Genuine

Minnesota is known for a food atrocity that probably has graced the tables of those unfortunate enough to have put it in their shopping carts. My mom was one of them, and I absolutely refused to partake of it. Meat processed into a can with a globby gel around it ranks right up there with eating chocolate-covered insects. 

I watched a documentary where this lady could not stop consuming lint no matter how detrimental it was to her health. When she would hear the buzzer go off on the dryer, she would take out the trap and start swallowing down the fuzz that had collected on it. Another person’s obsession was hand sanitizer that was guzzled down like water.

If this meat product had been included, I would not have been surprised. 

There must be those who love it, though, because there has been an entire booth set up at the state fair devoted to this. These are the ones with stomachs of steel and absent gag reflexes. They stand in line and pay actual money that they worked hard for in exchange for something that is said to be food, but is it?

They fry it, bake it, grill it, chop it, slice it. They pass this off as a versatile food source that is convenient because it’s precooked, and it never dies because it’s questionable if it ever walked the earth. 

I recall innocently wandering into the kitchen as a child as a can of this was opened.  

“What is that?” I asked.

She made me smell it, and the gooey appearance brought on an instant hunger strike.

“You will like it.”  

This always was the beginning of the coaxing me to try something that I knew I already would hate. When another person had to tell me that I would have an affinity for something, I was already putting up all sorts of defenses.

She knew I was the type of kid who would not eat cooked carrots but accepted them as raw. Hot cereal was death, and cooked beets, kill me now. There wasn’t enough milk produced in the industry to help me get those down without letting them touch my taste buds. She wouldn’t let me plug my nose, either, because that wasn’t ‘good table manners.’ 

It made her uncomfortable seeing me suffering, so I had to hide it and try not to cough, which would have sent everything from my mouth onto the table, and well, that would have ruined everything.    

And, now she was leaping to selling me on canned meat? She had clearly lost her ability to think straight after eating products ladened with chemicals like the very thing she was trying to convince me to swallow. 

She never got her way, and it was a good thing she didn’t. All she saw were dollar signs because this was a cheap fix for a meal. I could go munch down grass out of the backyard for no charge to maintain my life span and enjoy it more. 

Multiple articles claim that this cube-shaped charlatan acting as a protein is full of salt, sugar and processed as much as it can be. How did they combat the bad press and the negativity? They made a light version to accommodate those who are health conscious. They took out more of the bad things to make it better. 

Don’t sign me up. 

And, there are recipes out there. I came across one that lists the top one hundred. That is one hundred too many. Someone asked what the best way was to eat this—the answer: straight out of the can. The real inquiry should be: why, why, why? 

One person thought it was great to shape it into donuts and fry them. To add to the choke factor, they suggested putting chunks of it into the homemade ‘dough’. 

The draw is the affordability, and its craze, with some, has earned it an iconic place in society where there is a museum and merchandise you can wear on your body to let the entire world know that you eat meat out of a metal can. And if that isn’t enough, some restaurants have it on their menu, and the health department does not shut them down. 

I don’t find it an accident that it shares its name with the category in my email that junk mail lands. 

I hadn’t put much thought into that folder. I just figured the system was filtering out sales pitches or offers that would be a waste of my time. In a way, it’s nice to have an invisible hand doing that on my behalf. Some analytical program decides that I shouldn’t be bothered with information that isn’t necessary. It’s so close to being royalty it’s a little frightening.  

Away with you, peasant! I am sorry, but she cannot read that right now. She is by appointment only.

I didn’t have to be bothered with it, and I was a better person for it until I was forced to go there. 

I had tried to reset a password, and instead of sending it to my primary folder, it got sent to the dark abyss. After waiting more than the long sixty seconds that it said I had to, it was suggested I check the other location. 

Much to my amazement, I had compiled an assortment of correspondence that left me wondering who had sold my address to satan. There were not just a few but hundreds of inquiries in all shapes and forms soliciting all kinds of things that left my eyes burning. I actually shut them and started hitting delete. 

I devote a part of my morning to erasing these that seem to keep finding me every day now. Instead of taking the time to get rid of a week’s worth, I found that if I keep up with it, it’s less time-consuming. 

I began to wonder how one gets a job sending out these invitations? There seems to be some thought that goes into the type of emojis and bold capital letters. Not so much the English language is considered, but someone is making a living doing this, somewhere, hoping I will click on the link. 

Outside of the R-rated biddings for my attention, some offer compensation for the legal problems that are plaguing me. In contrast, others want me to finally claim that sum of money sitting in my account for ages with interest collecting. Why am I not responding to the sweepstakes I entered that would give me the life of my dreams?  

At the same time, the IRS is going to put me in jail for something, Amazon loves me and wants to give me a $1000 gift card, and a long-lost relative wants to find me so we can catch up and wouldn’t you know they live in a foreign country? How wonderful that someone in my family tree branched out like that and made something of themselves, stealing credit card numbers in a coffee shop across the ocean.

While all of this might be tempting to some, I have no problem sending them out of sight forever. 

So, why do I do this? Because I know they are there now. Before, I didn’t. I lived in ignorance, and it was beautiful. 

One of my concerns is that if I should die, what would someone think if they opened up my email and found all of these racy, desperate pleas? Just sitting there, like I hadn’t removed them, as if it was okay. I couldn’t live with myself after death if that happened. So, it’s now part of my daily existence to keep up a good image, even if it’s just for me to know, and to save some poor unfortunate soul if I depart. 

The other thing is, I don’t like fake.

Almost every single one of these is based on a scam and trying to bait people into circumstances that aren’t good. This is where the deception begins, where words are used to manipulate and entice into something that has absolutely no substance. I have seen so many people, usually those who are looking for something that is missing, fall for these types of schemes, thinking it will be life-changing. 

After taking over as my dad’s power of attorney, I had to fight off a company that kept coming to him for money that he shouldn’t have been spending. When they wouldn’t leave him alone and flooded his mailbox with their emotionally driven requests, I sent them a letter explaining my position in his life, which put a stop to it. It seems to quiet the waters when you toss the word ‘lawsuit’ out there. 

It ends your valuable customer status quickly.

I am not the only one who doesn’t like shady offers. Look at what this says from Psalm 101:3:

Help me to refuse the low and vulgar things; help me to abhor all crooked deals of every kind, to have no part in them. (TLB)

They inundate us and constantly seek our attention, but we have the choice to remove them from our experience. 

It’s a worthwhile endeavor to start thinning out those things that pose as real but aren’t. From food to friends, God wants you to have the best, and it will be genuine. 

Nightmares, right here

Trust

“This is not what I ordered,” she said, looking at what had arrived in a box on our front steps.

“What is it?”

There were three black bottles with flip tops so a person could squeeze out the liquid inside.

“I don’t know,” she said.

Where we live, because it’s such a busy street, we try to retrieve our deliveries quickly once they are dropped off. Nothing has ever been taken, but there have been instances where items have gone missing all around us. If someone had carried this off, no one would have missed it. Especially since we didn’t know what it was.

“Does the package say it’s for you? Did they bring the wrong box?”

“My name is on it,” she said.

She picked up one of the three mystery items.

“I’m not even sure what this is.”

When she turned it around to read the back, I could tell that the print was microscopic. I would have to take a picture of it and zoom in if she couldn’t determine what it was.

Even with her perfect eyesight, she struggled to come to a conclusion.

“This is not the case of cola I ordered.”

“No, it’s not unless they repackaged it into a really weird container.”

We drink pop with no artificial flavors, colors, or sugar in cans, not black bottles. After reading about the dangerous side effects of sweeteners that can cause health issues, we had discovered a product that helped us replace the old with something that probably won’t shorten our life span.

Probably. Until another study comes out telling us we are on death’s door for ingesting it.

When we decided almost nine years ago to do the switch, there was a gap involved. She was the one who had convinced me to stop buying anything that had a long list of words I couldn’t pronounce on the label.

We started reading the contents of products at every store. It wasn’t just for a beverage, but we got curious and started expanding out to other things that claimed to be good for people that were enhanced with a sweetener. It was in everything. Gum. Mints. Sparkling water. Protein bars. Cereal. And toothpaste.

How unfair is that? You brush your teeth to maintain good oral hygiene with an artificial substance that may not be good for you. It was shocking to me.

It’s an exhausting list, and once we started paying attention, it was like pulling a loose string on a sweater. Most of our conversations in the stores were,

“Does that have it in it?”

“Yes.”

“What about that?”

“Yes.”

We got to the point where we knew just by looking at the front of a product that claimed to be sugar-free and “healthy,” it would be put back. We also became wise to the fact that the name changes so people never really can pin down for sure if it’s used in the ingredients or not. They are required to list everything, and while complying, they will change the name to throw you off.

As she and I labored over this, I watched other shoppers come by and randomly grab whatever they wanted off the shelf without a care in the world. I longed to go back to being uneducated.

It was easier to throw things in a cart and not give what we were consuming a second thought.

One of the most negative consequences, in the long run, is that the presence of these synthetic substances can put the body in a pattern of creating insulin. I read multiple articles regarding this, and none of them were conclusive, but once you know something, it’s difficult not to ignore it anymore.

It was as if they were handing out accurate information to the public but didn’t want to create a lawsuit with any of the giant diet soda industries. So there was always a slight disclaimer at the end of each one, kind of like they were saying, “good luck.”

As we have faced science lately with vaccines and illness, the methods by which we are told that it’s safe to take a shot is the same technique used to warn us to stop drinking artificial stuff. But, one is accepted while the other is downplayed or dismissed.

It makes one wonder.

As the weeks rolled on, I started making iced tea, unsweetened, just to have something that was an alternative to water every day, all day.

The Soda Stream that we had used didn’t make anything without using what we were trying to avoid, so that was discarded.

I could say it was like a desert experience, but we were drinking water by the gallon, so not entirely. We used lemons or anything deemed not wrong to make it more attractive.

We stumbled upon the golden item after she did an online search. An obscure company recognized that the use of fake substances could eventually create poor medical results. They even took out the added color.

The first time I poured it over ice, it was strange to watch the familiar bubbles rise to the top of the glass, smell the scent of the flavor I was trying and see that it was transparent. I believe I tried a Cherry Cola because I had liked that flavor with the other brand.

Anything that seems suitable for you like this and replaces what you have had for years is met with distrust. We found that it was great and could end our search, but we still read labels on everything we were considering trying.

“I still don’t know what they sent me. This is not at all close to what I ordered.”

I was just going to look at it when she said,

“It’s wax.”

“Like for floors?” Or legs? If that was the case, it was made for a house of very hairy people. It was a massive bottle and large quantity for a beauty product.

“I think for anything.”

It was determined that somehow, she had received three bottles of a wax that could be used on multiple surfaces, not people.

My other daughter looked it up online after it sat untouched for a few days.

“Each of these is worth $20.”

“They sent $60 worth of wax when you ordered pop?” I said, holding it up.

Someone was asleep at the switch. I imagined the customer getting her order. Some person somewhere was saying what we were.

“What is this?”

Hopefully, they didn’t use it to shine their floor.

I accidentally dropped one of the three bottles right as her sister told us the cost of each one. They had been collecting dust in a dark corner for a few days. I picked it up off the floor, and it was leaking.

“You owe me $20 for that,” she said, laughing. Now it had value.

“I will drink it first before I hand over any money for this,” I said.

I’m sure it’s free of artificial sweeteners.

This idea of making healthier choices was reiterated a few years ago when I visited a naturopath, and she confirmed the elusive claims of all those articles I read. Because of our quest to find food that possibly won’t bring about an early demise, I read everything before taking it with me.

“Stay away from all that. Stevia or monk fruit is the best. They won’t cause an adverse reaction.”

But with all things, she made the point that water was the best, then drink whatever else afterward. She got me in the habit of doing that, so I viewed all other liquids as add ons except coffee. That’s in a category all on its own and always comes first.

She instructed me on what to look for while out in the stores and what to absolutely stay away from.

So while scanning an aisle for pasta that is made from a vegetable, which sounds horrible but it isn’t, I came across a label listing the price at $1.99. Underneath it, there was a sticker with bold letters saying: SALE $2.39.

This reminded me of when my older brother convinced me that a nickel was worth more than a dime because it was bigger. I was not ever going to fall for that again.

I thought momentarily that I had read it wrong. I looked at the entire row that all had higher sale prices than the original offers. I stood there, saying each number out loud.

It appeared that the person who sent the wax had gotten fired from their job and now worked at this company, putting the wrong signs on things. Or, there was more than one individual in the world making errors. Most likely the last option, but I would rather believe we have more conscientious people surrounding us than less.

But we don’t. We are all subject to malfunctioning.

I don’t think I will ever get used to expecting one outcome and getting another like the wax. That was easily fixed. She told customer service her issue, and they sent out a new order. You can’t do that with all things.

When you have your mind set on how life will go, what then when it doesn’t? How do you come back from having a certain outlook, where everything is falling into place, to one day waking up to see that nothing is how you thought it would be? Revelation has come, and while that can be freeing, it can also be terrifying. It means you have to leave everything you know behind. You can’t unsee what you know to be the truth, and it isn’t in your best interest to keep going in the way that you are.

What has been familiar seems safe and easy, you always know what is next, even if it’s absolutely miserable. There are no surprises until it gets taken away. Then, every day, you live not knowing what is coming next, and you wonder if you can handle it.

Your ability to stay calm and peaceful seems to not exist anymore. There will be moments when you realize you aren’t concerned about a thing, and then it all comes down on you to the point where you cannot breathe. It’s a constant battle between your mind and your spirit that the only escape you can find is to sleep after a while—a lot. Because you don’t have to think but, you are up with insomnia because your mind won’t be quiet. It’s a vicious cycle that it is difficult to get it back under control once it starts. On top of all that, it makes you feel weak and not confident in your faith.

I don’t have the answer on how to fix it. Each person has to figure out their own way to become resilient and rise above the adversity.

Whenever a situation appears that seems too much, and a shift in thinking is required, all you can do is trust.

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….)

Peaceful Balance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hebrews 12:17 says,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(That’s not even full yet…)

King

Some would say she was a determined leader, and that was true. She had to manage many employees, and one catastrophe could pull the rug out from her perfectly orchestrated day at any moment. I could hear her shoes stomping down the hall before she made an appearance.

Her expectations were extremely high, from the dress code to the volume of your voice. If she found a person’s choice of clothing for the day distasteful, she would engage them in a lengthy conversation and then tell that person’s supervisor she disapproved of their appearance.

She was not above producing a ruler to measure where the hem of a skirt fell in relation to a knee cap. She mainly did that to the younger ones she wanted to see wearing apparel from the Victorian era. If anyone questioned this, we noticed they disappeared shortly after. Yes, just like the mafia.

It left us all wondering who her next unsuspecting victim would be.

It was done with the purpose to maintain her position of authority. Literally, she threw her weight around by being intimidating.

The place didn’t run on respect for her; it operated on fear. When I heard her heels coming and saw her entering my office, I knew it usually meant we were about to get reprimanded for some unwritten, vague infraction.

She had at least thirty years on me. Her speech was like a machine gun going off directing, telling, and commanding. As fast as she whipped into a room, she flew out onto her next mission of ridding the place of any peace.

“You are stealing money from the company if you are socializing when you should be working.”

We were forced to attend monthly meetings with that kind of team-building inspirational speech.

“It is considered theft.”

Hypocrisy at its highest.

At one time in my career there, I had worked in the kitchen when I was a teen in high school. At least twice a week, this individual would walk into the cooler and devour the chocolate pudding ordered explicitly for the residents. I never saw a spoon in her hand.

Because the floor was tile, I could hear the cadence of her approach quite clearly. We all would freeze, hoping she didn’t stop to inspect our hairnets and purse her lips as she took in our appearance. We all breathed easier when she disappeared.

“The sergeant is here, I see,” said one of my coworkers who was putting water glasses on a cart.

Once she had ducked into the refrigerator to eat to her heart’s content, an older woman I worked with would always whisper to me,

“It must be her time of the month again, dear. She’s on the rag.”

“That’s what you said last week,” I would reply in a hushed tone.

When she came back out, we knew she hadn’t been in there to run an inventory. Not with pudding as lip liner.

“Make sure you check expiration dates. I think I saw some that were outdated.”

“Okay,” we would say, going along with her game. The clicking of her heels signaled the departure.

Once I moved up into a higher position, the office I worked from was right next to hers. I was fully aware that she was your ally one day, and the next, you were on the hit list.

How did I deal with the madness? I found my sense of humor. I didn’t realize what a great coping mechanism this was. God will have your finest gifts come to the forefront when trying to survive a horrible situation.

When she would swoop in acting uptight, I would say something that would diffuse her anger. Instead of getting her wrath, I would make her laugh, and she would find someone else to chew out. It was a part of me that I had never known that I possessed.

Soon, she was coming in to sit down and rest. She no longer was showing up to rattle off orders but to take a few minutes to talk about life issues that were bothering her. I still would make her laugh, but I also asked her questions to try and build a rapport with her.

It never got to where I wanted her as my best friend, but I understood her better. She conversed about the pressure of her job and the stress of her home life. I got a better understanding of who she was, but she never was a staff favorite. I had learned how to circumvent her tirades and tongue lashings.

I often would walk into the gossip of those she had run over with her harsh behavior. The worst complaint about her was that she would make life miserable behind the scenes if someone weren’t up to her expectations. Every discussion always seemed to revolve around her eventually. She had planted herself firmly in all of our minds by way of bullying.

If a decision had to be made about anything, it always came down to if she would give it her stamp of approval. It had to be strategically laid out step by step, looking for landmines that could trigger a volatile reaction. Even a man’s best-made plans can still be for naught. I heard many staff weeping through the thin walls of my office and hers. Walking on eggshells doesn’t always guarantee bypassing a wicked reaction.

I had watched from my desk people get escorted to their cars after being fired. This wasn’t a gesture of courtesy. It was like watching someone on death row go to the executioner.

We were drilled on state requirements and prepared for drop-in inspections. We were always told to act calm when a state inspector showed, and if they suddenly came, every one of us knew who to contact so the entire facility was aware. There was a chain of command to follow. Her ultimate badge of honor was to be deficiency-free no matter the carnage of staff she left in her wake.

The idea was not to let them see us sweat. She thought if we showed any nervousness, this would go over as guilt. Like we were hiding something.

I was on the phone gathering information on a potential client, and over the loudspeaker, I heard her scream,

“They are here! I repeat! They are here!”If she would have had a nuclear button on her desk, she would have hit it with a hammer.

So much for serenity. I heard the familiar beat of heels getting their workout as she ran for the front door. The atmosphere changed from tense to unbearable. This would be a week of intrusion that we all hoped would result in the news she wanted to hear.

None of us wanted to get a poor result, but the added layer of how she could potentially make us pay if we did was foremost on the minds of all.

As an assistant, it would be rare for me to go head to head with anyone representing the state. Usually, the supervisors of each department were introduced to batten down the hatches. It was one of her worst nightmares to think that one of us underlings would be able to handle a situation and say the right thing.

It was viewed like the segment in the Miss America competition where we had to give answers on the spur of the moment. Minus the swimsuit or evening gown portion. She didn’t want anyone to stumble over their words and appear uneducated. She feared that someone would babble.

Imagine her coronary arteries going into an uproar when I was suddenly greeted by one of the inspectors from the state.

“Can I come in?” He asked, knocking on the door. My supervisor had just left for a few moments, and I had to be her substitute because that was the rule. They could quiz all of us at any given moment.

He extended his hand and introduced himself. Sitting down, I knew from training, I was to close the door. This is when I saw her look at me through the window. Eyes wide and a hard swallow, with a slight head shake, were signs signaling that she thought I was about to blow her perfect record.

I heard her go into her office next door. Probably with her ear to the wall to be sure I was the perfect Stepford Wife.

He started to ask me a series of questions about finances and how payment was processed. I went through each type, pulling out examples of paperwork, explaining each one. About halfway through, I realized he had no idea what I was talking about. He seemed nervous.

“Could you repeat that?” He would say as he took notes on his sheet. So I asked him,

“Do you know the difference between Medicare and Medical Assistance?”

“Not at all. I’m new to this, so you are helping me learn.”

I went from feeling put on the spot to being his mentor in seconds. I knew what it was like not to understand something complex but necessary to perform well on a job.

By the time our interaction was over, he left like he had attended a seminar on the subject and thanked me.

She immediately vaporized in the hall.

“How did it go?”

She had listened through the wall, so she already knew.

This is how I remember her all these years later. I don’t think it was necessarily a personality disorder as it was a drive for perfectionism and power. She conducted herself in a way that left mental scars on many. Some of us could withstand it, while others escaped, often feeling like failures.

No longer able or willing to undergo her temper tantrums, they departed with awful memories of her. For those of us who somehow managed to stay aboard the Titanic, it was for a check. None of us had any loyalty toward her.

Her life stressors didn’t excuse her brutality.

She never considered the pain she inflicted on those around her. While she was so consumed by being monitored by the government, she never thought that God was watching. Every unkind word, act, and power play was being observed by heaven. She didn’t just break the Golden Rule. She crushed it into the ground under her mauve-colored pumps with many spirits attached.

No one is God, so her fate is in His hands.

The other day I saw this advertisement by a fast food restaurant looking to hire:

Why work for a clown when you can work for a King?

I knew the reference, but I saw it in another way.

In many church circles I have been in and out of, one of the repetitive phrases has been that we are “daughters and sons of the King.” So often, we slave under conditions where a message is sent loud and clear. We aren’t valued for what we do.

You might hear a thank you once in a while, but you are very aware of how ungrateful your boss is the rest of the time. You are made to feel that your paycheck is a gift, not a given. While you put in your best effort, you are subjected to the cruel nature of a dictator who is on a power trip.

When you wake up to it because your self-worth increases, there really is no going back. You are done with what was accepted by you before. Boundaries are put into place where there had been none, and you no longer can sit under the weight of someone else’s darkness and be suffocated by it.

You have this epiphany that the fear no longer holds you down. You don’t have to settle anymore to play the punching bag at the office. God has shown you the way, and He is your source for all you need.

You throw all caution to the wind and walk away, freeing yourself from the false tyranny.

In Psalm 37:18-19, God’s character is revealed,

God keeps track of the decent folk; what they do won’t soon be forgotten. In hard times, they’ll hold their heads high when the shelves are bare, they’ll be full. (Message)

Further in verses 25-29,

I once was young, now I’m a graybeard—
not once have I seen an abandoned believer or his kids out roaming the streets. Every day he’s out giving and lending, his children making him proud.
Turn your back on evil, work for the good, and don’t quit. God loves this kind of thing, never turns away from his friends. Live this way, and you’ve got it made, but rotten eggs will be tossed out. (Message)

The choice is yours—Trade in the clown for the King.

(Clowns to the left of me..jokers to the right…)

Thirst

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(I forgot all about the candles..)

Spill

When you live in a state that gets snow and a lot of it, you are in a season where you have to adjust your thinking when you walk into the house and remove your shoes. There is nothing more annoying than to step in a puddle of water left by the boots of another before you. Somehow, the rug got missed, and you come in unknowingly and find your foot soaking wet. It doesn’t get any better when you remove your socks and then step into another wet place with your bare feet, which are already freezing.

This is where analytical thinking takes over. You have the choice to hop across the room for the paper towels, so you only leave one track versus two to clean up or move faster and have to deal with more of a mess.

If you do not attend to this immediately, you run the risk of this happening for the rest of the day, and words you would not say that many times in a row stream from your mouth as you use multiple pairs of socks and now you have to do laundry because you have gone through all that you own.

Another object that can cause the same havoc is the dog’s water bowl. A pleasant morning can take a turn when you hit that, sending it all over you while trying to put something in the garbage, which then tips over. Within moments of getting out of bed, you wonder what you have done to cause the forces of nature to already be against you.

Adding insult to injury, you go to the fridge, and someone has precariously balanced a can of something on the very edge of the shelf to fit it in because no one has taken the time to declutter and throw unwanted items. It flies out and lands on the foot that went unscathed by the water bowl and splashes all of you. Just go back to bed for the week.

I sat down at a grocery store in a section that had tables and chairs so I could look over my list for a second because there is nothing worse than to make your way through the aisles, get all the way home, and discover you left the one thing that you needed the most.

I was drinking something out of a glass without a lid. After one sip, I knocked it directly into my lap. My workout pants were instantly a sponge sucking up all of the liquid. I jumped up, grabbed anything that would have been in the path of it, and looked to my daughter for help, whose eyes were gigantic.

She, way slower than I would have liked, started to wander, trying to find napkins or anything to assist me. I could not believe how she walked unhurriedly to come to my rescue. Later, she said,

“I was concentrating! Do you want me to panic when I am trying to help?”

Yes! I do.

“It appeared that you did not care when you did not go quicker.”

“I think better when I go slower.”

“While you went slower, the water was soaking into my skin more.”

Seeing my horrible situation, a man sprinted over and handed me a towel. We still don’t know where he got it or where he came from. She threw a bunch of napkins my way to start cleaning up the table.

I froze in place when it happened, but now I had to move.

“I feel like my water broke. I never had this happen in real life. I can cross this off my bucket list now,” I said. “It’s not as glamorous as they make it out to be.”

“I am sorry this happened,” she said. I looked over at her again with a highly wet napkin in my hand as I tried to mop up the damage. That’s when she burst out laughing so loud she couldn’t contain herself. Just when you think they are sincere.

“No, really, I am sorry…” and she couldn’t finish what she was saying because she kept getting hit with laughter. Which then made me laugh.

“Where did that guy come from?” she asked, trying to catch her breath.

“I don’t know, but he moved faster than you did.”

Now I had a decision to make. Do I leave and come back later with dry clothes on? Or do I bite the bullet and walk around with water seeping into places I would rather not have it be? Every time I moved, it made itself at home even more than seconds before.

With every wince, she tried to be sympathetic, she really did, but she couldn’t help her giggles that kept surfacing.

“I feel like I have to walk like I just got off a horse. If I do that, it’s bearable.”

“Let me see how bad it looks,” she said.

I turned all the way around so she could see me from all angles. The front of my legs had dark spots where I had been flooded.

“It’s not that noticeable. I can hardly see anything.” That’s what they all say.

“That’s because the worst of its in a place that cannot be seen with the human eye right now.”

“Put your coat on. That will cover up most of it.”

It was true. I was in good shape until I started to walk, and a draft began.

“You would not believe how cold I am right now,” I said. When we got to the freezer section, the temperature dropped significantly from my waist down.

By the time I was at the checkout, I didn’t notice it as much. I had on moisture-wicking pants, so they had gone to work, giving me a false sense of security. I exited, and a brutal wind chill cut across my lower half, reminding me that I wasn’t home free yet. Running to the car to speed up my departure wasn’t the most exciting either.

“Are you really getting into the car ahead of me?” I asked as she jumped into the passenger side.

“I am COLD!” She said as her hair whipped her across the face.

“Really?”

I could either argue my point or get the cart back. Another sprint wasn’t going to kill me. Sitting down on my cold car seat would.

“I wish I could drive standing up,” I said, with my entire body pushed away as far from a seated position. My head was on the roof as I dangled my keys in my right hand, putting off the unpleasantness that was about to come.

I slowly slid down to face the inevitable. Breathing always helps just when it doesn’t.

“I am going to have icicles where I do not want them,” I said in between clenched teeth.

When I got back home, I became so involved with putting everything away, and my other daughter started telling me about her day, I completely forgot all about the incident.

About an hour later, my daughter said,

“Are you still wearing the same pants you had on in the store?”

I looked down and realized I had forgotten all about it.

“Oh, my gosh! Yes! They have totally dried!”

This sent her into another wave of laughter.

We have secrets that we think are so big that we cannot divulge them to another person. But, God wants us to walk in freedom, so a trusted person will come across your path at some point that you can tell everything to. You will know when you find yourself suddenly talking about something you would have never imagined expressing.

If you haven’t had this happen, pray for it. A person will be sent so you can unburden this weight that so heavily keeps you in a place that feels like torture. And, the one who is supplied to help you won’t ridicule you, they will make you see the truth of a situation that probably isn’t as bad as you think it is and will lead you into breathing easy again.

God is so kind that I have been given more than one who will all say the same things to me in response without anyone knowing except for me. That’s always an indication that God is at work when you hear the same message that brings comfort.

Just like when I unexpectedly gave myself a shower in the middle of a store, revealing this hidden part of yourself will feel uncomfortable at first, but then you will forget all about it. When you let another person or two bring you the support you need, you see the feelings of fear begin to lift as they bring you up higher.

In Ephesians 4:25, we are given a warning against not letting others know true, deep things and how this, in the long run, creates problems,

Stop lying to each other; tell the truth, for we are parts of each other, and when we lie to each other, we are hurting ourselves.(TLB)

Whatever you see on the outside reflects what is happening on the inside of you. If you want to associate with like-minded, caring people, then you will have to change your ways. You can swim in the deep end or wade in the shallow, safe parts of the pool.

In Ephesians 4:15, it is explained how this will work out to your advantage,

God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth, and tell it in love. (Message)

If you insist on hiding, you will, and it’s miserable, stunting your spiritual growth. But, if you allow yourself to be vulnerable and trust that others can help, a whole new world will open up before you. You will see the good in people, and it will prove to you that you are not alone or crazy. Hold yourself back, restrain your authentic self, and live in a minimal way. Or let it spill.

(At least pretend to hurry…)

Small Stuff

Going into the building was the last thing I wanted to do. So many changes were happening at once, but I was moving forward, trying to make life seem normal after the wreckage.

I was newly divorced with two young girls, one eight and the other barely thirteen. It was up to me to make sure they saw me as confident because I felt enough damage had already been done.

I had a mix of emotions, from guilt, fear to relief. It was as if I would circle through those repeatedly, never really staying secure at any given moment. I expected bad news to come all the time.

My lawyer had me complete paperwork to apply for medical assistance through the state. I had a family member make sure to tell me I was on “welfare,” which disturbed me. It was stated in a way to let me know that I had fallen to a level of low that they for sure never would.

I had difficulty believing I was relying on taxpayer money to live. It brought me so much shame that even with “free” healthcare provided, I rarely went to see a doctor, even if I was deathly ill. And during this time of high stress and negative thinking, I was sick a lot.

I chose not to accept food stamps, which seemed like I totally hadn’t plunged into darkness. It gave me a shred of hope that I could at least buy food and household items without it being a handout. The comment by my relative had bothered me so much that I brought it up to the therapist I was seeing. I had been given a court order to attend counseling sessions, so the girls and I complied.

The therapist’s response was,

“I would gladly pay for you to get back on your feet again. For you and your girls.”

I never forgot the remark that was made to me because it was cruel, but it also made me see how far I had come to understand all of this where before I hadn’t.

If someone mentioned that their marriage was over, I used to let it go in one ear and out the other. I had absolutely no understanding of the pain involved, so I stood silently by. But after mine, I was able to ask questions, understand, and put myself in that person’s shoes. I wanted details so I could help if I could.

I realized that the demeaning comment that was made was from ignorance.

I had to deliver the applications to the office building following legal advice. I waited in a room with countless others who all had the same dead look in their eyes. Many had small children with them while others were like me, sitting with a number in hand and a packet in the other.

A few floors down, there was a community food shelf that my dad volunteered for. Every Friday, he would get up early and drive to various grocery stores to pick up boxes and donations. He would then drop them off and go to work handing out items to those in need. He knew I was struggling mentally with all of this, so he would pull up into my driveway and carry in what had been left after every one of his shifts.

“I just brought you a few things,” he would say to get past my objection.

Because my kids were so happy to see him, I allowed him to help me. But, I hated that I was in this situation, to begin with. It took a while for gratitude to replace my low feelings.

Because money had been so scarce, I had even cut back on what I ate; It was a form of self-punishment for being one half of a failed equation. I felt like I deserved nothing good, and the girls were innocent victims, so I wanted everything to go to them.

I worked three jobs, home-schooled, and felt like I was living in hell. All the outdoor work was mine to contend with, from raking, mowing, and snow removal. I couldn’t afford to hire anyone, so I had to learn quickly.

When they wanted lights on the house for Christmas, I got on a ladder and did it myself.

I had asked for help from someone who knew how, but instead of coming over and showing me what to do, he tried to explain it over the phone. This was not helpful at all. It reminded me of this verse, 1 John 3:17:

If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love? It disappears. And you made it disappear. (Message)

It sent the message to me that I wasn’t worth the time.

I went to church, prayed, read my Bible, and taught various children’s classes, but I was fighting off panic attacks, sleepless nights and felt dread as if something terrible could happen at any moment. Yet, I slapped a smile on and pretended that all was well.

Somehow, a friend convinced me to go in to have a physical. I think she could see the stress wearing on me.

“If something happens to you, what would happen to your kids?”

Because I solely existed for them, I listened and went in. A few days later, I received a phone call.

“The results of your mammogram show something abnormal on your left side. We need you to schedule a follow-up appointment so we can run more tests.”

The next phone call was from a support counselor.

“Are you afraid of getting a cancer diagnosis?“

“No,” I said. And I meant it. I was so numb and worn out from all the turmoil of my life, I didn’t care anymore.

“Are you sure you aren’t worried?” I didn’t have any of it left.

“No,” I repeated. “God will help me. Whatever the outcome, I will be okay.”

I could say all the right things robotically, but I didn’t trust God altogether because of all the bad that had come my way.

A few weeks later, I was in another waiting room with a lady who had the same appearance as what I had seen in the financial assistance office. It was the look of dejection and uncertainty. The person with her tried to cheer her up, but she kept crying. When her name was called, she slowly got up, slumped shoulders, and went off to find out her fate.

Usually, that would have made me afraid, but I wasn’t. When you don’t care anymore, fear can’t even find you.

“We saw a shadow on the left.” The room was dark and only lit by the machine. “We want to do a test that will give us a sharper image,” the technician said.

As she went through various procedures, she asked me about my life. So I told her everything. All of it. It poured out of me without any emotional upheaval.

She stood back from me for a minute and said,

“Do you know how strong you are? Do you see that in yourself?”

“No,” I said.

“You are so strong. I have never met someone as strong as you.”

And, yet, I felt alone and weak.

When she said “strong,” I instantly saw my youngest daughter hugging me. When the breakdown of our family began, she would run up to me, throw herself around my waist and not let me move. No matter how I tried to get away from her, she would hold me in place, and she would say over and over,

“Mom, you are strong.” This little eight-year-old child was the voice of God, and I hadn’t even realized it.

The results came back that nothing was out of the ordinary, so I was spared.

Many more trials have come since then, and most not pleasant; however, I have learned in each instance. And I have seen the faithfulness of God.

The other day, when I said something out loud that was bothering me, the same girl who told me I was strong 15 years ago looked at me and said,

“Mother, you hear from heaven! Why would you even worry about this?”

She’s right. Sometimes we don’t see in ourselves what others can, and a reminder is necessary. God can bring that to you when you need it most. Even in a coffee shop.

I was with my oldest daughter at a mall, and to our surprise, all drinks, no matter the size, were $1.00.

So I let her pay. On the wall, we saw a row of pins hanging. A guy who worked there said,

“Take one. They are complementary.”

I chose the one that has been my lesson while here on earth. The enormity of a problem is only as much as you worry about it.

When you put it into God’s hands, you become an observer, as you watch heaven take over and transform it, you stress less about the small stuff.

Wounds

It wasn’t uncommon for me to suffer disappointment while growing up. My parents came out of the Great Depression, where they were taught that money was scarce, nothing should be wasted, and everything could be repaired. 

It was a routine, but horrible experience, to have water added to the ketchup or salad dressing bottle so every last drip could be consumed. She would shake it all together, try to hand it to me, and I refused because I had found it tasted like death. 

“Chris, just use it. It’s not that bad.”

Even her head shaking and sighing would not move me. She had stockpiled more, and I knew it. Sometimes she would give in and act as she had just found a brand new bottle that she had “forgotten all about.” Miracles can happen every day if you are stubborn enough. 

Besides holding my ground on condiments, I had to beg and plead for her to open the purse strings for anything. If she could find a way to buy something that never needed to be replaced, she was on board. So my request to get a pumpkin at a farm was coloring way out of the lines.

“I want a real pumpkin,” I kept saying day and night, starting in September. This was a tactic that had worked on a few things in the past. But, not always. If I got her to say,

“Maybe,” I knew I was closer to my goal. 

Every house in our neighborhood had carved pumpkins on the front steps. She had chosen to buy a plastic one that she could plug in, which she had gotten long before I was on earth. Frugal at its finest. 

It didn’t have the personal touch of a kitchen knife in an artist’s imperfect hand. It was a factory-produced, false rendition of something organic, started from a seed, grown in a field. Hers was a far cry from that. The light bulb had started to burn off some of the original orange paint. But, to no avail, she got it out every single year, which killed my chances of getting a real one. 

The year I had given up, feeling that she was not going to budge an inch, she took me by total surprise and said,

“I think it would be fun to go to a pumpkin patch.”

I could not believe it! I acted as if it was not a big deal, but it was. We made the drive to the nearest place. 

I walked through rows and rows of them, trying to decide which one would be mine. Because of the age gap between my siblings and me, I was the only kid in the age bracket to find this experience exciting. All my energy and wear-down approach had finally paid off in fourth grade. 

I carried my selection to the person who she would pay. She suddenly noticed the sign stating the price per pound. I hadn’t chosen the largest one I could have, but her default kicked in once it hit the scale. 

“That’s way too much. I’m not going to spend that.”

The guy dressed like a farmer looked at her and then at me. I could not believe that she was actually going to back out now. 

“Is that the real price?” She asked. I could tell that the “fun” part was being sucked out of it. 

“Yes.”

“No, thank you. Chris, let’s go.”

I had been so close! The guy glanced over at me again with very sympathetic eyes. It wasn’t until that moment I realized I shouldn’t be happy. I had been denied so many other things so often that my ability to feel sadness had been curtailed. I was supposed to accept that whatever she did or said would produce no emotional response on my part. 

I had become really good at it, but I also made a vow to myself that once I had children, I would never do to them what had been done to me. Or at least try not to. 

So whether it was acceptable or not, I took my girls to get pumpkins in the fall. The stigma of doing so and going against what was presented as evil in the church’s eyes didn’t stop me. I read all the literature and folklore about its practice and decided that God knew my heart. I wasn’t doing this to ward off mischievous spirits or engage in the dark arts. I was trying to heal something from my past. 

It worked as I watched them produce some of the most beautiful pieces of art I had ever seen. Somewhere in their DNA, they were awarded the ability to draw and create things I had never been given. Scribbling out a stick figure is a challenge for me. 

One year, my youngest daughter decided to spraypaint her pumpkin. She had seen the idea somewhere and decided that this was something she wanted to try. She purchased a can of purple glitter spray and covered the entire thing. It turned out very professional looking. 

The only thing was that it never occurred to us to put it outside in the cold air to preserve it. Day after day, it sat in the house looking like a royal piece of artistry straight out of a fairy tale, subjected to a warm environment. One night I noticed a strange smell. Why this always befalls me, I do not know. 

“Is that your pumpkin starting not to smell so great?” I asked as it was in the air drifting and becoming more fragrant. Pumpkin in a can of spray is nowhere near this natural one.

“Maybe,” she said. 

Both of us approached it warily. I have learned the hard way that once something makes its presence known by way of a foul odor, you have to think before reacting. I had been the unfortunate recipient of cleaning out the refrigerator and unearthing containers that held contents that once had good intentions of being used later. Refried beans are not your friend on day 237. And by all means, do not hastily remove the lid unless you are right over the garbage with a hazmat suit securely fastened. 

Now we stood in front of the most magical looking pretty display, trying to decide which one of us was going to pick it up. She knows she can outlast me, so of course, it would be me. 

All that glitters on the outside is not necessarily a good representation of what is really going on.

When I slowly moved it, I immediately saw the mold that started at the base and rapidly spread. Pieces of paint were falling off in the back as the green fuzz was making its attack. She leaned in to get a better look, and I turned it so she could see how bad it was. Right as I did, an enormous black spider jumped out from its hiding place, trying to dodge being squished into the afterlife.

I heard her scream, and when I looked, she was long gone, just like the spider. 

I could not stop laughing. 

“Where did it go?” She said from the farthest corner of the house. 

“I don’t know.” Dreaded words for one who is terrified of things that crawl. 

I had to throw away the decayed piece of produce, and she spent days looking over her shoulder for the escapee. 

God can bring resolution to the biggest and smallest of pain. And heaven has a way of providing it in the most perfect of ways. Even if the person who hurt you never apologizes, fractures can be mended. It may come in the form of a funny moment or a simple word spoken like this one in Psalm 71:20, 

Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth, you will again bring me up. (NIV) 

In addition, this is a steadfast promise of God’s faithfulness from Psalm 147:3: “He heals the brokenhearted and bandages up their wounds.” (NLT) 

Yep..I have talent in my house

Watched Over

Throughout the years, I have tried to heal my relationship issues with money. I have attempted to keep gratitude journals where I have been known to write: Nothing bad happened today.

I saw this as a good thing to be thankful for, as simple as it was.

Another thing I did was I started writing thank you on the back of every payment I sent out. It reminded me I was paying someone’s wage to help them afford their mortgage or meals for their kids. I even sent my regards to the IRS when I mailed in my quarterly estimated taxes. I drew a smile on the envelope to add to the positivity. Did I mean it? I am not sure, but they say if you do the action, the feelings might show up later.

I have done money drops where I would take cash and encouraging notes and place them for the unsuspecting to find. I stuffed them into diaper boxes at the store, left them in bathroom stalls at the airport and in books at the library.

While all that was fun, it still didn’t do much to reverse this lack mindset that had been ingrained in me since childhood, where money was the root of all evil. If anything good came my way, it was pure luck and not to expect anything.

I recall at age seven opening a birthday card with money and saying to my mom in front of a relative,

“You can’t use this for new socks this time!”

I was catching on to what the green bills meant and how they were being taken away from me. I remember she looked slightly embarrassed. I was always challenging her frugal approach to life. Something inside of me knew that her view of things was slightly off.

When she was making her grocery list one day, I said I wanted something.

“It’s not on my list, Chris.”

She had her head down, writing out this massive novel of needed items. I didn’t understand the tight rope she was on trying to make it all work. I was tired of this worn out answer she always gave me.

“Just put it on your list,” I said, thinking this was the most brilliant idea that she had never thought of.

She looked at me and started laughing. That was not the response I was hoping for, so I one-upped her and scribbled out what I wanted onto her overloaded piece of paper when she left it unattended.

“Here,” she said to my shock while she handed me the item after she returned from the store. She hid her list after that.

If I had holes in my clothes, which was inevitable because they were never new, she would stitch them or put a patch on them. She taught me to wear something until it literally fell off my body and was paper-thin from the wash.

The message was continually sent that we could not afford anything, so get used to it. After years of that, it’s no wonder I have struggled to believe I could have it better.

Having a divorce thrown in on top of that didn’t help either, which only took my uncertainty up a notch.

At the same time, I picked up on the idea to give away things to help others. My street is busy, so if I need to get rid of anything, I set it out at night, and it disappears by dawn. I have had people come to my door asking if I meant for the items to be free because they are in good shape. I have given away tables, children’s items, and everything else under the sun. Someone always needs it more than I do.

The other day I cleaned my room and came across yet another experiment that I tried in 2014. I decided to write down every good thing that happened to me for the year and placed the notes in a jar.

When I read through them, I could still see that part of me was wanting to believe that what I learned as a kid wasn’t true. I realized the progress I had made between then and now, which that in itself is worth it.

And I discovered something else. God has been faithful. Even during the most challenging times, I still never got down to my last dime, even though I sometimes skated close to that. I always had ideas come to me on how to manage, and multiple people stepped in at times to save the day unknowingly.

I wrote everything, including the tiniest detail, like finding $2 at the mall. As I have let God cure me of my money trauma, the worries have faded, and I can handle the unexpected a lot better than I used to.

At one time, if I got a bill in the mail, I would obsess over it so much that I would miss out on something more substantial, like a daughter’s birthday. I would be present in the body, but my mind was whirling, figuring out how to meet that obligation. The first time I realized I wasn’t doing that anymore was a significant milestone for me.

And where did all that fretting get me? Nowhere. I wish I had known this verse from 2 Corinthians 9:8:

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (NLT)

I cannot overlook the fact that this was passed down to me from someone I trusted and was looking to for answers about life. So, if you are acting like this, your children are watching and will repeat your mistakes. That was a huge reason for me to correct this in myself because I don’t want my girls to be mentally tormented as I have been.

One day in the middle of the pasta aisle, my youngest daughter couldn’t take it anymore.

“Get the organic one.”

“It’s more expensive.”

“It’s a quarter more! Get it! It’s better for us than the other one!”

I held each jar. She was sending lasers with her eyes and I knew I wasn’t going home with the cheaper one. My final fight with her was over cheese, and I said,

“You know what? I am no longer at the age where I can waste my time arguing with someone over dairy products, so fine! I will get the one you want me to, and move on!”

That started me on a new road to buying healthier options.

I used to try to skimp by on everything as much as I could. God met me in that place and provided because that is how it works. I don’t do that anymore, but if something comes along that I know has been discounted to make me feel heaven’s presence, that’s another story.

Today, my friend had breast cancer surgery. It was particularly tough because her fiance, Dan, went on to heaven last winter. He had cancer for nine years and had defied all odds. He often nudges me to buy her orange flowers, and anytime I bring them to her, she has always prayed and asked for them as a sign that he is near.

I went into the store and had that persistent thought to get flowers from her heavenly husband. I knew what color they had to be, but I didn’t know if they would have any. I had made up my mind to get her a bunch, and I didn’t care what the cost was.

In the floral department, I found three big bouquets set apart from all the rest. Of course, and he never makes me guess but always directs me to them. I thought I saw a clearance price, but I wasn’t sure, so they rang up really low when I ran them through the self-checkout.

“Is this right?” I asked the employee standing nearby.

“Yes, we got a big over shipment of flowers that we had to sell. Those are really pretty.”

A blessing had found me when I least expected it.

I spent next to nothing for them when I was prepared to empty my bank account to ensure she knew how much she is watched over.