Mask

During times of stress, I have lost my ability to talk. It has not happened for a while, but there was a pattern I noticed where when times got tense, I would develop laryngitis. I realize now it was my body’s response to dealing with an uncomfortable situation. If that part of me was shut down, I could not speak up, and I could use it as an excuse to be quiet. Once the uproar had passed, my throat would heal until the next bout would seemingly come out of nowhere. At the time, I saw no correlation between my outward circumstances and this occurring. 

It wasn’t easy when I had two small children who wanted my attention, and they needed me for guidance. Or, one would say,

“Mom, can you read me a book?”

I spent hours gargling with salt water and whispering. By the end of the day, I felt drained from trying to get my point across. I didn’t understand that as I stuffed my feelings down, I was creating a physical silence. 

Years later, I looked this up and discovered a vast number of articles on the subject. Some have it happen when going through the grieving process and describe it as having a lump in their throat because they can’t get past the loss. When living in a state of unrelenting fear, others, like myself, will experience what I did. 

My biggest concern was that I would sound like a dragon lady for the rest of my life. I was coming across like a chronic smoker. While I desperately wanted it back, would it return normal? During one of these episodes, my daughter asked,

“What if it never comes back?”

 It was an innocent question as it had been going on for two weeks, with slight underlying worries that it was gone forever. So when she said that, I gargled more. 

As the years went on, it stopped. But, I had other symptoms manifest in other places. While I no longer lost my voice, I would get horrific lower back pain connected to my sciatic nerve. My daughter had found information that if this happened, there was a pressure point on the back of the leg that could be activated to alleviate it. 

The process was to lay face down while she took a closed fist and punched this area. It was weird, but it worked. However, it was only a temporary fix because it was emotionally based. I sought chiropractic treatments that helped, and when this nerve pain in my back seemed to have lost the fight, it found another place to take up residence. 

I have had reoccurring pain in the right side of my face. This time, I became aware of it being caused by outside issues that I wasn’t dealing with correctly. As I employed acupuncture, meditation and went back to the chiropractor, it has gotten better, but on occasion, it will strike and cause me to be unable to function. It is called ‘suicide pain’, which I try not to think about when in the middle of the problem.

Last April, my dad fell and was admitted to the hospital. It was discovered that he had been given a medication that should not have been administered. It was a tangled web of trying to find answers, and as my annoyance began to soar, the nerve in my face was sending out excruciating signals. I didn’t have time to sit on the couch because I didn’t want him to be alone.

He needed supplies from his apartment, including a cream that helps with pain in his knee. So as I have done before, I pushed my feelings aside and went to his rescue. I explained to the hospital staff his hearing issues, and they told me that as long as I shut his door, I could speak to him without a mask. 

On this particular day, with my face on fire, I was on my phone responding to a text while he was watching a baseball game. I had tried to hand off his medicated cream at the desk, but I was told to give it to the nurse assigned to him for that shift. I was told she would be by to get it from me. It was going on two hours since I had arrived, but I decided to wait it out. I had taken a pain reliever with not much relief.

I still had my mask, but it was on my chin as he would ask me questions; it was just easier for him to comprehend what I was saying. 

I heard his door open, and I looked up. 

“Pull up your mask!” She yelled. 

I instinctively did because, after a year of this, I never want to make anyone uncomfortable.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “He is hard of hearing and..”

“I don’t care! You both should be wearing a mask! If I get sick because of you, then who is going to work here if I’m at home having to use up my vacation time?”

Wow, that was a lot of take in. I tried again to diffuse the situation.

“He is really hard of hearing, and I pulled it down so he could…”

“I don’t care! There are so many people coming in and out of these rooms not taking this seriously, and then I have to deal with it!”

I watched her grab his arm forcefully to put on the blood pressure cuff. He looked over at her and said,

“Hey, take it easy.”

She started the process of getting a reading and was quiet, so I said,

“It must be hard for you to work in these conditions, and you must be stressed out by it.”

Usually, when I take this approach, I get a calmer response back. Not with this one.

“It’s people like you that are the problem! Both of you. And I’m the one that’s going to get sick! Because of you!”

“He has been tested, and he is fine. I have no symptoms of…”

“I don’t care!” She abruptly ripped off the cuff.

“I will be back later.”

I held up the medications I needed to give her. 

“I need you to take these for him.”

“I will be back after you leave!”

She spun out the door.

I glanced over at him. His eyes were glued to the tv. Oblivious, thank goodness. He saw me looking at him and said,

“Is everything ok, Chris?”

“Yes,” I said, lying my face off. “I need to go speak to the nurse at the desk, but I will be right back.”

Every masked face looked up as I approached. 

“Can I help you?”

“Yes. The person helping my dad needs to be terminated!”

All the eyes got wide as I explained the unbelievable beating I had just taken. I made sure that no one sitting there was unaware of what I had endured. The charge nurse asked another staff person to take the medication, and she walked me back to his room. 

“She usually is assigned to another floor. You be with your dad, and we will sort it out. I am so sorry she acted like that.”

I shut his door behind me as I entered. I startled him, and he knocked an entire cup of water on the floor. I grabbed something to clean it up and was crouched down by the side of the bed. I heard his door slam open. She was back for round two. 

I stood up with water dripping off my hands. 

“What knee does this cream go on?!” She said with the same tone as before. I saw that she was holding the containers in her hands. 

“You don’t know? Are you not in charge of his care right now?”

I was not the same person she had come across moments ago.

“I have not had time to look at his chart!”

“Well, maybe you should. Maybe you should know what you are dealing with. Is it my fault that you aren’t doing your job?”

As I spoke, she visibly started to wither. I didn’t raise my voice, but I decided to pick my words very clearly.

“You are the worst example of a nurse I have ever met. You have no idea what this man has been through coming off a pill that could have caused a major injury. And you are a poor listener. It would be best if you never worked with the public. You should figure out your retirement package immediately.”

I don’t recall the rest of my come to Jesus speech, but her eyes were wide, and she clutched both bottles under her chin. I know I kept my language in line, but I was now in protective mode over a vulnerable adult, and once that is on, there is no coming back. Words streamed from my mouth, and I had no idea what I was saying. I was not about to lose my voice as I had in times past. 

When I quit, she blinked rapidly and stammered,

“I will go look into this.”

“You do that,” I said, going back to the spill at my feet.

I looked over at him. 

“Is everything ok, Chris?”

“Just perfect. Who is winning?”

A new nurse appeared and took over his case for the night. I found out later that the former one had upset numerous people, staff included, and my confrontation was helpful in having her adequately dealt with.

Amazingly, the fire that had been coursing through my jaw wasn’t on the forefront of my mind. I know that there is a scripture that says a kind answer turns away wrath. But, in this case, that didn’t work. 

Proverbs 31:8-9 says,

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushedYes, speak up for the poor and helpless,

and see that they get justice. (NLT) 

There is a balance to all things that God has created. Sometimes, I think people try to ‘nice’ their way through life. I am not against being kind, and I will always chose that before DEF-CON 5, but there are times when a person needs to confront and not enable bad behavior. Don’t cause yourself trouble by not handling conflict properly because your body will begin to manifest symptoms you do not want. Let your voice be heard, be your authentic self, and come out from behind the mask.

A Nice Ring To It

After my mom went to heaven in May 2019, I kept having this reoccurring thought about a ring, and it would show up in my thoughts randomly like a gentle nudge.

Like a mother’s ring, this one would have five gemstones, including mine, my daughters, grandma, and mom’s. None of us have the same color, and it would represent four generations of women. I kept thinking about it but not acting on it.

June became July, and I tried to help my dad adjust to assisted living while cleaning out their house.

During that time, my daughter had to take her computer in for a repair, and I went with her to see if it was salvageable.

We left it in the hands of those who could potentially help, and I started to drive.

“Wait! They are having a sale!”

“Who?”

She pointed to a jewelry store nearby, and I hadn’t realized we were near one.

“You should go in there. Don’t you want to design a ring?”

“I don’t know. I’m tired, and I don’t feel like it.”

“I think you should go in there.”

So I did.

The manager was very helpful as I told him what I wanted. He took an anniversary band out of the case with five diamonds in the setting.

“We could remove all of these and put in the stones you want.”

He took colored markers and made it look like what the finished product would be. When it was on my finger, I knew I would have a hard time saying no.

“What do you think?”

“It’s perfect, but you have to tell me how much.”

“The stones being removed will be an extra charge as a repair. And if you want the insurance, that will be a bit extra as well.

He wrote down everything as he tapped away on the calculator.

I was undecided when he presented me with a number.

I looked over at my daughter, who sent me a nonverbal message that I better say yes.

I took it off and handed it back.

“I don’t know.”

“We can hold this for you if you want to put some money down, and then take your time deciding that way..”

He stopped talking mid-sentence as he looked at the price tag.

“Wait a minute. I think this is on sale, so the price I quoted you isn’t right. I have to go look at something.”

I know a sales tactic when I see one, but he looked genuinely shocked. I began to feel it was supposed to be mine, and I was trying to find a reason why I shouldn’t get it.

When he returned, papers were shuffled around, and he said,

“Okay, this has a pink tag on it, so that means it’s going to be discontinued. We can still make it into what you want it to be but at a lot cheaper cost.”

That should have catapulted me into action, but it didn’t. I knew that I was supposed to say yes, but I said,

“I’m still not sure.”

My daughter looked at me like I should be put away.

I left without making the purchase, and I decided to think about it. And that’s all I did for 24 hours; I knew it belonged to me.

I bought it and had to wait two weeks, but I had it on my hand just in time for my birthday. The minute I put it on, my connection to heaven became even more potent.

When I went back to have it cleaned, one of the managers said,

“I show everyone who comes in here a picture of your ring, and we have had other people do the same thing once they see yours.”

It’s always nice to know that something I have done for myself goes on to inspire others.

This past August, I started to feel a pull to look at rings online. I typed in a description of what I wanted. Instantly, a certain one appeared on the screen. I glanced at the price but decided this time not to care. I didn’t look any further as I knew this was what I wanted.

I began to pretend I already had bought it. When I would remove my real ring, I would take my invisible one off as well. I would walk by my daughter, show her my hand and say,

“Isn’t my new ring great?”

I did this for about three weeks. Over Labor Day weekend, I had my finger sized. That particular location did not have it, but the salesperson told me it was on clearance. When we got home, we found a store that had one.

The next day, I drove to the mall, hoping to at least see it in person.

“It says that we have one here, but I can’t find it,” said the salesperson.

She searched drawers and display cases. Another associate came over to help.

“We don’t have it. But there is one about an hour away.”

An hour? Another drive? It was losing its appeal.

I called to be sure it was there.

“Yes. We have only one, and I will put it aside for you.”

When I hung up, I said to my daughter,

“I don’t know if I want to drive an hour to get a ring,”

It was the same look she had given me in 2019.

“Okay, fine. I will go get gas and decide if I want to go that far.”

She said nothing.

On the way to the gas station, I heard in my mind,

“Chris, you have asked me to be the man of your life. You have looked at this ring, and if you don’t buy it, then that’s all your fault. I need you to take the money I have given you and get it.”

The voice was loud and firm, reverberating throughout me.

I filled my tank and started the hour trek. As each mile went by, I was more confident that I did want it. I didn’t fully know what the price was going to be, but I was willing to follow the lead of heaven and get it.

“If I am driving all the way there, I’m probably going to buy it.”

“I knew that an hour ago in the parking lot,” she said nonpulsed.

I went into the store, and the person I spoke to took it out of the case so I could slide it on my finger for less than three seconds; I told her I wanted it.

With the sizing, warranty, and clearance, it was less than half of the original listing. Once again, I was shown that God would open a door for me to walk through when I let myself believe in something.

My daughter gave me a placeholder ring for that finger while I had to wait the long two weeks to get it, and I no longer had to pretend.

Some people buy material things to fill a void, and once the novelty wears off, the next purchase is made to achieve another high. That could go on forever, and sometimes it does.

In James 1:17 it says:

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)

When you are the recipient of something directly from the One who created everything, the search is over. You can enjoy what has been given, and peaceful fulfillment takes over your heart. Doesn’t that have a nice ring to it?

Shine

“I stopped doing it because I was told it was witchcraft.”

This was the first time I had heard this.

“What possible connection would there be between what you were doing and practicing the dark arts?”

“I don’t know, but it made me feel so guilty that I didn’t do it again.”

I knew she had spiritual powers, but she had hidden them, and now I knew why. This was why she had me stifle my own because she didn’t want me to be subjected to the same comments.

“I thought this person was closer to God than I was. I didn’t want to do anything wrong.”

“You sent healing to a sick person, and this isn’t from God? That makes no sense.”

“I did it all the time. Once when your dad was really sick and in the hospital, I did it then because he was having kidney problems.”

I remembered that because it was so frightening. When I was eight years old, I woke up to him yelling things that didn’t make sense. My bedroom was right off the kitchen, so any slight noise there would immediately wake me up.

“We have to get the boats in! There’s a storm coming! Hurry up!”

He started saying the names of my brothers and family members as if he could see them. What was happening? I was lying in bed wondering if I was dreaming.

“Jack, come with me. It will be okay,” I heard her say.

“No! We have to get the boats in. There’s a storm! It’s going to get worse in a few minutes.”

“I will help you get safe. Just come with me.” She sounded calm, as if this happened every day. I guess her training as a nurse in a crisis was kicking in.

“Hurry up! You are moving too slow! Get the fishing rods! Run!”

This craziness went on for a while. She was trying to get him to the car, and he was off somewhere on a lake. She opened my door and said,

“Chris, I have to get your dad to the doctor. I will be back in a little while.”

There were older siblings to make sure I was not left alone, but it was so scary when she said it. I thought he was dying.

Eventually, she was able to get him out of the house and to the Emergency Room. Later, I found out that he had a fever so high he was hallucinating.

They discovered he had kidney stones that would require surgery. The doctor was convinced there was no other way but to have the procedure. When she left the hospital, he was still very ill and not responding to the treatment they were administering.

“No one was around when I got home. So I sat at the kitchen table. I shut my eyes, and I could see him lying in bed at the hospital. It was so real like I had been transported there. I asked the Holy Spirit to help me. I was in two places at once. I knew I was in the kitchen, but I also was in his room. I felt this warm light start in my chest and flow out of my hands, and I directed it to him. I just sat like that for a while, not saying anything but letting this energy go through me to him.”

“When you explained this story, did you use the word “energy?”

“Yes.”

“Well, that’s what made you into a witch. Dogmatic Christians can be hypersensitive to what words are used. But what you are saying is an accurate description of what it is. Energy, light, divine healing…I guess you didn’t use the right buzzword and got yourself in trouble.”

“I guess so. But right after I did that, he got better. His fever lifted, and the stones dissolved. The doctor couldn’t believe it. He had a total turnaround, and it worked every time I used it.”

“And that’s a bad thing?”

“I was made to feel that way. I have had the Holy Spirit with me for a long time. When I was twelve, I went to a tent revival, and since then, I have had a lot of spiritual help.”

She grew up in a small town where gossip and secrets ran rampant. I always had this view of her hometown as honest and pure until she told me some of the incidents that had been hidden from public view. There were extramarital affairs, children born from those affairs, and a bunch of other shady behavior. The priest would make house calls while the husbands were away at work, and he left his Bible and rosary at home. My grandma refused to let him in.

My mom’s story was the most buried, and I had uncovered it a few years prior. She had confessed to me that her father had sexually abused her. This had left her feeling ashamed and guilt ridden. He would target her when her mom would leave her in his care. She was afraid to speak up because in one instant, when she tried to say something, her mom told her she would kill him if he ever did that. My mom kept quiet because she didn’t want her mother to go to jail for murder.

These ugly encounters with her dad were going on consistently, and she didn’t know how to escape. When she heard that a preacher was coming to town, she snuck into the meetings, against her Catholic upbringing. When a man from this group was walking around and had asked her dad if he had found Jesus, he had sarcastically responded,

“I didn’t know he was lost.” His sense of humor was always cutting and at the expense of others.

She was taking a huge risk by attending the traveling preacher’s meeting, but something was pulling her in. When they asked people to come forward for the altar call, she went up, and her life changed from that moment.

At home that night in her bedroom, she was looking out her window. She felt a strong presence all around her and a strength that was not there before. She heard the familiar sound of his feet coming up the stairs, just like all the other times.

When he opened her door, she looked him in the eye and said,

“You will never touch me again.”

He backed up and walked away.

He still verbally abused her and made her life miserable in other ways. But she said he no longer made her afraid.

“I have had this power with me since then, and I have used it when I have needed it.”

“But, you keep some of it hidden to fit in, right?”

“Yes. I don’t want to do anything wrong, and I don’t want to argue with people.”

When she told me all this, I didn’t fully grasp it, but I do now. I continually have things happen that I cannot explain, and I don’t go looking for them. They show up, and while I used to be frightened by some of it, I am not anymore.

I find it so interesting how Jesus said this,

“The person who trusts in me will not only do what I am doing but even greater things..”

He walked on water, changed water into wine, healed the sick…and we are supposed to do even better than what was done? If you have a gift that doesn’t make sense, don’t let anyone convince you that it isn’t God just because they don’t understand it and are missing it.

I have been subjected to the same treatment, even being told demons possessed me by a church leader who had the worst behavior I have ever seen in life. Why? He was scared and felt threatened when I told him the truth. To counter that, he had to make me look bad.

If you allow heaven to invade your life, you will reap this reward in Mark 4:11:

He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of God.”

If you ask for more, it will come, and it won’t always make sense, but God will work through you so that you can let your light shine.

Trapped!

I could not seem to solve the problem. No matter who I spoke to and repeated the long, complicated facts, it wasn’t changing the situation. I would wake up in the morning with my heart racing because it would be the first thought on my mind. 

In February of 2020, a letter had arrived in the mail that my daughter’s health insurance would be terminated. There was no reason for this, as she had paid her premium each month, so it was not making any sense at all.

The correspondence arrived on February 14, with an end date of February 29. It was a leap year, so that gave her an extra day before the lights were shut off.

To add to the uproar, she was sick. Thinking of the time, I am sure she had Covid before it became popular. We hadn’t gone into all the shutdowns and restrictions that were upcoming in March. The public knew something was brewing, but we had not been given the full-blown details at that point. 

She had all the earmarks of the disease. The rash on her legs, the high fever, fatigue, and eventually, it all went into her lungs. I was watching her closely as I always do, but on top of this, she was trying to figure out why her coverage was on the chopping block. 

She refused to go to the doctor, feeling it would eventually go away. On the day she lost her voice entirely, I was starting to have visions of throwing her over my shoulder and not giving her any choice but to go in.

The fatigue was overwhelming as she tried to sit up on the couch long enough so I could dial the number to speak to a representative. This cancellation was not happening at the insurance company level. This was our state-run marketplace where she had chosen a policy. I had my tangles with them for mine. And once they mess something up, it’s long wait times and confusion. Someone can push the wrong button, and life becomes a nightmare.

“May I have your name and social security number?” she said. 

I explained that she had laryngitis. 

“I see. Well, she has to permit me to speak to you about her case, or I cannot help.”

“You have to try,” I said, looking at my daughter.

She gulped down water and started to move her lips. If a dinosaur could talk, that’s what it sounded like as she tried to force out her name and give consent. 

The state fairy godmother granted us our wish, which began the long, arduous process that would consume me with worry day and night. 

More letters would come claiming that if they didn’t hear from her, that on the 29th, she would be uninsured. This was after we called in daily to check on the status of where this was going. We were told there was a “glitch” in the system. Ignore the threats; they weren’t real, they said. They seemed very credible, and in the meantime, her symptoms were getting worse instead of better.

I called the insurance company directly and was told it was out of their hands. I had to keep going to the state-run system to get this fixed. I could not believe that this was such a mess, and it seemed like no one was in the state of emergency that we were.

I contacted a woman who had connections behind the scenes and strategies that I had no access to. Finally, I had found an advocate who seemed to be as riled up as I was.

“They do things so stupidly,” she said. She promised to help. 

It was the final week of February, with no progress made, and all of it was hanging over my daughter’s head. Six days before the dreaded date, we did a conference call again. 

A MNSure representative answered. This was number 10, at least. The maddening thing is that you never get the same person twice. I explained the trouble. Impatiently she snapped, 

“I need to read the notes that we have. I’m putting you on hold.”

We were used to that, but I wasn’t accustomed to how she spoke to me. She acted like we had created the problem, forgetting we were the reason why she had a job in the first place. 

My daughter could hear me taking deep breaths. After a long pause, the representative returned and started rattling off information that was not accurate. Each time I tried to let her know this, she spoke over me as if reprimanding a small child. I kept inhaling and would exhale while speaking, and she would not back off and listen. I was running out of air.

“I need to speak to someone up higher than you.” I could not withstand the verbal beating anymore. 

I purposely tried to get her to understand that this was over her ability to help, which didn’t fly so well. There were more accusations as if my daughter had caused all of this when it was a human error on their part. 

More oxygen in, 

“I want someone else to help us.”

“Hold, please.”

When she said that, I started speaking to my daughter, who had been quietly listening to this nonsense. 

“Can you believe this person?!” I said everything that I had wanted to say, believing we were on hold. My language was not for general audiences but for a more mature crowd. 

“What did you say? I thought I heard you say something.” She was still on the line with us. “Do you need anything else?” It was a taunting tone that suggested she was on a power trip. 

“Transfer us like you said,” my daughter barked. 

“You have a good day now,” she with a syrupy inflection. 

Once we were disconnected from her, I said, 

“What was that? Was she even a real?” 

Another person answered, and we started the process all over. 

That night, before I fell asleep, I decided to forget it. There wasn’t any more I could do; I had exhausted all options. 

“I give it to you, God,” I whispered into the darkness.

She continued to suffer through her sickness, and before her coverage expired, I helped her get to a minute clinic. She was asked if she traveled outside of the country, and she hadn’t. There was no testing to see what it was or deep dives into who she had been in contact with. 

At one point, while instructed to take a deep breath, she almost passed out. I was thankful that I had taken her in. 

She was sent home with medication, and by the next day, she fell off her plan for coverage. 

She slept through the entire month of March, and when I would start to get nervous, I would just tell God that I needed help. I decided not to fight it anymore, and it got easier. I was not waking up scared, and I felt calmer. 

Suddenly, the clouds seemed to part, it was fixed, and by then, she was better. 

At the end of it, I had a memory flash through my mind. 

I always trusted my brothers, and they all gave me a good reason not to. 

One day, one of them came into my room with this strange colorful object in his hand.

“Try this, Chris. It’s really neat.” Right there is where I should have run away. 

I willingly and innocently let him shove my index fingers into each end.

“Now, take your fingers out.”

I tried. The material tightened around them more. With each moment of struggle, I lost more of my ability to regain my independence. 

He sat back and watched.

I started to feel panicked, which only drove me to want out more. 

“I’m stuck!” I said to him.

“Yep.” 

He did not attempt to help me.

I dropped my hands. I thought if I looked pathetic enough, he would come to my rescue. 

“Instead of pulling, push them closer to the middle.”

What? That would be the opposite of what I was trying to accomplish.

I did what he said anyway. Little by little, it loosened, and I was able to get out of it.

When I created a calm mindset and followed instructions, I was able to be entirely free. 

“Do you want to keep it?” He said, laughing. 

“No,” I said, throwing it at him. 

When you are faced with something that seems beyond your ability to handle, remember 1 Peter 5:7 says,

Let him have all your worries and cares, for he is always thinking about you and watching everything that concerns you. (TLB)

God will never leave you stuck or trapped. 

(These are still not fun..)

Pressure

I have never been fond of stress. Some people like the thrill of it and the drama. Not me. Why rush when I do a better job at something when I can think about it for a while? Isn’t the outcome then going to be better? I never understood why the education system didn’t consider this when forcing us to take timed tests.

In high school, I took a typing class. I was somewhat versed in the subject already, having used an old-fashioned one at home. This new model was electric, which made the letters appear quicker than the ancient one, requiring a firm press down to work. It only took a light touch to get this one to work.

We were told that timed quizzes would be given in addition to our regular homework assignments. There was nothing better on a Monday morning to be half asleep and have that news thrown at you.

We stationed ourselves obediently and placed our hands on ‘home row’. It was like a runner taking his mark. The nerves were high because what if I hadn’t practiced enough to get through the passage before the buzzer went off?

With silence hanging heavily in the air, we waited for the signal to begin. Unfortunately, when the instructor screamed,

“GO!” my entire body jumped, causing my hands to hit all the keys at once. My first line was a mess, and my grade would get knocked down for that. I never got used to her method of having us begin, and she might as well shot off a handgun for the same effect.

Similar to that anxiety producing experience was my mom’s pressure cooker. She had a big family to feed, so this pot allowed a large quantity of food to be done in a short amount of time.

It was set on the stove to sizzle just to let you know it was there, ready to attack if you got too close.

“Be careful of the pressure cooker if you go in the kitchen,” she would say to me.

Often, I would forget and run by it. That is when I found out it was to be feared. It would spit scalding hot water on anyone who did not pass its path on tiptoes. The surprise sting of the liquid, plus the loud hissing sound, struck fear immediately. It seemed to be in charge and made sure to make you aware of its presence. I vowed never to have one.

For Christmas, a few years ago, I was given the upgraded version of one. My childhood fears resurfaced as I looked at the box. However, this one has safety features and is not at all like the ones of former years. It plugs into an outlet and has a sealed lid, presenting a gentler approach to using it.

I still didn’t trust it. But, I was willing to see how it worked. So, the first time, I found a soup recipe, and I put in the ingredients and made sure that I followed all the instructions. I kept visualizing it going off like a bomb and destroying my entire neighborhood, and the Red Cross was involved. Did I want that kind of destruction just for a bowl of soup?

I went online to read voraciously about those who had been brave enough to try it. There is a rather large community of people who like to live on the edge. They throw everything into this, making anything you can think of, with some owning multiple units. Many of them have built on additions to their homes to house all their pots. And they post pictures. None of them are shy about how obsessed they are.

Not one of the message threads spoke of any disaster happening. This made me less fearful about using it.

I put on the lid, which makes a magical chime sound to calm the nerves, and set the timer as indicated by the cookbook. I stared at it as the numbers clicked by. I felt safe to leave it for a minute, but then I was back to be sure that I knew when we were all going to die possibly.

The valve on the top of the lid began to hiss slightly. I went to the online cult and found that this was normal. It meant that it was coming to pressure, and there was no cause for concern. After that, it was as if nothing was happening.

The thirteen minutes went by way too slow. This was supposed to give me free time to wander the house and think deeply. That was not how it went at all, and I kept going back to watch it do nothing.

The next part was the most harrowing. It was a requirement to push the sealing mechanism on top to release all the steam. The timer beeped, and I decided that I could not stand directly in front of it as I did this. I had come this far in the process without losing a limb or two, and I hoped I would have both hands available to eat the soup.

I got out an oversized potholder and pulled it up to my elbow, and grabbed the longest spatula out of the group. I realized that where the pot was lined up with the wall would work to my advantage. I could reach around and hit the valve with the spatula but have the wall keep me hidden, just in case this didn’t go as planned.

Blindly, I reached around. I took a quick peek to see if the utensil would be able to release the steam. I hit it as fast as I could and then retracted my arm out of the way. I ran in the opposite direction, hearing the sound of a massive amount of vapor streaming upward. But that was it. There were no casualties as I had thought there would be. And, it was the best soup I had ever made in my whole life.

I use it now without a second thought.

All of us, at some point, are going to be confronted with something that makes us feel uncomfortable. Most of the time, when we feel tension, we imagine the worst outcome. Worry, anxiety, and panic can feel overwhelming, and it’s difficult to discern or think straight. So why not do this?

Psalm 55:22: So here’s what I have learned through it all: Leave all your cares and anxieties at the feet of the Lord, and measureless grace will strengthen you. (TPT)

Give it to God, and it will take off the pressure.

Shelf

“I think you should apply at the library as a shelver,” she said.

I had barely been out of my first temporary job, and she was already talking about the next one. (See Going Through A Rough Patch blog as to why my excitement was at an all time low about another job)

At least her suggestion was something I had an interest in versus a large department store. My mom would not be satisfied until I worked part-time and earned straight A’s in school. It would build my character, she said. And kill me, I thought.

“Do I need to call and set up an interview?” I asked.

“I already did.”

Of course.

After school one day, I was whisked away as her excitement ran high. She loved the thrill of reliving her teen years through mine. Meanwhile, I had bags under my eyes from writing research papers and taking final exams.

“I think this will be so great for you. You like to read, and books will surround you.”

I already had a stack of them on my bed with homework assignments due in less than twenty-four hours.

She gleefully walked in with me trailing behind.

“My daughter has an interview,” she said to the lady at the circulation desk, like she was my handler.

I was told to sit in a specific place and wait where two other girls were seated. One of them I recognized from school. She always wore her hair in two low braids with ribbons. This was 1984, where perms and high hair ruled the day. She complimented her appearance with patent leather shoes with frilly ankle socks. She was locked into a first-grade dress code.

I could feel her snooty attitude rippling out in waves. The whole package screamed perfectionism. Back then, we didn’t have handheld electronic devices to look at. We had to endure uncomfortable situations, fully engaged with people we would rather not be.

The girl next to her was called in while I took up a catatonic stare at the floor.

“I’m going to get this position,” she said. I looked up.

“How do you know?” I asked.

“My aunt works here, so the job is already mine. They always hire relatives before outsiders.”

I don’t know what bugged me more. What she said or the way she said it.

“You might as well go home. You are wasting your time.”

She was a vision of superiority and self-righteousness wrapped up in a floral print that was hard on the eyes.

Her name was called, and she flounced away.

When it was my turn, I was sequestered into a small room, asked why I was applying and what long-term goals I wished to achieve. My short-term goal was to get this over.

Getting past the firing squad of questions, I was expected to show how well I could put a book cart in order while timed. I did my best, but in the back of my mind, I kept thinking how pointless this was if the girl with the shining personality had already gotten it. I was a formality.

In between classes at school, she saw me and said,

“I told you that I would get it.”

I walked past her as if she were invisible.

At the news of my unsuccessful attempt, it was on to another idea.

“I think you should work at the nursing home.”

“Isn’t that for old people?”

“Yes, Chris. They have a housekeeping and laundry position open, and they need someone for evenings, weekends, and holidays.”

I would be giving up the glamour of the library for washing clothes, sweeping, and taking out the trash, amongst other Cinderella-type chores. It sounded much more labor intensive than the other, but what choice did I have? She wanted to let all the neighbors know that her youngest daughter wasn’t lying around on the couch eating cereal straight out of the box and drinking right out of the milk carton. We had to keep up a good image.

That interview was set up, and once again, my mom was elated at the prospect of me launching into minimum wage slavery that would shape my outlook on life.

I breezed through the meeting and then went home to wait while they picked the most talented of all of us.

“I hope you get this one,” she said. “It would be good for you to work around the elderly.”

She had given birth to me at age 36, but I chose not to mention that I already felt plenty exposed to that daily.

“I want you to have a solid lead before school ends. Everyone will be out looking, so if this comes through, it would be great.”

I went back to my real job. I was trying to pass tenth grade.

A few weeks later, I was greeted at the door with her smiling from ear to ear.

“You need to call Joyce back.”

She was the one I had met with for the housekeeping position. She went across the room, took the phone off the wall receiver, and stretched it over to me—no time like the present.

The job was mine if I wanted it. I was shocked because I thought I would be back out looking again.

It was explained that I had not been their pick, but the rightful candidate had fallen through. I was the only one they had not reached to let know that had been bypassed for the job.

“We thought it would be easier just to give you the position rather than going back to someone we already said no to.”

With my mother standing there watching me like a hawk, how could I turn it down?

They hired the right person because I not only did housekeeping and laundry, but I worked in the kitchen, was a social worker after college, and was an assistant in therapeutic recreation on the Alzheimer’s unit. My accidental landing of the initial role benefited them for over ten years.

It wasn’t until I was looking for employment after my divorce I revisited the library idea. I had felt robbed of that for years. So when I saw that a shelver was needed, I applied. By then, I was nearing 40, and this time I was way beyond the age of my competitors. I flew through the interview with ease and did the timed test basically with my eyes closed. What a difference twenty-four years made.

A few days later, I was told I had not gotten the job as the woman who vacated the position returned from the military, and they had to give it back to her by law.

I could not believe I was ripped off again!

My daughter saw my disappointment and said,

“God will give you something better.”

A month passed before I thought of it again. Then I got a call.

“I would like to offer you a part-time shelving position. We kept all of your information from the application you filled out before this, and we think you would be a good addition here.”

The job was not at the branch I had just applied to a month prior, but the original library that I had been turned away from at sixteen.

“If you want it, orientation starts next week.”

I took it, and I can say I still have a hard time not straightening books at stores and random libraries.

God had given me exactly what I had wanted after a lot of years of waiting. If you trust, He will never leave you sitting on the shelf.

Shortcuts

When I visit my dad at his apartment, I never know what I will stumble upon. I was completely shut out from seeing him from March to September of 2020 due to Covid restrictions. I had to drop off items he had requested at the front door and wave to him through the window. Soon, I noticed he wasn’t in the lobby anymore, and when I tried to call him, he wouldn’t answer his phone. At times, my only communication was with the staff, who told me he was sleeping a lot and staying secluded. All activities had been stopped, and all meals were delivered to him.

I wondered how many hours a day he was sleeping. It wasn’t easy because when he went to live there in 2019, the help was a bit touch and go. I was astonished at the lack of accountability since I had a background in long-term care. We had to document every incident and follow up with one meeting after another.

Not so much with this place. It was like the Wild West of senior living with no rules and a somewhat fend for yourself environment.

So the lockdown wasn’t the most ideal. Once I jumped through multiple miscommunications, I was allowed to return as one of his essential caregivers. My suspicions of him sleeping all day and up all night were accurate. Every time I arrived in the mid-morning, he was still in bed with breakfast sitting on his table. He had lost all track of time. When I would say,

“Why are you still sleeping?” He would tell me there was no reason to get up.

The first time I went back in, I was thankful I had a mask in my possession. I don’t think his bedding had been washed that entire time, and housekeeping looked like they abandoned ship. I spent my time cleaning, scrubbing, and getting him to wake up.

His appearance had changed to resemble Rip Van Winkle with a beard flowing. It took a lot of effort to reverse the psychological effects this isolation had done to him.

His meals were still being dropped off to him during that time, so one day while I was there, two of the workers from the kitchen came in and asked him what his preferences were. He is highly deaf in both ears and reads lips, so their masks made it challenging for him to comprehend what was said.

“What?” He asked, leaning forward.

“What do you want for lunch?” one of them asked.

“What?”

I pulled my face covering off so he could see my mouth.

“They want to know what you want for lunch.”

“Oh! What do you have?”

The one who had tried to ask the first time said,

“Do you want fish?”

“What?”

“Fish!”

She proceeded to take both of her hands in front of her to create a fin-like visual, and she moved her hips in a side-to-side motion. She was doing the best charade game of her life to try to get her point across.

He frowned deeply and leaned forward more, trying to comprehend her movements. I did not attempt to interrupt his interpretation as she continued to demonstrate while he pondered. I saw a lightbulb go off.

“Snake? We are having snake for lunch?”

His eyes were huge at the thought. He had just been telling me how much the place was going downhill.

She dropped her hands, exasperated.

“Fish!” I said, stepping in to help.

“Fish? That fish looked just like a snake!”

Recently, there was another Covid scare, so I was not permitted to see him for a couple of weeks. I worried he would slip back to his old habits because he was once again under total quarantine.

It didn’t take long for the facial hair to grow again and the sleeping in to start. When I went in the other day to surveillance his place, I found a pair of summer shorts cut in half. I just stood there holding them up, trying to figure out what in the world had happened.

I brought them before his eyes.

“What happened to these?”

“I had to cut myself out of them.”

I took a second to take that in. He cut himself out of his pants.

“I know I should move on, but I have to know..why? I just bought you these. Why did you do this?”

“I was stuck in them.”

I’m a very visual person, so I tried my hardest to develop a good image of why this had occurred. Nothing was coming.

“I was honest to God stuck in them, and I had to get out of a bad situation, Chris.”

I thought maybe a third try at it would clear the muddy waters, but it didn’t.

“So, instead of pushing your pendant for assistance, you grabbed a pair of scissors and cut off your pants?”

“Yes.” He said it like this was an everyday thing to do.

We both just stared at each other. I was at a loss for words. Of all the circumstances I have been in with this man, this by far had hit the top of the list.

I always treat him with respect, even if what he is telling me is so off the wall or not even close to the truth.

“I’m just trying to understand. Were you throwing a wild party and just decided to live freely? I don’t get this.”

He started laughing.

“No, I didn’t have a party. Are you crazy? I’m an old man! I was trapped in those and had to get out of them!”

Oh, my gosh! He could talk in circles for days on end! And he called ME crazy? I was not the one with a pair of shorts with a slit up the side like an evening gown.

“I think you wanted to show your leg off more on that side.” He laughed again. “Or were you needing an apron for the kitchen?” I turned them around and bunched up the material across my waist. The two pockets on each side were perfect.

“I still don’t get it. Why did you not ask for help?”

“Because they are busy here, and I didn’t want to bother anyone. I was struggling, and I figured I could do it myself.”

“Well,” I said, fanning them out, “you did.”

“You have gotten me a lot of those. I have at least seven pairs. Well, now maybe six.”

“Where were you when this all took place?”

His memory is getting worse, so he attempted to piece it all together.

“Were you in your bathroom?”

“I think so. They got caught on the side of the wheelchair, and I was stuck like that for a while.”

Now the story was all coming back to him.

“I tried to get myself free by pulling on them, but it wasn’t working. I saw the scissors on the sink, so I got myself out of prison.”

While it made me feel bad for him, I couldn’t help laughing. Which he then did too.

It reminded me of that part from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles where John Candy gets his arms stuck in his seatbelt while driving.

And the more I thought about it, the more I laughed.

“I don’t know what goes on around here. I will buy you another pair.”

“I won’t be having an encore performance. That’s it for this lifetime.”

No matter how much I have tried to tell him to call for help, he stubbornly refuses and decides he is the master of his fate.

And it makes me wonder, where am I not getting help? I don’t want to be a burden, so I often do it myself and keep quiet. But are we supposed to do that all the time? Don’t we have help available to us?

My dad must have forgotten all about Psalm 91:15 that says,

He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.

We wear an invisible call button that when we request assistance, it has been promised that help will come. Far too often, we do it alone and exhaust all options before we ask. We might end up fashioning our solution, which will never match the help of heaven. The more we don’t ask, the easier it gets until we forget that we can.

His tattered and torn pair of pants destined for the trash is a great reminder that we aren’t supposed to take any shortcuts.

(My witty daughter saw the brand name and said, “He’s just living up to what the tag says..No Boundaries.” Where does she get it? Hmm..)

New View

This seemed like a great idea at the time, but now not so much. The beginning of this didn’t seem so bad, but it got worse. The descent had taken a steep dive, and the path was slippery. It was not your typical tourist jaunt laid out with cement steps and a railing. There were no smiling greeters to guide you or tell you that you weren’t going to die.

It was rugged and all natural the whole way, and I wondered why this detail had been left out of the description in the vacationer’s guide. It was bordering on treacherous. There was an entire jungle to my right and left, and while it was beautiful, it was dangerous.

She had bought the book to study what would be the most exciting and unforgettable sites to see while in Maui.

“There’s this place called The Secret Beach.”

Anytime there’s a bit of mystery and intrigue involved, she knows she can get me to listen to her. It must be my overactive imagination that pulls me right in.

“Why do they call it that?”

“It’s supposed to be hidden. Not a lot of people go there, so they gave it that name.”

When you are sitting in the comfort of your condo, drinking coffee, looking at professional photographs, you can be talked into anything. Throw on a mystifying title, and now you are in the car trying to find the elusive location.

“Let me read what it says.”

At the bottom of the paragraph, there was a slight mention of it being so undisclosed that people felt free to shed their swimsuits. I looked at her like a mother would.

“Did you see this part right here? Are you prepared for that? Am I prepared for that? I don’t know.”

“It says it’s a rumor.”

I read further, and it did, but could I trust that? What if this ended up being a whole nudist colony? Even if I’m home alone, I lock the bathroom door for privacy!

According to the rest of this blurb about one of the most enticing scenes on the island, surfers wanted the beach to themselves so they made up a wild story to scare off visitors. They didn’t want a lot of traffic to contend with.

That made sense. I hoped.

In fact, it was the least of my worries as I half slid down to wherever this was that I was going. I could faintly hear the crash of the waves ahead, but I was trying to focus on not falling into the abyss on either side of me. Both of us had to stop to catch our breath.

She knew what I was thinking, but I was trying to stay positive. Every muscle in my legs was on fire, and stopping was only prolonging the agony. There was so much sweat and effort being put into this. I looked back up from where I had come as I considered turning around. It seemed pointless because I was at the halfway mark. And I didn’t want to disappoint her. I just can never do that.

We resumed our careful movement as I tried not to imagine a sprained or broken ankle with each step. I didn’t want to be having a medical emergency on Gilligan’s Island.

The narrowness of the trail forced us to walk single file. Coming towards us was a man holding a surfboard. He had no problem maintaining his composure as he easily sprinted upward. We both moved over as far as we could. As he ran past us, he blurted out,

“There are a lot of old naked people down there!”

What was I walking into? They don’t do this in Minnesota! It’s too cold to do this tropical free for all in that neck of the woods. We zip up to our chins most of the time.

“What did he just say to us?”

She repeated it.

“Is he lying?” She asked.

At that point, I needed to sit down, and I couldn’t where I stood. So I had no choice but to keep on going no matter what was up ahead.

“He probably is. That’s what the book said.”

Finally, we reached the bottom, and it was unbelievably beautiful, not only because there wasn’t a nudist retreat going on but a majestic ocean right in front of us. There were only a handful of people that I could see, properly dressed, so I didn’t have to execute my plan of throwing my towel over her head to protect her from anything obscene.

No longer fearing the unknown, we ventured forth to fall back into an exhausted state of being. We sat there unmoving for a while, watching a single surfer perform his magic on tumultuous waves.

It was a desolate place, straight out of a book on being shipwrecked. I stood up, ready to walk again, to take a few pictures. A lady was looking out at the water.

“It’s so pretty here,” she said as I came by.

“Yes. We don’t have this in Minnesota.”

“You are not from there!”

“Yes, I am.”

“I’m from there too!”

We found out we lived about 40 minutes from one another. It was a small world moment for us both in the middle of nowhere.

I noticed an older couple walking close to the water with heavy duty shoes on. That seemed strange to me. He used a huge walking stick as they trudged along. There was no way these two had gotten down there as we had. I saw them stop and speak to the people a little further down from us. There was a lot of pointing at the sand, conversing and pointing downward.

I noticed the people they had spoken to were now moving around quickly like something was wrong.

One of them saw me staring and said,

“Be careful! There are jellyfish all around you! “

The older couple shuffled over. They began pointing out every jellyfish that we were in the midst of, and while they were dead, they could still sting if stepped on. I looked around at the glistening forms that I hadn’t even realized were there.

As our bad news ambassadors moved on, I stood with bare feet on top of my tennis shoes. Both of us decided to ditch this event and return to civilization; I would not let one inch of my bare skin touch a thing, and neither did she. We balanced up against each other as we slid back into socks.

After all was said and done, I was glad I had the experience with her. There were so many reasons not to follow through with it, but we pressed on, determined to see something we hadn’t before.

I realize that is what God wants us to do. We are being called to see things in ways that we never thought possible, even though it may frighten us to the core. It’s a change of scenery with a new perspective. We aren’t to be so mentally locked down that we disregard a message that heaven is sending. If so, we will miss out, and it will be our fault. Not God, but us.

Our reasoning gets in the way. We look at something and make a split-second decision about how wrong or right it is. I have done that, and you have too. It becomes too scary instead of investigating and allowing God to show you something, so it gets immediately shut down. If it doesn’t line up with the comfort zone, then it has to go.

Is that truly living to our highest, most authentic self? The tricky part of allowing more is to surrender what we think we know. The walk is by faith and not by sight.

In Isaiah 55:8, it says:

I don’t think the way you think.
The way you work isn’t the way I work.”(Message)

For some of us, that’s about as appealing as being pushed off a cliff because we want to be in charge at all times with no surprises. We don’t want uncertainty and a free fall without an end. We want rules and predictability, so we feel safe and secure, accomplishing next to nothing spiritually.

So ask yourself: What’s so wrong with taking a chance and letting the One who knows it all and sees it all offer you a new view?

(Before the sharp decline)
Gilligan’s Island

Unexpected

My daughter and I wandered into the air freshener aisle at the store. Cans of seasonal sprays, plug-in devices, and candles pervaded an entire section. It was one massive scent parade. An equally large clearance display housed the already forgotten summer fare of cotton laundry, ocean breezes, sunflower burst, and Malibu sunshine. It was, after all, barely the first week of September. Room needed to be made immediately for everything that suggested colder weather, crackling fireplaces, and sweaters. There was no more running wild in flip-flops and short sleeve shirts. It was time to buckle down and bundle up! Yet, it was still 85 degrees outside. 

She sensed my dissatisfaction with looking at pumpkin anything this early. I pulled out my phone to distract myself as she surveyed her options. 

“You don’t want me to get this,” she said, picking up my thought. 

It felt too early. My tan lines hadn’t faded, and I knew how this always ended. By the stroke of midnight one second past Thanksgiving, everything she was considering buying would be in the trash. All of this seemed so thrilling now but day after day of it got to be monotonous. Half of the product would go unused. Then it would be onto evergreen or sugar cookie, which I already saw on the shelf creeping their way in. 

“No, I don’t. Are you sure you will even use it? You know how you get tired of it quickly.”

She has a slight weakness for anything marked Limited Edition, so I didn’t put a lot of energy into dissuading her as I knew my efforts were futile. 

She went on to smell another offering, and I went back to not paying attention. Locking down her choice and sliding it into the cart, I still had a visual of me throwing it away in two months. 

Once at home, I took out a new box of baking soda. I had scoured the extra refrigerator in the garage, and it needed a replacement. My daughter was emptying the contents of her shopping bags on the kitchen table as I headed out the door. 

I was just about to open the fridge when I realized I forgot to mark the date to remind myself when another box would be necessary. 

I spun around quickly in the pursuit of a black sharpie located in the kitchen. From that moment, I don’t clearly recall everything. Right as I pushed open the door to go back in, I collided with my daughter, who had one arm upraised. This caused me to look upward at her hand. In a swift, sweeping motion, she dispensed pumpkin air freshener into my eyes, onto my lips, and straight up my nose. I gasped, which only caused me to inhale more, and my tongue fell victim. I had luckily slammed my eyes shut out of an initial response. 

“Mom! Oh, no! Are you ok? Mom! Mom!” 

I was saturated in an artificial mist cloud, leaving me without the ability to communicate or breathe properly. 

The more I was frozen in place with my eyes closed, the more she panicked. 

“Mom! Please say you are ok! Mom!”

Finally, able to speak, I said one word, 

“Why?” 

“I wanted you to be able to smell it when you came back in. I was going to spray it around the whole door, so you could see what it was like. You were supposed to walk through it and be surrounded by it.

She had maced me. 

I ventured to open my eyes a crack. There was no burning, just the overpowering aroma of factory produced pumpkin, mainly because I had a wet upper lip dripping with the scent. 

I looked at her through the haze. Her eyes were wide with her finger still on the nozzle. 

I have lived long enough to have tasted pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, and pumpkin bars. This was not that at all. Not even close. It was a disguised can of hair spray marketed for autumn. 

I noticed I had somehow held onto the box of soda as I started to return to a state of consciousness. 

“Mom? Are you ok?”

“No! I am not! I’m not okay! No! None of this is okay! Nothing about this is ok at all!”

And that’s when I started laughing so hard I could not stand up. I ended up lying on my back in the middle of the kitchen. The air closer to the floor wasn’t as perfume ladened, but I was a walking fragrance from which there was no escape. I tried rubbing it off my face, but it soaked in more and transferred itself onto my hands. As I took in oxygen, I got to experience the simulation of fall over and over. 

Assuming I was fine, she laughed with me. 

“I wanted you to see that it wasn’t a waste to buy it, and I would use it.” 

I rolled to my side, trying to stop the waves of laughter that gripped me. 

I caught my breath for a moment to say, 

“It is not even fall yet!”

Being in the wrong place at the wrong time isn’t a pleasant experience. I was going about my life, not anticipating a seasonal assault at the door. 

My daughter intended to “cozy” up the house, but it didn’t turn out that way. Her timing and mine were off. What if your timing and God’s don’t coincide? Do you keep trying to make something happen, or do you wait until the way opens up? 

I think we all know when something is easy, and all the pieces fall simply into place. There’s no force needed or coercion, and it just comes along naturally. Often with God, we are left with mouths hanging open in awe. All of your plans could never be as detailed and take into account all that is involved. 

Lagging is never a good idea either because opportunities get missed, and regrets happen later. So how do you walk in line with the Creator of all? 

Proverbs 3:5-12

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;

    don’t try to figure out everything on your own.

Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;

    he’s the one who will keep you on track. (Message)

So as we move into another season, where things change beyond our control, remember the One who is in control of it all. You never know when that great thing you have been waiting for will suddenly manifest. 

Often God’s timing is just like that pumpkin spray…unexpected.

Stumped

Restringing the weed whipper on the first try is a small victory for me. I have often gone into deep, intercessory prayer for myself while working with the thin nylon line that has a mind of its own. When you think it’s cooperating, it all unravels from the spool, and it’s back to the drawing board. 

Since becoming the sole owner of my home, I have learned that the lawn isn’t going to cut itself, the leaves won’t jump into the bags without my effort, and the weeds need constant attention. 

Last summer, while redoing the rock outside the perimeter, I suddenly saw a man standing nearby. I have noise-canceling headphones, so I didn’t hear him approach. His lips were moving, but I heard absolutely nothing. I removed one earbud. 

In situations such as this, I freeze. I assess my escape plan, and I only half pay attention to what is said. He looked like someone I could easily throw rocks at if I had to for a defense mechanism. Once I had mentally decided I could get away quickly if I had to, I heard, 

“…do you mind if I take some?”

“I didn’t hear the first part of the question. What did you say?”

“I was just asking if I could take one of your rhubarb plants.”

I looked over at the row my dad and I had planted long ago. They were ancestors of some from my grandma’s garden then transplanted at my mom’s house. 

“Well,” I said hesitantly. 

Who was this guy? He shows up and wants something? 

“I don’t need any,” he said quickly. 

“No. I don’t know if I want you to take an entire plant. You can have some stalks if you want because they grow back quickly.”

“Ok. Well, I didn’t know how to ask you, and I have seen you out here as I walked by.”

I had many visitors throughout the days as I did this time consuming chore. No one helped me, but all of them wanted a free therapy session. Some sat on the retaining wall and told me their issues ranging from childhood, parenting troubles, and landlord hassles. It helped pass the time as I filled and moved heavy buckets. 

It was hot, and my clothes were clinging to me, and I didn’t feel like standing there longer than I had to. If I kept working on the task, I didn’t notice how much I was dripping sweat. He appeared to be of retirement age, with nowhere to go. Wonderful. 

He was lingering, telling me of his time in the service, that he had recovered from a heart attack, his mom was in an assisted living, his wife loved quilting and a whole host of other things. I decided that I would give him my time. I was unemployed, so what was my rush? 

“I need to ask you something.”

Bracing myself, I said, 

“Okay.”

“I walk through the neighborhood all the time, and I pray. I ask God who I can help. I used the rhubarb as an excuse to come and speak to you.”

I was slightly concerned and a bit skeptical. What did he really want from me? Because he had mentioned he was married, I felt it was safe to stay, but I kept my distance. 

“Is there anything I can do? God told me to ask you that.”

 I wasn’t used to strangers coming off the street readily asking this question. 

“Really?” 

“Yes. What do you need help with? Do you want me to move all these rocks?” 

I looked down at the million stones at my feet. I could handle this, and I wanted something to do outside. This was like being handed a genie lamp and getting one wish. 

“I cut down trees, I redo bathrooms, I do all kinds of work.” 

I didn’t want him in my house. I wasn’t comfortable with that.

My neighbor had been over the night before and said,

“Chris, you need that tree cut down.”

Dreaded words as I had one taken down the summer before, it was a mess and expensive. 

“You cut down trees?”

“Yes, do you need that?”

I showed him the tree in my backyard. 

“I can do that. God told me to help you.”

He convinced me he could do it. 

I didn’t hear from him for a couple of days, but then he resurfaced. He brought a gigantic ladder and an electric chainsaw. Slightly a bit scary to me on the ground, he ascended with the saw in hand. At one point, he precariously balanced on his right leg while the long extension cord dangled next to me. 

He had no safety net or any harness. He seemed calm as could be. I began to wonder if my homeowner’s insurance would cover an unexpected fall or if he had life insurance to protect his spouse financially after his untimely death. I was pondering this as I heard a cracking sound. 

I barely had time to sprint to the far corner of my yard as a massive branch fell. Maybe I was the one who needed better life insurance.

“Sorry about that,” he yelled. “I was trying to send that in the other direction.” 

As he adjusted himself from side to side, there was a tense moment where he almost dropped the saw. He caught it with one hand by some act of every angel available in heaven, while the other quickly grabbed the ladder. I covered my eyes, not ready to catch him or the power tool. It was like watching a person on a tight rope. His crowd of one was relieved to open her eyes and see him still above, working away without a care. 

More of the tree came down in places he wasn’t expecting, with apologies following. I wasn’t safe anywhere I stood. The last one struck my chain link fence, bending it slightly.

“I’m so sorry!” I could tell he felt terrible. “I will replace it for you.”

I moved it back into place. 

“It’s still standing. That is okay.”

Over the next few days, he returned to keep hacking away at branches. Often I would ask if he wanted my help, but he would shoo me away. Sometimes, I would insist on helping. 

“God told me to do this for you. You don’t have to be out here.” 

I felt guilty seeing him wilting in the summer heat, hauling pieces of wood and remnants into a pile by himself. I would go out and work with him and bring him ice water, even while he tried to get rid of me. I learned he was a very proud grandfather, uncle, and churchgoing man. He loved serving his country and told me of various jobs he had worked to make a living. 

One day, while I was away, my neighbor lady kept an eye on him from their window. I hadn’t asked her to do this, but she looks out for me. 

“What was he doing earlier today?”

I had no idea what she was talking about.

“He was crawling on your lawn, Chris. Down on his hands and knees moving across the back yard.”

That was a new one for me. 

“Why would he need to do that if he’s cutting up a tree?” She asked. 

I ran this by another friend of mine.

“He was on the grass, crawling,” I said.

“Did you ask him why?”

“No. I don’t want him to think my neighbor is spying on him.”

“You said he is a veteran, right?”

“Yes.”

Where was she going with this?

“Well, maybe he was doing tactical maneuvers in your backyard as he used to in the military.”

“Are you serious?” I said with concern. 

She burst out laughing. 

“Ya, maybe he’s re-enacting something from the past.”

“Like he has PTSD?”

“Maybe.”

“I hope not!” What next? Was he going to set up a bunker and blow off a cannon? 

I had no clue, but why question his approach to things? He could have been stretching out his lower back or examining the dirt for all I cared. The job was getting accomplished. 

He ended up taking all the brush away on a day I was gone. It was nice to see the work get finished without barely lifting a finger. 

The wood was piled up, and I lost touch with him for a little while. 

This spring, my rhubarb plants came up as usual. I picked a bunch to give away to a friend. One night while I was out walking, I ran into him.  

“My sister passed away.”

He told me she had been sick for a short time, and he had stepped in to help. He didn’t shed a tear as he spoke of her; I had come to know his slightly stoic, friendly nature. 

“Guess what my wife made for the gathering after the funeral? Rhubarb cake. I came and took some of your rhubarb. People loved it!”

“You finally took some a year later? Get more. It grows non-stop.”

He has been back a few times. 

As I walk with God, I cannot predict who will be sent my way or for whatever reason. 

In mid-summer, I was out in the back working, and I glanced over at where the tree had been removed. It was beginning to look like a small shrub, so I knew I had to deal with the next step, and I wasn’t sure what to do. 

A few hours later, my neighbor, who had been gone all weekend, yelled over my fence, “Do you want that stump removed?”

He had not been around to see me standing there earlier pondering what to do next. 

“Sure!”

I could not believe that I was being helped again without having to beg anyone. In no time, it was done, and my neighbor returned to fill it all in with black dirt.

I asked him what I owed him, and he told me not to worry about it. 

These are the times when I am astonished by God’s hand in my life. Psalm 63:7 expresses it best. 

Because you are my helper, I sing under the shadow of your wings. (NLT)

And what a beautiful picture is painted in these words from John 15:5: 

“I am the vine; you are the branches.” (NLT) 

When God shows up unexpectedly and removes a burden, you might not be able to figure out how or why. And it’s okay just to move on happily stumped.