Shape Up

“We should do a plank challenge,” she said.

“What is that?” I asked.

“Every day, you do a plank exercise, but you hold yourself in that position a little longer each time.”

She showed me a graphic that outlined the idea from day 1 to day 30.

“On the first day, you only do twenty seconds?”

“Yes.”

That seemed so simple, and I could give up that amount of time without regret.

“On Day 30, I’m supposed to be able to do this for 5 minutes?”

“Yes.”

I had spent years doing various workout programs, always getting somewhat bored and moving on to another one. Going to a gym never was high on my list. In my twenties, I did, and I found it inconvenient compared to being at home.

During a time when I was drinking diet pop, I would have significant blood sugar drops. I didn’t equate that I was putting in chemicals that represented something that my body thought it needed to supply insulin for.

At times, the reaction would get so severe that I would begin to lose my eyesight. The only way that I had learned to counteract it was to consume sugar as quickly as possible. I could feel the symptoms begin with overall fatigue that would spiral into a waterfall of sweat. From there, it just would get worse. If I caught it fast enough, I could stop it quickly.

After drinking an entire can of diet pop, I had just gotten started in a class and ate next to nothing before arriving. My nutrition plan was starvation.

I felt the first wave of weakness begin and tried to ignore it. My idea was to mentally combat it and stay focused on what the instructor was saying.

I had never had this situation occur while I was exercising, and it seemed to worsen.

I could no longer withstand it anymore; I knew I had to solve the issue or be in total darkness.

This was way before I had children, and I didn’t carry around a vast purse stuffed with everything known to man for all emergencies. I had seen my mom do that, but I was carefree and never prepared for anything; I was living on the edge with only a wallet.

When this state of being would come upon me, I had to move fast to get help. It’s similar to a person needing their next inhalation of nicotine or some other substance they are addicted to. Nothing else matters at that moment while your body is begging for attention.

I grabbed change from my locker, and in a fog that was rapidly overtaking me, I thought I would quickly find what I needed.

I forgot where I was, and back in those days, they believed in no vending machines, unlike now. If you were there to improve yourself, they would ensure you had the whole experience of pain and suffering. Why would I think I could find sugar in a gym? I saw wide-eyed stares at the front desk as I sprinted out the door. They thought I must have gotten inspired to run an impromptu marathon.

My only choice was to exit and go to a grocery store in the same strip mall. I was not moving slow but somewhat erratically down this long hallway, knowing that I could blackout in public. That was what I had read about the subject, anyway. Some have gone into a coma-like state if this condition isn’t attended to, and I didn’t want to do that in public.

At this point, calories don’t matter, and stopping the progression is the goal. I spotted two small gumball machines with candy in them, and I jammed in one dime after another while cranking the handle.

As fast as I could, I shoved them in my mouth and kept getting more. I could feel my legs getting numb, and it was spreading into my hands.

I must have appeared like a crazy person who couldn’t stand one more second of a restricted diet. I had come running out of a gym, hit the candy like I was playing a slot machine, and sweating profusely while chewing.

In my haze, I had not noticed the man leaning up against the wall watching all of this.

I heard a loud slurp through a straw. In mid-gulp of Mike and Ike’s, I looked up.

“You can’t eat that! You are going to get fat!”

My mouth was so full I couldn’t defend myself, and he took on the role of my life coach.

“You don’t want to do that to yourself! This is going to make you gain weight! You are going to get fat!”

All I could do was stare at him and keep eating.

“It can’t be that bad! Get back to the gym! This isn’t what you want to do, and you are undoing all of your hard work.”

I ignored him and deposited another coin.

“Lady! Listen to me! You are going to regret this later! Stop eating that!”

This went on for a few minutes. I was battling off the lights going out, and he was harassing me.

Once I got myself to feel more normal, I said out of breath,

“I had a blood sugar drop. I had to do that.”

“I don’t believe you. I think you just wanted junk food.”

At first, I thought he was joking, but the more I tried to explain, the more he accused me of being a person who had just escaped a fat camp.

I walked away with him yelling at me,

“Quit eating that stuff! You are going to gain weight!”

I canceled my membership after that, never looked back, and decided to faint at home, not in front of weird strangers. When the kids did come along, and I hefted a heavy purse everywhere I went, I didn’t have time for it anyway.

My daughter’s suggestion of doing a workout with me was not out of the ordinary. We had tried an assortment of them. The chin-up bar across the bathroom entry hadn’t seen a chin in months. The huge, inflated, life-changing ball was slowly losing air, taking up space in the corner. All of the pilates and yoga DVDs were collecting dust. Multicolored bands were resting on a shelf somewhere, waiting to be used. And we just paraded by them all with bowls of ice cream.

“When do we start this?” I asked her.

I looked at the calendar. If we started it that second, we would be finished on Thanksgiving Day.

We decided this was perfect timing to discipline ourselves into a healthy habit before eating for ten people.

On Day 1, when the twenty seconds were up, I wondered if this was too easy for me. I found as the days rolled by and time was added on, it wasn’t simple. Even with a rest day every six days, it was starting to become a chore to endure. The one-minute mark on Day 7 was when I realized I had been lured into something that had seemed so basic but was proving to be otherwise.

I felt like time stood still as I balanced on my toes and forearms, pondering my life. The soreness in every part of my body would rear its ugly head, especially when I would have to go up or down the stairs, generally in a hurry but having to bow down to the fire that ripped through muscles I didn’t even know I had.

“The girl in the picture was smiling,” I said to my daughter as we advanced and had time to kill.

I contemplated my life, balanced my checkbook in my mind, did meal planning, and mentally made a grocery list not to acknowledge that everything was shaking. At the tone going off to announce our freedom, we both crumpled to the floor.

“Why are we doing this again?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she said with her face on the carpet.

Once we were at a minute, 30 seconds got added on next. Then ten-second increments. Little by little, the torture was slowly creeping in.

Day 18 brought 2 minutes and 30 seconds to the table, and it was like a lifetime. So, what kept me going? I had read about the health benefits of better core strength, balance, more energy, a faster metabolism, improved mood, a reduction in injuries, and stronger back muscles.

The night before our final session, I held myself stationary for 4 minutes and 30 seconds while trying not to scream breathe. I had come a long way from a mere 20 seconds. Only one more day, and it was going to be the mother of them all. 5 minutes.

I woke up with the worse backache of my life! I crawled out of bed, unable to complete the final round. I could not believe that I had done the entire thing, only to be cut off on the very last day. Instead of realizing how far I had come, I only felt defeated that I couldn’t finish what I had started. I didn’t ever want to hear the word plank again.

In my walk spiritually, I have had these same moments where I knew I was to go a certain way, but then the path I was on led me in an entirely different direction. But that’s how living by faith goes. When you begin, you might not know the outcome.

In Proverbs 16:9, there is a good reminder that we are not in control and never will be:

We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps. (NLT)

It may be a tough pill to swallow at times, but if you want to live fully under the shadow of heaven’s wings, you have to conclude that it’s not all about you. Eyes are watching that see everything from a standpoint that we cannot, and our lives are meant to be used for the good of all humanity.

Underused body parts will let you know when they are not comfortable, and there have been times when I have not felt secure as my abilities to see and hear the unseen realm are increasing. I didn’t want to be deemed different than others, so I hid the truth of who I am becoming so others don’t live in fear because of me. If you can’t explain it, you set yourself up for the judgment of others, and that’s fun.

Growth involves not staying where you have been, so there’s going to be letting go of old, worn-out ideas, saying goodbye to what doesn’t serve you anymore, and coming to know the potential you have always possessed. It can feel like you are dying, but you are not.

You are becoming your genuine self as you trust in the One who put you here to do a job, and you allow yourself to be stretched beyond what you thought you could handle, only to find out you can.

Remaining stagnant is always going to be an option, but there will never be fulfillment in that. The still, small voice will never stop pursuing, hoping to see you move forward into your best self as you shape up.

Burn Out

It all starts with a simple sentence, spoken by one of the three of us, that causes time to slip away as if we have been abducted by aliens.

“Look at this candle.”

That always begins a session of smelling, comparing, discerning, deciphering, and sometimes gagging as we go along the shelves searching for the perfect one. And just because it is displayed in an attractive jar does not mean that is the pick. We have specific criteria that have to be met.

Not too floral. Not too much like a dirty sock that hasn’t seen a washing machine in years. Not the scent of a deceased relative’s musky perfume. Not anything that resembles something forgotten in the fridge for a while. Or an armpit in need of deodorant.

There’s a whole section to be avoided at all costs. The enticing aroma of cinnamon rolls, sugar cookies, or salted caramel needs to be handled with discipline. If those get lit, we all become ravenously hungry, causing a storm of binge eating and wanting to bake. Anything with the word “grandma” on it usually means something associated with a calorie-laden concoction that will lead us down a diabolical path.

We have rigorous standards, and sometimes none of them meet the requirements. When the sneezing starts and the sinus cavity is burning, it’s time to stop.

We have fallen prey to purchasing specific ones online that, once burned to a certain point, a small jewel is exposed. Just like the lottery, it could be worth millions. So far, not.

On the more conventional side, those once burned can be converted into a wine glass. While the candle is a long-forgotten memory, the jar can be used until it gets knocked off the counter shattering into a thousand shards of glass, and you wish you were not barefoot right then.

“Put a light in every room so you are aware of my presence.”

This was at a time when life was at its height of uncertainty. I was not sleeping, eating very little, and worrying about everything. I told a counselor who I was seeing at the time that I felt like I had jumped out of an airplane and was in a free fall every day, anticipating a crash into the ground.

Panic attacks came out of nowhere as I tried to regain some normalcy even though God remained with me. The shadows would descend, leaving me unable to breathe and wanting to die. When I would return to reality, I would beat myself up for not having enough faith.

So when the simple message came to me while I wrote in my journal, I knew that God was sending me an answer.

I had very little extra money, so I had to find a way to buy inexpensive candles for every room. We had some, but I needed more, and I couldn’t afford to purchase the high-end kind made with exotic ingredients. My existence had become low-budget.

The dollar store was my best friend for things such as this. I placed tall, white, unscented candles throughout my house to remind me that I wasn’t alone. I was aware of them enough to have my daughters help me blow them out at night or when we left, but I often forgot about them until I would come across one burning brightly. This would instantly ground me in the fact that I was protected and God was in charge.

“Help! Oh, no!”

I heard this from the bathroom. That is never my favorite thing, and I must have been out of energy because I did not jump up as usual. When your child yells for you, particularly from that part of the house, you dread what will be asked of you.

“Mom!”

I looked at my older daughter, and she looked back at me. I did not budge. Neither did she.

“Help!” came another plea.

I couldn’t handle another thing.

“What is going on in there?”I said to the one staring at me. She got up to investigate and cautiously opened the door.

I watched the expression on her face go from neutral to horrified in a millisecond. She kept cringing and flinching, not saying a word.

“What is going on?” Now I was on high alert just because of her body language.

“There’s a fire,” she said, staring blankly forward.

“What?!”

Now I was on my feet.

“The rug is on fire.”

My youngest daughter, fully clothed, was standing on the toilet seat, trying to avoid the potential raging inferno going on below her. She had decided to wave a piece of toilet paper over the open flame for fun, thinking she could flirt with fate. When it caught ablaze, she threw it toward the floor onto the rug, setting off a more significant problem.

I quickly threw water on it, and from that moment on, the bathroom went without God’s presence.

While flames can be beautiful, I have seen them get out of hand. My dad demonstrated this quite professionally.

My parents had gotten a fireplace built into their basement when I was twelve. My mom was in seventh heaven, while he wasn’t so much enamored because he had to put in all the work.

“I want you to make a fire,” she would say, and his whole countenance would immediately drop.

This meant his evening would be spent building it, messing with the damper, and keeping it going. For him, it was a chore, and it would infringe on his time to not exert himself.

I knew he hated every minute of it, not only because of the effort but because he wasn’t totally confident in his abilities. A night of tranquility would take a turn when all was going well, and then the smoke would be pouring into the room out of his control.

There would be “why” questions from her, all the lights turned on, and swear words flowing from him.

One Sunday afternoon, I came home from ice skating, and the minute I walked in, I could smell burnt wood. My mom was in her room reading, so I surmised he must have attempted to learn how to use it better during daylight.

The dark haze burnt my eyes the minute I started going down the stairs. It appeared that no one was there through the heavy air, but then I saw him lying on the floor as if he had suffered from smoke inhalation.

They say where there is smoke, there is fire. In his case, there were barely glowing embers.

He was sound asleep just below the thick fog. Now the hard decision. To wake or not to wake. He never liked it when his nap was interrupted, but I threw all caution to the wind.

“Dad!” I said. Nothing. “Dad!”

Still no response. I had seen him sleep like this many times, so I knew he had not died.

I shook his shoulder.

“Wake up!”

“Chris! What do you want!” Yelling before his eyes were even open.

“The room is full of smoke.”

He blinked, trying to see me.

“You need to get up.”

Now I knew first hand the misery my mom went through every morning trying to catapult him out of bed for work.

He looked at me like I was a ghost materializing out of a mist. He committed to sitting halfway, came to, and suddenly realized that he had made a fire. That’s when the swearing started, and I left to do my homework.

The final straw came when the entire family was over, and he started a fire outside the fireplace. He always used a small propane torch to get it started. He set it aside, not realizing it was still on. While he frantically poked and stirred up the kindling, a vase filled with dry, ugly weeds that she thought were decorative went up in seconds. He was oblivious while everyone yelled to get his attention.

That was one of the last fires I ever saw him attempt; he was over it.

Our walk with God can be just as contentious. A burning light in every space in my house brought me peace, but the same element made my dad highly frustrated. When things start to go wrong, it’s easy for some to turn on the One who would offer the most help. But it’s vital to remember 1 John 1:5:

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him, there is no darkness at all. (NIV)

When you start to believe that God isn’t on your side or has your best interests in mind, that is when resentment or distrust can begin to take hold. And the lie has to be dismantled.

Romans 8:28 states:

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (NLT)

When you find yourself feeling as if all things familiar seem out of control, apply this: 1 Peter 5:7:

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (NIV)

Instead of carrying the weight of what seems like a burden, give it to God, so you can go on being a glowing lantern in the world and never burn out.

Leashed

What’s wrong?” She asked. I must have been too quiet.

I was deep in thought, contemplating how I could outrun the devil while eating Fruit Loops.

We had just gotten back from visiting my grandparents, and a family that lived next to them had a girl who was a little older than I was. Every time we were there, she and I spent time together. It was a very small town, so I was probably a great distraction from boredom, especially in the summer.

While we were at the park nearby, she said casually,

“Satan worshippers come here at night all dressed in black with hoods. They light a fire and kill animals.”

This was shocking for my young mind because I could always visualize what people said, and I hadn’t learned how to turn it off. So everything she stated was being absorbed and creating a troubling feeling. I could hear and see the entire scene she described.

Over the next few days, the conversation would pop up in my thoughts, but I would push it away, trying to forget it. Nightmares had highly plagued me for a while, so these images by day only added to the terror I experienced when sleeping.

Every single night I was hunted down by a dark force that wanted to do me harm. I would try to get away, but my efforts weren’t fast enough. Right as I knew I was going to die, I would wake up feeling like I couldn’t breathe.

I had learned to hide my fear because when I would say I saw dark shadows or sensed something scary, my mom’s response would always be,

“There’s no such thing as ghosts.”

I had learned to try and calm myself down, but if the panic was too overwhelming, I would call out for her and ask for water. Mechanically, she brought me some, and we never really talked about it. She was always sleepwalking and had to be up by 5 am.

There was only one time when she tripped while coming into my room which sent the glass flying. It hit a windup carousel toy I had, and it started playing the song, “Cruising Down the River.”

She flipped my light on, and both of us squinted against the brightness. When she got down on the floor to mop up the mess with a towel, and the tune kept playing, she started laughing uncontrollably. Fatigued by way too many kids and interrupted sleep had set that off.

“I can’t stop laughing,” she said weakly.

She kept trying to stifle herself not to wake up the entire house, but that just caused it to come on more. She ended up sitting with her eyes closed, trying to pull herself together. That made me laugh, which then created more.

“Chris, shh,” she tried to say, but even she couldn’t take herself seriously.

She dragged herself back to bed, and my fear had dissolved.

So she knew on some level that I was struggling with trying to understand ominous.

When I didn’t answer her, she asked me again,

“What are you thinking about? I can see that you are worried.”

If I told her, she probably wouldn’t believe me, just like all the other times. I had conditioned myself to live with what haunted me, but the pressure was more than I could handle this time. I decided to spill the truth whether she acknowledged my feelings or not.

She put down her dishrag and pulled out the chair next to me. This was serious if she was halting dishwashing.

“You don’t need to be afraid of the devil, Chris. If you don’t go near him, he can’t come near you.”

She knew my ability to see what was spoken, so she added,

“Think of it like a small dog tied up, and you are walking by. All that dog can do is bark at you. He can look frightening, but he can’t get at you if you keep your distance. God has the power, not that little dog.”

That made me feel better.

I decided to take this small opportunity to ask a question that I had a million times.

“Can we get a dog?”

“No, Chris.”

Seeing that my problem was solved, she went back to the sink.

A few weeks later, my mom was standing by the fence visiting with the neighbor lady. I overheard this,

“You need to get her a dog.”

Finally! Someone was on my side.

“No. That’s too much responsibility, and we don’t really want one.”

It was as if she hit play on a recorded message every time this subject came up.

“Jean, I see her out here playing with worms.”

This sent a shockwave through my mother’s soul.

“She does not.” I could tell by her mouth that she was trying to regain her sense of control.

Technically, I didn’t. I found caterpillars and put them on leaves so they had a chance against the forces of nature. I had listened in second-grade science for once.

“Yes. I have seen her; she does this all the time, and a dog would make her happy.”

Who knew we had a sage living next door? I was unaware of the tension that existed between these two women. They spoke with one another, but there had been feuds before I was on the scene. My mom had high standards to keep in the community and their outlook on the family, and her small-town upbringing had solidified this in her DNA.

She couldn’t have people whispering in the shadows about how her youngest was playing with dirty things from the ground, and this neighbor would be the one to get the talk started. That sounded too earthy for a person who prided herself on germ-free living.

This ushered in the arrival of a dog that she could bathe.

I wasn’t given the luxury of choosing the canine that became a part of the household; she was part cocker spaniel and poodle. I came home from school, and she was running around the backyard.

Our initial meeting did not give me one indication of a lifelong hatred that was waiting in the wings. Not on my part, but deep jealousy that she had toward me. If I sat next to my mom, this would bring on an attack. If I tried to pet her when she didn’t want me to, I got snapped at. I became afraid of her, and I loved all dogs.

One night, she did bite me and drew blood because I walked into the room. My dad got out a work boot and slammed it repeatedly next to where she was hiding. He didn’t strike her, but he was trying to instill some sort of authority into her memory.

“She knows you are afraid of her, and you can’t let her think that.”

None of that changed anything. Her behavior continued, and I was the only one she loathed. My mom’s brilliant idea of having her sleep with me was miserable. If I moved one foot, she would growl and bite me. I would rather have demons chasing me in my dreams, not one in my bed in real life.

It got to the point where she and I existed, but I ignored her. I never gave her any of my attention, and I have very few memories of her except the bad ones. But, I didn’t get targeted anymore, so my mom’s theory of not going near something evil had worked.

I was having all these thoughts go through my mind as I stood in line waiting to go into a seminar where there were going to be tarot card readers, psychics, intuitives, numerology, crystals, potions, lotions, oils, and every other thing that I had been told was something to run from. I knew I was supposed to go, and I had my youngest daughter with me.

The minute I got into the hallway, I felt dizzy. I have had this happen many times in church and where there is a lot of spiritual charge in the air. I had to put my hand on the wall a couple of times to be sure I stayed upright. If I went down, it would have just looked like I skipped breakfast, which I had, and that my highly caffeinated coffee was not working its magic.

The main room was packed with vendors of all sorts hoping to make sales. I slowly began walking. I am not immune to sales tactics, even ones that try to reel me in.

“Wow, I love your hair!” said one lady.

“Thank you.” They had a sign with the word ‘groovy’ in it. “I am old enough to know what that means,” I said. It was not one of my favorites as a total slaughter of the English language.

“Really? You look so young!” I moved on and heard her say to the next person,

“You have the most beautiful hair.”

If she had pointed out my smile, then maybe.

I stopped to talk to a young psychic, who seemed to be covering up insecurity. She was dressed the part, but I could tell below the surface, she was not happy. I sensed a depression within the smile, and sitting at a table trying to collect money for her services was not something she wanted to do anymore. Before speaking to her further, she had a paying customer she fully turned her attention toward. It was like I never existed.

As I moved on to another table, this very nice man said,

“Do you want to sign up for a card reading?”

“I am just walking around for now,” I said.

“Well, she uses cards that came way before the tarot.”

I looked behind him to see a lady engaged in a serious conversation with another person, which was happening all over the room. As I glanced around, I started to wonder what all the fear was about. I took her business card and moved on.

I had seen the sneers and heard the conversations of many who think they have cornered the market on God.

I felt total peace as I walked from table to table, just observing. The one thing I did feel was what I had felt a million other places..they all were hoping for a sale to pay their bills.

And, everyone was smiling.

Later, I went into a private meeting that I had paid extra for. Usually, I sit as far to the back in anything I attend, and I never want attention turned on me. When I walked in, I saw two chairs right in the center of the front row.

“I think we are going right to the front,” I said to her.

“Okay.”

We sat down, and two people, a young guy and an older woman introduced themselves. They said they would travel around the room and answer questions that the audience had for them. I felt, again, I was supposed to watch.

As the man stood in front of me, he spoke to a woman seated way in the back. She started to talk about a relationship that had ended in tragedy; she had been in love with someone who had died. During this, I looked at the floor and heard,

“Please tell her I love her because I never told her. She is so sad that she cannot hear.” I saw a huge bouquet in a man’s hand; I didn’t see him clearly, as if a camera was zoomed up close to red roses. My entire body was vibrating with electricity, as I had never felt before.

I said quietly to the man who was trying to give her some sort of message,

“He wants her to know he loves her. Can you tell her that?”

“Why don’t you tell her?” What? When did I become the headliner?

These people had paid and come here to have one of these two say something, not me.

“I don’t know where she is.” I was trying hard to get out of it. The person next to me said,

“You have to tell her!”

I turned around, and she stood up.

“He is handing you the biggest bouquet of roses ever, and he wants you to know he loves you, but he couldn’t say it. Keep a watch out for red rose symbols. Get a rose pin and put it on your jacket. He isn’t gone.”

For a reason beyond me, I pointed at her, and I said,

“You are looking for a sign; this is your sign.”

When I did that, I watched a wave of something hit the entire row she was in and all around her. Everyone started crying.

She put her hand over her heart, and I said,

“Does this make sense? Red roses? The color red?”

“I wear red all the time,” she said between tears.

“That’s him. He isn’t gone, and he’s right by you. It will become stronger now as you go.”

I sat down and faced forward. The guy next to me said,

“Do you do this for a living?”

“No.” The man leading it said,

“You should.”

He then went on to a lady right behind me. She asked about her dad, and it was determined that he had passed away, leaving a cabin.

“I think he talks to me, but I am not sure.”

I saw him standing behind her.

“He is behind you. He is protecting you all the time.”

“I see that too,” said the man. While he moved on, I got a tap on the shoulder.

“Is it really my dad?”

I turned around. I was trying so hard to stay quiet, and I couldn’t.

“Yes. You need to write down what he says.”

“How do I know I won’t be speaking to spirits that aren’t of God?”

“The Holy Spirit covers me. That is my covering, and I write down everything I hear.”

“I love the Holy Spirit!” I saw her whole face light up with relief.

“Just write down what you hear. A year later, you can go back and read things and see how they came to pass. People who are in heaven know things that they want to tell us.”

As I spoke, I saw people start to cry around her. The lady next to her showed me a ring that had belonged to a relative.

“I just want to know so bad if my grandma is with me.”

The guy next to me said,

“What do you have to say to her?”

I laughed. He had more confidence in me than I did.

He said to all of those looking at us,

“I can see this woman’s spirit! She has a huge gift from God!”

I showed the lady my ring with all the stones representing five generations of women, including my mom and grandma.

“I had this designed, and it has made my connection stronger.”

Her eyes seemed to clear a little. The sorrow started to fade.

“She wants you happy. Try to think of all the good times you had with her. That is the frequency of heaven.”

She smiled at me while the rest all started to sniffle again.

The lady next to my daughter started asking questions, and I heard,

“Tell her to go buy something with amethyst in it.”

I forgot, but later we ran into her. My daughter had told me she was seeing the color purple while I was hearing that particular stone.

“I am supposed to tell you that you are to go get something with amethyst in it.”

Out of her purse, she pulled two small amethyst bracelets that she had just bought for her granddaughters.

I found out she was an RN who had left the profession after feeling drawn into homeopathy.

I said,

“You are like a medicine woman.”

“That’s funny you say that because my family heritage is the Crow Tribe.”

She is at the start of a substantial online business specializing in natural medicine.

“It’s going to do very well.”

Sitting in the parking lot later, I said to my daughter,

“I have no idea what just happened, but that felt like I belonged there. For those who sit from a distance and judge, they are missing it.”

Had I let my fear of ‘evil’ keep me away, I would not have had the chance for God to show me how the divine is at work in my life. There were needs in a room, and He used my voice to help. I wasn’t there to “save” people but to encourage them. That’s it. I had no plan or agenda. I didn’t show up to preach or convert. I was just there as a representative of the One who knows everything. In 1 John 4:18, it says,

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. (NIV)

It’s up to heaven what happens, not me, and how it is done. The hand of God will go anywhere to bring peace, comfort and remove hindrances that keep humanity leashed.

Blind

I was walking through an antique store, and I saw it sitting on the shelf. I had spent a lot of my childhood going through reels, looking at still shots of fairy tales and faraway places. I was around four when it was given to me, but I still recall how fascinating it was to gaze upon colorized versions of scenes from familiar stories with somewhat of a 3 D image. Instead of words on a page and everything left up to the imagination, this invention brought various subjects alive.

A neighbor had brought over her kaleidoscope. And with much build-up, she told me to hold it up to one eye and turn it. Even at that young age, I knew it was somewhat archaic and outdated. I was not impressed because it didn’t hold a candle to the ViewMaster. Who would want to watch the same colors fall together over and over and make a predictable pattern? Boring. I was slightly spoiled.

Many years later, when I had to look through dual lenses at the eye doctor, it reminded me of my long-lost toy. Except this contraption had more of an alien look to it.

“How about this?” He said, sliding a small circle-like lens in front of my eye.

“No.”

“This?”

“It’s blurry.”

“This one?”

“That’s a little better.”

“This?”

Could I live with this option?

“I’m not sure.”

“How about that?”

“I think I liked the other one better.”

“Okay. Read the alphabet with that.”

I didn’t feel myself squinting as much, but was there better? I read off what he told me to.

“I think that is the one,” he said.

I was finally facing the fact that I was having difficulty seeing in certain situations. When it was raining or snowing at night, and I was driving, I had to watch the white line on the shoulder, or I could easily be in the wrong lane.

“You have astigmatism.”

He went through a lengthy explanation of why bright street lights or headlights of oncoming traffic would resemble one big gigantic spotlight. It had something to do with my eyes having mismatched curves and a refractive error. Buying a pair of jeans for my body type was challenging enough; I didn’t need this type of trouble.

“You probably have had this for a long time.”

I had, and I just put up with it because I didn’t want to wear glasses.

“I am going to order these, and when you first wear them, you are going to feel like you are living in a fishbowl. You don’t need to use them all the time, but initially, you have to.”

When I returned the next week to pick them up, he adjusted them. While I was not excited, glasses were considered a prop during that time and people who didn’t need to wear them were throwing on fake ones that matched their clothes. My oldest daughter considered me ‘lucky’ to get to have them.

“I am going to hate them,” I said. I know me.

It isn’t easy to deal with something that suddenly appears later in your life that you have to adjust to. I had braces put on my teeth in my mid-twenties, but I knew that wouldn’t be a lifelong commitment, and I had chosen to have it done. This was somewhat being forced upon me.

I wanted to keep running carefree without something adhered to my face. Yet, I didn’t want to end up in a ditch, so that won out over my opposition.

When I walked to the parking lot, I tripped over the first curb I came upon, which didn’t make me look fashionable. I caught myself and realized that the fishbowl thing he talked about was happening.

My car was parked far away because I believe in making myself get in steps any way I can. The ground kept looking like it was coming up toward me, and I had to concentrate on my orange vehicle in the distance. If I looked down at my feet, I instantly felt off balance, and I had to look ahead and not turn my head.

Driving was another experience where I had to apply the same rules while getting to my car. Slow head movements and facing forward were my best options. I couldn’t help but notice how everything looked like HD quality. Images were sharper, and I could read the names of streets from farther away. That was a plus.

While driving in wet conditions at night, the brightness around me wasn’t as glaring, and I could see the lane I was in. Yet, I often forgot all about them because even though they corrected a problem, I just wasn’t in the habit of wearing them.

And, I always have the same reaction when I finally put them on: I can see.

Gaining spiritual vision has followed this same pattern. I didn’t know I could detect things from the unseen realm until they manifested. I often decided to discount what I saw or heard because it was unusual. I had asked God numerous times to let me experience supernatural things, and when they started to show up, it was somewhat frightening because of some of the erroneous teaching I had.

One of the first experiences was a dream where I was on the phone talking to a friend, and they told me that one of their relatives was in the hospital. It was very vivid, and the next day, I found out that this was true.

By mid-afternoon, I knew I was to drive to the hospital nearby. On the way, I heard,

“Go into the store on the way there and buy some flowers.”

I did as I was told and picked out a bouquet. I went over to the cards and had a Get Well Soon one in my hand. As soon as I picked up the pen to write on it, I began to see the man’s hospital room. Two prominent men, who I knew were angels, came in and stood on each side of the bed.

This was the first time I saw that escorts are provided to heaven. In subsequent visions of these types of situations, I see it every time. No one goes into heaven alone. So, if you ever think that someone dies by themselves, they don’t. God never abandons the family.

They stood by each side of him as he got out of bed, leaving his body behind. I watched as all three floated up to the ceiling and went up through the roof. I was suddenly back to looking at the Get Well Soon card I was about to commit to.

I decided to get a more generic Thinking of You that I could give to the wife. At that point, I had no proof that anything had happened, and it was one of my initial experiences. I doubted myself all the way to the parking ramp. Had I really seen that, or was it my imagination playing tricks with me?

After finding out what room he was in and getting off the elevator, I could tell by the looks on the family’s face that I wasn’t wrong. He had passed on while I was getting the flowers.

I should have gotten comfortable with it right then, but I didn’t. I figured it was a one time thing until it happened again in a much bigger way. And, since then, even more so. But, I don’t go around advertising to everyone that I have this. The reason? It scares people, and at first, it did me too.

But, as time has gone on, I have gotten used to it, and it was explained very clearly to me after I had seen a woman standing behind her husband with her hand on his shoulder while he spoke of her passing. He had tears streaming down his face, stricken with grief.

Later, I silently asked why I was able to see this. Was it good? Was it bad? I asked for it to be taken away if it wasn’t from God, but it got stronger. I was told that I could see both realms because my spirit is connected to God, who acts as a transmitter and is everywhere at once.

How many times in services had we sang, Open the Eyes of My Heart? And, now I was questioning if it was God because it was strange, and I didn’t want to be attacked by the mob and labeled as a witch.

In 2 Corinthians 3:18 it says this:

But all of us who reflect the Lord’s glory with an unveiled face are being transformed into his own image, from one degree of glory to another. This too is from the Lord, who is the Spirit.(EHV)

Too often, I see that the church has become a group of people who all want miracles, but when someone does something that doesn’t ‘fit in,’ it is marked as a negative. I fell for that for a while, but now I don’t. If God wants to show me something new and expand my understanding, I will let it happen. Many people out in the world need to know what heaven is really like. They are grieving and in such a state of despair, searching for any scrap of comfort and hope.

But, it takes courage to allow the unfamiliar to come in so you can help other people. It’s a form of sacrifice to cast all that you think you know, which you don’t, and decide to let God take over.

We are not designed to stay in a comfort zone, all safely together, saying the same things verbatim and having an “us” vs. “them” mentality. What I find fascinating is that I could easily be in the clique one day and out the next due to disapproval. If I say I have psychic abilities, my membership card is immediately removed and burned. But, if I claim I have prophetic gifts, then I can stay. I believe the word “seer” has now gotten the stamp of approval. But don’t ever whisper the term oracle. It’s not easy keeping up with the changing dogmatic rules that many are under.

I have come to understand that I’m not on earth to make all people happy. For awhile, I was under the impression that was my purpose, and it’s exhausting not living as your authentic self. Instead, I have surrendered my life to God otherwise I am wasting my time. I am intelligent enough to let the One who put me here direct my steps. And so are you.

This can be with anything God asks you to do—healing the sick, feeding the poor, speaking in front of crowds, or going into the mission field in a faraway place. Or just simply hearing from heaven.

You have a choice to let your spiritual growth be stunted by what others think, or you can decide to remove the fake cover up and no longer settle for being led by the blind.

Best Deal

His voice boomed through the store,

“Chris! Get ten of them!”

He wasn’t even in the same aisle that I was in, but he was so tall that I could almost see his head above the highest shelf.

“Stop putting stuff back! Get what you need, I mean it!”

“I don’t know if I need this many, though.”

“Christine! Get them!” He had used my full name, so that meant he was serious.

This was during a tough time financially for me. My divorce had not been finalized; there was no child support, so I was living off of fumes, and when he caught wind of it, he insisted on taking me to buy groceries. I had resisted the idea but had given in due to his persistence.

“I want you to get what you need. If there is a sale, take it and stop putting things back.”

I had a hard time doing what he said because I knew he was going through his own problems.

He had wandered off into another part of the store, so he couldn’t even see what I was doing as I took a couple of things, put things back, looked at prices, and kept telling myself to limit what I was getting. I was used to cutting coupons and strictly following a budget, and this craziness of just throwing things in the cart was foreign to me.

As I continued not to listen to his directions from afar, he repeated it as if he could see me, but I knew he couldn’t.

“Christine..get that! Stop putting things back!”

A lady next to me looked at me funny.

“Is he with you?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“How can he see you?”

“I don’t know. He just can, I guess.”

She frowned and moved on quickly.

I went to the next section, and he came around the corner.

“You are still not doing it the way I told you to? You have nothing! Get back in that aisle, and get some things you need!”

He took control of the cart and landed himself back to where I had been.

“Look at this! You can get ten of these. You only took two! What are you doing? Get them!”

He did this through the entire store.

“What about this? Do you need any of these?”

“Yes, but..”

A vast handful went in, and we moved on.

“That’s so many..I…”

“I don’t want to hear any of your excuses. You have a poverty mentality, and God wants to heal you of that. You deserve things, Chris. God wants to show you that you will be supplied with what you need. Always.”

I wasn’t accustomed to his renegade-type approach to life because I was more of a keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best kind of faith back then.

He quickly piled in items as I tried to stop him, but he wouldn’t listen to me.

“Just thank me for it, and that’s it. Don’t say anything else.”

He held up a box of cereal.

“What about this?”

“I am not sure…”

“Do your kids eat these?”

“I think so, but…”

He took his arms in a hug-like fashion and dumped in a bunch.

“That’s what I want you to do. Don’t overthink it. Just do it! Stop looking at the prices and thinking I can’t afford it. I am doing this because God told me to help you. So, quit fighting it.”

There were so many other customers around us, and they had to think we were having a domestic right there. A towering man was loudly barking orders and demanding that I buy things. Isn’t it usually the other way around?

“God can do anything, Chris. Now get stuff!”

The minute I would hold something in my hand and barely glance at it, he would pluck it away, grab fifteen more, and say,

“Those are yours now.”

When he went to pay, he acted like it wasn’t enough.

“Look at all this, and that’s all it came to. What are you so worried about? Do you want to go get more?”

“No! Please, no!”

I couldn’t take any more of his generosity. I thought it was nice and all, but I couldn’t mentally deal with it. I was not used to this because I felt that life had to be difficult, and the things I needed or wanted had to be challenging to obtain.

“Thank you,” I said once we were in the parking lot.

“You have to get over limiting God and what can be done for you. You are stopping the blessings from coming into your life.”

A few months later, he asked me if I wanted to go on a treasure hunt with him and some church members. He was clinging to God, trying to clean up a very messy split from his wife. He had children with whom he had no visitations and a whole host of things coming at him that would have made most people give up on believing in anything good.

I said I would attend, but I was a little in the dark about what this was. We were handed a pen, a piece of paper and told to sit quietly in a part of the church where no one else would speak to us. The instruction was given to pray and ask for words to write down.

This exercise was meant to strengthen our spiritual hearing and build our confidence in genuine, live faith. I had various words go through my mind, so I wrote them down.

“Now that you have your clues, we are going to go to the mall and look for what you wrote down. God will lead you to people who need prayer.”

Huh? I had to talk to people now? I looked at my list. Chapel, housekeeper, mop, coin, an American flag, water fountain, and a red shirt were what made up most of my list.

It was a Saturday, so the place was packed with shoppers. This wasn’t just any spot; it was the Mall of America which had thousands of people streaming in from all over. Of course, he had to pick the most massive collection of humanity possible. His go big or go home attitude was in everything he was doing.

The group split up once we all arrived. The minute I walked through the double doors, I saw her. Unbelievable as it was, I saw her pushing a heavy housekeeping cart. I glanced down at the words I had written. Oh, no! It was happening so fast!

How could this be? I tried to tell myself that she was busy. Maybe I shouldn’t interfere with her work because I am sure there were many messes to attend to. I was so thankful that my friend wasn’t with me because he would have grabbed my arm and dragged me over.

I observed for a minute. She stopped and started to rearrange the garbage bags, her spray bottles, and then she did something that ended up propelling me forward. She wrung out her mop! Red shirt, mop, housekeeper….it was all there.

I walked over to her and saw that she was standing right by a chapel! I could not believe it! It’s a place that is set up for quick marriages. I knew it existed, but I had never seen it.

To start the conversation, I said,

“What do you think of places like that? Have you ever seen anyone get married in there?”

I was grasping for anything I could think of to say.

“Oh, sure. I clean in there sometimes, and it’s not as bad as you might think.”

She continued to wring out her mop. I felt like I was jumping off a cliff with absolutely no safety net.

“So, I have a question for you.”

“Yes,” she said, not looking up.

“Do you have anything that you need prayer for? I think God sent me to you.”

She stopped what she was doing and made eye contact. I prepared myself for a considerable slap down. I felt like a Jehovah’s Witness coming to my door and asking me if I had ever read the Bible. I was always kind to them, but some don’t treat others that way, especially if they have been abused in churches or have a bad relationship with God. She could have been an atheist for all I knew. This was too personal and up close for me.

She leaned against the mop handle.

“I need God to help me see the goodness in people again. I have been through a lot, and I don’t trust people anymore.”

“I don’t either at times,” I said. I knew exactly what she was talking about.

“I work here, and I do my best. But, I feel like there is more out there for me. My family isn’t kind to me, and I feel like something is missing in my life.”

“Let me show you something,” I said. I pointed out the words that I had written down that matched up exactly to her.

She started to cry.

“I have felt so alone. And now you are here telling me that I am not, and I know God hasn’t given up on me.”

“I don’t think so. There are many promises that say we aren’t ever abandoned.”

She grabbed my hands and said,

“Please pray for me.” This was now getting easier by the second.

And right there, in the busiest place in America, I asked God to restore her faith in humanity and to show her what her purpose was.

When she opened her eyes, with tears streaming down her face, she thanked me.

“I need to do more with my life. I know there is a church by my house that I think I need to go volunteer at and start living again.”

I took a deep breath when I left her. That was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of my life! I had convinced myself I would be so wrong, but God showed me that I could hear pretty clearly.

I kept thinking I was to find the water fountain. Now that I had been given a slight win with the first attempt, my fear wasn’t as high. I sat near the cascading water; I saw a woman sit down, looking tired.

Was this who I was supposed to help? I only had three vague clues left to go on, so I moved closer but not enough to have her see me. A coin was directly behind her in the water, and someone had thrown in a lapel pin that had an American Flag on it.
Yep, this was it.

I was back to square one emotionally, with terror ripping through me. I decided to throw all caution to the wind and start a conversation.

“It is so busy today, and I try not to show up here on Saturdays.”

“I had to sit down. My arthritis is acting up.”

She held up her hands so I could see them.

“It starts to hurt in my hands and feet.”

“Would you want me to pray for you? I know that sounds strange, but I can if you want…”

Before I even finished my sentence, she grabbed both of my hands.

“Yes. I would like that.”

Her eyes slammed shut like this was the most normal thing to do by the water fountain in the mall, surrounded by swarming masses.

I leaned in closer to her so she could hear me over all the noise. I felt a warmth flow from my hands into hers, and I felt her relax. She sighed and began to smile.

“I feel so much better now. Thank you,” she said.

After that day, I went on a few more treasure hunts with him and his group. It became more manageable, and I was so surprised how I was led to the right person each time. I never had anyone turn me away who I was supposed to approach.

All of this brought to life this scripture for me found in 1 Peter 2:9:

“But you are God’s chosen treasure…”(TPT)

I still heard from him from time to time, and I know he got married. A couple of months ago, I was at an outdoor event that was packed with people. My daughter stopped to talk to someone she knew, and I looked up. And he was right there.

“Hey! Chris!” That booming voice.

“I can’t believe it’s you! Out of all these people!”

He said his wife was waiting for him across the street, and I had to keep moving with the group I was with. He said he would call me and get caught up.

I got word the other day that he is sedated, on a ventilator, and fighting for his life. There are no visitors allowed, and I wish I had lingered with him longer the last time we ran into each other. I hate regrets like that where you want to rewind the clock.

No matter the outcome, I know he will be where God wants him, and he won’t pass up on the best deal.

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

 

 

 

 

Loved From Head to Tail

I flopped into my bed at sunrise after a night of Black Friday shopping. I shivered under the covers as a slight hypothermia had started to set in. In a drowsy state waiting for sleep to fully descend, a picture began to form in my thoughts of my youngest daughter carrying a puppy in her arms. In my mind, I saw her go into her bedroom and shut the door. Then, another scene took its place of my other daughter carrying a puppy into her room and closing a door.

I opened my eyes. Had I been dreaming? I glanced at the clock. Not even a minute had gone by. I was pretty sure I had been awake with my eyes shut. A strange longing to give each girl a dog for Christmas began to grow as I stared up at the ceiling. Like a little nudge by someone saying,

“You want this. You know you do.”

After a few moments of consideration, I began to come up with every reason why I would NOT want this at all!

I just had gone through a horrible divorce.
I just had given away our black lab less than a year prior to a family who loved her. (A fallout from the divorce and lack of being able to take the time to keep her.)
I had never raised two dogs at one time.
Neither girl was asking for a dog for Christmas.

And, then I added this out loud:

“I need them to be free.  I cannot afford to buy dogs right now.”   I knew if I threw that on it, it would not come about.

I turned over satisfied that I had dismissed the entire emotional episode and fell into the most peaceful sleep during the daytime with the sun fully shining.

A week later, I received a phone call.

“I am at an appointment, and there is this lady who has puppies she wants to find good homes for before Christmas.  I was thinking you could take two. One for each of your girls.”

I had not spoken of my experience, and I had forgotten about it.

“How much does she want for them?” I asked.

“She is giving them away for free.”

“How much?”

My ability to hear correctly shut down because the event from the week before was hitting me full on.

“They are free.”

“How much?”

“Chris, they are free! She wants them to go to good homes.”

“Well, maybe I can take one.”

After I made that statement, I felt a heaviness and slight sadness in my heart. So much so that I had to blurt out the whole story about each girl getting a puppy for Christmas.

Once the entire encounter was out in the open, he said,

“You need to take two.  One for each girl.”

“I guess I will,” I said.

I told him to give my phone number to the puppy owner so she could call me later in the day.  She did so, and I made the mistake of putting the call on speaker phone.  I had each girl hanging on my every word as we spoke.  My oldest daughter wanted a boy, and the other wanted a female.  Taking only one was no longer an option.  I made arrangements to go see the entire litter later that day.

While driving over for our visit, I began to feel myself panic.  I silently went over all my reasons why I should not have been engaging in this.  Once I saw the puppies, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to say no.  As I fretted along, I felt a strong peace settle in my chest.  It was like my mind was whirling a hundred miles an hour, but I had a calm that kept my foot on the gas and the car moving toward the destination.

When we arrived and I knocked on the door, I heard a chorus of barking.  The three of us were greeted by puppies running around us in circles.  We decided to sit down in the middle of it all to see what would happen.  A small little male came and settled in quite nicely on my oldest daughter’s lap.  A smaller female came to occupy the other daughter’s lap.

“Ever since we got off the phone, these two have been sitting by the door like they were waiting for you to come,” Ellie, the owner, said.

The decision had made itself.  Lily and Stinky were now ours to keep.

We left them in her care for another week and on December 12 they came to take up permanent residence in my home.  Both girls had been given free dogs for Christmas.

I still don’t fully understand how they came to be mine because having two dogs was the farthest thing from any of my wishes.  However, they completely changed the entire atmosphere of my home.  We all laughed more often, and I worried less.  Many times, we would entertain ourselves watching the two of them tussle over toys.  I can still see Lily, all of two pounds at the time, dragging her brother Stinky across the living room floor by the toy in his mouth. He had clamped onto her favorite stuffed animal and wouldn’t let it go.  They became a good distraction from all that had gone wrong.

Oddly, after we had gotten them, my youngest daughter told me something even more strange.  After our black lab was adopted, she created a virtual dog on one of her gaming systems. It helped her to get over the fact that our real dog was no longer with us.  She named her virtual pet ‘Lily’ and gave her a black coat just exactly like the real Lily.  The dogs were already named when we went to go visit them, and we kept their names once we got them home. All of it seemed to be so arranged.  In a very good way.

The following year, as Christmas was approaching, I made up cookie trays and wondered if Ellie would like one.  On the night before Christmas Eve, I had a strong inclination to put together a tray and get it to her house.  Snow was falling hard that night, but I knew I was to deliver this to her.  When I knocked on the door, I heard the familiar sound of barks.

“Merry Christmas,” I said when she opened the door.  “I brought you a cookie tray that I made.”

I saw the tears come into her eyes, and then she hugged me while I tried not to drop the entire tray.

“I just got back from the store.  My oven broke so I can’t bake anything, and I was trying to find packages of cookies or something.  This comes at just the right time.”

That is how I felt about her gift of the dogs to me.  They came at just the right moment in my life, and I didn’t even realize then how much I needed them.  Someone who loves me deeply knew and sent them my way.  Just more proof that we are loved completely from head to tail.

stinky

Stinky and Lily

Turkey for Two

The Sunday paper was lying in a heap on the kitchen table. As usual, it was Monday, and I was finally getting around to reading a few of the ads. Most of the inserts spoke of doorbuster sales, but I wasn’t thinking of finding Christmas gifts early.  Instead, I needed two turkeys for Thanksgiving. As I paged through the various catalogs of information, I wondered what had happened to this holiday? It seemed like we no sooner had Halloween and all its uproar with candy scarfing then we hurtled full speed ahead to boughs of holly and mad dashes to find the perfect gift. What had happened to the cranberries, the stuffing, the giving thanks and a day of digesting one of the best meals of the year?

I located the grocery store ad in hopes of finding a buy one get one on frozen turkeys. In years past, this had been offered, but it became apparent that our economy had taken a hit as I could not find a deal on any turkey. I thought maybe the week before Thanksgiving this would surely be an offering.  No such luck.

The reason for buying two birds was not so I could eat them both, but my intention was to give one to a good friend of mine who had just gone through a divorce just like I had. He was going to be cooking a meal for his kids for the first time as a single man. I guess I was trying to take away some of the stress by helping him along in the kitchen by giving him the main dish to which he could easily add in the sides. I was not at the height of having an abundance of money, but I knew I was to help him out this way.

I put the paper aside, and I made the decision that I would go out and buy each of us a turkey the next day. In the meantime, I had to take my youngest daughter to her dance class. While driving, I mulled over the predicament. I knew exactly to the penny what I had in my checking account and back in those days, a savings account didn’t exist. I was never one for using a credit card to buy my food, so I knew I was going to have to just fight off the fear of lack and do it anyway.

After I dropped her off at her class, I sat in my car and said a quick prayer asking for help in apprehending two turkeys for our meals. It wasn’t anything fancy. Just a quick shout out to heaven with a simple thank you. Then, I put it out of my mind and got out a book to read while I waited.

When I got home, I saw the ad laying on the table where I had left it.  I felt a slight twinge of disappointment because I really wanted to give him a turkey, but I didn’t know how I was going to afford two of them plus all the rest of my meal.  I walked out to the mailbox, and as I shuffled through the usual bills, a bright red postcard surfaced.  Written in fancy font it read:

Your name has been submitted to receive a free Thanksgiving basket.  Please come to the address listed below on Wednesday to pick up your items. Thank you.  

I could not believe it!  Just moments ago I was worrying over how I was going to give away a turkey that I didn’t have to pay for and now I was going to be able to give away an entire meal!   Not even for a moment did I consider keeping this gift for myself.  I wanted to give it away to a person who was going through a hard time of adjusting to a new way of living.  I was so overjoyed that I barely heard the phone ringing when I came back into the house.

“Hello?” I said.

“Is this Christine?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Christine, I am calling because someone gave us your name to receive a Thanksgiving basket.  I am calling to see if you would like one. Our church gave away baskets over the weekend, and we are now trying to find homes for the ones that are leftover.  We sure would appreciate it if you would take one.”

“I just got a postcard in the mail that I am to pick up a basket this Wednesday.  Is this from your church?”

“No.  We didn’t send out postcards.  And, our delivery happened over the weekend.  So, what we have are baskets that didn’t find homes in need of them.  Would you like one?”

It was one of those moments when my mouth hung open on its own accord, and I lost my ability to speak for a few seconds.

“Sure.  I would love one,” I said.

“If you could come and pick this up before Wednesday, that would work out great.”

I assured her that I would.

On Wednesday, I stood in my kitchen with two overflowing baskets both containing two large turkeys, stuffing mix, cranberries, canned vegetables, fresh potatoes and all the staples every well stocked pantry could afford such as flour, sugar, butter and even a gallon of milk!

As we approach this time of the year once again, I am reminded of how I had no need to worry about any of the details.  I had asked for help, and the divine had come to my rescue.  Even before I had prayed, heaven had made a way for turkey for two.

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In Hot Water

I had just looked at my bank account and felt a momentary sense of peace and calm come upon me.  At this time of the year my thoughts begin to turn to the holidays that are coming and added spending that I will do.  I was contemplating how much money to put into my savings when my phone chimed with this text from one of my daughters:

“Not sure if you know this, but I just took a shower and the water was cold. I had the thing all the way turned over to hot because I was freezing and it was just warm not hot. I turned on the bathroom faucet all the way to hot and it was the same thing as the shower. Kitchen sink too. Saying this just to tell you not to worry you.”

This began a chain of events including finding the number to the utility company to see if someone could come and check on my water heater. This was Thursday, and I was told no one could help me until Sunday. I was prepared to tough it out for three days, but by evening I discovered a puddle of water around the tank that indicated it was leaking, so I called again and was told someone would be out by morning.  Amazing how when something leaks it gets quick attention.

A friendly and knowledgeable man showed up promptly the next day and informed me that a new water heater was in order.  Not really surprised, I spoke with a man in the service and parts department and was told the amount that I would have to come up with to cover the replacement. Because hot water is a necessary commodity, I gulped down my astonishment and gave the go ahead for the new item to be placed in my home.

By afternoon, two men had arrived armed with tools, a garden hose and other equipment that would suffice for the dismantling of the iron monster that had decided to spring a leak.  In less than an hour, I was signing papers and was being shown how to locate the pilot light.

While running errands later with my two girls, I found myself silently muttering over the cost that I had just been charged. I was not really fretting or all out worrying but just not comfortable with the idea of that much money flying the coup at once.  I didn’t dwell too long on this inward conversation with myself but made the conscious decision to forget it and move on.

The girls and I decided to go into a gas station for a fountain drink.  When I spied the cookies in the display case I said,

“Who wants a cookie to celebrate my new water heater?”

As the three of us were standing in front of the well stocked shelves someone coming in the door to my left caught my attention.  I thought he was standing behind us but found that he had gone into the aisle directly behind me.  When I turned to look at him, I saw his hand reach out to the candy bars and move toward his coat pocket.  He saw me looking at him and quickly put it back.  He moved on, and I turned my attention back to the cookies.

For some reason, I turned around again and noticed him reaching for the same item, and when he saw me looking, he threw it back again.  I noticed that his hands were jumpy and his movements were quick and nervous.  It dawned on me that I was witnessing a potential shoplifter.  I turned away again and felt I was to remain quiet and not confront him.  We have had a series of robberies occurring in gas stations where guns have been drawn.  With my two daughters beside me, I felt a calm knowing that I was not to cause any kind of disturbance.  I felt like I was being given a command to sit and stay.

As we picked out our selections, I heard a cellophane wrapper behind me.  I glanced back to see him making quite the show of getting a rice krispy bar.  I was still uncertain if he had put anything in his pockets, however.  He walked past me and our eyes met.  He shifted his away quickly as I watched him go up to the cashier.

I was conflicted as I stood in the next line over.  Had he really been stealing?  Why would a shoplifter be purchasing something if he had intended on not paying in the first place?  I took out my wallet and stood with it close to my face but peered over it so I could see what he was doing.  The cashier slumped across her register as he began patting himself down for loose change.  He emptied out his pants pockets but not his jacket.   I could have sworn I saw a king sized Reese’s candy bar go into his left coat pocket earlier.  I wondered when that would come out to show his thievery.

He glanced at me sideways.  He knew I was watching! I began examining my bank card closer.  In normal situations I would have offered to help him pay for whatever item he had, but I knew he was stealing and he knew that I knew! He threw his change on the counter and when the girl thanked him for it, he dashed for the door.  I stood in my line still wondering what he had taken that didn’t belong to him.

“I can help you over here,” she said.

I walked over to where he had been.  On the counter were his eye glasses, a screwdriver, a bag of fruit snacks and other items he had set down in his haste to find money in his pockets.  She looked down and said,

“Oh, no.  I should go get him.”

“No you shouldn’t,” I said.  “Was he having trouble paying for what he got?”

“Yes.”

“I believe he was stealing.  Let him come back himself.”

I went on to tell her what I had witnessed.

“Please don’t accuse him of it until you have proof though, ” I said.  “I didn’t want to say anything to him until I knew for sure.  I couldn’t tell.”

“I will review the video and see if he stole anything, and if he did, he will have to give all the items back if he wants his stuff back.”

Another lady wandered over who was an employee of the gas station.  She had overheard our conversation.

“I thought he was stealing earlier.  I saw him put an ice cream cup into his pocket, and I asked if I could help him.  He said no and put it back.”

When she said that, I knew that my observations were not wrong.  He had left in such a frantic hurry not to get caught that he left what little he owned spread all over the counter.  I paid for my items and decided not to wait around to see the outcome.

When I got home, and before moving on to my next task, I took a moment to soap up my hands with an antibacterial that promises the smell of fresh ocean breezes.  I turned the hot water on and made a huge lather between both hands.  I began sending up my praises for the use again of both faucets in my house.  No matter the cost, I am not to fear how I will pay.  A way is always made for me when I ask for help.  I wish the man in the gas station was aware of this power that is available to all.  It doesn’t have to be taken under cover, but it is given freely out in the open for anyone who asks.

If he only knew that circumstances could be different so he wouldn’t be in a gas station doing illegal acts that could eventually get him thrown into jail. What pressure to exist under knowing that at any moment he could be caught red handed.   I only feel sorrow for such a man who is living life in such hot water.

waterheater

Out of Order

The three of us looked on as many approached, saw the sign and backed away. It was clearly written in permanent marker and in no uncertain terms that the machine was out of order.

“It’s not working, ” she said with a dejection that jumpstarts a mother into action.

It had been a simple request for a pack of hard to find cinnamon mints while walking through the mall. The grocery stores and gas stations we frequented did not carry them, but a large glass encased vending machine at the food court offered every color of the rainbow to those who desired fresh breath. Unless the machine was malfunctioning.

Instead of walking away, I began to dig in my wallet for change. Money and the availability of it had become scarce following the divorce. My oldest child saw what I was doing and said,

“Don’t put your money in there. You will lose it.”

I had taught her well. It sounded like my own voice and practical advice that I had doled out on numerous occasions to her and her sister, yet, I persisted in locating another coin. Maybe there was one at the bottom of my purse.

“You are going to lose your money.”

Despite her warnings, I felt I was to ignore what I was seeing and go after the item she had requested. I clutched two quarters in my hand as I watched another person go up, read the sign and leave.

When I made my decision to try it anyway, she kept trying to talk me out of doing something so crazy. Once the coins were in the slots and I pushed them in, I grabbed on to the metal handle.

This is where things got somewhat tricky. The mechanism would not budge so my coins were suspended and not dropping in to allow my candy to be dispensed. I latched on with both hands, gritted my teeth, closed my eyes and put everything I had into turning that knob to the right. I leaned into it. I grunted inwardly.

After a few moments of mother against machine, I heard the soft clinking sound of my two coins falling into other coins. I opened my eyes to see a pack of red hot mints shoot across the room like a machine gun firing a bullet.

“Go get them!” I said as I watched them fly away. I didn’t have any money left to do it again.

As they both raced to retrieve them, I watched as another person walked up to the machine, read the piece of paper and walked away.

I know that I was not operating under my own impulses that day. How do I know? Because during that time of my life I was hanging on by a thread emotionally, physically and financially. Everything in me at all times feared the worst, and I was in survival mode to make sure my two children had what they needed. The divorce had left its scars on all of us, and I was trying to regain some normalcy.   But, to put my money into a machine that was probably going to take what little I had was not what I would have chosen to do.

However, I had this overwhelming thought to do it anyway because someone great was watching over us. Someone besides myself knew and saw the grief, despair and pain my household was enduring. A love greater than what I could hand out to my kids was watching us struggle to find our footing again like new born creatures. Everything seemed uncertain, so to take a chance by sticking my last two quarters into a machine was definitely not an idea generated by my own thinking.

I was being shown that not everything appears as it seems. It was an inward prompting to trust something bigger than myself, and to bring this passage alive: We walk by faith, not by sight.  Two quarters and a pack of elusive mints taught me one of the best lessons of my life.

When the divine is allowed in to bring healing, love and hope, nothing can ever be out of order.

outoforder