Peaceful Balance

Garbage day shouldn’t be that difficult to remember. Only a handful of times have I missed it. You don’t soon forget it, though, when you do because it becomes a full-time job figuring out how to deal with the excess.

It’s one of those moments when you are minding your own business in a deep sleep that you desperately need after a night of insomnia, and you hear the faint sound of beeping. It floats into your mind, and it tries to make sense of it, turning it into a weird dream where you are disarming a bomb. You have to decide what color wire you should cut to save the world.

Just as you are about to snip the black one because it makes the most sense, you come into consciousness just a bit more as you hear your neighbor’s trash going into the truck.

In a half-sleep state, you start to consider time. Isn’t it Wednesday? No. That was two days ago when you had to take the dog to the vet. It must be Thursday. Maybe not. It doesn’t feel like a Thursday. It seems more like a Tuesday, but you know it isn’t because you had a Zoom meeting you attended where you had to turn off your camera because you were zoning out from lack of sleep. It has to be Thursday, then. But something says it isn’t.

That something is the garbage truck that drives past your house at ninety miles an hour because they don’t need to stop at the next place by yours because they use a different company. It is long gone into the next county by the time you are near the front window.

The last time this happened, it was a short day due to a holiday. They usually will send a driver back later, but they didn’t want to keep anyone from their family this time. I agreed but knew I would have to get creative. A week of garbage plus a week more was going to be trouble.

But when you set your mind on succeeding, you do. By the time the following week came, I had skillfully stacked as much as I could short of needing a ladder to get the final bag on top. It was artistic and practical. There was no way I was missing it again.

Our service was delayed a day, but my structure stood firm even though we had heavy gusts of wind come through. I had proven the saying that necessity is the mother of invention. You learn what your dormant natural abilities are. This is the crucial stuff they will never teach you in school.

If there were an award for cramming as much as possible into a garbage bag, my house would win it, hands down. The metal container I have is not all that big, so often, I will place the bag outside of it and continue to fill it.

The idea is to not waste room toward the top. I am often amazed at the ability of all of us who strategically place more into it just to avoid a trip to take it out. You would think it was a five-mile walk to the garbage cart, but it’s steps from the front door.

The plastic drawstring, used by normal people, is generally cinched together to close it off. Not ours. Those are there to strap down the contents that have been piled over the capacity of what it can hold. They become the glue that holds it all together.

I always have the right intention when I think I could fit just a little more in. And then it becomes a competition to see just how far we can go. If there’s the tiniest space on a side, for sure, someone will find it and force another thing in.

You tell yourself just one more item tossed in there won’t hurt, so you jam in one more paper towel and walk away, not considering that moments later, someone else is going to repeat what you just did.

When it finally looks like the Pillsbury Doughboy with arms, legs, and the beginning of a head, you make the difficult decision to stop the madness. They have outlasted you, and you know it. You now wish you would have trekked it out the day before when there wasn’t a blizzard happening outside with sideways winds.

Now it’s a six-mile walk from the kitchen with a 500-pound bag that is bigger than yourself, so you use both hands to drag it to the door.

We cause ourselves a lot of problems. I could just end this with that sentence and let us all go into a deep depression. Have a nice day.

It’s the truth, though. We take something like trash or dishes and leave them to accumulate; then, it takes more effort and adds time to deal with a task that would have felt like nothing had it been attended to in increments. We let it build up, and now it’s a monster.

Maybe instead of a stockpile of old newspapers, it’s unresolved irritation over something that started so trivial and now has mushroomed into full-blown unforgiveness. It has grown in stages to bitterness.

As you recall the event or moments of the past, the details get uglier, and more gets added to the storyline, making it into a heap that is difficult to see past.

That’s where God comes in. With divine help, you can get over it and move on instead of letting it create a larger mess, like stuffing a bag of garbage to death.

Hebrews 12:17 says,

Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent. A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time. (Message)

I have let God work with me while also keeping myself away from the source of my contention. Sometimes it’s only possible to have no emotional reaction about another person by not being in their presence. You can think neutral thoughts from afar. That’s okay, and there should be no beating oneself up over that.

I used to think that my forgiveness of someone hinged on whether or not I could be in the same room with them. If I can think of them and I have no thoughts either way, good or bad, that indicates to me that they have lost control over who I am.

Pushing your feelings down isn’t a bright idea either. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. In Ephesians 4, there is some guidance on how to handle your emotions.

What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself.

Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. (Message)

Nowhere does it say to hide your feelings, but you are given parameters on how to conduct yourself. You are not to be a doormat nor a raving lunatic that cannot see anything but red twenty-four hours a day. Why? Because you stay stuck, unmoving spiritually, and cutting yourself off from seeing beyond this realm. You start only to see what’s wrong with the world instead of what’s right.

And that final banana peel that someone carelessly tosses on top of your already packed and ready-to-burst emotional trash bag has you saying and doing things that stunt your growth. Not theirs. Yours.

To put it in scientific terms, to remove the mystery, your choice of how you react and what state of mind you live in most will determine your frequency, like a radio wave. Negative responses keep you in shallow conditions. Heaven is high.

Your spiritual insight and advancement depend on how long you allow yourself to operate in lower states of mind, such as fear, anger, or depression. This doesn’t mean God doesn’t love you. You are limiting and blocking your potential.

If anything, try as much as you can not to do this:

Don’t grieve God. Don’t break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don’t take such a gift for granted. (Ephesians 4/Message)

Believe it or not, when you live in a place where you are not happy, either is God. There is the temptation to believe that you are being punished, causing a victim mentality. If you think that you are supported by a power greater than yourself, you will be.

Gradually, what burned you before, won’t be there, and more won’t be added on. You won’t have to try and find a place to put more of your unhelpful perceptions, causing the problem to linger. It will dissolve itself, and you will be given a peaceful balance.

(That’s not even full yet…)

Thirst

We all have that one cupboard or drawer, or maybe several of them that we approach with caution. It might even be a closet that holds more than its capacity. You know you have put way too much into it, and you only have yourself to blame when you are subjected to the avalanche that ensues.

The accumulation of plastic containers and lids is one of them. This is where I go and search for two matching pieces and never can find them. They have gotten a divorce and parted ways somehow, even though I paired them only days ago after washing them. I end up looking at every single piece and usually have to put two mismatched ones together just to have a place to put leftovers.

When I move one, there is always another one stuck to that, and when I attempt to shove that one out of the way, two more join forces and try to fall to the floor.

Usually, I am standing on the counter, trying to block the whole shelf of them from getting by me. If one goes, they all will, so it takes a careful hand when shuffling them around. If not, it’s like watching a waterfall, and you just let it happen because it’s a no-win situation. I end up cramming a rectangle lid onto a square shape and call it a day.

Worse than that is the space that houses all of my spices. I have learned not to yank open the door by trial and error because I never know what will come flying out at me. It’s not fun to be knocked between the eyes with an enormous container of seasoned salt. It hurts.

The best way to approach it is to move slowly, and if I see one starting to tumble down, I can use the door as a defense shield to control the onslaught. It gives me a chance to catch them one at a time.

The trouble started long ago when I would go to the store and never recall having a specific one at home. If I needed it and didn’t know if I had it, instead of chancing it, I would buy another one.

That is why I own 10,000 bottles of garlic powder now. If vampires attack, they won’t know what hit them.

“Where is the oregano?” I ask when I am exhausted from wading through all the choices. My daughter has this insight to find what I need, no matter what a mess it is.

“It is on the second shelf toward the back,” she will say from the other room. And sure enough, when I look in the location she speaks of, I find it. Spiritual gifts come in many forms. The Bible says to cast your cares on God, so it counts.

Then comes the process of trying to stack them all on one another so I can walk away peacefully. Because some of them are bigger than others, it’s a puzzle, and if one of them falls, it’s a domino effect that sets me back a while. That box of toothpicks you decided to throw in there for fun, also is not your friend as it empties itself like an offering.

Before I have to make something, and if I remember, I will put the ones aside that I need so I don’t have to go through the hunt. That usually works out well unless someone comes along looking for what they need and rearranges everything. My cinnamon is now long gone into the abyss, replaced by paprika. You don’t dare just grab and go without reading the label, or a disaster awaits. You can easily measure out pepper, thinking you are working with poppyseeds. It’s not a good exchange.

Not long ago, we decided to go through the entire cupboard and toss the ones that had expired. It was so out of control. I thought for sure we had conquered it, but then in less than a month, it was jam-packed.

Have you ever heard of the phrase: Nature abhors a vacuum? This was something that Aristotle observed and said to mean that if there is a space, it will soon be filled, as this is how the laws of nature operate. This theory is clearly at work.

God expanded on this. Instead of seeing it as too much, I started to see it as abundance. While I really could stop this horrible habit of overstocking, it also shows me that we do not live in lack.

I grew up with the mindset of not having enough. This was a prevalent idea based on the statement that ‘money was the root of all evil.’ But, here is what that scripture says,

“For the love of money is the first step toward all kinds of sin. Some people have even turned away from God because of their love for it, and as a result have pierced themselves with many sorrows.” (1 Timothy 6:10 TLB)

It was assumed that if a person had money, they would lose their faith and relationship with God. When that is implanted in your belief system at a young age, you believe that you have to carefully keep yourself from slipping over the edge where material possessions become more important than God.

There was no balance to it, so there is this hidden operating system going on within a person’s subconscious mind where finances must be repelled or mishandled. Maybe you get yourself in and out of debt repeatedly. Or, if extra comes your way, you have to try and get rid of it as soon as possible by spending it. Another possibility is the notion that you deserve nothing, so you live with a poverty outlook.

You aren’t managing money, it is running you.

Several years ago, I started waking up to the fact that I was instructed totally wrong on this subject. God began to have me take notice of nature and all the things around me that had been created. Nothing is lacking or in short supply.

Every tree on my street had too many leaves to count. The same went for all the blades of grass on the lawns. In the winter, the snow piling up reminded me that we were not living without plenty as I tried to move it out of the way so I could get my car out of the driveway. When a couple of flakes got together, it would create an impassable mountain in no time.

In the spring, the weeds and dandelions were a representation of excess. When I walked along a beach, the grains of sand and the vast ocean spoke to the surplus of what surrounds us all the time.

There is no good reason to believe that we will go without when God is in charge. We don’t need to exist in scarcity. If we do, don’t blame the Creator because there is proof that this is a lie.

What stops it, then? Why does there seem to be not enough? Because we have fallen for the falsehood that there isn’t an overflow. Somewhere along the way, we were convinced that we had to scrounge to get what we wanted. It all goes back to what you think.

I saw a movie recently where a man went into the family business even though he had been reluctant to. He became a cold-hearted, ruthless person. We are made to assume that the increase did this to him, so the intention is to send a message to audiences that this can happen to anyone at any time.

When Jesus healed some men that were blind, He said:

“Become what you believe.” It happened. They saw. (Matthew 9:29/Message)

If you transform into what you believe, then you live it. If you think money will make you greedy, and you are a good person, you will block God from bringing in all that He wants to. If you already have miserly ways in your heart, that will be the outcome. It’s not the provision that creates it.

In Psalm 84:11, there is comfort given for those of us who think we are going to become changed by what the world has to offer,

The Lord God is our protector and glorious king. He blesses us with kindness and honor. The Lord freely gives every good thing to those who do what is right. (ERV)

From this, you will become an excellent example to those around you. Many just like you think they cannot have it better because they have absorbed it into their minds. When you know that God is your source, and you are excelling, people will want to know how you stay so calm when there are tidings of bad news daily. The stock market might crash, and then it might not. The gas prices might go up, and what if food becomes so outrageously expensive that you starve? Come to my house. I have some garlic powder I can share if things get tough.

How do you possibly have this reassurance that everything will go your way? Because you trust God. And when you do, you can help others rely on this as well. They can cast aside their anxiety and fears, and soon, others are following the same path.

Have you ever gone to put a sprinkle of seasoning on something, and you aren’t sure how much came out, but you decide to live dangerously and taste it anyway? And you need to hang your head under the faucet running full blast because it’s burning your tongue off? Neither have I.

“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth.”(Matthew 5:13-14/Message)

If we get ourselves in order and are willing to rethink what we thought we knew, others will ultimately be led to wholeness. You will make them want to pursue the steady peace that you possess in the chaos, and it will bring on an unstoppable thirst.

(I forgot all about the candles..)

Dark Path

You really haven’t lived until your eyeballs are frozen, and you have lost all feeling in your fingers. When I bought tickets to go on a luminary walk in the winter, it sounded peaceful. An event named Candlelight and Ice was so appealing because we had not seen one flake of snow. It was a deceiving offer as it presented itself in October when the days still were sunshine filled, and the wind was warm. Not wicked cold and blowing sideways. And, the sun disappears after not making much of an appearance by 4:30. 

We made our way to the wildlife rescue that was a half-hour away. The temperature was only going to drop more, so I figured if we got there earlier, our chances of dying from hypothermia would be less. Apparently, so did everyone else. There were spaces available for ten cars at the most, and at least seventy-five of us had shown up right when it began. I had to drive away from where we were supposed to enter and park on a side street. 

This added to our time out in the elements where you can see your breath. Something that you would never think about and take for granted suddenly reminds you that you are still alive. 

At first, the fresh air feels decent because we are locked up so much with a furnace running full blast. You breathe it in, wondering why you haven’t done this sooner. By the time you dodge traffic and get back to where you started, it is beginning to occur to you that you should have dressed warmer. This is when your lungs start to let you know that they are not accustomed to taking in air that has come straight from Siberia. 

When you look around during times like this, people are basically all foreheads and eyebrows. Not an inch of bare skin is visible, and everyone moves stiffly because their arms and legs are restricted by limited mobility. They have put on layers and stuffed themselves into jackets and ski pants. The frigid air is filled with the high squeaky sound of nylon rubbing against nylon. Everyone is trying to move quickly, but they are going nowhere. 

You know that all of these people are some of the same ones that were at the Sunflower Festival in August when the temperature hit one hundred degrees, and the suffering was the opposite. Just so you can get that perfect picture of fields teeming with vibrant yellow flowers, you traipse through the dirt that kicks up dust, so you go home a dirty mess. 

“I have your name right on my list,” the lady said. “You can either go to the right or the left. The one to the left is the longer of the two.”

This was to lead us through the woods with the two trails to choose from. If I have taken the time to drive thirty minutes away from home, I will not take the mini version of anything. I am going to make sure that I drag my frozen corpse down the one that is going to give me the whole experience that offers the bluest lips and most windburnt skin. 

Both of us stopped for a minute and decided where to house our phones so we could easily access our cameras. I had on enormous gloves that were three times the size of my hands, so zipping up a pocket was a miracle. In this type of situation, you want to expose any part of yourself as little as possible. 

But then it happened. I saw how beautiful the candles were glowing on the trail ahead of me. So I removed one glove with my teeth and was going to capture it. Right as I was going to take it, two kids ran ahead of me and started tripping and falling all over each other. Then the pushing, shoving, and the wrestling began. 

There went the idea of peace as they beat each other up in the snow. 

This is where the ‘ice’ part of my night began as my right hand became immovable.

“I have to put my fingers together inside of my glove,” she said.

I did the same thing as I moved ahead. Now I was walking with fists inside of my gloves, trying to get them to return to normal, and just as they did, I saw another picture-worthy moment. Thus, began the freeze and thaw process. 

“Weren’t there supposed to be animals out here? Didn’t you say we would see deer or owls?”

“That is what the description said. I think it said if you looked close enough, you might see something.”

If your eyes are still functioning. 

“All the wildlife are smart and have gone someplace warm, unlike us,” she said as both of us felt our legs beginning to go numb. I do pay a mortgage on a fully heated house, so why would I go outside and put myself through that?  

Because it’s pretty.  

There is something that calls us into nature, even if it is miserable. Later, we tell everyone we went, but during it, you are wondering why you came.

I have had the same experience with God. You recognize the still, small whisper telling you to do something and then wonder why you are doing it. It doesn’t make any sense, it feels so uncomfortable, and you don’t have to if you don’t want to. But, you do it because your relationship with heaven is more important than any other thing you can think of.  

During a time when I had next to nothing to live on, I was in a mall with my two daughters. I glanced over at a young couple sitting a few tables away from us in the food court. I had a twenty-dollar bill in my wallet that I was hanging onto. I was limiting what I was eating to be sure that my money would last longer and that they had everything they needed. 

I wasn’t trusting God fully at the time to help me, and I lived in fear. Yet, when I heard the familiar voice say, offer them the money, I pushed my chair away from the table and told my daughters I would be right back. I didn’t give it a second thought as I walked over to them. They both looked up at me.

“I am supposed to give you this,” I said. Whenever I have done this, people look surprised. I noticed a newborn baby in a carrier sitting next to them. I hadn’t seen it from where I was. 

The young mom said,

“We were just talking about how we needed to buy more diapers, but he doesn’t get paid until tomorrow. We don’t have any extra money right now.”  

“Then take it,” I said. “It’s yours, not mine.” I had just relieved the burden of another and forgot all about my own.

That became a pivotal point in my walk with God, where no matter how much I felt I was living the unbearable, I would be a giver and act on it when I was told to. It takes a bit of sharpening of spiritual hearing because all of your logical parts will scream and tell you not to listen. Every single reason you should not do what you are hearing will manifest itself. So I had learned to move fast. Don’t think. 

I had read this in the book of James,

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like. (Message)

I didn’t want my faith to be dead. 

As I walked in the cold air amongst all the softly glowing bags and containers that lit my way, I was reminded of this great verse from Psalm 119:105 that tells you who God can be to you, if you allow it,

By your words I can see where I’m going; they throw a beam of light on my dark path. (Message)

(This may or may not have been when my legs lost all feeling…)

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 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)

coin