Imposter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I have more,” I said.

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

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

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

“Is the wood free?”

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

“Really?”

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

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

They jumped out and started loading their trunk.

The woman asked,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of these things is not like the others…

Song

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No answer.

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

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

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

“Do we still have your old guitar?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I have a strange question.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quietly, he said,

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

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

Stammering, he said quietly,

“I really want that guitar.”

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

“You do?”

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

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

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

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

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

That sounded a little unsafe to me.

“What is your phone number?”

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

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

He smiled and said,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was trying my hardest not to let that show.

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

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

How reassuring.

Another guy came down the stairs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Psalm 96, it says this:

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

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

Snowed

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

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

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

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

“Sure,” I said.

“I don’t want to fall on the ice.”

“I don’t want you to either.”

I reached in and handed it to her.

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

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

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

She told me her name and asked me mine.

“How long have you lived here?”

“Thirty-one years,” I said.

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

Who’s counting? I don’t like to.

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

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

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

She gestured to the house to her right and said,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Okay.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who would say no to that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was being sent the most powerful message from God.

Our words matter.

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

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

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

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

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

You will be less likely to be tricked or snowed.

Honorable Discharge

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

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

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

“What is that?”

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

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

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

“I wonder why he does it?” She asked.

See? Like that.

“Did you ask him?”

“Yes. He didn’t hear me.”

He was a master.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you hear her say to get up?”

“She did?”

“Yes. Can you stand up?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Can you hear me?”

He looked right at me and said,

“No, Chris. I can’t hear you.”

That was my sign it was functioning correctly.

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

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

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

I repeated my question with no response.

This time I decided to upgrade.

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

“Selective hearing,” he said, then smiled.

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

Unfortunately, it isn’t.

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

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

“What was that for?”

“To shoot down airplanes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another event he went through was not as humorous.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My dad saw Proverbs 12:1 in action:

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

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

I equate that to when we ignore God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trust

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

“What is it?”

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

“I don’t know,” she said.

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

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

“My name is on it,” she said.

She picked up one of the three mystery items.

“I’m not even sure what this is.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Does that have it in it?”

“Yes.”

“What about that?”

“Yes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

It makes one wonder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s wax.”

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

“I think for anything.”

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

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

“Each of these is worth $20.”

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

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

“What is this?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yucky Parts

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

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

“Where was this?” I asked.

“In my room.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Just look.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had taught her without knowing it.

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

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

One time, I said to her,

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

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

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

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

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

Be still and know that I am God.

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

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

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

“I want to go to this,” she said.

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

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

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

Immediately a woman in the back row said,

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

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

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

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

(I’m not crying..YOU are crying….)

After the Burn

It was a great idea born out of not being able to leave the house safely. We had been warned that the worst blast of cold air was coming, and if you stepped one foot outside, you better have your funeral arrangements in order. 

You don’t take your chances with a windchill forecast at almost 60 below. We were making history, they said. With that announcement, the frantic rush to the grocery store always comes, and as I don’t panic, I watch others who do. I just happen to pop in, and I forget we are on the verge of the world coming to an end. Again. 

If it’s not a meteor ready to scrape up against the globe, sending us spinning off the axis, it’s the ice age resurrecting itself that will for sure this time put us into deathly hypothermia and kill us all. 

I have seen things in stores that I often do not understand when we are on red alert, like the lady in the spaghetti aisle grabbing every jar of sauce while wearing multiple black trash bags. This was to ward off the virus when it first began. 

I think there may have been some time spent on the internet researching what germs may or may not adhere to. She was on the cutting edge of an unknown scientific fact, I’m sure. It definitely wasn’t to create a fashion statement.  

I felt guilty taking the one I did. She wasn’t in the organic section, but she eyed me from afar as if I was stealing, with sweat on her brow.  

I walked away from Darth Vader, hearing the sound of her plastic wardrobe crunch with every move she made. I wanted to tell her to hang on to that for when we experienced a cold snap again. Make it versatile for pandemics and artic freezes.  

Once you get past the hunting and gathering portion of the impending doom, and you know you will be inside, you start to think of those chores you have not gotten around to. Tasks that you push aside because no one will ever know if you did it or not, except the people who live there. 

I used the oven, and someone, probably me, had the unfortunate mishap of a piece of food falling on the burner below. Every time it got hot, smoke would start to roll out. It caused me to look further and see that not one of us had taken the time to attend to it. 

With it being so cold, I figured why not turn on the self-clean cycle and let it do the work while I buried myself under a million blankets? 

I had to look online to find the instructions as the owner’s manual was long gone. Once I shut the door and set it at the highest setting, I walked away to live a life of polar vortex luxury. 

As long as the furnace kept up, we were secure. I figured with the stove going at its highest heat, it would help the house stay warm. I had done this in the summer one time, and it caused the air conditioner to be on the whole time it went through the process. 

I thought I was being so bright this time.

Until we all couldn’t see each other over the black haze that suddenly started filling the entire upstairs, and the smoke alarm went off. 

My first inclination was to open the oven door, but it has that safety feature where it locks until it cools down, so a crazy person trying to open it can’t. Someone at a drawing board had thought this through. I guess it was so that I wouldn’t burn off important parts of myself.

There will be a person who needs to open this, and we have to make it so they cannot do that for their own good. Let them inhale the smoke instead. That’s much safer. 

The next thing to do was grab a dishtowel and try to get the loud blaring sound to quit. If this was going off in the dead of night, that is one thing. But, this was not an emergency that warranted the alarm. So this life-saving device was now just annoying. Once I got it under control, I knew I would have to open up windows.

“I cannot believe I am doing this!” I said to the two people who already think my ways are a little off.  

One of them puts tags on my Christmas presents that say: To: Danny Tanner.

The dad from Full House who has this weird cleaning obsession on the show. 

There are crucial moments with your kids where you just know they live their lives trying to just get past your dumb ideas. And, it was so apparent in their eyes as they watched me frantically claw to get fresh air in. The air that most wanted to keep out and we had been warned about to avoid. 

I heard the furnace click on, and the smoke alarm went off again. We were freezing, breathing in cough-inducing fumes. But, the oven was the cleanest it had been in a long time. Whatever had been burnt to a crisp in there was long gone. Looking back now, I probably wouldn’t make that same decision. 

There are other situations such as that one that I would not ever repeat, like being in the sun with no protection on my skin. When I was younger, I gave it no thought. You learn as you go, and when you fall asleep on your stomach while floating on a lake, it helps you to understand why that was not a good life choice. Food isn’t the only substance that can become scorched. 

It wasn’t so bad right after I woke up and went back inside. It was that night when I was unable to move without a billion needles going through my whole back. Just moving my toothbrush across my teeth was volcanic. 

My mom had a lotion that she attempted to rub into the area. With her hands. On my skin. Not a spray from halfway across the room. No, it had to be applied by her rough, calloused hands all over me. 

“Chris, just stand still. I need to put this on you. Why did you stay out there so long?”

These were the questions that I never understood when she asked me. My lips were too cracked to even answer. 

“My face hurts,” I said, barely able to speak.

“It hurts me more,” my dad said as he came whipping by, laughing. Never helpful. 

The worst part of the healing process was when that area was accidentally exposed to sunlight too soon after. It was instant pain. Or if any type of noun touched it. Like bed sheets, clothing, anything. It all was excruciating.  

The next part was gross as my body shed off all the dead skin. I flaked everywhere I went as a reminder that I had made a bad mistake. 

Years later, I had a few moles removed because they claimed they were precancerous.  

“It must be from that time you spent too much time in the sun,” she said.  

I had taken sunblock seriously after that. To the point of getting the highest SPF possible. Still, I have always had this slight paranoia that it might happen again when I least expect it. You just don’t forget the experience of a charring session like that. 

I have found that the same can be said for an emotional torching as well. When you have been through a situation that has been difficult, but you make it, anything that comes close to reminding you of that time makes you want to run away, just like finding shade to not inflict more hurt. 

I cannot go through life avoiding the sun completely. And, really, it’s not the light’s fault. It was the amount of time I spent in it which caused the damage. I then had to learn how to handle it differently and not let history repeat itself. 

That is what boundaries are for. You know those things that you put down to make it clear that you won’t put up with certain things happening in your life anymore. Maybe you figure out your value, so you don’t want to be around people who don’t see you as God does.  

Another thing that happens is you start to see those pieces of yourself where you still struggle and need God’s help. They are there to remind you that you spent too much time being fried. And when you feel that familiar uncomfortable feeling, it is time to acknowledge it and address it. It’s better to bring it into the daylight.

When something triggers a bad memory, that is not the time to run and hide, but to give it to God so it can be taken care of. Like this from Psalm 34:18:

If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there;

if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath. (Message)

I slept through my sunburn. The difficult part came later when I had to let my skin re-establish itself. I had to take precautions, be more mindful and let myself regenerate to live without suffering. 

Whether it is physical or mental, this same treatment can be applied after the burn. 

Get the spray..for real..

Peaceful Balance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hebrews 12:17 says,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(That’s not even full yet…)

King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It is considered theft.”

Hypocrisy at its highest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She immediately vaporized in the hall.

“How did it go?”

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

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

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

Her life stressors didn’t excuse her brutality.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further in verses 25-29,

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

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

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

Succeed

I don’t know how the thoughts started, but they were relentless. I had difficulty concentrating in school, and the only way to describe it was like living underwater. I still managed to get all of my work done, and my classes passed, but it was a challenge to overcome this dark voice that constantly told me to end it. 

I recall listening to one of my friends speak to me in a hallway, and while it appeared I was listening, my mind was a million miles away. I could go through the motions of pretending all was well, but it wasn’t. I couldn’t exactly figure out why it had suddenly come out of nowhere, but now I see it was years of hiding who I was and trying to conform to what was expected.

I had to get perfect grades because I lived with a perfectionist. On the one hand, she would tell me to do my best, but then if I came home with less than an A, she would ask me why I hadn’t achieved that—residing in a home with someone like that makes for instability.

I never knew when I would hit the right mark to make her pleased with me. I knew for sure when she was unhappy, which was a lot of the time because I was not exactly one not to fight the system.  

Her way of parenting was control, and I was her subject. She didn’t take into account how I felt about most things. There was a house to clean, food to buy, kids to cart all over for various activities, and that did not leave time for her to sit down and interact with me. She had a list of chores to get done, and a lot of the time, I felt like I was one of them. 

These thoughts became more prevalent and would be right with me in the morning when I would wake up. It was like having a person around nagging me and giving me reasons why I should execute it.  

It would have been the classic case of a straight-A student suddenly snapping and taking her life. Every time I hear of this happening, it isn’t a surprise to me like it seems to be to others. When you are under that much pressure not to make any mistakes, and it has been years of it, it eventually becomes like a volcano. Issues are going on under the surface that no one knows. 

There was a gigantic disconnection between what I was showing on the outside and what really was going on inside. All of her insistence of me attending every single church service with her was not working its magic like she thought it was. I recall that I defiantly refused to leave the house with her one time. My dad was gone on a fishing trip, and she expected me to go to mass with her.

“I am going to go start the car,” she said.

“You go right ahead,” I said.  

“Hurry up. You are going to be late.”

“I am not going.”

You would have thought I said I murdered someone.  

“Oh, yes, you are.”

“No. No, I am not.”

“Okay,” she said, trying to use reverse psychology on me. “I guess I will just go without you.”

I was never so happy to hear her say it. I went to my room and decided to enjoy the peace. It was rare to be alone, and I wanted to be.

“Christine Ann..”

Oh, here it was.

“You get yourself in that car right this minute!”

And, as usual, I dragged myself to the vehicle and sat silent the whole time while she talked about how great it was to go to church.  

Was she out of touch with reality? Yes. Often, she was because she had a filter through which she saw life.

I didn’t know this until a lot later, but her dad’s sexual abuse of her affected my entire upbringing. She had cut herself off emotionally from all people. While many were drawn to her for her wisdom and immense problem solving, she was not one to be invested in feeling what others felt. It was a mixed bag of spiritual insight, but she kept everyone at arm’s length.  

And, after years of that with me, I had come to a place where it was all breaking down. One day, I was walking past her as she was ironing.  

“How was school?”

“Fine,” the typical response just to get it over with. 

“Are you starving yourself? What have you been eating?”

When she spoke to me, I was taught that I was to stop what I was doing and engage. But, it was the last thing I wanted to do.

“I don’t think you are eating. Is this true?”

She was now on to me. I had subtly been using that as a way to self-destruct.  

“Yes,” I admitted.  

“Why are you doing that?”

I decided to tell her what my thoughts had been. She started checking on me more often and made sure that I was eating. She would put food on a plate and stand over me while I ate it, so I had no choice. 

That’s what most people do. They don’t look inward to solve the problems, and everything externally is exhausted to bring relief. She saw her daughter exhibiting a particular behavior, but she missed the point of what was at the root of it. 

We quickly judge people’s outward behavior but miss what is driving the real issues.

If you see someone doing something that you know will destroy them in the long run, that’s a sign that something on the inside is not okay. Sometimes, God will call you to help them, and other times you aren’t the one. 

Many years later, I continued to conceal my emotions. I recall filling out a lengthy intake form for therapy, and at the end of it, I heard in my mind,

Go back to page eight. You lied.

When I flipped back to that spot, I realized I had answered no to some questions that clearly should have been yes regarding some of the things I had endured. I had gotten so good at denying it, I believed my lies. I had been trained to do that. To cover up the truth and soldier on. 

In my case, the complete healing of the wounds inflicted by her didn’t come until after her death. During her transition, I was able to see where she was, what she was experiencing, and she told me everything. In the beginning of being in heaven, she started making amends.

I watched her walk into eternity for many days over a long bridge before she was fully there on May 28th, 2019. 

On June 2, 2019, she told me this:

On that bridge, I saw every place where I missed the mark. And I couldn’t fix it, but I asked God to fix it. There is nothing that can’t be fixed by the hand of God. I couldn’t go on and rest if I left such pain behind. I wish more people knew that. Every word. Every action. No one is perfect. Perfection is only obtained after you walk through the gates. And, yes, there are gates. They aren’t pearly. Just beautiful ornate gates that are open wide. I got to walk right through!

Not one time did she tell me she experienced remorse, but she was shown where she chose herself at the expense of others. But, this didn’t keep her out of heaven. That is how loving God is.  

She went on to tell me this:

I see how people fit into my life. It was all God’s plan. It was a beautiful work of art that I didn’t always understand. I tried to control the brush in the painter’s hand. That was a losing battle. He had such a good life for me, and I always didn’t see it that way. How I wish I could take back those days of storming around acting so nuts. I lost my mind, Chris. All the junk I thought was so important was not at all. I saw Jesus hold all of that in His hand and blow it away like pieces of tiny dust. That’s how important it was.

In another conversation with me, she stated regarding the fallout of her abuse and never dealing with it,

I became tough on the exterior to show the world that I would never put up with anyone treating terrible me again. It’s so regrettable I did that. The fullness of my life got squashed down. And I squashed down others in the process.  

When I told her I wished we could have a do-over, she said,

I know. But I am now. So this is why you are here with me. God saw that you always wanted a real mom. Your prayers have come before God, and I can do it. I am not on earth, but I am a new creation here. Isn’t that exciting to know you can be changed? 

Revelation 21:3-5 says,

I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate.” (Message)

My understanding of what happens in the afterlife has been changed. I never knew that those who had gone on would be given a chance to continue to help us. It’s not to earn an award or ascend higher. It’s the goodness of God who has created an eternal bond between you and others. The most amazing part of all of this for me is that even someone who might have been an obstacle to your growth while they were here, can now be used to help you along your path.

This isn’t something you can purchase online or do externally. This is all work that comes from a place that is unseen and from a spiritual standpoint. There will be signs and people put on your path if you start to pay attention. All of this will point you into fulfilling your purpose on earth as heaven wants to see you succeed.

(Even the word ‘feelings’ is hiding itself.. don’t do that..it’s not good)