A Miracle On 132nd Ave.

I slumped in the passenger seat as she backed down the driveway. I looked longingly at my house wishing I was wearing my over sized pajamas with a warm dog snuggled near me on each side.

I glanced at the clock.  It was 7:30 and we were already an hour late.

“I really don’t want to go to this,” I thought.

She had invited me to attend a prayer gathering at a home very close to mine.  It wasn’t the theme of the evening that was bothering me as much as it was that I didn’t want to be around people.  In my life, I have gone to many of these type of meetings with enthusiasm expecting for someone to give me a ‘word’.  However, I wasn’t much in the mood for a word, a sentence or even a paragraph.

Situations swirling around me regarding relationships, finances and the approaching pressure of the holidays was fully weighing me down.  I had gotten out of bed that morning feeling absolutely dead inside.  I was quickly finding out that my frustration at not being able to fix my problems was leading me quickly down the dark road of depression.  Every time I went inward, I felt an empty space of nothing.  On the one hand, I didn’t want to care about anything, and on the other I felt so grieved at the overwhelming loneliness I felt.

“If anyone has anything to say to me, they can say it, but I am not telling anyone what is going on with me.  If God has something to say, it will happen.”

“I would like Brad to pray for you while we are there,” she said.

I was fine with that, but I was not going to open up and let any one of these people in on my problems.  Either God was going to reach out and take hold of me or I was on my own.

I watched the streets go by as she followed her GPS and its instructions.  The drive was only eight minutes but it felt like an eternity.  I couldn’t wait to go back home and flop down in my despair with a cup of hot tea.

As we were turning toward our destination, I sent up this silent prayer,

“God, if you care about me, I need you to give me $1,000 in cash for Christmas.  I have nearly nothing left to give right now.”

For weeks, I had been running low on money but made choices to cut back on things to make it work.  At the same time, I kept getting small promptings to give where I could to put what I had into circulation to help combat the fear.  Yet, I knew I had obligations coming and the strain of it all was taking me down.

I had heard on the radio that the average American family spends $961.00 for gifts. I don’t know if I come close to that amount, but being in the position of not being able to give anything was part of my unhappy state.  The decorations and music in the stores were not helping.  Everything was simply reminding me that I was going to be left empty handed.

My friend parked her car and I stood by the driver’s side as she collected her purse.  I did not tell her that I asked God for money.

“I want this to be a night I remember,” I said.  “I hope this doesn’t waste my time.”

We walked into an empty upstairs but found about twenty people in the basement listening to a man speaking about how God could fix anything if you let it happen.   I watched as people went forward for prayer as he spoke positive, uplifting words.  We were trying to slip in quietly.  She found a seat near the front while I took one toward the back.  My intention was to sit and watch.

Without warning, the pastor turned toward me and said,

“Do you have needs?”

I thought he was looking at me, but I was hoping he wasn’t.  Two women who were seated in front of me shook their heads no, but then he said,

“The one in the pink.  Do you have needs?”  He pointed right at me.

There was no escaping it now.  I had worn the brightest pink hoodie in my entire collection.

I answered,

“Uh…. ya.”

“Do you want to get rid of them?”

I paused because I knew what was coming.

“Yes,” I said.

“Then come on up.”  Oh, boy, so much for sitting in the back and letting the evening go by.

I could feel my friend’s eyes on my back.

“Do you have a physical ailment?”

I shook my head no.

“Are you going to say what you need?”

I shook my head no.  I was holding to my vow in the car on the way over.  If God had something to say, then it would present itself without me giving out any information.

He began to speak, and his words pierced my heart. Two weeks before this, I had visited a church one evening and went into a room with two women who sat quietly for a few minutes praying and then began to speak.  They had told me that my future was ‘bright’ and that there was nothing to worry about.  They kept saying that I was going to be okay and not to worry or fall into despair.  His words greatly mirrored what I had already been told.  I felt my resolve crumbling as my pain, anger, frustration and sadness burst out of me.

I began to cry so hard I was paralyzed where I stood.  His wife came and took me to a couch where she continued to pray for me.  The only thing I felt in that moment was what I whispered,

“I feel forgotten.  I feel like I am all by myself, and I don’t matter anymore.”

As the evening went on, more people came up for prayer, and I was still not totally out of my funk.

I heard my friend say to a man across the room,

“I would like you to give a word to my friend Christine.”

I was still wallowing in a puddle of tears, so  I attempted to clean my face up which left all of my makeup on a tissue.

“This is Brad,” she said to me.  He was meeting me at probably one of the lowest times of my life.

He knelt down by my side, and I closed my eyes as he began to pray.

The one thing I recall that he said was this:

“God wants you to know John 14:27 is for you.”

John 14:27 says this:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

He said,

“It’s like your mind is racing at all times.  I see it going so fast and things coming and going in and out of your mind.”

Unknown to him, I was completely consumed with worry about my finances from the time my eyes would open in the morning.  I would get out of bed just to immerse myself in tasks to keep my mind off of it.

As he spoke, I felt myself relax because his words were ringing true. He called his wife over who was so joyful that no one could possibly stay sad in her presence. It was energy that was alive and contagious that only further erased my negative state of being.  It was like the two of them picked me up, stood me on my feet, brushed off the dirt and put me back on the road.

As she prayed for me, I noticed he put his hand over his heart, then he leaned over and whispered something in her ear.  She nodded and smiled and he got up and walked away.  I figured maybe he was leaving me in her care while he helped another.

Within moments, he returned with an envelope with my name written on it.

“We want to sow this into your life.”

I looked at it not fully understanding.  I eventually took it from him and put it in my purse.

The pain had disappeared, and I felt happier and more secure.  It’s difficult to describe an event when it is a spiritual experience.  But, much like having a surgery, I felt as if a toxin that was choking the life out of me had been removed.

After thanking those who had helped me, I got into my friend’s car and said,

“Oh, I have an envelope with something in it.”

“From who?”

“Brad and his wife Lori gave me this.”

As I slid my finger along the enclosed edge, I suddenly recalled my silent plea to God for $1,000 in cash on the way to meeting.

I carefully opened it and saw a $100 bill on top.  I slammed it shut.

“Oh my gosh!  Oh my gosh!  I think God did what I asked.  I think…”  I started crying again as I looked at and counted $1,000 cash, all in $100 bills, in my lap.

“WHAT!?” my friend said as she leaned over to see.  We headed for curbs and lawns as she tried to keep the car on the road.

I could not speak because I felt how much I was truly loved.  For you see, it wasn’t just about the money, it was about feeling that divine, strong, powerful connection between myself and the One who is unseen. My request to God was said as a sort of ultimatum that I thought would go unanswered.  I had asked for something to touch with my hands but it was so much more touching to my heart.

My faith was completely restored and in the past week since this event, I have found myself feeling more secure than ever and my problems seem to be more distant now than a heavy load on my back to carry.

I began to wonder the other day why I was able to have this prayer answered when I didn’t say a word to anyone about it.  I was immediately directed to this passage of scripture:

But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.  (Matthew 6:6 NLT)

What I did that night was I shut myself away from others and sent up a private request that only my Creator was aware of.  And, as I did so, my reward presented itself rather quickly. I encourage all of you that are weary to never give up, and to ask for supernatural help.  I had no idea that I would go into a stranger’s home for a mere two hours and come out the recipient of a miracle on 132nd Ave.

 

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Stop and Smell the Roses

I yanked with my gloved hands as the bush’s thorns started to bite into my palms.

“Come out!” I said through gritted teeth.  “You will never win!”

I was attempting to follow through with my spring cleaning list and this eyesore was being removed whether it wanted to be or not.  I had worked around the roots with my shovel and thought that it would easily slide right out of the earth.  Instead, it wouldn’t budge.  I felt a twinge across my lower back as the muscles strained there and along the back of my calves.  Without warning, I was airborne across the lawn with the prize in hand over my head. It had played a nasty trick by suddenly and unexpectedly releasing its hold.  I landed with a thud directly on my back while clutching the dirty monster to my chest.

I looked up at the sky and did an inward safety inspection.  From time to time when I have taken a spill, I often lay still for a minute to make sure nothing is fractured, dangling or throbbing incessantly.  Feeling no pain and knowing that the coast was clear, I began to laugh.  I pictured the neighbors peering out their windows seeing an irate woman yelling at foliage and then being flung to the ground in a heap.  I sat up and brushed the dead grass out of my hair.  I was covered in soil but I was triumphant.  Not only had I gotten the rebellious bush out of its place, but I could check something off my to do list, and I had done it myself.

A few days prior to my seek and destroy mission, I sat on my back porch to write down what I wanted to get done around the house.  I had come to have a love hate relationship with my dwelling after it was awarded to me in the divorce.  My marriage had been one of the traditional nature where I attended to the indoor tasks while he worked outside.  I had found myself slightly unprepared to handle both, and my budget wasn’t allowing for too much improvement. I had determined to do what I could to clean up and declutter where I could without generating an expense. Removing the long forgotten about landscaping had been a priority.

As the list came together, I glanced over at the above ground pool that had a stocking cap at the bottom of it.  In the days when it was working properly, a cover would have concealed it at this time of the year.  But, the liner had succumbed to a tear, so it was drained and my youngest daughter and her friend had found delight in constructing a snowman in it over the winter. Frosty had melted and his hat, nose and eyes were all that was left of him.  It brought me a bit of sadness to see the pool in that state of disarray as I recalled the girls and I enjoying soaks in it on hot summer days. I knew I couldn’t fix it due to money constraints so I didn’t add it to my list.

As I sipped on my hot tea that morning, a thought went through my mind,

Do what you can on your list.  I will send a man to help with the pool.

I didn’t know what that meant exactly so I began to clean up what I could a little at a time day by day.

One afternoon, about a month later, my doorbell rang. When I answered it, a man with a city badge hanging on a lanyard greeted me.

“Hi. I am Patrick from the city.  Your home is due for an inspection for property tax purposes.”

I let him in and we walked from room to room as he made notes and checked out the interior of the house.

When we got out on the back porch, I said,

“That pool bugs me.  It is so ugly right now. It needs a new liner.  Since my divorce, I haven’t been able to fix it.”

He got really quiet and took a step closer to the window to look down on it.

“I think I might be able to help you with that.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  When I made the statements about the pool, it was more of a complaint than a proposal.  I wasn’t asking for help. I was bemoaning my existence.

“I can’t promise you anything but let me see what I can do.”

He had my contact information and we parted ways.

In a few days, he called asking if he and a friend could come over and inspect the pool.  I gave the go ahead and after he and his friend looked it over, he said,

“We would like to fix your pool for you.”

“What?”  Of course, my money fears surfaced so I said, “I don’t really have the money to pay for a new liner right now.  So, that is very nice of both of you, but I can’t pay for it.”

“We don’t want to be paid.  We want to fix it for you.”

“Really?”

“Yes,” his friend replied. “It should be pretty easy to do.  I work in the pool business so I know how to do them, and I can get the supplies fairly cheap.”

He went on to say that he was only in town for a few days to visit but he would enjoy doing the work.

That is when it came back to me….

I will send a man to help with the pool. 

I agreed to let them fix it, and within a few days my pool was up and running again.  Not only did they both work on it in the evening, but they also purchased chemicals that I needed to keep it in good shape. They didn’t ask me to be home while they were there, but requested that the side gate remain unlocked so they could come and go.

One night, I arrived home and went outside to see how they were coming along.  I found three different colored lounge chairs sitting on the deck. They knew that I was a single mom with two daughters, so they had purchased us each a place to sit poolside.  The pool was filled with sparkling, crystal clear water.   It had been restored to perfection.

After all that, and many years later, my fears of not having enough money or being taken care of should not even exist anymore.  Right?  No. I still fight with it at times when I am faced with uncertainty and not knowing how I am going to overcome a situation.

The other night as I was retiring for the day, I found myself wondering about my finances.  In that moment, I had completely forgotten of the story I just shared with you and all the other ones that have transpired over the years where I have been blessed with supernatural help. I went to bed questioning the upcoming months and some changes that will occur.  I am not an ebb and flow type person where I will ‘wait’ and see what happens. I like to plan things out at times, and when I can’t, I find myself doubting the trusted hand that has been with me every step of the way.  I got this message:

Buy yourself a bouquet of pink roses tomorrow.  Inhale the scent of them and know that I am in charge of everything.

My thoughts were no longer on finances but the idea that pink usually wasn’t my color of choice for roses.  I usually gravitate toward bright, bold, and dramatic colors.  Then, I thought,

How much will this cost me?

I drifted off to sleep wondering how roses were going to improve my outlook on life.

I was walking into the store the next day and again came the words,

Buy yourself a bouquet of pink roses.  Breathe in their scent and know that I am in charge of your life.

I obediently walked right over to the floral section.  There was an array of all colors, but only one small bunch that housed five pink roses.  I grabbed the cellophane wrapper and turned it around to check for a price.  A small label was attached to the front that read: Faith.

I immediately looked for more pink roses and found none.  I checked all the other flowers for the same word and could not find it!  Some said smile, some said freedom, but not a single batch of them had this message written on them. I gently placed them on the bottom of my empty shopping cart.  Tears began to well in my eyes as I smiled and thought how absurd my worries are.  Just more proof that we are loved unconditionally even if we don’t feel it at times.  In all of your ups and downs with this life, cast your care on God to bring you through, and take some time to stop and smell the roses.

 

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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)

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Music To Your Ears

Following my divorce, I was in somewhat of a panic as I job searched. I already had a part-time work from home position, and I was employed at a local school as an after hours helper.  However, due to fear and uncertainty, I felt I needed to find more work.  While scanning through the classifieds, I came across an ad that sounded interesting. No music skills were required, and the employer was seeking someone who would be able to travel to various daycare facilities in my area and hold music classes with kids.

I called the number and spoke to a woman who informed me that they were holding a group interview at one of the childcare locations near my house.

“Could you come tomorrow and observe our lead music teacher and see if this would be something you would enjoy doing?”

“Sure.”

Why not. Back then I would have tamed wild sharks if it meant helping me survive financially.

The next day upon arrival at the location, I was escorted into a classroom where at least ten other adults were standing around waiting to be told what to do. This was at the height of our economic down turn, so jobs were a hot commodity.  Some of them looked rather nervous, but I started to notice the cute kids who seemed to range in age from three to four years old. Some of them who made eye contact with me would wave, smile and say,

“Hi,” like they knew me all their life. I returned the smiles and the waves.

The music teacher came in dragging a suitcase behind her and set up in the front of the room.

“Why don’t we have our visiting friends sit down and join us,” she said motioning us to the floor.  As I sank to my knees, six children raced over to sit in my lap.  This resulted in a moment of pushing and shoving.

“Why don’t you all sit down next to me. That way, we can all see each other,” I suggested. I suddenly had become Mary Poppins without even trying.

The teacher led the class in various songs as she pulled instruments made for preschoolers out of her big bag of tricks.

I joined in with my little tribe as we jumped, twirled and followed all of her instructions. This was the strangest job interview I had ever been apart of, and the most fun. The kids sang and danced as she taught them simple rhythm sounds.

At the end of the class, she handed out stickers to an excited bunch who were so proud to wear them like badges of honor.

For the adults, she handed us pieces of paper and said,

“Now that you have watched a class, if you are interested, return tomorrow at this same time. Read the instructions on the sheet because it will be your turn to teach the kids.”

I went home and found empty toilet paper rolls, filled them with rice, and taped the ends shut to serve as shaker instruments.  I practiced my songs and thought of clever things to say to capture my young audience. By the time I went to bed that night, I knew the job was something I would love to do, however, with the crowd that had showed up for the first part of the interview, I wasn’t so sure I would get it.  I began to question why I had pursued this in the first place.  What had prompted me to do this?

Even with these doubts,  I returned the following day ready to take on my competition. Astonishingly, only three of us came back.  I noticed that as the kids tried to communicate with one potential prospect, she seemed edgy and uncomfortable. Her answers were high pitched and her eye twitched non-stop.

The minute I sat down on the floor to watch the two other candidates show us their best performance, I was once again surrounded by many little ones longing for attention.  When it was my turn, I handed each child a shaker and led them through the various songs.  What was once a quiet and solemn room was now a buzzing energetic atmosphere.  All the children took my lead as we marched, skipped and hopped on one foot around the room.

I received a phone call later that afternoon with a job offer.

“You impressed the teachers,” my new employer said.

“That is nice to hear.  I don’t have any musical talent.  I just did what I thought the kids would like.”

“You were the only one who showed up for the job without any music background.  Everyone else had their music degree except for you.”

“Really?  Why did you hire me if everyone else has experience in this type of thing?”

“We wanted someone that we could train instead of a person who thought they knew it all.  And, you related to the kids the best.”

Within the week, I had an official shirt and my own suitcase stuffed with curriculum, instruments and treats.   I began by traveling three times a week to three different centers to bang instruments together and bring a little joy to the classrooms.  I began to feel like the visiting grandmother as I was always ambushed at the door with excitement when I would show up. I began to notice the reason why this was.  The teachers seemed overworked, stressed out and not very present.  I am not saying they were not good people.  However, the work was long and difficult day after day, and sometimes more than eight hours at a time with a roomful of kids who weren’t always glad to be there.

There were days of brawl like fights and many children who were not obedient.  I noticed a glassy look to some of the teachers and assistants eyes as the days wore on.  When I stepped into the room, this was their time to check out mentally.  I returned home after every session to immediately change and wash my clothing.  Sickness was prevalent and my own immune system got a work out.

Before going into the facilities, I would spend a few moments in my car in the parking lot praying.  I would ask God to accompany me so that every child would feel the love of heaven.  I was not able to speak of anything faith related so this was my only way of injecting it into the situation.  It proved to be working because I was the most popular person to walk through the halls.  Kids would see me and practically fall over themselves to grab me around the kneecaps or to hang off of me like monkeys on a tree.

A few months into this, I was in a classroom with four year olds talking to them about the body’s five senses.   At this age, kids love the idea that they know more than adults.

“What do you do with your ears?  Do you smell with them?” I asked.

“NO!”they yelled back at me.

“Do you touch things with your ears?”

“NO!”

“I bet you guys eat with your ears!”

“NO we don’t!”

“Then what do you do with your ears?”

“We hear with them!”

“Oh!  That’s right.  We hear things with them. What do you hear?”

“My mom tells me she loves me in my ear.”

“My dad says I am good at coloring.”

“I hear dogs bark.”

As they shouted out answers, I made sure that they knew that their responses were the best I had ever heard.

When the excitement began to die down, a little blonde boy with brillant blue eyes said,

“I hear God talking to me with my ears.”

When he said this, the adult workers near him began to laugh, which in turn made all the kids giggle.  I saw him quickly put his head down to look at his lap.  It wasn’t difficult to see the embarrassment and that he was the subject of ridicule at a tender age.

“Hey.  You know what?”  He looked up at me.  “If God is talking to you, then I would keep on listening. That is very important.”

The minute I spoke those words it was like a hush came over the room. The two young teachers now put their heads down as I continued.

“Not everyone would be able to say that, so that is about the most special thing I have heard here today.”

Of course, not to be outdone, others began to shout,

“God talks to me too!”

“Me too!”

I again looked straight at him and said,

“If God is talking to you, then I would keep on listening.  He might have something very good to tell you.”

His little smile beamed.  It was one of the only times that I was able to openly discuss God, but it was a sign to me that nothing can keep the divine from invading a place even if it is forbidden.

As we approach a brand new year, take some quiet time for yourself.  People make resolutions one week and fail them the next.  What I have found is that if I sit down with a pad of paper and make myself available for instruction, words begin to come that bring insight and revelation.  Instead of struggling to figure out what you should do next or how you should solve that problem that seems to persist, give God a crack at it.  You will be surprised at what you will hear.  It could very well be music to your ears.

Colorful Wooden Toy Maracas Frame Stock Photo

 

 

 

 

 

(Image courtesy of Kittikun Atsawintarangkul at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Playing Your Cards Right

We gathered around Mrs. Iverson’s piano as she pounded out Farmer in the Dell. Our off key faltering voices attempted to sing the familiar song that we had gone over since starting kindergarten with her that fall. It was her way of getting us to settle down and to capture our full attention. When we finished the last note, she said,

“Children, I have something that I need you to take home to your mom and dad today. ”

She held up green and red papers that were folded neatly.

“We are going to be having a class Christmas party and this letter will tell your parents what you need to bring.”

This news brought on an uproar so she quickly ran her fingers across the keyboard to begin the song again.

After another rousing chorus, and peace had been established, she assembled us into a line to hand out invitations to the first school party of our young lives.

I was thrilled to have reached such a pinnacle. Being the youngest of six, I had observed my older siblings celebrating events to which I was not privileged to attend.

The instructions were that each child was to bring a boy/girl gift and in doing so, we would receive a gift in return. Over the weeks leading up to Christmas, our classroom became a blizzard of handmade construction paper snowflakes, endless Santa coloring sheets and a tree adorned with red and green paper chain garland.  Each day, more presents appeared as the kids began bringing in their offerings.

My mom bought a card game that was suitable for a child in that age group. She and I wrapped the gift and affixed a tag that was addressed to a girl from me.   I was so excited to contribute to the pile under the tree. Many of us often looked across the room at the various sized boxes and pretty bows wondering which would make its way into our little hands.

The day before the party, I came home to the delightful smell of spritz cookies and a tray that my mom was putting together for me to take to school. The days of waiting were almost over, and I could hardly sprinkle the colored sugar on the cookies in the right direction as my exhilaration grew.

I woke up in the middle of the night fully aware that something was not right. My stomach felt like a washing machine that was stuck in the spin cycle.  Chills ran up and down my skin, yet, I felt heat coming off my forehead.

“Mom?” I called out weakly.

Being a nurse, she was at my bedside in seconds with a basin. I guess by the time you have six kids you recognize a distress call even when you are in a dead sleep.  It was a good thing she brought the bucket.

After determining I was running a fever, she said,

“I don’t think you are going to be able to go to the party,”

I reluctantly fell back to sleep with tears brimming in my eyes at the thought of missing out on something I had waited my entire life for.  I slipped into the black abyss of stomach flu dreams.

By morning, I was not any better so I resigned myself to the fact that I was not going anywhere.

“I will have your sister walk up to the school later this afternoon and get your gift,” she said trying to console me.

I sipped on clear carbonated beverages and took small bites of saltine crackers as the virus worked its way through my body. Falling asleep off and on during the day only made time seem to go slower. I would wake up after a five minute nap feeling as if hours had gone by only to see the clock not advancing.

Finally, I heard my sister return and voices talking in the kitchen. I propped myself up in bed. This was the moment I had been waiting for.

My mom came into my room with a package that looked similar to the one I had brought.

“Hey. This looks like our paper we used.”

I looked up at her and saw a tinge of sadness.

“This is your gift. The teacher forgot to put it into the exchange.”

I unwrapped it and put it aside. The game that was supposed to bring so much merriment to another child now represented disappointment, and I would have rather thrown it into the trash.

Years later, I found the deck on a shelf in my parent’s basement unopened.  I opened the box and took off the shrink wrap and read the instructions.  I realized that I had let someone ruin something for me so long ago.  As a child, that is understandable.  I had felt rejected, unwanted, unworthy.  All these things that I felt in my heart that I could not express at the age of five.  I had decided that I would take it out on the gift that had an intent to bring happiness to the receiver.

As I played the game, I forgave this particular authority figure.  Had she done the right thing? No. However, what was the point of hanging on to the pain?  The only thing it accomplished was to keep me chained to my past.  The moment had come and gone for her, I am sure.  She probably isn’t alive today.  So, the only person I was punishing was me.

It is a well known fact that holidays with family and co-workers can be miserable for some.   There can be awkward silences, or suffering in silence and then later rampaging and venting about how we can’t stand Aunt Gertrude or that demanding guy who has an office next to ours.  The reality is, we can make this time of the year be what we want it to be.  We have a choice about how we react to situations and how we feel.  I am not suggesting that you ignore your emotions.  Just don’t allow them to overtake you and find yourself in a drama of grand proportions. Don’t allow your joy to be stolen by a dysfunctional problematic Grinch.  Eat.  Drink.  Be Merry. Pray.  Forgive.  Ask for forgiveness..because you are somebody’s Aunt Gertrude…and let the season be light.  As you forgive, you are forgiven.  All of this adds up to playing your cards right.

 

fish

 

 

 

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.

twoturkeys

When the Chips are Down

The three of us appeared war torn and zombie like as we walked through the store wishing we could buy ‘normal’. I had jokingly told people that Sunday was my favorite day of the week. The usual response to this was:

“Because you get a day of rest?”

“No. There is no mail.”

My life had become a daily dread of wondering what was going to show up in my box next as the divorce procedure was in full swing. Something would arrive from my attorney only to be countered by the other lawyer. Like a game of tennis, I was the ball batted back and forth over the net. And, this match was not about ‘love’.

Add to that the grief of having a marriage end which I had not envisioned when I said “I do.” It was the termination of a relationship that had gone off the tracks. There was a nagging feeling of remorse felt throughout the soul because the happy ending didn’t come as expected. I wept sometimes over the idea that I wouldn’t be a member of the grey haired couples club who get to celebrate 50 happy years together. It was a let down on many levels.

Tangled up with all of that was the financial aspect which I tried to hide from my two young girls. I was supposed to hold my head high and go through my days as if nothing unusual was transpiring. It was like trying to row a boat in the middle of a hurricane.

As we walked along the aisles of the store, we didn’t say much. We were too exhausted emotionally and physically. When we got near the snack bar I suggested buying them each an Icee. Those had always been a favorite, and I thought it might be a way to get a small spark of joy back momentarily.

My oldest daughter objected because she was keenly aware of our financial state, but I insisted and began the all too familiar ‘digging’ in my purse for loose change. I got into a long line as I counted pennies, nickels and dimes.

I observed other shoppers reach in and pull out bills or swipe cards to pay. It was done so effortlessly without any thought. I was slightly jealous remembering it had been that way for me at one time.

I cupped my coins carefully as I inched forward in the line. I glanced over at my daughters who had seated themselves. Their pale faces and tired eyes reminded me of my own whenever I caught a glance of my reflection. We all needed a boost of happiness, and I was determined to have some for a small price.

Just as it was my turn to order, it was as if someone smacked the underside of my hand that gripped the coins. I watched as they fell not only to the ground, but lodged themselves in between all the snack bags that were housed on shelves in front of me.

No one around me was aware of the explosion of anger that ignited within me. I quickly began gathering up what I could find on the ground as other customers streamed ahead of me buying what they wanted quickly without hesitation.

While on my hands and knees scrounging on the dirty floor, I was screaming inside,

Why is everything so hard, God?!?

I was seething as I crawled around wondering how my life had disintegrated to this lowly state.  A woman in line tapped me on the shoulder and handed me one of my wayward pennies.  I smiled and said,

“Thank you, ” not meaning a single word of it.

I stood to the side and counted the change I had managed to find.  It wasn’t enough.  I glanced at the chip bags and knew what I had to do in order to get what I had come for.

I carefully stored the money I had retrieved and then set about the task of plunging my hands into various piles of bags feeling blindly for lost coins. I rearranged the entire display with much shame and embarrassment in my search. Surprisingly, I had found everything but my last quarter when my hand ran into an object that seemed unusual.  It was square and felt leather like.  I brought it up to the surface.

I had unearthed a man’s wallet.   Holding it in front of me, I could not believe what I was seeing.  By now there was no one in line and the woman behind the counter said,

“Did you find that?!?”

“Yes,” I said in shock.

I handed it to her and she said,

“We have a disabled man who works here during the day.  Yesterday, he came in line to get food and couldn’t find his wallet. He was so upset and could not locate it. He must have dropped it where you found it.”

My anger was beginning to quickly recede.

With much excitement she added,

“If he were here right now, he would hug you.  Everything is in here. He was so worried about his bank card and social security card being stolen. He stopped by today and asked if we had found it because it was bothering him.  If you hadn’t dropped your money like you did, he wouldn’t have known what happened to it and continued to search frantically for it.  I have to give him a call and tell him you found it so he can relax.”

Just then, I looked down at my right foot and saw the elusive last quarter that I had been seeking.

I paid for two frozen treats with a new attitude, and as I was walking back to my seat a strong idea came into my awareness.

Everything happens for a reason.  

I was used to bring mental relief to someone who was in turmoil. It was as if my question earlier of ‘why everything was difficult’ was being answered.  I felt it reverberate throughout my entire spirit. There was a point to the madness.

That particular moment has become a memory anchor for me when life has become turbulent.  It reminds me that no matter what emotional state we find ourselves in, we can be a vessel to bring peace to a fellow human being and we are never alone even when the chips are down.

chips

The Connection

I was coming home from an all expense paid trip to San Diego, and while I was riding up an escalator after checking my bags, I had an overwhelming feeling of gratitude rise up within me. Silently, I thanked God for the getaway that was completely covered including our every meal, our accommodations and our flights. I felt like a princess who had been given the royal treatment for three days. I was not begrudgingly going home, but I had a strong desire to travel again soon, and if the next trip was free…all the better!  I asked mentally for a way to be made for another excursion in the next year.

As we walked to our gate, I paused along the way at various gift shops and vendors not only to search for souvenirs but to leave behind notes with dollar bills rolled up inside. It sounds like an odd practice, but I had read a book called Happy Money by Laina Buenostar while enjoying my vacation. She suggested that in order to have freedom with money to give small amounts away to create joyful feelings. The instructions were quite simple, really. Take a dollar bill, or whatever amount doesn’t make you faint, and write a little note such as, God bless you or Don’t worry about money because God loves you and then drop them in places where an unsuspecting passerby will come upon it.  According to the author, when she began doing this, she noticed that more money and blessings would float her way from different sources and she was never without.   I believe this is much like the verse that says, “Give and it shall be given to you..”

So, I happily placed my notes around the building.  I put dollar bills in bathrooms, magazines, books that were financially motivating, and I finally dropped the last one in a mug that would sure to be grabbed by a tourist as they raced to his or her gate.  I did this discreetly because it wasn’t supposed to draw attention to me, and I was not to hang around to see who got the note.

About thirty minutes before boarding, an announcement was made that our flight was overbooked. An airline employee asked for volunteers to step down and get on the next flight. My travel companion put our names on the list.  When he sat down next to me I said,

“What happens if we don’t get on our flight?”

“If they put us on another flight it will only be about an hour behind this one.  And, they will give us each a $400 flight voucher to be used within the next year to go wherever we want for free.”  I nearly fell out of my chair.  My prayer on the escalator was coming to pass!

The two of us waited while the rest of the passengers boarded.  As the crowd thinned, and we were the only passengers left, the lady behind the desk motioned for us to go ahead and board.

“We don’t need you to stay behind after all. Your seats are available. ”

With a heavy heart, I walked onto the plane with a despondent attitude dragging my carry on behind me like a dead weight.  After getting buckled in I began to text my daughter that went something like this:

“We are on the plane!  We didn’t get our free tickets.  I am coming home now.  I knew this stuff didn’t work!” My disappointment stemmed from the fact that I had been reading such marvelous stories about people who prayed for miracles and got what they had asked for.

I started thinking, I guess I am not good enough for a miracle. 

Out of no where a  flight attendant ran up the aisle toward the two of us yelling,

“Get off the plane!  Get off the plane!  Get off the plane!”

The shocked faces around us were too many to count, and we didn’t wait around to explain.  We frantically unbuckled, grabbed our belongings and scrambled for the door.  To those not knowing what was happening, we looked rather criminal.   Within moments a young dad was sprinting to our empty seats with two small children.

We were given two $400 flight vouchers to be used anywhere in the United States within the year and an allowance to enjoy free meals while we waited to catch the next flight.  We had secured our free flights, but now we needed to make the decision about where to go.

In April of the following year, we had not gone on our trip and both of us seemed rather undecided about what to do.  We had been told by the airline staff that we could not give the vouchers away.  We had to use them and no one else.  Only three months remained until the tickets would expire and it seemed like it wasn’t going to happen. Tired of trying to decide, I put my hand on both vouchers and asked for my request to be completed.

“I need somewhere to stay,” I said out loud.  I kept this to myself to see how it would work itself out. By the end of the week, I received a text from a family member with an offer to give us some of her timeshare days for free.  When she called to check on availability, she was told that nothing was open during the time we preferred.  Minutes later, the same person said,

“Oh, wait.  We just had something put back into the system.  We now have an opening for what you need.”  She went on to book a large condo that slept six with an ocean view, a full kitchen and two full bathrooms.

When we arrived to check-in we were early, but I decided to take my chances anyway.  Usually, check-in isn’t until four, and we had shown up at noon.  The representative behind the desk clicked away on her keyboard to locate our accommodations.  I was fully prepared to go back to the rental car and drive around for hours while waiting.

“It looks like your room is ready. Yours is the only one in the whole complex. Lucky you.”  I knew it wasn’t luck.

As I stood there in awe, my mind flashed back to the airport where I had placed my notes and bills so that others could have a brief moment of happiness.  In return, I was understanding something.  Giving had opened up a pathway for the divine to work on my behalf.  Giving cheerfully had brought back a reward to me that I would never have imagined.  For the first time, I felt and understood the connection.

oceanview

(The Gulf of Mexico..our view from our trip)

Days of the Weak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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