Lessons

When my girls were young, I paid close attention to their interests. With home education, you spend a lot of time in the same space and pick up on where your kid’s curiosity lies. In my experience of going through the public school system, there was little room for free thinking. We were given our work and sat at a desk, slugging our way through material we had little interest in. It was a requirement to get somewhere in life. 

How many apples are in the basket? That one was to help with grocery shopping because we all go to the store with wicker baskets over our arms.   

Count the chickens because we all had them in our backyards roaming free range against city ordinances. 

Circle the letter F. That had nothing to do with curse words. It was simply learning the alphabet so one could identify a fudgesicle from a frankfurter which we always said hot dog, anyway, so what was the point?  

“Class, pass your paper to your neighbor so they can grade it.”

Words of dread because I always sat by someone who seemed to have it in for me. With their fat crayon wedged between their fingers, poised and ready to strike, I kept one eye on my work and one on the sheet in front of me. When I had to mark something wrong, I always felt a wave of guilt.

I see now how this took the pressure off the instructor. They didn’t have to be the bad bearer of news. It was peer against peer, which may be why the aggression at recess happened later. Some child was subjected to a thrashing on their spelling sheet, which built up anger all day. 

Like caged animals, we were given a few short gulps of fresh air, and for somebody who had been wronged, this was the perfect time to act and release those hostile feelings in a way the teacher might not notice. 

I have often wondered why Mary bit me in the arm that day. We were sitting under some trees talking when suddenly, she sunk her teeth into my right bicep. I don’t recall if I checked over her work and she was carrying a grudge, but when I got home and told my mom, she immediately disinfected my entire body, even though it had happened right after lunch, and it was now late afternoon.

Not to speak badly, but her teeth were dirty and some a bit ragged like fangs. My mom knew that the family often struggled with keeping up appearances, like combed hair and a drop of Crest now and again. So her response was to protect her young one from having a medical malady. 

If rabies had settled in, I was past the point of no return by the time she got her hands on me. However, she relished having an emergency on hand that she could stop.  

I made it without a single sniffle or infection, enough so that I had to, unfortunately, return to the classroom the next day. 

I bypassed the public school system’s way of educating and opted to home school before it was popular. I was met with many questions about the well being of my children.

“So she won’t get to ride on the bus?”

This was one of many inquiries I had to answer as if that were a significant milestone. I harkened back mentally to when I had to ride the bus to high school. It wasn’t like a limo picked me up by the end of the driveway. I had to walk three blocks through ice and snow and sometimes run to ensure I got on in time or face the wrath of a mom who didn’t want to drive me.  

My brother, six and a half years older than me, would often follow me in his car and sing obnoxious songs while I tried to ignore him. He never offered to give me a ride but practiced his opera skills, much to my horror. 

At the start of my day, I was subjected to humanity that had no manners, no volume control on their voices, and some forgot all about the personal hygiene habits we learned in health class.

She was missing out on nothing. 

The only drawback about teaching them at home was that I saw every activity as a school experience. I had to learn early on that making a tray of ice cubes didn’t have to turn into a science experiment. It was just ice cubes. 

One day, while I was out in a garden I used to have in the backyard, and both of them were with me, I had a moment of clarity. Most caretakers only get to spend so much time with their kids. It struck me as a blessing while digging around in the dirt and depositing seeds into the soil. My oldest daughter and I discussed a subject from her school work like it was a regular conversation.  

How many times had I crossed the threshold of my parent’s home to be asked:

What did you learn today?  

I wanted to reply, how to hate school, that is what I learned. How to avoid detention, how to sleep with your eyes open, and how not to lash out at the child next to you who was clicking their pen repeatedly. Valuable life skills to be applied if a person was incarcerated at any time. 

But, in my home, speaking about what was being learned was a natural part of our days, and it also gave me insight into what the two of them might want to participate in. I discovered early that the older one preferred something other than contact sports.  

She tried her hand at soccer at one of the home school events. She had the ball all to herself and could have easily taken it down the field for a shot at the goal. But then, out of nowhere, a boy came along to challenge her. She stopped dead in her tracks, looked at him, and said,

“You can have it.”

Competition was not her speed. She took up ice skating and was fantastic. 

The other one I was not so sure. She approached life a little differently, and when I asked, she would always say she didn’t know. 

One day, as I walked through the kitchen, I saw her dancing, similar to a cartoon character she and her sister watched.

I asked her if she liked to dance, and that is when I enrolled her in the first dance studio. She had a natural talent for it, just like her sister did for skating. After her first year, I moved her to a different location that offered more of a modest approach to music and movement.

Because she was coming in a little bit behind the class for her age, she had to dance for the instructor alone. We showed up early one day so she could do so. The woman teaching her was kind and patient as she ran through various moves to see where her strengths and weaknesses were.  

“It’s all about muscle memory,” she said at the end of the session. “You are very good at what I asked you to do, but the connection has to be made between your brain and your body. As you practice each week, you will get better and better.”

By the time the recital came in the spring, she had made so much progress that she moved on to the next level. The teacher’s words proved to be true. The repetition had created a neural pathway between her mind and the physical part of her. She now did a technique that had been uncertain and awkward with precision and ease as if it had never been a challenge.  

When the report cards came out at the end of her second year, she was asked to repeat where she had been so she could improve. It was stated clearly that it was normal for students to take the same level two years in a row, so most girls stayed together throughout the program.  

The other day, she pointed out that I had kept one of her performance skill sheets. I had folded it and put it in a kitchen cupboard. I don’t know why other than it was the year I got divorced, and I kept it as a reminder that I did my best to make things as normal as possible for both of them. 

Because money wasn’t as abundant during that time, I offered to clean the studios on the weekends to help offset her tuition so she could keep dancing as usual.

When I looked at the sheet, I realized how gentle the explanations were where she needed improvement.

She was praised as a good dancer, and pointers were given in specific areas needing improvement. It wasn’t meant to rip her down but to have her aspire to a higher point where she could perform more confidently and pay less attention to each step.

This type of report and how it is worded can either contribute to a person’s life or cause damage, especially to a child.  

Proverbs 18:21 says,

Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose. (Message)

As I read over what was written, I felt a difference in the approach of it versus what I had been subjected to in my youth. I could feel the love radiating from the paper, like the person who filled it out wanted my daughter to succeed and not get stuck thinking that she wasn’t meant to dance. Her carefully chosen words were meant to be received not as harsh criticism but as a mentor offering encouragement. 

That is who God is; as we learn new things, we are given signs and positive thoughts that keep us going. We see the highlights of what we have grasped spiritually and where we have the potential to go. 

I read long ago that God doesn’t need to test us. It’s similar to how I viewed parenting my girls. They didn’t have to prove themselves to me. And, often in our homeschool days, when we did school work, I didn’t make tests the end of the world.  

I wanted them to learn and retain information, not memorize, to pass an exam. A test can take an hour, but real education is acquiring knowledge that can last for the rest of an individual’s life. The goal was to take away valuable skills they could apply daily.

One subject where we often went against nonconventional schooling was math. If a problem was complex and needed to be solved readily, I would get out my teacher’s manual, and we would look at the solution.

That is cheating. No, that is learning.  

If we had the answer, we could go step by step without the pressure and find what we needed by working it out on paper. 

Who said there had to be a rough path to finding the answer? More often than not, when we did it this way, the information was retained so that they could recall how to get the correct answer by the time they got to a test. 

Timed tests, pressure, and a strict approach did not bring about good results, so I taught them in a way that helped them succeed. A relaxed state was the key to outstanding achievement. 

It’s too bad that more of what we are subjected to isn’t fashioned this way because it’s the nature of God that many of us miss. After all, we have been conditioned to perform the world’s way, which is about competition and test taking.

God wants us to use the gifts we have been given to benefit those around us and doesn’t push us toward an invisible finish line where we mentally and physically drain ourselves and others to get there.

When I folded up the paper and put it back in the cupboard where it had been for 15 years, I heard this:

Dancers don’t take tests. They take lessons.

We all could use a little more ‘energy’, couldn’t we?

Quit

In a house full of women, there are bound to be shoes. This sounds sexist, but in my home, it’s the truth. I had a visitor come in the door many years ago and say,

“How many people live here?”

“Just three of us.”

“By the looks of it, I would say at least ten based on the number of shoes you have on that rug.”

What’s funny is that I don’t buy myself many. At times, a pair or two have been put out into the garage as my “lawn mowing” attire, but they often pile up and, unless I make an effort, tend to stay longer than they should. I never throw them away.

Much like some of the relationships I have let into my life.

The other day, I walked in a melted snow puddle on the kitchen floor and realized that most of the rug by the door was taken up by footwear designed for summer. It’s January, and flip-flops and sandals occupy space. If we are lucky, they will be used again four months from now, but until then, they have become a nuisance, not allowing what should be there.

My daughter and I began the removal process and designated the spot next to the door for boots only. When I walked in the next time, it was nice not to trip over all the shoes. I slipped off what I had on and didn’t end up with wet socks.

It’s the little things like this that can make a difference. Removing what didn’t belong made it easier to enter. I didn’t make a mess that I would have to clean up.

I recently heard a speaker say people give up on situations like bad relationships too early. They think it’s too much to take, and they bail out. I have seen that happen, but what are the consequences of staying too long? I don’t hear this one talked about as much.

There is this idea that most people get uncomfortable and flee. What about those of us who get used to the discomfort? We make a comfort zone in the misery, and soon it feels normal to struggle. We don’t know or understand that by removing ourselves, we could have more freedom and less to step around to keep the peace.

I went out of my way to shove all the out-of-season ones as far away from the door as possible. Every time I came home, I went through this process of kicking a tiny space where I could remove my boots. I used up my time going around the problem instead of dealing with it.

Until last week, I couldn’t take another second of it. I took a few moments to put away the ones that were not being used any longer. Instead of continuing in the madness I partially created, I wanted better.

From experience, this is a universal truth that can also be applied to dishes in the sink. Don’t be that person to leave something that can go two inches into the dishwasher. It starts with one fork, and suddenly there’s an entire day of utensils and plates piled high. What would have taken one second now takes up more seconds.

It makes me wonder. What else am I overlooking and allowing? Where else besides my rebellious shoe piling do I need to become aware so I can have it easier?

I realize we have a coat problem. It’s not that we have an overabundance of them. We can’t seem to catch a break on where to hang them. I have a wood railing by the stairs, and my favorite spot is to hang them all on the post. Every moment counts at times as I’m going out the door. And more often than not, I have to unearth my jacket from underneath those that have been hung on top of mine.

I know I have done the same to the other parties involved. I’m not innocent in any of this.

We really could use a coat rack.

We have one.

So why do we continually go back to the post to disengage our jackets? We have a place designated for them, yet they return to our old familiar ways.

Once in a while, one of us will haphazardly throw it over the back of a chair. I can’t stand it, so I hang it on the post as I walk past the coat rack while tripping over the flip-flops from summer.

For this, I have a good excuse. The rack is broken. It was purchased with the high expectations that it would end our plight, but when we went to use it, the hangers couldn’t handle the weight, and threw our jackets to the floor. Someone always scraps their coat off the floor, and who wants that?

What should have allowed us to use multiple hooks and live a life of luxury ended up only with two functioning holders that work if we fast and pray. It proves beneficial for a lightweight hat on a good day, but we hardly wear those.

So, why don’t I throw it? Because I just have made it part of my existence, trying to make it work.

In every self-help book I have read, the most significant advice is that a person should throw away anything that is broken or not of use. I have known people who give things that should be thrown away. That’s not the idea. Either pitch it or donate it if it’s still decent to give to another to relieve their burden.

The point is eliminating what isn’t helpful to make room for better. I have realized that if something is taking up a space meant for an upgrade, a higher manifestation cannot occur until the room is made.

God’s idea of better is probably at an elevation grander than mine, and I think we cling to what we know instead of being brave enough to let the outdated or nonfunctioning thing go.

Isaiah 55 includes this reminder:

“I don’t think the way you think.
The way you work isn’t the way I work.”
“For as the sky soars high above earth,
so the way I work surpasses the way you work,
and the way I think is beyond the way you think.”

While God is trying to give us a blessing of more significant proportions, we keep throwing our shoes in a pile and stacking up our jackets, wondering why He has forsaken us.

I hear a lot about how we must become “awake” to global issues. Like, take up a cause. Get out into the streets and fight for justice. Meanwhile, I’m battling my self-created coat and shoe troubles. Isn’t that humbling?

Your junk drawer speaks volumes about who you really believe God is.

It’s not God’s nature to condemn any of us. We tend to shove something into a far, dark corner and put up with it. But, if we allow it to be brought into the light, we can be free of it, whether it is materialistic or involves self-destructive behavior patterns.

I was shocked that shoes have “miles” on them. I had no idea they should no longer be worn after a certain amount of wear, as this can damage your feet. If they no longer support you, they can hurt you. This is where a decision must be made and can involve your self-worth.

Are you worth God’s best? And when were you told that you weren’t? What circumstances made you believe a lie or who convinced you that you didn’t deserve to have good? Those are the questions to examine. What worn-out thing takes the place of something greater or people you can help? What new thing does God want to add that can make your life more meaningful and happy?

It might involve transferring to a better job, moving to a new location, or finding a new circle of friends.

It was highly ingrained in my subconscious mind not to give up anything. Whether this was a class in school, a new hobby, or an old worn out shirt, this action was marked as a failure. So it’s a high probability that I will hang on to the coat rack until I have met an invisible rule regarding the length of time I have to suffer along with it.

When is its time up? I don’t know.

As I become more aware of how I go through life, allowing what stays and what goes, it’s okay to throw away your old pairs of underwear that are stretched out way too far, your socks that have holes in them, and your toothbrush that is down to its last bristle.

If it’s not working, somebody needs to say it. It’s okay to quit.

It’s a team effort….

Forward

I could have skipped it and gone another way, but I chose not to. I have walked on a trail by my house for a couple of years, watching the magic of nature slip from one season into the next. 

On humid summer evenings with the air so still, I have come upon deer making their way through the tall grass trying not to be detected. 

Nothing compares to a day when a slight breeze picks up, and you are strolling through a brief, unexpected dry leaf shower. The leaves in the fall brilliantly turn to flaming reds and gold before they lose their grip. They gently come down as if God Himself is sprinkling you with a message of His divine presence. 

Winter, harsh at times in this wooded area, always makes me stop just for a second to see what possibly could still be alive and moving in the frequently subzero temperatures. Typically, the pathway through is plowed and pretty easy to navigate.

But not this time. I saw as I crossed the street that the snow bank to the entrance was high, and it wasn’t going to be the usual walk without a challenge. I considered turning around but decided to make the best of it. I second-guessed myself as the initial bits of snow began to pack around my ankles inside my boots.

Someone had been there before me, so wherever I could, I slipped my foot inside their left behind shoe print. If you have ever tried walking fast through wet sand, it’s similar in that you feel like you are putting in a lot of effort to move forward while feeling like you aren’t making much progress. The only thing that feels like it is being produced is a cold sweat. 

It looked like 2022 for me, where each day felt like only a little was being accomplished, but I was striving.  

Before the halfway mark, I had the opportunity to exit onto the street, but I decided that my legs weren’t on fire enough and my muscles could use a little more toning. I can be stubborn like that. My jeans will fit me better later, is my thinking. 

I encountered a particularly rough spot where I had to have my feet apart and straddling, much like running through an obstacle course of old tires. I half expected a guy to appear with a military haircut, blow a whistle at me, and tell me to hurry up.

Nature provided me with an outdoor gym, and I inhaled as much fresh air as my lungs could take. I wasn’t enjoying the scenery as much because I had to watch where I was going continually. Usually, I can be in autopilot mode, but the situation forced me to pay attention to every move I made. 

As I came to the end, I wondered who would use my blazed trail to their advantage if they were caught unaware of it being piled up with snow. 

A few weeks ago, before Christmas, while considering my not-so-great financial state, I saw a clear memory in my mind’s eye, heard that still, small voice, and I wrote this in a notebook: 

Every month I have shown My faithfulness to you as you have had to rely on Me. You have felt the pressure of the world bearing down on you as you have tried to walk the way I have told you to go. You have followed in My footsteps. Think of when you were young, and an older brother of yours walked ahead of you to make it easier for you to walk through deep snow. 

I am that good Father. I am putting my steps before you so you can put your feet where Mine are. The snow won’t be deep. It will be a depth that you will be able to handle. I will never let you go under or fail you.

It seems at times like it’s all the same. It appears to be the same as always, but it isn’t. I am having you put your feet where Mine go before you so you can walk. You are My daughter. I look at you like my little child, full of such wisdom and knowledge. Do not fear the month. Do you see My steps for you to follow? (Yes) Then that’s all you need to do. Just listen to Me and do what you hear. I will never fail you. Just walk in my footsteps and stay with Me.

I will lead you to greater places outside of this box you now dwell in. For now, just go each day and know how much I can make all things perfect. My plan for your life is perfectly made. 

By the time I got home, my socks were soaking wet, and chunks of snow were clinging to my pants, but I had gotten in one of the best workouts that cost me nothing but an hour. If I had listened to the “rational” voice, I wouldn’t have chosen the way I did. I would have walked on the sidewalk or the street like everyone else, forgoing the struggle. But what is there to gain by doing what everyone else is? 

Going the unconventional way while everyone else is wondering why you aren’t taking the seemingly more effortless way out is a part of the mystery of following God. Different voices have asked me why I have lived my life a certain way in the last year. The only thing I can say is that I have tried to allow God to do a work in me. 

While I struggled on the trail, I added my steps to that of others to make it easier for anyone coming by later. 

While trying to figure out my life and how to serve God best that’s the most rewarding part.  

Proverbs 11:25 says:

The one who blesses others is abundantly blessed; those who help others are helped.

There have been days when I could barely get out of bed, but I did anyway. Mainly because of my 14-year-old dog, who wants to go outside and come charging back in to eat. Who can say no to that? 

There have been times of great mental torment, like when my car broke down, and I sat paralyzed by a panic attack in a rental car for nearly 40 minutes. A day when I grabbed a pillow at noon and didn’t leave the couch as my body kept going into deep periods of sleep. Others where I lost my ability to smile when it has always come to me so easily up until then—sitting with nothing to say as I listened to everyone else in public carry on conversations looking like they didn’t have a care in the world. And, I felt like I was under the weight of it.

The snow has been deep, and I have felt frozen, but His footsteps have been there, leading me forward. 

Encounter

“Do I need these?” I asked, holding up a pair of workout pants and showing them to my daughter, standing across from me at a table where humanity had trampled through and thrown all the sizes everywhere. I had finally unearthed what I thought would fit.

I hadn’t paid much attention to the lady standing next to me, folding, sorting, and putting them back in order. I saw her nametag briefly, but I was not focusing my attention on her. Instead, I was consumed by an inward mental battle with a nagging voice telling me to leave the store and not come back.

The harassment started in the parking lot before I was out of the car.

You don’t belong here. This is for people who have money. You don’t have any, so turn around and go back home!

I had not heeded its advice and dragged myself through the door. How I ended up in a clothing section was beyond me. I should have been shopping for food to live, not clothes. That is why I asked, 

“Do I need these?”

The woman next to me said,

“Need? I don’t think that has ever stopped me from spending money. I look at things, decide that I want them, and buy.”

Now, she had my full attention. I grabbed two pairs and moved to her other side. They were on sale for a really low price, and I did need them. My other ones were starting to fall apart. 

“When you go through some things financially, you start to ask yourself that question a lot,” I said.  

I noticed she had a smile the entire time she worked correcting the chaos of what the public had created. 

When I got to the other side of the table facing her, I had the familiar light-headed feeling take over. This comes right when I know that I have been placed in the path of someone who needs to hear something from someone in heaven.  

Without me asking much, she told me she had gotten a divorce from a chemically dependent man and had children with him. She was now with a new person who she said did everything for her.

“I don’t need to work now, but I do.”

As she spoke, I saw a woman, a hologram-like person, stand behind her on her right.  

“Do you have family?” I knew it was her mom, but I didn’t assume. I never do.

“Not really. I have a dad, but my mom died..”

Before she finished her sentence, I said,

“She is standing right behind you to your right with her hand on your shoulder. She is proud of the decision you made to get the divorce. You will go on to have grandchildren, your ex-husband will get remarried, and many more family members will come from that.”

“I like that,” she said. 

I saw her surrounded by many people, resulting from her one decision to give up fighting something that would never change. 

Her smile got brighter and brighter.

“Did your mom have a favorite color? I think you will start to see the color pink, and when you do, that’s her.”

She held up her freshly manicured nails, and they were bright pink.

“Pink was her favorite color, so I picked it.”

“Do you celebrate her birthday? Because I feel she would want you to celebrate her passing to heaven more than her birthday.”

“Yes, we always have a party on the day she passed. She had cancer, and she died 16 years ago. That date is coming up in a couple of weeks. Just before you and I started talking, I saw a lady who looked just like her walk past.”

I told her that her decision to leave behind what wasn’t working would open the door for more to come in.  

All of this over a couple of pairs of pants that I was not so sure I should get. I left Laura to go about her business happily, and I was suddenly not afraid to get myself new clothes. 

From there, I went through a drive-thru, and as I was waiting, I saw a young blonde girl filling up a machine with ice. I got her attention, and she came to the window.

“I think you are supposed to go to school. Are you putting it off?”

Her eyes were enormous, and unlike in my other encounter, she only nodded her head and verbalized nothing.  

“Your grandpa, who is in heaven, is trying to tell you that now is the time. Don’t put it off. This is the time. And don’t worry about the money. Are you worried about the money part of it?”

I saw tears fill her huge eyes, and she nodded yes. It was like a paralysis had taken over, and she was frozen, staring at me while the words came at her. 

“Start filling out the paperwork and go now. You will be able to communicate with animals like no one else can, and you will be very successful.”

It’s incredible for me to watch absolute strangers be told things that I would have no clue knowing. By the time her coworker handed me the bag, she was smiling through the tears and promising to look into becoming a vet. 

A few weeks later, I was in a store with my brother, and he needed light bulbs. A woman came around a corner out of nowhere and asked if we needed help.

He told her what he needed, and she meticulously walked him through every choice of light bulb he could choose. She was very experienced in knowing what she was saying and seemed to do this effortlessly. Thomas Edison would have been impressed. 

As she walked away, I felt that familiar pull to give her a message she needed to hear.  

“I need to tell her something,” I said as I watched her walk away. I noticed her shirt was slightly stained in the back, like she didn’t have a lot of money to buy herself new things.  

I know the feeling, and I have found that what I have experienced has made me hyper-aware of those walking that road. 

As I chased her down, my brother said,

“Is this going to be like Touched By an Angel?” 

He knows I do this once in a while when God asks me. 

I ignored him.  

“Excuse me,” I said, trying not to get the whole store looking our way.

“I have to tell you something.”

I explained that this was just a starting point for her and that she would quickly climb the ladder of success. That promotions would come her way quickly, and her co-workers might get a little jealous, but to cast it aside.  

“You are loyal and trustworthy with a good heart. That is leading you through, and someone on the other side is helping open doors for you. That’s why you are moving up so quickly. You will outgrow this place and move way up higher.” I could see far in advance. 

“I have only been here two months, and they have given me two promotions already, which is unusual.”

That’s about all she said because, once again, I think the shock of hearing all of her life secrets, good ones, being spilled out was overwhelming to take in.

She kept saying thank you and then returned to her work. I feel Emily will never forget that she met God in the middle of the cleaning section of a hardware store. 

We moved on to the cash registers, where a lady was waiting with no one in her line. 

You need to ask her who is sick that she knows.

I didn’t want to do that. I tried to get through and get out the door. The question seemed too invasive and might not even be true. When I got to the door, I had to go back.

She was standing at the end of her lane, waiting for customers to come.  

“I have to ask you a question,” I said. “I can see heaven, and I have been told to ask you who is sick that you know.”

“My sister’s son,” she said. She went on to tell me he was in the end stage of disease.  

“He has an angel standing next to him,” I said.

“My sister has spoken to that angel,”

“Tell her that this confirms she is right about it.”

I saw the future and that a grandfather figure would be showing up to take him to heaven.

She told me that his dad had passed on as well.

Both of us were near tears as I said,

“Both men will pick him up and take him to heaven. Tell your sister he will be okay. He probably will say he sees them before he moves on.”

“We believe. Thank you for saying all this. I will tell her.”

The next night, I visited my dad in a rehab he has been in for about a month. Later in the evening, the med technician came in to give him his pills. She introduced herself, and I told her who I was.  

I began to see a grandmother figure.  

She needs to know she is going to have kids soon. You have to tell her,” said the whisper.

Oh, gosh, no! I cannot tell someone they are going to have a baby. What if she doesn’t want one? I thought I would make a big mistake, but when God wants to use your mouth, you and your opinion don’t matter. 

I started with the soft sell.

I explained that I could see and hear heaven; then, I asked questions about her life. Was she married? Yes. Did she have brothers and sisters? Yes.

And then, she opened the door for me to move in a bit further.  

“Does anyone have kids in the family?”

“My brothers and sisters do.”

“You will. You are going to have kids soon.”

I watched her eyes get that shocked look.  

“You are going to have a big family. They will be musical. I see piano players and singers. And this is probably going to happen before you have thought it possible. You are waiting for the money to show up, right?”

She was wearing a mask, and I could see now that her smile was reaching her eyes. 

“Yes, I will stay home and home-school when we have a family. My husband wants a big family, and his whole family is very musical.”

I told her some more, and she looked at my daughter and said,

“Does she do this all the time?”

I sensed she was a bit scared it would happen the next day.  As if she would wake up with ten kids all wanting breakfast.

“This will come to you naturally, but it is coming sooner than you think. When your husband gets a raise, which will be soon, that is your sign.” 

She said this would make her husband so happy and left with a big smile.

Crisis averted for me. That one seemed like a big and frightening jump. 

I don’t have to look for them; they sometimes come to me. 

Like the nursing assistant who told me she had just visited her neighbor who was dying.  

“Did you feel the angels in the room? There are two, one by the foot and the head of his bed.”

“I told them I could feel the angels in the room when I went to visit.”

“There are two of them, and his grandma is coming to get him.”

“His wife kept talking about his grandparents, and he gets to see them again,” she said.

“Yes. They will escort him into heaven.” 

I can always see when the words bring comfort too.

Ask her if she is a teacher.”

Going out on a limb, I asked,

“Are you a teacher? I hear the word teacher.”

I hadn’t ever had a conversation with this woman who works at an assisted living where I was visiting a hospice patient. 

“Yes. I am a teacher.”

“This job will end, and that will be your job again, but less stressful.”  

She told me she taught English to children who were disabled and that it has been very overwhelming.

“It won’t be next time, so don’t turn it away. You’re a teacher, and that’s your life path.”  

She walked away smiling, raising her hands to the ceiling and thanking God. 

There is a promise that God will always keep you in sight and not forsake you, but the world can convince us otherwise. There’s a wearing down process that can take place, making some of us wonder if any of this has a point.

When I am sent to strangers with details I shouldn’t know, there is no denying that everything needed is seen, and the Creator of all is longing to reach us through a loving encounter.

Seeing Red

The color red has been my favorite for a long time. I’m drawn to it like a moth is to a flame. When asked to select a color in kindergarten, I always chose this shade. Most of the time, this boy always wanted whatever I had. And when we were expected to trade, I looked for someone who had it so I could keep it.

This was well before speed dating and swiping past profiles. And Tinder.

I would always look for someone else to exchange with, and he would follow me. Not quietly but relentlessly, making it apparent that he wanted my attention more than my Crayola. The day that the teacher saw me ignoring him and made me publicly make the trade was the last day I avoided him.

I felt like she spotlighted me, and everyone was looking at us. I quickly handed over what he wanted and tried to pretend he wasn’t there.

But whenever we switched to another color, he was right there, waiting for me to give mine to him.

It killed me to use blue, green, or whatever choice he took without thinking. There was no alliance between him and what he randomly grabbed from the box.

Mine was my Ruby birth color, and I knew it was significant even at age five. It was the last stone on my mom’s Mother’s ring that housed five others. I found out later they had to break the ring and make room for mine on the end.

Of course, they did.

Anytime I pick a game piece or am required to create a character if I can get red or an equivalent of it, I try to. When with people who also seem to have this affinity and take it before I can claim it, a part of me dies inside. It’s the kid from kindergarten rearing his ugly head. But, I never say. I go with yellow or some other meaningless option.

I have found you can be defeated whether you play with your favorite color or not. The only consolation is that you at least had that in your possession at the start space.

It’s not surprising to me now that I have a neighbor named Red who drives a red truck.

I have lived in my house for thirty-one years, and my front window faces a busy street where I have seen kids catch busses for school and the same ones graduate and go to college. You don’t realize who is around you until they aren’t anymore.

A few months ago, my daughter and I noticed that this man and his wife were no longer buzzing by every morning at 9 am. Even when I wasn’t working from home, I would see them go by. Stop sign and a left turn.

Suddenly, it wasn’t happening anymore.

“I think you are supposed to help him with hospice for his wife,” she said one day, as she does, and it goes through me like electricity.

That would have been great, but I didn’t know him. I had waved and acknowledged his existence all the years I have lived in my house. I watched a while ago as she started to show signs of having a stroke.

One arm hung down at her side, and he did all the yard work alone. But, every day, they drove past my house.

“I bet they go get coffee,” I said to my daughter. We would often try to guess where they were off to.

So when she said I was to help him, I started paying more attention. The lights were on, but no one was home. He was coming home later at night and started going on walks with a large wooden staff like Moses.

“You have to help them,” she said. As I looked out the window, I watched him in a very slow and sad saunter up the street.

Then I flashed back mentally to 2020—the political yard signs. I saw them and gave them little thought. I had decided to disassociate myself from it. Does it exist in heaven? Then I don’t want anything to do with it.

I know I always get the speech that if I don’t vote, bad, bad things will happen. The horror of horrors! You don’t vote? Your one vote is needed. You are why, Chris, this country is going to the dogs.

To each, their own, and mine is to stay out of the fray.

I listened to comments from those supporting the “opposing” side when they noticed the signs proudly displayed.

“They support them? They are so brainwashed and delusional!”

And I have heard the other side say the same thing.

One day recently, I saw him outside. I ran out the front door and across the street before he could disappear.

I introduced myself, and he said his name was Red. My daughter and I were right in our assessment of him being alone. I found out that his wife is in a care facility near his home. I offered to help him in any way I could, including taking things for donation as he was getting ready to sell the house in the future.

I told him I volunteered for hospice and to let me know if it ever came to that.

He came to my door the other night wanting the hospice’s name. It’s now been determined this is where the situation is.

I gave him the information, and I saw his sadness. There’s no running away from it, and he’s in the most challenging part of the walk.

My daughter’s words were true when I had no idea what was happening.

He came back to get my full name, but I wasn’t home. I caught him the next day in his yard. He was removing plants so the siding could be redone.

I followed him into his house so I could write my name on a sheet of paper. On the way in, I saw it.

In the garage, at least 20 bright red with white lettering I Voted stickers were hanging on a cabinet showing his former treks to the voting booth.

I scribbled my name on a sheet of paper and looked at the surroundings of very feminine collectibles. Even though she was absent, her presence was everywhere I looked.

He told me he and his daughter would start going through belongings to give away.

He pointed to many of the items surrounding us and said,

“She could tell you where she got each one.”

As was the case with me, going through a divorce, I had to get rid of material things. But, I always found someone who needed it.

“When you give these things away, you will feel the gratitude of those who need what you give them. The people who get these things will treat them like she did.”

I said goodbye, and he went back to his work.

Had I let politics come between us, I would not have been able to extend myself to him this way. While many sit in front of their TVs or read the latest headline on their phone regarding where we are as a society and how far we think we have come, I find we haven’t advanced all that much.

Many old ways of doing things, like taking care of your neighbor, have fallen to the wayside because of a piece of paper where you make choices about who will run for an office we are so removed from. Yet, people near us, next to us, need our help.

While the world screams one way, God whispers another. And God’s way won’t leave you seeing red.

Super

When my girls were young, I wanted to take them to a resort about four hours from home. We had been there before with people who owned a timeshare, so it was paid for, but I discovered that we could rent a cabin on the property and use the pools scattered throughout. Instead of being cramped in a tiny hotel room for days, this was a nice option to try for. And, near to it, there are various waterparks and activities that the girls loved to do.

The only obstacle standing in my way was my ex-husband, who told me he didn’t want to spend the money on it. We had plenty of money to do this, but he decided he didn’t want to go. In an attempt to throw me off, he said,

“If you somehow come up with the money and rent it, we can go.”

If this was a poker competition, his money was on himself, thinking I was an at-home mom homeschooling two young kids. In other words, I wasn’t smart enough to come up with the funds because I was not employed, and he held onto the purse strings.

I knew God wanted this for my kids, so I decided to have a garage sale.

The night before, while marking everything, he walked through the garage shaking his head like I was the dumbest person he had ever met. I had included another mom who also was interested in making the trip with us. We kept our items separate.

The sale of my items netted us enough money to pay for the needed cabins and everything else the kids wanted to do. So much for being dumb.

The resort had listed all of its amenities on the website, including an indoor pool and hot tubs in case there was inclement weather.

When we got to the location, the “friend” who had done the sale with me walked into the registration building. When we got to the counter, we were informed that the indoor pool was being repaired. An electrical storm had somehow wiped out its functioning, so they had to close it.

“We are giving everyone passes to go to the Howard Johnson’s up the street so you can swim in their indoor pool. We apologize for the inconvenience.”

I didn’t think anything of it because many outdoor pools throughout the property were set around a golf course. The forecast predicted nice weather, so the need for an indoor pool was not heavy on my mind.

But, this woman who I was coming to find out was not the nicest, said,

“You advertised an indoor pool here. And, now you are telling me you don’t have one?”

“Yes. We are sorry, but we had a bad storm that left the electrical part of the pool unsafe, so we are in the process of fixing it. You and your family are welcome to use the Howard Johnson’s pool. This has the code on it so you can access that area.”

He pushed a piece of paper toward her with a number on it. She shoved it back at him.

I was filling out a form regarding our car with our license plate identification on it. I had just glanced out the window and was headed back to the desk when I saw this exchange begin.

“That is not good enough!” she snapped.

Her husband was out in the car, hiding, I assumed. Why I thought it was a good idea to bring her along, I do not know. My people-pleasing habits have taken a while to die.

It had gotten to the point where if I called their home, he would answer the phone with a whisper and go into a hall closet to speak to me because she didn’t want him talking and laughing with me on the phone as friends. Her control freak nature was rearing its ugly head more and more. She wanted me all to herself.

Often, he would speak to me and quickly say he would get her. There was no way he would want to deal with her Godzilla attitude at the front desk.

The employee swallowed down his fear and said,

“I don’t know how else to solve this problem for you.”

“I paid to have an indoor pool!”

The guy’s eyes caught mine, and I was hoping he didn’t think I was like her just because we walked in the door together.

“I know. And, we are really sorry about that…this is why we are sending people to Howard Johnson’s to try and accommodate everyone.”

“I am not a Howard Johnson’s type of person!” she said with a snarl. Ugly comes in many forms, not just in appearance but in attitude.

What? She had told me she had hardly ever been on vacation, so I was confused about where this entitled attitude was coming from.

Out of nowhere came another employee who was not as discreet as the man trying to help.

“He has explained to you our situation. Howard Johnson’s is it, or nothing.”

“That is not good enough!”

“What do you want me to do? Build you a pool, lady?” said the fresh helper.

My traveling companion then went to nuclear.

“I will contact the management here and let them know you did not go out of your way to compensate me for not having an indoor pool!”

With that, she swiped her papers off the counter and stormed out.

Both employees looked at me. Great.

“I apologize for her behavior,” I said. “I do not share her viewpoint.”

I could not say it enough. My two daughters had watched the entire exchange along with the lady’s two kids.

When I went to say goodnight to my two that night, I whispered,

“I am setting my alarm, and we are going to the indoor pool.” I did not say a word to anyone else.

The following day, while the two men went golfing, I quickly got my two in their suits, and we drove to the Howard Johnson’s. They had a great time swimming and using the hot tub. This was before cell phones, so no one could get a hold of us. And no one knew where we were.

I faced the firing squad when I returned.

“We were looking for you! Where did you go?” she asked the minute I stepped out of the car.

“Howard Johnson’s to swim,” I said without blinking. I wanted to see what reaction I would get.

“Oh,” she said. “Why didn’t you ask us to go?”

“Because you made it quite clear yesterday that you were not a Howard Johnson’s type person. You said that to everyone at the front desk.”

I did not hear one more tirade from this woman for the rest of the time we were there. I wasn’t as predictable as she thought I was.

Did she and I remain friends? No.

Her controlling nature became so severe that even my best people-pleasing nature couldn’t cut it anymore. The more I bowed down to her demands, the worse she became to the point where she was verbally abusive toward me. When I refused to continue being her friend, she tried to turn everyone against me. I preserved, and she is long gone in my rearview mirror.

I had convinced myself that God would not be happy with me if I let her go, so I kept myself attached to her. It got to the point, however, where I was either going to please her, lose myself or break free and be genuine. Sometimes you have to be not liked. And unpopular. It’s just the way it goes.

Proverbs 22:24-25 says, Don’t hang out with angry people; don’t keep company with hotheads.
Bad temper is contagious—don’t get infected. (Message)

That’s the risk you take. You can morph into what you consistently keep company with, so choose those who are God’s best.

As a side note, the ex-spouse was rewarded for not generously giving me the money for the vacation. Shortly after we got home, he cleaned his closet. He made a pile of clothes that no longer fit him as he had ‘grown’. This was intended for the garbage. The other, he was going to keep.

As I walked through the living room, he watched the garbage truck pick up and dump the contents of the can with all the sludge.

“I put all the clothes I wanted to keep in the wrong pile! He just dumped everything into the truck! I have no clothes to wear now except for what I have on! I have to go buy all new ones!”

I wanted to say..why don’t you have a garage sale? But I was too afraid back then to say anything like that. I just kept on walking. Silence is golden, and you let the situation speak for itself, like swimming at Howard Johnson’s on your own.

Galatians 6:7 spells it out pretty plainly:

Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds. All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life. (Message)

There’s another verse in James 4:6 that says:

It’s common knowledge that “God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble.”(Message)

When you walk in humility and do your best to follow God’s way, it may not always be easy, but I have found that you won’t regret how you treat others. You can end each day knowing that you are doing it right, being led through a life that is spiritually super.

(These usually don’t have a pool, just saying..)

Illusion

Having two daughters spaced four years apart had its challenges. The younger one always wanted to be as advanced as her sister and was slightly annoyed if she felt I was paying more attention to her sibling. She made sure I knew it. Even before she could speak, she would make it known that she wanted to be the top dog.

She noticed early on that our physical abilities were superior to hers, and she wasn’t happy until she was on the same level.

She learned to crawl by eight months old and began to pull herself up by using the furniture to hang on to within that same time frame.

One night, she saw that we were sitting with a blanket over us. My oldest daughter had meticulously set up her pillow, a few stuffed animals and had settled in next to me, absolutely content watching one of her favorite shows.

The other one came by, pulled on the blanket, and screeched. She pulled so hard that before I could lift her that it sent her sister’s enormous bowl of popcorn showering all over us. The quilt we were using ended up on the ground. The stuffed animals were in a crumpled mess with pillows scattered everywhere.

Like that magic trick where the person pulls the tablecloth, but the silverware doesn’t budge.

Jealousy and competition had given her the strength of ten people. It was so shocking to witness an infant take over like that.

While we cleaned up the mess, she sat on the floor laughing.

She progressed quickly from barely walking and was fully able to run by nine months old. Not always steadily, but with speed.

“Mom! Help!”

I saw the two of them run by, but the younger one had gotten a hold of the back of her sister’s nightgown. She had her in a hostage situation, clutching onto the material with both hands. While the little one beamed with glee, the other one panicked.

“Mom! She has me! Help!”

It was the strangest sight to see the younger one executing such a power play over someone who could easily outmatch her.

“You do know she’s a baby. You are four. You are older and can get away from her?”

I unhooked her from her kidnapper so she could go free.

When the oldest was learning to print her name when she turned 5, I thought it would be a great idea to have her write it on all the valentines for a homeschool party she would attend with other kids her age. I figured after 40 of them, she would have it down pretty good.

I didn’t want to leave the other out even though she did not yet possess the motor skills. I found her a little purple ink stamp with her name on it so she could use it.

Before I left the room, I said,

“Only use that on the paper, okay? Don’t put that on anything but the paper.”

She nodded in understanding.

I left for milliseconds and returned to find her name emblazoned across her forehead, arms, and any place bare skin had been. The one across her lips was creative.

Her sister had been so concentrated on forming each letter of her name that she hadn’t noticed the rampage next to her.

It wouldn’t be the last time she had a run-in with ink.

A few months later, while her sister attended a roller skating birthday party, she and I sat off to the side watching. I had brought an assortment of things for her to do, including washable markers and coloring books. I had glanced up to check on her sister when I heard the sucking in of air, like a deep gasp.

I quickly turned back to find her holding both hands up in front of her face in total horror. Her color choice had been red, and it had gotten on her fingers.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, wondering why this was so traumatic. She could come into the house totally filthy and not care. Her mouth was wide open in a silent scream as she gathered in as much oxygen as her lungs would allow. Then the wailing started.

I had a difficult time making out what she was trying to say.

“I..I..I am….bl…eed…”

“What? I don’t understand.”

“I AM BLEEDING!” She used all of her strength to say it as panic shut her down.

It appeared that she had been playing with sharp knives.

I got out a wet wipe and quickly cleaned her hands. Within a split second, she looked down, smiled, and said,

“Oh.”

Things aren’t always as they appear. Like a funhouse mirror that distorts your image to make you look taller or shorter, sometimes our senses and how we think can play tricks on us.

Three years ago, I had my roof replaced after a storm. A sunny day suddenly turned dark as the skies broiled angrily with fast moving clouds.

I had received a message from a family member that they had gotten hit with strong winds, and he sent photos of chunks of hail. It was headed my way.

Our sirens were going off, indicating that we should go into the basement. However, it looked so calm outside that I went out to see how ominous it was. My daughter and I watched as large raindrops started to hit the driveway. We were standing in a corner that provided us the ability to not get wet between the house and the garage.

Slight sprinklings of pea-sized hail began.

“This isn’t good,” I said. “I think we should go in.”

As I said this, it was as if a switch was thrown, and ice baseballs began to come down everywhere. We were trapped because there was no way to come out for a split second without getting nailed with multiple of these.

We watched as puddles in the street looked like they were hit with small bombs nonstop. We huddled in the corner as the wind whipped branches and other debris flew in the air.

Once we quit screaming, we went back into the house unscathed. But, I knew that the house was not.

I immediately contacted my insurance representative, who sent over someone the next day to help. It was determined I had damage, and the process for repair on paper was begun.

First, I had to come up with a $2500 deductible, which I did not have.

“We can fix this right now,” he said.

“I don’t have the deductible at the moment.”

I knew if I had him do the work, I would be in debt. I was using everything I had to pay off a $10,000 debt that had been strangling me financially for over eight years. I had vowed to myself never to create more of it after taking lousy advice under pressure in the past and being too trusting.

This meant living in a limited, constricted way. I didn’t want to add to the stress.

“We do roofs until the first week of October. That way, we know we won’t have any snow. You are one of my first houses. We will book up quickly, so we really should do it right now.”

As he said this, one of my neighbors appeared.

“Do you replace roofs?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“Can you look at mine?“

After inspecting it, it was determined she needed it fixed.

“How quickly can you do this? I’m putting it on the market next week.”

There were workers all over her property by the next day, and I had been given a referral discount off of mine.

I noticed another neighbor needed work done, so I wondered if they wanted a second opinion. They already had a sign in their yard from one of the many companies going door to door. I knew the competition was high.

After my inspection, a stranger came with a ladder and climbed up unsolicited. When I confronted him with the threat I could report him to the city; he realized he was at the wrong address and quickly left.

When my other neighbor signed up with the man I referred, this meant another discount for me.

I was still short $1500.

With work being completed on both sides of me, I was tempted to get it done and figure out the cost later. I kept hearing to wait it out.

By early fall, I received a higher property tax refund than anticipated.

“I think we should fix your gutters, too,” I was told in the interim. “I will do them at cost.”

Four months had gone by while I watched everyone else having work done. We had gorgeous weather, and I had paid it off in full by the time the job was completed. I had made up my mind not to allow more debt.

What had appeared impossible at the start took care of itself.

The only slight setback in the whole process was that the noise of the reconstruction had deeply disturbed one of my dogs. It was as if she anticipated the entire house crashing down even though there was no danger. She refused to sleep lying down, but as fatigue would hit her, she would fall over, wake up, and the process would start again. For days she did this until her body forced her back into a regular sleep pattern.

Her faulty senses and limited ability to understand had resulted in her being a nervous wreck.

Unlike her, we have access to insider information that can be easily tapped into if we allow it.

In Jeremiah 33:3 it says:

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

This leading generally doesn’t come in noisily but rather in subtle, quiet ways that only can be heard when there is no fear interference. Your reaction in the moment of adversity will determine how long you suffer.

Frustration, competition, and jealousy aren’t the ways out.

If you are willing to put aside what you think is true and seek out the One of all truth, the drama gets silenced. You won’t bleed to death because it’s just an illusion.

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.