Seeing Red

The color red has been my favorite for a long time. I’m drawn to it like a moth is to a flame. When asked to select a color in kindergarten, I always chose this shade. Most of the time, this boy always wanted whatever I had. And when we were expected to trade, I looked for someone who had it so I could keep it.

This was well before speed dating and swiping past profiles. And Tinder.

I would always look for someone else to exchange with, and he would follow me. Not quietly but relentlessly, making it apparent that he wanted my attention more than my Crayola. The day that the teacher saw me ignoring him and made me publicly make the trade was the last day I avoided him.

I felt like she spotlighted me, and everyone was looking at us. I quickly handed over what he wanted and tried to pretend he wasn’t there.

But whenever we switched to another color, he was right there, waiting for me to give mine to him.

It killed me to use blue, green, or whatever choice he took without thinking. There was no alliance between him and what he randomly grabbed from the box.

Mine was my Ruby birth color, and I knew it was significant even at age five. It was the last stone on my mom’s Mother’s ring that housed five others. I found out later they had to break the ring and make room for mine on the end.

Of course, they did.

Anytime I pick a game piece or am required to create a character if I can get red or an equivalent of it, I try to. When with people who also seem to have this affinity and take it before I can claim it, a part of me dies inside. It’s the kid from kindergarten rearing his ugly head. But, I never say. I go with yellow or some other meaningless option.

I have found you can be defeated whether you play with your favorite color or not. The only consolation is that you at least had that in your possession at the start space.

It’s not surprising to me now that I have a neighbor named Red who drives a red truck.

I have lived in my house for thirty-one years, and my front window faces a busy street where I have seen kids catch busses for school and the same ones graduate and go to college. You don’t realize who is around you until they aren’t anymore.

A few months ago, my daughter and I noticed that this man and his wife were no longer buzzing by every morning at 9 am. Even when I wasn’t working from home, I would see them go by. Stop sign and a left turn.

Suddenly, it wasn’t happening anymore.

“I think you are supposed to help him with hospice for his wife,” she said one day, as she does, and it goes through me like electricity.

That would have been great, but I didn’t know him. I had waved and acknowledged his existence all the years I have lived in my house. I watched a while ago as she started to show signs of having a stroke.

One arm hung down at her side, and he did all the yard work alone. But, every day, they drove past my house.

“I bet they go get coffee,” I said to my daughter. We would often try to guess where they were off to.

So when she said I was to help him, I started paying more attention. The lights were on, but no one was home. He was coming home later at night and started going on walks with a large wooden staff like Moses.

“You have to help them,” she said. As I looked out the window, I watched him in a very slow and sad saunter up the street.

Then I flashed back mentally to 2020—the political yard signs. I saw them and gave them little thought. I had decided to disassociate myself from it. Does it exist in heaven? Then I don’t want anything to do with it.

I know I always get the speech that if I don’t vote, bad, bad things will happen. The horror of horrors! You don’t vote? Your one vote is needed. You are why, Chris, this country is going to the dogs.

To each, their own, and mine is to stay out of the fray.

I listened to comments from those supporting the “opposing” side when they noticed the signs proudly displayed.

“They support them? They are so brainwashed and delusional!”

And I have heard the other side say the same thing.

One day recently, I saw him outside. I ran out the front door and across the street before he could disappear.

I introduced myself, and he said his name was Red. My daughter and I were right in our assessment of him being alone. I found out that his wife is in a care facility near his home. I offered to help him in any way I could, including taking things for donation as he was getting ready to sell the house in the future.

I told him I volunteered for hospice and to let me know if it ever came to that.

He came to my door the other night wanting the hospice’s name. It’s now been determined this is where the situation is.

I gave him the information, and I saw his sadness. There’s no running away from it, and he’s in the most challenging part of the walk.

My daughter’s words were true when I had no idea what was happening.

He came back to get my full name, but I wasn’t home. I caught him the next day in his yard. He was removing plants so the siding could be redone.

I followed him into his house so I could write my name on a sheet of paper. On the way in, I saw it.

In the garage, at least 20 bright red with white lettering I Voted stickers were hanging on a cabinet showing his former treks to the voting booth.

I scribbled my name on a sheet of paper and looked at the surroundings of very feminine collectibles. Even though she was absent, her presence was everywhere I looked.

He told me he and his daughter would start going through belongings to give away.

He pointed to many of the items surrounding us and said,

“She could tell you where she got each one.”

As was the case with me, going through a divorce, I had to get rid of material things. But, I always found someone who needed it.

“When you give these things away, you will feel the gratitude of those who need what you give them. The people who get these things will treat them like she did.”

I said goodbye, and he went back to his work.

Had I let politics come between us, I would not have been able to extend myself to him this way. While many sit in front of their TVs or read the latest headline on their phone regarding where we are as a society and how far we think we have come, I find we haven’t advanced all that much.

Many old ways of doing things, like taking care of your neighbor, have fallen to the wayside because of a piece of paper where you make choices about who will run for an office we are so removed from. Yet, people near us, next to us, need our help.

While the world screams one way, God whispers another. And God’s way won’t leave you seeing red.

Two Realms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, I heard God telling me to stay away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I dropped my hands down to my sides.

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

“Yes.” The reply was sharp and snappy.

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

“It’s late. Come back tomorrow.”

I was being told to leave, so we did.

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

She wanted to leave.

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

“Yes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t know why she wouldn’t.”

I listened to a lot of denials.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I opened my eyes as a nurse entered.

“You are still here?” She asked.

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

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

Moments later, I was in the hallway meeting him.

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

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

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

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

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

“It doesn’t matter now, mom.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Jeremiah 33:3 it says:

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

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

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

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

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

Death

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

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

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

They said nothing to one another. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

As she finished my last finger, I said,

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

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

“That’s a good idea,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you give me your will?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now was later. 

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

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

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

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

Somewhere amongst the dead files, I had found life. 

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

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

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

Because I don’t belong to me. 

Driving alone with nothing to distract me, I heard,

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

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

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

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

“You need to be a hospice volunteer.”

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

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

“Work with people for now. Not paper.”

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

Then Covid hit, closing the door for a bit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She would then smile and say,

“I am so glad you did.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boy

Sometimes, it’s hard to believe that it’s almost been a whole year since you haven’t greeted me at the door. Or followed closely nearby. Even if I were still half asleep, you and your sister would be so happy to see me in the morning. You would both run to the kitchen, but you always turned back to walk behind me—every single day.

Last year while the world tuned into politics on Election Night, I went downstairs to test my Christmas lights. There is nothing worse than setting up a tree and having lights not work. It was early, but I felt I was to do it.

When I plugged in the first string, I heard,

“We will take good care of him over here, Chris.”

I didn’t get it.

“He will be leaving soon, Chris. We will take good care of him here.”

I sat there in total silence. This could not be possible. My dog of twelve years just had developed a slight limp. He was eating fine, maybe sleeping a little more but went into his usual high energy bark mode at everything that passed by the front window.

“What?” I asked.

“He’s leaving you, Chris. He’s coming to the other side, and he will be taken really good care of.”

“No. I don’t believe it,” I whispered. “No way. He just has a limp.”

He had this same issue many times, and the vet had told me eventually he might need a knee replaced. He wasn’t a dog who gracefully jumped from couch to chair, but he flew without his feet touching the ground. If there was something for him to guard us against, he was in the air leaping.

I tried to stop this behavior by buying a set of dog stairs, and he jumped over them. It was just in his DNA to fly to his next location. This had taken a toll on his joints. I gave him a supplement to help, but his mobility would show signs of weakness every once in a while.

I sat there wondering if my mind was playing tricks on me. Maybe it was a case of worry, and I imagined the worst.

“Chris, it’s true. He’s leaving soon.”

Suddenly I realized that what I heard was coming. I crawled into the bathroom and shut the door. I lay on the floor as tears streamed down. I was hoping I was wrong.

“Where’s mom?” I heard someone say from upstairs. I had to pretend all was well. I was probably just making this up in my head. I splashed cold water all over my face. I have done this so many times in my life. Just cover and don’t say a word. I had gotten very good at it.

Slap on a smile and give a good performance.

When I got upstairs, no one would have guessed what I knew. I glanced across the room to see him sleeping so peacefully. See? You’re wrong.

I decided to text my younger daughter, and I just couldn’t say the words out loud.

“Do you think he is leaving us?”

She looked at me with a frown and shook her head no. Oh, good. I was wrong.

The following day he wouldn’t eat, which helped me decide to bring him in.

“We are going to have to do surgery on his back leg. And we took blood. Once that comes back, we can go ahead, but we have to make sure the anesthesia will be safe for him to have. Other than his leg, he is really healthy, and I think he has at least another 5-8 years to live. You have taken such good care of him.”

I had known this vet the entire twelve years of our dogs’ lives, and his advice has always been trustworthy.

“I’m going to give you some pain pills for him, and that should help with his eating. Once the blood sample is back, I will call you.”

I took him home and started on the medication. Just like I was told, he began to eat again. Not as much, but I figured it was a good sign. I kept pushing away the still, small voice. Nope. It wasn’t right.

The next day, he was back to not eating again. I made another call to the doctor. It was late in the day by the time he got back to me. He has a busy practice.

“I need you to bring him into my office tomorrow immediately. The blood work shows he has no red blood cells. This is impossible. He shouldn’t even be here right now. I want to take another sample and read it under a microscope myself. We had the other sample sent to the lab, and I want to be sure it’s right. I’m leaving medication for him at the front for you to pick up tonight. But you have to promise me you will bring him back in tomorrow morning right away. I normally don’t come in on Saturday, but something isn’t right.”

I gave him the pills to get his body to produce red blood cells and the pain medication. I tried to stop the inevitable, but I had to, and I continued to ignore the other thoughts.

What didn’t help was that my daughter, who initially said I was wrong, now thought I was right.

“I don’t want to be right,” I said after his first dose. And it was a fight to get him to take it.

The next day, I took him in. This was during the shutdown, and usually, I had to wait in the car. But, they had made an exception. Sitting in the exam room all alone, I couldn’t get away from what was happening, and there was nothing to distract myself with.

“He has no red blood cells, and I saw it for myself. Please continue to give him all the medication over the weekend and see how he does. Do your daughters know that he is very sick? I’m shocked. Until I saw the bloodwork, I would have never guessed.”

“They know everything you have said.”

“I will call you Monday. The medication can really help.”

They handed him over to me, and he relaxed into my arms. He never was a big fan of going there.

By Monday morning, I knew for sure we were about to say goodbye. I had left my bedroom door open on Sunday night, and he had gone into the kitchen, which he never did. He slept with one eye open by me every night. For him to not stay with me was his way of trying to spare me.

I was undecided about what to do. He was weak but sleeping. His breathing was somewhat off, but he didn’t seem to be in pain. At 9 am, the vet called.

“How is he?”

“I think he is leaving.”

“You can bring him in. And I will be here to help. You don’t want him to suffer.”

“This is happening fast. I need to think. I will call you back.”

“Okay. You let me know. If I weren’t so busy, I would come to your house.”

I started looking up in-home pet agencies that would come and assist us with end of life services.

“Wait until noon, Chris.” That still, small voice. I put my arm around his neck as I lay on the floor by him, and he rested his chin in the crook of my elbow.

“If you need to leave. You can, and I don’t need you to stay. We will be okay without you.”

I felt I needed to give him permission to go, and so did my daughters. We each told him it would be okay.

I continued to look up emergency services as the clock ticked.

He got up and moved into the kitchen, and I followed, putting him on my lap. He had been avoiding me most of the morning. My daughter sat next to me.

“You can go. We will be ok,” I said again.

“I think he is going to leave,” she said.

“Me too.”

“He’s giving us a gift, so we don’t have to make the decision.”

“I know.”

He took a deep breath, and we knew. I looked at the clock, and it was exactly twelve.

For a brief moment, I felt peace, just like it should be. I saw him leap into heaven, from my lap into the arms of God.

The next part was one I didn’t see coming. His body shut down, and blood poured over my legs, ankles, and feet. I found out later this is common, but I panicked. I moved him off of me, and I knew it was over. I couldn’t breathe as I lay on the floor. I felt myself begin to blackout.

I suddenly was leaving my body. I wanted to go with him, and he just couldn’t leave me. It hadn’t even been a week since I had heard what was about to happen.

My daughter put her hand on me to call me back, and I could barely hear her voice. I just wanted to go with him. How was I going to go so long without him? He was my watchdog and guardian.

When I was sick once with a high fever, I hung on to his paw, and he let me while I had drifted into and out of sleep. He was the one to make me laugh when I didn’t want to and scratch my hand when he wanted attention. I couldn’t imagine being without him. He had arrived after my divorce and brought stability to a chaotic house. God had sent him to us, and I didn’t realize the depth of it until he left.

As I came back into my body and could breathe again, I had to deal with the next step. I went into the bathroom to wash his blood off of me. I didn’t want to, and it meant he was gone. I just kept telling myself I had to do the next thing. Step by step, as if in slow motion, I moved. I had to hand him over at the place I had taken him so many times to be made well.

He was cremated, and I took his ashes to the home where he was born. His dad and sister are buried there, so we thought he should be too. That drive is short, but it was the longest of my life. Each small thing felt like a new goodbye.

They say the first year is challenging following a death, and it is. I felt guilty sometimes because I missed him more than some people I knew that had died, and I felt like I had lost a child.

It’s an adjustment, but he lets me know he’s not far away. One night, I had a dream. I saw him sitting next to a little girl who was maybe about two years old. She looked bewildered, like she didn’t know where she was. He was on his best behavior, sitting up straight in guard dog stance. I saw dog tags on his neck, which I never had him wear.

I heard:

“His job is to welcome in those little ones who get to heaven young. He makes it seem more familiar so that they can get used to it. He earned those tags at your house.”

I wanted so selfishly to say..no! He is mine! But I couldn’t because he never really was. He was on loan to me for a purpose, which he fulfilled.

On a summer evening, I was walking back towards home, and I saw his doppelgänger. All black with the same little bounce and plume-like tail. He turned to bark at me just like mine would have.

“Shadow! No!” The lady said.

I sat down in the grass. He quit barking.

“They get scared when people walk by them,” I said. He came right up to me and sniffed my knee.

Then, he stood with both front paws on my leg and sniffed my face.

“Shadow! He never does this to anyone!”

“It’s ok.”

He started licking my face.

“He usually barks at everyone. He has never done anything like this!”

“Well, he must know I like his kind.”

He had all the same issues mine had…teeth issues, back leg problems, and quickly put on weight if they gave him too many snacks. He is only four, so I was able to tell her what I did to help with some of the problems.

“Does be fly off the couch to get to the chair? Without touching the ground?”

“Yes. You can’t stop him.”

“No, you can’t.”

When I stood up, he licked my hand one last time. Then he barked at me as if he had never met me. Just like mine would have.

His real name given to him at birth before I got him was Stinky. His perfect white stripe down his tummy reminded the breeder of a skunk. To my house, he was Mr. Hairy, Stinky La Rue, Harold, Frenney, my buddy, and whatever else we all thought he should be. He came no matter what we called him, especially if we had food in our hands. But most importantly, he was my boy.

(He always was a good listener when we needed a therapist)
One last look. This is my last picture of him. 12 o’clock came right after I took this.
My gift from heaven…

To the Letter

Two things seem to be antiquated: handwritten letters and printed books with pages meant to be turned. Both of these I genuinely enjoy, so they continue to take up space in my life.

There is a particular author who I have become fond of that has long since passed onto eternity, but I value his insight, and his voice of knowledge rings true for my spiritual growth. His books are still in print, and instead of downloading them, I have made it a personal goal to buy and create a library. I find myself scouring eBay quite frequently, looking for the price I want and the format I would prefer. Usually, this happens as I am engrossed in one of his books, and a reference is made about another title. This puts me on the hunt.

The last time this happened, I was doing my usual mental back and forth regarding paperback versus hardcover. Loud and clear in my mind, I heard: Go with the hardcover!

That narrowed my choices as there was only one. In an instant, it was in the shopping cart, payment was rendered, and I forgot all about it until it arrived a week later.

After retrieving it from the mailbox, I carefully unwrapped the package, then flipped through it to check for highlighted passages or see if any secret notes were scribbled in the margins. I never view these as flaws in used books, and I feel a little disappointed when there aren’t any. It’s fun to read what impacted another and to see if it would resonate with me.

The pages were crisp and clean, so feeling a slight letdown, I went to close it and put it aside until I had finished my current one. That’s when I noticed the letter neatly folded, tucked inside the cover. I smiled, thinking how I will use anything available as a bookmark. Gas receipts, car recall notices, and old bills have not been spared when I need a placeholder.

I unfolded it, saw that it was from 1998, and gave it a quick read. It’s funny how a person can look at a date and make an assumption. I figured the author of the note was either deceased or unreachable. I also had difficulty determining who had been the recipient and why the writer had sent it. It was apparent that there had been a passing, but who needed to be consoled? A widow, perhaps? Because I didn’t have time to delve deeper, I put the whole matter aside.

The following week, I thought that maybe my daughter would benefit from reading that particular book. As I gave it to her, I said,

“There’s a bizarre letter in the front of it. I don’t get it. It’s 23 years old, and probably everyone is long gone who was involved with that.”

Not listening to me as usual, she went online and quickly found information about the man who wrote it.

“Are you sure?” I asked. “I mean, there’s got to be a million men in the world with the last name Brown.”

I had tried to search for him and came up with half a million and quit looking. Talk about your needle in a haystack!

“No, this is him. I know it is.” She had this tone that left no room for arguing.

Still, I was unfazed. I had let my head take over, and I thought this would be an embarrassing situation if I contacted the wrong person. Because of her insistence that I can never refuse, I sent off a message. As soon as I hit send, I started to feel sadness in my chest, like when you lose something valuable, and you can’t get it back, no matter how hard you try.

I looked at her and said,

“I think you found the right Jerry. I don’t know how I am even saying this, but it’s him.”

Randomly, she opened the book to a page where the author discussed his recent North Carolina and Minnesota trips. A coincidence? No, because that is where Jerry was from and I live in a suburb of Minneapolis.

Within a few hours, I heard the familiar sound of my phone receiving a response to my message. I wanted to look, and yet I didn’t.

I found this stranger to be kind and appreciative regarding my efforts to get in contact with him. I had asked if he wanted me to mail his special note back to him, but he told me to keep it. In the course of our conversation, I learned that he and one of the men mentioned in the letter, Bryant, had been best friends. He had penned and given it to Bryant when his dad had passed in 1998.

The book had been on Bryant’s bookshelf with Jerry’s letter kept safely inside. He told me that in May, Bryant had died of cancer just before his 70th birthday. The magnitude of that hit me, and both my newfound acquaintance and I could not help but tell each other that we were sobbing. He admitted that he missed his best friend terribly, and it was startling for him to see the letter from so long ago. Both of us came to understand the profound meaning of what was occurring.

Jerry’s words of comfort were now being sent back to him from heaven. I was so glad that I had listened and chose the copy of the book I now owned. One minute I was laughing, the next, I had tears flowing down my neck like a river. Out of all the people in the world, I had been allowed to help lift another soul. Can anything compare to that? I don’t think so.

It is stated in Matthew 6:8: …for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him…

I didn’t realize that I needed to have this experience just as much as Jerry because it reminded me of how much we are loved beyond what we can hold in our hands or see with our eyes. God knows precisely what will touch us and bring us peace, right down to the letter.

Adapt

Last year right after Christmas, my local hardware store had a clearance on all of their seasonal products. I had been admiring all the candy canes glowing in backyards as I drove around, so I went in and purchased some for the following year. I put them in the closet thinking it would be a long time before I would ever even get to use them until suddenly it was November and unseasonably warm. Because I have struggled to put up lights in frigid bone chilling weather before, I decided to string them up while the weather was still decent.

After examining the instructions which basically showed a small stake being inserted into the bottom of the cane, I got to the task of unwrapping them, pulling off sticky adhesive and plugging them in to one another on the kitchen floor. For good measure I tested them to make sure they lit up, and I was pretty proud of myself when I lined them up in the yard across the front of the house like soldiers in perfect formation.

Amazed at the ease of all of this, I grabbed an extension cord from the garage with much enthusiasm to see my handiwork. When I tried to connect the two, they didn’t fit. I proceeded to dig up every single cord I could find to no avail. Nothing I had was working. Suddenly, my excitement was dying.

“I have to go the hardware store,” I told my daughter.

She knows full well my dislike for not having things work right, and on top of it, I had to go into a store that I consider more for those who like to get their hands dirty.

I brought a cane with me, and upon entering, a young teenage boy asked if he could help me. I explained my story, and with a frown he said,

“We have extension cords over in this aisle.”

He tried the black one, the green one, the brown one and the orange with no luck.

A woman who worked in the store joined him in his pursuit. Another young male crammed into the aisle as we all tried to find the right connection.  The store was empty so this was the height of excitement for them.  We all were coming up empty handed.

“This plug needs an older model,” the woman said.

“I just bought this in the store last year.”

“I know, but they change things all the time. I don’t know if we are going to have anything for this to work.”

My hopes were plummeting as she and the boys were getting nowhere.

“Jerry, can you come to aisle 4 please?” she said into her device. “I am having the store manager come over. He usually knows what to do.”

A tall dark haired man joined us in our quest to figure out an answer. I was reminded of an old joke:

How many people does it take…..to find an extension cord?

He frowned, he looked up and down the shelves and said, ‘no, nope, no’ as he went along.

I was starting to feel hot in my jacket not just from the warmth of the store but from the stupidity of what was happening. Not aimed at the help I was receiving but in regard to the situation of having something brand new, never used, and with the prospect of it already being out of date.

I peered around a corner and saw that the store was selling the exact plastic product that I had purchased on clearance.

“You are selling these right now, so how are people going to set these up?” I asked him.

“You are the first person to come in here with this problem,” the lady said to me as if this was something to be proud of.

Wonderful news, I thought.

As I followed behind Jerry to another aisle, I whispered to my daughter,

“There has to be a solution to this!”

That is when I said inwardly,

God, I need this fixed right now! I expect an answer to this problem.  There must be something that can make this to work.

Suddenly, the man stopped in front of me, went back to the aisle we had just left, and stood there for a second.  I saw his head jerk as if someone had slapped him.

“OH! Why didn’t I think of this sooner?”

He reached up and plucked down a large orange object that had many different outlets around it.

“This should help,” he said.  With ease the two fit like they were made for one another.

I was able to go home, use this device and stand back and admire the beautiful lights that would not have been possible without getting something new to make them work.

With the fast paced world we live in, we often want to make the ‘old’ fit when times are calling to let in the ‘new.’

Change is inevitable even though some of us want to ignore it or fight it.

There are times when we don’t have a choice.  Divorce papers are handed over or a death comes unexpectedly.  How do we cope when a large gaping hole suddenly comes and brings despair?

The only thing I have found to work in all situations is prayer whether the change is a good one by my choosing or it is seemingly out of my control.

In Psalm 91:14-15 we are given this great assurance:

14 For the Lord says, “Because he loves me, I will rescue him; I will make him great because he trusts in my name. 15 When he calls on me, I will answer; I will be with him in trouble and rescue him and honor him. (TLB)

The only requirement mentioned is that you love God, and like a good Father, He will help out his children.

As we go along into the next year with unknown situations ahead of us, the most uplifting thing we can cling to is that we can call on our Creator who will not abandon us but will comfort us in our times of sorrow, will guide us in the right direction and will hold our hand when we need to adapt.

cane