Deep Water

As September was sliding into October, my family made a trip to my uncle’s cabin on a lake. We usually went during the summer when the water was warm and crystal clear enough to see white sand. I spent hours floating on an air mattress, letting the waves gently rise and fall around me. An occasional boat would zip by pulling a water skier, or a slow pontoon would motor near, full of people who would raise their drinks to say hello. 

This time, crisp breezes were beginning, the sun was losing its zeal, and leaves were starting to fall. So there was no swimsuit and towel to pack. I wasn’t looking forward to going because without the option to swim, there wasn’t too much to do. 

The drive was always a marathon to endure, and I was not given any option but to sit directly next to my brother. At home, I avoided him as much as I could, so to spend hours in close proximity was a test of my patience. 

He could do sound effects of everything, and he did it accurately. Did I say repeatedly? If we were waiting for my dad to put gas in the car, and another vehicle would start up next to us, he could mimic the engine’s sound before the driver turned the key. He absolutely adored this about himself. 

Most of all, he was so impressed that he could produce the sound of a mosquito better than the real thing. And he loved to do this very near to my ear to make me think I was under attack..especially when I was trying to read. If I had a book in my hand, which I always did, this was his cue to find a way to disturb me. 

To say I was always happy to get out of the car is an understatement. He had a short attention span, so he thought I was a great diversion from his boredom. Before the station wagon was stopped entirely on the gravel drive, I was opening the door to free myself from his presence. 

I helped unpack the car, mainly a hospital supply of first aid choices because my mom was an RN. Any medical emergency that cropped up would immediately be taken care of. From calamine lotion to a tourniquet, she had it along. 

My brother made a beeline for the water with his fishing rod. To stay away from him longer, I chose to sit with the adults, and it didn’t last long.

As I got up to leave, my dad asked,

“Where are you going?”

“Down by the lake.”

“Don’t fall in.”

I was at an age where his overprotective comments didn’t appeal. I was in fourth grade and fully capable of maintaining my balance, so why was he treating me like a newborn? 

He flashed me a smile which only irritated me more. 

As I opened the screen door, I said over my shoulder, 

“Do you think I’m stupid or something? I’m not going to fall in!”

And with my bratty attitude, I let the door slam behind me. I heard him say, 

“Just don’t fall in!”

Ugh! 

Why I went down by the dock he was fishing off is a mystery to me, and I must have been highly bored to subject myself to more of his horrible interpersonal skills. 

For once, he was quiet, and I stood on the shoreline picking up rocks and small shells. I saw him jerk his line and start to reel. He pulled a fish from the water and went about taking it off the hook.

“Look at this! Come here!”

What else was there to do to pass the time? I hesitantly walked onto the dock to see what was such a big deal. There wasn’t anything special; he just wanted me to watch him put it into the floating bucket. How exciting!

He turned back to what he was doing, and I looked into the somewhat murky water. I saw small fish swimming near, darting back and forth. The waves were coming in heavier as the wind began to pick up. Hypnotized by what I was seeing and not realizing how off balance I was becoming, much to my surprise, I hit the water face first as I fell in! 

I surfaced, gasping for air. My brother slowly turned to see the look of surprise on my face, and he looked just as shocked. 

“Chris, are you okay?” He actually mustered up genuine concern. 

I didn’t answer at first because all I heard was my dad’s words ringing in my ears and what I had said. I just stood there soaking wet in a heavy fall turtleneck and jeans. 

“Are you going to cry?”

And that’s as far as his compassion ran. He threw back his head and howled like a rabid dog.  

“You fell in! That is so hilarious!”

He didn’t offer to help me out of the water because he was too weak from finding my predicament so funny. I sloshed over to dry ground and considered my dilemma.

I wanted to run away from him, but I didn’t want to face the music back at the cabin.

My hair was hanging in strings, and my shoes and socks were heavy. Every time he looked my way, instead of feeling bad, he clutched his stomach and doubled over in glee with his whole body convulsing. 

I wished I hadn’t said what I did to my dad. But I couldn’t take this anymore. I got up and made the long, squishy walk back.

I considered not going in right away to see if I would dry out, but it wasn’t summer anymore, and I was so uncomfortable. I had no choice.

The door squeaked loudly, announcing my arrival. I stood in the doorway dripping. All eyes were on me.

My mom was the first to speak, 

“Chris! What happened to you? You are soaking wet!”

It was pretty obvious what had occurred, but she forced me to say it. 

“I fell in.”

As if scripted, the entire room erupted much the same as my brother had. Not a single soul felt my pain. 

My mom grabbed a towel and handed it to me. I wanted to put it over my head and hide because I knew what was coming next. 

“So, Chris, do you remember what you said on your way out of here?” My dad asked. 

Of course, he knew I knew.

“Didn’t you say: Do you think I’m stupid or something?”

It was so humiliating, but I couldn’t take it back.

“Yes, I said it,” trying to dry my hair. 

“Pride comes before the fall,” he replied. 

I had no clue what that meant, but the subject got changed, and so did my clothes. From then on, I learned that when he said something, I tried to conceal my pre-teen eye-roll at least. While his unnecessary concerns still drove me nuts, I didn’t ever want a repeat performance of what happened at the lake. 

In this passage, some valuable information is offered in Proverbs 15:31-32: 

Whoever heeds life-giving correction will be at home among the wise.

Those who disregard discipline despise themselves, but the one who heeds correction gains understanding. (NLT)

Who likes to be corrected? No one. Ever. But, something is to be gained when it does happen; we learn something about ourselves that we can change for the better. It brings us up higher spiritually so mistakes made in the past can be erased and forgotten. 

I had dismissed my dad’s prophecy as ridiculous, but what if I took it seriously? God is speaking to us all the time, whether we want to admit it or not. We are offered protection and can receive it if we incline our ears to hear warnings and instructions from above. What trouble could be avoided if we just took the time to listen versus rushing ahead dismissing that part of our lives? It just might keep us from getting into deep water.

Off My Rocker

Last spring, while taking some time away from work, I began a project that I had put off for a while. Around my home’s perimeter, I have river rock. The weeds were having their way with one particular area, and every time I took out my trash and I was brave enough to peer around the garage, it seemed that a jungle was beginning to grow. All the stones needed removal and new material placed underneath to keep the unwanted foliage down to a minimum.

My first trip was to the dreaded hardware store to pick up the landscaping roll, pins to hold it in place, and buckets. This has never been a favorite outing. During my childhood, I recall visiting many of these places with my dad. He seemed to speak in a foreign language about saws, wrenches, and screws that all had their use. None of it ever made sense to me, and even now, I still struggle to understand what some of the products are on the shelves. Throw in math and measurements, and I zone out.

I gathered up my supplies and started the process of picking up the rocks with gloved hands. I had no idea the labor and time this was going to take, but I kept a clear vision in my mind of a pristine area that no longer brought on a cringe.

At certain times of the day, the sun would go over the house, which provided shade. Despite this, as summer approached, the temperatures began to rise, so I was often drenched in sweat. I would go out of the house fresh and ready to conquer and return weak, dehydrated, and filthy. My reflection in the bathroom mirror always displayed a “dirtstache” over my top lip.

One evening, I decided to go back out after giving it a rest from working earlier in the day. It was cooler, and I wanted to accelerate my progress. My neighbors had friends over for a cookout, and the section I was focusing on was visible from their front porch. Soon, I felt a presence next to me. A little girl smiled and said,

“Can I help?”

While the adults were having cocktails and talking about issues she couldn’t comprehend, she decided that what I was doing looked more attractive.

I caught on quick that boredom had led her over. She didn’t want to lend a hand; she just wanted someone to keep her entertained. I turned on music that she requested, which was followed by humming in between a million questions. Every rock she picked up was examined, and I was asked what it was. Not many made it into the bucket she was given. Instead, she put them back and moved on to another one that caught her eye.

“Do you know how fast I can run?” she asked with her big brown eyes looking at me intently, hoping I was up for the challenge.

“No, I don’t,” I said.

“I will show you!”

And like a flash, she was running toward the backyard. I stopped what I was doing so she could see that I was paying attention to her. I had sympathy as I recalled being her age and stuck in a room full of older people and feeling left out of the conversation.

She ran back to my side, panting uncontrollably.

“This time, can you count?”

“Sure,” I said.

I mean, what would it hurt to do so if it made her night more fun? She got into a runner’s stance showing how serious this was.

“Ready? Set? Go!”

She took off again, and I began to count.

When she returned, her breath came in short gasps.

“I want to run around the whole house. Can you still count while I do that? I want to know how fast I am.”

“Okay,” I said.

It would be easier to keep doing the task I had come out to accomplish with her out of my sight. The rocks were not leaping into the buckets by themselves, and it was going to get dark.

We went through the countdown, and she took off like a shot.

One of the neighbors yelled,

“Chris, you are a sucker! She will have you doing that all night long!”

I put my head back down and grasped a handful of rocks in each hand.

“Nine, ten, eleven, twelve…”

I was shouting numbers at the top of my lungs to be sure she could hear me. When I saw her coming, I slowed way down, and as she pulled up next to me clutching her kneecaps with both hands, straining to breathe, I said randomly,

“TWENTY!”

Once she was able to talk, she said,

“I am going to do it again to see if I can make it back faster. Count slower this time.”

“Okay,” I said with a smile.

It was like cheating on the number of swings you take when you golf.

She got in position to go again, and I began to count so she could hear.

“One, two, three, four…” I yelled out in a happy tone as I dropped more rocks into the bucket.

Suddenly, I felt like I was being watched. I glanced to my left, and an older woman passing by on the sidewalk was frowning at me like I had lost my mind. From where she stood, it appeared that I was counting each rock as I was removing them. The little girl was still on the backside of the house. The lady’s forehead was tight with confusion and concern. At first, I thought of ceasing my count, but the speedrunner was depending on me, so I didn’t want to disappoint.

As she shook her head and rolled her eyes, I counted louder. She moved on quicker when I made eye contact with her.

That is when I started to laugh, and I am sure that solidified the idea that my sanity had slipped away. Things weren’t quite as they appeared.

This can be said for many situations we encounter daily. Do we jump to conclusions or make assumptions based on what we see or hear? Maybe that person across the street with the political sign in their yard that doesn’t line up with your views has a need you can fulfill. But, the sign keeps you away. How about the slow driver who is impeding your progress, is crying their eyes out on the way back from a funeral? What about the long line at the grocery store because the cashier is new and doing the best she can?

We are quick to process a scene without any insight.

As I move along in this life, I am more conscious of that still, drama-free, inner voice that speaks knowledge that cannot be seen with the human eye. For me, this has led to more compassion, grace, and forgiveness.

Tapping into my spirit, I have access to wisdom that keeps me more grounded and less off my rocker.

Psalm 19:14: May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock, and my Redeemer.

Common Cents

It had been a long afternoon discussing my options with the realtor. I was considering relocating to a townhouse, and we had spent a few hours going over finances that seemed like a game of Monopoly.  Numbers ran around in my head as I tried to figure on paper how all of it was going to work out in my favor.  After we parted, I had to run an errand, and I discovered that my gas tank was in need of fuel. I began the process of trying to decide which station to go to since there is not a shortage of choices in my neighborhood.  I had to make up my mind quickly, however, because the orange ‘out of gas’ light was shining brightly.  Not wanting  to drive down to my last fume, I turned on my blinker and abruptly made a right turn into a place that I generally didn’t frequent.

After pumping my car to full, I decided to reward myself with a cappuccino.  Even though it was the dead middle of summer with August temperatures soaring into the 90s, the frothy warm substance in a cup sounded inviting.   The addiction was in the beginning stages and there was just no fighting it.  On my way in, a man in a dirty white shirt opened the door for me.

“Thank you,” I said.

His brown eyes matched his long single braid that went down the entire length of his back.  I headed straight for the cappuccino machine to contemplate which size coffee I deserved after enduring all that talk of money.  I went about my customary tasks including a walk to the ice machine to fill up my empty cup because I didn’t want to wait for my drink to cool down on its own.  During all of this, my thoughts were on my meeting earlier and how much I could afford to spend to live in a new place.  As I held my ice filled cup under the vanilla hazelnut version of my affection,  I overheard,

“I need a quarter for that.”  There was a long pause without any response that I could hear.  Followed by the same woman saying,

“You cannot have a cup of ice water without giving me a quarter.”

I put the lid on my purchase and walked to the front of the store.  There I saw the man who had held the door for me being confronted by the cashier.

Now that I was behind him, I noticed the softness of his voice.

“I need a cup of water.”

“You can have water in the fountain over there,” she said pointing in the direction of the bathrooms.  I saw him drop his head.

I took better notice of him.  Filthy fingernails, unclean pants, worn shoes.

“It is so hot outside. I would like to take a cup of ice water with me.”

“Then give me a quarter,” she snapped.  She looked at me and rolled her eyes as if she assumed I was on her side against him.

“I don’t have a quarter,” he said again almost inaudibly.   I noticed the extra change sitting right by her register but she made no move to offer him any.

“Then go get a drink at the fountain!”

I don’t know what bothered me more.  Was it her callous nature or his down and out posture?  Just to make sure we all knew what side I was on, I said,

“Here.  I know I must have an extra quarter in here somewhere.”   I put down my cup and jostled around in my purse and unearthed my last quarter.

He looked me straight in the eye and quietly said,

“Thank you,” with a vibrant smile.  Such a small amount had brought him relief, and he asked me for nothing more.

Once he was out of the range of our conversation, I said to her,

“Does he get a straw too? Or will that cost extra?” I am not sure if she picked up on the angry undertone to my question, but I was checking to be sure she wouldn’t accuse him of stealing next.

As she rang up my coffee, and he was headed for the exit, he raised his cup to me with a word of thanks.  I smiled and told him to keep himself cool in the heat.

“He could have gotten a drink at the fountain for free,” she snapped.

“But, he wouldn’t have been able to take it with him.  It is hot out there today. ” I gave her a great chance to examine her approach to life.   She gave me a curt and customary thanks for my patronage and turned her back to me.

I guess I was dismissed.

I got into my car and turned on the air conditioning full blast as I sipped on my hot beverage.  A surge of gratitude hit at that minute while I sat in the parking lot.  I had drove in moments before, fretting over my financial situation and thinking how poverty stricken my life seemed, and now with great clarity I could see how well taken care of I was.  I wasn’t wandering the streets looking for a cup of ice water and not able to buy it for a quarter.  I had a bed to sleep in, a bathroom, clean clothes, a bank account with money and the ability to transport myself all over town.  My point of view of myself had changed rapidly.

I was left to wonder why the lady behind the counter was so hard hearted. Did she have to deal with this all the time during her shift and she had lost her compassion?  No one must have ever let her in on a small but powerful secret:  A generous person will prosper, whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.

It is never a mistake to help those who genuinely need it. It puts life into better perspective, and makes one grateful for every possession great and small.   All of that just adds up to good common cents.  (yes, I know how to really spell it)

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