Beautiful Sunset

When my oldest daughter was two, I began a home-based daycare. I had been working evenings and weekends, so this would give me a chance to be with her, she would have friends, and I could continue contributing to the household income.

I revamped the basement with new carpet, paint, bought many toys, and got my training and licensing through the county.

I put a sign in my front yard, and the kids showed up. At one point, it was seven against one, but somehow I learned how to be a conflict resolution director quickly. Daily, I dealt with perfect angels one minute who could turn on a dime and bite their best friend. There were episodes of mutual hair pulling, tussles of arms and legs in wrestling matches on the floor to get a specific object, and name calling that would make a peaceful temper flare. Something as simple as “dum-dum” would cause a barroom brawl.

My day started at 6 am and would often go until 6 pm. There were times when parents were under pressure by their employers to be at work no matter what, so that meant I would get sick kids drugged up with Tylenol. I got to know them so well that I could look into their eyes and detect something was wrong. The parents were often aware they weren’t well, but the pressure of losing their job would win out. So I took them in and tried to make them feel better when they often just wanted their mom.

I always provided them with structure no matter their ages. I taught colors, numbers and read one book after another. There had to be a balance of free time versus activities, or the restless energy would descend, and trouble would start.

I tried to keep God at the center of all things. If aggression popped up between two or more of them, I would try to explain that they should treat each other how they want to be treated. It seemed to work, and just when I thought I was not making any progress, I would leave the room for a second and come back to find them all hugging each other. I had unseen help around every corner.

My daughter loved having friendships, and at one point, I had to stop her from giving all of her toys away. She had a very generous personality, so she felt that she needed to give each child a parting gift at the end of the day. Every single day. I went out and bought items for her to continue to do this so her room wouldn’t end up empty.

The oldest of the group was Molly, who was four. She knew she was the top dog, and I had to often bring her down off her own self-made pedestal where she tried to control the rest. While they all wanted to do their own thing, she wanted their total undivided attention. She was most upset when the other kids would run away and not do what she wanted.

“Miss Chris! They aren’t listening to me!”

“Then stop trying to make them listen. Maybe they will later.”

“I want them to be over here, not over there.”

“They don’t want to be.”

She was coming to me to see if I would give her back up to enforce her rules.

“But I want them to listen to me!”

“Why don’t you just tell me what you want to say.”

“That’s not fun.”

“This is as good as it gets for now. It’s either me or no one.”

She would grumble in frustration and start trying to read or go into a very long dissertation on how life should be. Soon, all the others would notice and come sit by us. She would get her way the minute she didn’t try to force it.

She also had a reputation for not telling the truth. I caught her multiple times doing things that she would deny.

“Molly, did you hit your brother?”

“No.”

“Then why is he sitting on my lap crying with a red mark on his leg? How did that happen?”

“I think he bumped it over there.”

“Are you sure that’s your final answer? Do you want to think about it for a second? I just want you to tell me the truth. So does God.”

Her eyes would go everywhere but look at mine. It was an inward battle as a younger sibling had given testimony against her, I had exhibit A as physical proof, and now she had to scramble to come up with an alibi.

“I think he tripped and fell.”

“For sure?”

There were more hard swallows and no eye contact.

“Well, he was bothering me.”

“She push me!” Her brother was at the stage of having less speaking ability, but enough to verbalize he had been wronged.

“So you pushed and hit him?”

Now there was hair twirling involved as she nervously shifted from foot to foot.

“He was trying to take away something from me.”

It was always the usual speech about not concealing the truth and letting me know to intervene.

No matter how many times I tried to help her see this, she feared the punishment, even though all I had her do was tell him she was sorry. It killed a part of her to have to apologize and admit wrongdoing. Something that should have taken minutes turned into a long, drawn out process until she would finally come clean.

One day, during lunch, she was accused of another offense. There was a witness list against her a mile long.

“I did not do that!” She said adamantly.

The noose was tightening as each of her companions gave me details of something she had done. None of them were changing their story, and I had a feeling she was guilty as charged. Her demeanor suggested total deception like all the other times I had dealt with this.

“Molly, I want you to tell the truth, and that’s all. Lying isn’t a good habit because it won’t seem wrong to you at some point.”

It was a breezy, nice day, and I had all the windows open. There was work being done off the back of the house as the porch was being constructed, and I had pulled the curtain closed across the sliding glass door. The person out there had overheard what I had said. None of the kids were aware that he was there, and he had taken a break and was sitting quietly.

“Molly, God is always watching, and you need to remember that. You need to be nice to people, and God wants you to be good to others.”

She still wouldn’t cough up the truth. The wind made the floor-length curtain billow inward toward her back.

“Molly….” came this deep voice from behind her.

I saw her jump.

“What was that?” She said, looking at me, and now I was suddenly her lifeline.

She turned to see the curtain blow toward her, and it was the best visual effect I could have asked for, especially if God was showing up to reprimand her for me.

Again…

“Molly…”

I had a hard time not smiling. Instead, I pretended to be as in much shock as she was. Because they all trusted me, the entire table had gone silent. If I was reacting in surprise, then it had to be God!

With eyes wide, she blurted out,

“Miss Chris, I did do what they said, and I was lying. I am sorry.”

“Really? Just tell the truth all the time right away, okay?”

She was utterly unnerved that God had spoken her name out of nowhere. In a split second, she went from deceitful to the most honest person in the room, thinking the Creator had appeared to deal with her.

I pulled the curtain back and had her see it wasn’t God but a person.

She went on to correct herself after that. She often still wanted to cling to her false stories, but that moment solidified what I had been trying to tell her all along.

Many years later, way after I had quit childcare, I was outside raking. And I heard:

“I am what you think I am.”

What does that mean?

“If a person thinks I’m revengeful, then they don’t think they can approach me. If they think I’m forgiving, then they come freely. If they think I put sickness and disease on them, they blame me for it. If I am seen as a healer, then they come for healing. People put their own restrictions on me. I am unlimited in the reality of all things. I am who you think I am.”

Molly thought she was dealing with an angry God from the many times outside of my care when the hammer was thrown down after she confessed. So she decided it was easier to try and sneak out of it. I kept saying that while she needed to not act like an animal from the wild, there is always a way of humility and taking responsibility for wrong choices.

Psalm 86:5 says: “You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you.”(NLT)

Molly should have had Proverbs 28:13 stamped on her forehead:

Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy. (NLT)

Your view of God is what you will get, and you will create it.

Proverbs 23:7 says: For as a man thinks in his heart, so is he. (NKJV)

Are you ducking and running from a God who is ready to blast you with a lightning bolt and requires you to feel horrible every single second of your life? Even for something you did a long time ago? Or, are you walking in the light of the truth where no matter what, you can always ask for forgiveness from the One who offers peace and closure?

Being taught anything other than this is an illusion. All things can be forgotten and concluded. Just look to the sky at the close of the day, and you will see this message displayed in full array in every beautiful sunset.

Hooked

“This is how you cast your line.”

With a smooth fluid motion, he brought the rod over his head and flung it out toward the water.  His bobber hit with a small plop.

He handed me a rod after he put a minnow on for me.  I couldn’t bear to do that part. Looking behind me to make sure no one was there as he had instructed, I held down the big white button and then released it as I made the forward motion just like he had.  My bobber hit the water with more force, however.

“You did okay, but your minnow came off. Bring it in and you can do it again. You can’t do it so hard.”

He rebaited the hook, and I tried again but this time consciously with less arm power behind it.

We were at my uncle’s cabin that sat on a lake that was so clear you could see the sand on the bottom. Fishing off the dock was just as good as a boat because the water housed many crappies, sunnies and walleyes that swam by in large schools.

Just as he had taught my three older brothers to fish, he was passing the ability on to me. For my first few attempts, he stayed close by keeping careful watch as I tried to do as he had said. For eleven years old,  I thought I caught on quickly. I only had a few mishaps of releasing the line too early and getting it caught in the weeds behind me on shore.  A few other attempts left my bait going airborne until I learned control.

When he was satisfied that I could handle myself, he went back into the house. My brother, Bob, was on a dock next to my uncle’s so he thought he could leave and have my sibling supervise me.

“I need you to bait the hook,” I pleaded.

“You have to learn sometime,” he answered without looking at me.

“I don’t like doing it.”

“Too bad.”

He wasn’t about to budge from his spot on his dock beside mine.  It would have taken too much physical effort for him to walk the few feet over to help me.

So, with bravery I did the deed and abhorred every second of it.

While practicing my new skill, my cousin came and stood by me. I wasn’t thrilled with him invading my space, but it wasn’t in my nature to be unkind to him. Whenever we visited our relatives, I felt like he clung to me too much, and he threw temper tantrums over the slightest mishaps.  I never knew when the kid was going to sound off like an alarm without warning so he made me slightly edgy.

He started asking me a bunch of questions that I only half listened to.  I was trying to concentrate on casting and getting it right.  Too many times my minnow was sailing through the air forcing me to reload and try again.  I was determined to learn and show my dad how good I was.

I reeled in my line. I made sure I carefully extended my right arm over my cousin’s head before jerking into a cast.  Even with the careful, deliberate movement, I saw my bait fly over his head.  Then, he started to wail like a wounded animal.

I yanked on my line thinking maybe I had gotten it stuck on the weeds behind us on the shore.  Every time I pulled he screamed bloody murder.  I cranked on the line again and felt much resistance.  This felt different than when I had gotten hung up on something before.  This was quite the puzzle until he bellowed,

“MY EAR!”

I glanced at him to figure out what all the fuss was about and saw the hook securely planted in his big earlobe.  In my defense, the child did not have petite ears.

“Why is he crying?” my brother yelled over.

Great.  Now he takes an interest in what I am doing, I thought.

“I don’t know.”

I gulped at the sight of my handiwork in body piercing.

“Did you hook him?” my brother asked.

He cried louder.

“I will help you.  Just hold still,” I said.  I was trying to quiet him down so the adults wouldn’t come running.

“Did you really hook him in the ear?” my brother asked again from his dock.  I could tell he was trying not to laugh.

I ignored him and carefully removed the source of pain without saying anything about what I was doing.

“Is that better?” I asked hopefully.

“NO!  It still hurts.”

“Let me see,” I said.

It was a very small hole with a spot of blood that was visible.

“I want my mom!” he suddenly yelled.

“Wait.  Let’s just see how it feels,” I suggested before he ran off half crazed and got me into trouble.

I imagined my fishing privileges being revoked if word got out that I had actually impaled him.

I dipped my hand into the frigid water and put it on his ear. I had to come up with something quick. I didn’t know how long I could hold him there.

“You know what?  I think a bee stung you.”

“Really?”

His glasses were fogged up and he was breathing heavily.  He wasn’t at the height of health for a six year old.  He was as round as he was tall and easily got winded just from walking up a set of stairs. Sweating came easily for him and his bright red cheeks were an evident sign that he was in distress.

“Ya.  I think it flew right in and stung you on the ear!  It’s gone now though.  I got it away from you.”

“You did?”

“Yes.  Does it feel better?”

“A little bit.  It doesn’t hurt as much.”

He stopped crying and mopped his face with the back of his pudgy hand.

“I am going to go tell that I got stung by a bee!” He huffed and puffed his way off the dock and ran as best as he could toward the cabin.

“Did you tell him he got stung by a bee?” my brother yelled over.  “That is hilarious!  He actually believed you!”

No longer able to hold in his amusement he began to laugh loudly.

“Shut up!” I said as I followed behind my cousin.

By the time I got to the house, he had told all the adults.

When I walked in the door, I was questioned immediately.

“Did he get stung by a bee?”

I took a slight breath and nodded affirmatively.

When he walked past me his ear was barely pink and almost back to normal.  I had just lied myself into a situation that I didn’t have to.

“I think it will be just fine,” my mom said.  “He seems to be okay.”

I inwardly sighed.  As long as he thought he got stung by a bee and so did everyone else, I was off the..well..I was in the clear.

I returned to the dock, picked up my rod and tried again.

“Does everyone think he got stung by a bee?” my brother asked.

“Yes,” I said.

The fly in the ointment!  My brother knew the truth.

“They don’t know you lied?”

“No.”

I tried to preoccupy myself with the waves rolling up to the shore.

“I do.”

It was left at that, and I thought the incident was over, but I was about to be introduced to a concept that I didn’t understand.  Blackmail.

The next day, as usual, my brother did something to me that was not to my liking.  When I was about to let my mom know, he whispered,

“Remember?  The bee sting?”

If I stepped one toe in my mom’s direction to tell on him, he would spill the beans about my cousin’s ear!

The tightness in my chest at the thought of being exposed was enough to freeze me in place.  In that instance, I was lured into his scheme.

One night, about six months into his game, I was on my way to let my mom know that he had just done something again to upset me.  As I turned to leave, he whispered,

“Remember?” He had shortened it to one code word.  No longer did he need to explain like in the beginning. We both were clear on what he was saying.

I suddenly started yelling at the top of my lungs,

“I don’t care!  Tell her!  Tell her everything!”

Months of this torture had built up inside of me. While I was keeping my mouth shut, he was able to say and do whatever he wanted to me.  I decided in that moment to take back my power and face the punishment that I should have received months prior.

My mom heard all the commotion and said,

“What is going on?”

I ran up the stairs before he could and found her at the table making out her grocery list.  The words gushed out of me.

“Remember that time last summer when I said a bee stung Noel on the ear?  I lied.  I accidentally hooked him with my fishing line.  Bob knew the truth and has held it over my head since then. Every time I was going to come tell you something, he would stop me and tell me he was going to tell that I lied.”

Her eyes turned into a tight squint.

“Robert! Get up here now!” She had used his legal first name.  Trouble!

Her voice reverberated through my chest like one of those huge sonic booms that you hear on the Fourth of July.

I watched him slump up the stairs.

This actually wasn’t going in his favor, and it surprised me.

“Is this true?  Have you been blackmailing your sister all this time?  I don’t allow that in my house!”

That was the first time I had heard the term. I may not have been wise to the vocabulary back then, but the experience was enough for me to never forget.

He admitted to his wrongdoing and was sent to his room.  For once, he had come to find out that he wasn’t always going to be on her good side.  To tell you the truth, I was shocked that she treated him how she did.

She turned to me and said,

“Don’t ever let anyone do that to you.  First, tell the truth and don’t lie.  Second, if you have something to say, then say it.  Don’t let another person ever have that much control over you.”

“Okay,” I replied.

I waited for my sentencing, but there wasn’t any.  She figured I had gone through enough months of emotional turmoil at his dark bidding.

Many years later, as an adult, her message to me still rings true.  Whether it is a relative, a scary financial situation or an unhappy existence in a workplace, do not let anyone or anything hold you hostage.  If anything, go to God and tell the truth so that you can have the help you need and live free.  Unload the burden from your heart, and let your honest prayers be the beginning of you no longer being hooked.

 

hooks

 

(On a side note, the next time we went fishing, and my brother and I were fishing on separate docks, I overextended my cast and hooked him in the palm of his hand.  His yelps could be heard for miles.  My dad actually laughed and said we needed to work more on my technique.)