Song

I had been putting it off for weeks. I didn’t want to go up the rickety ladder to clean out the attic. But, there was this nagging feeling to get it done. It has pull-down wooden stairs, and then I have to put a shorter ladder underneath it to climb them. One of the springs holding the whole thing has come loose on one side, and it feels wobbly as I go up every time. I always tighten the screws on each side to make myself feel better.

I always keep my fingers crossed that this won’t be when I have to cash in my life insurance policy. I have learned how to go up quickly if everything gives way. And then I will live there for the rest of time, surrounded by all the things that I should have gotten rid of long ago.

I always go up intending to throw things away, but then I come across my kryptonite. The photo albums that I forgot were there. Suddenly, four hours have gone by, and I have nothing to show for it except wondering where the time has gone. Not for just that day, but years that I will never see again. And my natural hair color. Gone. Just like that.

This time, I also was dealing with some items I had taken from my parents’ home when I cleaned it three years ago. I pushed aside my mom’s wedding dress that I couldn’t throw, but no one wanted and started making discard and keep piles.

I felt so sluggish as I attempted to do this. Not energetic at all about setting myself free of things that no longer were serving a purpose. That is how I usually feel when I do this. I donate to the Salvation Army next to new items, which has always motivated me to clean so that someone else can use them. But that mental trick wasn’t working either.

I quit wondering why I was feeling so lazy and decided to wait until the next day to get it finished. I forced myself up there again with my oldest daughter catching what I was tossing to her below. They say that what goes up must come down. That was not the case with the gigantic Christmas tree I forgot was in a bag.

I tried every angle to push that through the opening to no avail. I even placed both of my feet on it and shoved. I realized I was making sounds like you would hear if someone gave birth.

“Are you grabbing this?” I asked, finally getting it past the metal hinges on the stairs it had gotten caught on.

No answer.

“Hey! Are you catching this?” I asked again, trying not to slide down with it.

She was too busy recording me. You just can’t get good help these days.

I kept going, and once the momentum built, I was not slowing down. As I handed her an item that sent a plume of dust all over her, I said,

“Do we still have your old guitar?”

“I don’t think so,” she said, coughing.

I turned and saw the black cloth zippered case and wasn’t sure. But, when I opened it, it was a perfectly brand new Fender electric guitar that was barely used.

This was from a time when she thought she wanted to learn and took brief lessons online with an instructor. After a while, she got bored with it. When I handed her this to take down, she said,

“I don’t know why I thought I wanted to do this.”

Usually, after determining what I would donate, I load everything in my car and drive to the thrift store to give it all away, but I had started so late on a Sunday that I decided to wait until the next day.

When I woke up the following morning, I heard very distinctly that I was to go to a particular location right by my house after an appointment that I had. I wasn’t sure why, but I never usually do.

I pulled around the back of the building and waited behind a car with a small trailer attached to it. A man came and went from the donation center, loading up shopping carts and taking them in.

Once the guy in front of me moved on, I pulled up and started taking things out of the back of my car. The worker pulled another cart and started helping me. When we got down to the last donation, I said,

“I have a strange question.”

This is the part where I always find myself in uncertain territory. Sometimes they take what you have, and other times you have to go elsewhere to get rid of things. During COVID, they took next to nothing for fear of spreading the disease.

“I have a brand new electric guitar to give away. But, I don’t know if you take those here.”

I handed it to him. I knew it was valued at $300, but that made no difference. I just wanted someone who needed it to have it.

Oddly, this very talkative man went mute. I couldn’t tell if he was struggling to tell me I had to go to a music store or list it for sale. He just stood there, staring at it. Because I have been turned away so many times and had to drag things back home, I said,

“I don’t even care if one of the intake workers takes this. I don’t want to have to deal with it.”

He just stared at it. And I kept trying to figure out why he had gone silent. He moved forward and put it back in my car.

Oh, great. He was too afraid to tell me I had to take it back.

Quietly, he said,

“I am in rehab. I am sixty days sober.”

“That’s good,” I said suddenly, unsure where we were going with this conversation.

Stammering, he said quietly,

“I really want that guitar.”

Now I was the one who had lost all of her words.

“You do?”

“Yes. I have been in rehab, and I am learning to play the guitar. I could really use that.”

It was one of those moments where you just know you have not been out of the divine timing of God one second. I might have missed him if I had cleaned the attic on Saturday and driven it over. Our paths were set to cross exactly then so God could show him that he was on the right road. I wasn’t lazy on Saturday! Or, at least, that’s what I decided.

“Where is your car? I can put it in there for you.”

I realized that he could get into trouble for this, so I tried to sneak it into his possession.

“I don’t have one. I lost all privileges. I get picked up by a bus at the end of my shift. Could I take your phone number and have my case manager call you?”

That sounded a little unsafe to me.

“What is your phone number?”

“I had that taken away too. I am still on probation because I have only completed 60 days.”

“You realize that this is God speaking to you right now, right?” I asked. “He sends me to help people, and He is telling you that if you learn how to play this instrument, this will be your way to stay sober and live a better life.”

He smiled and said,

“Yes. I know. That’s why I really want that guitar. Maybe you can Google where I am staying and talk to my caseworker.”

I told him I would and had to pull forward as another person pulled in behind me.

I looked up the address, and after some confusion, I was put in touch with someone in human resources. I left a message for the caseworker he had told me to contact.

I realized I had not heard back the next day, so I called and left another message. It was going to be challenging to get rid of me. I was going to keep calling until I got this delivered to him.

After a day of waiting, I was instructed where I could go to drop off the guitar and the speaker. This meant I would have to drive outside of my comfort zone and into the heart of the city that has had a lot of controversy in the past few years. Riots, violence, and other unsavory things have been going on there, but I was not going to be deterred.

I stuffed down my slight anxiety when I felt the darkness that seemed to be there and hurried into the rehab center.

I was greeted by a man sitting at a desk inhaling a donut.

“How can I help you,” he said, shoving in more of it.

“I was told I could drop off a guitar and speaker for a man who lives here.”

When I told him the man’s name, he said,

“Oh. He is learning how to play the guitar, and he is getting good at it.”

“I wasn’t sure this would work out, so I am glad.”

“I am a little jealous. I wish I had a pretty lady dropping off gifts for me.”

I saw that there was a placard on the desk that said Blessed.

“You are blessed, though,” I said quickly to get the attention off of me.

“Not really,” he said, laughing. “Are you nervous?”

I was trying my hardest not to let that show.

“Yes. I am not familiar with this neighborhood. I am always afraid of getting lost, and this isn’t the nicest spot to be in.”

“Me too,” he said. “It is scary down here.”

How reassuring.

Another guy came down the stairs.

“This is my boss. Is it okay if she leaves this guitar and speaker?”

When it was explained what I was doing, this man said,

“That is so nice of you! This is his second time in, and he is doing so well.”

“I told him that God was telling him to stay on the path he was on. The guitar was his sign.”

“Do you want to be a counselor here?” The donut guy behind the desk asked. Uh, no.

“God can do anything,” the other man said. “He can just come along and do anything. Everyone needs a sign from God.”

I just wanted about one million angels to escort me back to my car parked by a ladened graffiti building.

“We will be sure he gets that to start using it right away.”

I drove past the donation place on the way home, but there was no sign of him. I am sure they rotate their help where it’s needed. It wasn’t lost on me that I had helped a person to know God loved him. And the weird part was that I wasn’t even aware of it at the time. A musician from heaven was directing my steps.

In Psalm 96, it says this:

Good people, cheer God!
Right-living people sound best when praising.
Use guitars to reinforce your Hallelujahs! (Message)

You never know how you will be used to help others sing a new song.

Sucker

I was recently shocked to discover that my long-held belief was based on absolutely nothing.

Long ago, in a land kind of in the exact neighborhood I live in now because I never really moved that far away from my original upbringing, I had a childhood that consisted of discipline, things I didn’t want to do but was told I had to, and candy.

We didn’t get a lot of it, but what I did manage to have come my way still reminds me of how I used it as a way to escape, like other drugs of choice. Sugar in a brightly colored concoction can do wonders to remove you mentally from a trying moment of your youth.

They say that the white granules are more addictive than cocaine in lab rats. That explains why I never understood the role of Willy Wonka and how odd he was. Unless you have taken mind-altering drugs or over-eaten pixie sticks, he didn’t make a lot of sense.

There’s a high competitive undertone in that entry into the highly sought after company which can only be had by finding the golden ticket strategically hidden in candy bars. This brings out the worst in people who try to obtain what they think will buy them happiness.

I understood the concept of the greedy children being taught a lesson. Still, there seemed to be no regard at all for their demise by being sucked up a tube, getting stuck in a television, or expanding into a gigantic blueberry.

As a child watching, it was somewhat disconcerting as he moved along the chocolate factory, not seeming to care that the kids following him were getting picked off one by one. This then cued the singing and dancing of orange colored men. It was almost as bad as the witch from the Wizard of Oz, who gave me nightmares for a long time. I have heard others were terrified of the flying monkeys. They weren’t even in charge.

The only redeeming quality of the entire story is that Charlie, a boy from poverty, who wants nothing, ends up gaining the whole operation where he and his family will live forever. It sends the message that those who are humble and don’t take advantage of others will win in the end.

But you wonder, did the other ones learn from their mistakes, or did they keep on taking despite their abrupt departure? Did they go back out into the world and continue to roll others over to get what they wanted?

It seemed as if the parents had instilled this bratty behavior in them to the point of no return. They placated and gave in to their every demand because it calmed down the conflict. It was easier to be passive than to say no, which would have brought on a temper tantrum. So to not upset the apple cart, they gave in and weakly surrendered their authority.

I have seen this in action where a child insists on their way and is given what they demand, even though it’s not the right decision. This fosters in the next situation over another item, and a pattern becomes established.

It becomes difficult to recall where it all began in the long run. It just appears that a person is a taker. They were created by people who should have corrected it but didn’t want to cause a stir. They chose the path of least resistance to be nice.

I have seen the trials of parents trying to negotiate with their kids in public. It’s the usual screaming and sometimes throwing themselves on the floor over something they cannot have. It can go two ways, but I always cringe when the parent says no a million times and then hands over the very thing that is the source of contention.

It’s not only that the child won the war but also that the parent does not stick to what was said. The idea of wearing someone down until they get their way has been established, which becomes part of a person’s character. Unknown to many, this limits them spiritually.

What are the consequences of such behavior? It’s spoken of in John 2:16–17:

Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity. (Message)

It makes it tough to follow God’s voice and be led when you always get your way.

You are not challenged on any level to die to yourself when you are not in a situation to lean totally on God as your source. Believe it or not, having everything taken away and hearing the word “no” isn’t always a bad thing. I have learned through my tough life stages that there is a realm higher than this one, but it can only be accessed by total submission.

This doesn’t mean God wants to punish you, but things will move in a way to get your attention. Living from an eternal perspective sometimes comes in a way that isn’t always to our liking, but there is always a reason for it.

What might feel like suffering today will open doors for greater understanding tomorrow.

When we are in a comfort zone or pattern of familiarity, these forces keep us from growing into our life purpose and higher state of existence. When you get stuck and preoccupied with minor issues, you cannot expect to be given more important things.

God never gives up, though, because there is work to be done on his behalf. So heaven is always trying to wake us up to a deeper understanding of things if we will listen.

My daughter brought home cherry Tootsie Roll pops. I usually try to eat healthily and not let myself have that type of thing. If I really am struggling with saying absolutely no, I find somewhere on my body a slight bit of extra and tell myself it will only make more. And I wear the tightest pair of jeans in my closet. Anything that stretches gives the illusion all is well when it might not be.

As I looked at the bag, I mentally went through a reasoning process. I had been good all week, worked out every single day not only with resistance training but also getting in my 10,000 steps. When I realized I had cleaned the house, I took one.

I instantly looked at the wrapper and said,

“I wonder if this has a kid dressed like an Indian shooting a star?”

My daughter said,

“What do you mean?”

“When I used to eat these, we were told to always look for that on the wrapper.”

Sure, enough, it was there. But, the star was a heart because it was Valentine-themed.

Her inquiry made me think.

“Why have I been doing this all these years? What’s the point of looking for this certain boy doing archery?”

I had never questioned this. It was something I just did on autopilot. Someone had told me it was necessary, and I had gone along with it. I recall the disappointment of not seeing it, but what for? Not finding this made me feel like a total loser when I was little.

I searched online to find out what I was missing. Apparently, this was a big fat rumor that had gotten started and spread like wildfire. Someone claimed that if you were lucky to have found this on your wrapper, you could mail it in to the company for a free one.

All of it was a lie. The company debunked this myth, but I read that one man who owned a grocery store took pity on those who believed it and honored it by handing out free pops.

News like that makes one reflect on what else has been pawned off as fact but isn’t? It’s so unreal that a person can get this far along in life and keep on doing something mindlessly based on faulty thinking. How gullible can we be?

How many licks does it take to get to the center of the truth? Way more than three, I can tell you.

As long as you stay flexible in your thinking and ask God to show you the path, I believe that you will be guided as much as you will allow. If you give up your will, you will be shown the way.

In Ephesians 6:14 it says,

So stand firm and hold your ground, having tightened the wide band of truth (personal integrity, moral courage) around your waist and having put on the breastplate of righteousness(an upright heart)(Amplified)

There will be individuals who will look to use your kindness for their selfish ways. But, God always brings balance where you won’t feel guilty if you decline to help, and you won’t be a part of promoting greed. Instead, you will be sent to be of help where your assistance isn’t creating more taking.

God loves a joyful giver, but you don’t have to fall prey to being a sucker.

It means nothing…

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…)

King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It is considered theft.”

Hypocrisy at its highest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She immediately vaporized in the hall.

“How did it go?”

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

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

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

Her life stressors didn’t excuse her brutality.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further in verses 25-29,

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

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

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

Dark Path

You really haven’t lived until your eyeballs are frozen, and you have lost all feeling in your fingers. When I bought tickets to go on a luminary walk in the winter, it sounded peaceful. An event named Candlelight and Ice was so appealing because we had not seen one flake of snow. It was a deceiving offer as it presented itself in October when the days still were sunshine filled, and the wind was warm. Not wicked cold and blowing sideways. And, the sun disappears after not making much of an appearance by 4:30. 

We made our way to the wildlife rescue that was a half-hour away. The temperature was only going to drop more, so I figured if we got there earlier, our chances of dying from hypothermia would be less. Apparently, so did everyone else. There were spaces available for ten cars at the most, and at least seventy-five of us had shown up right when it began. I had to drive away from where we were supposed to enter and park on a side street. 

This added to our time out in the elements where you can see your breath. Something that you would never think about and take for granted suddenly reminds you that you are still alive. 

At first, the fresh air feels decent because we are locked up so much with a furnace running full blast. You breathe it in, wondering why you haven’t done this sooner. By the time you dodge traffic and get back to where you started, it is beginning to occur to you that you should have dressed warmer. This is when your lungs start to let you know that they are not accustomed to taking in air that has come straight from Siberia. 

When you look around during times like this, people are basically all foreheads and eyebrows. Not an inch of bare skin is visible, and everyone moves stiffly because their arms and legs are restricted by limited mobility. They have put on layers and stuffed themselves into jackets and ski pants. The frigid air is filled with the high squeaky sound of nylon rubbing against nylon. Everyone is trying to move quickly, but they are going nowhere. 

You know that all of these people are some of the same ones that were at the Sunflower Festival in August when the temperature hit one hundred degrees, and the suffering was the opposite. Just so you can get that perfect picture of fields teeming with vibrant yellow flowers, you traipse through the dirt that kicks up dust, so you go home a dirty mess. 

“I have your name right on my list,” the lady said. “You can either go to the right or the left. The one to the left is the longer of the two.”

This was to lead us through the woods with the two trails to choose from. If I have taken the time to drive thirty minutes away from home, I will not take the mini version of anything. I am going to make sure that I drag my frozen corpse down the one that is going to give me the whole experience that offers the bluest lips and most windburnt skin. 

Both of us stopped for a minute and decided where to house our phones so we could easily access our cameras. I had on enormous gloves that were three times the size of my hands, so zipping up a pocket was a miracle. In this type of situation, you want to expose any part of yourself as little as possible. 

But then it happened. I saw how beautiful the candles were glowing on the trail ahead of me. So I removed one glove with my teeth and was going to capture it. Right as I was going to take it, two kids ran ahead of me and started tripping and falling all over each other. Then the pushing, shoving, and the wrestling began. 

There went the idea of peace as they beat each other up in the snow. 

This is where the ‘ice’ part of my night began as my right hand became immovable.

“I have to put my fingers together inside of my glove,” she said.

I did the same thing as I moved ahead. Now I was walking with fists inside of my gloves, trying to get them to return to normal, and just as they did, I saw another picture-worthy moment. Thus, began the freeze and thaw process. 

“Weren’t there supposed to be animals out here? Didn’t you say we would see deer or owls?”

“That is what the description said. I think it said if you looked close enough, you might see something.”

If your eyes are still functioning. 

“All the wildlife are smart and have gone someplace warm, unlike us,” she said as both of us felt our legs beginning to go numb. I do pay a mortgage on a fully heated house, so why would I go outside and put myself through that?  

Because it’s pretty.  

There is something that calls us into nature, even if it is miserable. Later, we tell everyone we went, but during it, you are wondering why you came.

I have had the same experience with God. You recognize the still, small whisper telling you to do something and then wonder why you are doing it. It doesn’t make any sense, it feels so uncomfortable, and you don’t have to if you don’t want to. But, you do it because your relationship with heaven is more important than any other thing you can think of.  

During a time when I had next to nothing to live on, I was in a mall with my two daughters. I glanced over at a young couple sitting a few tables away from us in the food court. I had a twenty-dollar bill in my wallet that I was hanging onto. I was limiting what I was eating to be sure that my money would last longer and that they had everything they needed. 

I wasn’t trusting God fully at the time to help me, and I lived in fear. Yet, when I heard the familiar voice say, offer them the money, I pushed my chair away from the table and told my daughters I would be right back. I didn’t give it a second thought as I walked over to them. They both looked up at me.

“I am supposed to give you this,” I said. Whenever I have done this, people look surprised. I noticed a newborn baby in a carrier sitting next to them. I hadn’t seen it from where I was. 

The young mom said,

“We were just talking about how we needed to buy more diapers, but he doesn’t get paid until tomorrow. We don’t have any extra money right now.”  

“Then take it,” I said. “It’s yours, not mine.” I had just relieved the burden of another and forgot all about my own.

That became a pivotal point in my walk with God, where no matter how much I felt I was living the unbearable, I would be a giver and act on it when I was told to. It takes a bit of sharpening of spiritual hearing because all of your logical parts will scream and tell you not to listen. Every single reason you should not do what you are hearing will manifest itself. So I had learned to move fast. Don’t think. 

I had read this in the book of James,

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like. (Message)

I didn’t want my faith to be dead. 

As I walked in the cold air amongst all the softly glowing bags and containers that lit my way, I was reminded of this great verse from Psalm 119:105 that tells you who God can be to you, if you allow it,

By your words I can see where I’m going; they throw a beam of light on my dark path. (Message)

(This may or may not have been when my legs lost all feeling…)

Spill

When you live in a state that gets snow and a lot of it, you are in a season where you have to adjust your thinking when you walk into the house and remove your shoes. There is nothing more annoying than to step in a puddle of water left by the boots of another before you. Somehow, the rug got missed, and you come in unknowingly and find your foot soaking wet. It doesn’t get any better when you remove your socks and then step into another wet place with your bare feet, which are already freezing.

This is where analytical thinking takes over. You have the choice to hop across the room for the paper towels, so you only leave one track versus two to clean up or move faster and have to deal with more of a mess.

If you do not attend to this immediately, you run the risk of this happening for the rest of the day, and words you would not say that many times in a row stream from your mouth as you use multiple pairs of socks and now you have to do laundry because you have gone through all that you own.

Another object that can cause the same havoc is the dog’s water bowl. A pleasant morning can take a turn when you hit that, sending it all over you while trying to put something in the garbage, which then tips over. Within moments of getting out of bed, you wonder what you have done to cause the forces of nature to already be against you.

Adding insult to injury, you go to the fridge, and someone has precariously balanced a can of something on the very edge of the shelf to fit it in because no one has taken the time to declutter and throw unwanted items. It flies out and lands on the foot that went unscathed by the water bowl and splashes all of you. Just go back to bed for the week.

I sat down at a grocery store in a section that had tables and chairs so I could look over my list for a second because there is nothing worse than to make your way through the aisles, get all the way home, and discover you left the one thing that you needed the most.

I was drinking something out of a glass without a lid. After one sip, I knocked it directly into my lap. My workout pants were instantly a sponge sucking up all of the liquid. I jumped up, grabbed anything that would have been in the path of it, and looked to my daughter for help, whose eyes were gigantic.

She, way slower than I would have liked, started to wander, trying to find napkins or anything to assist me. I could not believe how she walked unhurriedly to come to my rescue. Later, she said,

“I was concentrating! Do you want me to panic when I am trying to help?”

Yes! I do.

“It appeared that you did not care when you did not go quicker.”

“I think better when I go slower.”

“While you went slower, the water was soaking into my skin more.”

Seeing my horrible situation, a man sprinted over and handed me a towel. We still don’t know where he got it or where he came from. She threw a bunch of napkins my way to start cleaning up the table.

I froze in place when it happened, but now I had to move.

“I feel like my water broke. I never had this happen in real life. I can cross this off my bucket list now,” I said. “It’s not as glamorous as they make it out to be.”

“I am sorry this happened,” she said. I looked over at her again with a highly wet napkin in my hand as I tried to mop up the damage. That’s when she burst out laughing so loud she couldn’t contain herself. Just when you think they are sincere.

“No, really, I am sorry…” and she couldn’t finish what she was saying because she kept getting hit with laughter. Which then made me laugh.

“Where did that guy come from?” she asked, trying to catch her breath.

“I don’t know, but he moved faster than you did.”

Now I had a decision to make. Do I leave and come back later with dry clothes on? Or do I bite the bullet and walk around with water seeping into places I would rather not have it be? Every time I moved, it made itself at home even more than seconds before.

With every wince, she tried to be sympathetic, she really did, but she couldn’t help her giggles that kept surfacing.

“I feel like I have to walk like I just got off a horse. If I do that, it’s bearable.”

“Let me see how bad it looks,” she said.

I turned all the way around so she could see me from all angles. The front of my legs had dark spots where I had been flooded.

“It’s not that noticeable. I can hardly see anything.” That’s what they all say.

“That’s because the worst of its in a place that cannot be seen with the human eye right now.”

“Put your coat on. That will cover up most of it.”

It was true. I was in good shape until I started to walk, and a draft began.

“You would not believe how cold I am right now,” I said. When we got to the freezer section, the temperature dropped significantly from my waist down.

By the time I was at the checkout, I didn’t notice it as much. I had on moisture-wicking pants, so they had gone to work, giving me a false sense of security. I exited, and a brutal wind chill cut across my lower half, reminding me that I wasn’t home free yet. Running to the car to speed up my departure wasn’t the most exciting either.

“Are you really getting into the car ahead of me?” I asked as she jumped into the passenger side.

“I am COLD!” She said as her hair whipped her across the face.

“Really?”

I could either argue my point or get the cart back. Another sprint wasn’t going to kill me. Sitting down on my cold car seat would.

“I wish I could drive standing up,” I said, with my entire body pushed away as far from a seated position. My head was on the roof as I dangled my keys in my right hand, putting off the unpleasantness that was about to come.

I slowly slid down to face the inevitable. Breathing always helps just when it doesn’t.

“I am going to have icicles where I do not want them,” I said in between clenched teeth.

When I got back home, I became so involved with putting everything away, and my other daughter started telling me about her day, I completely forgot all about the incident.

About an hour later, my daughter said,

“Are you still wearing the same pants you had on in the store?”

I looked down and realized I had forgotten all about it.

“Oh, my gosh! Yes! They have totally dried!”

This sent her into another wave of laughter.

We have secrets that we think are so big that we cannot divulge them to another person. But, God wants us to walk in freedom, so a trusted person will come across your path at some point that you can tell everything to. You will know when you find yourself suddenly talking about something you would have never imagined expressing.

If you haven’t had this happen, pray for it. A person will be sent so you can unburden this weight that so heavily keeps you in a place that feels like torture. And, the one who is supplied to help you won’t ridicule you, they will make you see the truth of a situation that probably isn’t as bad as you think it is and will lead you into breathing easy again.

God is so kind that I have been given more than one who will all say the same things to me in response without anyone knowing except for me. That’s always an indication that God is at work when you hear the same message that brings comfort.

Just like when I unexpectedly gave myself a shower in the middle of a store, revealing this hidden part of yourself will feel uncomfortable at first, but then you will forget all about it. When you let another person or two bring you the support you need, you see the feelings of fear begin to lift as they bring you up higher.

In Ephesians 4:25, we are given a warning against not letting others know true, deep things and how this, in the long run, creates problems,

Stop lying to each other; tell the truth, for we are parts of each other, and when we lie to each other, we are hurting ourselves.(TLB)

Whatever you see on the outside reflects what is happening on the inside of you. If you want to associate with like-minded, caring people, then you will have to change your ways. You can swim in the deep end or wade in the shallow, safe parts of the pool.

In Ephesians 4:15, it is explained how this will work out to your advantage,

God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth, and tell it in love. (Message)

If you insist on hiding, you will, and it’s miserable, stunting your spiritual growth. But, if you allow yourself to be vulnerable and trust that others can help, a whole new world will open up before you. You will see the good in people, and it will prove to you that you are not alone or crazy. Hold yourself back, restrain your authentic self, and live in a minimal way. Or let it spill.

(At least pretend to hurry…)

Game Playing

“This is exactly what we need!”

I had heard this sentence so many times since living on the same street for a very long time. The advantage to having a lot of traffic is that I can put any item on the curb, and it will disappear quickly. Sometimes it will happen at midnight, while I’m not aware, and at other times, I will barely be back up the driveway, and the recipients will see me.

“Are you sure this is for free?” They will say.

If it’s garbage, it goes in the trash, but if it’s something I am told to give away, it will be displayed.

I had named the original tree that used to be there. If my girls had anything they no longer wanted and it was in good shape, they knew I would say,

“Go put it under the giving tree.”

I could have easily sold some of these things, but it was more fun to give it and less hassle for me. I had done my garage sales, and I gave away items when someone couldn’t pay for something, so why go through all that work? It took up less of my time to drag stuff down and walk away.

One day, my youngest daughter was being a bit more independent than I liked, and she was engaged in a back and forth with me. I started to run out of things to say, so I said,

“You know the giving tree out there? Things always disappear quickly. I might just sit you under that tree.”

She laughed, knowing she won whatever we were not in agreement over.

The tree got hit by someone under the influence, but the city replaced it with a new one.

The most memorable donation was my dining room table and chairs. I had just happened to go out just as a lady was loading them into the back of a truck.

I walked over to see that she was crying.

“This will be the first year for the holidays that my kids and I won’t have to use lawn chairs and an old table that is falling apart. I have five kids, so six chairs are just perfect. And it’s free? I could never have afforded this.” She was a single mom like me, raising her children, and didn’t have a lot of funds to spare.

While the world says we should hang on to what we have to survive, God says,

“Give.”

In Luke, it says,

Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity. (Message)

When you are guided to do something that makes absolutely no sense, that generally means you aren’t in charge, but it can turn out to be the best for you.

“Where am I at for a total?” He asked.

The cashier looked at her screen and read off the amount.

“I will be done in a minute. I’m sorry,” he said to me.

In his cart, he had piled in every game off the shelves.

“That’s okay,” I said. “Do you sell these online?”

“Yes. This is how I make my living, and there aren’t board games like this where I live.”

I explained that I had spent time in line with my daughter, a YouTuber, as she has rescued and restored dolls for her channel. I knew what a haul was.

“I sell on Amazon, Etsy, and eBay. This is all I do day and night. We just moved to South Carolina from Illinois, but I make the drive back to get to all these places to pick up more. People who live in warmer areas don’t seem to sit around a table inside when the weather is so nice, but in colder climates, people do. What else are you going to do during a snowstorm?”

Against the standard way of working, he walked away from a job as a manager at a fast-food restaurant. He had been at this for seven years, and his knowledge had led him to a prosperous career. He tried college, but that didn’t go over so well.

“I was required to buy a $300 calculator for Calculus. I couldn’t afford it, but I worked the problem without it. I got the right answer, and the instructor accused me of mocking him. I walked away for good that day.”

Everything happens for a reason.

“So you gave up your health insurance and benefits to be your own boss?”

“Yes. I have a daughter and a son. My wife doesn’t have to work because I profit from this. I do it all by myself, and since the pandemic, people want board games to be at home with family.”

I saw a short, glowing person on his left side as he spoke.

I heard grandparent.

“With all these new ways of earning money, this probably wouldn’t have made sense to your grandparents. They would have probably told you to get a real job.”

That has been said to my daughter by the ignorant.

“Well, my grandma did trade shows. I always went with her to set up and help. So she understood.”

“How long has she been gone?”

“A couple of years.”

Now I knew who it was.

“We used to go to her house for Christmas and play one game after another. They had Clue, Monopoly, and Life. All the old stuff.”

He had multiples of those in his cart.

“Every crappy job I had until now, I have gotten something that I can apply to this business. I had to learn and then get brave and launch it. I am the happiest I have ever been. I own a house and a car that I would never have had without doing this. I have money set aside for my retirement and for my kids’ education.”

“How old are you?” I asked.

“Thirty-nine. I just know this is going to work out for a long time. My thirteen-year-old asked me why we don’t play games. After all the hours I put in, I can’t stand to look at them sometimes.”

“What if she helped you? So she doesn’t feel left out. You don’t want her to grow up and feel resentful.”

“I have always wanted to start a YouTube channel where I explain how to play some of these. People lose the instructions all the time.”

“What if she did that? What if your son and wife played the games and she had a channel?”

“That’s a great idea. She could make money eventually and do something besides playing a video game.”

“You are teaching your kids not to follow what everyone else is doing. They will see they can do anything.”

“I want that. For me, a regular job was not what I wanted, so I’m so glad I have this.”

It’s not easy as he leaves his home on a Thursday, does his shopping trips, gets back home on Sunday, and then has to work on packaging and marketing online.

I pointed him in the direction of two other stores nearby he wasn’t aware of.

“Those are both close. My goal is to fill the UHaul and get home quick.”

Bernie is living the dream. Why? Because he followed a lead that led to more information, he now has a full-blown way to live free and do something he enjoys. For most people, they wouldn’t have even tried, and for others, they would have spent their time complaining about how difficult it was. Not him. He couldn’t tell me enough about the job from Amazon rules, fees, and red tape. But he never was negative for one second. It’s just what he has to do to have his freedom. At one point, he said,

“America is great. You can do anything and be successful here.”

In Proverbs 18:21 it says,

The tongue has the power of life and death.

By his positive outlook, he is blessing the work of his hands. He is giving God something to work with. And he has taken a bold stand. He isn’t settling for what everyone else has been taught to be the only way to happiness. With that combination going for him, whether he is aware of it or not, he has gained the favor of heaven to bring in provision.

In James 1:17, this is explained,

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (NIV)

This man’s demeanor has all the earmarks of a person who has let God direct his steps. And, when that happens, it isn’t the usual jumping through hoops to make self-driven miracles happen or striving to be at the top. With God, it’s like breathing, simple, easy and no game playing.

Do Over

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s too bad,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Was it hard for you to trust him?”

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

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

God leaves that up to each of us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Right Road

“I think dad has something for you outside,” she said.

“What is it?” I asked.

“You better go see.”

She walked with me to the shed that was at the back of the garage. At first, I didn’t see it until he began to push it toward me.

“This is your bike.”  It was much bigger than my other one that had training wheels.

It was a beauty painted a bright lime green with a flowered banana seat to match and handlebars that were designed to make it look like a motorcycle. I jumped on it so he could adjust it to my height.

“Let’s give it a try,”he said.

This was the first time I was to ride without the help of two extra small wheels. I had reached the age of liberation, and I was thrilled.

When I started to walk toward the driveway with it, he redirected me by saying,

“Not that way. We have to go through the backyard and go on Norway.”

This was how I became introduced to the fact that I was banned from riding freely on the street in front of our house. It had something to do with it being the 1970’s, having the neighborhood filled with teen drivers galore and people zooming so fast that the living room floor vibrated when they roared by.

My mother was adamant that I not put one toe toward that direction for fear of my safety. The route behind our house never had a single vehicle ever drive on it, so she knew I wouldn’t get run over while practicing. My dad hung on to the back while I pedaled to teach me to balance, and in no time I was moving along quite easily. It was all so exciting at first until monotony set in from seeing the same scenery.

I often wondered when I looked out  our front window and saw other kids gliding by why they weren’t quarantined to a dull, obsolete street like I was. Where were their concerned parents? These children were right out in the street living life on the edge.

A neighbor friend rode her bike over one day and asked if I could join her.

I ran in the house and got permission with the usual stern response,

“Yes, but only on Norway Street.”

It was futile to argue as all of my attempts prior had fallen flat.

I backed out from the garage and started walking through the yard to the gate.

“Let’s go ride on the other street,” she said

“I can’t. My mom won’t let me. She thinks it isn’t safe because cars go by so fast.”

“I do it all the time,” she whined.

This conversation went on all the while we walked through the back alley. She was wearing down my already fragile resistance.

“My mom lets me go wherever I want to. Yours treats you like a baby.”

How was I supposed to deal with that? The more she talked the more I was convinced that one small jaunt elsewhere wouldn’t hurt me.

“Okay,” I said.

I turned myself in a direction I had never gone before. The wind whipping through my hair felt better than ever. Just as I would begin to relax, however, I would recall that I was on a forbidden thoroughfare. I quickly checked over my left shoulder and then my right to be sure no one was following and reporting back to headquarters.

Moments into this glorious and freeing experience, I saw a familiar figure up ahead. It was one of my three brothers!

There was no denying what I was up to, and all members of the household knew the rules that were set for me because they had gone through the same thing.

There was no getting around him or fleeing the other way. I had to go past him and face the consequences. As I went by him, he said,

“You aren’t supposed be on this street.”

That’s all he said in the most calm, quiet manner I had ever heard. While I was expecting yelling and ranting and being dragged into the house, that was his only reaction. His unpredictable response threw me straight into fear. I made a beeline for where I was supposed to be.

“Are you in trouble?”

“Probably.”

“I need to go home, ” I said after a few minutes. My momentary adventure had turned the afternoon quite sour.

I put my bike away and noticed that the station wagon was gone.

I walked into the house and found it to be empty and quiet. Just before leaving the kitchen, my brother materialized.

“Mom is gone shopping, so I’m in charge. I didn’t tell her that I saw you riding on the street, and I won’t. Just don’t do it again.”

I should have collapsed with relief at his generous offer, but that was when the tightness in my chest began, and I couldn’t rid myself of it.

I kept replaying the scene over in my head and feeling guilty for not being given a proper sentencing.

I tossed and turned all night, dreaming of being caught, and waking up drenched in sweat from nightmares. I woke up to the sound of my mom working in the kitchen.  How was I going to face her at breakfast? Like ripping off a band aid, I decided to get it over with as quick as I could.  I sprang out of bed, flung open my bedroom door as the floodgate of my tears rushed down my face.

Crying did not relieve the crushing weight on my chest.  It intensified the problem and left me only able to gulp and my vocal cords to fail me.

“What is wrong?” she said looking up at me from the kitchen table.

I saw her give me the usual registered nurse scan to check my coloring, dehydration level, and my pupil size.  When you have six kids, and one comes staggering out of her bedroom at an early hour in the summertime, no good is usually going to come of it.  She was probably getting ready to grab a basin just in case I was about to throw up.

“Don’t you feel good?” she asked.

The compassion in her voice just made me cry harder.  I was not worthy of being asked if I was alright.  I had committed a crime without punishment, and I couldn’t handle it.

The sniffs and shudders continued until I got myself under control and admitted my wrong doing in understandable English.

“So, you rode your bike on the street that you aren’t supposed to?”

“Y-y-yes,” I said.

“Do you promise never to do that again?”

I nodded.  It was easier than trying to speak.

“Then I won’t take your bike away this time.  But, if you ever do it again, you can’t ride it anymore.  Do you understand?”

Another nod as she handed me a tissue.

“Okay.  What do you want for breakfast?”

I couldn’t believe the fortune I had struck at not having something bad befall me after going out of my way to blatantly go against her orders.  She had every right to send me to my room for however long she wanted.  My bike should have been locked up for weeks.  But, none of that happened and instead, I was given a bowl of cereal and a glass of juice.

I found out many years later the behind the scene conversation that my brother had with her.  Apparently, he had told her he had seen me even though he told me he wouldn’t.  I guess his theory was that if he said that to me, and made her aware of my disobedience, then she could be on the lookout for any future rebellion on my part.  My sobbing confession made my mom see that my conscience was alive and healthy, and she could trust that I was not going to put myself into that predicament again.

In my walk with God, and in the times when I have messed things up, it has been demonstrated to me the type of approach that my brother took.  Instead of lashing out, and bringing down the hammer, my misgivings are often shown to me in subtle, non-threatening ways so I can make some changes.  And, the only reason why those mishaps are revealed to me is because of the great love of God.  We are here to live a life that is joyful and rewarding not riddled with shame and guilt.  When we find ourselves veering off into the wrong lane or one that isn’t for our highest good, we can depend on the reliability and faithfulness of heaven to put us back on the right roadbike

(My old bike in the rafters in storage)