Honorable Discharge

Before taking a single psychology class, I grew up in an environment that taught me more by observation than any professor ever could. No textbook could even come close to the education I received by being born into the household where I somehow landed.

“Your dad is using selective hearing again,” my mom announced as she stalked past me.

I had not heard of that term before. Why would I? I was in middle school and not married.

“What is that?”

“It’s when someone hears you, but they pretend that they don’t. But then you can ask another question, maybe something that interests them, and miraculously they respond to you. He does this to me all the time.”

I had seen it in action, but I didn’t know it had an official name.

There could be two reasons for this. Either he had trained himself to do it because it got overwhelming with so many kids in the house, or she just asked too many questions.

“I wonder why he does it?” She asked.

See? Like that.

“Did you ask him?”

“Yes. He didn’t hear me.”

He was a master.

A few weeks ago, all of these memories of him putting her on ignore came rushing back to me.

I was at his apartment while a physical therapist was working with him.

“Can you stand up?” She said in a highly elevated tone of voice.

It has been officially determined that he now has hearing loss in both ears due to his military training. He had no problem while I was growing up, but he has used hearing aids to help as he has aged.

I went to the audiologist with him for testing a few years ago at a veteran’s clinic.

The room we had to be in was soundproof and actually hurt my ears because it was so quiet. I didn’t realize that seclusion could be painful.

“He lip-reads almost ninety-nine percent of the time even with hearing aids in,” she said.

So when Covid hit, and all the mask-wearing began, it became impossible to communicate with that on.

When the physical therapist asked him to stand, I thought he hadn’t heard her because her mouth was covered.

“Did you hear her say to get up?”

“She did?”

“Yes. Can you stand up?”

At almost ninety, it’s a challenge, but he eventually will. After walking and running through strengthening exercises, I see he starts to fade out, and his attention span gets short.

She explained to me his limitations and what she could do to keep him strong without taking away his independence in other areas. While all of this discussion was going on, I looked over at him, wondering how this fully affected him. He won’t ever tell me anything unless I really probe for answers.

He puts on somewhat of a front, keeping his true feelings hidden.

He was wearing a new listening device that connects to a small battery-operated unit with earbuds to amplify sound.

When I had first put it on him and was going to adjust the volume, I asked,

“Can you hear me?”

He looked right at me and said,

“No, Chris. I can’t hear you.”

That was my sign it was functioning correctly.

With her going through a rundown of all that he can’t do, I was slightly concerned that this would bother him.

“Do you want some water?” I asked him, interrupting her. He didn’t answer me. I thought maybe he hadn’t heard me, so I repeated it. Nothing.

“Can you hear me?” I asked, wondering if the new device was malfunctioning. He still seemed not to hear me.

I repeated my question with no response.

This time I decided to upgrade.

“Can you hear me, or are you choosing not to?”

“Selective hearing,” he said, then smiled.

“Do you have that on your list for him to work on?” I asked her.

Unfortunately, it isn’t.

Later, I started to inquire about his time in the military, which had led to his hearing loss.

“I was in training to use a 40-millimeter anti-aircraft gun.”

“What was that for?”

“To shoot down airplanes.”

“And they didn’t know back then to have you wear ear protection?”

“Right. So that caused damage to my hearing.”

He went into the National Guard at seventeen and served once a month while in high school.

“I made $40 doing that. Then, the Korean War was cropping up, and they needed people, so I went into the army.”

I’m not sure how he gained the position, but he became a sergeant. He had been in a street gang as a leader, so that might have come into play when they looked for recruits who they needed to enforce discipline.

“Those were not the best of days,” he said. “I didn’t like the bayonet training.”

From as far back as I could remember, he didn’t speak much about this time of his life. Just a couple of things like how he would pour cold water on the same guy who took a shower.

My dad would be shaving at a sink, and this man would come in after everyone else had left.

“He liked to have the place to himself. And he would sing at the top of his lungs. He wasn’t that great of a singer.”

While he was in the stall, my dad would pour a cup of cold water on his head and quickly run back to the sink and go back to looking in the mirror.

“Who did that?” the man would yell, pulling back the shower curtain.

My dad, not giving any eye contact and keeping the blade to his face, would say,

“He went that way,” and would nod toward the door.

“He never caught on that it was me. I would let a few days go by in between to throw him off. He always asked me who it was but never thought it was me.”

Another event he went through was not as humorous.

“Was the worst part the guy who died? The one who wouldn’t listen to you?”

“Yes. I had to take his tags and send them to the family after he was killed.”

He put in all the work of getting young men ready for battle, and there was one who never followed his instructions.

“He was belligerent. Always talking back at me and would do what I said but always did something slightly to change it to what he thought was best.”

Just before being sent over to Korea, it was determined that my dad could not go. He had allergies that made his eyes water and burn, so it was decided to hold him back.

“I had trained them, and I didn’t get to go with them. That was not easy. I didn’t know who I would ever see again.”

The first to die was the man who thought he knew it all. A sniper hit him because he hadn’t followed instructions on entering a situation he found himself in, and he became an easy target.

“I tried to get him in line, but he just would not listen to me.”

My dad saw Proverbs 12:1 in action:

If you love learning, you love the discipline that goes with it—how shortsighted to refuse correction! (Message)

Whenever he reflects on this, I still see an incredible sadness overcome him. Like it was his fault in some way, and it haunts him.

I equate that to when we ignore God.

Some portray this as a fire and brimstone type of relationship where if we don’t follow orders, we are subjected to the hatred of God. But we aren’t.

In Ephesians 4:30, we find that we can cause a different reaction when we don’t follow the voice of God:

Don’t grieve God. Don’t break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don’t take such a gift for granted. (Message)

Being proactive is always better by asking for help and applying this instruction from Jeremiah 33:3:

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

What landmines and trouble could you avoid by asking for answers from the One who can see what you can’t? God doesn’t want a spiritual sniper to take you out prematurely from fulfilling what you were put on earth for.

I place before you Life and Death, Blessing and Curse. Choose life so that you and your children will live. And love God, your God, listening obediently to him, firmly embracing him. (Deuteronomy 3:19-20)

Above all else, our goal should be to follow God, do what we are told, and we will be granted from this life into heaven an honorable discharge.

Trouble Is Brewing

The aroma of coffee beans permeated my hair and clothing the second I walked in the door. Like a warm, friendly hug it engulfed me. The tables were loaded with drinkers of all sorts sipping on frothy concoctions that were worth every inflated dime. I saw my good friend standing by the counter eyeing her choices on the board.  She was having a hard time deciding what she wanted because this wasn’t her usual drive thru order.  This was a legitimate experience that required more from her than just saying,

“I will take the number 1.”

No, this was a face to face encounter with another human being versus hanging out the car window yelling into a box.  A treat this great comes with much contemplation.

“I love coffee. I love it,”  she said as I watched her eyes scan the board.

“What are you having?” she asked.

“I am having a medium iced peach black tea with a shot of raspberry.”

“That sounds good.  But, I love coffee. ”

After much travail, in which I thought she was going to opt for a fancy whipped up drink on steroids, she said,

“Coffee.  Black.   With a little cream.”

I think she went back and forth on the cream, but I was preoccupied getting out my card to pay.

Both of us were ecstatic to be meeting not only because we hadn’t seen each other for awhile but because it was free time.  No responsibilities and pure freedom.

It wasn’t difficult to find ourselves quickly wrapped up in discussions over writing, talking about God, and how our lives were progressing.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a woman enter the shop. It was one of those subtle things that happen but you don’t really recall the details of it until later.

We continued to talk, and she began telling me a story from her childhood.  Usually most of our time together is spent telling our true life stories.  Some funny, some sad, but we always leave each other feeling better just for having been together for a little while.

I was slightly aware that the woman who had come in was going table to table and talking to the patrons.  I was listening to my friend speak, but I was somewhat distracted as I watched people get out their wallets and go into their purses and hand her cash.

As she made her way closer to us, I didn’t give my friend any indication that I was overhearing or seeing what was going on around us.  My mind and eyes went from the thief making her way to our side of the room to trying to stay focused on what was being said.

I watched stealthily as she hit on a couple next to us.  Again, I made no mention of this to my friend who continued on talking.

When she sidled up to us, I kept my eyes locked straight ahead.  I refused to give her eye contact.

“I need gas money,” she barked.

She was glaring at my friend who responded by gulping and grabbing her purse to rummage for loose change.

I moved my head in slow motion so I could take in her attire. Her attitude was in full broadcast.

“I ran out of gas.  I need gas for my car.”

I saw her lick her lips as my friend handed over cash just like all the other people had done.

She turned to look at me.

“You don’t have cash?  You don’t have anything to give me?” Her annoyance was running high because I hadn’t moved into action to do her bidding.

I felt like I was in a school play yard and the class bully was attempting to take my lunch money. There was no humility or even a ‘please’.  Her approach was aggressive and intimidating.

I looked at my wide eyed friend who had conformed, and I saw the unspoken pleading for me to hand over what was being demanded.

“What color is your car?”  I asked.

She took a slight step back.

“What?” she asked with a sneer.

“I asked you the color of your car.”

“Ah-Ah-Ah-Bl, I mean red,” she snapped.

“What type of car is it?” I said immediately trying to limit her time to think.  Most people are able to say the color and make of their car without much thought.

“Ah- Ah-Ah-What difference does this make?” she snarled.

“What type of car do you drive?” I repeated not blinking.

“I uh, drive a red Pontiac.”

“Where are you stranded?  What are you going to use to put the gas into?  You don’t have a container.”

“I am going to buy a gas can!  Are you going to give me money or not?!”

“There are no stores around here to buy a gas can from.”

As she continued to retreat, her voice was becoming so loud that conversations ceased as we went back and forth.  My questions were making her lies come to light.

“Before I give you money, I am actually trying to help you solve your problem.  I don’t know how you are going to put gas in your car without having something to put it in.”

Realizing that I was exposing her to all those who had just believed her sob story, she shouted,

“I don’t need your money!”

Then, she looked at my friend and screeched,

“Thank YOU for helping me!”

Like that was supposed to make me feel embarrassed in public for not helping.  She ran as quickly as she could out the door and that ended her shift working the room.

When I turned back to my friend, she was shaking her head in disbelief and the couple at the table next to us began to argue.

“Why did you give that lady any money?”  he asked.

“Because she said she was out of gas!”

“She was lying! Why did you listen to her?!  You gave her a lot of money!”

“How was I supposed to know she wasn’t telling the truth?”

They had overheard my entire interaction with the petty criminal and realized they had been scammed.

“So many things get triggered when someone talks to me like that,” my friend said.  “I have had experiences in my past where people have bullied me so I just give them what they want so they will go away.  That is why I gave her the money.”  I could tell she felt bad about her decision now that the dust had settled.

“She was pretty intimidating, so I could see why you did what she wanted you to do.”

I sat for a moment and thought back over the entire exchange.  From the time she walked in the door, I knew that something was not legitimate about the lady.  That still, small voice inside of me was saying: Don’t do what she says.  The line of questioning I put her under was not preplanned and happened spontaneously.

It was similar to breathing. I don’t consider where my next breath is coming from.  It just shows up.

To live like this is the ultimate way to peace because it takes the dilemma out of things.  I like to help people who are in need, but I do not like to assist those who are ripping off the public.  Her yelling at me as if I was a cold hearted individual not willing to help was meant to humiliate me, and I have to say for a couple seconds she did make me feel like a low life. However, I had uncovered so many falsehoods in her story, I was easily able to shake off that notion of myself.

In this day and age of media, we are being told what to believe and how to believe it in the hopes that we will make our decisions based on what we see with our physical eyes and hear with our ears.

Proverbs 20:12 says,

“Ears to hear, and eyes to see-both are gifts from the Lord.” (NLT)

To embrace this wise saying means a wonderful thing.  We all have a powerful second set of senses connected to the spiritual realm that if utilized will help us separate the authentic from fabrications.

We know that God loves us, and we know that prayer helps to lead us on the right path when we have a decision to make.  The combination of that unfailing help of heaven and being willing to take a minute or two to quiet down and wait for an answer to come can make all the difference in the world.  Many times we are blinded by the raging noise from our televisions and radio.  We listen to all the voices telling us what to do instead of going inward and having the honest answer surface.

I didn’t have time to sit and ponder my decision as this person made her way over to our table that day.  However, I had been regularly practicing the quieting of my mind when faced with options to choose from.   With that in operation, I was able to easily identify the truth from fiction.  According to the verse above, we can tap into that supernatural vision and allow God to work on our behalf when trouble is brewing.

 

coffee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Music To Your Ears

Following my divorce, I was in somewhat of a panic as I job searched. I already had a part-time work from home position, and I was employed at a local school as an after hours helper.  However, due to fear and uncertainty, I felt I needed to find more work.  While scanning through the classifieds, I came across an ad that sounded interesting. No music skills were required, and the employer was seeking someone who would be able to travel to various daycare facilities in my area and hold music classes with kids.

I called the number and spoke to a woman who informed me that they were holding a group interview at one of the childcare locations near my house.

“Could you come tomorrow and observe our lead music teacher and see if this would be something you would enjoy doing?”

“Sure.”

Why not. Back then I would have tamed wild sharks if it meant helping me survive financially.

The next day upon arrival at the location, I was escorted into a classroom where at least ten other adults were standing around waiting to be told what to do. This was at the height of our economic down turn, so jobs were a hot commodity.  Some of them looked rather nervous, but I started to notice the cute kids who seemed to range in age from three to four years old. Some of them who made eye contact with me would wave, smile and say,

“Hi,” like they knew me all their life. I returned the smiles and the waves.

The music teacher came in dragging a suitcase behind her and set up in the front of the room.

“Why don’t we have our visiting friends sit down and join us,” she said motioning us to the floor.  As I sank to my knees, six children raced over to sit in my lap.  This resulted in a moment of pushing and shoving.

“Why don’t you all sit down next to me. That way, we can all see each other,” I suggested. I suddenly had become Mary Poppins without even trying.

The teacher led the class in various songs as she pulled instruments made for preschoolers out of her big bag of tricks.

I joined in with my little tribe as we jumped, twirled and followed all of her instructions. This was the strangest job interview I had ever been apart of, and the most fun. The kids sang and danced as she taught them simple rhythm sounds.

At the end of the class, she handed out stickers to an excited bunch who were so proud to wear them like badges of honor.

For the adults, she handed us pieces of paper and said,

“Now that you have watched a class, if you are interested, return tomorrow at this same time. Read the instructions on the sheet because it will be your turn to teach the kids.”

I went home and found empty toilet paper rolls, filled them with rice, and taped the ends shut to serve as shaker instruments.  I practiced my songs and thought of clever things to say to capture my young audience. By the time I went to bed that night, I knew the job was something I would love to do, however, with the crowd that had showed up for the first part of the interview, I wasn’t so sure I would get it.  I began to question why I had pursued this in the first place.  What had prompted me to do this?

Even with these doubts,  I returned the following day ready to take on my competition. Astonishingly, only three of us came back.  I noticed that as the kids tried to communicate with one potential prospect, she seemed edgy and uncomfortable. Her answers were high pitched and her eye twitched non-stop.

The minute I sat down on the floor to watch the two other candidates show us their best performance, I was once again surrounded by many little ones longing for attention.  When it was my turn, I handed each child a shaker and led them through the various songs.  What was once a quiet and solemn room was now a buzzing energetic atmosphere.  All the children took my lead as we marched, skipped and hopped on one foot around the room.

I received a phone call later that afternoon with a job offer.

“You impressed the teachers,” my new employer said.

“That is nice to hear.  I don’t have any musical talent.  I just did what I thought the kids would like.”

“You were the only one who showed up for the job without any music background.  Everyone else had their music degree except for you.”

“Really?  Why did you hire me if everyone else has experience in this type of thing?”

“We wanted someone that we could train instead of a person who thought they knew it all.  And, you related to the kids the best.”

Within the week, I had an official shirt and my own suitcase stuffed with curriculum, instruments and treats.   I began by traveling three times a week to three different centers to bang instruments together and bring a little joy to the classrooms.  I began to feel like the visiting grandmother as I was always ambushed at the door with excitement when I would show up. I began to notice the reason why this was.  The teachers seemed overworked, stressed out and not very present.  I am not saying they were not good people.  However, the work was long and difficult day after day, and sometimes more than eight hours at a time with a roomful of kids who weren’t always glad to be there.

There were days of brawl like fights and many children who were not obedient.  I noticed a glassy look to some of the teachers and assistants eyes as the days wore on.  When I stepped into the room, this was their time to check out mentally.  I returned home after every session to immediately change and wash my clothing.  Sickness was prevalent and my own immune system got a work out.

Before going into the facilities, I would spend a few moments in my car in the parking lot praying.  I would ask God to accompany me so that every child would feel the love of heaven.  I was not able to speak of anything faith related so this was my only way of injecting it into the situation.  It proved to be working because I was the most popular person to walk through the halls.  Kids would see me and practically fall over themselves to grab me around the kneecaps or to hang off of me like monkeys on a tree.

A few months into this, I was in a classroom with four year olds talking to them about the body’s five senses.   At this age, kids love the idea that they know more than adults.

“What do you do with your ears?  Do you smell with them?” I asked.

“NO!”they yelled back at me.

“Do you touch things with your ears?”

“NO!”

“I bet you guys eat with your ears!”

“NO we don’t!”

“Then what do you do with your ears?”

“We hear with them!”

“Oh!  That’s right.  We hear things with them. What do you hear?”

“My mom tells me she loves me in my ear.”

“My dad says I am good at coloring.”

“I hear dogs bark.”

As they shouted out answers, I made sure that they knew that their responses were the best I had ever heard.

When the excitement began to die down, a little blonde boy with brillant blue eyes said,

“I hear God talking to me with my ears.”

When he said this, the adult workers near him began to laugh, which in turn made all the kids giggle.  I saw him quickly put his head down to look at his lap.  It wasn’t difficult to see the embarrassment and that he was the subject of ridicule at a tender age.

“Hey.  You know what?”  He looked up at me.  “If God is talking to you, then I would keep on listening. That is very important.”

The minute I spoke those words it was like a hush came over the room. The two young teachers now put their heads down as I continued.

“Not everyone would be able to say that, so that is about the most special thing I have heard here today.”

Of course, not to be outdone, others began to shout,

“God talks to me too!”

“Me too!”

I again looked straight at him and said,

“If God is talking to you, then I would keep on listening.  He might have something very good to tell you.”

His little smile beamed.  It was one of the only times that I was able to openly discuss God, but it was a sign to me that nothing can keep the divine from invading a place even if it is forbidden.

As we approach a brand new year, take some quiet time for yourself.  People make resolutions one week and fail them the next.  What I have found is that if I sit down with a pad of paper and make myself available for instruction, words begin to come that bring insight and revelation.  Instead of struggling to figure out what you should do next or how you should solve that problem that seems to persist, give God a crack at it.  You will be surprised at what you will hear.  It could very well be music to your ears.

Colorful Wooden Toy Maracas Frame Stock Photo

 

 

 

 

 

(Image courtesy of Kittikun Atsawintarangkul at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)