Suck

A few years ago, my daughter and I had the pleasure of tearing the vacuum cleaner apart on a Saturday. I needed to use it, and it wasn’t working right. 

After unplugging it, I flipped it over, and this particular model wouldn’t let me remove the beater bar. I got out a pair of scissors and began to cut away all the hair that had wrapped itself around it. With all of our technology, this act feels like it’s a throwback to caveman days. 

It’s just one step up from pounding letters onto a rock slab. 

I looked at the pile of hair I had freed and wondered why none of us had gone bald. Or donated it to be made into ten wigs. 

This same problem seems to cause drain issues with the shower. I always seem to be the lucky one who gets to experience water creeping up to my knees because it clogs during my turn. We only have one, so by some luck of the draw, it decides enough is enough, and soon the tub is filling up. 

There are only two solutions at that moment for this kind of trouble. Either stop the water and try to remedy it while you stand there freezing, which generally isn’t the answer because it needs something poured down it to clear it. Or you move faster before you drown in the oncoming flood. 

It’s a blessing to have a healthy head of hair until you have three adults shedding. 

So after untangling the mess, I expected the vacuum to roar back to life. It didn’t. Unbeknownst to me at the time, my youngest daughter possessed the ability to rip things apart and put them back together. I am not mechanically inclined, so I’m unsure where she inherited this trait. 

We both dismantled what we could, tried to make it look new, and then put it back together—some of the screws that should have been easy to get out fought us. 

After hours, magically, it worked. 

“What is this for?” I asked, discovering a piece on the floor after we were done. 

“I don’t know,” she said, looking at it. That is one of those moments where you decide to ignore the leftover part and move on. 

A different vacuum has been purchased since then, one that claimed it could handle a lot of pet fur, so why not apply that to humans as well?

I have not read the instruction manual one time in the five years since we have had the new one unless I have to. I have a stack of books to get through; who has time to read a book on how to vacuum? 

I read an excellent section about using the attachment that is supposed to be used on the upholstery.  

Thrilling.

It seems every so often, I realize there is a new hidden feature on it that needs to be maintained. It took me two years to conclude that I could separate the entire canister from the inside filter to empty it. 

Then I had the revelation of a filter in the filter that also needed attention. 

I have found at least three places where years of debris had collected that should have been emptied. How do I know this? Because it quit working correctly, I had to go through trying to figure out where the problem was. This is usually when I pull up the manual online, deal with that one issue and move on. 

“I found another plastic clamp that unhooks this thing, and I should have known this five years ago,” I say to her.

“Again?“

“Yes.”

This has happened so many times I have lost count. 

The vacuum my parents had didn’t have tubes and valves to deal with. It was a glorified broom and dustpan. You ran it, threw away a bag, and then forgot to put in another bag before your mom used it the next time, so you got in trouble for not replacing it. Simple. 

I am still, in some ways, not accustomed to using a machine that requires me to think. 

I thought I had finally learned everything there was to know about this current one. No longer was I going around being naive to its functions. If something was amiss, it was no longer taking up my time to fix it or have the worry I was going to break it.

A few Saturdays ago, I hit the on button, and the bar wouldn’t spin. It sent out crud instead of picking up. Along the way, you learn that you cannot ignore certain things. Like the filth it is sending out, making the carpet dirtier, and the smell of scorched hair. 

It never fails when there is the slightest hint of this in the air, I will hear from another room,

“What is that horrible smell?”

I want to say that it’s my Saturday afternoon getting burned up while I waste my time on cleaning something that is supposed to be cleaning. 

I got out the scissors again to cut away the accumulation. This did nothing to get it working right; the bar would not budge. 

“You are going to have to help me,” I told her.

Neither of us was looking forward to it as we sat in the middle of the living room, looking at it like we were about to perform surgery. 

“This whole section comes off,” she said with great confidence. 

I had not seen her doing any research to know this. 

“Are you sure? I don’t want to do that and then find out an hour from now it wasn’t right.”

The sigh speaks volumes. 

I found two new red levers I hadn’t realized were there before, which made the entire piece pop off easily in seconds. We got down to the problem at record speed but then realized the whole bar had to come off. 

Something jammed on one side of it, impeding its spinning ability. She got out a tweezer-like instrument and started to pluck away at the stuff that was sticking out. Small, precise movements that had me looking at the clock instantly.  

This is where the prayers to God began. 

At some point, you realize you are threatening the tiniest screw that won’t turn, and it holds you hostage. One small inanimate object has you at gunpoint, bringing to the surface in your mind every swear word you have ever thought of. 

Then you go into the laughing portion of it where you both don’t know why you are, but you are, and anyone walking into the room would think you have gone off your medication or you require some. 

She pulled on the stuck piece while I tried to free the screw one last time. It broke off. Sometimes there are causalities when you are involved in situations like this. 

You cut your losses, fix it, and go on, knowing the other three will keep it together. 

I vacuumed the entire house without any other issues.

“Why is the vacuum not working?” She asked me five days later. She was cleaning her room.

“What do you mean? It worked perfectly after we took it apart.”

“It won’t turn on.”

It had to be the outlet, so I tried another one. It wasn’t that either.

So we began the process of checking all the usual trouble spots, but I saw nothing wrong. The advice I found online pointed to the on/off switch. Once you take off the brush below, a reset button requires you to hold down one of the two buttons to get it going again. 

Who knew it had a snooze function? 

I was dealing with nothing short of a highly advanced piece of equipment that now screamed overkill. It was like I was dealing with the space shuttle, and it did take rocket science to figure it out. 

I did exactly as instructed, and it sat stone-cold silent. 

We looked at each other like we had committed murder.

“This worked after we fixed it. This makes no sense.”

We went over everything again, coming up with no answers. 

Then she had a lightbulb moment.

“Is the power off?”

The sun was out, so there was no need to have lights on. I flicked the light switch, and nothing happened. I tried others and got the same result.

Others were functioning, and I had this experience many times over the years. It was the trek to the circuit box, looking at the small map that shows me what runs on which one. I heard the vacuum come on above me with two switches dealt with. 

Sometimes what you think is the problem isn’t the problem.

Your ability to solve something in your life can seem so black and white when you look at it logically. You should take part A and hook it up to part B and be on your way. But what if that isn’t the solution? What if God is trying to show you a deeper issue that needs healing for you to get past it and never have to deal with it in the future? Unless you are willing to look further into it, it can lay dormant, waiting to present itself again, just like always, causing the same problems.

Instead of that, it’s helpful to undergo a process where God reveals to you the exact source of the issue so you can fix it. 

In Psalm 139:23-24 it says,

Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; Cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I’m about; See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong—then guide me on the road to eternal life. (Message)

When you allow God to do this, you can move ahead, being led strongly into new power, leaving you able to deal with anything that presents itself that seemed impossible before. 

Heaven’s mission is always to bring you to your highest potential, where your faith runs at its best, you see the good in all, and unlike my rouge vacuum, life doesn’t suck.

 

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.

Transplant

There was a particular place that she wanted to go to. It couldn’t just be a store that sold many things, but one that only focused their attention on what she was looking for. It’s not something I would pursue because of bad experiences, but she often pushes me past my resistance to trying something again.

I didn’t want to take on another responsibility with all the others that I already had. So my idea was to go with her but not buy anything.

As I drove there, I tried to keep quiet and not think about how many other times I had done this, which led to failure.

“Have you read about how to do this? You know what you are doing?”

“Yes.”

Of course she had because she’s smarter than I am.

We walked across the icy parking lot with an intense winter wind whipping, slapping us across the face. The double doors opened, and warm air surrounded us.

Sunlight streamed in, and it was as if we had gone from the Antarctic to a tropical island with plants of all shapes, colors, and variations. There wasn’t anything that I couldn’t kill from the very tiniest to taller than me. This is why I didn’t want to come in the first place. There was a long list of casualties on my record of house plants not making it very long no matter how closely I followed all the rules or not.

“I want to look at the orchids,” she said.

I had never had one of those, so she was on her own with that. Let the blood of the innocent be on her hands this time.

As we looked at them, I saw instructions sticking up, printed on a card:

Place one ice cube in soil three times per week.

“An ice cube? I don’t get it.”

Where we live, the cold instantly takes the life of any outdoor plant, so now, we were to put ice on our indoor plants? That sounded like someone who had murdered growing things like me; get it over with.

Throw a bag of ice on that, and call it good, that I could do.

I looked into it further, and it was actually a way to make sure it was getting enough water without it draining out. It’s a slow release of hydration instead of one big blast.

When a salesperson came over, I asked her if it was effective.

“I wouldn’t do it. It’s a trend now. Dipping the container in water works best.”

She chose the one she wanted, and I did not believe it would make it until spring, but I knew she had to try.

We looked around, and I overheard a lady trying to figure out what to buy.

This is not a quick decision. You have to think about where you will place it concerning how light comes into your house. Does it need direct sunlight, partial or a completely dark room?

“I have a couch I can move over,” I heard her say to her friend.

If you have to remodel to take in one plant, it might be a good idea to forget it because, with my experience, you can put in an extraordinary amount of care, and they will callously keel over without a second thought.

It always starts with the withered look and leaves that lose their sheen. Then it gradually goes downhill into yellowing and pieces falling off. At first, I always try to revive the situation. I start by removing what has died to be sure all the nutrients are going toward what is left living. I test the soil for dryness, or is it damp? Maybe new dirt would help, and a little plant food.

I walk away knowing I have given it the best care, and I am highly hopeful it will make a comeback because I have applied the detailed advice of a botanist I found online. But by morning, it’s deceased. It just totally checks itself out without even saying goodbye.

I can’t handle that kind of rejection over and over.

So while there looking with her, I had decided not to open up my heart to be crushed by another that for no reason would die. That was until I saw something that I had not considered before.

Bamboo.

They had them in clear vases with decorative rock and no soil. This meant no guessing whether they had enough water or not. When I saw them displayed, Chinese New Year had just started, so next to them was a list of all the good luck they could bring me, depending on how many stalks I put together.

With my horrible track record of keeping anything alive past a week, it would need the luck, not me.

One stalk seemed lonely. It had nothing to do with bad fortune. Two represented love, or that good things come in pairs. Three of them meant happiness and a new beginning. Four was not to mess with because it denoted death. We had already had enough of that.

I settled on five because it looked decent and wasn’t overwhelming like the suggested 888 of them.

After saying I would purchase nothing, I brought them home and crossed all my fingers. These, I was told, were difficult to destroy. They hadn’t met me.

The first year, all was well. My five grew somewhat and were not that much of a bother. Her orchid worried me as it stayed the same, with no flowers.

The second year, I ran into trouble and had to move three out of my five into their own vase.

“Why are they not with the rest?” She asked me.

“They look a little sick. And I read online if they have something wrong, it can spread to the others.” The remaining two were flourishing.

So I quarantined the unhealthy and it turned into hospice.

“I read that this can happen,” she said, trying to make me feel better. “They just don’t make it as long.”

And they didn’t.

Her orchid stayed the same, and I wondered if it had died but looked alive.

“Is yours okay?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

“It’s been two years, and it doesn’t look any different than the day you bought it.”

She let it be, and I saw my two start growing more.

If mine made it past the two-year mark, I found out that it could reach five feet.

At nearly three years, my two were inching upward more and more. I guess I was destined to have a pair that would bring more love into my life. The initial five promised me wealth, but 1 Corinthians 13:2 says there is something more significant:

And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.(ESV)

Sometimes, you have to lose something to trade up.

The other day I asked her again,

“Is your orchid doing okay? It looks the same as when you bought it three years ago.”

She got out potting soil and a larger container. After all this time, I wondered if this disruption would bring too much trauma. That’s the risk that is run when you move something that has gotten its roots down and is locked into a place that it has been for a long time.

I walked past it the next day, and it had doubled in size.

“Did you see your plant?”

I think she expected me to tell her it had croaked.

“No.”

When she looked at it, she was just as surprised as I was to see it spread out so much in its new home.

“You aren’t supposed to replant them for three years.”

“Really? That’s such a long time.”

To be honest, I thought maybe she had neglected it for too long. But, she had read that this was the perfect time to give it a larger space to expand. Every day, it seems to fill out more, seeming to enjoy the room to grow.

In the same way, when the constricting limitations are removed from a person’s life, it ushers in peace and joy that wasn’t there before. Adapting to a new way of living always comes with uncertainty, but God promises to be with you through each step, guiding and protecting you.

In John 15:5 it says:

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing. (NIV)

This speaks to the idea that a life sworn over into the hands of God is not your own.

If you want heaven to make good use of you, increase your influence, heal the hurting and fulfill a mission on earth, you have to be willing to go through a transplant.

Genuine

Minnesota is known for a food atrocity that probably has graced the tables of those unfortunate enough to have put it in their shopping carts. My mom was one of them, and I absolutely refused to partake of it. Meat processed into a can with a globby gel around it ranks right up there with eating chocolate-covered insects. 

I watched a documentary where this lady could not stop consuming lint no matter how detrimental it was to her health. When she would hear the buzzer go off on the dryer, she would take out the trap and start swallowing down the fuzz that had collected on it. Another person’s obsession was hand sanitizer that was guzzled down like water.

If this meat product had been included, I would not have been surprised. 

There must be those who love it, though, because there has been an entire booth set up at the state fair devoted to this. These are the ones with stomachs of steel and absent gag reflexes. They stand in line and pay actual money that they worked hard for in exchange for something that is said to be food, but is it?

They fry it, bake it, grill it, chop it, slice it. They pass this off as a versatile food source that is convenient because it’s precooked, and it never dies because it’s questionable if it ever walked the earth. 

I recall innocently wandering into the kitchen as a child as a can of this was opened.  

“What is that?” I asked.

She made me smell it, and the gooey appearance brought on an instant hunger strike.

“You will like it.”  

This always was the beginning of the coaxing me to try something that I knew I already would hate. When another person had to tell me that I would have an affinity for something, I was already putting up all sorts of defenses.

She knew I was the type of kid who would not eat cooked carrots but accepted them as raw. Hot cereal was death, and cooked beets, kill me now. There wasn’t enough milk produced in the industry to help me get those down without letting them touch my taste buds. She wouldn’t let me plug my nose, either, because that wasn’t ‘good table manners.’ 

It made her uncomfortable seeing me suffering, so I had to hide it and try not to cough, which would have sent everything from my mouth onto the table, and well, that would have ruined everything.    

And, now she was leaping to selling me on canned meat? She had clearly lost her ability to think straight after eating products ladened with chemicals like the very thing she was trying to convince me to swallow. 

She never got her way, and it was a good thing she didn’t. All she saw were dollar signs because this was a cheap fix for a meal. I could go munch down grass out of the backyard for no charge to maintain my life span and enjoy it more. 

Multiple articles claim that this cube-shaped charlatan acting as a protein is full of salt, sugar and processed as much as it can be. How did they combat the bad press and the negativity? They made a light version to accommodate those who are health conscious. They took out more of the bad things to make it better. 

Don’t sign me up. 

And, there are recipes out there. I came across one that lists the top one hundred. That is one hundred too many. Someone asked what the best way was to eat this—the answer: straight out of the can. The real inquiry should be: why, why, why? 

One person thought it was great to shape it into donuts and fry them. To add to the choke factor, they suggested putting chunks of it into the homemade ‘dough’. 

The draw is the affordability, and its craze, with some, has earned it an iconic place in society where there is a museum and merchandise you can wear on your body to let the entire world know that you eat meat out of a metal can. And if that isn’t enough, some restaurants have it on their menu, and the health department does not shut them down. 

I don’t find it an accident that it shares its name with the category in my email that junk mail lands. 

I hadn’t put much thought into that folder. I just figured the system was filtering out sales pitches or offers that would be a waste of my time. In a way, it’s nice to have an invisible hand doing that on my behalf. Some analytical program decides that I shouldn’t be bothered with information that isn’t necessary. It’s so close to being royalty it’s a little frightening.  

Away with you, peasant! I am sorry, but she cannot read that right now. She is by appointment only.

I didn’t have to be bothered with it, and I was a better person for it until I was forced to go there. 

I had tried to reset a password, and instead of sending it to my primary folder, it got sent to the dark abyss. After waiting more than the long sixty seconds that it said I had to, it was suggested I check the other location. 

Much to my amazement, I had compiled an assortment of correspondence that left me wondering who had sold my address to satan. There were not just a few but hundreds of inquiries in all shapes and forms soliciting all kinds of things that left my eyes burning. I actually shut them and started hitting delete. 

I devote a part of my morning to erasing these that seem to keep finding me every day now. Instead of taking the time to get rid of a week’s worth, I found that if I keep up with it, it’s less time-consuming. 

I began to wonder how one gets a job sending out these invitations? There seems to be some thought that goes into the type of emojis and bold capital letters. Not so much the English language is considered, but someone is making a living doing this, somewhere, hoping I will click on the link. 

Outside of the R-rated biddings for my attention, some offer compensation for the legal problems that are plaguing me. In contrast, others want me to finally claim that sum of money sitting in my account for ages with interest collecting. Why am I not responding to the sweepstakes I entered that would give me the life of my dreams?  

At the same time, the IRS is going to put me in jail for something, Amazon loves me and wants to give me a $1000 gift card, and a long-lost relative wants to find me so we can catch up and wouldn’t you know they live in a foreign country? How wonderful that someone in my family tree branched out like that and made something of themselves, stealing credit card numbers in a coffee shop across the ocean.

While all of this might be tempting to some, I have no problem sending them out of sight forever. 

So, why do I do this? Because I know they are there now. Before, I didn’t. I lived in ignorance, and it was beautiful. 

One of my concerns is that if I should die, what would someone think if they opened up my email and found all of these racy, desperate pleas? Just sitting there, like I hadn’t removed them, as if it was okay. I couldn’t live with myself after death if that happened. So, it’s now part of my daily existence to keep up a good image, even if it’s just for me to know, and to save some poor unfortunate soul if I depart. 

The other thing is, I don’t like fake.

Almost every single one of these is based on a scam and trying to bait people into circumstances that aren’t good. This is where the deception begins, where words are used to manipulate and entice into something that has absolutely no substance. I have seen so many people, usually those who are looking for something that is missing, fall for these types of schemes, thinking it will be life-changing. 

After taking over as my dad’s power of attorney, I had to fight off a company that kept coming to him for money that he shouldn’t have been spending. When they wouldn’t leave him alone and flooded his mailbox with their emotionally driven requests, I sent them a letter explaining my position in his life, which put a stop to it. It seems to quiet the waters when you toss the word ‘lawsuit’ out there. 

It ends your valuable customer status quickly.

I am not the only one who doesn’t like shady offers. Look at what this says from Psalm 101:3:

Help me to refuse the low and vulgar things; help me to abhor all crooked deals of every kind, to have no part in them. (TLB)

They inundate us and constantly seek our attention, but we have the choice to remove them from our experience. 

It’s a worthwhile endeavor to start thinning out those things that pose as real but aren’t. From food to friends, God wants you to have the best, and it will be genuine. 

Nightmares, right here

Let Go

One of the strange things that happens in my house is that snacks get left uneaten and never entirely gone. Nothing is immune. Pretzels, cereal, crackers. If a box of something has been opened, none of us will finish it.

You ignore it when you live like this for a while. For some reason, I realized it the other day while it had fallen upon me once again to go through the snack container and start tossing.

I look at expiration dates, if a clip has been used to preserve whatever it is and what is left of the contents. It isn’t unusual to find multiple boxes with one item at the bottom. We just can’t bring ourselves to be “that” person to take the last one.

And while that sounds so gracious and full of self-denialism, it’s not fun to be the one who goes to get the veggie straws, and there is only part of one left surrounded by what looks like sawdust. It’s deceiving and disappointing, but I can only blame myself for being the person to start this somehow with them.

If there’s a batch of cookies, I will have half of one until someone else comes by, tells themselves it’s only half, and has to eat it.

Then, when I want another half, I do it again, or someone else starts the process all over.

My oldest now says when she sees me breaking it in two,

“You might as well take the entire thing! By the end of the day, you will have eaten a whole one!”

“It gives me time to work off the calories from this one,” I say as she plucks an entire one, carefree, putting me on mute.

It’s kind of like the trick I have seen people engage in while in a restaurant where they have a dessert on a plate and put it as far from their reach as possible to make it appear they really aren’t eating it.

I always want to go over and scooch it closer so that they know we know. But I cut cookies in half, so who am I to judge? They have their psychological crutch, and so do I.

The other challenge I face is knowing what to throw and when to.

I have been known on occasion to get tired of seeing all the accumulation and pitch whatever appears to be past its time. And then two hours later I will hear,

“What happened to that brand new bottle of ranch dressing I just bought the other day?”

“That looked crusty,” I will say in my defense.

“I just got that!”

Yet, most of what I threw away was from a month ago.

This has led to regularly holding food adoption sessions because God help me if I get rid of something too soon.

“Whose is this?”

Both glance up to claim or deny.

“That’s mine.”

“Do you want this?”

Cue the elevator music as we wait on pins and needles.

“Uh….no.”

Out it goes.

“What about this?”

I try to predict whether it’s a keep or toss mentally. It’s like playing Suduko or one of those brain exercise games that strengthen the synapses.

If it’s dripping, leaking, or molding, I make the executive decision to send it on.

Nine times out of ten, it all gets sent to the garbage because no one wants it.

So between the half-eaten items and trying to learn how to discern what’s old and what’s new, it’s madness. Yet, I can always count on finding one crumb left of something or an almost empty bottle that has barely a drop.

I bought a cold brew, ready-made coffee, which I never do so that I could grab it to go on the days I’m in a hurry and can’t make my usual one. I shared it when I brought it home. I knew there was some left, so I went to get it.

“What happened to my coffee that was on the bottom shelf?” I began to wonder if I had put it in another place and couldn’t remember. Did I pour it out and forget?

“There were three ounces left. I drank it,” said my youngest daughter from the other room.

On the one hand, I was proud of her for breaking the curse, yet I wasn’t.

“I cannot believe that someone in this house actually finished something.”

She came around the corner, looking at me hanging off the refrigerator door like I was just invited to a funeral.

“Did you drink it, or are you just saying that?”

“It was three ounces.”

“That three ounces was closure for me.”

“Closure? Three ounces of coffee?”

“Yes. I have to go get more now.”

I had suspicions that she rounded way down on the amount she slurped up.

“There was at least half a bottle.”

“There were three ounces, mother. Three.”

Sometimes when you are a trailblazer, you might encounter resistance from those who aren’t accustomed to such an abrupt change in behavior by the inhabitants of your home.

“Can I have the rest? Or will this not give you closure?” she asked me.

“For what?”

“The coffee?”

I forgot I had gotten a new one.

“You don’t remember how that three ounces I drank left you without closure?”

“Oh. Go ahead. I don’t care.”

“Now it’s not a big deal?” She said as she poured it into a glass.

Keep up, child.

What was so important days ago now was not even on my mind.

That’s not just something that happens with leftover coffee.

I cannot recall what I was concerned about a year ago today. Most of us can’t unless it was a major, life-changing event. Facebook will dredge up what we posted to our attention, but we usually don’t show our fears online. It’s generally masked by something else, so the world thinks we are doing fine.

It can keep us awake at night and consume our thoughts so much that it takes us out of the present.

I recall worrying about how I had a utility bill breathing down my neck while trying to celebrate one of my daughter’s birthdays. She didn’t know, but later, I could not remember it very well when I tried to think about what had happened that day. My mind was elsewhere. I felt like the entire event was erased from my memory. I looked at pictures, and it was as if I was not in attendance. But I do know the bill got paid.

It’s a fight not to do that. But in Matthew 6:34, it is made clear what we are to do:

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes. (Message)

The other day I decided to clean out my dad’s closet. While he sat on the edge of his bed, I pulled shirts out to have him tell me whether he wanted to donate them or keep them.

“Does it have a pocket in the front?”

“Yes, but it has long sleeves.”

“Put it in the pile.”

There were so many of them that the entire closet was jammed, but I knew he had hardly worn any of them. I had told him that there were people in the world without clothes, so maybe he should get rid of some of them to help out.

He looked at me for a minute and said,

“Like poor people?”

“Yes.”

If I lead him down that road, there is less resistance. He comes from a time in history where people hang on to everything, but if I can convince him there are less fortunate people out there, he will always release his death grip on items.

I brought out hanger after hanger for him to judge.

The first question was if it had a front pocket. If it was no, then it was put aside. If I said yes, then we moved to question number two.

“Is it short-sleeved?”

“No.”

Then the nod to the pile. If I said yes, then it was the scrutiny of color.

Tilting the head with one eye closed while I stood there holding it up. Please, God, help.

“I don’t really like that one. Give it.”

Next up.

“That one I have to keep.”

“Really? Why?”

“I don’t know. I just want it.”

“Okay.”

“There are so many you are giving away,” he said, looking at the ones gathering around my feet. “I am not going to have any clothes left.”

“Do you realize your dresser drawers are full to the point I can barely shut them? These are from the far dark corner of your closet that you have not touched in almost three years?”

“Really? I have been here three years?”

“Almost. What about this?”

“Does it have a pocket in the front?”

An hour later, he had parted ways with prized possessions that he had no idea were taking up space in his closet.

It is human nature to hang on to things because they are familiar. I believe it gives one comfort to look in a dresser, a cupboard, or a drawer and see its space taken up, even if it houses items that aren’t used. It’s a false sense of security.

Along with this, there are people and places that God will call you away from to be moved on to what is next. In Isaiah 43:18 it says,

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? (NLT)

I read in one of the million books I have come across that the mind can only focus its attention on one issue at a time. When you are so stuck on those things that have worn out their welcome, you are expending energy on not seeing what can show up next.

The other day I had to remove a bandage after a blood draw. It hurt, but the tape was uncomfortable on my skin. What was once put there to help stop the bleeding for survival now was no longer functional. It would only affix itself tighter. From experience, I knew that the longer I left it there, the more difficult it would be to remove later.

The decision is always the slow peel or the abrupt, get it over with, ripping off. I chose the quick way and screamed through it just as much as I would have with the other option.

Within hours, I forgot it had been there, and the pain had completely gone away.

When you follow God’s lead, you may have to make choices that don’t always make sense but to trust and grow spiritually means to let go.

Watching

“My watch isn’t working,” he said, looking down at his wrist.

“Again?” I asked, hoping silently it was just off by a few minutes.

As my dad has aged, seasons and time have come to mean nothing. Yet, he wants the security of a band encircling his arm, reminding him of the hour and day.

Right as fall changed to winter, and snow was coming down outside his apartment, I said,

“It’s so horrible outside right now.” I had driven on slippery roads to get to him to be sure he was okay.

“Spring is coming,” he said.

I pointed to the large clock displaying the time, day, and month.

“What does that say?”

He squinted.

“It says December 28th.”

“When did winter start? What day?”

“I don’t know. Why?”

“You just said spring is coming. Winter just started on December 21. How many days ago was that?”

He often goes silent while calculating numbers in his mind.

“7 days ago? It’s only been winter for a week?”

“Yes.”

“Spring is still coming, though.”

“When isn’t it?”

The other discussion he has with me a lot lately is how long my mom has been in heaven and the length of time he has been at an assisted living.

“How long have I been here?”

“Three years this summer.”

“What? I thought it was less than a year. Where have I been all this time? I don’t remember almost three years going by.”

“It has.”

“Mom has been gone that long?”

“Yes.”

“I’m losing it, Chris. I really am.”

“It’s okay. What difference does any of this make? As long as you are safe and have help. Nothing else matters.”

To cut down on the confusion, I try to ensure that the time is correct if he has his watch on. So when he said it wasn’t working, I looked at it.

As with everything he has ever owned, this particular timepiece was probably in his possession since the pioneer days. He comes from an era that gets rid of nothing.

Less than a year ago, I had replaced the battery because he wouldn’t let me buy him a new watch. He had two, and both had stopped functioning. He sent me on a mission to have fresh batteries installed.

I walked into a department store, thinking the person at the jewelry counter could help. A guy was trying on sunglasses from a case. As he put each one on and looked in a mirror and handed them back, she had a disinfectant wipe at the ready.

“Can I help you?” She said while Mr. Ray-Ban was preoccupied with himself in the mirror.

I took out both watches and told her what I needed.

“You will have to go to a battery store. Since Covid, our store policy doesn’t allow us to touch personal items anymore.”

“How do these look on me?” He asked like I had shown up as his personal fashion assistant.

“Great,” I answered, wondering how one virus had taken away so many things, except for vanity.

I went to the place she suggested. One was quickly fixed.

“You will have to go to a jewelry store specifically for this other one. I don’t have the proper tool to open it.”

I paid for the one, got back in my car, and went to destination three to see if they could help. You will go to great lengths for the ones under your care.

The second one was put back in working order, and I took them to him.

When I showed him they were fixed, it was like his lifeline to the world had been restored. He promptly fastened it back where he felt it belonged.

The familiarity of it, I realized, was an anchor for him, somehow helping him be grounded in a subtle way.

One of the two stopped working immediately.

“Just forget it, Chris. I can use this one.”

Well, that one less than a year later was now starting to fade again, and I didn’t want to go through the process of a battery change.

“This has quit working.”

“Should I get you a new one?”

The question was going to yield an answer I could not guess. I was assuming he was going to cling to the old.

“Yes. I think I want something else.”

Talk about throwing all caution to the wind!

That small change for a person nearing ninety is quite the step.

Happy that I didn’t have to go through the hassle of the battery, I went to the store. I realized I was not aware of the assortment of watches that there are to choose from. I needed something simple.

I use my phone to see the time. I was delving into an arena I hadn’t been paying attention to since the 80s.

No, I don’t want to monitor his heart rate; he worries enough, and knowing him, he would watch the numbers go up and worry more. No, he doesn’t need a stopwatch function because he isn’t running track. No, it can’t have five million buttons on both sides. Yes, it required a large face with two different hands.

I laughed when I saw the display for Casio. I instantly saw John Candy in Trains, Planes, and Automobiles trying to sell it so he could get a hotel room.

I found a rare one that only kept time and had a small window showing the date.

When I arrived, there was an activity about ready to happen with a lady playing the piano. I showed him the watch.

“I will set it for you while she plays,” I said.

He glanced down at his wrist, remembering something was absent.

“I don’t have the time.”

“I think you have quite a bit of it unless you are now working a full-time job that I’m not aware of.”

He laughed.

“No. I have plenty of time, just not something to tell me how slow the day is going.”

While sitting next to him at the social event, I was trying to read the fine print. Not just fine, but super small, like I needed a magnifying glass. I held up the tiny paper away from me to try and focus.

I heard him laugh slightly. I squinted. I moved the instructions closer.

He leaned over and said,

“You need a new pair of glasses now that you have bought me a new watch.” I didn’t have my glasses on.

“And a refresher course in a foreign language because I just realized I was trying to read in Spanish.”

After I got it set, I slipped it on his arm.

He looked at it and said,

“It’s not working, Chris.”

“What? This is brand new.”

Sure enough, it had stopped for no reason.

“I think you have lived past your time,” I said smiling, and he laughed again. “This is a sign your time is up.” He has been in multiple situations where he has dodged death, so I knew he would not take me seriously.

When I tried to snap the band back in place, it wouldn’t. I thought I had succeeded, and it fell to the floor. But, it was running right. So that was going in my favor.

“When things are fighting me this much, I’m thinking you are not supposed to be concerned with time at all.”

After a lot more struggling, I had it, and so did he.

Sighing, he said,

“Nothing seems easy anymore. I need to move on from all of this.”

“You will someday,” I said.

We all will. The one thing we all can count on besides a Timex that keeps on ticking is our departure. But no one wants to really talk about it.

A few months ago, I took an online course to be certified as a death doula. Just like there are people devoted to bringing babies into the world, there are those who want to help people go on to eternity.

When my dentist asked me what I was up to, and I told him, he said,

“You are a death angel? Is that what you are? People see you coming and run?”

He also asked if I needed less novocaine since I was so in tune with the afterlife.

In one of the chapters of the material, there were resources listed that a person could use to discuss the topic with more ease. One way this is happening is death coffee shops popping up. I have had a cup of coffee or two taste like death, but these places are expressly set up to have people get together and converse solely about their demise. Instead of avoiding it, they are planning what they want and making sure to write out what they don’t.

We aren’t accustomed to not knowing what is next. You can pull up a guide on your remote, and it will list every single show that will be on for days. If you are going somewhere, you can map it out and see precisely where you will be and when. Almost every electronic device has a timer, so you can set it and know it will turn on and off at certain hours.

But when it comes to the ultimate end, we don’t fully know, which causes many not to want to think about it. In Ecclesiastes 12:7 it says,

Life, lovely while it lasts, is soon over. Life as we know it, precious and beautiful, ends. The body is put back in the same ground it came from. The spirit returns to God, who first breathed it. (Message)

You aren’t guaranteed a tomorrow, and while that sounds morbid, it should prompt you to live today with a more significant awareness of the people God has put into your life for a reason, that the minor irritations that come your way, like getting delayed, mean nothing in the vast scheme of things, and that you are a vital piece of the puzzle, needed to fulfill your life purpose.

Colossians 3:2 will help keep your focus on what is important:

Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. (NLT)

A sense of peace will come when you decide to do that. This will help you go through your days, knowing that you are not doing this alone and God is watching.

Trust

“This is not what I ordered,” she said, looking at what had arrived in a box on our front steps.

“What is it?”

There were three black bottles with flip tops so a person could squeeze out the liquid inside.

“I don’t know,” she said.

Where we live, because it’s such a busy street, we try to retrieve our deliveries quickly once they are dropped off. Nothing has ever been taken, but there have been instances where items have gone missing all around us. If someone had carried this off, no one would have missed it. Especially since we didn’t know what it was.

“Does the package say it’s for you? Did they bring the wrong box?”

“My name is on it,” she said.

She picked up one of the three mystery items.

“I’m not even sure what this is.”

When she turned it around to read the back, I could tell that the print was microscopic. I would have to take a picture of it and zoom in if she couldn’t determine what it was.

Even with her perfect eyesight, she struggled to come to a conclusion.

“This is not the case of cola I ordered.”

“No, it’s not unless they repackaged it into a really weird container.”

We drink pop with no artificial flavors, colors, or sugar in cans, not black bottles. After reading about the dangerous side effects of sweeteners that can cause health issues, we had discovered a product that helped us replace the old with something that probably won’t shorten our life span.

Probably. Until another study comes out telling us we are on death’s door for ingesting it.

When we decided almost nine years ago to do the switch, there was a gap involved. She was the one who had convinced me to stop buying anything that had a long list of words I couldn’t pronounce on the label.

We started reading the contents of products at every store. It wasn’t just for a beverage, but we got curious and started expanding out to other things that claimed to be good for people that were enhanced with a sweetener. It was in everything. Gum. Mints. Sparkling water. Protein bars. Cereal. And toothpaste.

How unfair is that? You brush your teeth to maintain good oral hygiene with an artificial substance that may not be good for you. It was shocking to me.

It’s an exhausting list, and once we started paying attention, it was like pulling a loose string on a sweater. Most of our conversations in the stores were,

“Does that have it in it?”

“Yes.”

“What about that?”

“Yes.”

We got to the point where we knew just by looking at the front of a product that claimed to be sugar-free and “healthy,” it would be put back. We also became wise to the fact that the name changes so people never really can pin down for sure if it’s used in the ingredients or not. They are required to list everything, and while complying, they will change the name to throw you off.

As she and I labored over this, I watched other shoppers come by and randomly grab whatever they wanted off the shelf without a care in the world. I longed to go back to being uneducated.

It was easier to throw things in a cart and not give what we were consuming a second thought.

One of the most negative consequences, in the long run, is that the presence of these synthetic substances can put the body in a pattern of creating insulin. I read multiple articles regarding this, and none of them were conclusive, but once you know something, it’s difficult not to ignore it anymore.

It was as if they were handing out accurate information to the public but didn’t want to create a lawsuit with any of the giant diet soda industries. So there was always a slight disclaimer at the end of each one, kind of like they were saying, “good luck.”

As we have faced science lately with vaccines and illness, the methods by which we are told that it’s safe to take a shot is the same technique used to warn us to stop drinking artificial stuff. But, one is accepted while the other is downplayed or dismissed.

It makes one wonder.

As the weeks rolled on, I started making iced tea, unsweetened, just to have something that was an alternative to water every day, all day.

The Soda Stream that we had used didn’t make anything without using what we were trying to avoid, so that was discarded.

I could say it was like a desert experience, but we were drinking water by the gallon, so not entirely. We used lemons or anything deemed not wrong to make it more attractive.

We stumbled upon the golden item after she did an online search. An obscure company recognized that the use of fake substances could eventually create poor medical results. They even took out the added color.

The first time I poured it over ice, it was strange to watch the familiar bubbles rise to the top of the glass, smell the scent of the flavor I was trying and see that it was transparent. I believe I tried a Cherry Cola because I had liked that flavor with the other brand.

Anything that seems suitable for you like this and replaces what you have had for years is met with distrust. We found that it was great and could end our search, but we still read labels on everything we were considering trying.

“I still don’t know what they sent me. This is not at all close to what I ordered.”

I was just going to look at it when she said,

“It’s wax.”

“Like for floors?” Or legs? If that was the case, it was made for a house of very hairy people. It was a massive bottle and large quantity for a beauty product.

“I think for anything.”

It was determined that somehow, she had received three bottles of a wax that could be used on multiple surfaces, not people.

My other daughter looked it up online after it sat untouched for a few days.

“Each of these is worth $20.”

“They sent $60 worth of wax when you ordered pop?” I said, holding it up.

Someone was asleep at the switch. I imagined the customer getting her order. Some person somewhere was saying what we were.

“What is this?”

Hopefully, they didn’t use it to shine their floor.

I accidentally dropped one of the three bottles right as her sister told us the cost of each one. They had been collecting dust in a dark corner for a few days. I picked it up off the floor, and it was leaking.

“You owe me $20 for that,” she said, laughing. Now it had value.

“I will drink it first before I hand over any money for this,” I said.

I’m sure it’s free of artificial sweeteners.

This idea of making healthier choices was reiterated a few years ago when I visited a naturopath, and she confirmed the elusive claims of all those articles I read. Because of our quest to find food that possibly won’t bring about an early demise, I read everything before taking it with me.

“Stay away from all that. Stevia or monk fruit is the best. They won’t cause an adverse reaction.”

But with all things, she made the point that water was the best, then drink whatever else afterward. She got me in the habit of doing that, so I viewed all other liquids as add ons except coffee. That’s in a category all on its own and always comes first.

She instructed me on what to look for while out in the stores and what to absolutely stay away from.

So while scanning an aisle for pasta that is made from a vegetable, which sounds horrible but it isn’t, I came across a label listing the price at $1.99. Underneath it, there was a sticker with bold letters saying: SALE $2.39.

This reminded me of when my older brother convinced me that a nickel was worth more than a dime because it was bigger. I was not ever going to fall for that again.

I thought momentarily that I had read it wrong. I looked at the entire row that all had higher sale prices than the original offers. I stood there, saying each number out loud.

It appeared that the person who sent the wax had gotten fired from their job and now worked at this company, putting the wrong signs on things. Or, there was more than one individual in the world making errors. Most likely the last option, but I would rather believe we have more conscientious people surrounding us than less.

But we don’t. We are all subject to malfunctioning.

I don’t think I will ever get used to expecting one outcome and getting another like the wax. That was easily fixed. She told customer service her issue, and they sent out a new order. You can’t do that with all things.

When you have your mind set on how life will go, what then when it doesn’t? How do you come back from having a certain outlook, where everything is falling into place, to one day waking up to see that nothing is how you thought it would be? Revelation has come, and while that can be freeing, it can also be terrifying. It means you have to leave everything you know behind. You can’t unsee what you know to be the truth, and it isn’t in your best interest to keep going in the way that you are.

What has been familiar seems safe and easy, you always know what is next, even if it’s absolutely miserable. There are no surprises until it gets taken away. Then, every day, you live not knowing what is coming next, and you wonder if you can handle it.

Your ability to stay calm and peaceful seems to not exist anymore. There will be moments when you realize you aren’t concerned about a thing, and then it all comes down on you to the point where you cannot breathe. It’s a constant battle between your mind and your spirit that the only escape you can find is to sleep after a while—a lot. Because you don’t have to think but, you are up with insomnia because your mind won’t be quiet. It’s a vicious cycle that it is difficult to get it back under control once it starts. On top of all that, it makes you feel weak and not confident in your faith.

I don’t have the answer on how to fix it. Each person has to figure out their own way to become resilient and rise above the adversity.

Whenever a situation appears that seems too much, and a shift in thinking is required, all you can do is trust.

Vision

My parents smoked many cigarettes when the surgeon general wasn’t involved with warning labels.

“We were told it was only dangerous in that it would stunt a person’s growth,” my mom said.

Then the world should be full of short people.

Obviously, this was a myth that kept many citizens puffing away, all the while making their lungs turn black.

“Once we found out that it could cause more health issues, we quit.”

Well, sort of.

My dad traded the death sticks over to smoking a pipe. I remember seeing it hanging out of his mouth while he was sawing something in half, driving a nail into a board, or in the stands watching me play softball.

“I love the smell of that,” many of my friends would say.

While some were impressed by his habit, my mom was not. Usually, she summed it up in one word:

“Ick.”

Part of the reason for her dislike of this was that he would leave pipes all over the house. The basement, outside, or anywhere he felt he was going to need to smoke, he would leave one for later. His dresser was always a mess with a few of them there.

I would often hear him say to her,

“Have you seen my pipe?”

“Which one? You have a million of them.”

He would start looking, unhappily wasting his time when he could be outside doing something else. She would leave for a few seconds, unable to deal with his mumbling during the rescue mission.

“Here. I found one,” she would say, handing him what he had been trying to find.

It took me a while to catch on, but I figured out that she would, in an attempt to keep the clutter down, move all of them into one central location that he wasn’t aware of.

While he would happily leave with it in his possession, thinking she was the best locator of missing items, she knew exactly where they were all along.

Their relationship had small, built-in devices like that, where she got her way without him realizing it.

“When we were first married, he wanted to go sit at a bar with his friends and leave me at home. He did this before we were together, but I wasn’t in favor of that once we got married, and I told him. He refused to listen to me. So one Friday night, I got dressed up and told him I was going out without him.”

I knew he had been extremely protective of her. He had never gotten over witnessing her dance with another guy after he had said no while they were dating. Having her about to leave him in her dust to go off to a shady place on a Friday night set him off into panic mode.

She had been raised in a small town, which made him consider her naive and unable to handle herself in the “real” world. He would always say to me,

“I met her right after she fell off the turnip truck.” Or, “She is a country bumpkin that just fell out of a wagon.”

Then he would laugh while she shook her head. He had no idea how much she actually used all that to her advantage. He believed she was not up to his speed while quietly she got him to do her bidding, believing that it was his own idea. So, who was the turnip?

Seeing her about to leave him brought on a meltdown.

“He would not let me leave. He stood in front of the door, refusing to move. I had made the whole thing up to see what he would do. I never told him I didn’t have plans, but he got so upset by it, he said he wouldn’t leave me sitting at home alone ever again.”

There was a reason why she had done this.

“His friends were wild and not married yet, so I didn’t want him out there acting like them and coming home drunk. I felt this would eventually ruin everything, so that’s why I did it. He would not listen to me, so I thought to myself..I will show you. It worked. He knew what men were like at bars back then, and he couldn’t bear the idea of me being on display. We came to an agreement that we would go places together to guard our marriage at the beginning.”

Her tactic was to get him to see her point of view without saying a word as she was about to walk out the door with no place to go.

She became a full-time mom when all the kids started showing up. This didn’t stop her from educating herself regarding the latest health problems and their causes.

Because I ended up being with her the most as the others grew up and moved out, I was often involved in her findings of what was considered cutting-edge information.

“It says here that steak can harm your arteries.”

She was like a sponge when she read the newspaper, learning as she had extra time with fewer children to deal with.

For some reason, I had no idea that she had discovered that smoking a pipe had been linked to lip, tongue, and cheek cancer. This bothered her so much that she demanded he quit. She couldn’t use her usual technique of getting him to see things her way with a bait and switch approach. He just needed to believe her on this one.

Now we know it to be accurate, but at the time, it wasn’t prevalent knowledge, so it could be easily dismissed as “it won’t ever happen to me.”

One night from work, I came home and parked my car in the garage.

He kept his vehicle outside and gave me his spot—another perk of being born last, way after everyone else.

While my siblings had to leave their cars in the driveway in the heat of summer or blizzards of winter, he moved out so I could move in. I had grandparents at that point.

On that particular night that I pulled in, I heard a loud crunching sound near my front wheel on the driver’s side. I immediately stopped, jumped out, and saw a plastic bag sticking out from my tire.

I backed up with more crunching.

I got out, picked up the bag, and saw that I had crushed his pipes. I had no idea where they had come from. These were on their way to the graveyard with no way to save them. The back and forth over them had murdered them.

I thought nothing of it. I didn’t do it on purpose, and I knew he had more somewhere. I parked and took the bag inside. It was summer with the air running at top speed, and the house was closed up, so she hadn’t heard me come home.

She was in the living room reading. She looked up and said,

“What do you have in your hand?”

I held up the bag.

“I think I ran over some of dad’s pipes.”

Her mouth popped open. I got worried for a minute, thinking she was mad at me. I knew that familiar look where her eyebrows met in the middle, and her eyes looked like they could kill.

“He told me he quit!”

Oh. So I wasn’t in trouble, then? But, there was another storm ready to blow up.

She flew by me, snatched the bag, and stomped out the door.

“John! Where are you?”

Just run! I wanted to send him a message telepathically.

She was taking this outside where the neighbors might hear? She was seeing red.

I walked over to the window and saw him trying to develop some sort of explanation. She was an infuriated country bumpkin.

I opened the window slightly to hear what stellar excuse he was going to give.

“How many more of these do you have?” She said, shaking the pieces in the bag.

I knew she was coming at him for a good reason, but I felt a little guilty, like I had just walked him to the executioner.

“That’s all I had left. I put them in the garage so I could still have some without you knowing.”

Cringe. Not good.

“This is it?”

“Yes. I had them hidden, and I must have left them out. When she pulled in, they fell under her tire.”

A coincidence? I don’t think so.

I watched her walk over to the garbage and throw them away.

“I promise that’s it. I don’t have anymore.”

She noticed that I felt responsible for their argument when she came back in.

“God used you, Chris. Don’t feel bad about that. It was supposed to happen.”

I didn’t fully get it.

He stuck to his word, even though it was difficult at times getting past the craving for it, but his marriage was higher up on the priority list. And in the end, her urgency to get him to stop freed him from suffering consequences that would have been terrible.

Sometimes you can sense the detrimental while the other person can’t.

That is how God works. Everything is seen from a viewpoint that we might not always understand. Throw in our free will, then we can ignore that still small voice and go on our way, thinking we know it all.

God will place people in your life to be seers. They may come in different shapes and styles, but they are there for your good, prompting you to come up higher and dodging around hazards you may not think are harmful because it’s a habit. Or you are just plain ignorant. Yes, I said it.

The Holy Spirit is described this way in John 16:13:

But when the Friend comes, the Spirit of the Truth, he will take you by the hand and guide you into all the truth there is. He won’t draw attention to himself, but will make sense out of what is about to happen. (Message)

If you aren’t making yourself available to hear God’s message to you, someone will be sent, motivated by heaven, to try to wake you up to what you need to know. This is not punishment or condemnation, but to illuminate something you are not seeing or paying attention to.

From my experience, I don’t walk away feeling dejected or scolded but instead empowered to deal with an issue that was dragging me down spiritually, like fear or worry. A person looking out for your highest well-being is often a messenger, and you might not understand that at first.

In Isaiah 55:9, there is a reason why we might not get it right away:

For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than yours, and my thoughts than yours. (TLB)

Just like it was believed that smoking cigarettes would hinder a person’s height, not heeding what God is gently trying to tell you will slow down your walk to an elevated place, moving in the direction you are supposed to go. When we cling to what is familiar and not useful, refusing to embrace the truth and shutting the door, God will come through another way.

That is how much heaven wants you to achieve your life purpose and protect you from harm.

When you are blind, it is a promise that a helper will come to get your attention and give you the needed direction and vision.

Yucky Parts

Sometimes it’s the smallest of things that make you realize how much God sees the details. Heaven seems to show up at just the right time to remind you that you have done alright, no matter what memories you might have surface to say otherwise.

She handed me a book that I forgot I even had.

“Where was this?” I asked.

“In my room.”

That happens quite often where we share without me realizing it. But, if it had not been in my possession for that long, then I guess I didn’t really miss it.

I recognized the cover and title from a while ago. I had gone through this phase where I could not absorb enough about people experiencing miracles. It can help you to believe when you read about the circumstances of others, prompting you to follow those leads that God is always putting in front of you.

To say you don’t have any isn’t the truth. You have to get quiet, and one way to do so is to read material about the very thing that you are seeking. While memorizing scripture is excellent, sometimes you need to subject yourself to multiple stories where people of various walks of life have all had incredible things happen to them.

The unusual happenings in the Bible, from the parting of the Red Sea to Jonah being swallowed by ocean life, sometimes don’t seem relevant unless I am stuck in traffic and I need an act of God to move cars along so that I can get back to my real life. The whale thing doesn’t really coincide unless I have to tell someone bad news, and I would rather not. I don’t live where there are whales readily available, though.

What does resonate is when a mortgage gets paid off unexpectedly, a child is healed of an incurable disease, or someone escapes a life that was leading to destruction. The themes are generally the same, with a person needing an unseen hand to intervene and come to the rescue seemingly out of nowhere.

I think it’s difficult to imagine God doing that because we always believe that it’s for everybody else. Our neighbor might fit the bill up the street, but we aren’t good enough to have it happen to us.

Isn’t that what blocks the miracle? Not God, but us.

“I was told to give you that book, and you need to look in the front cover.”

“Why? I haven’t seen this for so long.”

“Just look.”

When she tells me to do something, I do it.

Inside the cover was a note from her that I had used as a bookmark. She had written this to me during the height of a very tormenting and dark time in my life. My marriage had turned into divorce, and I had to figure out somehow how to keep it all on track.

I was constantly concerned that I wasn’t doing enough or being a good mother while working three jobs at once and homeschooling. I struggled to keep a stable environment for them while the world around me looked nothing like it had before.

While some of the existing problems were now absent, a host of other troubles seemed to be cropping up all the time.

One way I can describe it was like walking into one of those rooms where the whole structure is built at an angle. You have to navigate your way through using force to lean and move. You might have to hang on to a few walls to get through it, and right when you think you can let go of the support, you start to fall again. In the middle of it all, you come to a new understanding regarding the instability of life.

Believe it or not, it’s a gift. You realize that what is here today can be quickly gone tomorrow.

I would be rushing through the living room, trying to get to the next responsibility on my list, and she would tackle me with her eight-year-old self. She knew I was faking my way through it all, hiding my pain and trying to convince everyone that all was well.

In a death grip, she wouldn’t let me go and would repeatedly say,

“You are strong, mom. You are strong.”

I learned not to fight to get away because, one, it was pointless because she would suddenly have an iron hold on me that I could not release myself from. She would have both of her arms wrapped around my legs, making it impossible for me to move.

I know it sounds strange, but I had to stand still against my will when this happened. After a few times, I realized that God was speaking to me through her.

I felt the exact opposite of what she was saying. Totally weak and broken down, I was running on fumes, forcing myself out of bed every day, fearing that I would not be able to keep up with it all. And in the chaos of that, I had this shorter version of me stopping me in my tracks, giving me the advice I would give anyone else I saw in the same situation.

I had taught her without knowing it.

When I gave my life to God, I made it my mission to make sure both of my girls understood its importance. I didn’t want them walking the same trail that I had, not knowing who God really was. There were pitfalls along the way as we all learned, and still do, what spirituality really means. My goal was to have God be real to them, not some fictional guy in a book. And here it was on full display as she forced me to take a minute to listen.

“You are strong, mom. You are strong.”

One time, I said to her,

“Our house has been destroyed. Your dad is gone.” I thought that would make her quit doing this. It was inconvenient most of the time.

She looked me in the eye and said with much assertiveness and on the verge of anger,

“He is my real Father!” She pointed up. I couldn’t argue with that, and she made me stand there longer than usual. I learned not to be resistant to it anymore.

When I look at what she wrote back then, I can see now what she meant. Those sessions of making me stop what I was doing were times that God infused me with the strength I needed to go on. I just didn’t know it then like I do now.

She brought to life this verse from Psalm 46:10 that says:

Be still and know that I am God.

Sometimes when you look in the rearview mirror of your life, you see that all isn’t lost. It makes sense now.

In those places that seem impossible to endure, something is changing on the inside of you.

She and I went to a yoga class at a very early hour on a Saturday when the temperature was fourteen below. The drive was nearly forty minutes away, but the class was free, and there would be a litter of puppies.

“I want to go to this,” she said.

I did, and I didn’t. I know dogs and me, and I will want them all. I wasn’t so sure I could do all the moves either, but I was willing to try. Above all of that, I can never say no to her.

As we progressed through a flow of maneuvers that required balancing, many in the class around us were trying not to fall over.

“Relax your face as you move along,” the instructor said randomly with her back to us as she demonstrated, and we followed.

Immediately a woman in the back row said,

“I feel called out,” and started to laugh.

When it got quiet, and all of us were shaking uncontrollably, trying to stay upright while forcing our muscles to be more productive, the leader said,

“Breathe through the yucky parts. You are becoming a better person.”

If I have learned anything, you must know that God is holding your hand, everything will work out when you think it won’t, and now is the time to breathe through the yucky parts.

(I’m not crying..YOU are crying….)

Heart

“Aren’t you supposed to be doing a thing from bread?”

I looked up from the computer. I thought we were highly engaged in a history lesson about Africa and the corrupt government, but she was not fully paying attention. Even with a curriculum that had a video trying to get a crucial academic point across, sometimes a lack of interest won out.

“What are you talking about?” I said, crunching.

She pointed at a bowl that was in front of me.

I kept on chewing and said,

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be skipping bread?”

“Yes,” I said.

“You just ate a breadstick out of that snack mix.”

“What?! No way!”

She picked up a stick, held it up to my eyes, and it was what she said.

I instantly started spitting the contents out of my mouth into my hand, which goes against all that I believe in. Unless it’s an emergency and I am about to die from poison.

This was close. I had been doing so well. I was so proud of my ability to stay away from any yeast-laden food for at least three hours, and I didn’t want to ruin it. I was on a roll. Well, not from the bakery, but you know what I mean.

If I did this now, it would be easy for me. I have done away with most bread and dairy products, but back then, I was giving up something so that I could hear God’s voice better. I don’t recall the point of what I was trying to get an answer for, but it must have been important enough for me to give up a staple that I used to eat every day.

She laughed and was horrified at my reaction.

“Get me a paper towel!” I said.

“Does this mean you have to start all over?”

“No! I didn’t swallow it!”

There was no way I wasn’t going to get credit for this. I had made a vow to myself that I would go at least a week. I was not adding on time to what seemed like years.

This fast was already going way too slow.

I had shopped my options before landing on this particular one. There are a few to choose from, such as an absolute fast, a partial, or complete. The goal is to deny yourself something on the outside to build up spiritual awareness.

I was trying to follow along with the trend of the hour in a church where you had to jump through various spiritual hoops to get what you wanted. It wasn’t good enough to pray. You had to back it up with a sacrifice.

I had never had a good experience with this type of approach when it came to getting to know God better. Being raised Catholic, we had to go through an entire season of denying ourselves meat on Fridays. Short of putting a lock on the refrigerator, my mom made sure that nobody dared to break this life or death rule. None of us were going to hell on her watch.

This never made any sense to me. People could go out and get totally wasted drinking at a bar, but as long as they didn’t eat what was on the do not touch list, they were good in God’s eyes.

What was at the end of all this restriction? Easter. Where I got candy, overate it, and threw up at a buffet. So much for avoiding hell. I still cannot stand purple marshmallow eggs.

Along the same lines of this, I recall being under the impression that to get your faith to
‘work’, there was always a fifteen to twenty-step program to follow. When you have your whole heart set on pleasing God after many years of not really knowing much about it, you will fall for anything that someone who seems to be in authority will tell you.

If you wanted to obtain the ‘higher’ spiritual gifts, you had to be sure that you followed all the rules. I had left the Catholic Church, but I found in many more places that someone always had their own set of instructions that everyone was expected to follow.

The more it seemed that I tried to please people, the dimmer my focus and walk with God became.

I learned that what many were trying to obtain wasn’t always as easy as skipping that croissant or getting baptized in the Jordan River. Some believe you have to really strive to receive elusive gifts from God.

A few weeks ago, I got a strange letter in the mail. It was addressed to me by a man who lived nearby. I wasn’t sure why he would be writing, but when I saw what he had tucked inside, I knew right away.

Covid has made things a little more challenging for people to go house to house, convincing the masses that the world is in dire condition. He had taken the time to write me a full-page letter warning me that everything would end and that my only way of escape was to attend a virtual meeting and join their organization.

After all his writer’s cramp and licking envelopes, he probably wanted the final days to arrive so that he could put a stop to his obligation to all the names on his mailing list.

This method, though, seems safer than the old-fashioned way of ringing a doorbell and having to face who knows what kind of reception.

I had learned many years prior that the motivation behind this was not about making sure I didn’t meet the eternal flames of hell, but rather, it was about the performance of works to ensure that the ones doing them kept themselves out of trouble.

I heard the knock on the front door, looked through the security window, and saw two women and a man standing on the front step. The suit and tie on a Saturday in the sweltering heat and both of his assistants dressed like they were going to a wedding gave it away. Along with the briefcase that was stuffed with handouts.

They were here to make sure I was in the fold.

I stood there, considering what my approach should be. Do I engage, or do I just let them go on to the next house with their pamphlet? So many people I know will either ignore this type of thing or go out and confront in a snarling dog way. I didn’t want them to waste their time on someone they would not make any progress with, but I decided to open the door.

I saw three hesitant smiles as I took a step out and said,

“Can I help you?”

The man extended his hand to me.

“Are you the homeowner?”

“Yes.”

“We are out today in your neighborhood visiting people and talking to them about God. Do you know who God is?”

“I read my Bible every day, and I hear God’s voice.”

It was like a massive gust of wind blew them all off my step and into the yard when I said that. I saw instant fear in their eyes. They were preparing themselves for the rabid dog they had probably encountered before.

He cleared his throat and said,

“You do?”

“Yes. I know the Bible and God very well.”

“You do?” he said again. He had a live one. Now what?

“Yes.”

“Then you must know that we are in the last days.”

This was at least fifteen years ago, so when someone says ‘last,’ I am unsure where we are on the timeline. In 2 Peter 3:8-9 it says:

Don’t overlook the obvious here, friends. With God, one day is as good as a thousand years, a thousand years as a day. God isn’t late with his promise, as some measure lateness. He is restraining himself on account of you, holding back the End because he doesn’t want anyone lost. He’s giving everyone space and time to change. (Message)

“I am more of a one day at a time kind of person,” I said.

“But you have to work to earn your place with God. This is why we are out here. We have to be sure that our position with God is secure.”

“You don’t know that God loves you no matter what?”

They all moved one step further away from me. I was messing with their belief system that they were not good enough if they didn’t perform a job. I was speaking blasphemy, so for sure, I needed converting real quick.

“I think this might help you,” he said, trying to hand me a paper. I glanced at it.

“You need me to take that so you are then okay with God?”

It reminded me of the subpoena I was given before my divorce. He was serving me papers to secure his place in eternity.

“Yes. Nothing is for certain, though.”

“How many do you have to hand out in a day?”

“As many as we can. We have to attend meetings during the week too. Those are part of the requirement. All of the information about those is on this sheet. You should come.”

None of this sounded easy, like breathing, so I probably wasn’t a candidate.

“God doesn’t expect you to do any of this. It’s one thing to tell people about your faith, but to feel forced to go places because you aren’t worthy enough isn’t how it works.”

I spoke as quietly as possible, so they didn’t think I was being confrontational. I knew they probably had been harassed many times, which was not my intention.

More steps away from me. I am sure they envisioned my whole body on fire with demons poking the coals around like a bonfire.

He threw the paper at me and said,

“Have a good day.”

The two women hung on to each other so they wouldn’t fall. They moved as fast as their dress shoes would allow. Did this meet their quota? Or was I written down as a no-show?

I tried to say more, but they kept on moving.

Sometimes you can’t undo a certain mindset. They had been manipulated into believing that they had to earn their way to God, and even with what they were doing, they still weren’t sure.

In Ephesians 2:8-9 it says,

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (ESV)

We tend to complicate things. If you can receive a stimulus check from the government, which is really your money in some way, shape, or form, you can have a close relationship with God.

Put aside the idea that you have to win over heaven by forcing yourself to perform works so that you will cross into eternity at the end of your life.

Have that piece of french toast. God is looking at your heart.

This is a good option if you are skipping bread…