belief system that they were not good enough if they didn’t perform a job. I was speaking blasphemy, so for sure, I needed converting real quick.

“I think this might help you,” he said, trying to hand me a paper. I glanced at it.

“You need me to take that so you are then okay with God?”

It reminded me of the subpoena I was given before my divorce. He was serving me papers to secure his place in eternity.

“Yes. Nothing is for certain, though.”

“How many do you have to hand out in a day?”

“As many as we can. We have to attend meetings during the week too. Those are part of the requirement. All of the information about those is on this sheet. You should come.”

None of this sounded easy, like breathing, so I probably wasn’t a candidate.

“God doesn’t expect you to do any of this. It’s one thing to tell people about your faith, but to feel forced to go places because you aren’t worthy enough isn’t how it works.”

I spoke as quietly as possible, so they didn’t think I was being confrontational. I knew they probably had been harassed many times, which was not my intention.

More steps away from me. I am sure they envisioned my whole body on fire with demons poking the coals around like a bonfire.

He threw the paper at me and said,

“Have a good day.”

The two women hung on to each other so they wouldn’t fall. They moved as fast as their dress shoes would allow. Did this meet their quota? Or was I written down as a no-show?

I tried to say more, but they kept on moving.

Sometimes you can’t undo a certain mindset. They had been manipulated into believing that they had to earn their way to God, and even with what they were doing, they still weren’t sure.

In Ephesians 2:8-9 it says,

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (ESV)

We tend to complicate things. If you can receive a stimulus check from the government, which is really your money in some way, shape, or form, you can have a close relationship with God.

Put aside the idea that you have to win over heaven by forcing yourself to perform works so that you will cross into eternity at the end of your life.

Have that piece of french toast. God is looking at your heart.

This is a good option if you are skipping bread…

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…)

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…)