Surprise Party

“I want to go in there,” she said.

This has become a familiar phrase over the years, and when it’s stated, I know that something that its original owner has long forgotten is going to be in her hands.

It’s always the same smell—the opposite of new car scent. Everything assaults the senses at the door for me. When I first started to frequent second-hand shops with her, I always said,

“I’m looking at dead people’s stuff.”

I just couldn’t get past the idea that those 1970 avocado green coffee cups had once graced Aunt Myrtle’s kitchen counter. Or Olga’s mustard yellow crockpot had seen its final potluck when the grim reaper showed up, halting all the fun. I easily could put faces and names to all the merchandise.

The dusty burgundy brandy glasses had seen Helen’s last toast, and that super ugly lamp in the corner had gone dark after many days of illuminating the room so Fred could read the evening newspaper. Uncle Bud’s collection of beer bottle caps testify to the world that he liked to drink in excess while his team lost, and the ax leaning against the wall that once had given George calloused hands as he chopped wood is on clearance.

The ladle that great-grandma Beatrice used every Thanksgiving for her thick, bland gravy is up for grabs alongside cousin Lucille’s flour sifter and canister set with the yellow daffodils. Who could pass up on Sir Edward the Third’s favorite smoking jacket and Philip’s baseball cards that he had gotten with his first pack of gum? And then there’s the hatpin Betsy fastened neatly before her monthly book club meeting and Richard’s flashing neon man cave signs that have a bit of mid-life crisis attached to them.

I could go on, but besides envisioning the dearly departed, I could only think of one word: hoarding.

And there’s always these extra rooms and signs with arrows pointing to another secret passage that say: more, more, more!

In almost every visit, I have gone into lower levels where it seems like you are intruding into someone’s basement that got stuck in a time machine. Like a dungeon with concrete walls all around. It doesn’t help when you say to yourself,

“This feels like I am descending into hell.”

And the person who placed items for purchase thought it was a great idea to put all the rubber masks right at the bottom of the creaky stairs. So you are greeted by eyeless sockets.

She always gravitates toward the toy section because this is why we are there in the first place. As a successful creator on YouTube, she searches for more props to utilize in future videos. She is also highly skilled at resurrecting the dead through hair restoration and giving new meaning to dolls long fallen by the wayside. Once it’s in her possession, she will provide it with the best home and a life’s purpose.

I try to preoccupy myself with browsing through the items I once owned as a child and now are considered “vintage”. That sounds nicer than ancient.

How reckless were adults to give us real wooden objects to build with and risk getting a sliver? Or paint that contained unknown ingredients had we eaten possibly could have caused severe side effects? We lived on the edge then, I guess.

I have gotten more comfortable as time has rolled by. I try to block out the idea of the deceased and see it as a warehouse for second chances. I still have to combat a lot of sensations, and if I get too overloaded in a space, I move on to another one. My first indication of needing to keep moving is dizziness and a bit of disorientation.

We recently visited a busy store, and I struggled with feeling overwhelmed by all the stuff. As my daughters and I rounded a corner, she appeared with the most dazzling smile.

“Aren’t you girls finding anything fun?”

“Not yet,” I said.

She was beaming.

“There is a lot of good things in here. I was the owner, but I sold the place to my son. I’m 87 years old, and it was time. He has taken over and done way beyond what I did, and I am very proud of him.”

“You do not look your age at all,” I said.

“You are in the will!” She quickly replied.

“What do I get? All of this?” I said, sweeping my hand around as they do on game shows over all the prizes.

She threw her head back and laughed.

“Do you know what keeps me going?”

“No.”

“Fireball whiskey. I was given a huge jug of it, and it was so big it had a handle on it.”

“Did you get through the entire thing?”

“Of course I did!” More radiance.

I don’t recall how we got around to guessing my age, but she put me back into my 40s. She was close, but not quite. She went on to guess the ages of my girls. She couldn’t talk enough about her family living abroad in various countries.

“Would you ever go see them?”

“I don’t want to travel alone.”

Her husband had passed on.

“He had the best sense of humor. We got along so well, and it’s important to laugh in life.”

“And drink whiskey.”

“You are definitely in the will!”

Surprisingly, we left without a purchase, but then hours later, my daughter regretted not listening to her inward leading toward a particular doll.

“I can go back with you tomorrow.”

“I hope it will still be there.”

This is the one who always gives me the “look” when I am at a cross-road decision on something, and she knows I am supposed to have it.

“Angels are guarding it. God will make sure you have it.”

The next day was much quieter and calmer. Her prized possession was still waiting on the shelf, and she decided that there were some others worth looking at in locked cases.

While she stood by what she needed to view, I went to the desk where a woman was pricing merchandise.

“Can I help you?”

“I need key 21 to unlock a case.”

She turned and spoke to a man who I recognized from the night before.

“If you get me the key, I can help them,” he said.

When he came over to us, I asked,

“I met the former owner last night. Are you the son who took over?”

He laughed.

“I am not her son, but I did buy it from her at the beginning of the year. She always refers to me as her son, and it’s so nice of her to do that.”

She was a sharp person, so it wasn’t a case of dementia. She truly counted him as her child.

“I am in her will now,” I said.

“Get in line. She says that to everyone.”

“She had nothing but good things to say about you. You took what she started and are making it even better.”

He pointed to a poster on the wall. The business had earned one of this year’s Best Awards, meaning it was voted as a number one place to visit in the area.

“I did that already, and we aren’t slowing down.”

With both cases laid out on the counter, my daughter began looking through the piles of clothes and accessories. The lady who had been marking items now was watching.

“She restores things,” I said.

“I do too. I redesign old clothing. I have a big room I work in at home, and it passes the time since my husband isn’t around anymore.”

I saw a man standing behind her with his hand on her left shoulder.

“My husband Barry died eight years ago.”

“You know he is standing right next to you. You can feel that, right?”

It’s getting harder lately not to let it be said, and the words seem to fly out of my mouth before I know they are going to.

“Oh, yes! Right here,” she said, pointing to the spot where I could see him. You can’t spend that much time with a person and have them just disappear forever.”

“You are right. I’m glad you know it.”

“He was diagnosed with throat cancer, and we were told that it would be easily cured. Well, it wasn’t. It was a big shock when he passed on. But his alarm clock went off every morning when he used to get up for work. Even if I turned it off, it would wake me up the next morning. He has never left me.”

I know she misses him, but she also seemed very peaceful about it. I guess she has come to accept what is, but the feeling that he is near also is helpful.

God just keeps showing me more as I ask for it. There’s a scripture that says in 1 Corinthians 15:55-57:

O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”(ESV)

I can say that when you know that someone has advanced on and they are at peace, it makes grieving easier. You miss them, but like in this woman’s case, she can still sense him around. I keep having similar experiences.

The night before my birthday last summer, I was in a store by the bakery waiting with my daughter. She was having the worker write a message on a cake. When it was handed off to her, this older woman came out of nowhere, leaned in, and read it out loud to me with much emphasis:

“Happy 53rd Birthday, mom!”

Like loud, like my mom would have. And her body language and clothing were in full mother mode. Then she disappeared into the masses.

The next day, on my birthday, while I was standing outside a building looking at flowers, a man walked right up behind me and started singing Happy Birthday at the top of his lungs in this super booming low voice. He sang it all the way to his car. About a week before that, I had said,

“Mom, I want you to sing Happy Birthday to me.”

I had forgotten I had requested it until he was yelling it practically into my hair!

While driving home that day, I recalled that we would see my grandparents on some of my birthdays in North Dakota. They always saved one firework for me.

In Minnesota, the powers that be don’t think we can handle it, so it’s illegal. But not there. Apparently, the residents have better eye-hand coordination in that state.

I told my girls that I always had one bottle rocket or something sent skyward to commemorate another year.

Later, after I got home, I thought I heard a muffled pop. This was way past the 4th. I went out the front door to see the biggest explosion of color rain down over my house. That was it—just one.

“Thanks, mom,” I said, going back in.

I think we have put the afterlife into a confined space to make it more acceptable. Many people have a low-level fear that keeps them from seeing clearly, and then the sadness of grief gets piled on.

The preoccupation with loss blocks some vital heavenly signs from being seen or heard. And, while it seems like something has been taken, it has been transformed into better. That doesn’t mean there won’t be tears, but there also can be laughter which is just as healing. And those who have walked through the door, we all will someday, wish us joy.

I have gotten used to not being able to explain anything, and the more I allow it, God keeps sending extra my way.

I can’t say I’m okay with all of it at times, especially if it’s something really extraordinary and out there, but I have decided to do this from Proverbs 3:5-6:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight. (NIV)

It is a little scary to live like this, casting yourself totally into the care of heaven. But it also is so fun at times that I can’t imagine living without it. It sets you apart from the trivial cares and traps that are easily laid before us.

It helps you understand and see everything at a higher level of existence so you can drop away from those things that really don’t matter.

In some ways, it’s like being the unsuspecting victim of something good happening. Like when all your friends decide to secretly plan something that you will be the center of attention. You walk into a room expecting one thing, and then they all jump out of hiding. It takes the mind a minute to accept it, but then you realize this has been done for you. Once the shock wears off, you see it for what it really is.

You never know where God will show up next, who you will cross paths with, and how you will be spiritually awakened further by the next surprise party.

Servant

My girls and I decided to go on an evening stroll with a representative from the local historical society. It was advertised as a “ghost” walk, but I was more interested in finding out how some of the landmarks came to be.

Our guide was in vintage attire from the 1940s with a cloche hat and an old-fashioned Halloween print skirt. She had a personality that was a mix of dramatic flair and knowledge like a librarian.

We traipsed through neighborhoods stopping along the way for her to explain the significance of some of the houses and the strange occurrences that had taken place.

One very elaborate home had been built by a colonel who was known for his kindness. The current owner has kept some of his original belongings where he had them, and she has reported that she feels a presence from time to time. One night, she saw the light on in the basement that no one had used, and she went to turn it off. She noticed a strong smell of gas. This prompted a call to the emergency line at the gas company and all occupants evacuated.

A pipe needed repair, and apparently, if it had gone on longer, the house would have blown up with everyone inside.

He also rescued someone who was standing on a chair and began to fall. She said she felt someone hold her up as she was headed for the floor, preventing injury and ensuring a safe landing.

When our fearless leader started to go over the town’s past plague of tornadoes, an unexpected turbo force picked up out of nowhere, throwing leaves and garbage all over the place. It wasn’t lost on any of us in the group that it didn’t seem like a coincidence. We moved on with wind whipping us all in the eyes. And as quick as it came, it went away.

One of the most impressive locations was a home that a married couple had owned. He was a physician who took a streetcar to his office while his wife, Flora, had her practice out of their residence. Only 6 percent of women were doctors in the United States during that time, so her achievement was remarkable. She focused on women’s and children’s health care.

When I stood outside looking up at the second floor, I felt like I was being watched. It wasn’t a bad feeling but just like someone observing. It felt like a lonely person who wanted to talk but couldn’t.

Across the top of the house toward the roof, a banner was displayed when it was open for visitors. Someone had turned it into a store. We were told that those who shopped there often heard footsteps from the upper floor and smelled cigarette smoke when no one was there. It was not the healthiest habit, but in her era, they had no idea of its ill effects.

It sounded like the perfect place for me to go back and see for myself.

The next day my daughter and I returned. The front of the building looked somewhat junked up with merchandise spread all over. For such a majestic entry, nothing was being done to preserve it.

Inside the door, there was the most beautiful spiral staircase. I instantly felt a stifling, closed in feeling as I saw wall-to-wall items for sale. It was advertised as antique offerings but mostly what I saw were handmade items from the present. It felt like I was in a museum that should have been held in high honor, being disrespected, and used to hock trinkets. It felt all wrong to me.

As we made our way around the lower level, the tightness in my chest got stronger. It wasn’t anger but sadness. From the small speaker, the song Like A Bridge Over Troubled Water started to play hauntingly. That song has significance due to seeing my mom transition to heaven over a bridge. So when I hear it, I know I am supposed to pay attention.

I tried to concentrate on finding what remained from the past. Old doorways and windows were still intact amongst the wares being peddled. I looked past the gnomes and the dishcloths to see remnants of a time long ago.

The kitchen was a step back in time with a bell by the window and a pantry. I felt this was the respite where the two doctors came together after a long day at work to finally have a minute of quiet.

I climbed the ornate stairway with it creaking every step of the way. I have always wanted one, and this one was built to pass the test of time.

The upstairs was jam-packed with more items. But I began to picture Flora treating her patients and using her office to keep records. I walked to a far back room just to take a minute to breathe. It was like someone had struck me across the back, and it was an overwhelming sensation of constricted breathing. Not like I was suffocating but as if I was grieving. It was like being in a room with someone who was weary. I got the impression that this lady wasn’t stuck but visiting and not thrilled to see what had been done to the place.

My daughter suddenly felt an extreme coldness next to her. Again, not in a scary way, and just a presence that something was with us, sending out a remorseful feeling that this space once set apart for medicine was now being used for another reason far removed from that.

There was another spiral staircase in this extremely large wrap around. One big circle would have made it so easy for her to go room to room treating ailments and comforting the sick. And she had two ways to return to the first floor if she had to.

I ended up leaving feeling somewhat dejected that it hadn’t been better taken care of so generations would know of her outstanding work within the community. I wanted to hold something in my hand that she had. Like a stethoscope or a thermometer, anything she had touched would be valuable compared to what was being sold.

I looked up her information online to try and get to know her better. She helped spearhead the town’s first public library. No wonder I like her so much. On top of that, she was a published author who had written over two hundred poems plus a couple of books on better health. The fact that she was a leader of a women’s group showed she wasn’t all in it for her own gain. She was determined to make life more meaningful for everyone around her.

It was reported that her mother had died of an illness when she was twelve, moving her to pursue her life’s work. She was going to be a missionary until she met and married her spouse. It seemed her steps weren’t her own, and she walked where God told her to go.

I started to think about what happens to a person’s legacy once they have departed. A woman who dedicated herself to alleviating pain is barely remembered inside her own home. God used her hands to heal, and there was not a scrap of evidence of that.

That is why seeking an eternal reward is more critical than the flaky accolades of this dimension.

In Matthew 6:19-21, it addresses this:

Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (NIV)

A clearer picture is given in Luke 12:33-34:

Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (NIV)

In Luke 6:35, another route to gaining what matters is stated,

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great…(ESV)

When the time comes for you to leave here, hopefully, you will know that you joyfully served God to your highest ability, you helped those who needed it, and a heavenly welcome mat will be rolled out with congratulations coming your way as a good and faithful servant.

(Flora did it up big with this entry)
(I did this…maybe they will get it together and remember her more…)

Transition

In January, I knew something wasn’t right when she sent me a text saying he had shown up at her house to surprise her. While Dan resided in Iowa and she lived in Minnesota, they continued to have a close relationship headed toward marriage. The plan was 2021 for that. When they met, she was under the impression that he had gone into remission after a cancer scare. If you knew him, it was as if the diagnosis never existed. He said he was healed, and she believed him. After years of never being married and single, she let him into her life.

He refused to give in to what he had been told so many years prior that he only had relied on his faith and no medical intervention. He was way past the false expiration date the doctor had proclaimed and held tightly onto God’s hand to live as if he was cancer free. He concealed some information to protect her, but also because he was adamant about not letting a physician’s opinion define him. She didn’t feel betrayed by that because she loves him so much.

They traveled and spent as much time together as possible. He could fix and build anything, which is one of the things he loved to do the most. Even in severe pain, he would always be willing to get a hammer or another tool to accomplish a job just because someone needed him.

On that cold January day, when he showed up out of the blue, she was happy to see him, but then she realized how off his balance was. When he fell and cut himself, she had fear strike as she cleaned up the blood and applied a bandage.

She wasn’t too pleased that he was smoking cigarettes either. It seemed out of character and reckless. None of this was like him at all.

She decided to follow him back to Iowa, driving behind him to ensure he stayed on the road. She called me so frazzled; I wasn’t sure if they would make it to their destination, but somehow they did.

He had come to get her and had not told her everything that was going on. Shortly after, he fell again, fracturing his elbow. This incident led to a hospitalization where the doctor gave him the ultimatum: hospice or radiation therapy. The chemo he had finally opted for wasn’t working.

Unknown to Jeanne, he had a tumor in his brain. The cancer was spreading, but with his fighting spirit, he chose radiation. He was not giving in at all.

At this time, I asked God a question without realizing what I was fully getting into.

“Show me what you see, God. What is happening?”

I instantly saw a man with his head bowed as if in prayer, holding a fedora. One of those old fashioned hats from a time long ago. This wasn’t my first experience doing something like this, and I knew the hat was significant. It represented a period that this man had been on the earth, and he was standing by.

I opened my eyes and told my daughter what I had seen. She said she saw the exact image. Using resources at her fingertips, she went online and found a picture of Dan’s father. That was the man, and his dad had gone on to heaven a while ago.

“I’m not certain what this means, but I am not telling a soul! It’s like he is waiting for him,” I said.

Anytime I went inward and wondered what reality was, this is what came. And as the days went on, it got stronger. It was as if I was standing in a room of all white, and he was advancing closer to me, in the same posture, with his hat in his hands in reverence.

I didn’t like it because I knew this wasn’t the outcome that they wanted to hear. They longed for him to be healed and made whole on earth. When I would see all the posts on social media of all the prayers being sent up for Dan’s restoration, I felt guilty for not joining in. God had put a gag order on me. I was only to discuss what I saw with my daughter and no one else. I was to keep silent until I was given the nod from heaven to say anything.

I checked in multiple times a day to see where his dad was in relation to me in the waiting room. Then, a second man appeared. Side by side, they stood with the exact same look, but I also saw them laughing. Quietly, their shoulders moved up and down as if they had a funny inside joke between them.

Once again, an online search revealed this other person looked like Dan’s grandfather. Within moments of this discovery, I got a text from Jeanne:

“Dan and I just got married.”

“What?”

She had told me they were going to wait until he had recovered.

“I married us in his hospital room. We said our vows, and it’s not legal, but in God’s eyes, we are married.”

She sent me a laughing emoji. Now I knew why the men were giggling.

“Good for you guys!”

They both changed their status to married, which created an uproar from their friends who wondered what in the world was happening. It was a much needed lighter moment during this.

She spent many miserable days fighting ice and snow to make the drive to the hospital to be with him. He asked her repeatedly to agree with him for a miracle. And like a good wife, she never failed to do as he asked.

She would call me while in the car and alone, crying her heart out. In his presence, she was absolutely strong, but when the day was over, she needed to get it all out.

I held my secret and did not indicate what I knew was coming. I would never go against what God had told me to do, and the timing had to be right. So I asked questions and let her openly grieve.

Meanwhile, these heavenly helpers were now as near to me in my vision as possible, and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Dan was about to leave. So many times, I wished I was wrong, and I was hoping I was. But I had asked to see the truth, and my daughter kept confirming everything.

When hospice became the only option left, he was placed in his daughter’s home. Jeanne remained near him day and night, even getting up at two in the morning to get him the ice cream that he loved.

On Friday, February 19, after almost an entire month of all of this, I heard:

“Tell Jeanne about the fedoras you see in their hands.”

I could not fathom I was about to do this. I knew they still believed in a complete reversal.

I had a hard time seeing as I wrote:

“Did Dan’s dad wear a fedora? Can you ask him?”

A response came back that he did have one that he had worn. I went on to tell her about the two men waiting to carry Dan into heaven. I had gone weeks knowing this and at times felt so frustrated by it. Now I was telling her, and I didn’t want to.

I felt I was risking my entire friendship with her. The only thing I had going for me was that I had been sending her messages from God to encourage her, and she always would say..oh! I just heard that for myself too! So on some level, she knew I wasn’t wrong.

After she asked Dan about the fedora, he lost his ability to verbalize. I was so grateful I had not resisted and asked, or I would have never known. I went to bed Friday night late, wondering where this was all going.

On Saturday around 6 am, I felt a sharp, persistent poke on my left shoulder.

“Chris, wake up! Ask Jeanne how long she has known Dan.”

I flipped over. No. It’s early; she is worn out and probably sleeping.

Again the weird poke in the shoulder on the other side and the same thing requested. This went on for 45 minutes. Me saying no and being harassed to wake up, just like when my mom always tried to get me up for school.

I gave in, picked up my phone, and sent:

“How long have you and Dan been together? Would it be 3 years? 3 years in September?”(6:42 am)

While I waited for her response, I heard the sound of water, and I saw a beautiful steamship. Dan’s spirit was sitting up on the side of his bed, getting ready to link arms with his dad and grandpa, who were now wearing their fedoras. They were going to board the ship to go to heaven. Dan said,

“You are a good friend to Jeanne. I will always love her. I can speak and send messages to her if she allows it. I know she will miss me, and I want to help her with everything still. I see I can do more from the spirit than I ever could in my body that is limited. Take care of her. You are a good friend to her.”

“I will, Dan. I promise.”

Jeanne answered my text:

I met him in Oct 2017. We got together Oct 25
2018
(7:02 am)

I began writing out my response, but I was also watching Dan leave. He even had a suitcase that went with him. This was all done to make the move easier. Familiar people and everyday objects help.

I saw him link arms with each man to leave the room. He took one last look at his body lying in bed. And he shrugged as if to convey…well, that’s over, and it’s ok.

They passed through the wall. He stood at the walkway up to the ship, and he was in awe. I heard him say: What a beautiful boat this is!

He walked arm and arm with each man. Strong, proud, and tall. He was so happy to be on the move again, having the ability to walk.

I saw him standing at the back of the boat, hanging onto the rails, looking from where he came. The wind was blowing through his hair. He was smiling, and he said: I feel so surrounded by love. Warmth and love.

I sent my response to Jeanne:

I’m glad you made room for him in your heart. I said this a few weeks ago, and I will say it again…this was a decision that a lot of women wouldn’t have signed up for. They would have run away and missed it entirely. Not you. You have planted yourself firmly into the place that God asked you to be. (7:19 am)

She immediately sent at the same moment: Just took his last breath (7:19)

I know (7:19)

I saw him laughing and looking at the views around him. Both men laughed with him. The wind continued to blow through his hair.

I heard the sound of the boat horn. I was standing on a dock watching it leave, going over toward the horizon. I saw Dan smiling and waving. He looked so amazed by what was all around him. His head was back, looking up and then to each side. Like he couldn’t move fast enough to take it all in. The boat became just a speck. I saw the last puff of smoke from the ship. I heard the water up against the dock I was on as the sun shone beautifully off the water.

Then I was back in my bed staring at the ceiling. He had made it, but I had to help rescue his other half.

I met her in a parking lot to help her get back home.

As she hugged me and we cried, I said,

“I was so worried you would hate me if I told you he was going to heaven.”

“No. You told me at the right time. If you had said it before you did, I wouldn’t have accepted it.”

During our drive, we talked about how I saw him leave on a ship.

“He loved boats, and he wanted me to go on a cruise with him. I didn’t want to.”

I had no idea.

As the miles went by, she told me that if I hadn’t texted her, she would have missed his last breath; she had fallen asleep and forgot to set the alarm for his next dose of morphine. My message had jolted her awake and into his room.

I knew the months ahead of her were going to be difficult, but she had carried out the assignment she had been given; happily, she had taken it on in full.

She now has a bond between heaven and earth that can never die. Dan is not gone and never can be. She has come to find out that it’s only a transition.

(The wood holder Dan built for me..even while he was in pain…)

Used

I knew something was amiss every time a certain woman would call. I had somewhat of a loose connection with her, but it seemed she had my number on speed dial in times of crisis. This was when I was at the height of raising two young daughters, one of them an infant and the other a four-year-old, who always had an urgent question for me like, can I have a popsicle? Can I go outside and play? Where are my shoes? Mom? I think the dog is frowing up. You get the picture.

She always started off so brightly when I took my chances by answering, but then the conversation would take a negative turn. She told me that all men were horrible and that no one could be trusted. This was mainly because her ex-husband, who she remained friends with in hopes of a remarriage, kept seeing other women on the side. As I tried to make our communication more positive, she would counter and bring it back down again. While she had no schedule outside of work, I did with hungry children staring at me on the edge of starvation. Many times I had to cut her short.

Alcoholism was rampant in her childhood home, where she was verbally and physically abused. Her brothers and sisters seemed to have buried their past. She did the same by drinking to excess. I didn’t know the extent to which she engaged in this, but there had been multiple attempts through counseling to get a hold of this addiction that seemed to have a firm grip. Looking at it as an outsider, she cared too much without boundaries, and the world seemed to take advantage of that. This, in turn, would activate the need to drown out more sorrow.

One night, she began talking to me about God. I tried to help her understand that grasping for things on the outside would never heal her wounds on the inside. Downing a bottle of wine wouldn’t erase anything but complicate her life more. For a while, she seemed to embrace what I was sharing with her. She told me that she had tried to go to church on occasion, but every message was about how much God hated sin, which made her feel guilty about every area of life where perfection wasn’t reached. Shame didn’t change the behavior; it only ramped it up more. Her family tried to brush it all under the rug, so she did her best to conceal her problem.

The only comfort was to continue the repeated self-inflicted numbing of the mind.

It got to the point when her number was showing up multiple times on my caller ID, I had to let the calls go to voicemail because I didn’t have the time or the energy to help. This made me feel guilty as I knew she was in some sort of struggle, but I also felt that my advice was falling on deaf ears. We kept going around in circles, getting absolutely nowhere.

One morning after praying for her, I had a brilliant idea. I went to a store and purchased a book about how to hear from God. During a moment of no interruption, I sat down and wrote her a letter. I felt that I could get some ideas across without distraction. She would have a chance to look it all over without feeling judged. I hoped that the material would resonate with her. I quoted John 10:10, which says: The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”(NLT)

Sending it off in the mail, I knew it would either do some good, or the message would turn her away from me. There was nothing more I could do.

My worst fear came to pass when my phone went silent. On the one hand, it was a relief to let this go because it was beyond my ability to say anything more than what had been stated. On the other, I felt like I had let her down by pawning her off on God.

A year later, I found out that she had been in yet another emergency treatment, resulting in going to a halfway house. Hearing this, I was hopeful that maybe she was seizing the help to overcome this once and for all. I heard she successfully completed the program, and shortly after, her employer relocated her to a state in the south.

She had won awards due to her success in her career, so all of this sounded wonderful as if she had finally turned over a new leaf. It seemed as if her life was taking a turn for the better with a fresh start. That was until I heard she had died. Her physician had told her during her last bout of hospitalization that if she didn’t halt her imbibing, her body would cease to function.

Far away from family and friends, she secretly kept up her habit with a partner who loved to share drinks with her. She died alone in her bed.

In the quiet of my house at night, when all were tucked into bed, I would find myself wondering where I had let her down. What if I had continued to take her calls? A darkness descended on me that if I could dismiss her like that, maybe I wasn’t such a great person who God could even love.

During the busyness of my days, I wouldn’t ponder these ideas so much, but when I had moments alone, they would come, and I would question my usefulness.

That spring, I was asked by the family if I wanted something of hers. It felt slightly awkward looking at her possessions and realizing I would not see her again. And the guilt that was always right there to remind me of what a horrible, underserving person I was. Underneath a pile of office supplies, I saw the book I had sent with the letter inside of it.

I took that and nothing else. My grief over not being a better friend to her was overwhelming. Later that evening, I opened the book and took out the letter. She had used it to mark a specific page, and she had highlighted several passages. A bright, bold red stamp was marked across the top of my letter. RECEIVED.

I felt warmth flood my chest. Received? In business terms, that means the letter was read. But, in spiritual language, the message was embraced. For the first time since her passing, I had an assurance that she had taken in what I had said. It wasn’t that she was angry with me for trying to shove God down her throat, but she didn’t know how to get away from her habit. She didn’t want me to be disappointed in her like so many others had been.

I had a dream of her shortly after. She walked up to me with a gown on that was so white it hurt my eyes. She thanked me for helping her get to know God, and her smile was the most fantastic thing I had ever seen. Even though I could not help her one way, I had put her squarely in front of her Creator, and she was finally at peace.

When you think you might not be doing any good, you never know how you will be used.

To the Letter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I looked at her and said,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find What You are Looking For

“Hmmm,” I said as I ducked under the coffee table finding nothing hidden there.

I zipped over to the couch and checked the cushions.

This was back before plastic took the place of real eggs for hunting, and I didn’t carry a frilly basket. I clutched the carton in my hand as I searched my grandma’s living room for the last one.  She and I had spent the previous Saturday afternoon engaged at the dining room table over cups of fizzy colors and the pungent smell of vinegar. With newspaper spread out to catch spills, we carefully balanced the white ovals on large spoons to submerge them gently into various shades.  Every once in awhile, I would lose my hold on the utensil and with a splash, it would jump into the solution all on its own cracking its fragile outer shell in the process.  This always brought about a sharp gasp not only for the dunker but the one who was subjected to the liquid dye flying across the table.

A quick wipe up with a paper towel and a little laughter was all that was needed to remedy the mishap.  The tricky part of unearthing the egg from its bath was not an easy feat either without knocking over everything.  Eventually, we got all of them into the drying tray that was provided with the egg dying kit.  Then, it was not complete without affixing various stickers to compliment the overall look.  We got fancy with a white crayon and personalized some of them before the colorization because it was so magical to see my name or someone else’s appear out of no where on an edible object.

So on this particular Easter Sunday, with fingers still stained from my hard work the day before,  I knew what every single egg looked like prior to them being scattered about her house.  And the one that was missing was a deep shade of purple.  Seeing that I was struggling and not wanting to get behind on her gigantic meal she was preparing, she tried to be of help.

“Chrissy, let’s play hot and cold.”

“Ok,” I said not really understanding what she meant.

“You are cold right now.”

“What?”

“You are cold right now.”

Seeing that I didn’t comprehend what she was saying she explained,

“When I say you are cold, that means you are not close to what you are looking for.  When I say you are hot, then you are right by it.”

Got it.

“You are cold.”

My brain processed what she said, so I moved one foot out to the left and the other to the right like I was going to do the splits.

“You didn’t move. You are still cold.”

I took my chances and marched far left.

“You are still cold.  Now you are very cold.”

So, I decided to swing very far to the right and ran all the way into the next room.

“You are still cold.”

So, I ran toward her but past her almost to where I had began.

“No, you are back to where you started.  I can see it from where I am,” she said.

I scanned the walls, the ceiling and all the furniture.   I thought I saw something peeking out from behind the rocking chair.  I came up empty handed.

“I can still see it,” she said.

This went on for another ten minutes or so, and I was starting to get frustrated and sweaty from sprinting in circles.

“Just look around,” she said making her eyes really, really big.  I opened my eyes as wide as I could and cranked my head to side to side.

“Chrissy, I know where it is,” she said again almost in a whisper.  I saw her standing by the clock that hung in her living room.

“I know,” I said.

She changed her voice and made it lower and moved her eyes to the right and left and said,

“I know where it is.”

I laughed at her facial expression and her old man voice.

I ran over to the bookshelf.  Nothing.  My grandpa’s ashtray.  Nope.

I looked at her again.  She was standing with her back straight up against the wall right by the clock, and she had her eyes shut.  As I kept looking at her, I saw something purple next to her head.  I ran over to her to get a closer look.  On the clock ledge was the absent egg.

Her eyes flew open and she said with great joy,

“You found it!  It was right by me all along.  You just had to look at me.”

I was never so happy to see that last one.  I thought we were going to miss out on her ham and mashed potatoes.

When she died, I got her clock which now hangs in my kitchen.  I placed a purple plastic egg that remains there to remind me of an important message that she taught me. The thing that you are searching for may be right in front of you and the only thing that is stopping you from finding it is you.

I should have focused my eyes on the person who knew its location.  Likewise, we would be smart to turn our attention to the One who placed us here with the gift of life.  When we seek answers, and we all do, if we would only stop our frantic seeking for the solution and go to the source of all wisdom and knowledge to save us time and worry.  And, just like Grandma Hazel, heaven is trying to help you find what you are looking for.

(Grandma Hazel’s clock)

clock

 

 

 

Driving You Crazy


Teaching your child to drive isn’t mentally easy.  Images from days gone by have a tendency to flash across the mind while she clutches the steering wheel for the first time and you sit like a slug in the passenger seat.  For instance, you  quickly recall when she could barely stumble across the room while hanging onto the edge of the couch or used an end table to support her wobbly legs.  Other mental scenes emerge of her unable to use a spoon or suck liquid through a straw. How was I supposed to let her drive my vehicle up and down streets where potential hazards awaited us at every turn? I would have rather put myself on a roller coaster to be flipped upside down non-stop for an hour. Yet, I had to maintain my composure because all good parents want to see their children succeed and mature into independence.  I wanted to remain calm, I really did.  I didn’t want to repeat the experience I had with my dad when I was learning how to drive.

It would begin before we left the garage.  His discomfort was evident as I turned the key and a battery of instructions and inquiry would follow before we even budged.

“Did you check the mirror?”

“Yes.”

“All of them?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have your permit?”

“Yes.”

“Is there gas in the car?”

“Yes.”

After satisfying all of his questions, I would barely move into reverse when he would say,

“Keep your foot on the brake! I don’t want to go flying down the driveway.”

I would go at snail speed and it was still too fast for him.

One day, before I got the key into the ignition, I couldn’t take it anymore.

“I am not driving with you!” I said defiantly.

My mom and I had gone out that afternoon to practice, and I noticed a remarkable difference.  She let me start the car, back out, and barely said one word except,

“Oh, look at that beautiful bird in that tree!”

As we drove through the familiar streets of our town, she would say occasionally,

“I wonder what they are building over there.”

For her it was a chance to get out of the house away from cooking, cleaning and laundry.  Once in awhile she would say,

“Why don’t we turn left up at the stoplight?  I haven’t been down that road in a long time.”

It became a sightseeing tour for her, and I just drove the car without worrying over every maneuver I made.

If I took a right when she said to go left her response was,

“Oh, well, you will get it next time.”

My experience with him was a sharp contrast, and his nerves were getting on my nerves, so my outburst was to make the negativity stop.  He said quietly,

“Let’s go.  Just start the car.”

It wasn’t said in an angry tone but one of realization that he was not helping the situation with his worry.

I began our nightly trek to a place where we could practice parallel parking and how to park on a hill.  We tried to get it all in before the sun set on that pre-summer night.  There wasn’t much traffic as I made my way back toward our home.

“Turn left up here,” he instructed.

I was feeling so much better about our time together now that I was sensing he wasn’t so anxious.  I had relaxed and he seemed much more at ease as well.  Unless he was faking it, and I couldn’t tell the difference.

As usual, I turned right instead of turning left.

“This is right, Chris.  I said left.”

“Oh, well,” I said parroting what I had heard my mom say.  “I will figure out a way to turn around.”

It wasn’t as easy as that.  I had turned on a road that was leading us forward with no option of a U-turn. We found ourselves slowly creeping along what appeared to be a private road not meant for the usual drive through.  There were beautiful manicured lawns surrounding us on both sides.  I took notice of this and other details because the speed limit sign had clearly stated we could only go 10 miles per hour.   It became quite evident where we had landed when we both saw a large green sign with white lettering.

STATE HOSPITAL

“What?  We are at the state hospital?”  Now a whole new type of fear descended upon him.

“We are?”

“Yes.  You have driven us right into the looney bin!”

I had a hard time not controlling my laughter at his reaction.  He has a tendency to lose all decorum and ability to be politically correct when terror strikes.

The road slowly wound around to the front of the facility where a few people milled about the grounds while orderlies stood by in white outfits.

“Lock the doors!  Roll up the windows!” he ordered.

This was back during the time before our cars mechanically did all of these things for us.

I glanced over to see his eyes wide as he kept them trained on all the residents roaming.

As if on cue, a tall male began walking alongside the passenger side of the car which brought my dad’s mood to a full tilt panic. The car door seemed like a paper thin barrier between him and this stranger.

“Hurry up and get us out of here!!” he yelled.  “This guy is racing us!”

“I am driving what the speed limit says, ” I retorted.  After all, I didn’t want to break the law by speeding, for heaven’s sake. And, I wasn’t the least bit afraid.  I was not going to allow my speedometer to go one inch over the 10 mile per hour mark.

We came to a crosswalk where there was a stop sign.  All of my new training was kicking in. There was no way I was running through it, and a complete stop was what I was taught to abide by.

The guy walking near the car stopped with us and peered in the window at my dad.

“Get us out of here!” he said again.

“I am!”

“It is getting dark!  We need to get out of here!”

There was another man standing by the curb who appeared to want to cross in front of us.   I sat waiting for him to make a move.  But he remained frozen.  Just staring straight at us.  His eyes looked glassy and fatigued.

“Is he going to cross the road?” I asked more to myself than to my passenger.

“He looks like he wants to kill us!  JUST go!”

“What if he steps in front of me?  I might hit him!”

A few seconds went by with all four of us glancing at each other.  Through gritted teeth, my dad made his final plea,

“Go!  Right now!  Just go!”

I slowly edged forward as the two residents watched us glide by.  Neither moved a muscle.

“Keep going to the left!”

I did what he said and soon we found ourselves driving out the exit and back into his comfort zone.  He stayed quiet the entire ride home as I tried not to giggle.

When we walked in the door, my mom asked,

“So, how did she do?”

He opened the palm of his hand and said,

“She did just fine but I lost a tooth.”  He had been clutching on to it the whole way home.

“What?!”

“I bit down so hard while she was driving that I broke my tooth.”

My mother and I looked at each other and started to laugh uncontrollably.

“She drove me to the state hospital!” he said coming to his own defense.

“She should have left you there!” my mom said.  “Why do you worry so much?”

Now that I have had my time sitting in the seat of the car to be the instructor, I do understand his fear so much more.  Isn’t this true when we go through situations in life?  We become more understanding and compassionate when we have the experience for ourselves.  My dad had been taught how to worry somewhere along the way.  We aren’t born in that state, but it is a learned response. The bad news is that it is highly contagious.  The last thing I want is for my daughters to live life from a weakened mental place instead of a bold and courageous stance, so I am aware of it and try to correct myself immediately.

I decided recently to take a drive to where this event occurred. Most of the buildings stand empty with windows boarded up. Long gone are the men and women who walked the halls with whatever was afflicting them.  It struck me how something that once seemed so ominous had now become obsolete. A place that brought my dad such a nightmare moment no longer would illicit such a reaction.

So what bothers you today that may not even exist tomorrow?  What are you fretting over that may not even be a threat at all?  A famous passage tells us that the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, can guard our hearts and minds if we allow it.  It’s really up to you whether you want to live a life of calm or one of torment.  Heaven isn’t withholding it from you.

In this day and age,with stress running at an all time high, it is imperative to know that God loves you and is always ready to help when life is driving you crazy.

 

 

(One of the original empty cottages at the state hospital)

anoka

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Show Must Go On

By the way she slammed the car door and flopped into the backseat, I knew she wasn’t happy.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I don’t want to wear this,” she said showing me a heavily sequined one piece black costume. “It scratches my skin and it’s ugly.”

In the rear view mirror, I could see the red marks on her neck.

“Our costumes haven’t come in yet and they are saying that we might not have them in time for the show, so they gave us these from a bin.  They were leftovers from other shows.”

The skating school where she attended put on an annual performance so that the students could show off their tricks and newly learned maneuvers for their families.

The recital included costumes, themed numbers, photographs for the program and hours of preparation. I had turned in my payment for her participation before December to ensure her outfit would arrive on time.  It was now March and the deadline was coming up quickly.

“If I have to wear this, I don’t want to be in the show.”

I sighed and did what I only knew to do. I closed my eyes and prayed in the parking lot. I didn’t care who saw me or what others would think of me. If this was important to my daughter, then it was urgent to me.

I didn’t recite a long drawn out request but stated the facts that we needed the costume as soon as possible. While praying with my eyes shut, I saw a cardboard box that was sealed on the top. It was a vivid image that came and went as soon as I opened my eyes.

I put the worn out costume away when we got home, and during the week when I encountered it, I would recall my plea to heaven and remind myself that I had asked for this to be made right.  My daughter, on the other hand, was not so sure about it being resolved.  She suddenly would get quiet and sullen as if imagining having to wear the uncomfortable material for the show.  I understood her disappointment and tried to reassure her that it would all work out.

The next time she went in for practice, we reluctantly took the unwanted outfit with us as she was told to do. I had called the school during the week to check on the order status.  The instructor informed me that the company that was to make and send the costumes claimed they had lost the order.

“They took our money and now are telling us that they probably won’t be ready in time for the recital.”

I chose not to tell my daughter this unhappy news.  I hung on to the fact that I had prayed for what we wanted to happen and shut off the idea of it not happening.

That night when she got into the car her irritation was evident.

“I am not going to be in the show if I have to wear this.”  I started the car, pulled out into the street and wondered,

 Why was there no resolution to this?

It wasn’t looking good, so that same week when she went in for another practice, I decided to stop in and speak with the school owner.

“Any news on the costumes?” I asked.

She smiled slightly.

“We only got one box this afternoon, and the company told us that this will be the only shipment they will be sending out in time for pictures and the show.”  There were a lot of kids in the school, so this was not the greatest of news.

She led me to her office where I saw a taped cardboard box.  It looked strangely familiar. She opened it and handed me a beautiful sparkling navy blue skating outfit.  While holding the item in my hands, I was overwhelmed not only that we had received it but that the box was the exact one I had seen for that brief moment while praying in the car.

“Your daughter’s class will be the only one who will be wearing the right costumes.  The rest will have to wear the older ones we have on hand.”

“I have to show her this,” I said.  I could hardly contain my excitement.

Looking through the observation window, I saw her out on the ice warming up.  I waved to get her attention while holding up the dress.  By the smile she gave me, she understood.

It’s these moments that I reflect on when faced with situations that seem to have no end in sight.  A request made is never gone unheeded by heaven, and the love that God has for us is beyond what we could ever imagine. Even the divine is very much aware that the show must go on.

(The actual costume)

dress

 

 

 

 

Grandma’s Goodbye

“I need you to pray that grandma’s surgery goes well.” I heard the plea in her voice and considered how difficult it must have been for my mom to ask for prayer. She had always been close to my grandma, her mother.

“When is the procedure?” I asked.

“Tomorrow at nine in the evening.”

My grandma had been residing in an assisted living facility because her memory had begun to slip making it impossible for her to live unsupervised. Her physical health was superior, and the only medication she was taking was eye drops. One day, while walking down a hallway, she tumbled, broke her hip and was now in need of surgery.

“Her physician says she will do just fine, so I am not worried, but prayer would be nice.”

“I will pray, ” I said as we hung up.

Instead of rushing right ahead to pray, I began thinking about my grandma and the times we had visited her when I was a child. Scenes from days gone by went through my mind. I recalled how she repeatedly said to me,

“Chrissy, I feel Jesus standing right here next to me.” She would point to her right shoulder, and I would imagine Him standing there. “He is always with me.”

Then, it was as if someone pushed a fast forward button on my memory and a recent conversation with her came to my mind.

“I am ready to go anytime. I don’t need to stay here anymore.”

At this, tears began to fall from my eyes because I was beginning to get the picture.

I hadn’t gotten down on my knees to plead with heaven to spare her. I didn’t pull out scriptures from the Bible requesting that it be done. I simply had paused for a moment, took a breath and decided to let whatever I felt come to me.

I wasn’t so sure I was comfortable with what I was feeling, so I decided to call my brother. When he answered the phone I explained my dilemma.

“I can’t pray for her like mom has asked me to. I feel like she wants to leave.”

“I know, ” he replied. “I feel the same way. She doesn’t want to be here anymore.” We spoke of her age and the full life she had lived.

The two of us had known her as a loving grandma without being fully aware of the hardships she had endured. I hadn’t realized until I was an adult that she had suffered through an unloving, unfaithful marriage. If that was difficult enough, she had raised a bedridden daughter and later watched her die. We just knew her as the one who made the best peanut butter cookies and cherry kool aid.

“I have never had this happen before. Usually, I pray for people and expect the best. I still expect the best, but she might be called to go home.”

“I know,” he said again. With that, I felt reassured that I wasn’t the only one feeling this way.

The next day, I completely forgot about the surgery. I got out of bed and went about my day, full speed ahead with an eleven month old and a five year old. Back then, there wasn’t time to think or dwell on anything.

By evening, I had somehow tucked both girls into bed by 9 pm without the usual silly hassle of multiple drinks of water and last minute requests. Already, divine intervention was at work. Quietly, I shut their bedroom door and tiptoed to the kitchen. This is what I used to call “mommy time.”  The house was quiet, and I had a few moments of peace all to myself.

As I entered the kitchen, I found myself in a strange place. It was as if a projector screen was pulled down in front of me. My eyes were wide open as I stood and observed the scene. I was standing at the head of a hospital bed. The white, soft curls were immediately recognizable. It was my grandma. Then it hit me. The surgery was scheduled for 9 pm!

In a whispered tone I heard,

“We cannot stabilize her blood pressure. I don’t know why.”

The whir of the machines was quite audible. It is difficult to put into words what happened next. It felt like a warm blanket was wrapped around me but not just on the external. I felt warm from the inside out. Similar to when you see someone whom you love across a crowded room. As I looked on, I saw my grandma, or her image, float above her body and begin to fly away. I felt myself begin to go with her. Soon, we were out of the building and in the sky. Again, this was all happening like a virtual game going on as I stood in my kitchen, yet I was with her as well. As she flew higher and higher, these words went through my mind,

“Keep writing. Don’t give up. And, take care of your mother for me. ”

As I stood there, I thought,

What is this warm feeling?

“Heaven,” came the reply.

After this, I was able to walk into my living room with the glorious feeling radiating in my being. I began to wonder,

How can she see me? I live in Minnesota. She lives in North Dakota.  The answer swiftly popped into my head.

“It was promised to you when you were a child. She promised to say goodbye to you before she left here.”

I then saw a scene from when I was nine years old. My grandma and I were walking in her backyard looking at trees, flowers and birds. Our talk turned to how life soon is over and becomes death.

She jokingly said,

“Chrissy, I am going to come back and haunt you.” She made these big scary eyes and starting hooting like an owl which made me laugh.

“What if I go first? I will come back for you!”

As we continued on our walk we spoke of God and the afterlife.

“Will you say goodbye to me before you leave?” I asked innocently.

“Yes. If God lets me I will.”

And, it happened. My grandma Hazel, who made me feel so important as a child, came and said farewell before going on to a much better place.

Without warning, I was back in the living room and the warmth had disappeared.  I cried because I knew she was gone.

Shortly after, the phone rang. A family member said he had news for me.

“Grandma is gone,” I said.

“How do you know that? I was calling to tell you.”

“She came and said goodbye to me.”

That night, before bed, a poem came to mind. I can’t help think that she sent it my way. After all, she was a talented writer who never found fame or glory in it, but wrote for the love of it.

I know what she is doing
Now that she’s taken flight
She is standing next to Jesus
Bathed in His glorious light
She’s hugging close the little ones
Who leave the earth too soon
She’s telling them God’s secrets
How He made the sun, the stars, the moon
She is not getting out her china
And setting places so neat
No, she is at the Lord’s table
In her own special reserved seat
She’s living in her mansion
That Jesus went to prepare
I know she has a garden
She’s tending with extra care
Her eyes no longer blurred
She can hear the angels sing
She joins in the chorus
Giving praises to the King
I know that she will be there
Waiting expectantly for me
Her home is heaven
Peaceful eternity.

Seventeen years ago today on January 29, 1998 I experienced my grandma’s goodbye.

Hazel

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Days of the Weak

Monday Mourning: And so it begins when the eyes have not yet opened, the alarm is set to go off, and that dreamy world is slowly slipping away. The mind begins to conjure up images of the day and the problems that seem unavoidable.  The lips begin to move and form the words, “I hate Mondays.” You crawl out of bed and pick out your best black outfit.  Murmuring into the shower, over the bowl of cereal, and all the way to the dreaded desk in the back office where mounds of work await. And the clock ticks ever so slow as the air is filled with dissatisfaction and not one single moment affords a smile.  Co-workers approach with perky attitudes and depart with heads hung low as if they have just attended a funeral after leaving your presence.  Mumblings continue on the commute home all the way through the evening news until the moment for bed arrives.

Tuesday Tirade: This day finds you at the top of your game demanding and belittling those who are blessed enough to be in your proximity.  You wish you had a missile launcher to clear your path to work because everyone on the road is a moron.  Your colleagues are graced with your snappy responses and treated like something stuck to your shoe that you cannot remove. Even the family dog is not immune to getting ‘barked at.’  You fall into bed exhausted after the multitude of idiots you have had to deal with all day.

Wednesday Whinning:  Why are gas prices so high?  Why can’t anyone put ink into the printer? Why is milk so expensive?  Why do people make stupid decisions?  Why don’t I get a raise? Why do I even work here?  Why do I have to do all the busy work?  Why didn’t I get invited to the important meeting?  Why do people take up two parking spaces?  Why can’t someone else mow the lawn? Why do I have to do all the decision making? Why can’t someone else do the dishes?  Why do I have to always take out the trash?  Why don’t I have more money in my bank account?   Why do I have to get up so early?

Thursday Thin-Skinned:   All questions, compliments and sentences set you off. Whether written or verbal, all forms of communication are going to irritate you.  You find hidden meanings in everyone’s words that send you reeling into a silent simmering anger and possibly tears by lunch.  You ready yourself for arguments that never happen, but you are prepared anyway.  You sit at your desk and rehearse what you will say, how you will say it and practice squinting your eyes to show that you mean business.

Fretful Friday:  You wake up disappointed by the fact that it isn’t payday.  If it is payday, you dread the idea that you have to pay bills and all your money is gone before it has hit your account.  You wonder what you will do all weekend if you are single.  The prospect of a Netflix binge with junk food gorging sounds depressing. While everyone else is out having fun and posting selfies of excitement to their Facebook status, you will be using your shirt as a giant napkin to wipe the excess cheese off your fingers from the crunchy curls you are inhaling.  If you are in a bad marriage or relationship, you wonder what your plan should be this time to avoid the other person for the next three days. You can’t fake being sick every weekend. You clear your throat indicating that a cough is coming on.

Someday Saturday:  You don’t have to jump out of bed today, but this leaves room for the imagination to wander and begin to think about how you are doing nothing that you want to do.  You had big hopes and plans to travel and live the high life, but you have found yourself in the same job year after year doing the same tasks over and over.  Your vacation days are spent at home getting around to all those extra projects that can’t wait.   You make yourself feel better by saying “someday I am going to..” and you repeat this weekly only to find that it never is happening.   The closest you come to taking that big dream trip is watching the Travel station on cable.  With more crunchy cheese curls on hand.

Somber Sunday:  You might as well get into your car now and drive to work.  Your mind is already there filing papers, answering phones and fixing problems.   The entire day is spent dwelling on where you will be tomorrow and you are totally missing today.

I hope none of you are living your days like that.  I know some who do.  When you look for the good things in life, more show up, but it begins with a smile no matter what, having positive conversations with those around you, believing you are here for a reason, and being grateful to God for everything. It doesn’t hurt to pray for help once in awhile either.  Let heaven help make your weak be strong.

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