Water Into Wine

Please see the post Whiny as this is a continuation of that one.

Sometimes you don’t understand the reason for the adversity, or maybe you see the lesson in it, but God expands it further.

The following morning, after being made to feel unwelcome at the pickle court, we drove back, hoping the group that had only been there on Tuesdays hadn’t returned.

As I pulled around the familiar corner, we saw their cars lined up, so we knew it wasn’t worth the effort to try. I wasn’t going to try to negotiate anything.

Some would say,

“Witness to them! Share God’s love with them! Maybe God wants you to play doubles!”

Another voice says, maybe that lady is right. Maybe you are disrespectful.

When met with so much greed and negativity, it’s easier just to make yourself out to be the bad guy. You start to question if you did the right thing or not.

My daughter’s comment that “humanity is sad” led her also to say,

“I’m not going to live my life on their schedule.”

How could we possibly try to figure out what time to show up? Even if I got there at 3 am, they were so possessive and controlling that I swear they would start to appear from the woods like the zombies from Night of the Living Dead.

Instead of my body, they would want my pickleball space.

“Maybe we are supposed to be doing something else,” she said as we watched them happily play with all the people they associated with. There was no room in their agenda to let us in, and I felt I didn’t want to be “in.”

Just as I had sensed the other day, it was their way or the highway, which was why I felt such a clash. I didn’t match up to the attitude, the spirit, or frequency they operated on.

A lot of us try to “fit in.” We conform and scrunch ourselves down to meet others at their level while becoming a shell of ourselves. When you do that, you miss another opportunity God has for you. From toxic people and dead-end jobs, whatever fills up a place that doesn’t bring you life, it’s taking up the spot of something or someone who could.

“I’m going back to where we started,” I told her as I left.

I felt this strong pull to abandon a situation in which I would never make a dent. It would be me beating my head against a wall. I tried and got absolutely nowhere the day before. Sometimes it’s dark, and God isn’t asking you to be the light at that moment.

Jesus said in Matthew 10:14:

When you knock on a door, be courteous in your greeting. If they welcome you, be gentle in your conversation. If they don’t welcome you, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way. (Message)

So I shrugged.

The familiar streets and the houses I used to walk by on my way to elementary school brought a sense of peace. The park I used to ride my bike to all summer long, where I played softball, was quiet.

This is where she and I tried to play weeks ago when we had no idea what we were doing. The asphalt is nothing special compared to what we had just had the luxury of using, but I knew I was in the right place.

The city marked tan lines over the white ones used for tennis. It’s not pretty and brightly multicolored. It’s cracked with weeds starting to run all over it.

“I will deal with weeds and cracks at this point just to have the enjoyment of playing.”

A retired couple was doing yard work, and I immediately saw the mourning dove perched on the high wire singing. Those are always a reminder to me that my grandma is close by. Her North Dakota yard was filled with them, and their sad song troubled me when I was little.

“I don’t like those woo birds,” I told her. Every time I heard one, I felt this lonesome feeling that I had difficulty explaining when I was a kid.

“Chrissy,” she said smiling, “that’s just how they sing. It’s nothing to be scared of.”

From that day on, she called them “woo birds” with a slight laugh, and her explanation made me not fear them.

I had noticed it before when we had played here, and now it was back in the same spot. Watching.

We began to play, and I realized how far along we had come from those weeks prior when I had to tape up her arm for tennis elbow. We had learned a lot.

“Does this hurt?” I asked when I tried to remove the first piece. I had helped her apply black tape, the type you see all the Olympians wearing while they tough out an injury to play.

“No.”

I took more off. There was no wincing.

“How about now?”

“No,” she replied calmly.

I thought maybe it was like one of those no-stick bandaids. And with no signs of pain, I ripped it across the rest of the way. That’s when the screaming started, but I was in mid-rip, so the momentum carries you.

“You took off all of my DNA!”

“You said it didn’t hurt!”

“Not at first!”

“Do you want me to put another piece on?”

“NO! I will do it!”

I wasn’t getting by pain-free either. Those first few sessions had left my lower body in agony that would strike, especially when I went up or down stairs. Epsom salts and the tub became my best friend.

That was all behind us now as we had gotten stronger and faster.

“That ball hit this crack over here,” she said. I had traded the superior for not as good, so I did what I always did. I prayed. As the hoo bird was my witness, I said,

“God, have the city fill in these cracks and get all these weeds out of here. I command it in the name of Jesus that they clean this up for us.”

That was it. We played, she won, and we switched sides.

I listened to the elderly couple talk and laugh with each other as she weed whipped, and he picked up sticks and branches. What a great antidote to the ugly behavior I had seen the day before.

Within moments, a city truck pulled up, and a man came to the fence.

I was attempting to return a ball.

“That hit the crack, and I still got it over,” I said to my opponent, who can beat me at every game now that her elbow is healed.

“That’s why I’m here. I just sprayed weed killer not long ago, and now I’m back to assess how I can fix this up.”

I told him what had happened at the other court.

“Pickleball players, especially the older ones, can be very mean.”

One of the comments made to me the day before was how “nasty” I was when pickleball was a sport that was always so nice. It was an attempt to bad-mouth me.

“You run into mean people?” I asked.

“Yes.”

There’s another location he services that has courts like the one we had been kicked off of.

“They are not nice. They act like they own that place,” he said.

I had tried to reason nicely, and because I hadn’t given in, I was also called disrespectful. So I wasn’t a bad person, and his description sounded like what I had said to the woman. Territorial.

“We like to play, and I will play here no matter how awful it is to avoid all that meanness.”

“I will work on this,” he said. “I can make this nicer.”

“Don’t make it too nice. Keep it kind of crappy, so it doesn’t get taken over,” I said.

“I will try,” he said, smiling.

Before I left, I introduced myself to the happy couple working in their yard. Even while they were engaged in manual labor, they would stop every so often, talk, and start to laugh.

“You two don’t seem like you are working. You seem happy together.”

As he slathered on sunscreen, he said,

“You don’t see us all the time,” sending her into another round of laughing.

The next day when we returned, he yelled,

“Good morning, ladies!” as he jumped in his truck and drove away.

And just like that, God turned water into wine.

Peace and happiness no matter what…

Remaining To Be Seen

How many times did I have to hear her tell this story? It was ingrained in my mind, and I didn’t fully believe it. It would come out of nowhere, and it made me uncomfortable sometimes because it gave off the idea that I was “special.” I didn’t want to be perceived as that.

“Your dad thought you were going to be a boy, and I knew we were going to have another girl.”

This is how the soliloquy always started. She would get this far-off look and go back in time.

“We chose your name because we knew we could go either way with it, and you were destined to either be a Christine or a Christopher.”

When I started printing my name, I realized the first part looked like a major holiday. She displayed all of the cards after getting them in the mail. I took one of them to her and said,

“Is Christmas named after me?”

I pointed out the first five letters. If she said yes, my life at six years old was about to change for the better.

“No. It’s named after Christ and not Christine.”

What a major disappointment!

“The “mas” part means mass. So together, it means Christ’s Mass, and to celebrate his birth.”

This is why I was at church on Christmas Eve at midnight, trying not to fall asleep. I would never make kids do that if it was named after me. There would have been one present after another, candy and no school, ever for the rest of our lives. Instead, it was a hot environment with lung-burning incense and words spoken in Latin in low monotone voices. That was a tranquilizer right there.

“Your dad was so sure that you were going to be a boy that he went out and bought a set of infant pajamas that said little slugger on them. He wanted a boy to play baseball.”

Somehow his wish was granted. I played softball for eight years, and he was at every single game.

He was so accustomed to having three sons ahead of me; he tried to lure me into the fold. I think he secretly wanted to outnumber the girls and get an advantage over my mother.

If I didn’t want to eat something, he would look at me and say,

“Chris, eat that! It will put hair on your chest!”

“John! Don’t tell her that! She really won’t eat it now!”

She was right because I visualized everything. I was not about to leave that table looking like a gorilla because he convinced me to eat beets. No way.

I watched every football game with him, and he always had me open the numbers that he had bought at the office.

“Open these, Chris. You have better luck than I do.”

It never made sense to me, but I took the paper that was sealed and opened it. He always won some small amount based on the score, and I recall two zeros won him $50.

“Here. Sip the foam.”

He would hand me his mug of beer. I absolutely hated the taste, but it was his, so I slurped as he said to.

It was an indoctrination to tip the scales in his favor.

“The day I went into labor with you, he took his time. I told him we had to go, and he made himself a cup of coffee, took a long shower, slowly shaved every hair off his face, and had breakfast. I kept telling him to hurry up. He thought it would be like the other five. A long, laborious process and him sitting in a waiting room. I told him it wouldn’t be that way this time.”

The nurse had gotten her into the room and settled.

“I think you should call the doctor right away,” she said.

“Oh, it will be a while.” I will be back to check on you in a little bit.”

“That was so frustrating not to have anyone listen to me. I knew it was going to happen fast.”

She pushed her call light, and when the nurse appeared again, she insisted.

“You need to get the doctor now!”

The nurse saw that my mom was right and ran to get help.

“The obstetrician slid into the room and caught you at the last second. And then the moment came!”

This is when the story always took a higher, dramatic turn.

“I told your dad that I didn’t enjoy looking into a baby’s eyes because they never looked back at me. It was like a blank slate with nothing there. But not you! You looked at me, and I said…look! She has an understanding of things, and she came here with knowledge, and God sent her here with a message.”

I didn’t fully believe her recounting of this because she also went around telling everyone I had blue eyes way past the point of it being a possibility. She desperately wanted one of her children to have my dad’s colored eyes, but her predominant brown always won out.

“I never got my blue-eyed child! Actually, his eyes can be blue sometimes and switch to green. I would have taken either one.”

I innocently asked him once,

“Why do your eyes change color?”

“They are green when I have money and blue when I don’t.”

I believed him, so I always looked at him closely before executing my begging session for spare change.

“You had something that no other infant I held ever had. Instead of a dark void, you were born with wisdom, Chris.”

She had seen her fair share of dealing with births, from her own to those she assisted with as an RN.

In later years, I searched the meaning of my name and found out it means “follower of Christ.” She knew what she was doing, sealing my association with God.

She also gave me this piece of advice,

“You can always tell what’s going on with a person by looking them in the eye.”

Her words came to life for me recently when I was at a restaurant with a friend. She travels with her small dog everywhere she goes, and she puts her in a high chair. The staff at this particular place think something is wrong if she doesn’t show up with her pet. Not a single patron took offense, and everyone who looked our way would smile brightly.

We had been there for a while, and a lady on her way out stopped.

“That is the cutest thing I have ever seen!”

Then, she broke down crying.

“I had to put my beagle down a few months ago.”

She was so overcome with grief we had her pull up a chair. She told us that her significant other of twenty years had died unexpectedly in March. He was driving his semi-truck, and an autopsy later showed he had suffered a blood clot to the brain, killing him instantly. A man saw what was happening and took control of the truck, and called for help.

I found out she was in her mid-70s, while he had been 64 and one year away from retirement.

“Do you feel his presence?” I asked.

She wasn’t drawn to us to just admire the dog.

“Not really. I miss him terribly.”

Her pain was so severe, and I felt a crushing pain in my chest. She felt as if her life was turned upside down financially, and fear gripped her regarding how she would take care of a house all by herself. As she spoke of all of her worries, she cried harder.

I knew this type of fear, not from death but from a divorce. Except she was much older than I had been when my unexpected adjustment arrived.

“He’s standing right here. I can see him, and he isn’t gone.” I tried to break past her pain for just a second.

I start to feel like I’m saying the same thing to different people, but this is how it seems to be. Those who have gone on stand near or behind those to who they are connected to. This seemed to calm her down a bit.

“I do feel him sometimes on the side you say he is.”

“What about lights? Mine used to get clicked on and off when my mom first wanted my attention. I would suddenly be sitting in a dark room, and then they would blink back on. Does that happen to you?”

“Oh. Yes. I have a lamp that does that all the time.”

“That’s him. He’s trying to tell you that he is around. And I know you have to grieve, but try to take yourself out of it for a little bit. When you feel happy, that is the frequency he is on. Heaven isn’t on anything but joy.”

“I kept seeing a cardinal in my daughter’s yard all last summer, and it would come to sit by me. Do you know about what is said about that?”

Do I know about the symbols of cardinals showing up to represent a message from heaven? Definitely.

“Yes. I know about that a lot. So, you said at first you didn’t feel his presence, but you do. He isn’t gone from you at all. You miss the physical part of who he was, but if you can feel his presence, it will help you heal. It will help you overcome the loneliness.”

I took her hand and asked God to have her start seeing what I could.

By the time she said goodbye to us, I saw her smile reach her eyes. I was witnessing Psalm 147:3 in action:

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (NIV)

“I’m so glad I met you both,” she said on her way out. There wasn’t a trace of one tear because I helped her realize this from Psalm 32:8 that says:

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. (NIV)

They say that the eyes are the window to the soul. When you allow God to take over your life completely, all else will fall to the wayside and that will be the only thing remaining to be seen.

I still think it should have been named after me…