Changed

We used the food scale for weeks to accurately measure portion sizes, watching the digital readout grow dimmer by the second. Once in a while, it would flash a warning reading ‘Lo’ indicating that the batteries might be nearing the end of their existence. It was so worn down, it couldn’t even add the ‘w’ to make a complete word.

As with anything that isn’t blowing up or causing urgency, we kept using it, thinking it wasn’t being serious. It’s like when the gas light goes on in your car. You always have some time before you have to pay attention to it.

I don’t take my chances too long with the car, but it seems like it’s jumping the gun a bit when you have to deal with an issue with electronic devices. I could manage fine if I squinted just right and turned it, so the light wasn’t directly shining on the screen.

Even when I could hardly read if it measured in grams or ounces, I ignored it, and once it had given me what I needed, I would forget about it until the next time I had to use it.

“I really should put new batteries in this,” I would say with every single use with absolutely no intention of doing so.

History seems to repeat itself. I have never gotten a different outcome when I have lived on the edge in this way. I pushed the on button, and it remained silent. I hit it again, thinking I had not done it hard enough. No familiar beep meant the unthinkable. It had died.

How could it betray me like this after so much time of it running on fumes, trying to warn me it was on its way out?

I opened “the drawer.” Everyone has one where you keep items, but nothing resides in there that is useful for times like these.

You move aside keys you have no idea what they open, a flashlight that when you flick it on has the same affliction as the food scale and screws. Lots and lots of mismatched screws that belong to something somewhere, essential oils that have names like breathe easy and relax, glue sticks, charger cords that have gotten separated from whatever they are supposed to bring back to life, and underneath everything, you find that package of homeopathic stress mints.

You do get credit for that extra refrigerator light bulb because you bought it months ago and threw it in there, totally prepared for when that burns out.

You wade through it all on the hunt for the triple A’s that seem to disappear the minute you bring the package across the house’s threshold. You have double-A, C, and D. The square 9 volt. When was the last time you ever needed that? The tiny round ones that no one should ever swallow and the flat pancake-shaped offering that belongs to nothing in the whole house.

You are left with only one choice. Go around and start kidnapping what you need from the other devices you own. Because you don’t need one or two, this monster takes three. You swear on a stack of Bibles that you will replace them. Later, you use the remote for the tv, and it’s not working. Why? Because the food scale is now functioning at its best.

It’s not like you haven’t been near a display at the store where you could solve your problem. But it seems that your brain decides to have amnesia, making you forget you have a crisis at home where inanimate objects run your life and drain your energy.

This leads to getting so over the situation that you make a special trip to get them, buy them and find a stash you have put away in that ‘other’ drawer from the last time you did this.

It’s a fun game I don’t recommend playing.

While not only battery challenged, there’s another issue in my home that baffles the mind. No one except me will put a new roll of toilet paper on the holder. I don’t know where this started and how I became responsible for it; I must have signed a contract I am not aware of.

It’s not uncommon to see a new roll sitting next to the holder on the sink or an entire pile of them on the floor by where one needs to be placed. But, never, will it be hanging on display. Never.

When my daughters were younger, I thought maybe removing the old and putting on the new was not something they could handle, but no one lacks motor skills at this point. If they can brush their own hair and swipe a credit card, they can do this; I know it. So it can only mean one thing. I enabled it.

When I became aware of that, I did try to fight back by going on strike and not doing it anymore so that they would understand what it was like to be me. It was an ‘I will show them’ moment. No one seemed to notice, and it drove me to resume the job of replacing it. You just know when you are up against those who are more strong-willed than you are.

It makes one wonder how we get into the habits we do. According to those who have studied human behavior, it’s not always easy to break patterns we have established because they can become unconscious, making it difficult for us to see them in the first place, like fears, worries, and irrational thoughts.

When my youngest daughter was six, she went through a time of having nightmares. It was not uncommon for her to suddenly be next to my bed, waking me up, tormented, asking for me to come into her room and pray. I had the same thing happen when I was young, so I knew the feeling.

I would get her to calm down, remind her that she had protection around at all times, and she would get through it. This kept happening to her for a while, but then it suddenly stopped. When that occurs, you let it go because it means your prayers have been answered, and you get to go back to not being woken up by a frightened child.

Shortly after her bad dreams had ceased, I noticed one day that she put her finger to the middle of her forehead and pushed on it.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I am changing the disc in my head.”

She went on to tell me that one night, while terrified after another alarming middle of the night awakening, instead of having me help her, something told her to pretend she was putting a new movie into her mind. She followed the instructions she was given, and this cured the problem.

“I use it when I have thoughts I don’t like. It works on everything,” she said.

She told me it was like putting in a new DVD and went through the physical motion of pretending to take out something, put something new in, and push the spot on her forehead again. (This was well before all of the streaming services we have now)

Whether by angelic intervention or not, we can change how we process a situation. Once you realize that the way you are thinking is not serving you, that is the minute you can take over and put things in their proper order.

Another way to end the struggle within over outside circumstances is to do this from Romans 12:2:

Let God change your life. First of all, let Him give you a new mind. Then you will know what God wants you to do. And the things you do will be good and pleasing and perfect. (NLV)

Matthew 7:7-8 describes how you can do that:

Ask, and what you are asking for will be given to you. Look, and what you are looking for, you will find. Knock, and the door you are knocking on will be opened to you. Everyone who asks receives what he asks for. Everyone who looks finds what he is looking for. Everyone who knocks has the door opened to him. (NLV)

Pray and ask God to replace unhelpful ideas that play in your mind and hold you hostage. Like old batteries and empty toilet paper rolls, you can be changed.

Sometimes it looks like they are winning…
(Keep these buried in the drawer where the batteries that you need should be…You will have no problem swallowing all 30 of them at once)

Yucky Parts

Sometimes it’s the smallest of things that make you realize how much God sees the details. Heaven seems to show up at just the right time to remind you that you have done alright, no matter what memories you might have surface to say otherwise.

She handed me a book that I forgot I even had.

“Where was this?” I asked.

“In my room.”

That happens quite often where we share without me realizing it. But, if it had not been in my possession for that long, then I guess I didn’t really miss it.

I recognized the cover and title from a while ago. I had gone through this phase where I could not absorb enough about people experiencing miracles. It can help you to believe when you read about the circumstances of others, prompting you to follow those leads that God is always putting in front of you.

To say you don’t have any isn’t the truth. You have to get quiet, and one way to do so is to read material about the very thing that you are seeking. While memorizing scripture is excellent, sometimes you need to subject yourself to multiple stories where people of various walks of life have all had incredible things happen to them.

The unusual happenings in the Bible, from the parting of the Red Sea to Jonah being swallowed by ocean life, sometimes don’t seem relevant unless I am stuck in traffic and I need an act of God to move cars along so that I can get back to my real life. The whale thing doesn’t really coincide unless I have to tell someone bad news, and I would rather not. I don’t live where there are whales readily available, though.

What does resonate is when a mortgage gets paid off unexpectedly, a child is healed of an incurable disease, or someone escapes a life that was leading to destruction. The themes are generally the same, with a person needing an unseen hand to intervene and come to the rescue seemingly out of nowhere.

I think it’s difficult to imagine God doing that because we always believe that it’s for everybody else. Our neighbor might fit the bill up the street, but we aren’t good enough to have it happen to us.

Isn’t that what blocks the miracle? Not God, but us.

“I was told to give you that book, and you need to look in the front cover.”

“Why? I haven’t seen this for so long.”

“Just look.”

When she tells me to do something, I do it.

Inside the cover was a note from her that I had used as a bookmark. She had written this to me during the height of a very tormenting and dark time in my life. My marriage had turned into divorce, and I had to figure out somehow how to keep it all on track.

I was constantly concerned that I wasn’t doing enough or being a good mother while working three jobs at once and homeschooling. I struggled to keep a stable environment for them while the world around me looked nothing like it had before.

While some of the existing problems were now absent, a host of other troubles seemed to be cropping up all the time.

One way I can describe it was like walking into one of those rooms where the whole structure is built at an angle. You have to navigate your way through using force to lean and move. You might have to hang on to a few walls to get through it, and right when you think you can let go of the support, you start to fall again. In the middle of it all, you come to a new understanding regarding the instability of life.

Believe it or not, it’s a gift. You realize that what is here today can be quickly gone tomorrow.

I would be rushing through the living room, trying to get to the next responsibility on my list, and she would tackle me with her eight-year-old self. She knew I was faking my way through it all, hiding my pain and trying to convince everyone that all was well.

In a death grip, she wouldn’t let me go and would repeatedly say,

“You are strong, mom. You are strong.”

I learned not to fight to get away because, one, it was pointless because she would suddenly have an iron hold on me that I could not release myself from. She would have both of her arms wrapped around my legs, making it impossible for me to move.

I know it sounds strange, but I had to stand still against my will when this happened. After a few times, I realized that God was speaking to me through her.

I felt the exact opposite of what she was saying. Totally weak and broken down, I was running on fumes, forcing myself out of bed every day, fearing that I would not be able to keep up with it all. And in the chaos of that, I had this shorter version of me stopping me in my tracks, giving me the advice I would give anyone else I saw in the same situation.

I had taught her without knowing it.

When I gave my life to God, I made it my mission to make sure both of my girls understood its importance. I didn’t want them walking the same trail that I had, not knowing who God really was. There were pitfalls along the way as we all learned, and still do, what spirituality really means. My goal was to have God be real to them, not some fictional guy in a book. And here it was on full display as she forced me to take a minute to listen.

“You are strong, mom. You are strong.”

One time, I said to her,

“Our house has been destroyed. Your dad is gone.” I thought that would make her quit doing this. It was inconvenient most of the time.

She looked me in the eye and said with much assertiveness and on the verge of anger,

“He is my real Father!” She pointed up. I couldn’t argue with that, and she made me stand there longer than usual. I learned not to be resistant to it anymore.

When I look at what she wrote back then, I can see now what she meant. Those sessions of making me stop what I was doing were times that God infused me with the strength I needed to go on. I just didn’t know it then like I do now.

She brought to life this verse from Psalm 46:10 that says:

Be still and know that I am God.

Sometimes when you look in the rearview mirror of your life, you see that all isn’t lost. It makes sense now.

In those places that seem impossible to endure, something is changing on the inside of you.

She and I went to a yoga class at a very early hour on a Saturday when the temperature was fourteen below. The drive was nearly forty minutes away, but the class was free, and there would be a litter of puppies.

“I want to go to this,” she said.

I did, and I didn’t. I know dogs and me, and I will want them all. I wasn’t so sure I could do all the moves either, but I was willing to try. Above all of that, I can never say no to her.

As we progressed through a flow of maneuvers that required balancing, many in the class around us were trying not to fall over.

“Relax your face as you move along,” the instructor said randomly with her back to us as she demonstrated, and we followed.

Immediately a woman in the back row said,

“I feel called out,” and started to laugh.

When it got quiet, and all of us were shaking uncontrollably, trying to stay upright while forcing our muscles to be more productive, the leader said,

“Breathe through the yucky parts. You are becoming a better person.”

If I have learned anything, you must know that God is holding your hand, everything will work out when you think it won’t, and now is the time to breathe through the yucky parts.

(I’m not crying..YOU are crying….)

Combination

She opened the refrigerator, and a plastic container flew out and hit the floor with a loud smack. The force of the impact made the lid disengage. The contents then were free to splash upward toward the poor unfortunate soul who was standing nearby with clean clothes on.

His pants were immediately covered in some sort of leftover that I am sure he would have instead had presented to him on a plate. We all stood in shock as he had both of his hands outstretched, looking down in horror at the red meat sauce that was rapidly seeping inward past the outer layer into deeper regions.

She sprang into action to attend to the spill, totally focused on that, not really coming to his aid. He had just been involved in an unwanted food fight and now stood immobile, not wanting to traipse the problem through the living room carpet to get a change of clothes.

While she was absorbed in trying to reign in the mess that had splattered the walls, cupboards, and doors, his annoyance was on the rise at her lack of attention toward him.

“Wipe me! Wipe me!” He suddenly yelled.

My brother, ever the quick-witted comedian, passed by and said,

“I would never want to do that!” Clearly with a different scenario in his mind. He dropped that comment and darted away.

This made my mom burst out laughing to the point of not being able to get up off the kitchen floor.

“Jean! Get up right now!” He ordered.

She laughed louder. She loved physical comedy, and once something struck her as humorous, it would be a while.

As she became more caught up in laughing, he kept on hollering, trying to snap her back to reality. While he swore through the entire process, she could not control what had overtaken her. Finally, she just threw the wet rag in her hand at him and let him start on disengaging himself from the problem.

It must have been contagious because suddenly, he started laughing with her. It was one of many odd things I saw happen between the two of them. I stood there, not knowing if I was witnessing anger or joy.

On another occasion, she came out of the laundry room hysterically laughing, trying to tell me something.

“Your dad…he..he…” she tried so hard to say what was going on, and she couldn’t. Taking a deep breath, she said,

“He was outside staining wood.”

“Okay.”

She had to pause between each sentence to get it out.

“He took this big lid off and set it aside.”

Another round of bent over laughing.

“He sat on the lid!”

“What?”

After many minutes of questions, I pieced together the facts that he had forgotten he had set a lid on a chair and then sat down for a second. When he felt wetness soaking in, he jumped up and raced for the house for her help.

“He has a huge brown target on his butt! You have to come to see this!”

I only got up to help her in case she was not capable. It was almost identical to the sauce incident with him standing there helpless and her not functioning.

“Is it bad?” He asked me with his back to me.

“I think those are going to have to go in the garbage,” I said while she hung on to my shoulder, doubled over in a silent giggle.

“Jean! You have to help me get these off!”

The minute I heard that I was out. Like, bye.

From the other room, I heard her say,

“You actually have stained your skin! Like a big tattoo!”

She never understood the art of telling someone terrible news slowly. She just blurted it out like that, which caused him to go into orbit.

“I have to go in for my physical exam! What will the doctor think?”

“Maybe if I scrub it with cold water. That might help!”

This is when I cut off my visualization skills. There are just some things you don’t even want to see in your mind’s eye. In moments such as this, I didn’t want to possess the ability to have insight. I hit the pause button mentally.

“That is freezing cold!” I heard him screech.

“It’s not coming off!” She said, delivering more bad news.

Cue the cuss words. And more laughing. The blending of these two individuals never ceased to amaze me.

It wasn’t always him having bad luck either. Sometimes it was caused by his own doing.

“I hit him right between the eyes with a spoon one time.”

“Why?”

“I was eating cereal, and he said something that I didn’t like. I was pregnant.”

That would do it, simple as that.

Other times, he did fall prey to unexpected circumstances inflicted upon him by her hand.

One time, he had just sat down to eat this massive plate of food. This man would take his time doing this. Seasoning things. Moving slowly like he was getting it ready for a magazine shoot.

She tripped on her way past him with a bottle of wine in her hand. She fell directly on him, pouring the entire contents on his plate. He was so taken by surprise that he still had his fork in his hand above her head while my brother quickly whisked his plate away, saying,

“You’re done!”

He had not taken one bite.

“What. The. Hell,” was all he said as she laid there laughing, crumpled upon him.

This went on for years.

“John, do you want a cookie?”

“No.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“Yes, you don’t want one, or yes, you want one?”

By now, she had lost him as he was in the middle of watching something.

“John!”

“What?”

“Is that yes or no?”

“For what?”

“A cookie! Do you want one?”

“I already said no.”

“I thought you changed your mind.”

He was gone again.

“Are you sure?”

“About what?”

Feeling that she wasn’t getting through to him, she placed herself and the container of cookies in front of him.

“I can’t see around you!”

“Are you sure you don’t want a cookie?”

Right as he was about to answer again, the entire thing fell out of her hands, and every single cookie landed on his lap.

“Leave me be, woman!” He shouted like he was casting a demonic entity out of his presence.

As she scrambled to pick them up, the laughter and the swearing again.

The other day I was talking to him about heaven. I have seen it and was giving him details.

“Mom is there, right?”

“Yes.”

And you would think with their history, he might not want to spend eternity with her. Life on earth just might have been enough.

“That’s good. I miss her.”

For all the times they were in conflict or nearly at their wit’s end with one another, there always was and still is this invisible chord that kept them together. Not once since her transition has he wanted anyone else in his life. Some would say that he finally has peace and quiet.

But he was very adamant with me when she first went on to heaven.

“I will not ever be married to anyone ever again. She was it.”

So all I can do is make him remember the funny moments that maybe weren’t so humorous to him then. But now, he sees it for what it really was.

One of the morning routines that they adhered to was that she would get up early, ahead of him, but she didn’t let him rely on his alarm to wake him up.

She would always say,

“John, it’s time.” And raise the shade to blind him with light first thing.

“I hated that so much!” He told me once. But she did it every day.

I have a feeling that when God calls him up, he will hear that familiar voice saying,

“John. It’s time.”

Some things you look at and think, who decided that this would be good? Like waffles and syrup. Who conjured that up? I think a lot of people are glad it exists.

And while I didn’t always understand them, and I still really don’t, I am grateful that God decided to put them together into a weird, sometimes ugly, but purposeful combination.

Clue

“I want to see Miss Scarlett in the billiard room with the wrench.”

There was shuffling of cards as she searched for one of the three so I could mark it off. If she produced nothing, then her sister would have to show me what she had.

We went around the mansion, taking turns rolling dice, trying to land on a space that would give us access to a door. We would use a secret passage to speed things along where a player can instantly move from one room to another. Then the accusation could be given. Ultimately, you want to be the first to reveal which of the characters became a cold-hearted killer.

It could be Mrs. Peacock taking a rope and strangling her victim in the kitchen when he got on her last nerve and asked for the salt shaker.

Or Mr. Green lost his temper and took out a lead pipe in a jealous rage to do away with his enemy in the study while he read a world map. Unknowingly, the next destination was the afterlife.

I didn’t realize in the original game he was known as a Reverand. The title was removed because it sent the wrong message that a church leader could go insane and commit a crime. That would be too shocking for the public to handle with a board game.

Professor Plum’s character always seemed shady to me. I wouldn’t be caught dead with him in a conservatory late at night if I met him in real life. Who knows when he would pull out that candlestick and end my existence while I was looking at a botanical?

Colonel Mustard seemed like he could at any moment take out a revolver, and without a second thought, blow away whoever was standing next to him in the lounge while drinking his scotch.

Other characters were considered, but Mrs. Silver, Miss Grey, Mr. Gold, and Mr. Brown did not make the final cut.

When she revealed her card, I was able to take it off the list. And so, by deduction, we were on the move to hunt down the culprit and figure out where, who and what was involved.

When everything is set up at the beginning of the game, three piles of cards are made with weapons, rooms, and suspects. One of each is drawn and placed in a golden-colored mystery envelope in the center of the board. The most alarming thing for me was discovering that my character had been murdered by one of the others playing with me.

How dare they take me out when they depend on me for everything in life? They just callously knife me while I am in the hall, lost and wandering because I don’t even know the hall’s purpose. Isn’t a hall just something that is used to get to somewhere else?

I kept calling off names, rooms, and weapons during one game and kept coming up with no answers. With confidence, she ticked off all her answers, moved along, and closed in on the solution to put us to shame. I usually go with a specific strategy to get to the bottom of what is happening by eliminating one variable at a time.

But, I was coming up short. So, I kept asking for the same items or people multiple times to be sure that I hadn’t overlooked something.

“Something isn’t right,” I said after exhausting all my tactics. “There is a problem with this.”

“What?” she asked.

We had been playing for a while, and there should have been a conclusion to this by now.

“You don’t think something is missing? I keep trying to determine who did this, and there are two instead of one on my list. I have asked for every single one of them.”

She glanced down and looked at her paper with her name at the top, where she had been marking off her guesses. Both of my girls are very artistic, so their papers always have artwork all over them.

They can’t sit without drawing flowers, dogs, cats, and everything else they can think of. They are so talented that I could sell their art to pay off the mortgage.

It didn’t seem like she thought anything was wrong. So, we played on until I couldn’t take it anymore.

“I think maybe I put an extra card in the envelope when we started. We aren’t going to solve this.”

I had to quit the game and look at what had been set aside. There were only three cards like there should have been.

“I don’t get it,” I said. I showed her my findings, and she showed me hers.

“I think we have a card that has gone missing, so this would have never ended. Without that one suspect, we cannot come to the right conclusion.”

It was somewhat disappointing, and I thought about going online and buying the vanishing card. As I picked up the game, I noticed it underneath the board. Somehow, as we had put it all out, one of the suspects had hidden himself there.

I saw another rendition where you can lie through it unless the other players hit this big red button and challenge what you are saying. Your body language and facial expressions have to look genuine and go undetected as false by others around you to succeed.

I don’t think many of us would admit out loud how dishonest we really are. I am not talking about flat-out telling lies but living in a way that is not entirely what we want. We fake our way through things to keep the peace and make others comfortable even though we are miserable. If you do that long enough, it starts to feel normal.

In another version, the murderer is at large and can take you out before you figure out who they are. It’s a race against the clock to see if you can escape. You are in constant danger, dodging the fatal blow that will end your life.

I have had those situations in real life without realizing how close I had come to being a victim. It takes strong discernment to see the truth and to act on it.

One evening, I was out working in my yard, and a man approached with a clipboard.

“Do you have cable?”

“Yes,” I said.

“I think I can offer you a better deal.”

There was something about him that made me uncomfortable. It was starting to get dark, and I was near my garage.

“I am happy with what I have,” I said. He advanced closer to me, and I moved a few inches away.

I realized that no one was around, and all the houses were closed up.

“I think you should switch to my plan,” he said.

“I have said I am not interested.”

I moved enough so that he could clearly see that I was not at all needing him to go any further.

“I think you will like this better,” he said, coming into my garage.

I had my phone in my pocket, so I took it out.

“I have asked you to leave. If you don’t, I will call for help.”

I moved away again.

“I think you should take into consideration what I am saying.”

I started dialing.

When the 911 operator answered, he was sprinting down the sidewalk. I explained what had happened, and they sent a police officer my way. Those are the moments when you realize you have angels, and you need to have the best spiritual ears ever.

Friends may betray you, just like your opponent in a game of mayhem, and it’s going to hurt. Maybe they kill you with their gossip about you or slander your character, make unfair judgments, and spread it around. You will have to overcome unfair conditions as you walk through them, but God will show you where you have grown into a new person at the end of all of that.

The one thing that is clear if you ask God for help, it will come. In Jeremiah 33:3 it says,

This is God’s Message, the God who made earth, made it livable and lasting, known everywhere as God: Call to me, and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own. (Message)

When life gets confusing, and nothing makes sense, send out a prayer, ask God for insider information, and listen as heaven will send the most valuable clue.

(Don’t let the Hall fool you…it’s not really a hall..it’s a room with no point…)
(Miss Scarlett was always a problem..)

Illusion

“Do you see the penny?”

“Yes,” I said.

I knew what was coming next because my brothers had shown me this trick repeatedly. The shiny copper piece would be held before my eyes to ensure I watched. The master was performing it, though, and he had taught the three of them how to do it.

“Now watch. I’m going to rub it into my elbow.”

When I think about it now, that’s the most ridiculous thing I could ever imagine falling for. Why not involve his kneecap? What was so magical about his elbow? A magician has to use whatever he can to get his audience to be receptive.

So he would start to move his hand with the coin in it, but he would drop it at least three times to keep my full attention. He would pretend to be clumsy, let it loudly rattle on the table, and have to start the process all over again.

Then, it would totally disappear. The hand it had been in would be empty. He would take the other hand, put it up to my ear and say,

“It’s right here!” And it would materialize out of thin air. I hadn’t felt a thing, so how could that happen? If I had money stashed away that close by, life would have been so much easier.

“Do you want to see it again?” He would ask.

“Yes,” I would say because I thought I had missed something. My dad could do that at least 100 times, and it was like watching it for the first time.

As I got out of my preschool years, I wanted to know how he manipulated it, but he wouldn’t show me. The other day I said,

“Here. Teach me how to do that disappearing thing you used to do.” I handed him a dime.

“What? That’s so ancient! I can’t remember that, Chris.”

“You better. I have waited a long time for you to tell me this. It will come back to you.”

He dropped the dime I had given him multiple times due to his shaky hands, not for the show. But it did all flood into his memory as he went through the motions.

“So you switched hands,” I said. I demonstrated it to him.

“I never showed you how I did that?”

“No.”

“Now it spoils it for you. It takes away the mystery. But now you can baffle people.”

“Baffle, huh? Really? I wouldn’t say anyone would be in awe of that unless they are really naive.”

He laughed.

“But it does take away the secret of it.”

It wasn’t the first time I had been told the truth about something that had seemed so real.

I was led to think that Santa would show up every Christmas Eve. Presents from him would always appear in the living room while I was in the basement. I was the last one of the kids to accept this, and the others never said a word. They let me have the experience just like they had.

I trusted that what I heard was true. I equated Santa with God. So when my mom announced to me on Christmas Eve that he wasn’t real, I thought she was joking. When it became clear that she wasn’t lying to me, I wondered if everything else I had been told was accurate.

It wasn’t difficult to be in a religious organization and lack a closeness with God. And this upsetting news made it easy for me to question everything. It wasn’t that I had been fooled into a myth, it was how I was told and when. The timing of it was not ideal for a seven-year-old.

When unpleasant things happen, you can decide not to repeat history, and that was my goal with my girls. Because of my disappointment long ago, I chose to skip the traditional man in the red suit coming down the chimney. Instead, I always hid a gift that they had to find. Because after all, the element of surprise was the aim. There were a few wrinkles to iron out, however.

I found out that the game of hot and cold was a challenge for my oldest. As she got closer to what she was seeking, and I would say, “You are burning up,” she would suddenly run away as if she were in danger. It took a few times for her to understand that cold wasn’t what she wanted. I had spent years telling her not to touch a hot stove, so that’s where I think the confusion came in. So, we pressed on, and I had to undo some of my parental training so she could find her elusive item.

I made sure to reiterate not to run with scissors, though.

“You are ruining Christmas!” A family member said who learned of my rouge departure from the iconic Christmas character. I got a tongue lashing on how horrible I was for taking away all the ‘fun’ out of the holiday. There was another person nearby who agreed with my stance, but they suddenly lost their ability to speak, so I withstood the beat down.

I didn’t listen. I bought a book that explained the place St. Nicholas took in history as a generous man who made sure that the poor were cared for. I educated my girls to know who he really was, not the one depicted in movies or cartoons.

I told them both to never ruin it for others but keep it to themselves.

“Santa isn’t real,” said my youngest daughter at the age of three, out loud to her friend as they looked at a display at a mall. Before I could clamp my hand over her mouth to stop more from spilling out, her friend said,

“Oh, I know! That’s Santa’s helpers. That isn’t the real Santa, silly!”

There is a God.

I wondered at times if I was damaging them somehow by not adhering to age-old rules. Was I stripping them of something that others were participating in and they were not? There were small indications along the way that I wasn’t completely destroying their childhood.

“I’m buying this so I will get a Nintendo DS.”

My oldest daughter showed me a game that only could be played on that particular handheld device. At the age of twelve, she set the intention and expected it; soon, she got it. She applied her faith, and the money she needed to buy it showed up.

My youngest daughter was sitting on my lap during a magic show when she was four years old. The guy on stage would hold out his hands, and doves would suddenly fly out. I watched as she put her hands together, trying to recreate what he was doing. It was the beginning of her understanding that she could make things appear that hadn’t been there before.

Throughout the years, I tried to model for them what this verse meant from Hebrews 11:1,

What is faith? It is the confident assurance that something we want is going to happen. It is the certainty that what we hope for is waiting for us, even though we cannot see it up ahead. (Living Bible)

During tough times, I would write down what I needed God to do for me. Like a Christmas list, mine had things on it, such as getting the house repainted, the dishwasher fixed, and money for a car repair. I wanted them to understand that prayer doesn’t only operate during a season, but it is always available to stream to us what we need. There were times I had no idea how problems would be solved, but I let them know I was giving it to God, so they could do the same.

The idea that we can ask for help from an entity outside ourselves is prevalent. It seems to have been downloaded right into our DNA.

Instead of having them put their hopes in a legend, I had them look to the One who owns it all and have lifelong, genuine communication with heaven, which is real and not an illusion.

(He is a good second place, though)

Still Learning

Her gaze was unyielding as she looked at me and said,

“You can do this. You have it in you.”

She squeezed my hand and smiled.

“How many children do you have?”

“A four year old and a baby,” I replied.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake! That would be simple. I have six children! And we have done just fine. You will too.”

Even though I smiled and nodded, I think she spotted the uncertainty in my eyes.

“You really can do this. Trust that you can do anything.”

With that, she handed me cash for her items she had purchased at my garage sale and left. It was as if she had been sent as a confirmation to all the other messages I had received. For weeks leading up to our meeting, every time I turned the dial on the radio or changed the channel on the television I was confronted with the subject but had tried to dismiss it.

The question that hung over my head was: Did I have what it would take to home school?

There were those who would question the socialization of my daughters as if they were living life in a cave sequestered away from “the real world.” And, by what right did I have to educate them when I lacked a teaching degree but had successfully completed high school along with a B.A. in Psychology? Would the kids resent me later for not sending them to school?  Was I damaging them for life?

Despite these terrifying thoughts, this woman’s words penetrated my heart that I could take on the task of home education and successfully raise two strong, intelligent women. Her encouragement brought about a clear cut decision so much so that I began working that summer with my preschooler on workbooks just to test the waters.

It proved to be that it was the right direction to go, and the following year when she was to board a school bus, she was at home sounding out consonants and coming to understand vowels. One of her favorite subjects was reading out loud to me as she walked around the room with her book. I had heard that for some kids, learning came easier for them when not chained to a desk. So as she fluttered about the room, I helped her get a grip on simple sentences and story lines.  At times, I had to draw things on paper to keep her attention, and I am the first to admit that I lack the skill to draw, however, despite this, she discovered ideas about American history.  As we progressed, I bought curriculum packages that had captivating photography and hands on learning to enhance the experience.

Because of a four year age gap between the two girls, I started kindergarten all over again as the older one moved into third grade. This began what I called my “ping pong ball” years where I would bounce between the two to answer questions to clear up brain fog.  While just finishing up in one room I would hear these phrases called out,

“Mom! I don’t get this!”

“I think I am done with this!”

“Mom, what is this?!”

And so my days were consumed with explanations and at times reading my teaching manuals to be sure I was giving out accurate information.  I always had the inner critic telling me that I wasn’t equipped to do it, that I was missing something, and that someone else could do the job better than I could.

In between the studies, we regularly attended group activities that included field trips and specialty classes.  At one point, I was helping plan day trips, writing a newsletter and teaching gym classes to various ages. While one was in ice skating, the other was in dance. Sometimes, we had to do “car school” as we ran from one event to the next. For those who think isolation is inherent to teaching kids outside of school, think again. There were days I longed for quiet time.

So the years rolled on and my first daughter graduated. It was at this point that I realized I only had four years left. It felt like a lifetime in front of us until it wasn’t.

This past week, I sent in the final progress reports to the private school that my youngest child has been apart of. All of her online classes had been viewed and all the book work completed. It was a mixture of sheer joy but also a tinge of sadness like saying goodbye to a friend for good.

It seems unreal to say she is done. I am done. We are finished.

Add to this unconventional way of living the fact that she requested not to have a celebration at home but wanted to go to Hawaii to see the ocean for the first time in her life.

While waiting for take off, I kept wondering where the time had gone and how did I find myself on a plane bound for paradise? Wasn’t it just yesterday that we were learning to color and tell time? I glanced across the aisle at the two who seemed much at ease with leaving behind the old for a new adventure. Youth can somehow do that a little easier than those who have put a few years on.

I looked at my bottle of water and recalled the science lessons on evaporation and how liquids become solids. How we planted seeds in the garden and sprinkled them daily with the hose. How excited they both were to watch the progress of a plant sprout and spread out into a big sunflower in the garden.  Just like them.  How they have grown so much while I thought I was paying attention.

As we took flight, I glanced out my window that took me back to our days of geography and learning about cities and various terrain. Using colored pencils to shade in maps that would help solidify learning for those of us who aren’t so knowledgeable on what country exits on what part of the globe.

All of these things have been on my mind as I don’t know how to fill in the gap of home schooling that has been a part of my house for nearly eighteen years.  The realization has come that just because I was led to complete a short term mission in life doesn’t make it mine forever.

That is the key.  We get caught up in the idea that what we have today will be here tomorrow.   There is a grieving that makes us automatically feel empty and unsure about what to do next when the ‘for sure thing’ no longer exists.  This is the space where we have to make a decision to either see it as a negative or a positive.  I could say,

It has ended,” and spend my time crying in a corner.  Or I can say,

“This is just the beginning of something good coming up next.”  

We all got out of bed at five a.m. to drive to a beach the other day.  Not my normal routine, but when in Hawaii, you do things you usually wouldn’t.  As I stood on the shore and watched the sunrise, I understood.  Some would say that the night had ended, and some would say that the day had begun. Simultaneously, both events were happening and one couldn’t happen without the other.   It’s the natural order of how God has created life to be.  To fight against it mentally really is unnecessary.  We cannot change the ebb and flow of certain situations, but we can chose to see ourselves as instruments to be used  to impart love to our families, our friends and to humanity.  Just because something has come to a halt doesn’t mean that we are washed up or unnecessary.  We are agents waiting with open hearts ready to take on our next assignment for the greater good.  We are meant to expand and develop more understanding as time passes in order to be complete and whole.

“When is high tide?” I asked my daughter as we stood on a beach.

“I don’t know.”

“When is low tide?”

“I don’t know,” she said.

“Me either.”

We looked at each other puzzled.

“How can we not know this?” I said grabbing my cellphone to look it up. All these years of schooling and neither one of us could recall the information.

That says to me that just because the school bell has rung one final time doesn’t mean that we aren’t still learning.

 

sunshine

 

 

A Mother’s Pledge

We met when she was thirty-six. I didn’t know it, but she had five children in her care. By the time we became acquainted, the first four kids were thirteen, twelve, eleven and ten while the fifth one was headed for the age of seven. Unaware of the fact that she cooked, cleaned, washed laundry, cared for the sick when a pandemic swept through the house, made school lunches, and stitched up holes in clothes, I was just another one to round it all out by being the sixth.

She thought her pregnancy years were behind her, but I showed up to let her know she was wrong. According to one of my sisters, after she got home from the doctor and she had learned of her state of affairs, she wasn’t quite herself. She removed her coat, stood and stared out the picture window overlooking the street and absent mindlessly began to remove her blouse button by button. Her idea was to change into more casual clothes but she forgot she was not in the privacy of her bedroom. She was stopped before she got too far and brought back to her senses. She laughed at herself, but it was quite apparent that she was in some form of shock.

It must have been rough to be up at night with a newborn only to have the alarm sound at five a.m. to get breakfast ready so that everyone could be out the door on time for school. Once the house was quiet, much of her time was spent cleaning and making beds. Before she knew it, they were all back home.

As the years went by, life didn’t get any less difficult as everyone had after school sports, activities and jobs. Supper became like a restaurant shift where some had to eat early and others had to eat late. When I was four, she was in the height of carting people from various destinations before everyone had their license to drive or owned their own car.

The one thing she never wavered on was her appearance. No matter the stress, she always wanted to be out in public looking her best with hair combed and clothes neat. She didn’t want the world to see a disheveled woman who looked like she didn’t have it all together.

I always went along in the station wagon while she drove around town. While she was dropping one off, she usually was picking up another. I tried to stick close to her side as she always seemed in a rush during this process, and I didn’t want to get left behind in the chaos.

“Chrissy, we have to go,” she said as she walked through the living room. This meant I was to put away my toys and prepare to leave.  Because of our hectic life, she generally spoke in short sentences to get her point across without explanation.

“Time to get up.”  “Clean your room.”  “Go to your room.” “Go help your dad.”  “Go to sleep.”

I followed her into her bedroom as usual while she went to her dresser. She looked at her reflection in the mirror and began fixing her hair with her hands quickly. I could tell by her movements she was in a hurry. She grabbed a can and sprayed in circles all around her head to be sure all strands would stay in place.  This was the era of big hair and complicated styles requiring many applications of high powered aerosol. She gave herself one quick look and then turned to see me standing waiting for her.

“What smells like lemons?” she asked me.

I didn’t understand, and I didn’t answer. She sniffed the air to try and detect where the odor was coming from.  I saw her eyebrows come together.

“Oh, no!” she exclaimed. “I can’t believe it!”  Her mouth was wide open.

She spun around and glanced at the product she had just used.

“Furniture polish! I just sprayed myself with lemon furniture polish!  I thought it was hairspray!”

We raced out the door with my mother smelling like an end table.

When a woman becomes a mom, there is an invisible document that is signed within the sight of God where an oath is taken to let bits and pieces of oneself go while caring for the family.  It stretches us to our limits at times but in that process we begin to see how wide and deep our love can go. There are moments of such great frustration followed immediately by dandelion bouquets and sloppy hugs in which all is forgiven.

Our world is so fast paced you might not always recognize those who are working in the trenches, and often times, it is subtle. But, the next time you see a mom out in the store patiently dealing with a screaming toddler, stop for a minute and realize how blessed you are that you have just come into contact with someone who has taken a mother’s pledge.

 

mom

(The other thing…it was never too early to begin your first real novel.  Her favorite hobby is reading)

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

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