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.

Vision

My parents smoked many cigarettes when the surgeon general wasn’t involved with warning labels.

“We were told it was only dangerous in that it would stunt a person’s growth,” my mom said.

Then the world should be full of short people.

Obviously, this was a myth that kept many citizens puffing away, all the while making their lungs turn black.

“Once we found out that it could cause more health issues, we quit.”

Well, sort of.

My dad traded the death sticks over to smoking a pipe. I remember seeing it hanging out of his mouth while he was sawing something in half, driving a nail into a board, or in the stands watching me play softball.

“I love the smell of that,” many of my friends would say.

While some were impressed by his habit, my mom was not. Usually, she summed it up in one word:

“Ick.”

Part of the reason for her dislike of this was that he would leave pipes all over the house. The basement, outside, or anywhere he felt he was going to need to smoke, he would leave one for later. His dresser was always a mess with a few of them there.

I would often hear him say to her,

“Have you seen my pipe?”

“Which one? You have a million of them.”

He would start looking, unhappily wasting his time when he could be outside doing something else. She would leave for a few seconds, unable to deal with his mumbling during the rescue mission.

“Here. I found one,” she would say, handing him what he had been trying to find.

It took me a while to catch on, but I figured out that she would, in an attempt to keep the clutter down, move all of them into one central location that he wasn’t aware of.

While he would happily leave with it in his possession, thinking she was the best locator of missing items, she knew exactly where they were all along.

Their relationship had small, built-in devices like that, where she got her way without him realizing it.

“When we were first married, he wanted to go sit at a bar with his friends and leave me at home. He did this before we were together, but I wasn’t in favor of that once we got married, and I told him. He refused to listen to me. So one Friday night, I got dressed up and told him I was going out without him.”

I knew he had been extremely protective of her. He had never gotten over witnessing her dance with another guy after he had said no while they were dating. Having her about to leave him in her dust to go off to a shady place on a Friday night set him off into panic mode.

She had been raised in a small town, which made him consider her naive and unable to handle herself in the “real” world. He would always say to me,

“I met her right after she fell off the turnip truck.” Or, “She is a country bumpkin that just fell out of a wagon.”

Then he would laugh while she shook her head. He had no idea how much she actually used all that to her advantage. He believed she was not up to his speed while quietly she got him to do her bidding, believing that it was his own idea. So, who was the turnip?

Seeing her about to leave him brought on a meltdown.

“He would not let me leave. He stood in front of the door, refusing to move. I had made the whole thing up to see what he would do. I never told him I didn’t have plans, but he got so upset by it, he said he wouldn’t leave me sitting at home alone ever again.”

There was a reason why she had done this.

“His friends were wild and not married yet, so I didn’t want him out there acting like them and coming home drunk. I felt this would eventually ruin everything, so that’s why I did it. He would not listen to me, so I thought to myself..I will show you. It worked. He knew what men were like at bars back then, and he couldn’t bear the idea of me being on display. We came to an agreement that we would go places together to guard our marriage at the beginning.”

Her tactic was to get him to see her point of view without saying a word as she was about to walk out the door with no place to go.

She became a full-time mom when all the kids started showing up. This didn’t stop her from educating herself regarding the latest health problems and their causes.

Because I ended up being with her the most as the others grew up and moved out, I was often involved in her findings of what was considered cutting-edge information.

“It says here that steak can harm your arteries.”

She was like a sponge when she read the newspaper, learning as she had extra time with fewer children to deal with.

For some reason, I had no idea that she had discovered that smoking a pipe had been linked to lip, tongue, and cheek cancer. This bothered her so much that she demanded he quit. She couldn’t use her usual technique of getting him to see things her way with a bait and switch approach. He just needed to believe her on this one.

Now we know it to be accurate, but at the time, it wasn’t prevalent knowledge, so it could be easily dismissed as “it won’t ever happen to me.”

One night from work, I came home and parked my car in the garage.

He kept his vehicle outside and gave me his spot—another perk of being born last, way after everyone else.

While my siblings had to leave their cars in the driveway in the heat of summer or blizzards of winter, he moved out so I could move in. I had grandparents at that point.

On that particular night that I pulled in, I heard a loud crunching sound near my front wheel on the driver’s side. I immediately stopped, jumped out, and saw a plastic bag sticking out from my tire.

I backed up with more crunching.

I got out, picked up the bag, and saw that I had crushed his pipes. I had no idea where they had come from. These were on their way to the graveyard with no way to save them. The back and forth over them had murdered them.

I thought nothing of it. I didn’t do it on purpose, and I knew he had more somewhere. I parked and took the bag inside. It was summer with the air running at top speed, and the house was closed up, so she hadn’t heard me come home.

She was in the living room reading. She looked up and said,

“What do you have in your hand?”

I held up the bag.

“I think I ran over some of dad’s pipes.”

Her mouth popped open. I got worried for a minute, thinking she was mad at me. I knew that familiar look where her eyebrows met in the middle, and her eyes looked like they could kill.

“He told me he quit!”

Oh. So I wasn’t in trouble, then? But, there was another storm ready to blow up.

She flew by me, snatched the bag, and stomped out the door.

“John! Where are you?”

Just run! I wanted to send him a message telepathically.

She was taking this outside where the neighbors might hear? She was seeing red.

I walked over to the window and saw him trying to develop some sort of explanation. She was an infuriated country bumpkin.

I opened the window slightly to hear what stellar excuse he was going to give.

“How many more of these do you have?” She said, shaking the pieces in the bag.

I knew she was coming at him for a good reason, but I felt a little guilty, like I had just walked him to the executioner.

“That’s all I had left. I put them in the garage so I could still have some without you knowing.”

Cringe. Not good.

“This is it?”

“Yes. I had them hidden, and I must have left them out. When she pulled in, they fell under her tire.”

A coincidence? I don’t think so.

I watched her walk over to the garbage and throw them away.

“I promise that’s it. I don’t have anymore.”

She noticed that I felt responsible for their argument when she came back in.

“God used you, Chris. Don’t feel bad about that. It was supposed to happen.”

I didn’t fully get it.

He stuck to his word, even though it was difficult at times getting past the craving for it, but his marriage was higher up on the priority list. And in the end, her urgency to get him to stop freed him from suffering consequences that would have been terrible.

Sometimes you can sense the detrimental while the other person can’t.

That is how God works. Everything is seen from a viewpoint that we might not always understand. Throw in our free will, then we can ignore that still small voice and go on our way, thinking we know it all.

God will place people in your life to be seers. They may come in different shapes and styles, but they are there for your good, prompting you to come up higher and dodging around hazards you may not think are harmful because it’s a habit. Or you are just plain ignorant. Yes, I said it.

The Holy Spirit is described this way in John 16:13:

But when the Friend comes, the Spirit of the Truth, he will take you by the hand and guide you into all the truth there is. He won’t draw attention to himself, but will make sense out of what is about to happen. (Message)

If you aren’t making yourself available to hear God’s message to you, someone will be sent, motivated by heaven, to try to wake you up to what you need to know. This is not punishment or condemnation, but to illuminate something you are not seeing or paying attention to.

From my experience, I don’t walk away feeling dejected or scolded but instead empowered to deal with an issue that was dragging me down spiritually, like fear or worry. A person looking out for your highest well-being is often a messenger, and you might not understand that at first.

In Isaiah 55:9, there is a reason why we might not get it right away:

For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than yours, and my thoughts than yours. (TLB)

Just like it was believed that smoking cigarettes would hinder a person’s height, not heeding what God is gently trying to tell you will slow down your walk to an elevated place, moving in the direction you are supposed to go. When we cling to what is familiar and not useful, refusing to embrace the truth and shutting the door, God will come through another way.

That is how much heaven wants you to achieve your life purpose and protect you from harm.

When you are blind, it is a promise that a helper will come to get your attention and give you the needed direction and vision.

Yucky Parts

Sometimes it’s the smallest of things that make you realize how much God sees the details. Heaven seems to show up at just the right time to remind you that you have done alright, no matter what memories you might have surface to say otherwise.

She handed me a book that I forgot I even had.

“Where was this?” I asked.

“In my room.”

That happens quite often where we share without me realizing it. But, if it had not been in my possession for that long, then I guess I didn’t really miss it.

I recognized the cover and title from a while ago. I had gone through this phase where I could not absorb enough about people experiencing miracles. It can help you to believe when you read about the circumstances of others, prompting you to follow those leads that God is always putting in front of you.

To say you don’t have any isn’t the truth. You have to get quiet, and one way to do so is to read material about the very thing that you are seeking. While memorizing scripture is excellent, sometimes you need to subject yourself to multiple stories where people of various walks of life have all had incredible things happen to them.

The unusual happenings in the Bible, from the parting of the Red Sea to Jonah being swallowed by ocean life, sometimes don’t seem relevant unless I am stuck in traffic and I need an act of God to move cars along so that I can get back to my real life. The whale thing doesn’t really coincide unless I have to tell someone bad news, and I would rather not. I don’t live where there are whales readily available, though.

What does resonate is when a mortgage gets paid off unexpectedly, a child is healed of an incurable disease, or someone escapes a life that was leading to destruction. The themes are generally the same, with a person needing an unseen hand to intervene and come to the rescue seemingly out of nowhere.

I think it’s difficult to imagine God doing that because we always believe that it’s for everybody else. Our neighbor might fit the bill up the street, but we aren’t good enough to have it happen to us.

Isn’t that what blocks the miracle? Not God, but us.

“I was told to give you that book, and you need to look in the front cover.”

“Why? I haven’t seen this for so long.”

“Just look.”

When she tells me to do something, I do it.

Inside the cover was a note from her that I had used as a bookmark. She had written this to me during the height of a very tormenting and dark time in my life. My marriage had turned into divorce, and I had to figure out somehow how to keep it all on track.

I was constantly concerned that I wasn’t doing enough or being a good mother while working three jobs at once and homeschooling. I struggled to keep a stable environment for them while the world around me looked nothing like it had before.

While some of the existing problems were now absent, a host of other troubles seemed to be cropping up all the time.

One way I can describe it was like walking into one of those rooms where the whole structure is built at an angle. You have to navigate your way through using force to lean and move. You might have to hang on to a few walls to get through it, and right when you think you can let go of the support, you start to fall again. In the middle of it all, you come to a new understanding regarding the instability of life.

Believe it or not, it’s a gift. You realize that what is here today can be quickly gone tomorrow.

I would be rushing through the living room, trying to get to the next responsibility on my list, and she would tackle me with her eight-year-old self. She knew I was faking my way through it all, hiding my pain and trying to convince everyone that all was well.

In a death grip, she wouldn’t let me go and would repeatedly say,

“You are strong, mom. You are strong.”

I learned not to fight to get away because, one, it was pointless because she would suddenly have an iron hold on me that I could not release myself from. She would have both of her arms wrapped around my legs, making it impossible for me to move.

I know it sounds strange, but I had to stand still against my will when this happened. After a few times, I realized that God was speaking to me through her.

I felt the exact opposite of what she was saying. Totally weak and broken down, I was running on fumes, forcing myself out of bed every day, fearing that I would not be able to keep up with it all. And in the chaos of that, I had this shorter version of me stopping me in my tracks, giving me the advice I would give anyone else I saw in the same situation.

I had taught her without knowing it.

When I gave my life to God, I made it my mission to make sure both of my girls understood its importance. I didn’t want them walking the same trail that I had, not knowing who God really was. There were pitfalls along the way as we all learned, and still do, what spirituality really means. My goal was to have God be real to them, not some fictional guy in a book. And here it was on full display as she forced me to take a minute to listen.

“You are strong, mom. You are strong.”

One time, I said to her,

“Our house has been destroyed. Your dad is gone.” I thought that would make her quit doing this. It was inconvenient most of the time.

She looked me in the eye and said with much assertiveness and on the verge of anger,

“He is my real Father!” She pointed up. I couldn’t argue with that, and she made me stand there longer than usual. I learned not to be resistant to it anymore.

When I look at what she wrote back then, I can see now what she meant. Those sessions of making me stop what I was doing were times that God infused me with the strength I needed to go on. I just didn’t know it then like I do now.

She brought to life this verse from Psalm 46:10 that says:

Be still and know that I am God.

Sometimes when you look in the rearview mirror of your life, you see that all isn’t lost. It makes sense now.

In those places that seem impossible to endure, something is changing on the inside of you.

She and I went to a yoga class at a very early hour on a Saturday when the temperature was fourteen below. The drive was nearly forty minutes away, but the class was free, and there would be a litter of puppies.

“I want to go to this,” she said.

I did, and I didn’t. I know dogs and me, and I will want them all. I wasn’t so sure I could do all the moves either, but I was willing to try. Above all of that, I can never say no to her.

As we progressed through a flow of maneuvers that required balancing, many in the class around us were trying not to fall over.

“Relax your face as you move along,” the instructor said randomly with her back to us as she demonstrated, and we followed.

Immediately a woman in the back row said,

“I feel called out,” and started to laugh.

When it got quiet, and all of us were shaking uncontrollably, trying to stay upright while forcing our muscles to be more productive, the leader said,

“Breathe through the yucky parts. You are becoming a better person.”

If I have learned anything, you must know that God is holding your hand, everything will work out when you think it won’t, and now is the time to breathe through the yucky parts.

(I’m not crying..YOU are crying….)

Combination

She opened the refrigerator, and a plastic container flew out and hit the floor with a loud smack. The force of the impact made the lid disengage. The contents then were free to splash upward toward the poor unfortunate soul who was standing nearby with clean clothes on.

His pants were immediately covered in some sort of leftover that I am sure he would have instead had presented to him on a plate. We all stood in shock as he had both of his hands outstretched, looking down in horror at the red meat sauce that was rapidly seeping inward past the outer layer into deeper regions.

She sprang into action to attend to the spill, totally focused on that, not really coming to his aid. He had just been involved in an unwanted food fight and now stood immobile, not wanting to traipse the problem through the living room carpet to get a change of clothes.

While she was absorbed in trying to reign in the mess that had splattered the walls, cupboards, and doors, his annoyance was on the rise at her lack of attention toward him.

“Wipe me! Wipe me!” He suddenly yelled.

My brother, ever the quick-witted comedian, passed by and said,

“I would never want to do that!” Clearly with a different scenario in his mind. He dropped that comment and darted away.

This made my mom burst out laughing to the point of not being able to get up off the kitchen floor.

“Jean! Get up right now!” He ordered.

She laughed louder. She loved physical comedy, and once something struck her as humorous, it would be a while.

As she became more caught up in laughing, he kept on hollering, trying to snap her back to reality. While he swore through the entire process, she could not control what had overtaken her. Finally, she just threw the wet rag in her hand at him and let him start on disengaging himself from the problem.

It must have been contagious because suddenly, he started laughing with her. It was one of many odd things I saw happen between the two of them. I stood there, not knowing if I was witnessing anger or joy.

On another occasion, she came out of the laundry room hysterically laughing, trying to tell me something.

“Your dad…he..he…” she tried so hard to say what was going on, and she couldn’t. Taking a deep breath, she said,

“He was outside staining wood.”

“Okay.”

She had to pause between each sentence to get it out.

“He took this big lid off and set it aside.”

Another round of bent over laughing.

“He sat on the lid!”

“What?”

After many minutes of questions, I pieced together the facts that he had forgotten he had set a lid on a chair and then sat down for a second. When he felt wetness soaking in, he jumped up and raced for the house for her help.

“He has a huge brown target on his butt! You have to come to see this!”

I only got up to help her in case she was not capable. It was almost identical to the sauce incident with him standing there helpless and her not functioning.

“Is it bad?” He asked me with his back to me.

“I think those are going to have to go in the garbage,” I said while she hung on to my shoulder, doubled over in a silent giggle.

“Jean! You have to help me get these off!”

The minute I heard that I was out. Like, bye.

From the other room, I heard her say,

“You actually have stained your skin! Like a big tattoo!”

She never understood the art of telling someone terrible news slowly. She just blurted it out like that, which caused him to go into orbit.

“I have to go in for my physical exam! What will the doctor think?”

“Maybe if I scrub it with cold water. That might help!”

This is when I cut off my visualization skills. There are just some things you don’t even want to see in your mind’s eye. In moments such as this, I didn’t want to possess the ability to have insight. I hit the pause button mentally.

“That is freezing cold!” I heard him screech.

“It’s not coming off!” She said, delivering more bad news.

Cue the cuss words. And more laughing. The blending of these two individuals never ceased to amaze me.

It wasn’t always him having bad luck either. Sometimes it was caused by his own doing.

“I hit him right between the eyes with a spoon one time.”

“Why?”

“I was eating cereal, and he said something that I didn’t like. I was pregnant.”

That would do it, simple as that.

Other times, he did fall prey to unexpected circumstances inflicted upon him by her hand.

One time, he had just sat down to eat this massive plate of food. This man would take his time doing this. Seasoning things. Moving slowly like he was getting it ready for a magazine shoot.

She tripped on her way past him with a bottle of wine in her hand. She fell directly on him, pouring the entire contents on his plate. He was so taken by surprise that he still had his fork in his hand above her head while my brother quickly whisked his plate away, saying,

“You’re done!”

He had not taken one bite.

“What. The. Hell,” was all he said as she laid there laughing, crumpled upon him.

This went on for years.

“John, do you want a cookie?”

“No.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“Yes, you don’t want one, or yes, you want one?”

By now, she had lost him as he was in the middle of watching something.

“John!”

“What?”

“Is that yes or no?”

“For what?”

“A cookie! Do you want one?”

“I already said no.”

“I thought you changed your mind.”

He was gone again.

“Are you sure?”

“About what?”

Feeling that she wasn’t getting through to him, she placed herself and the container of cookies in front of him.

“I can’t see around you!”

“Are you sure you don’t want a cookie?”

Right as he was about to answer again, the entire thing fell out of her hands, and every single cookie landed on his lap.

“Leave me be, woman!” He shouted like he was casting a demonic entity out of his presence.

As she scrambled to pick them up, the laughter and the swearing again.

The other day I was talking to him about heaven. I have seen it and was giving him details.

“Mom is there, right?”

“Yes.”

And you would think with their history, he might not want to spend eternity with her. Life on earth just might have been enough.

“That’s good. I miss her.”

For all the times they were in conflict or nearly at their wit’s end with one another, there always was and still is this invisible chord that kept them together. Not once since her transition has he wanted anyone else in his life. Some would say that he finally has peace and quiet.

But he was very adamant with me when she first went on to heaven.

“I will not ever be married to anyone ever again. She was it.”

So all I can do is make him remember the funny moments that maybe weren’t so humorous to him then. But now, he sees it for what it really was.

One of the morning routines that they adhered to was that she would get up early, ahead of him, but she didn’t let him rely on his alarm to wake him up.

She would always say,

“John, it’s time.” And raise the shade to blind him with light first thing.

“I hated that so much!” He told me once. But she did it every day.

I have a feeling that when God calls him up, he will hear that familiar voice saying,

“John. It’s time.”

Some things you look at and think, who decided that this would be good? Like waffles and syrup. Who conjured that up? I think a lot of people are glad it exists.

And while I didn’t always understand them, and I still really don’t, I am grateful that God decided to put them together into a weird, sometimes ugly, but purposeful combination.

None

One of the biggest challenges of homeschooling was getting my point across. Even though I am terrible at drawing, if I put an abstract idea on paper and it was visual, this made it easier to conceptualize. For math, I bought manipulatives which included colorful objects used for counting, adding, and subtracting. 

When you home educate, people get the impression that there is no structure. There’s this myth that those who forgo the traditional public school system live off the land, eat grass and leaves and make their clothes out of curtains. 

None of that is true. Or at least in my experience, it wasn’t. 

Instead, our days were filled with trying to master skills that would help them to function in a world that requires legible writing and the ability to read. I generally purchased a curriculum that included a Bible study. 

Elementary school was interesting as the oldest tried to pronounce big words, many times beyond her scope. My daughter would often read aloud and walk around the room with the book. She didn’t have to sit up straight at a desk all day to get her work done. That’s where we diverted from the typical way school was conducted.

“Jesus traveled to Jerjuicesalem.”

“Jerusalem?”

“Ya. Jerjuicesalem.”

“It’s not juice. You drink that. It’s Jerusalem. Say it slower.”

“Jer juice salem.”

“Jerusalem.”

“Can I have some juice?”

“Sure.” 

After a few times of trying to correct her, I figured by the time she was in her teens, it would flow off her tongue naturally. 

In middle school, the other daughter had to grasp the structure of the Catholic Church.

“So a monk is a man who commits his life to God. What do they call women who do the same?”

A quiz was coming up, so I reviewed high points from the weekly readings to help her be prepared. If anything, it would come in handy later in life when she played bar trivia during happy hour while she drank a cocktail. 

I could tell she could not readily think of the answer. Sometimes if I shortened the question, it would surface.

“A man is a monk. What is a woman called?”

“A mink?”

I generally tried not to laugh when a wrong answer was given because I didn’t want them to think I was making fun of them, but I could not help myself. 

She made a quick remark without thinking, like when you take a Rorschach test, you are presented with inkblots and say the first thing that comes to mind. 

“A nun. They give up everything to be with God. The last thing one of them would own would be a mink.”

The other day, we played a game where the word ‘nun’ became the center of attention. The concept is to ask your device a question to get it to say the word you have chosen. I was tempted to ask,

“Alexa, who are women who have consecrated their lives to God in the Catholic Church and don’t buy mink coats?”

As we navigated our way through, we found that it’s how you ask the question that brings the correct answer. 

We labored over the word ‘dimension’ for at least thirty minutes. 

“Alexa, in the opening of The Twilight Zone, what is the speech that Rod Serling gives?”

I watched the blue line go back and forth as she put her thinking cap on to bring me information. I know he says it. She just needed to cooperate. 

She rambled on about the origin of the series and came nowhere near speaking about what I needed to get the points so I could advance. 

We were educated on parallel universes and alternate realities, but she would not say what we longed to hear.

Finally, I had an idea.

“Alexa. What does the D mean in 3D?”

Cue the Jeopardy music as she worked her circuits, trying to figure out something to say.

Holding my breath because I didn’t want to spend another second on this subject, she said, 

“This might answer your question. The D in 3D means dimensional.”

As long as the word is included as a part of the whole, it counts. 

We went on to have another half-hour struggle with the term attitude.

My daughter asked,

“If a person is in a sassy mood, what does that mean?”

“Sassy is defined as impertinent, saucy, or insolent.”

“I know the feeling,” I said as I glanced at the clock approaching 2 am. She was going to say this word! There was no way a machine would control me. Yet, it was.

“Alexa, what does it mean to have a sunny disposition in life?”

“Here is something I found that might help. Having a sunny disposition is being annoyingly happy all the time.”

That’s a life lesson right there. 

“Alexa. What is an outlook on life?”

“Here is something I found on the web. It is the outlook on life that changes the whole life for a person.”

“Alexa, what is gratitude?”

For sure, she had to know that attitude and gratitude went together.

“I don’t know,” she said. 

“Talk about stupid,” I said, now having a bad attitude. “Look what she has done to me.” No one will ever accuse me of having a sunny disposition again. 

“Alexa, what is a mood?”

“Here’s something that might help. A prevailing emotional tone or attitude.” Finally!

The absolute worst was when she would go quiet. I would ask a very straightforward question, and the blue line would look as if it was calculating and then disappear. Just leave me hanging there with nothing in return. That would end my turn because you can only ask one question, and if she does not answer, you move on to the next player. Her silence spoke volumes.  

Because she is superior in intelligence, we must first assume that we inquired wrong or that she was too busy shopping on Amazon to answer. Whatever the case, I felt ignored when she would not answer me. 

I did not consider that she was malfunctioning or had a hardware issue. I was the problem, not her.

A couple of days later, during a moment of quiet, God whispered to me: You do this with people, you know.

What? Do I?

Yes, you do. 

How?

I was brought back to when I was seeing a therapist after my divorce.

“Have you ever read the book The Verbally Abusive Relationship?” she asked me. “Patricia Evans wrote it.”

“No.”

She gave that as an assignment, and I found it right away at a second-hand book store. 

Right in chapter one, there was a checklist to go over to help the reader recognize what this subject entails. It wasn’t light material or pleasant because it exposed what I had been subjected to but also what I had allowed. It was shocking to learn that the silent treatment is a form of wrongdoing. 

How ironic is that? When no words are said, that is considered verbal abuse. It’s a form of manipulation, so the other party maintains control. But, it had been utilized against me in my childhood. If I were going against the powers that be, I would be ignored or shut off until I got back in line. I would scramble to try and make things right to get back to where I felt secure. I had to go out of my way, in fear, to get back into the good graces of those in charge.

It’s an unjust way to get someone to conform. Just like Alexa going dark, the truth is that there is nothing wrong with you; it’s the other way around. 

This damage is subtle but long-lasting. It is like a default in a computer program. When you have had an authority figure treat you like that and get used to living this way for so long and have had others treat you the same, you suddenly become paranoid about having done something to cause a problem where none exists. You take on the blame for things that aren’t yours. 

And you give all your power away to someone who will keep on taking it. Once it is revealed to you, though, God can heal it. 

You will also be shown where you think it exists and it doesn’t. You are hypersensitive to it and seek to correct it just like always. 

I had that happen. I got so busy that I didn’t message someone right away, and they accused me of putting them on ignore. That was not my intention, but I was shown how this was their issue, not mine. They probably were treated just like I was in my past and assumed I was not happy with them, ultimately trying to make them feel bad. I had not done that at all. 

Communication gets tiring. There is something to say for going into reverent silence for days on end. Now I know why there are monks and nuns; it starts to appeal. 

I appreciate that God is so in tune with me that I can be made aware of how to do better, undo false thinking from my past, and move forward into a life free of baggage. 

In Psalm 139:4 it says,

God, investigate my life; get all the facts firsthand. I’m an open book to you; even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking. You know when I leave and when I get back; I’m never out of your sight. You know everything I’m going to say before I start the first sentence. (Message)

God is a mind reader; unfortunately, most people are not. (I am working on it, though.) That leaves us no choice but to be the best at expressing ourselves. 

Until I reach a state of higher consciousness that requires only thoughts, I will have to rely on putting words into sentences that make sense, figure out where I am a mess and need correction, and try to bring no harm to none. 

(Never to be confused with a mink)
(It’s not as easy as it looks…)

Made to Last

“Was it love at first sight?” She asked. I looked over at him and already knew the answer.

“What?” He asked.

He looked to me for guidance because he couldn’t hear her behind the mask.

“When you met your wife, was it love, at first sight?”

The inquiry was in its processing stage, and then I saw the understanding hit.

“No!” He said as if having to endure it again.

“Really? Why not?” She asked.

He crossed his arms tightly across his chest and said,

“She was a prude!”

“Well, you were no catch either,” I said in her defense, recalling her version of their first meeting. He smiled at me, knowing I was telling the truth.

It was a blind date, set up by friends that were a couple. They thought the two of them were compatible, but it was an act of God because they were from two different planets.

While she grew up in a small town in North Dakota, highly disciplined, he was on the streets of St Paul, causing a whole bunch of mischief. He had learned how to scam people wherever he could just to get a few cents in his pocket.

While still in elementary school, he took a handful of free pamphlets from the church and sought out the homebound elderly in his neighborhood.

“I would sell them. It was a quick way to make money. I had to sit and talk to them sometimes, which was boring. Sometimes I got a cookie, which made it better. But I always got paid.”

He was also in the recycling business. A small store sold pop in bottles which he and his friends would steal. They would drink it and then go in the shop’s back door where the owner would give them change. Then, they would race around to the front and buy candy.

“You could get a lot of penny candy back then.” He always said it like he wore a badge of honor.

He attended Catholic school where nuns were at the ready to whack him across the forehead with a ruler for any infraction. This did not deter him from getting out of line. He and a friend would sneak into the empty church during recess and roll under the seating.

It was on a hill with a dramatic slope from the back to the front.

“We would get on our sides to see who could get to the front first.”

One day, the back door flew open, echoing across the empty sanctuary.

“Who is in here?”

The two boys didn’t move a muscle, hiding under the pews, hoping she didn’t find them. He saw her long, ankle-length dress and heard the swinging of the beads as she went row by row.

“Jackie! Are you in here?”

Out of all the kids, she could name from his class, he was on the radar.

His prayers were answered, and she didn’t find them. And instead of being led by fear, he and his companion continued their daily race. If he could get away with it, he did it.

He graduated with all F’s and was sent into the military.

Meanwhile, my mom was scoring at the genius level on IQ tests and was the valedictorian of her class. She walked the straight and narrow path and lived under her father’s constant verbal and tormenting abuse. She escaped to nursing school in Minnesota, and this is where their two very mismatched worlds collided.

Doctors were in pursuit of her, and she went out on dates quite frequently. The night before her encounter with my dad, a suitor had brought her a corsage that she had pinned on a dress coat; she left it on because the flowers were fresh.

“I had to come down this long staircase,” she had told me. “He was waiting at the bottom.”

When she took the last step, he turned to her, pointed at the corsage, and said sarcastically,

“What do you think we are going to a ball or something?”

That set the tone for the night. She instantly hated him. And to send the message, she crossed her arms and made sure he came nowhere close to her.

“I was getting long-stemmed red roses and gifts from men who already had graduated from medical school. There was one in particular that I thought was going to develop into something more serious.”

I always envisioned the outcome of that. By some chance, what if she had married a wealthy doctor and I had been born into it?

“But your dad and I were a marriage made in heaven.”

And just like that, the pony, the outdoor pool, and everything else I ever wanted would vanish.

An unseen force was pushing them together; they saw each other again and somehow figured it out. While she loved picnics, he abhorred them. She loved to dance, but he didn’t. But she had a way of getting her way.

One night when he refused to dance with her, she accepted the invitation of another man. He had gone to use the restroom, and when he came back, he couldn’t find her. When he saw she was enjoying herself with someone else, that was the last time he said no to dancing.

Later, they found out they had been at the same party at a house before knowing one another. As they talked about it, all the details were the same, but they never saw each other there.

“We were just supposed to be together,” she would always say even when things weren’t perfect.

“We got into a big fight, and I took my engagement ring off right before the wedding,” she told me. “I was done with the whole thing. But then he came and looked so devastated that I forgave him.”

I guess when a divine plan is at work, anything can happen. I had seen her unflinching attitude once her mind was made up. But he somehow had worn down her defenses.

“He kissed me and slid the ring back on my finger.”

There went my mansion on easy street.

I didn’t come into their lives until way after the initial flames had flickered. One child after another had arrived, and I was the last of the six. When my dad wanted my attention and said my name, he would accidentally rattle off all five ahead of me before landing on mine. One morning I woke up to my mom calling in the dog.

“Chris! Stop barking and get in this house!”

“Did you just yell my name out the door?” I asked from my room that was near the kitchen.

This had now gone to a whole other level. She opened my door and looked at me in shock; it was an expression I came to know well as she tried to keep up with so many kids and things to attend to.

Many years later, while I was in high school, I had come home one evening to find him lying on the kitchen floor trying to fix the dishwasher. He had gotten off work early because it was their anniversary, and he had walked into a pool of water.

He could usually repair anything, build what she wanted, and never took a car in for an oil change. He did everything himself. But this was proving to be a challenge.

“We were supposed to go out,” she said when I came in. “He’s been working on this for hours.”

I could tell that the tension in the room was high as his frustration was climbing, and he was hungry.

Much to his dismay, he could not remedy whatever was wrong. This meant he would have to call for someone to help, but it was way past the time to do that. It was a blow to his ego.

Their evening out turned into a pizza delivery, and she got out paper plates. He still seemed annoyed as he mindlessly ate while still trying to figure out why he couldn’t solve the problem.

Suddenly, he came back to reality and remembered this wasn’t a usual weeknight.

“I got you a card,” he said, jumping up to go get it. He came back and handed it to her.

She opened it and started to laugh to the point she had to put it down on the table.

He looked at her like she needed to be committed to the nearest facility.

“Why are you laughing? That card isn’t funny!”

She tried to catch her breath, and once she did, she read it out loud.

“To my dearest wife, on her birthday!” This put her right back over again while he just shook his head and said,

“Dammit! I hate this day!”

She laughed louder. But, I saw him start to relax. For her, it was the perfect anniversary with no dishes to do, no meal to cook, and he had made her smile unexpectedly.

When something is meant to be, God will make it happen for the benefit of both. In Ecclesiastes 4:9 it says:

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor: One can help the other up if either of them falls down. NIT)

That was the secret to their success, even if it looked worn out, frazzled, and all-out insane. They used their strengths to help one another’s weaknesses.

My parent’s entire relationship was filled with moments where they had to see the good in the middle of big messes. No matter how bad things got, it was made to last.

(All smiles until all the kids showed up; 68 years later this week)

Wear It

“What is this?” I asked my daughter. “It has your name on it.”

I was struggling to get a gigantic package through the front door.

“I don’t remember.”

This is a common occurrence at our house where she will order items she needs for her business and then forget what is coming.

I shoved it through the entryway into the middle of the living room. She opened the top and peered inside.

“Oh no! I didn’t know it was going to be this big!”

“What is it?”

“It’s a shoe.”

She kept staring into the box with a wary look.

“This is one shoe? For what?”

“I wanted a small Cinderella slipper that I could put under my Christmas tree. I didn’t know it was going to be this big!”

Her work involves scale, so it was quite a shock for her to see she had underestimated the size.

She took it out of the box and assembled it. My idea of a dainty princess flew out the window. When she plugged it in, it was so bright we turned off all the lights to conserve energy.

“I guess that is going to go outside.”

“It’s for the kids who drive by.”

Her goal was to set up a massive display so our house would stand out like Las Vegas in the darkness of winter.

That huge high heel began the process of more deliveries, zip ties, frozen fingers, and pounding stakes into the ground.

A gigantic engagement ring and a carriage took their places from the fairy tale of the girl who was down and out who suddenly found herself the center of attention in the eyes of the prince.

As the story goes, he was not satisfied until he found the rightful owner of the stray shoe. Many tried to force it on, but only she was the perfect fit.

And while he is on the hunt, she goes back to her everyday life, of mundane tasks and being verbally abused by a stepmother and half-sisters. And where is her dad? I always wondered that.

She accepted her lot in life, didn’t get bitter after seeing the wealthier side for one night and the people who had it a lot easier than she did.

She was grateful for the small opportunity that she didn’t know would lead to a life-changing event.

There are over 500 versions of this tale, and many of them date back before Disney brought out their rendition. In one of them, the mean stepsisters get their eyes pecked out by birds while serving as bridesmaids at the royal wedding. That gruesome part, understandably, didn’t make the cut for children.

It can’t be overlooked that their lack of vision and hatred toward their sibling brought on trouble of their own making. When there’s a plan in progress, a path will be cleared past those who stand in the way and bring torment.

I came across a made-for-TV movie that changed the footwear to a magic stocking. A young woman attends a masquerade ball at a mansion and ends up finding the favor of the millionaire because he picks the stocking she brought.

I could only take so much between the overacting and the cheeseball lines, but the message was the same: a rescue mission.

That is the role of God in every person’s life. In Psalm 18:30, it is explained how we are taken care of,

As for God, his way is perfect: The Lord’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him. (NLT)

When you hear God speak or guide you in a specific direction, it brings peace in the middle of chaos. That is the beginning of the end for aimlessly going through the motions, embattled by anxiety and feeling trapped. It starts with becoming more aware that there is a Creator of all who wants a connection with you.

Cinderella didn’t bat an eyelash when she was told to put the rags aside and get out of the house. She allowed it to happen without knowing how it would. Putting one foot in front of the other, the plan began to unfold, and she walked into it.

Sometimes you have to mentally barricade yourself from those who don’t support where you are headed. You just keep on letting God lead. Despite the negativity swirling around her, everything came together perfectly.

We are given these instructions about how to combat interruptions,

Keep your eyes straight ahead;
ignore all sideshow distractions.
Watch your step, and the road will stretch out smooth before you. (Proverbs 4:27, Message)

Often, we forget those moments when what we have been praying for manifests. We don’t enjoy the “happily ever after” part but rush on to the next problem.

It’s good to go back and write down all the times that blessings have come, so you don’t forget and to show gratitude.

I remember what the Lord did;
I remember the miracles you did long ago. (Psalm 77:11)

Through signs and wonders, heaven will make sure you know the truth even when all hope looks gone.

In verse 8 of 1 Corinthians 13, it is stated that love never fails, and this presented itself right before my eyes.

One evening last year, just before Christmas, my daughter said,

“Look at what the camera recorded from the front yard.”

I pulled it up on my phone after she told me a date and time. On the sidewalk directly in front of my house, a couple had stopped to look at her handiwork. She added dogs, a ballerina, trees, music, and the Eiffel Tower, which created a unique glow.

Apparently, this inspired an overwhelming, romantic Hallmark moment, and it turned into a kiss cam like at a sporting event. Seconds turned to minutes as the security footage rolled on.

I believe that your outlook on life creates your circumstances, and positive attracts more of the same.

When I watched this secret encounter happen, I knew that it had been drawn in as if by a powerful magnet. It sent a loud and clear message to me. In the middle of a pandemic where hatred had presented itself in so many ugly ways, the love of God had shown up and manifested a surprise public display of affection.

We live in a self-centered world, where it often seems that kindness is in short supply. What will you be remembered for? If your memorial service was held today, what would people say?

That you are a miser with a bad temper? Or a giver who would come to the aid of anyone at any time? A person who always has the right words exactly when they are needed? A critical nitpicker who drains the energy in every room by seeing only the bad in every single situation? Someone who takes advantage of others so you can get ahead? Or putting others before yourself for the joy of seeing them succeed?

The choice is yours, and if the shoe fits, wear it.

I don’t know if this is a big enough engagement ring…

Do Over

“We had a common-law marriage so that we could get a tax deduction,” she said in a monotone voice.

That was a new one, I thought, as I wrote it down in the margin. It didn’t exactly fit into any of my categories, and I would have to work my magic and present it less shockingly.

“I thought he would someday commit, but he wanted his freedom. Signing a paper made him feel trapped, and I held on waiting, thinking he would change his mind.”

Her voice was lifeless, like she was tired of answering this question.

She wasn’t my usual interview for a social history. As part of the intake information I had to gather, I met with those who were newly admitted to the nursing home to get their stories. Most of them were similar with staunch religious upbringing, early entry into matrimony, 19 kids and counting, traditional roles of running a household, and then the death of a spouse.

I usually could write it with my eyes shut, and I hadn’t had this type of answer given to me before.

She was a bit younger than most of our residents, with long, wild grey hair and clothes that were somewhat more modern. This was back when assisted living, and home health care was not yet prominent like it is today, which she would have been a prime candidate for now.

While physically she was in good shape, she had developed mental issues that caused unsafe living conditions.

She had done a lot of drugs that had contributed to the problem as she aged. Her life experiences were the exact opposite of what I usually had people tell me.

“We didn’t have any children, but I thought I was happy.”

“You weren’t? This wasn’t what you wanted?”

I was under the false assumption that everyone from the free love movement was blissfully content, living contrary to what everyone else was doing. That’s how it had been advertised.

“No. Toward the end, I tried to say that I wanted more, and he walked away. By then, we couldn’t have kids, but I wanted the paper signed. We ended up getting into a huge fight over it, and he left. He came back later to get all of his things, and that was it. He immediately moved in with someone else. I knew his behavior wasn’t right for a long time, but I just put up with it. I kept thinking he would change his mind.”

“That’s too bad,” I said.

I recall being at a loss for words. She had bought into a non-traditional way of thinking that hadn’t worked how she thought it would.

“I most regret not having kids. I feel like that was taken away from me. I thought I would be okay without that, but now I feel I have made a mistake.”

She had chosen to isolate herself as a way to cope and was struggling now to reside where she wasn’t alone.

These were the times during my social worker days where I had to help people grieve a loss. Sometimes, like in this case, I just listened and held her hand.

“None of this will be public knowledge,” I told her. “But you can talk to me anytime you want about it. You did the best you could, right?”

Somehow God would come in and calm the situation down when I had no idea how to. This was before I even had a prayer life; that is how good God is. I was rescued from many situations when I didn’t know what to say.

“Yes. I did what I thought was right at the time. I have not ever gotten over it, though.”

“You can’t go back and change it, but you can make a new life.”

She did have extended family, nieces, and nephews that visited. Slowly, she adapted to her surroundings, where I often saw her talking to other people, and she looked more relaxed. When we had kids come into volunteer and do activities, I made sure to pair her up with one because I knew she had missed out on raising her own.

Little by little, she let go of her past and let God fill in the empty places with new experiences. She quickly found herself surrounded by a supportive group of women that had gone through loss differently, but she could relate to.

Years later, I actually met a woman who had come through a worse situation.

I started with the usual questions of birthplace, parents’ names, and sibling count.

“I got married at sixteen. My family knew his, and they had a bakery in a town next to ours.”

While she became pregnant multiple times and ran the house, her husband’s responsibility at the bakery grew. He assumed the role as sole owner, and he was gone for long hours at a time, but she accepted it because they had a family to raise.

She spent many evenings alone as he would decide to stay overnight instead of making the commute home. He had to be up at the crack of dawn to bake, so it made sense not to trek back to her.

“We had eight children, so I was never without something to do. I sewed their clothes, helped them with school, made all the meals. It wasn’t an easy life, but I did what I had to do.”

I jotted down her words, and I was going to move on to the next subject.

“I thought he was at work day and night, but that’s before I knew he had a whole other family.”

I remember looking up at her trying to conceal my true emotions. Did she say that he had another family? I thought people only did shady things like this in the 1970s. This man was way before his time, and I had a lot to learn back in my early twenties.

“I don’t understand,” that is all I could come up with.

“I found out from someone in town that he was married to another woman in the town where the bakery was, and they had children. He wasn’t working all those hours as he told me.”

I had to write this angle into her biography, but I didn’t want it to be like the National Enquirer!

This was supposed to be a way for the staff and other residents to get to know her. We used this as an ice breaker technique so a new person was introduced to the community. Her picture and what I wrote would be posted in the main lobby.

This was to tell others about her interests and strengths. I was going to have to do a lot of cutting and pasting.

“It was hidden from me for years. I’m not afraid to talk about it.”

“So what happened? You found this out, and then what?”

“I went looking for the truth. He had set up a whole life with this other woman, and they had as many kids as we did. He spent holidays with them and everything, but his lies were so good, he had me fooled. I was young and naive. I remember the worst thing was that I found out he spent Christmas with his other family. He was so good at making sure he covered his tracks that he got gifts for the children and me. That really hurt me. All of it was hurtful.”

Explaining it to the kids wasn’t the easiest either. They couldn’t figure out why their dad was gone and not coming back.

After her husband’s unfaithfulness surfaced, her parents stepped in and helped her get past the rough time. An older man came into the picture, and she got remarried.

“Was it hard for you to trust him?”

“Sometimes. But he went out of his way to prove to me that he wouldn’t do what my first husband did. He took on eight kids, and most men wouldn’t do that, so that helped. We had a great life. I had to put all of that behind me.”

Both of these women had given their best efforts and had been left holding an empty bag. They recovered from a betrayal in their own way. One chose to live a closed off existence while the other decided to take a chance and trust again.

God leaves that up to each of us.

What do you do when life presents you with a person described in Psalm 41:9?

Even my best friend, the one I always told everything
—he ate meals at my house all the time!—
has bitten my hand. (Message)

No one is immune to having this happen, and in my own experience, it takes time. A lot of people say…just forgive and move on. What if it doesn’t come that easy? For some, it might, and for others, it may take longer. The key is not to get stuck in it.

God wants us to see it for what it is and heal. But if we stubbornly refuse to get past it, we cripple ourselves, and we will miss out on this from Jeremiah 29:11:

I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. (Message)

Some relationships aren’t going to make it to the ‘until death do us part’. For one reason or another, it happens. Having been through a divorce, nothing is certain except the promise that we always have the opportunity to brush ourselves off, figure out how not to repeat a mistake, and let God lead us in a new direction of a do over.

(They took the Until Death Do We Part..a little too literal…)
(This had the song I Got You Babe playing…shudder…)

Change of Plans

In the dark ages, better known as my early twenties, I was a social worker at a nursing home. Fresh out of college, I took up this position as an assistant to the director. I had interned that spring and was hired when the previous employee decided to leave. Since high school, I had already been working there in housekeeping, laundry, and the kitchen, so it was an easy transition that didn’t require much of an interview. I walked across the stage with my diploma in hand, knowing I already had a job. 

It wasn’t an easy one, though. I had hardly any real life experience, yet I often found myself comforting those who had said goodbye to a loved one. Other times, I gave a listening ear to a spouse who was visiting and watching as their better half was fading away. 

I think the saddest man I ever met was the one whose wife had gotten early onset Alzheimer’s right after they had both retired. Bill and Lydia had worked very hard to get to this stage so they could travel. They saved every dime toward their future, and now it wasn’t to be. So many tears of grief and anger flowed while we would talk. He confided so much in me, and I often would wonder why? I couldn’t fully understand what he was experiencing, yet the right words always seemed to come out of my mouth to alleviate his pain momentarily. 

In the end, I gave him the permission he was looking for to branch out into the unknown. At first, he could not fathom the idea of leaving his wife to go on an adventure for himself. He felt he had to stand guard over her even though it got to the point where she no longer knew who he was. 

I watched as the months and eventually years dragged on, and he would come in the door with his shoulders slumping more and his eyes filled with an ever increasing depression. As much as she was leaving the earth, so was he. When I would greet him, he would acknowledge me with a quiet voice and eyes to the floor. His withdrawal was apparent to all of us. 

One day, he came into my office, shut the door, and pulled out a pamphlet from his jacket. His hand shook a little bit. 

“What do you think of this?”

It was an advertisement for a group that was going to take a trip to another country.

“I think this is an excellent idea if you think it’s something you want to do. You know your wife is in safe hands here.”

I saw the tears start to well up in his eyes again.

“I think I should try it. It’s not how it was supposed to be. We had it all planned out. We made a decision not to have kids but to work as much as possible. We missed out on so many things together to keep working. But, we thought we would have all our time together now. We chased after money thinking it would give us a safety net. Now, most of it is going for her care.”

“When are you going to do something for yourself? Would she want you to be this unhappy?”

That seemed to strike a chord. 

“No. She would want me to go on without her. I know she would.”

By the time he left, I had a feeling he was going to make a brave move forward.

On his next visit, he held his head high, and a long forgotten smile radiated his whole face. 

“I booked my trip!” 

He excitedly sat in my office in the same spot that was tear stained and told me all the details. There was still a nervousness to his demeanor, but making these plans for himself had given him purpose. He still had some guilt about going, but the joy he was feeling seemed to override it. 

“There’s a group of us, so I won’t feel alone, and that’s important for me right now. I made arrangements for an emergency contact in the family in case she needs something while I’m away.”

I leaned inside the doorframe of her room when he came to tell her goodbye before his excursion. Even though she sat staring at him with absolutely no indication that she knew him, he told her everything and promised he would return with many pictures to show her. 

I saw her take his hand and squeeze it. He looked over at me. 

“I guess that is your sign to go have a great time!”

He agreed. 

He returned with great stories and beautiful scenic photos of where he had been and who he had met. He left nothing out. 

By the time his wife passed on, Bill had an enormous circle of new acquaintances who shared common interests. He had listened to that inner push to put aside what he “thought” he should do and followed a path that seemed a bit less conventional. He was able to grieve the dreams that he and his wife had built by surrendering to another plan that was presented to him. 

Death, divorce, financial loss, retirement, illness, friends moving away…these are all possibilities that can present themselves. And how do we cope? What’s “our” plan then? Usually, we don’t have one. Most of us can hardly handle a slight detour while out driving. Like Bill, we are sidelined and many times try to cling to what’s familiar. 

I have found through my turbulence that God isn’t one to keep you in a comfort zone if there are other plans for you. The resistance to change is what brings unhappiness. I saw Bill blossom the minute he gave up his ideas and traded them in for God’s. He learned a great truth found in Isaiah 43:19:

Watch closely: I am preparing something new; it’s happening now even as I speak,

and you are about to see it. I am preparing a way through the desert;

Waters will flow where there had been none. (The Voice)

Once the initial shock of the event has transpired, and we let ourselves take a moment to sit quietly, consider that ‘our way’ may not be correct, we can be assured that God will always provide the best change of plans.