Retrieve Your Liberty

The drive was a dark twenty minutes from her workplace to our home. Post Christmas and New Year’s was evident by the lack of twinkling pretty lights I had enjoyed looking at on this stretch just a few weeks ago. While she sat in the back catching up on her social media, I glanced at the clock to see it was twenty to ten. I pondered what I should do first when I got home. The laundry was partly complete with some items still in the wash when I left and some in the dryer. The dishwasher was calling my name to be emptied of its clean contents. But, there was the lure of the lateness of the hour and the end of a full day which usually meant pajamas, a snack and a couch cushion that had my imprint on it.

All of this thinking led to other thoughts. Why had her Jeep Liberty blown up on her just a month before she finished school in December? The head gasket could have held itself together just a tad bit longer so she could finish, start her new job and figure out what to do next. However, that is not how life presents itself at times. On November 11, she experienced a rather thrilling ride home with a temperature gauge rising out of control. She made it safely, but the next day we took it to a local shop.

After the car was gone for about thirty minutes, the phone call came asking if we could meet with the mechanic. I knew while I was driving back that generally easy news is delivered over the phone and an in person explanation meant trouble.

We were escorted into the back where many cars hung suspended and the smell of oils and solvents penetrated the air. Or was that my fear? I am not sure. A young man with a clipboard approached us and said,

“You really have two choices. She has a blown head gasket, so we can put in a refurbished engine which will cost $4,000 or a brand new engine for $8,000.”

I think we both experienced a gut punch simultaneously. This was the first vehicle she ever owned and it had seemed so reliable with its four wheel drive in the winter over the past two and a half years.  Just minor tiny fixes here and there had been required but nothing she couldn’t manage.

“Do you have $8,000?” I asked her. “How about $4,000?” I was hoping that the mechanic would actually hear what I was saying and how crazy I thought he was for even telling us such a thing. The car had 175,000 miles on it.

She silently shook her head. I knew she was feeling just as frustrated about the whole thing as I was. She had taken nearly all of her hard earned savings and put it toward a short term college course so she could move ahead in life. A good decision that now seemed to be rewarded with a punishment.

I thanked him for his time and exited. I didn’t get out the door before the guy at the front desk tried to tell us to apply for their credit card offer and put the entire expense on it. I didn’t thank him for his time, and I got back out into the parking lot as quickly as I could.

Because I wanted to be sure we had both heard the correct news, I took the car to another shop that following week. It was determined that the car did indeed have a blown head gasket, and the work would be roughly over $3,000 for repair. We parked it in the garage, as if putting it into hospice, with its terminal diagnosis.

I would find myself walking by it on the way to my car often wondering why. It looked so nice on the outside, so why did it have to betray her? To make the situation sting even more was the fact that she still was making payments on it. So, to sell it meant she had to find a buyer who would give her enough to pay off the loan so she could walk away free and clear.   Our choices were limited by lack of finances, and nothing seemed to give us any freedom from the problem.

Thus, began my chauffeuring service so she could finish school and get to work. This also entailed car pooling to stores so she wouldn’t feel so trapped in the house without transportation. All of this was transpiring during Thanksgiving and Christmas which can always bring a mad rush to shop, prepare the huge feast, bake and shop some more.  At other times of the year, my time isn’t as constrained, but this was the height of hectic.

So, on this dark January night, as I drove along contemplating all of it, my wonderings of why became more prevalent.   I pulled into the garage and we both got out at about the exact moment.  Now it was nearly ten, and winter had set in.  It wasn’t below zero, but a crisp twenty degrees generally sends most into the house quickly.  However, I saw her turn her head and say something about a dog.  Then, I saw her crouching down just outside the garage in the driveway.

I looked toward the sidewalk and saw the most beautiful retriever come to a screeching slide as she tried to heed my daughter’s call.  I joined in saying,

“Come here!  Come on!”  I got down low as well so the dog would see that we would mean her no harm.  She did that belly crawl type walk where a dog wants to keep running but they are so enticed by the command to come, they can’t help themselves.  Then, she sprang into action and ran right to my daughter.

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“Does she have a collar?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she answered as the dog was excitedly wagging its tail and trying to lick her face.  I reached down and found a collar to hang on to.  Just as I did, I heard a slight wheezing sound.

“Oh!  Hang on to her!  Oh!  Please!  OH!” The dog heard this too and tried to wiggle her neck out of the collar, but I knew that trick and grabbed on tighter with both hands.  Obviously, she wasn’t out for a relaxing evening stroll with her owner.

I saw a short woman puffing out quick breaths as she tried to get up our driveway.  It was like she was running and not making much progress.  The sidewalk was slick so she was also trying not to fall.

“OH!  You caught her!  Hang on to her!”  She was trying to breathe and talk so it was hard to understand her.   I pulled the dog into the garage with the woman as my daughter ran and shut the garage door.  At this, the dog happily took off to investigate the entire garage while the woman slumped over my car in sheer agony.  I put my hand on her shoulder and said,

“Breathe.  Just breathe.  She is okay now.”  Then, when she looked up, I said,

“Hey!  I know you!”  We hadn’t seen each other for awhile, but I had walked by her house many times during warmer weather and we would talk.  I had gone to a couple of her garage sales as well during my twenty-four year residence in the neighborhood.

“Well, hi!” she said and hugged me.  While doing so, she gasped,

“I am so glad you two came along!  I have been chasing her for awhile.  She got out and wouldn’t stop running.  I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was starting to panic.”

She draped herself over my vehicle again as she caught her breath.  I told her to inhale and relax.  Meanwhile, her dog was running around happy as could be.

“We took her in last July from a family that couldn’t keep her anymore. The lady had cancer and her husband couldn’t keep the dog, so we are all still adjusting.”  I watched as the dog bounded around so full of life for her young age without at clue that she had nearly given the woman some sort of attack whether heart or asthma.

It was decided that the owner would sneak through my house, go home, gather up a leash and return with her car.  While she was away, my daughter sat on the steps waiting.  I saw the dog sit down next to her, look her in the eye and give her an enormous slurp from her chin to her hairline.  We both laughed.  It was like the dog knew us her whole life and had strolled over to casually say hello.

This may sound odd, but in that second, I knew deep in my heart that my late night pick up and all of its hassle had a point.   Normally, when I pull into the garage, I shut the door and go inside.  If my daughter would have gotten done any earlier, that woman and her dog would have been out running the neighborhood in frigid weather.  It was as if on cue, we had returned to help out a neighbor who was struggling.  The grander picture began to fill my thoughts that I am not here just for the sake of myself. Things occur for a reason, and if I would just stop overthinking it or fighting with myself about it, all of it would eventually make sense.

The dog was answering some of my ‘why’ questions from my drive home.

The woman retrieved her retriever, thanked us profusely again and drove off safely back to her residence.

That night served as a small anchor as more days passed with no answers regarding our dilemma. I would conjure up the image of the dog kissing my daughter’s face just to help myself believe that there is a force who loves me completely and cares for my entire household.  Freedom comes when you are given a hint of something that is divine in nature.  If you can be given the gift of having the ‘why’ question answered, it makes the traveling through the pain easier at times.

As of this writing, a solution has come for my daughter and her car.  After much mental turmoil, I decided to send an email letting someone know of her plight.  I am not one to ask for assistance with my girls as we generally can figure it out ourselves.  To be honest, I think all of us should have some balance with that.  If someone offers to help you, then don’t feel guilt or ashamed in taking the assistance if you need it.  And, if you feel led to ask for help, then just ask. I have found that this actually brings the giver a blessing in return.

My intent in sending the correspondence was only to verbalize and get out on paper what she was going through. In turn, I received a response where my daughter’s car will be restored for her to alleviate the burden.  Did I know this when I wrote what I did?  No.  At no expense to her, an attempt is going to be made to see if the Jeep can be salvaged to its former state.  (Yes, I am still on the floor from fainting from hearing the news of this because I wasn’t expecting that or seeking it.)

I am learning that asking others for help, and allowing God to use me to be someone else’s helper is the ebb and flow of life.  Knowing that you are loved by your Creator makes it possible during a bleak time to stay strong, live a life with meaning, and help you to keep, restore and sometimes retrieve your liberty.

 

 

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A Breath of Fresh Air

I pushed my overflowing cart into the room just as she gasped.

“Help!’ she gurgled. Slumping back onto her pillows that were piled up behind her head, she reached her hand out to me. I put down my squirt bottle and walked over to her side.

That is when the coughing started. Not the simple clearing of the throat, but a lung rattling never ending choke that made her grip my hand all the more.

Then, when the moment had passed, the sound of fluid in her lungs began again as she struggled for oxygen. Her eyes wide with fear she said,

“Help me.”

“You are okay,” I said softly. On the outside I put on the best comforting face I could and placed my other hand over hers, but on the inside, I was horrified by what I was witnessing.

With those words I saw her relax a little just before a second round of a choking fit overtook her.

“Please,” she cried in between the paralyzing coughs and gasps. “I can’t breathe! Help!” The more she panicked, the worse her symptoms raged.

I pushed the call button to summon the nursing staff. I had seen this type of situation before but not this severe. I had begun working at the nursing home at age sixteen, and I was about a year into seeing people at the end stage of life. Contrast this with going to high school, and I was living in two worlds. While the elderly were clinging to life and some wished they had more time, many of my so called peers were on their way to destroying their existence with drugs and alcohol and thought they were going to live forever.

The nurse arrived quickly.

“How are we doing?” she asked.

Always a bright light in most situations, I was glad she was the one working this particular shift. No matter how dire the circumstance, she seemed to bring peace when she spoke to the patients.

“I can’t breathe,” the woman replied with all her strength.

“You can breathe. Just slow down a little and it will help. The harder you struggle, and the more worried you get, the more it feels like you can’t breathe.”

She adjusted the tube under the nose, turned up the oxygen a notch and administered something to relieve the situation. I walked out into the hallway to grab cleaning supplies from my cart.

As she walked past me, I said,

“I feel bad for her. That seems so miserable.”

“She has a lot of fluid in her lungs. She has emphysema from all her years of smoking. When she can’t take a deep breath it makes her panic because she feels like she is drowning.  I gave her the medication the doctor ordered to help her relax a little.”

I returned to the room to find her quiet and only coughing occasionally. I silently went about my work so I wouldn’t disturb her. As I wiped down her dresser, I could see her reflection in the mirror. She was so vulnerable and frail looking with her eyes closed and her labored breathing interrupted by a torrent of rumbling in her chest.  I carefully moved all of her items, dusted and put everything back in its place.  I watered her flowers that the family had brought in, straightened up clothing on a chair, and emptied the waste basket.  Any little movement or sound from her made me look in her direction to be sure she was okay.

I noticed her window was dirty, so I began to spray it with cleaner.  Her view overlooked the parking lot, so as I scrubbed, I could see various staff coming and going.  The back door to the building opened, and the nurse who had just given such good care to the ailing lady exited.  Much to my shock, I watched as she pulled out a pack of cigarettes, lit one and smoked away as if she hadn’t just cared for someone who was on her deathbed.  I stood there with my paper towel roll in mid-air as a coughing fit seized the woman in bed and the nurse happily puffed away in the parking lot smiling and talking to a fellow co-worker smoker.

I could not make sense of it, and to this day the vivid memory haunts me.  I realize addiction exists but what does it take to wake us up to the reality that the decisions we make determine the quality and direction of our path? I am sure the woman confined to her bed would have loved to rewind the clock at that moment and go back to make different choices. She would have given anything to take one, long, deep, satisfying intake of air.  But, would she?  If given another shot, would she soon get swept up in the habit again which would only lead to the same result?

We engage in activities knowing full well that they lead to our own destruction.   I’m not just talking about smoking or over eating. What about worrying? Uncontrolled anger? Jealousy? Judgment? Resentment? Unforgiveness? Fear? Our emotions can be just as detrimental to our physical well being as ingesting a poisonous substance. And, if we feed on the negative thoughts long enough, it can ultimately lead to early death.

In addition, even if the end doesn’t come, living with dark thoughts and attitudes is just as miserable as the woman who couldn’t breathe.  Life becomes confined to a small space where depression and mental torment become the normal.  If this condition is left to go on you become just like the woman who could not escape her own failing lungs.

The good news is this: we have choices.  It may not seem like we do. We want to make excuses for ourselves and say we can’t help the decisions we make.  But we will always have the ultimate say about the direction we are heading.   We can put down the fork. We can extinguish the cigarette.  We can chose to forgive even if the other person is a real piece of work.  There is an important passage that says: Death and life are in the power of your tongue. Choose life!

Speak blessings instead of complaining.  Give someone a compliment instead of a put down.  Start with one little thing and build on it day by day until the light penetrates the dark.  It may take effort.  It doesn’t happen necessarily overnight to rewire ourselves.

“But, I can’t do it on my own. I am not strong enough.”

To this, there is another answer and it isn’t a pill, potion or a puff of something.  Look to the One who created you.  Yes, it is as easy as that.  There doesn’t have to be a long list of rules to follow. There just has to be a simple asking for help and a willing heart that seeks better.  Heaven will respond because you are loved that much.

Similar to opening up a window to let in a gentle breeze that blows away the staleness, inhale the goodness that has been there for you all along. Now, isn’t that a breath of fresh air?

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Playing Your Cards Right

We gathered around Mrs. Iverson’s piano as she pounded out Farmer in the Dell. Our off key faltering voices attempted to sing the familiar song that we had gone over since starting kindergarten with her that fall. It was her way of getting us to settle down and to capture our full attention. When we finished the last note, she said,

“Children, I have something that I need you to take home to your mom and dad today. ”

She held up green and red papers that were folded neatly.

“We are going to be having a class Christmas party and this letter will tell your parents what you need to bring.”

This news brought on an uproar so she quickly ran her fingers across the keyboard to begin the song again.

After another rousing chorus, and peace had been established, she assembled us into a line to hand out invitations to the first school party of our young lives.

I was thrilled to have reached such a pinnacle. Being the youngest of six, I had observed my older siblings celebrating events to which I was not privileged to attend.

The instructions were that each child was to bring a boy/girl gift and in doing so, we would receive a gift in return. Over the weeks leading up to Christmas, our classroom became a blizzard of handmade construction paper snowflakes, endless Santa coloring sheets and a tree adorned with red and green paper chain garland.  Each day, more presents appeared as the kids began bringing in their offerings.

My mom bought a card game that was suitable for a child in that age group. She and I wrapped the gift and affixed a tag that was addressed to a girl from me.   I was so excited to contribute to the pile under the tree. Many of us often looked across the room at the various sized boxes and pretty bows wondering which would make its way into our little hands.

The day before the party, I came home to the delightful smell of spritz cookies and a tray that my mom was putting together for me to take to school. The days of waiting were almost over, and I could hardly sprinkle the colored sugar on the cookies in the right direction as my exhilaration grew.

I woke up in the middle of the night fully aware that something was not right. My stomach felt like a washing machine that was stuck in the spin cycle.  Chills ran up and down my skin, yet, I felt heat coming off my forehead.

“Mom?” I called out weakly.

Being a nurse, she was at my bedside in seconds with a basin. I guess by the time you have six kids you recognize a distress call even when you are in a dead sleep.  It was a good thing she brought the bucket.

After determining I was running a fever, she said,

“I don’t think you are going to be able to go to the party,”

I reluctantly fell back to sleep with tears brimming in my eyes at the thought of missing out on something I had waited my entire life for.  I slipped into the black abyss of stomach flu dreams.

By morning, I was not any better so I resigned myself to the fact that I was not going anywhere.

“I will have your sister walk up to the school later this afternoon and get your gift,” she said trying to console me.

I sipped on clear carbonated beverages and took small bites of saltine crackers as the virus worked its way through my body. Falling asleep off and on during the day only made time seem to go slower. I would wake up after a five minute nap feeling as if hours had gone by only to see the clock not advancing.

Finally, I heard my sister return and voices talking in the kitchen. I propped myself up in bed. This was the moment I had been waiting for.

My mom came into my room with a package that looked similar to the one I had brought.

“Hey. This looks like our paper we used.”

I looked up at her and saw a tinge of sadness.

“This is your gift. The teacher forgot to put it into the exchange.”

I unwrapped it and put it aside. The game that was supposed to bring so much merriment to another child now represented disappointment, and I would have rather thrown it into the trash.

Years later, I found the deck on a shelf in my parent’s basement unopened.  I opened the box and took off the shrink wrap and read the instructions.  I realized that I had let someone ruin something for me so long ago.  As a child, that is understandable.  I had felt rejected, unwanted, unworthy.  All these things that I felt in my heart that I could not express at the age of five.  I had decided that I would take it out on the gift that had an intent to bring happiness to the receiver.

As I played the game, I forgave this particular authority figure.  Had she done the right thing? No. However, what was the point of hanging on to the pain?  The only thing it accomplished was to keep me chained to my past.  The moment had come and gone for her, I am sure.  She probably isn’t alive today.  So, the only person I was punishing was me.

It is a well known fact that holidays with family and co-workers can be miserable for some.   There can be awkward silences, or suffering in silence and then later rampaging and venting about how we can’t stand Aunt Gertrude or that demanding guy who has an office next to ours.  The reality is, we can make this time of the year be what we want it to be.  We have a choice about how we react to situations and how we feel.  I am not suggesting that you ignore your emotions.  Just don’t allow them to overtake you and find yourself in a drama of grand proportions. Don’t allow your joy to be stolen by a dysfunctional problematic Grinch.  Eat.  Drink.  Be Merry. Pray.  Forgive.  Ask for forgiveness..because you are somebody’s Aunt Gertrude…and let the season be light.  As you forgive, you are forgiven.  All of this adds up to playing your cards right.

 

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