Trouble Is Brewing

The aroma of coffee beans permeated my hair and clothing the second I walked in the door. Like a warm, friendly hug it engulfed me. The tables were loaded with drinkers of all sorts sipping on frothy concoctions that were worth every inflated dime. I saw my good friend standing by the counter eyeing her choices on the board.  She was having a hard time deciding what she wanted because this wasn’t her usual drive thru order.  This was a legitimate experience that required more from her than just saying,

“I will take the number 1.”

No, this was a face to face encounter with another human being versus hanging out the car window yelling into a box.  A treat this great comes with much contemplation.

“I love coffee. I love it,”  she said as I watched her eyes scan the board.

“What are you having?” she asked.

“I am having a medium iced peach black tea with a shot of raspberry.”

“That sounds good.  But, I love coffee. ”

After much travail, in which I thought she was going to opt for a fancy whipped up drink on steroids, she said,

“Coffee.  Black.   With a little cream.”

I think she went back and forth on the cream, but I was preoccupied getting out my card to pay.

Both of us were ecstatic to be meeting not only because we hadn’t seen each other for awhile but because it was free time.  No responsibilities and pure freedom.

It wasn’t difficult to find ourselves quickly wrapped up in discussions over writing, talking about God, and how our lives were progressing.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a woman enter the shop. It was one of those subtle things that happen but you don’t really recall the details of it until later.

We continued to talk, and she began telling me a story from her childhood.  Usually most of our time together is spent telling our true life stories.  Some funny, some sad, but we always leave each other feeling better just for having been together for a little while.

I was slightly aware that the woman who had come in was going table to table and talking to the patrons.  I was listening to my friend speak, but I was somewhat distracted as I watched people get out their wallets and go into their purses and hand her cash.

As she made her way closer to us, I didn’t give my friend any indication that I was overhearing or seeing what was going on around us.  My mind and eyes went from the thief making her way to our side of the room to trying to stay focused on what was being said.

I watched stealthily as she hit on a couple next to us.  Again, I made no mention of this to my friend who continued on talking.

When she sidled up to us, I kept my eyes locked straight ahead.  I refused to give her eye contact.

“I need gas money,” she barked.

She was glaring at my friend who responded by gulping and grabbing her purse to rummage for loose change.

I moved my head in slow motion so I could take in her attire. Her attitude was in full broadcast.

“I ran out of gas.  I need gas for my car.”

I saw her lick her lips as my friend handed over cash just like all the other people had done.

She turned to look at me.

“You don’t have cash?  You don’t have anything to give me?” Her annoyance was running high because I hadn’t moved into action to do her bidding.

I felt like I was in a school play yard and the class bully was attempting to take my lunch money. There was no humility or even a ‘please’.  Her approach was aggressive and intimidating.

I looked at my wide eyed friend who had conformed, and I saw the unspoken pleading for me to hand over what was being demanded.

“What color is your car?”  I asked.

She took a slight step back.

“What?” she asked with a sneer.

“I asked you the color of your car.”

“Ah-Ah-Ah-Bl, I mean red,” she snapped.

“What type of car is it?” I said immediately trying to limit her time to think.  Most people are able to say the color and make of their car without much thought.

“Ah- Ah-Ah-What difference does this make?” she snarled.

“What type of car do you drive?” I repeated not blinking.

“I uh, drive a red Pontiac.”

“Where are you stranded?  What are you going to use to put the gas into?  You don’t have a container.”

“I am going to buy a gas can!  Are you going to give me money or not?!”

“There are no stores around here to buy a gas can from.”

As she continued to retreat, her voice was becoming so loud that conversations ceased as we went back and forth.  My questions were making her lies come to light.

“Before I give you money, I am actually trying to help you solve your problem.  I don’t know how you are going to put gas in your car without having something to put it in.”

Realizing that I was exposing her to all those who had just believed her sob story, she shouted,

“I don’t need your money!”

Then, she looked at my friend and screeched,

“Thank YOU for helping me!”

Like that was supposed to make me feel embarrassed in public for not helping.  She ran as quickly as she could out the door and that ended her shift working the room.

When I turned back to my friend, she was shaking her head in disbelief and the couple at the table next to us began to argue.

“Why did you give that lady any money?”  he asked.

“Because she said she was out of gas!”

“She was lying! Why did you listen to her?!  You gave her a lot of money!”

“How was I supposed to know she wasn’t telling the truth?”

They had overheard my entire interaction with the petty criminal and realized they had been scammed.

“So many things get triggered when someone talks to me like that,” my friend said.  “I have had experiences in my past where people have bullied me so I just give them what they want so they will go away.  That is why I gave her the money.”  I could tell she felt bad about her decision now that the dust had settled.

“She was pretty intimidating, so I could see why you did what she wanted you to do.”

I sat for a moment and thought back over the entire exchange.  From the time she walked in the door, I knew that something was not legitimate about the lady.  That still, small voice inside of me was saying: Don’t do what she says.  The line of questioning I put her under was not preplanned and happened spontaneously.

It was similar to breathing. I don’t consider where my next breath is coming from.  It just shows up.

To live like this is the ultimate way to peace because it takes the dilemma out of things.  I like to help people who are in need, but I do not like to assist those who are ripping off the public.  Her yelling at me as if I was a cold hearted individual not willing to help was meant to humiliate me, and I have to say for a couple seconds she did make me feel like a low life. However, I had uncovered so many falsehoods in her story, I was easily able to shake off that notion of myself.

In this day and age of media, we are being told what to believe and how to believe it in the hopes that we will make our decisions based on what we see with our physical eyes and hear with our ears.

Proverbs 20:12 says,

“Ears to hear, and eyes to see-both are gifts from the Lord.” (NLT)

To embrace this wise saying means a wonderful thing.  We all have a powerful second set of senses connected to the spiritual realm that if utilized will help us separate the authentic from fabrications.

We know that God loves us, and we know that prayer helps to lead us on the right path when we have a decision to make.  The combination of that unfailing help of heaven and being willing to take a minute or two to quiet down and wait for an answer to come can make all the difference in the world.  Many times we are blinded by the raging noise from our televisions and radio.  We listen to all the voices telling us what to do instead of going inward and having the honest answer surface.

I didn’t have time to sit and ponder my decision as this person made her way over to our table that day.  However, I had been regularly practicing the quieting of my mind when faced with options to choose from.   With that in operation, I was able to easily identify the truth from fiction.  According to the verse above, we can tap into that supernatural vision and allow God to work on our behalf when trouble is brewing.

 

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Problem Solved

Please don’t call on me. Please don’t call on me.  This was my daily mental mantra during his math class in sixth grade. I had a history with this man and had hoped to never be his student again.

Previously I was in one of his classes in second grade, and I had gone from being an avid reader with great pronunciation skills to not being able to comprehend sentences.  I began to bring home extra work to do with my mom to improve my understanding.  She noticed that I was not struggling as she and I worked together.  After a couple of these sessions, she said to me,

“I don’t think you like your teacher.”

“No. I don’t.”

“Why?”

My seven year old mind could not articulate clearly why I did not like him.  I just knew I didn’t.  In hindsight, it was my first experience with being intimidated, but I didn’t understand it.  It wasn’t that he was a male teacher as much as his attitude about being of that gender.  I recall seeing him flirt with the young female teacher across the hall, and in an instant his demeanor would become harsh with the children in his room.  He was unpredictable, and I never knew when I would meet his approval or not.  He put me on edge, and I always felt his anger simmering below the surface. To add to my fear, he towered over me. One of my brothers was just as tall, but it was the way this man glared at me from above that made me cower.

During our one on one reading sessions he would often laugh and ridicule those who were not pronouncing words correctly.   He would use another student to ‘correct’ the one who was making a fool of himself.  It was a form of public humiliation amongst the peers.  Not being able to take the pressure, I shut myself down and with that my favorite subject became my most difficult.  My voice, that once was strong, became small and weak with the idea that he was going to lash out and make me feel horrible about myself.  The best part of my day was when our hour of reading with him was over, and I returned to my home room next door.

When second grade ended, I wasn’t only glad to welcome in the freedom of summer but to be away from him forever.  Forever lasted until the sixth grade. He picked up right where we had left off. This time, he was my math instructor which wasn’t my best subject.   His eyes would scan the room looking for his prey to call up to the board. Hands across the room would fly up, but I always put my hands under my desk to be sure there was no mistaking my desire to stay seated.   Regardless, he would pick me.  I never got used to being in front of the entire class sweating over the board trying to appease him only to be interrupted.  I would just begin to write and he would snap.

“No! That’s already wrong. Go sit down.”  I would quietly put the chalk back in its place while he would then call upon his star math student who would go up and show us all how it was to be done.

“Now, that is perfect,” he would say shooting me a satisfied sadistic smile.

The worst part was the homework.  He would hand out our assignment and expect it back by the end of the day.  For a person who caught on to numbers quickly this would have been easy.  But, I had such a mental block, partially due to him making me feel stupid, I needed the extra time in the evenings to complete the work.  If a student didn’t turn in the homework of the day, then she was expected to ask him permission to take it home and turn it in the next morning.  Every day I made the short but long walk to his door to ask if I could have an extension. It was a ritual short of bowing and kissing a ring on his hand. Some afternoons when he was preoccupied with impressing some of his young female students, I would get a head nod followed by a grunt. Other times, he would torture me with tormenting questions.

“Can I take my math work home tonight?” I would squeak.

“Again? Why can’t you get it done during the day like everyone else?”  He knew full well I needed the extra time.  After making me feel like an absolute idiot, I would finally get the approval to take my work home.

One day, as I walked slowly down the hall, I noticed him standing in his classroom doorway facing his students.  He was quiet and so was the entire class.  Looking back now, I should have known to just turn around and forget it, but I didn’t realize what I was walking into.  As I neared him, he began to yell at the top of his lungs.

“I told you all to shut up, and I mean it!  I don’t want to hear another word until the bell rings!”  His voice echoed off the walls around me.  Sensing I was behind him, he whirled around.  Screaming in my face he said,
“WHAT DO YOU WANT?” Spit flew from his mouth and his eyes were crazy looking.

“I need to take my math home….” I think I actually whispered my request.

“I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU DO!”

He spun on his heel and slammed the door so hard that the floor beneath my feet shook.  I ran back to my class. When I came in the door, my teacher asked,

“Are you okay, Christine?”

I kept my head down and nodded.  He looked at me for awhile like he wasn’t so convinced.  I don’t know how he hadn’t heard the commotion out in the hallway, but I was so paralyzed with fear I could not speak.

I left elementary school and went on to middle school, high school and college bearing the unseen scars that he inflicted.  I was amazed by the other kids who could whip out math answers while I struggled over each and every problem. I had a teacher tell my mom at a conference that he felt sorry for me because he could see that I really wanted to comprehend the material but it just didn’t stick.  Something was blocking my ability to get to the right answer.  When she told me this I must have been touched by it because on the next test I whizzed through it.  By the end of that year I had gotten a low B in his class.

The damage wasn’t just confined to school.  If I was with a group of people playing a game where a score needed to be tallied, and I was questioned on my accuracy, I would immediately say,

“I am bad at math.” I was merely verbalizing the thought I was having twenty-four seven.

Usually I hadn’t made an error, but due to early childhood programming by a bully math teacher, I constantly defaulted to what I thought was true.  If the person in my social circle was somewhat aggressive, I found myself thinking for certain I was at fault and he or she was right. I was continuing to exist as a sixth grade math student.

The pattern of living this way began to dissolve when I decided to home school my daughter.  I knew that I was going to excel with instructing her on reading, writing, spelling and basic math, but there was the nagging question if I had what it took to effectively teach math at the sixth grade level or higher.  The summer before she was to begin that grade, a packet came in the mail that included a math placement test.  Before I gave the exam to her, I took it.  I was shocked to see that I scored rather high.  Calculations that would have been confusing made absolute sense.  How had I become one of those kids that I had envied so much?

That is when I realized how my thinking was not correct on this matter.  There were other hints along the way, but I had brushed them off quickly because after all, “I was bad at math.”

When I began to home school, I purposefully bought a math curriculum that used a hands on approach to teaching not only basics but also some geometric and algebraic principles.  As I showed her the logic to solving equations, I began to understand that I had not been taught properly.  I was slowly beginning to see that I was not the stupid idiot I thought I was.  I actually had not been given good instructions nor was I treated like I should have been.

This made me begin to question what other lies I was believing about myself that were not true, and I made a determination to begin an ‘uncovering’ process to free myself from deceptive thinking.  This meant asking God to reveal whatever wasn’t right so I could correct it.   After all, it is promised that ‘all crooked paths will be made straight.’  I am realizing that this is an ongoing process.

This man was in my life more than 36 years ago.  And all these years later I can conjure up his face, his words and his demeanor.  The difference, however, is that I no longer believe him.  I have put a loving arm around my sixth grade self, and I have told her,

“You are good at math.  Problem solved.”

math