Imposter

I had a tree taken down in my backyard two years ago. I had gotten rid of some of the wood by offering to cart it over to the new neighbors who had just put in a fire pit. The rest of this massive tree sat stacked up against the shed with the idea it would be burned. 

Common sense took over, and maybe a touch of generosity as I considered getting rid of it. I saw a sign at a store that a small bundle of it was selling for $8, so I thought maybe someone could use it since I probably would not outlive the pile.

On the first day, I did a small test run to see if it would attract any attention. Because it was only 30 degrees at the time, I had the beginning of frostbite set in, so I lost the ability to feel my hands, forcing me to quit. 

I put out smaller pieces with a FREE sign and left for about 30 minutes. I returned to see that where I had placed it was empty. 

The following afternoon, I returned to the backyard with gloved hands, warmer weather, and an anger infused attitude. Like seething, yet justified. They say that faith can move mountains. When you are unhappy, you can use that to your advantage and throw heavy logs around like toothpicks. When you think of one injustice suffered, you can suddenly think of a million of them. They all come flooding in with friends. 

You consider your losses and how they occurred, and why. The things you wished you would have said at the time, but the maddening knowledge it wouldn’t have made a difference. So you turn to the woodpile and take it out on that because it’s an inanimate object that you cannot damage or offend. 

To the outside observer, I looked like a workhorse ripping through a spring clean-up job, getting ahead of the summer heat by performing a strenuous activity in cooler temperatures. My outward rage was really masking a stab directly to my heart that I somehow couldn’t run away from. Whatever barrier God had placed before was gone, so I had to feel it thoroughly to get rid of it. 

Talking about it wasn’t helping me go around it. Praying for it to go away had done nothing. I had to go through it to release it. 

At one point, I stopped for a second and realized that the nagging thoughts about a different issue had gone away momentarily. A while ago, I read that the brain can only have you address one conflict at a time, which is why multitasking leads to overload. My long list of concerns had been whittled down to this one upset consuming all of my emotions and attention. 

What had been bothering me so much earlier was now forgotten as this painful grievance took center stage. It had been ignited from a few words sent my way by text that had set me spiraling into this hurt that had been waiting in the shadows for its time to come.

I went to grab a gigantic piece of trunk, and because it had been untouched for two years, the bark easily slid right off. Before, it had been heavy with water, almost immovable, but now after drying out, I could manage it somewhat without pulling every back and arm muscle. 

I made one trip after another to the front yard, stacking all shapes and sizes, pushing a wheelbarrow up an incline with adrenaline leading the way. As the physical exhaustion hit, I moved to stage two, where the flowing tears slowed me down. The confines and darkness of the shed gave me a minute of privacy. 

Like the tree, I had gotten down to the inner layer of the turmoil. My bark had slipped off, and I let all the water that had been trapped inside of me out to make me feel lighter to let go of this burden that I had been carrying below the surface. 

I stood there alone, wondering why it had come to this and how. 

When I returned to what I was doing, I decided only to take one more load. I knew I was pushing myself beyond my capability. With a lot more to go for a few days ahead, I didn’t want to leave myself physically incapacitated and unable to finish. 

I took smaller pieces this time, feeling weak and barely able to get to the boulevard. I saw him loading his car. He smiled at me as if I were his best friend.

“Take it all,” I said to him as he raced back and forth, and I unloaded what I had been able to manage. 

“I will. You have no idea how happy this makes me. We love building fires, and wood is way too expensive.”

“I put some out yesterday, and it disappeared quickly.”

“That was me. My wife drove by and called me, saying I had to get over here. We live up the street and my neighbor cut down a tree. I knocked on their door to see if I could take some, but they never answered. Then she saw this.”

“I have more,” I said.

“Really? I will take as much as I can.”

When he couldn’t cram anymore in, he said,

“I will come back,” just as another car pulled up to take his place. A lady with two kids rolled down the windows. A boy in the back said, 

“Is the wood free?”

“Yes. You can take as much as you want. I’m trying to get rid of it.”

“Really?”

I didn’t realize how unbelievable this was to people.

“Yes. Whatever I put out here is to be taken, and I have a lot more. Even larger pieces than this.”

They jumped out and started loading their trunk.

The woman asked,

“Is it okay if we come back later to get more?”

“Yes,” I said as I trailed off to keep going. 

Now that I had seen the gratitude, I had to keep going despite wanting to quit. Sometimes you put yourself aside during a struggle to bring joy to others. 

I made one last pile and let the rest go for the next day. I stopped because my daughter came outside and saw my condition. Strangers couldn’t recognize the anguish I had just been through, but she could. Sometimes, you need someone to come along and tell you that you have done enough. 

As I was getting into my car to leave, the woman had returned with her kids and others.

“I told my neighbors so they could take some too.”

“Thank you,” I said. “I thought no one would want it.”

“Are you kidding me? Do you know how much this costs? We should be thanking you!”

We don’t always know the value of things or even ourselves. 

I have been working on writing out an affirmation ten times daily for almost a month now. I follow this by writing out what a dream life would be. This piece of advice was presented to me, and I knew it was God’s direction. 

As I sat writing out everything that came to my mind about how I want the rest of my life to go, I heard,

“If something or someone doesn’t fit into what you write on this paper, let that be the test by which you determine what stays and what has to go. This is the way to make it be what you want so you avoid making mistakes. Only allow what will open the door to the life you want.”

I put together an artificial Christmas tree I no longer need the following day. It was from my past and had been up in the attic for years. When I hear in my mind that “someone can use that,” I don’t hesitate to put it out so it can go to its owner. 

I set it up by the woodpile and realized I was looking at a counterfeit tree up against something that had been living and breathing in my backyard at one time. The one that had provided shade and towered up so high now was in jagged pieces. Disease had brought it to its end, and it had been brought down in mercy. 

Both serve a purpose with the same title, but one is fake, pretending to be something it is not. It’s a green glorified bristle brush that can be beautiful if adorned with sparkly additions. Without all the glitz, it doesn’t hold a candle to a genuine creation by God. 

It never ever will be real, no matter how hard it tries. 

That pine scent in a can? It’s manufactured. You aren’t fooling anyone, especially when you have to spray it to keep the facade going. 

You can’t go on like that, wanting to live an authentic life all the while covering yourself with a smile, hoping that circumstances will line up to how you want them to be. If God has designed you for a purpose, and you have surrendered yourself to heaven’s call no matter what, all the deceptions and situations that hold you back or keep you in your place will be removed not to hurt you but to free you. 

When the saw gets taken to dismantle what isn’t aligned to your spiritual advancement, you are cut through to your core down to the root. Only then do you find what you were missing.

We spend a lot of time stringing up lights and throwing tinsel on ourselves, trying to fit in because that’s all we have ever done. And maybe without realizing it. 

In Matthew 16:25-26, an important truth is revealed:

Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me, and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for? (Message)

I have been shown there’s more to gain by living in honesty, no longer an imposter.

One of these things is not like the others…

Pickle

When I decided to home school, I was not met with much support. Many people had the idea that this direction in life was too risky. They thought I was putting my children into some experiment that would result in them being different from their peer group.

Exactly. 

It wasn’t viewed as I saw it. It was frowned upon as a negative, and I was warping them for life. I could always tell when the conversation was drifting that way.

“Do they have friends?”

“Yes.”

“Can they read?”

“Yes.”

“Are you a teacher?”

“No.”

“Oh.”

There was always this undercurrent of judgment that I was going against the natural order of things, which must have meant a disaster was coming on the horizon. 

An older man said to me,

“So you will have them miss out on dating football players?”

He was serious. 

Out of all the questions about their academia and overall well-being, he was concerned that there wouldn’t be an opportunity for them to go out with a hormone-enraged teenage boy who had no stability to offer. 

How could I be so irresponsible, manipulating my daughters’ futures like this? 

My girls were 14 and 17 at the time. 

“I guess so,” I said. “I have decided to let them bypass that one.”

He shook his head and clicked his tongue at me like I was an absolute lunatic. 

I wonder where all those football players are now? At the chiropractor, getting an adjustment, scheduling an MRI, and paying child support. 

I knew right from the start that what I was doing was not accepted by the general public. So much so that I threw myself into every single activity that came our way.

I helped start a co-op at a church I was attending. I came up with a name, and we printed off tee shirts, so every time we met or went somewhere, the kids and parents had on something that represented to the public we were not hiding behind closed doors. 

I planned field trips, wrote out a monthly newsletter, and taught weekly gym classes to all the kids from kindergarten on up. 

And we fit in school. Sometimes in the car on the way to whatever we were doing for that day. 

While cleaning, I found an old yearbook that I had helped put together back then.

“This is where I spit into the bushes,” I said, paging through it, reminiscing. 

We took the kids to a farm not too far from my house. It’s been converted into a historical working site that allows visitors to see how it was run in the 1800s. The man who was the original owner learned by reading everything out of various books and experimenting with crops and irrigation. He didn’t come from a lineage of farmers. He was just a guy who knew he could be a success at something without any experience by applying his knowledge. He was driven by learning something new despite the naysayers. 

Similar to homeschooling. 

During each season, they did different activities so the kids could get an idea of what life was like during a long-gone period. 

In the fall, they were shown how sorghum(sugar) was pressed out of plants, and they were allowed to do this by turning a wooden handle on an old-looking machine. In the spring, they participated in planting by walking behind two oxen as a plow sliced through the soil. 

From whatever year we had teleported ourselves back into, the instructors were dressed in that attire. The homestead was preserved so we got to see where they lived and how the indoor work was done. They took the kids through the process of churning butter by hand and making homemade pickles. 

I was handed one by an employee playing the part of one of the family members. No one wanted to sample them, and I wasn’t too excited to either, but I took it to be nice. I put it in my mouth but didn’t commit to chewing. I expected the usual salty dill taste of a vegetable that had been brined. 

It was not even close to that. And as my eyes began to water, I wondered if these were a fresh batch or leftover from the actual 1800s. I could not fathom swallowing it, but I had no backup plan. No napkin. There was nowhere to get rid of it as she stayed in character, expounding on the fact that the recipe was ages old. 

The second she freed us, I turned to go up the cellar stairs, but I got trapped behind other people. I silently prayed no one would speak to me as the juices from this rancid circular disc on my tongue slowly dripped down my throat. 

Right outside the door was an enormous bush. This would be where I spit and spit until I had nothing left to give except for my DNA for historical purposes. As I was in the throes of it, I heard a little girl say,

“Those pickles looked gross!”

You have no idea, child.

It reminds me of this verse from Revelation 3:

I know your deeds that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked?’(NIV)

Chasing a high social status and keeping up false appearances that distract you from serving your true purpose can make one blind and deaf spiritually so that you become useless. It’s easy to believe that you are on the right track when you are surrounded by all that you have acquired. Yet, you and God can be distant. 

God wants to use you in the capacity you have been born to fulfill. Material possessions and habitual living, like a comfort zone out of balance, can be stumbling blocks. It can hinder seeking and finding out why you are here. 

I recall spitting out something else surprisingly disgusting on another occasion. My mom was in the middle of baking brownies from scratch. I walked by, saw a piece of chocolate, and popped it into my mouth. 

“You will not like that,” she said, barely looking away from her measuring spoon.

“Why?”

“It’s unsweetened. It’s probably going to be….”

I heard the word “bitter” as I hung my whole face over the garbage, trying to get rid of it. 

How can something that looked so great on the outside be so toxic on the inside? 

For the next time you are in a heated trivia game, here are 11 signs of someone housing bitterness: 

  1. They hold a grudge
  2. They are always complaining 
  3. They are not grateful for the good in their life
  4. They want bad things to happen to others, so they stay superior 
  5. Jealous of others who have good happening 
  6. Can’t share in others’ joy
  7. Want the spotlight 
  8. Highly cynical
  9. Quick to blame others for their problems 
  10. Nothing positive to say about positive people
  11. Make sweeping assumptions 

Why is this so destructive? Because it affects everyone around them negatively with a high potential to cause others to join in and fall away from God. It’s a pattern of behavior not easily broken, and it sucks the life out of life. But, it’s also low-level living and can be appealing because it doesn’t require any growth. Like being drug-addicted, this is easy to start and difficult to end. And misery loves company. 

It’s explained in Hebrews 12:

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. Watch out for the Esau syndrome: trading away God’s lifelong gift to satisfy a short-term appetite. You well know how Esau later regretted that impulsive act and wanted God’s blessing—but by then it was too late, tears or no tears. (Message)

So how do we avoid getting lured in by the enticement and the world’s empty promises? Or the critical, sour voices that want to drag us down spiritually? You get quiet, ask for help, and this will follow: 

Taste and see that the Lord is good;

blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. (Psalm 34:8/NIV) 

He will distance you from the people and things that keep you from your destiny. 

This is promised in Psalm 91: 

If you’ll hold on to me for dear life,” says God,

    “I’ll get you out of any trouble.

I’ll give you the best of care

    if you’ll only get to know and trust me.

Call me, and I’ll answer, be at your side in bad times;

   I’ll rescue you, then throw you a party.”(Message)

Whether your problems are self-inflicted or not, heaven’s biggest desire is that you complete the work you were sent here to do. When you set your heart entirely on that, God will help you get out of any pickle. 

Don’t buy these, and skip the sour grapes

Song

I had been putting it off for weeks. I didn’t want to go up the rickety ladder to clean out the attic. But, there was this nagging feeling to get it done. It has pull-down wooden stairs, and then I have to put a shorter ladder underneath it to climb them. One of the springs holding the whole thing has come loose on one side, and it feels wobbly as I go up every time. I always tighten the screws on each side to make myself feel better.

I always keep my fingers crossed that this won’t be when I have to cash in my life insurance policy. I have learned how to go up quickly if everything gives way. And then I will live there for the rest of time, surrounded by all the things that I should have gotten rid of long ago.

I always go up intending to throw things away, but then I come across my kryptonite. The photo albums that I forgot were there. Suddenly, four hours have gone by, and I have nothing to show for it except wondering where the time has gone. Not for just that day, but years that I will never see again. And my natural hair color. Gone. Just like that.

This time, I also was dealing with some items I had taken from my parents’ home when I cleaned it three years ago. I pushed aside my mom’s wedding dress that I couldn’t throw, but no one wanted and started making discard and keep piles.

I felt so sluggish as I attempted to do this. Not energetic at all about setting myself free of things that no longer were serving a purpose. That is how I usually feel when I do this. I donate to the Salvation Army next to new items, which has always motivated me to clean so that someone else can use them. But that mental trick wasn’t working either.

I quit wondering why I was feeling so lazy and decided to wait until the next day to get it finished. I forced myself up there again with my oldest daughter catching what I was tossing to her below. They say that what goes up must come down. That was not the case with the gigantic Christmas tree I forgot was in a bag.

I tried every angle to push that through the opening to no avail. I even placed both of my feet on it and shoved. I realized I was making sounds like you would hear if someone gave birth.

“Are you grabbing this?” I asked, finally getting it past the metal hinges on the stairs it had gotten caught on.

No answer.

“Hey! Are you catching this?” I asked again, trying not to slide down with it.

She was too busy recording me. You just can’t get good help these days.

I kept going, and once the momentum built, I was not slowing down. As I handed her an item that sent a plume of dust all over her, I said,

“Do we still have your old guitar?”

“I don’t think so,” she said, coughing.

I turned and saw the black cloth zippered case and wasn’t sure. But, when I opened it, it was a perfectly brand new Fender electric guitar that was barely used.

This was from a time when she thought she wanted to learn and took brief lessons online with an instructor. After a while, she got bored with it. When I handed her this to take down, she said,

“I don’t know why I thought I wanted to do this.”

Usually, after determining what I would donate, I load everything in my car and drive to the thrift store to give it all away, but I had started so late on a Sunday that I decided to wait until the next day.

When I woke up the following morning, I heard very distinctly that I was to go to a particular location right by my house after an appointment that I had. I wasn’t sure why, but I never usually do.

I pulled around the back of the building and waited behind a car with a small trailer attached to it. A man came and went from the donation center, loading up shopping carts and taking them in.

Once the guy in front of me moved on, I pulled up and started taking things out of the back of my car. The worker pulled another cart and started helping me. When we got down to the last donation, I said,

“I have a strange question.”

This is the part where I always find myself in uncertain territory. Sometimes they take what you have, and other times you have to go elsewhere to get rid of things. During COVID, they took next to nothing for fear of spreading the disease.

“I have a brand new electric guitar to give away. But, I don’t know if you take those here.”

I handed it to him. I knew it was valued at $300, but that made no difference. I just wanted someone who needed it to have it.

Oddly, this very talkative man went mute. I couldn’t tell if he was struggling to tell me I had to go to a music store or list it for sale. He just stood there, staring at it. Because I have been turned away so many times and had to drag things back home, I said,

“I don’t even care if one of the intake workers takes this. I don’t want to have to deal with it.”

He just stared at it. And I kept trying to figure out why he had gone silent. He moved forward and put it back in my car.

Oh, great. He was too afraid to tell me I had to take it back.

Quietly, he said,

“I am in rehab. I am sixty days sober.”

“That’s good,” I said suddenly, unsure where we were going with this conversation.

Stammering, he said quietly,

“I really want that guitar.”

Now I was the one who had lost all of her words.

“You do?”

“Yes. I have been in rehab, and I am learning to play the guitar. I could really use that.”

It was one of those moments where you just know you have not been out of the divine timing of God one second. I might have missed him if I had cleaned the attic on Saturday and driven it over. Our paths were set to cross exactly then so God could show him that he was on the right road. I wasn’t lazy on Saturday! Or, at least, that’s what I decided.

“Where is your car? I can put it in there for you.”

I realized that he could get into trouble for this, so I tried to sneak it into his possession.

“I don’t have one. I lost all privileges. I get picked up by a bus at the end of my shift. Could I take your phone number and have my case manager call you?”

That sounded a little unsafe to me.

“What is your phone number?”

“I had that taken away too. I am still on probation because I have only completed 60 days.”

“You realize that this is God speaking to you right now, right?” I asked. “He sends me to help people, and He is telling you that if you learn how to play this instrument, this will be your way to stay sober and live a better life.”

He smiled and said,

“Yes. I know. That’s why I really want that guitar. Maybe you can Google where I am staying and talk to my caseworker.”

I told him I would and had to pull forward as another person pulled in behind me.

I looked up the address, and after some confusion, I was put in touch with someone in human resources. I left a message for the caseworker he had told me to contact.

I realized I had not heard back the next day, so I called and left another message. It was going to be challenging to get rid of me. I was going to keep calling until I got this delivered to him.

After a day of waiting, I was instructed where I could go to drop off the guitar and the speaker. This meant I would have to drive outside of my comfort zone and into the heart of the city that has had a lot of controversy in the past few years. Riots, violence, and other unsavory things have been going on there, but I was not going to be deterred.

I stuffed down my slight anxiety when I felt the darkness that seemed to be there and hurried into the rehab center.

I was greeted by a man sitting at a desk inhaling a donut.

“How can I help you,” he said, shoving in more of it.

“I was told I could drop off a guitar and speaker for a man who lives here.”

When I told him the man’s name, he said,

“Oh. He is learning how to play the guitar, and he is getting good at it.”

“I wasn’t sure this would work out, so I am glad.”

“I am a little jealous. I wish I had a pretty lady dropping off gifts for me.”

I saw that there was a placard on the desk that said Blessed.

“You are blessed, though,” I said quickly to get the attention off of me.

“Not really,” he said, laughing. “Are you nervous?”

I was trying my hardest not to let that show.

“Yes. I am not familiar with this neighborhood. I am always afraid of getting lost, and this isn’t the nicest spot to be in.”

“Me too,” he said. “It is scary down here.”

How reassuring.

Another guy came down the stairs.

“This is my boss. Is it okay if she leaves this guitar and speaker?”

When it was explained what I was doing, this man said,

“That is so nice of you! This is his second time in, and he is doing so well.”

“I told him that God was telling him to stay on the path he was on. The guitar was his sign.”

“Do you want to be a counselor here?” The donut guy behind the desk asked. Uh, no.

“God can do anything,” the other man said. “He can just come along and do anything. Everyone needs a sign from God.”

I just wanted about one million angels to escort me back to my car parked by a ladened graffiti building.

“We will be sure he gets that to start using it right away.”

I drove past the donation place on the way home, but there was no sign of him. I am sure they rotate their help where it’s needed. It wasn’t lost on me that I had helped a person to know God loved him. And the weird part was that I wasn’t even aware of it at the time. A musician from heaven was directing my steps.

In Psalm 96, it says this:

Good people, cheer God!
Right-living people sound best when praising.
Use guitars to reinforce your Hallelujahs! (Message)

You never know how you will be used to help others sing a new song.

Guide

“She’s going to scare me.”

My oldest daughter had come to me with a familiar concerned look that usually accompanied her when her sister was up to no good. 

“If you know she’s going to do this, doesn’t that make it less scary?”

If you see a car is coming, you don’t step out in front of it. You don’t talk to strangers. And you don’t run with scissors unless there’s an emergency, and then you keep the sharp end pointed toward the ground. 

“She’s planning this for the middle of the night when I’m sleeping!”

That threw in a new variable. 

I knew she was not above such tricks as I had seen the evidence. While my oldest daughter was sleeping off an illness, she had picked up a toy camera that had grainy video capability and shot footage of her. She had quietly filmed without disturbing her and even showed herself backing out of the room undetected. I found out about it later after the camera’s film had ended and it was reviewed. 

Her track record indicated she was capable of being a highly trained spy. 

“Did she tell you this?”

The master orchestrater usually never revealed her plan unless caught, and even then, it wasn’t always clear what she had devised entirely. 

“I found this on the floor in my bedroom!”

The two had shared a room for a while, one being four years old when the other was born. I had no idea until many years later when they would laugh and tell me how they would fake going to sleep at night and be in a full-blown tug of war sheet fight within minutes of my exit from the room.  

As they got older and the skirmishes increased, I knew they needed their own space—kind of like when I had to separate my two dogs from sleeping in the same kennel. 

She handed me a piece of paper. On it was the perfect drawing of my daughter’s bedroom. The details of furniture and room arrangement were exact. 

“Is this a map?” I asked, looking at the jagged edges ripped out of a notebook. 

“Yes! She’s going to hide and jump out and scare me!”

They both have fantastic drawing abilities that they did not inherit from me. She had taken her artistic flair and turned it into mental warfare.

“She didn’t just drop this on accident,” I said, catching on to what she was doing. 

“It was in the middle of the room. It wasn’t there when I left.”

“She did it on purpose to mess with your mind. Your room isn’t that big, so where will she possibly hide so you don’t know she is there?”

The thought of being vulnerable while asleep was the key to her distress. It wasn’t the actual act prompting fear but the anticipation of it. 

“She put a big x in the closet. She’s going to hide in there!”

“There is no way she’s going to do this to you. She wouldn’t tell you what would happen and where she would be ahead of time. She’s planting the idea so you stay up all night while she’s peacefully asleep.”

When I presented the paper to the six-year-old who should have been running a branch of our military, she smiled and admitted that she had put it right where she knew her sister would see it. It was all done just to get a reaction, and she had gotten what she wanted. 

Besides mind games, they were competitive. While I was distracted with a grocery list, they would be arguing over the shopping cart and who would get to sit on what side. Back then, they had plastic seats built onto the carts they sat in while I got a major workout pushing them and all the food up and down every aisle. 

Advertisers took advantage of this by putting their products on the back, just as a subliminal message to get you to buy whatever you spent the next hour or so looking at. 

“I want the Oreo side!” 

“I want it!”

The fight was on. It was Chips Ahoy versus Oreo, and it had been deemed that one was better than the other. I hadn’t recognized it the first few times, but once I did, I had to think quickly about how to solve it so there wouldn’t be a scene in public. It was a battle to convince one of them that both sides were the same. The only way was negotiation on my part.

“I will time it and give you the same minutes sitting there.” This technique calmed many storms that often blew in out of now where. That’s when you know you are winning. 

It never was fail-proof, though. Some conflicts that cropped up were beyond fixing.  

Board games were tense, with the two trying their best to outdo the other. There never was outright poor sportsmanship, but somewhat of a subtle feeling that would creep in when one was losing while the other was not.  

One game that both of them liked was Funky Fingernails. The genius who manufactured this is off on a yacht without care, living off royalties. 

The premise was to collect nine slide on nails of the same color and the prized golden nail. 

Cue the angelic music.

It was the most highly sought piece in the game, and there was only one, so that meant the winner had to secure it. But, just because someone had it didn’t mean it was theirs. A spinner was involved, giving your opponent the chance to swipe whatever they wanted from your hand to add to theirs.  

There is a universal truth I have seen in action with every kid on the planet. They don’t easily give up what they think is ‘theirs.’ 

She took MY chair! When there are a million to choose from, they sat in it for less than a minute, got up to get something, and now their sibling has slid in unknowingly because it was vacant.

He stole my favorite pencil! Same situation as the chair but a writing utensil. 

So to have a game that pits one against another is just asking for trouble. Watching an ego die can be ugly. 

Both would work frantically to gather matching colors to form the perfect fake manicure, which was another point of contention if they were trying for the same shade of pink.  

It was an emotional rollercoaster as one would gain an advantage, but then fate would reverse its course and give the other the upper hand.  

Both had gotten nine of their required nails during one of these hot-blooded matches. The youngest one had somehow managed to get the golden nail and only needed one more color, while her sister was eyeing the gold one that she needed to complete her hand. 

As luck would have it, my oldest spun, and it enabled her to take the golden nail from her sister, making her the winner. Before she could remove it, my youngest daughter started flicking and flinging plastic nails in all directions, stood up, and stormed into her bedroom. 

I sat there wondering what I should do. But before I could act, we both heard the mumblings of a person who had obviously snapped.

“I hate my room! I hate my socks! I hate my bed! I hate my pillow!”

The compulsion to compete had overtaken her ability to think straight. This rant of everything she found not to her liking poured out of her in a high-pitched yell.

I gasped when she said,

“I hate mom!”

I almost went in to silence her outburst, but I let it go to see where we would end up. At first, the two of us sat there shocked but restrained ourselves from laughing as it went on so she wouldn’t hear us. 

“I hate the dog! I hate everything! I hate the trees! I hate my window!”

I really struggled and had to put both of my hands over my mouth not to laugh out loud when she said,

“I HATE OUTSIDE!”

Then it went silent. As fast as it had begun, it was over. I waited to ensure that all of it was out in the open before I crawled over to her door and looked in. 

She was sound asleep on her bed. Later, I realized she had been running a fever, so her behavior was partly based on that and that she had been stuffing down her amped-up anxiety that grew with each turn taken.

We can pretend that our childhood gave way to such things, and we are so much further along and mature as adults. But are we?

Two things that don’t go well together are fear and paranoia. Going to the store meant seeing bare shelves as terror gripped the hearts of many. 2020 is a bit farther away now, but this was a daily existence during the pandemic’s beginning. 

I was checking out at an office supply store the other day, and the cashier said,

“Do you want some hand sanitizer?”

First, I wondered if he thought my hands were filthy. They weren’t. Then, I pondered what the sales pitch was going to be. 

“What?” 

“Do you want some hand sanitizer? We have way too much, and we have to get rid of it, so we have to give it away.”

He handed me two large bottles of it. This would have been like finding gold two years ago. The race to get it and horde it had been at an all-time high. Some guy had made national news because he had scooped up so much of it, was gouging people in price for it, and has charges against him. He is not anyone’s favorite person. Now, it is freely being gotten rid of as a burden. 

What was so feared yesterday isn’t so much today, and what was sought after as the must-have item is available everywhere and to excess. 

What does that say? Our emotions are fleeting, and that is where you have to decide if you will be led by your spirit or by your flawed thinking.  

In John 4:1 it states:

My dear friends, don’t believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you. (Message)

This verse was written concerning false prophets and preachers who claim they are genuine, but it could be applied to everything that comes our way. Mass hysteria is built on no one thinking clearly. It’s the insertion of an idea to get a reaction that creates a ripple effect. Instead of reacting to the news, especially what seems dire, take a minute to question it. 

Panic is like watching people do the wave at a sporting event. One section starts it, and it goes from row to row to see if it can make it back to its origin.

Eventually, it dies out because someone decides to quit, and then others make the same decision, much in the same way it got started, just like the highly sought-after hand sanitizer that now is collecting dust on the shelves.

We can learn from these things. 

In 2 Corinthians, 5:7 there’s an additional protective device given to those who wish to make themselves less likely to fall for false appearances, like the possible threat of your sister scaring you in the middle of the night:

For we walk by faith; not by sight. (ESV)

Run it past God; ask to be shown with your spiritual eyes what its reality is. Is this how heaven would deliver a sign or a message? Is it helpful and peaceful? Or is it meant to cause you to go into alarm mode? 

Let heaven be your guide.

(The source of many conflicts….)
(This needs to go right next to that Tickle Me Elmo you bought..and the Cabbage Patch dolls…)

Cross

I sent her to her room for a minute to think. It wasn’t so much for her as it was for me. I had read countless parenting books about how to deal with the unruly. I had gotten it down to steps. First came the warning that someone would be booked on a one-way ticket to another part of the house away from me if things didn’t change.

If that was not heeded by some chance, which was unusual, separation from everyday living occurred. While this would seem like discipline to some, my youngest daughter took this as an opportunity to make the most of it. When many would be beating down the door like it was a prison cell, wanting to escape, she did the opposite.

She got out every available toy, knowing she would not have to share with her sister, and got lost in her imagination as she played alone.

I would have to tell her she could come back out, but she often wouldn’t because she was enjoying herself so much.

One time, she took what should have been isolation a bit too far. She had gotten into an altercation, tested my patience, and landed in solitary confinement. After the prescribed minutes of being in juvenile lockup, I told her that her time of self-reflection was over. The door stayed shut, and she made no move to free herself.

I had gotten to the point where I let her decide, but it was so quiet I decided to check on her. It was just past Easter, and I could tell she had merrily passed the time by living it up, eating her candy, and tossing wrappers all over the room. So much for only bread and water.

As I was taking that in, she ran past me, which I found strangely suspicious. It wasn’t until later when I heard her sister yell her name that she had been up to no good.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

I had given them each a small cross made of chocolate. My oldest daughter had a white one with bright colored flowers in the middle. Unlike her younger sister, she made things last. It wasn’t uncommon for the Fourth of July to roll in, and she still hadn’t finished all of what she had been given.

“She ate my cross!”

You don’t hear that every day. In horror, my oldest explained that she had purposefully not eaten the middle part, but her sister had no problem swallowing it down.

“I had saved where the pretty flowers were, and she ate it!”

She showed me the empty box it had been in.

How do you punish someone that you had already detained in punishment? This was not in any of my parenting books. There were no steps after this one. I found so many times along the way the conflicting emotions that would crop up as I was presented with this type of dilemma.

The first thing you try not to do is smile or laugh at how hilarious it is because of hurt feelings, and it’s so wrong. You mentally repeat that this is not funny, so you can commiserate with the victim whose last bite has been gulped down by a three-year-old who knew precisely what she was doing. You immediately go to the store to try and find something to make up for the loss while doing your best acting job frowning at the other one.

That’s where the forehead wrinkles come from.

Like my daughter, who adapted to wherever her behavior got her, some people can accept unpleasant situations better than others. They make the best of it, knowing that it won’t last forever. They don’t go on social media and rant for hours on end, tell every neighbor they see, and talk to every stranger at the grocery store.

Sometimes I’m surprised when I find out later that a person is plagued with a problem, and I would have no idea until someone told me. It’s not that they are faking their way through it. There’s this heavenly glow about them because they have made up their mind to accept the news, deal with it and still live as if nothing has changed. It’s not a secret, but it’s not been made the focal point of their existence. They don’t seem to be suffering in silence either. They have revealed their pain to a select few who offer steadfast support and give the rest to God.

They have tapped into a part of themselves where the peace that passes all understanding resides.

Since we have been taught that if you receive “bad” news or you have to deal with something that has been identified as unfavorable, this must require you to limp through life, making sure everyone knows how bad off you are.

I have been handed my fair share of circumstances that I would have instead bypassed. But in all those instances, I have learned more about God and a strength that I would have never known.

While embroiled in it, you aren’t always aware of the work that is being done inwardly, but it starts showing up in small ways. You begin to view things differently, as if God has placed a pair of glasses over your eyes and you have keen insider knowledge about situations before they occur.

You get to the point that whatever the trial is that you are involved in, you start to be thankful for it because, without it, you would never have transformed into a better version of yourself—one who can extend herself to those in their times of pain.

In James 1:2-4, it is stated:

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. (Message)

I have to say, this can take a minute to get to this realization. It’s not necessarily an overnight adjustment.

I have been in many spiritual circles where people talk about wanting to be more “mature”. They express that they desire to come up higher and experience the more extraordinary things of God, but I don’t think they understand the sacrifice it takes to come to an elevated level. Usually, this means addressing something you have grown accustomed to blocking your progress. It has become so familiar it can feel like a vital organ or body part needed for survival when it really isn’t.

Take worry, for example. Or substances that disengage you from feeling. And comfort zones that numb your spiritual senses.

When all of those get stripped away because you realize they are only temporary fixes and confront what you don’t want to, you realize there’s a God you can trust. The heaviness of it all seems to lessen even though the trouble may still exist. You get a little wrapped up in this supernatural bubble where you don’t need to run from it anymore because it lost its power over who you are. You only look to God.

When you trade in your default mechanisms for coping, you are rewarded with spiritual tools that far surpass anything else you could ever devise. You are then able to bear your cross.

Bear your cross, don’t eat other people’s crosses…

Seeking

“You have to work from the end to the beginning,” he said. 

It wasn’t often that my dad got involved with my homework, but for some reason, he saw me struggling and jumped in to rescue me so I could learn a life-changing skill. 

He graduated with all F’s, so I am sure this shortcut he was about to show me came from his days of looking for an easy way out. And pure genius that they never would teach you in school.

When you are in first grade, the powers that be want to keep you interested in attending, so the workload is minimal. The love-hate relationship between me and having to sit for hours at a desk hadn’t kicked in at that age yet. I was still eager to show up and try to do the assignments that were sent home.

He saw me moving a pencil across a sheet of paper and erasing. So much erasing and sighing. He knew all the signs of overwhelm. 

“What are you doing, Chris?”

He sat down at the table next to me and took the paper so he could see it. 

“Are you having trouble with this?”

It was obvious. 

“Do you see where it says the word end?”

“Yes.”

“Start there. Whenever you do a maze on paper, start at the end and work your way back to the start.”

I looked at it again from a different perspective. 

I was following the crowd, and he was telling me not to. I had been so focused on getting to the conclusion and following the instructions that I didn’t realize I could do it any other way. I thought, on some level, it was cheating if I didn’t do it like everyone else was attempting to. 

I thought it was written in stone that I had only one way of solving the problem, so it was blocking me from figuring it out.  

Having the teacher say,

“I’m sending you home with a puzzle to solve,” was another mental obstacle. 

Even then, I was sensitive to words and their impression on me. One phrase or sentence can emotionally impact me subconsciously, and I have to discern whether it’s the truth or not. I didn’t realize I had this “gift” then. 

I automatically visualize when someone tells me something, and I can’t unsee it. It connects me to what is being said so I can understand and empathize with a situation as if I have experienced it. I can bypass it at other times because I have taught myself how to do that. But, at this age, I was still not aware of what my mind did with information. 

To say I was impressionable was an understatement. It was like a superpower that I had to learn how to harness to use for good.  

The word ‘puzzle’ set the idea it would be difficult. This wasn’t going to be a simple flashcard with an image on it like a cow, dog, or a pig that I had to identify and verbalize. It was a more challenging task to complete, and it wasn’t like she gave us a rallying speech that said she knew we could accomplish it. 

It was more daunting as if we were not going to graduate from life if we came back with the wrong answer. 

He handed it back to me, and with his finger, he showed me this clear-cut path that led to the start. There were no dead ends or starting completely over. There was no questioning of left or right, getting hung up in a far dark corner and then figuring out which way to go. It cut the confusion completely out and illuminated the only way. 

“Start at the opposite end of the paper and work your way to the top.”

I felt like I had been shown a way where there seemed to be no way. I was free from the dilemma that had been handed to me and given guidance from someone who had been in my situation before. 

Within seconds, I followed what he had told me to do, and I was no longer chained down to what the public school system thought would shape me into a better person.  

His advice was good, and when I taught my girls this method, they found it to be foolproof. They were saved from the same torment that I was.  

After proving that we could escape an enclosure on paper, we were sent home with a word search where we had to circle whatever terms were listed at the bottom. 

I was having trouble finding a particular word. It was one massive conglomeration of letters in rows that had no meaning but were hiding what I was determined to find. 

While I was sweating it out, my mom noticed I was stuck. 

“Chris, pick out one letter and just look for that one. It will eventually lead you to what you are trying to find.”

For example, if you are trying to find the word zebra, look for a z only. 

When I put her trick to the test, just like my dad’s instructions for making things less complicated, it saved me time. Instead of looking at the big picture, I focused my attention on a smaller scale.

“If you break something apart, it makes it easier to spot instead of looking at all of it at once.”

There were solid spiritual messages that I don’t think either party was aware of in both cases, but now I get it.  

Starting at the bottom and working your way to the top can happen after you have decided to give up what you thought was right, but God is calling you to a new way. It’s part of a rebuilding process where everything seems as if you are doing things from a backward standpoint to get to where you want to go. So much erasing. 

Nothing is familiar; you feel like you die a new death every day, and by night, you cry yourself to sleep, questioning your decision-making, being pulled by what you know is God because the signs keep on showing up. And somehow, you keep trying to walk in the way your spirit leads you. 

Sometimes you aren’t walking but dragging yourself down the path with the promise that things might get better. Most of that is just the fatigue from insomnia, but you cling to this from Psalm 119:1-8:

You’re blessed when you stay on course, walking steadily on the road revealed by God.

You’re blessed when you follow his directions,

doing your best to find him.

That’s right—you don’t go off on your own;

you walk straight along the road he set.

You, God, prescribed the right way to live;

now you expect us to live it.

Oh, that my steps might be steady,

keeping to the course you set;

Then I’d never have any regrets

in comparing my life with your counsel.

I thank you for speaking straight from your heart;

I learn the pattern of your righteous ways.

I’m going to do what you tell me to do;

don’t ever walk off and leave me. (Message)

My mom’s help reminds me of this from Matthew 6:34:

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes. (Message)

If that doesn’t say to take the largeness of life and go piece by piece, one day at a time, I don’t know what does. 

Most of us want to do things in the order that makes sense, and we want it done yesterday. That usually isn’t how God makes things happen. 

“Seek,” she said to me.  

It was one of those moments when I didn’t want to take her advice, but there it was already in the air and aimed at me.   

“What?” I asked my youngest daughter.

“You need to seek.”

“No, I think you do.”

We were watching tennis, so it felt right to volley it back at her. 

“NO, you do.”  

She wasn’t the one questioning everything, so maybe she was right. 

I picked up a journal that I had written in several months prior, and it fell open to a page where I had written in the margin,

Seek Ye First

I forgot I had written it. I turned it around so she could see it—big mistake. Her piercing stare said it was now an assignment. 

In Matthew 6:30-33 it says:

If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. (Message)

You already know the ending when you see a movie or read a book more than once. Isaiah 46 follows along with that idea. 

I am God, the only God you’ve had or ever will have—

    incomparable, irreplaceable—

From the very beginning telling you what the ending will be,

All along letting you in

on what is going to happen,

Assuring you, ‘I’m in this for the long haul,

I’ll do exactly what I set out to do’. (Message)

And in John 16:13, we are promised this:

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. (NLT)

If you find yourself trying to figure something out, God promises to show you things that might not make sense now but will help during the struggle of the seeking. 

(Is it bad if I see the word BAD in the Love puzzle?)

Snowed

With my noise-canceling earbuds in, I was deep in thought when I saw her wave at me frantically. I paused my problem-solving, which some would deem as worry, and looked at her.

She had a shovel in her hand and looked like she had been attempting to chip away at the ice that was thick across the bottom of her driveway. I was nearing my own house, returning from a walk along a trail.

I shut off what I was listening to and smiled at her.

“Could you get my newspaper out of the box?” she asked. I was standing on the street right by it.

“Sure,” I said.

“I don’t want to fall on the ice.”

“I don’t want you to either.”

I reached in and handed it to her.

“We didn’t get around to this last time it stormed, and now it has gotten slippery.”

I could see my own iceberg from where I was standing.

“That’s mine right there. I know the feeling. I think spring can get rid of it for me.”

She told me her name and asked me mine.

“How long have you lived here?”

“Thirty-one years,” I said.

“Really? We have been here thirty-seven.”

Who’s counting? I don’t like to.

“I have been here almost as long as you, and I hardly know anyone around me,” I said.

“We don’t either. Our neighbors in the backyard are really the only ones.”

“The two houses on both sides of me are about it,” I said.

She gestured to the house to her right and said,

“They went to school with my kids and don’t even talk to us. The person on this other side is single and comes home and never is outside.”

“My mom and dad’s neighborhood was full of people who all got together all the time,” I said.

“Ours was too. It just isn’t like that anymore.”

Is it the brutal winter weather that drives us in or the scorching heat of the summer? Or binge-watching?

When I moved into my house, I had an elderly couple who owned property along the entire block, with a super small house planted close to mine. They had raised their kids and had a million grandchildren.

I was in my early twenties and had a full-time job while my house was under construction.

When I would stop by to see how things were coming along, I would be greeted by Ron with a complete report of the day.

“I saw someone show up here at 9 am, and they left at 9:05. I don’t know what they wanted.”

“Okay.”

“I saw them haul out a lot of black dirt and replace it with sand. I don’t think that is right. They are using that on another site, and that is wrong.”

They had created a crater in my backyard. Which they were calling a ‘pond.’

“You need to call the city and tell them.”

This started hostile phone calls from the builder threatening not to finish the job. Because of Ron’s advanced age, he wasn’t intimidated like I was, so I took his advice, and the company had to bring back all that they had taken.

From then on, my house was under the watchful eyes of both of them.

“Chris, I saw a guy come to your front steps right after you left. He got here at 10 am and left at 10:15. I don’t know what he wanted.”

I didn’t need a dog or a security system. Some wouldn’t have liked that, but I thought it was a great bonus to have someone standing guard right next to me.

When Ron got sick, I saw the ambulance come and pick him up. He never returned, dying in the hospital, leaving his wife, who was in her late 80s, alone with the house and property. I watched her over that summer trying to replicate the outdoor work that Ron had done, but it was too much.

She donated the house to the fire department, using it in a burning exercise. I stood next to her and held her hand as she watched it go up in flames. It was something she had wanted to do, but she saw years and memories go up with tears streaming down her face.

The land was parceled into four lots, and new housing went in. I recall smelling a strong scent of pine with my front windows open one day. The tall trees that lined their property were chopped down to their stumps.

It signified that nothing would remain the same, and I started praying for new people who would be just as nice as they had been.

My prayers were answered when a couple who should have been leaning more toward downsizing bought the house. I was astonished that God had given me exactly what I had asked for. And just as much as my former neighbors had watched over my house, so did these two.

Alvin, a retired horticulturist, had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. But, this didn’t stop him from working outside. His wife, raised on a farm, planted flowers in the house in the winter and transplanted them in the spring, so she spent a lot of her time outside. Both of them watched my property like hawks. This was extra comforting because, by this time, I was divorced, raising two girls on my own.

“Do you mind if I come over and pull all the weeds out of your backyard for you?”

Who would say no to that?

I left the back gate unlocked and would find him lying on my lawn, happily plucking weeds by hand. He didn’t believe in pesticides, and the work helped keep him distracted from the physical symptoms that were slowly taking over his body.

They had a slope in their backyard, and with his balance so bad, it was not uncommon for me to see him going forward with momentum putting him into an unexpected run, causing him to fall. More than once, I had to leap over the fence and make sure he was okay.

One night, he rang my doorbell. I was running a fever, but I went outside to talk to him so that I could stay at a distance. Over the years, his posture had deteriorated to the point where he was completely bent over, with his face downward.

When I approached him, I saw tears falling to the ground.

“What is wrong?” I asked. He was generally in a good mood, always smiling no matter what pain he was in.

He said his wife’s name in barely a whisper. His speech had also started to suffer, so I always had to crouch down to understand what he was saying.

“She died.” He started sobbing uncontrollably. It shocked me as I had thought she would be around longer than he would. He struggled to tell me that she had passed on and when her funeral would be.

With him in poor condition, the family had to relocate him. He fought them the whole way, grieving the loss of everything he had known, and I tried to tell him that his wife would want him to be somewhere he was safe. I waved to him as his son drove him away.

I was back to asking God to provide me with quiet people who didn’t have kids who threw crazy parties at all hours. Or left dogs outside to bark nonstop. I was beginning to realize how lucky I had been with the previous people who resided next to me.

Lightning does strike twice, and another couple moved in that checked off all the boxes I had asked for.

The first winter after Alvin was gone was difficult because he always helped me with snow removal. I shoveled, and he would come by for the heavier piles. I had gotten used to him suddenly coming up behind me and telling me to move out of the way.

I was thinking about that one Saturday while down by the end of my driveway, trying to remove the massive wall of snow that the city had plowed from the street. I was thinking about how much I missed his help.

No sooner had I thought that the new neighbor was behind me, telling me to move out of his way so he could help.

Periodically, he has done this for me over the years, but not often. He’s a hard working man, so I appreciate that he comes along when I need it most. Shoveling snow isn’t fun, but it provides exercise and fresh air, so I tell myself this when it falls upon me. I go outside like a zombie and get it over with because I have done it for so long.

I looked out the window with dread. I wasn’t feeling up to fresh air after the last snowfall. By the time we are in the twenty-second month of winter, I am fatigued from clearing the accumulation.

I heard my neighbor start his snowblower from where I was on the couch.

“Please come and clear out my driveway,” I said out loud. I looked over at my daughter who was in the living room with me. I was going to put on my jacket, but I decided to wait.

“I am so tired; I don’t want to go out there.”

After a few minutes, I saw snow flying like someone was at the end of my driveway.

When I looked out, he was removing all the snow for me.

“Oh my gosh!” I screamed. “He is doing it!”

“Hey! Stop!” she said, laughing, as I started to rock her chair violently back and forth, not able to contain my excitement about not having to go out into the cold and do manual labor. I could not believe it was actually happening.

I was being sent the most powerful message from God.

Our words matter.

I had said it so casually with hardly any feeling. It was a wish, at best.

What else can I have that I don’t have because I haven’t asked? In John 16:24 it says,

Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (NKJV)

God had sent help my way even when I didn’t think it was happening. Going back over three decades has me see it more clearly. The world would have us believe that no one cares, everything is harsh and that all is lost, but it isn’t true.

When you go back and recount all the places where divine help showed up, you won’t fall for the idea that God’s goodness doesn’t exist anymore.

You will be less likely to be tricked or snowed.

Suck

A few years ago, my daughter and I had the pleasure of tearing the vacuum cleaner apart on a Saturday. I needed to use it, and it wasn’t working right. 

After unplugging it, I flipped it over, and this particular model wouldn’t let me remove the beater bar. I got out a pair of scissors and began to cut away all the hair that had wrapped itself around it. With all of our technology, this act feels like it’s a throwback to caveman days. 

It’s just one step up from pounding letters onto a rock slab. 

I looked at the pile of hair I had freed and wondered why none of us had gone bald. Or donated it to be made into ten wigs. 

This same problem seems to cause drain issues with the shower. I always seem to be the lucky one who gets to experience water creeping up to my knees because it clogs during my turn. We only have one, so by some luck of the draw, it decides enough is enough, and soon the tub is filling up. 

There are only two solutions at that moment for this kind of trouble. Either stop the water and try to remedy it while you stand there freezing, which generally isn’t the answer because it needs something poured down it to clear it. Or you move faster before you drown in the oncoming flood. 

It’s a blessing to have a healthy head of hair until you have three adults shedding. 

So after untangling the mess, I expected the vacuum to roar back to life. It didn’t. Unbeknownst to me at the time, my youngest daughter possessed the ability to rip things apart and put them back together. I am not mechanically inclined, so I’m unsure where she inherited this trait. 

We both dismantled what we could, tried to make it look new, and then put it back together—some of the screws that should have been easy to get out fought us. 

After hours, magically, it worked. 

“What is this for?” I asked, discovering a piece on the floor after we were done. 

“I don’t know,” she said, looking at it. That is one of those moments where you decide to ignore the leftover part and move on. 

A different vacuum has been purchased since then, one that claimed it could handle a lot of pet fur, so why not apply that to humans as well?

I have not read the instruction manual one time in the five years since we have had the new one unless I have to. I have a stack of books to get through; who has time to read a book on how to vacuum? 

I read an excellent section about using the attachment that is supposed to be used on the upholstery.  

Thrilling.

It seems every so often, I realize there is a new hidden feature on it that needs to be maintained. It took me two years to conclude that I could separate the entire canister from the inside filter to empty it. 

Then I had the revelation of a filter in the filter that also needed attention. 

I have found at least three places where years of debris had collected that should have been emptied. How do I know this? Because it quit working correctly, I had to go through trying to figure out where the problem was. This is usually when I pull up the manual online, deal with that one issue and move on. 

“I found another plastic clamp that unhooks this thing, and I should have known this five years ago,” I say to her.

“Again?“

“Yes.”

This has happened so many times I have lost count. 

The vacuum my parents had didn’t have tubes and valves to deal with. It was a glorified broom and dustpan. You ran it, threw away a bag, and then forgot to put in another bag before your mom used it the next time, so you got in trouble for not replacing it. Simple. 

I am still, in some ways, not accustomed to using a machine that requires me to think. 

I thought I had finally learned everything there was to know about this current one. No longer was I going around being naive to its functions. If something was amiss, it was no longer taking up my time to fix it or have the worry I was going to break it.

A few Saturdays ago, I hit the on button, and the bar wouldn’t spin. It sent out crud instead of picking up. Along the way, you learn that you cannot ignore certain things. Like the filth it is sending out, making the carpet dirtier, and the smell of scorched hair. 

It never fails when there is the slightest hint of this in the air, I will hear from another room,

“What is that horrible smell?”

I want to say that it’s my Saturday afternoon getting burned up while I waste my time on cleaning something that is supposed to be cleaning. 

I got out the scissors again to cut away the accumulation. This did nothing to get it working right; the bar would not budge. 

“You are going to have to help me,” I told her.

Neither of us was looking forward to it as we sat in the middle of the living room, looking at it like we were about to perform surgery. 

“This whole section comes off,” she said with great confidence. 

I had not seen her doing any research to know this. 

“Are you sure? I don’t want to do that and then find out an hour from now it wasn’t right.”

The sigh speaks volumes. 

I found two new red levers I hadn’t realized were there before, which made the entire piece pop off easily in seconds. We got down to the problem at record speed but then realized the whole bar had to come off. 

Something jammed on one side of it, impeding its spinning ability. She got out a tweezer-like instrument and started to pluck away at the stuff that was sticking out. Small, precise movements that had me looking at the clock instantly.  

This is where the prayers to God began. 

At some point, you realize you are threatening the tiniest screw that won’t turn, and it holds you hostage. One small inanimate object has you at gunpoint, bringing to the surface in your mind every swear word you have ever thought of. 

Then you go into the laughing portion of it where you both don’t know why you are, but you are, and anyone walking into the room would think you have gone off your medication or you require some. 

She pulled on the stuck piece while I tried to free the screw one last time. It broke off. Sometimes there are causalities when you are involved in situations like this. 

You cut your losses, fix it, and go on, knowing the other three will keep it together. 

I vacuumed the entire house without any other issues.

“Why is the vacuum not working?” She asked me five days later. She was cleaning her room.

“What do you mean? It worked perfectly after we took it apart.”

“It won’t turn on.”

It had to be the outlet, so I tried another one. It wasn’t that either.

So we began the process of checking all the usual trouble spots, but I saw nothing wrong. The advice I found online pointed to the on/off switch. Once you take off the brush below, a reset button requires you to hold down one of the two buttons to get it going again. 

Who knew it had a snooze function? 

I was dealing with nothing short of a highly advanced piece of equipment that now screamed overkill. It was like I was dealing with the space shuttle, and it did take rocket science to figure it out. 

I did exactly as instructed, and it sat stone-cold silent. 

We looked at each other like we had committed murder.

“This worked after we fixed it. This makes no sense.”

We went over everything again, coming up with no answers. 

Then she had a lightbulb moment.

“Is the power off?”

The sun was out, so there was no need to have lights on. I flicked the light switch, and nothing happened. I tried others and got the same result.

Others were functioning, and I had this experience many times over the years. It was the trek to the circuit box, looking at the small map that shows me what runs on which one. I heard the vacuum come on above me with two switches dealt with. 

Sometimes what you think is the problem isn’t the problem.

Your ability to solve something in your life can seem so black and white when you look at it logically. You should take part A and hook it up to part B and be on your way. But what if that isn’t the solution? What if God is trying to show you a deeper issue that needs healing for you to get past it and never have to deal with it in the future? Unless you are willing to look further into it, it can lay dormant, waiting to present itself again, just like always, causing the same problems.

Instead of that, it’s helpful to undergo a process where God reveals to you the exact source of the issue so you can fix it. 

In Psalm 139:23-24 it says,

Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; Cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I’m about; See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong—then guide me on the road to eternal life. (Message)

When you allow God to do this, you can move ahead, being led strongly into new power, leaving you able to deal with anything that presents itself that seemed impossible before. 

Heaven’s mission is always to bring you to your highest potential, where your faith runs at its best, you see the good in all, and unlike my rouge vacuum, life doesn’t suck.

 

Honorable Discharge

Before taking a single psychology class, I grew up in an environment that taught me more by observation than any professor ever could. No textbook could even come close to the education I received by being born into the household where I somehow landed.

“Your dad is using selective hearing again,” my mom announced as she stalked past me.

I had not heard of that term before. Why would I? I was in middle school and not married.

“What is that?”

“It’s when someone hears you, but they pretend that they don’t. But then you can ask another question, maybe something that interests them, and miraculously they respond to you. He does this to me all the time.”

I had seen it in action, but I didn’t know it had an official name.

There could be two reasons for this. Either he had trained himself to do it because it got overwhelming with so many kids in the house, or she just asked too many questions.

“I wonder why he does it?” She asked.

See? Like that.

“Did you ask him?”

“Yes. He didn’t hear me.”

He was a master.

A few weeks ago, all of these memories of him putting her on ignore came rushing back to me.

I was at his apartment while a physical therapist was working with him.

“Can you stand up?” She said in a highly elevated tone of voice.

It has been officially determined that he now has hearing loss in both ears due to his military training. He had no problem while I was growing up, but he has used hearing aids to help as he has aged.

I went to the audiologist with him for testing a few years ago at a veteran’s clinic.

The room we had to be in was soundproof and actually hurt my ears because it was so quiet. I didn’t realize that seclusion could be painful.

“He lip-reads almost ninety-nine percent of the time even with hearing aids in,” she said.

So when Covid hit, and all the mask-wearing began, it became impossible to communicate with that on.

When the physical therapist asked him to stand, I thought he hadn’t heard her because her mouth was covered.

“Did you hear her say to get up?”

“She did?”

“Yes. Can you stand up?”

At almost ninety, it’s a challenge, but he eventually will. After walking and running through strengthening exercises, I see he starts to fade out, and his attention span gets short.

She explained to me his limitations and what she could do to keep him strong without taking away his independence in other areas. While all of this discussion was going on, I looked over at him, wondering how this fully affected him. He won’t ever tell me anything unless I really probe for answers.

He puts on somewhat of a front, keeping his true feelings hidden.

He was wearing a new listening device that connects to a small battery-operated unit with earbuds to amplify sound.

When I had first put it on him and was going to adjust the volume, I asked,

“Can you hear me?”

He looked right at me and said,

“No, Chris. I can’t hear you.”

That was my sign it was functioning correctly.

With her going through a rundown of all that he can’t do, I was slightly concerned that this would bother him.

“Do you want some water?” I asked him, interrupting her. He didn’t answer me. I thought maybe he hadn’t heard me, so I repeated it. Nothing.

“Can you hear me?” I asked, wondering if the new device was malfunctioning. He still seemed not to hear me.

I repeated my question with no response.

This time I decided to upgrade.

“Can you hear me, or are you choosing not to?”

“Selective hearing,” he said, then smiled.

“Do you have that on your list for him to work on?” I asked her.

Unfortunately, it isn’t.

Later, I started to inquire about his time in the military, which had led to his hearing loss.

“I was in training to use a 40-millimeter anti-aircraft gun.”

“What was that for?”

“To shoot down airplanes.”

“And they didn’t know back then to have you wear ear protection?”

“Right. So that caused damage to my hearing.”

He went into the National Guard at seventeen and served once a month while in high school.

“I made $40 doing that. Then, the Korean War was cropping up, and they needed people, so I went into the army.”

I’m not sure how he gained the position, but he became a sergeant. He had been in a street gang as a leader, so that might have come into play when they looked for recruits who they needed to enforce discipline.

“Those were not the best of days,” he said. “I didn’t like the bayonet training.”

From as far back as I could remember, he didn’t speak much about this time of his life. Just a couple of things like how he would pour cold water on the same guy who took a shower.

My dad would be shaving at a sink, and this man would come in after everyone else had left.

“He liked to have the place to himself. And he would sing at the top of his lungs. He wasn’t that great of a singer.”

While he was in the stall, my dad would pour a cup of cold water on his head and quickly run back to the sink and go back to looking in the mirror.

“Who did that?” the man would yell, pulling back the shower curtain.

My dad, not giving any eye contact and keeping the blade to his face, would say,

“He went that way,” and would nod toward the door.

“He never caught on that it was me. I would let a few days go by in between to throw him off. He always asked me who it was but never thought it was me.”

Another event he went through was not as humorous.

“Was the worst part the guy who died? The one who wouldn’t listen to you?”

“Yes. I had to take his tags and send them to the family after he was killed.”

He put in all the work of getting young men ready for battle, and there was one who never followed his instructions.

“He was belligerent. Always talking back at me and would do what I said but always did something slightly to change it to what he thought was best.”

Just before being sent over to Korea, it was determined that my dad could not go. He had allergies that made his eyes water and burn, so it was decided to hold him back.

“I had trained them, and I didn’t get to go with them. That was not easy. I didn’t know who I would ever see again.”

The first to die was the man who thought he knew it all. A sniper hit him because he hadn’t followed instructions on entering a situation he found himself in, and he became an easy target.

“I tried to get him in line, but he just would not listen to me.”

My dad saw Proverbs 12:1 in action:

If you love learning, you love the discipline that goes with it—how shortsighted to refuse correction! (Message)

Whenever he reflects on this, I still see an incredible sadness overcome him. Like it was his fault in some way, and it haunts him.

I equate that to when we ignore God.

Some portray this as a fire and brimstone type of relationship where if we don’t follow orders, we are subjected to the hatred of God. But we aren’t.

In Ephesians 4:30, we find that we can cause a different reaction when we don’t follow the voice of God:

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. (Message)

Being proactive is always better by asking for help and applying this instruction from Jeremiah 33:3:

“Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.” (ESV)

What landmines and trouble could you avoid by asking for answers from the One who can see what you can’t? God doesn’t want a spiritual sniper to take you out prematurely from fulfilling what you were put on earth for.

I place before you Life and Death, Blessing and Curse. Choose life so that you and your children will live. And love God, your God, listening obediently to him, firmly embracing him. (Deuteronomy 3:19-20)

Above all else, our goal should be to follow God, do what we are told, and we will be granted from this life into heaven an honorable discharge.

Transplant

There was a particular place that she wanted to go to. It couldn’t just be a store that sold many things, but one that only focused their attention on what she was looking for. It’s not something I would pursue because of bad experiences, but she often pushes me past my resistance to trying something again.

I didn’t want to take on another responsibility with all the others that I already had. So my idea was to go with her but not buy anything.

As I drove there, I tried to keep quiet and not think about how many other times I had done this, which led to failure.

“Have you read about how to do this? You know what you are doing?”

“Yes.”

Of course she had because she’s smarter than I am.

We walked across the icy parking lot with an intense winter wind whipping, slapping us across the face. The double doors opened, and warm air surrounded us.

Sunlight streamed in, and it was as if we had gone from the Antarctic to a tropical island with plants of all shapes, colors, and variations. There wasn’t anything that I couldn’t kill from the very tiniest to taller than me. This is why I didn’t want to come in the first place. There was a long list of casualties on my record of house plants not making it very long no matter how closely I followed all the rules or not.

“I want to look at the orchids,” she said.

I had never had one of those, so she was on her own with that. Let the blood of the innocent be on her hands this time.

As we looked at them, I saw instructions sticking up, printed on a card:

Place one ice cube in soil three times per week.

“An ice cube? I don’t get it.”

Where we live, the cold instantly takes the life of any outdoor plant, so now, we were to put ice on our indoor plants? That sounded like someone who had murdered growing things like me; get it over with.

Throw a bag of ice on that, and call it good, that I could do.

I looked into it further, and it was actually a way to make sure it was getting enough water without it draining out. It’s a slow release of hydration instead of one big blast.

When a salesperson came over, I asked her if it was effective.

“I wouldn’t do it. It’s a trend now. Dipping the container in water works best.”

She chose the one she wanted, and I did not believe it would make it until spring, but I knew she had to try.

We looked around, and I overheard a lady trying to figure out what to buy.

This is not a quick decision. You have to think about where you will place it concerning how light comes into your house. Does it need direct sunlight, partial or a completely dark room?

“I have a couch I can move over,” I heard her say to her friend.

If you have to remodel to take in one plant, it might be a good idea to forget it because, with my experience, you can put in an extraordinary amount of care, and they will callously keel over without a second thought.

It always starts with the withered look and leaves that lose their sheen. Then it gradually goes downhill into yellowing and pieces falling off. At first, I always try to revive the situation. I start by removing what has died to be sure all the nutrients are going toward what is left living. I test the soil for dryness, or is it damp? Maybe new dirt would help, and a little plant food.

I walk away knowing I have given it the best care, and I am highly hopeful it will make a comeback because I have applied the detailed advice of a botanist I found online. But by morning, it’s deceased. It just totally checks itself out without even saying goodbye.

I can’t handle that kind of rejection over and over.

So while there looking with her, I had decided not to open up my heart to be crushed by another that for no reason would die. That was until I saw something that I had not considered before.

Bamboo.

They had them in clear vases with decorative rock and no soil. This meant no guessing whether they had enough water or not. When I saw them displayed, Chinese New Year had just started, so next to them was a list of all the good luck they could bring me, depending on how many stalks I put together.

With my horrible track record of keeping anything alive past a week, it would need the luck, not me.

One stalk seemed lonely. It had nothing to do with bad fortune. Two represented love, or that good things come in pairs. Three of them meant happiness and a new beginning. Four was not to mess with because it denoted death. We had already had enough of that.

I settled on five because it looked decent and wasn’t overwhelming like the suggested 888 of them.

After saying I would purchase nothing, I brought them home and crossed all my fingers. These, I was told, were difficult to destroy. They hadn’t met me.

The first year, all was well. My five grew somewhat and were not that much of a bother. Her orchid worried me as it stayed the same, with no flowers.

The second year, I ran into trouble and had to move three out of my five into their own vase.

“Why are they not with the rest?” She asked me.

“They look a little sick. And I read online if they have something wrong, it can spread to the others.” The remaining two were flourishing.

So I quarantined the unhealthy and it turned into hospice.

“I read that this can happen,” she said, trying to make me feel better. “They just don’t make it as long.”

And they didn’t.

Her orchid stayed the same, and I wondered if it had died but looked alive.

“Is yours okay?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

“It’s been two years, and it doesn’t look any different than the day you bought it.”

She let it be, and I saw my two start growing more.

If mine made it past the two-year mark, I found out that it could reach five feet.

At nearly three years, my two were inching upward more and more. I guess I was destined to have a pair that would bring more love into my life. The initial five promised me wealth, but 1 Corinthians 13:2 says there is something more significant:

And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.(ESV)

Sometimes, you have to lose something to trade up.

The other day I asked her again,

“Is your orchid doing okay? It looks the same as when you bought it three years ago.”

She got out potting soil and a larger container. After all this time, I wondered if this disruption would bring too much trauma. That’s the risk that is run when you move something that has gotten its roots down and is locked into a place that it has been for a long time.

I walked past it the next day, and it had doubled in size.

“Did you see your plant?”

I think she expected me to tell her it had croaked.

“No.”

When she looked at it, she was just as surprised as I was to see it spread out so much in its new home.

“You aren’t supposed to replant them for three years.”

“Really? That’s such a long time.”

To be honest, I thought maybe she had neglected it for too long. But, she had read that this was the perfect time to give it a larger space to expand. Every day, it seems to fill out more, seeming to enjoy the room to grow.

In the same way, when the constricting limitations are removed from a person’s life, it ushers in peace and joy that wasn’t there before. Adapting to a new way of living always comes with uncertainty, but God promises to be with you through each step, guiding and protecting you.

In John 15:5 it says:

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing. (NIV)

This speaks to the idea that a life sworn over into the hands of God is not your own.

If you want heaven to make good use of you, increase your influence, heal the hurting and fulfill a mission on earth, you have to be willing to go through a transplant.