Foreign

I had been convinced to help a friend with a purchase.

“I want to place an order for beef, but the smallest amount is too much. If you split it with me, then it would work out better.”

There was an organic farm not too far away, and she was trying to rid her life of anything artificial. Hydrogenated oils and artificial sweeteners were on her hit list.

I agreed to try it with her and was told it would be a few days before I could pick it up. I totally forgot about it because this was when I was homeschooling, trying to get around to everything, and I didn’t have mental space for livestock.

“Is dis Christine?” The accent was heavy, and the voice unfamiliar. I wished I had let the call go when I couldn’t identify the number.

“Yes,” I said hesitantly. Who was calling from Norway?

“Dis is Helga. I need ta ask you questions.”

I now wondered if this was a long-lost relative. A Norwegian from my grandma’s side of the family with that name. Could this be the call where I am told I have inherited the unknown family fortune?

“I have beef dat you wanted. I need ta know how you want it.”

I was listening intently because she was trying so hard to get her message across to me. I always feel bad when speaking to someone who tries their best in English, and I have to make them repeat themselves.

“I am so sorry. Could you ask that again?”

This was happening multiple times as she tried to talk me through the steps. I had never done this before, so I had no idea what I was doing.

I finally understood that she wanted me to select cuts and different types of processing. It was smooth sailing from there once I comprehended what the point of this was. We were doing great, me and Helga until she got to the final question.

“Do you want da liver?”

“No, I will pick up my order.”

What an odd thing to say after being told that I would have to drive thirty minutes to get it.

“Da liver or no?”

“I will come to get it,” I repeated.

“No. No. Do you want da liver?!”

“When do you want me to come to get it?” I decided not to answer the question since we were getting nowhere.

“Da liver! Da liver? Do you want that?”

With Helga raising her voice many decibels, I took a minute to think. It dawned on me that she wasn’t giving me a delivery option.

“Oh!” I said, and I could almost hear her collapse. Now that I knew, I was slightly grossed out.

“No. I don’t want that.”

And with that, Helga went on to her next frustrating phone call.

That wasn’t my first brush with a foreign language. In middle school, I had to take Spanish, German and French.

German was the hardest because of the pronunciation coming all from the throat, it seemed. My brothers were always watching Hogan’s Heroes, and my goal in life as an 8th grader was not to sound like Colonel Klink or Sergeant Shultz. It just had a bad mental image for me, making it even more difficult to learn.

The other two were okay, but I struggled overall. When I got to college, I decided to take French to fulfill the requirement for earning my degree. I didn’t picture myself jetting off to Paris, but I wanted to graduate as quickly as possible.

So you run the gauntlet.

Our instructor was not the warmest person. Behind her smile, I could sense a drill officer who expected perfection. At this stage of life, most classes had no required seating, but not her. We were put in alphabetical order, and this class met every single day.

We had one of the biggest snowstorms strike during the winter, and she would not cancel. We all dragged ourselves in, risking life and limb to do her bidding while the rest of the school shut down. It was apparent to me that day she had us under mind control. Not a seat was vacant, and all of us looked stressed. One girl showed up in her pajamas. This was before doing that in public was fashionable.

She used intimidation as a tool to educate us about what is known as the language of love.

The toughest part for me was learning the male and female pronouns. It was bad enough trying to grasp words and their meaning, but then you had to know if an object was masculine or feminine. Even for a visual person, this was a struggle. And if you remembered wrong, you were already lost by choosing the incorrect pronoun.

There was a rule that if a word ended with an ‘e’, then it was feminine. Your choice for the word “the” was un or une depending on what gender was involved, but not always, and that is where the confusion came in.

She would lead us in group reciting sessions so we all could cover our inadequacies. Our voices joined as one made it easy to whisper and let others drown you out. The absolute horror of this class was when we would walk in and find headphones at all of our seats on a Monday. She loved her pop quizzes.

She would station herself in a soundproof booth while we read passages out loud from the textbook. She would click in to listen to us each individually.

It was so clear who she was targeting. While the rest of us moved on, I could hear some poor soul going over and over the same sentence trying to appease her.

It happened to me all the time. And the guy next to me always looked scared because he knew he was going to be next.

“No! Do it again!” She would yell. So I would.

“No! No! Again! Again!”

I could hear the F being scribbled into her teacher’s notes.

Then she would always try the tactic of pronouncing it and wanting me to follow what she said. The chorus of voices around me, robotically speaking, always threw me off. And the sound was staticky because this was way before technology and noise canceling earbuds.

At some point, I decided there was no pleasing this woman. She was a perfectionist, and even if I did something right, she marched on finding more faults.

Because a significant portion of our grade was based on the actual speaking of the language, I was not doing so well, and neither was anyone else. Weirdly, I redeemed myself on the tests along the way. When I went back to review, I realized I had memorized many words, and I could write sentences and read, but I couldn’t say it.

Without her negative attitude breathing down my neck, I realized I wasn’t that dumb like she made us all out to be. In the quiet, without her around, I could think and do better.

I had to get comfortable with making it to the tests and not look at how horrible I was doing along the way. She was a bad teacher, but I was somehow still learning despite her.

When that clicked, I was able to escape with a B. My test scores were outstanding, but she would have never told me that. I’m sure she’s way retired by now eating a Pillsbury croissant somewhere. If no more students are being tortured, that’s a good thing.

Understanding how God talks is much like learning a foreign language, and it requires putting aside what you think you know. In 2 Corinthians 5:7 it says:

We live by faith, not by sight. (NLT)

I remember the first time someone said that to me. I was having a crisis in my life and was worrying non-stop. That statement made no sense to me. Wouldn’t my sweating it out bring the problem to a close faster?

Matthew 6:27 says no:

Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? (NLT)

So we aren’t supposed to be afraid, trust God, cast all our care into heaven’s hands, and use faith, not our physical senses, to live from a powerful spiritual standpoint. None of that sounds simple because it isn’t, you have to learn it, and it doesn’t happen overnight.

It’s a job done from the inside out, but the more you persist and keep exposing yourself to communication with God, you unlearn what you thought was so important. There’s another way of living where you are allowed to have insight into an unseen realm. You pray, and you crawl before you walk. But, you see the gradual building of something valuable.

God doesn’t want people wandering around in the dark, not knowing what to do. In Matthew 7:7-8 it is presented this way:

Be direct. Ask for what you need. This isn’t a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in. (Message)

The great thing about learning to come up higher spiritually is that you can help others navigate through their rough waters. You can hear and see things they can’t, and if they listen and apply what you say, there’s a blessing for both of you.

Be careful who you let be your authority figure in this. My French teacher impeded my progress to learning by coming at us in an aggressive nature. I have been to churches that believe that you have to run it by them, and you live in a crippled state of never advancing because someone has convinced you they know better than you do. No one knows you better than God. If it doesn’t feel like you have the freedom to think on your own and ask questions, that isn’t the place to grow.

God is always in the business of expansion. But the prerequisite is that you start small and work your way up. Learn the vocabulary, and soon it won’t feel so foreign.

(There are problems in EVERY language!)

Unnecessary Chain

When you raise children, you have no idea what is coming your way. Suddenly you see life with a new set of eyes, and if you are a good parent, you don’t want to repeat the mistakes made in your past. So I read every single parenting book possible, but I found there are just some situations that no expert can prepare you for.

My oldest daughter would say to me out of the blue,

“Mom, I think I’m going to tell a lie.”

I would say, “Then don’t.”

“Okay,” she would reply and then would look relieved just to have told me. This became a quick fix to stop underhandedness.

My youngest daughter tended to conceal or go around the truth. It wasn’t a flat-out lie, but there was a bit of sleight of hand.

It wasn’t done to harm others but to be to her advantage. What I didn’t know wouldn’t hurt me, and she flew under the radar, so she thought. This began at a very young age, so I tried to get a grip on it right away to avoid it getting worse.

I was at a register paying, and I glanced down to see her looking at something in a bin about her height. She was about to put it in her jacket pocket. She was only two at the time, so I crouched down and whispered that she couldn’t do that. No one around me knew, and I could tell she wasn’t fully aware that her actions weren’t right. I put it back discreetly.

Once I got her into the car and I was driving, I calmly started to explain that what she had been doing was stealing, and God didn’t want us to do that. She was silent as I spoke, taking in what I was saying.

“Some big people go to jail for taking things, so don’t do it anymore. They don’t care that it’s wrong, and then they go to prison.”

I drove a little further and heard a little gasp. I looked in my rearview mirror.

With tears streaming down her face, she screamed,

“I don’t wanna go to jail!!”

“Hey! Listen..you won’t….”

She was screaming so loud she couldn’t hear me.

“I don’t wanna go to jail! I don’t wanna go to jail!”

“You won’t…hey… listen….”

Her older sister had a hard time not laughing.

In between wails, I kept trying to reassure her she wasn’t headed for the big house.

“Do the right thing. Don’t take things that don’t belong to you, and you won’t go to jail, ok?”

“Okay,” she said, finally able to hear my voice.

You would think she would have changed her ways after that, but she was still learning and pushed the envelope where she could.

Every morning, I had each of them take a chewable vitamin. One loved them, and the other was not very amicable to anything healthy. She wanted bottomless bowls of goldfish crackers with apple juice free flowing. Her older sister would pop down whatever I asked, but she would put up a fight after running it through her invisible mental filter and deeming it “yucky”.

I let her pick the color she wanted out of the bottle, and she would run off to her room to take it. One day, I heard: Tell her to show you her teeth.

She ran past me, and I said,

“Open your mouth. I want to see something.”

Her choice of the day was purple, and if she had just eaten it, her teeth would show the evidence. She immediately complied, so she had no idea the trap that was being set.

They were white as snow.

“What did you do with your vitamin?” I asked.

“I ate it.”

“No. You didn’t.”

She closed her mouth, realizing I was on to her.

I walked into her room and found the dog frantically trying to dig behind her dresser.

“What is happening?”

I pulled the heavy piece of furniture away from the wall. A year’s worth of vitamins spilled out from where she had been stashing them.

I used both her first and middle names to summon her while I fought off the dog from gulping them down and overdosing.

She appeared in the doorway, between her sparkling teeth and the dog leading me, she knew her number was up.

“You haven’t taken any of these? Ever?”

She shook her head no.

I wanted to laugh, but I didn’t want her to think it was okay.

She confessed that she had slipped the tiny supplement into a small opening daily. It was like the actions of a person in a locked ward bypassing their medication. I didn’t even know what to do with that. She had come up with something I had never read in any of my parental training manuals. Ever.

“You have to tell me the truth and don’t hide things.”

I think I gave up on the vitamins after that.

She promised to be good as gold, but there were a few more minor things that she tried to get away with.

Years later, she told me while trying not to laugh, she crawled under my bed and watched a show that I told her I wanted to preview first to see if it was age-appropriate. I had no idea she was happily watching along with me while I was trying to protect her innocence. At the end of it, she crawled out, unknown to me, without a twinge of guilt.

Somewhere along the way, she became honest as the day is long, developed a healthy conscience, and became her authentic self.

It has been my experience that a person can only hide in the shadows for so long until a moment comes when they are brought into the spotlight of truth. There are various shades of dishonesty, from the mild, like hers, to the more extreme, where its become a lifestyle of functioning in an alternative reality.

For some, it comes in the form of people pleasing. We don’t want to let others down, and conflict isn’t our favorite subject. So, we push our true feelings aside, make excuses and carry on with a smile. It appears to be a noble undertaking because we go out of our way to make everybody happy and don’t want to disappoint, all the while we are withering away on the inside. We keep skirting past those uncomfortable moments of setting boundaries and saying no because we need to keep the peace.

No one becomes a doormat without allowing it.

The other day, I opened up a cupboard and pulled out a bag of organic potatoes. They had been enjoying their time in the dark, sprouting major eyes and decomposing second by second. Because they were pushed to the back, no one realized they were there.

I moved them to the counter from where they had been on the floor. A brown, oily puddle began to form and seeped its way under the microwave. The worst part was the smell that started to infiltrate the kitchen.

I grabbed the nearest roll of paper towels and the bottle of kitchen cleaner in an attempt to stop the problem.

My daughter, who heard my muffled screams because I was holding my breath, materialized with her can of pumpkin spray, which I still have some trauma from last year’s spray down episode. She tried to combat one overwhelming scent with another with her shirt pulled up to her eyebrows.

No matter how fast I was trying to clean it up, the rancid smell was winning. The only solution was to triple bag the rotting produce and put it outside. Hours later, there were still hints of it in the air. Mixed with pumpkin air freshener.

Like those hidden potatoes, when you stuff down your true feelings, they will eventually leak out in some way. Either the body will manifest symptoms, or your emotional well-being will suffer. God doesn’t want you to live like that.

In Matthew 5:37, it says: Say only yes if you mean yes, and no if you mean no. (NCV)

And in Romans 13:8 it states: Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another..(NASB)

Don’t hold yourself hostage by surrendering your power to keep others feeling content.

Fear is the culprit, promising in a twisted way to keep you safe from upset, but every time you shut off what you want to say, your spirit fades a little more, and it gets easier to do so. Then when you do speak up, it’s such a foreign and rare occurrence that you aren’t taken seriously, so you go back into your corner and convince yourself that this is how it’s supposed to be. It seems normal, but it isn’t.

This way of conducting oneself is usually years in the making, probably going back to childhood, so to get out of it will be somewhat of a struggle, but every time the decision is made to correct it, you gain more of yourself back. You learn how to live in a balanced way where you aren’t a pushover or an aggressive bully.

This is where your prayer life has to be taken seriously as you seek answers that will help undo old habits. As usual, if you involve God, then it can be done, and it says so in 2 Corinthians 3:17:

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (NLT)

In addition to doing an inward search, I have found that just like all the parenting advice I used to read, there are plenty of resources to look to for healing this part of your life so you can be genuine, live unafraid, and finally break the unnecessary chain.