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.

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…)

Dark Path

You really haven’t lived until your eyeballs are frozen, and you have lost all feeling in your fingers. When I bought tickets to go on a luminary walk in the winter, it sounded peaceful. An event named Candlelight and Ice was so appealing because we had not seen one flake of snow. It was a deceiving offer as it presented itself in October when the days still were sunshine filled, and the wind was warm. Not wicked cold and blowing sideways. And, the sun disappears after not making much of an appearance by 4:30. 

We made our way to the wildlife rescue that was a half-hour away. The temperature was only going to drop more, so I figured if we got there earlier, our chances of dying from hypothermia would be less. Apparently, so did everyone else. There were spaces available for ten cars at the most, and at least seventy-five of us had shown up right when it began. I had to drive away from where we were supposed to enter and park on a side street. 

This added to our time out in the elements where you can see your breath. Something that you would never think about and take for granted suddenly reminds you that you are still alive. 

At first, the fresh air feels decent because we are locked up so much with a furnace running full blast. You breathe it in, wondering why you haven’t done this sooner. By the time you dodge traffic and get back to where you started, it is beginning to occur to you that you should have dressed warmer. This is when your lungs start to let you know that they are not accustomed to taking in air that has come straight from Siberia. 

When you look around during times like this, people are basically all foreheads and eyebrows. Not an inch of bare skin is visible, and everyone moves stiffly because their arms and legs are restricted by limited mobility. They have put on layers and stuffed themselves into jackets and ski pants. The frigid air is filled with the high squeaky sound of nylon rubbing against nylon. Everyone is trying to move quickly, but they are going nowhere. 

You know that all of these people are some of the same ones that were at the Sunflower Festival in August when the temperature hit one hundred degrees, and the suffering was the opposite. Just so you can get that perfect picture of fields teeming with vibrant yellow flowers, you traipse through the dirt that kicks up dust, so you go home a dirty mess. 

“I have your name right on my list,” the lady said. “You can either go to the right or the left. The one to the left is the longer of the two.”

This was to lead us through the woods with the two trails to choose from. If I have taken the time to drive thirty minutes away from home, I will not take the mini version of anything. I am going to make sure that I drag my frozen corpse down the one that is going to give me the whole experience that offers the bluest lips and most windburnt skin. 

Both of us stopped for a minute and decided where to house our phones so we could easily access our cameras. I had on enormous gloves that were three times the size of my hands, so zipping up a pocket was a miracle. In this type of situation, you want to expose any part of yourself as little as possible. 

But then it happened. I saw how beautiful the candles were glowing on the trail ahead of me. So I removed one glove with my teeth and was going to capture it. Right as I was going to take it, two kids ran ahead of me and started tripping and falling all over each other. Then the pushing, shoving, and the wrestling began. 

There went the idea of peace as they beat each other up in the snow. 

This is where the ‘ice’ part of my night began as my right hand became immovable.

“I have to put my fingers together inside of my glove,” she said.

I did the same thing as I moved ahead. Now I was walking with fists inside of my gloves, trying to get them to return to normal, and just as they did, I saw another picture-worthy moment. Thus, began the freeze and thaw process. 

“Weren’t there supposed to be animals out here? Didn’t you say we would see deer or owls?”

“That is what the description said. I think it said if you looked close enough, you might see something.”

If your eyes are still functioning. 

“All the wildlife are smart and have gone someplace warm, unlike us,” she said as both of us felt our legs beginning to go numb. I do pay a mortgage on a fully heated house, so why would I go outside and put myself through that?  

Because it’s pretty.  

There is something that calls us into nature, even if it is miserable. Later, we tell everyone we went, but during it, you are wondering why you came.

I have had the same experience with God. You recognize the still, small whisper telling you to do something and then wonder why you are doing it. It doesn’t make any sense, it feels so uncomfortable, and you don’t have to if you don’t want to. But, you do it because your relationship with heaven is more important than any other thing you can think of.  

During a time when I had next to nothing to live on, I was in a mall with my two daughters. I glanced over at a young couple sitting a few tables away from us in the food court. I had a twenty-dollar bill in my wallet that I was hanging onto. I was limiting what I was eating to be sure that my money would last longer and that they had everything they needed. 

I wasn’t trusting God fully at the time to help me, and I lived in fear. Yet, when I heard the familiar voice say, offer them the money, I pushed my chair away from the table and told my daughters I would be right back. I didn’t give it a second thought as I walked over to them. They both looked up at me.

“I am supposed to give you this,” I said. Whenever I have done this, people look surprised. I noticed a newborn baby in a carrier sitting next to them. I hadn’t seen it from where I was. 

The young mom said,

“We were just talking about how we needed to buy more diapers, but he doesn’t get paid until tomorrow. We don’t have any extra money right now.”  

“Then take it,” I said. “It’s yours, not mine.” I had just relieved the burden of another and forgot all about my own.

That became a pivotal point in my walk with God, where no matter how much I felt I was living the unbearable, I would be a giver and act on it when I was told to. It takes a bit of sharpening of spiritual hearing because all of your logical parts will scream and tell you not to listen. Every single reason you should not do what you are hearing will manifest itself. So I had learned to move fast. Don’t think. 

I had read this in the book of James,

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like. (Message)

I didn’t want my faith to be dead. 

As I walked in the cold air amongst all the softly glowing bags and containers that lit my way, I was reminded of this great verse from Psalm 119:105 that tells you who God can be to you, if you allow it,

By your words I can see where I’m going; they throw a beam of light on my dark path. (Message)

(This may or may not have been when my legs lost all feeling…)

Spill

When you live in a state that gets snow and a lot of it, you are in a season where you have to adjust your thinking when you walk into the house and remove your shoes. There is nothing more annoying than to step in a puddle of water left by the boots of another before you. Somehow, the rug got missed, and you come in unknowingly and find your foot soaking wet. It doesn’t get any better when you remove your socks and then step into another wet place with your bare feet, which are already freezing.

This is where analytical thinking takes over. You have the choice to hop across the room for the paper towels, so you only leave one track versus two to clean up or move faster and have to deal with more of a mess.

If you do not attend to this immediately, you run the risk of this happening for the rest of the day, and words you would not say that many times in a row stream from your mouth as you use multiple pairs of socks and now you have to do laundry because you have gone through all that you own.

Another object that can cause the same havoc is the dog’s water bowl. A pleasant morning can take a turn when you hit that, sending it all over you while trying to put something in the garbage, which then tips over. Within moments of getting out of bed, you wonder what you have done to cause the forces of nature to already be against you.

Adding insult to injury, you go to the fridge, and someone has precariously balanced a can of something on the very edge of the shelf to fit it in because no one has taken the time to declutter and throw unwanted items. It flies out and lands on the foot that went unscathed by the water bowl and splashes all of you. Just go back to bed for the week.

I sat down at a grocery store in a section that had tables and chairs so I could look over my list for a second because there is nothing worse than to make your way through the aisles, get all the way home, and discover you left the one thing that you needed the most.

I was drinking something out of a glass without a lid. After one sip, I knocked it directly into my lap. My workout pants were instantly a sponge sucking up all of the liquid. I jumped up, grabbed anything that would have been in the path of it, and looked to my daughter for help, whose eyes were gigantic.

She, way slower than I would have liked, started to wander, trying to find napkins or anything to assist me. I could not believe how she walked unhurriedly to come to my rescue. Later, she said,

“I was concentrating! Do you want me to panic when I am trying to help?”

Yes! I do.

“It appeared that you did not care when you did not go quicker.”

“I think better when I go slower.”

“While you went slower, the water was soaking into my skin more.”

Seeing my horrible situation, a man sprinted over and handed me a towel. We still don’t know where he got it or where he came from. She threw a bunch of napkins my way to start cleaning up the table.

I froze in place when it happened, but now I had to move.

“I feel like my water broke. I never had this happen in real life. I can cross this off my bucket list now,” I said. “It’s not as glamorous as they make it out to be.”

“I am sorry this happened,” she said. I looked over at her again with a highly wet napkin in my hand as I tried to mop up the damage. That’s when she burst out laughing so loud she couldn’t contain herself. Just when you think they are sincere.

“No, really, I am sorry…” and she couldn’t finish what she was saying because she kept getting hit with laughter. Which then made me laugh.

“Where did that guy come from?” she asked, trying to catch her breath.

“I don’t know, but he moved faster than you did.”

Now I had a decision to make. Do I leave and come back later with dry clothes on? Or do I bite the bullet and walk around with water seeping into places I would rather not have it be? Every time I moved, it made itself at home even more than seconds before.

With every wince, she tried to be sympathetic, she really did, but she couldn’t help her giggles that kept surfacing.

“I feel like I have to walk like I just got off a horse. If I do that, it’s bearable.”

“Let me see how bad it looks,” she said.

I turned all the way around so she could see me from all angles. The front of my legs had dark spots where I had been flooded.

“It’s not that noticeable. I can hardly see anything.” That’s what they all say.

“That’s because the worst of its in a place that cannot be seen with the human eye right now.”

“Put your coat on. That will cover up most of it.”

It was true. I was in good shape until I started to walk, and a draft began.

“You would not believe how cold I am right now,” I said. When we got to the freezer section, the temperature dropped significantly from my waist down.

By the time I was at the checkout, I didn’t notice it as much. I had on moisture-wicking pants, so they had gone to work, giving me a false sense of security. I exited, and a brutal wind chill cut across my lower half, reminding me that I wasn’t home free yet. Running to the car to speed up my departure wasn’t the most exciting either.

“Are you really getting into the car ahead of me?” I asked as she jumped into the passenger side.

“I am COLD!” She said as her hair whipped her across the face.

“Really?”

I could either argue my point or get the cart back. Another sprint wasn’t going to kill me. Sitting down on my cold car seat would.

“I wish I could drive standing up,” I said, with my entire body pushed away as far from a seated position. My head was on the roof as I dangled my keys in my right hand, putting off the unpleasantness that was about to come.

I slowly slid down to face the inevitable. Breathing always helps just when it doesn’t.

“I am going to have icicles where I do not want them,” I said in between clenched teeth.

When I got back home, I became so involved with putting everything away, and my other daughter started telling me about her day, I completely forgot all about the incident.

About an hour later, my daughter said,

“Are you still wearing the same pants you had on in the store?”

I looked down and realized I had forgotten all about it.

“Oh, my gosh! Yes! They have totally dried!”

This sent her into another wave of laughter.

We have secrets that we think are so big that we cannot divulge them to another person. But, God wants us to walk in freedom, so a trusted person will come across your path at some point that you can tell everything to. You will know when you find yourself suddenly talking about something you would have never imagined expressing.

If you haven’t had this happen, pray for it. A person will be sent so you can unburden this weight that so heavily keeps you in a place that feels like torture. And, the one who is supplied to help you won’t ridicule you, they will make you see the truth of a situation that probably isn’t as bad as you think it is and will lead you into breathing easy again.

God is so kind that I have been given more than one who will all say the same things to me in response without anyone knowing except for me. That’s always an indication that God is at work when you hear the same message that brings comfort.

Just like when I unexpectedly gave myself a shower in the middle of a store, revealing this hidden part of yourself will feel uncomfortable at first, but then you will forget all about it. When you let another person or two bring you the support you need, you see the feelings of fear begin to lift as they bring you up higher.

In Ephesians 4:25, we are given a warning against not letting others know true, deep things and how this, in the long run, creates problems,

Stop lying to each other; tell the truth, for we are parts of each other, and when we lie to each other, we are hurting ourselves.(TLB)

Whatever you see on the outside reflects what is happening on the inside of you. If you want to associate with like-minded, caring people, then you will have to change your ways. You can swim in the deep end or wade in the shallow, safe parts of the pool.

In Ephesians 4:15, it is explained how this will work out to your advantage,

God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth, and tell it in love. (Message)

If you insist on hiding, you will, and it’s miserable, stunting your spiritual growth. But, if you allow yourself to be vulnerable and trust that others can help, a whole new world will open up before you. You will see the good in people, and it will prove to you that you are not alone or crazy. Hold yourself back, restrain your authentic self, and live in a minimal way. Or let it spill.

(At least pretend to hurry…)

Clue

“I want to see Miss Scarlett in the billiard room with the wrench.”

There was shuffling of cards as she searched for one of the three so I could mark it off. If she produced nothing, then her sister would have to show me what she had.

We went around the mansion, taking turns rolling dice, trying to land on a space that would give us access to a door. We would use a secret passage to speed things along where a player can instantly move from one room to another. Then the accusation could be given. Ultimately, you want to be the first to reveal which of the characters became a cold-hearted killer.

It could be Mrs. Peacock taking a rope and strangling her victim in the kitchen when he got on her last nerve and asked for the salt shaker.

Or Mr. Green lost his temper and took out a lead pipe in a jealous rage to do away with his enemy in the study while he read a world map. Unknowingly, the next destination was the afterlife.

I didn’t realize in the original game he was known as a Reverand. The title was removed because it sent the wrong message that a church leader could go insane and commit a crime. That would be too shocking for the public to handle with a board game.

Professor Plum’s character always seemed shady to me. I wouldn’t be caught dead with him in a conservatory late at night if I met him in real life. Who knows when he would pull out that candlestick and end my existence while I was looking at a botanical?

Colonel Mustard seemed like he could at any moment take out a revolver, and without a second thought, blow away whoever was standing next to him in the lounge while drinking his scotch.

Other characters were considered, but Mrs. Silver, Miss Grey, Mr. Gold, and Mr. Brown did not make the final cut.

When she revealed her card, I was able to take it off the list. And so, by deduction, we were on the move to hunt down the culprit and figure out where, who and what was involved.

When everything is set up at the beginning of the game, three piles of cards are made with weapons, rooms, and suspects. One of each is drawn and placed in a golden-colored mystery envelope in the center of the board. The most alarming thing for me was discovering that my character had been murdered by one of the others playing with me.

How dare they take me out when they depend on me for everything in life? They just callously knife me while I am in the hall, lost and wandering because I don’t even know the hall’s purpose. Isn’t a hall just something that is used to get to somewhere else?

I kept calling off names, rooms, and weapons during one game and kept coming up with no answers. With confidence, she ticked off all her answers, moved along, and closed in on the solution to put us to shame. I usually go with a specific strategy to get to the bottom of what is happening by eliminating one variable at a time.

But, I was coming up short. So, I kept asking for the same items or people multiple times to be sure that I hadn’t overlooked something.

“Something isn’t right,” I said after exhausting all my tactics. “There is a problem with this.”

“What?” she asked.

We had been playing for a while, and there should have been a conclusion to this by now.

“You don’t think something is missing? I keep trying to determine who did this, and there are two instead of one on my list. I have asked for every single one of them.”

She glanced down and looked at her paper with her name at the top, where she had been marking off her guesses. Both of my girls are very artistic, so their papers always have artwork all over them.

They can’t sit without drawing flowers, dogs, cats, and everything else they can think of. They are so talented that I could sell their art to pay off the mortgage.

It didn’t seem like she thought anything was wrong. So, we played on until I couldn’t take it anymore.

“I think maybe I put an extra card in the envelope when we started. We aren’t going to solve this.”

I had to quit the game and look at what had been set aside. There were only three cards like there should have been.

“I don’t get it,” I said. I showed her my findings, and she showed me hers.

“I think we have a card that has gone missing, so this would have never ended. Without that one suspect, we cannot come to the right conclusion.”

It was somewhat disappointing, and I thought about going online and buying the vanishing card. As I picked up the game, I noticed it underneath the board. Somehow, as we had put it all out, one of the suspects had hidden himself there.

I saw another rendition where you can lie through it unless the other players hit this big red button and challenge what you are saying. Your body language and facial expressions have to look genuine and go undetected as false by others around you to succeed.

I don’t think many of us would admit out loud how dishonest we really are. I am not talking about flat-out telling lies but living in a way that is not entirely what we want. We fake our way through things to keep the peace and make others comfortable even though we are miserable. If you do that long enough, it starts to feel normal.

In another version, the murderer is at large and can take you out before you figure out who they are. It’s a race against the clock to see if you can escape. You are in constant danger, dodging the fatal blow that will end your life.

I have had those situations in real life without realizing how close I had come to being a victim. It takes strong discernment to see the truth and to act on it.

One evening, I was out working in my yard, and a man approached with a clipboard.

“Do you have cable?”

“Yes,” I said.

“I think I can offer you a better deal.”

There was something about him that made me uncomfortable. It was starting to get dark, and I was near my garage.

“I am happy with what I have,” I said. He advanced closer to me, and I moved a few inches away.

I realized that no one was around, and all the houses were closed up.

“I think you should switch to my plan,” he said.

“I have said I am not interested.”

I moved enough so that he could clearly see that I was not at all needing him to go any further.

“I think you will like this better,” he said, coming into my garage.

I had my phone in my pocket, so I took it out.

“I have asked you to leave. If you don’t, I will call for help.”

I moved away again.

“I think you should take into consideration what I am saying.”

I started dialing.

When the 911 operator answered, he was sprinting down the sidewalk. I explained what had happened, and they sent a police officer my way. Those are the moments when you realize you have angels, and you need to have the best spiritual ears ever.

Friends may betray you, just like your opponent in a game of mayhem, and it’s going to hurt. Maybe they kill you with their gossip about you or slander your character, make unfair judgments, and spread it around. You will have to overcome unfair conditions as you walk through them, but God will show you where you have grown into a new person at the end of all of that.

The one thing that is clear if you ask God for help, it will come. In Jeremiah 33:3 it says,

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

When life gets confusing, and nothing makes sense, send out a prayer, ask God for insider information, and listen as heaven will send the most valuable clue.

(Don’t let the Hall fool you…it’s not really a hall..it’s a room with no point…)
(Miss Scarlett was always a problem..)

Welcome Everyone In

I ended up in the second row of seats. It wasn’t the plan as I rode along with my dad and sister. She was at the permit stage of obtaining her license.

Because there were eight of us, my parents owned a station wagon. This was before any of us buckled a seatbelt. They hung unused as we flew at high speeds down highways, never thinking.

I would often play in the car because it was somewhere I could be by myself, out of the chaotic house of all the uproar. The far back was my favorite. It was designed with benches facing each other in a circle, much different than the middle and front.

When it was parked in the garage, I would bring in toys and entertain myself away from the tension of parents and four teens. I was so much younger than the rest of them that I had to separate myself from the noise I didn’t understand.

My brothers were often assigned to sit there when we went somewhere, so I did when I got the chance to have it to myself.

My dad had handed me a pack of MMs just before we got in to go on this drive from hell.

If he had to pick something up on the way home, he would get me some and slide them into his pocket. When he walked in the door, he would put me on top of the refrigerator and ask me if I had been good. It was like a truth serum because it was high up, and I was at his mercy to get me down. I always said I was, so he would secretly hand me the packet so my mom didn’t see.

When I found out he was going out on a drive with her, I begged to go and sat way in the back.

I wasn’t aware of the fact that in her driver’s education classes, she had been exposed to so many scenes of accidents and life-threatening situations, which caused her to be extra jumpy with the brake.

And like I found out later when it was my turn to practice with him, he wasn’t exactly the voice of calm. He could make the most seasoned driver nervous before starting the car.

We had barely left home when it happened. There was a truck turning at a distance. I heard my dad tell her to go, but she stopped abruptly, sending me forward. I smacked into the back of the front seat with a thud. I landed, and I didn’t know how I had been displaced so fast.

This was way before all the commercials showing the crash dummies and the consequences of not being strapped in.

I recall sitting on the floor, dazed, much similar to when a bird flies into a window. You are there, but you aren’t.

His raised voice brought me back around.

“That truck was two blocks away! When I say go, go!”

Both of them were so focused on the road that a few moments went by.

When it got quiet, he suddenly realized he had another child in the car, and I was no longer where I had been. He looked down and said,

“Chris, you can’t sit there! Get up on the seat.” As if that was safer.

Not, “Hey, are you okay?” That speaks volumes to what our life was like then, where every man had to look out for themselves. There wasn’t time for me to be flying forward out of control in a car. It wasn’t convenient.

He said it like I had chosen this for fun. When the realization hit me that my candy had also been a victim, that is when I got upset. Not that I could have gone through the windshield headfirst, but that I was holding an empty bag in my hand. I had no idea the danger I had been in.

That wasn’t the only time I was a passenger and subjected to a scary ride. A part of my social service job was to visit potential residents in their homes, other care facilities, or hospitals. I had a waiting list a million miles long. Legislation had been passed that no more nursing homes could be built in our state. Many needed long-term care, so we were never short of possible cases.

This was before the luxury of speaking into a device that would direct you to your destination. It entailed getting on the phone and having someone give you directions that you had to write down.

“So take a left by the restaurant that is operated by my friend’s brother’s sister’s cousin. Then, take a right by the gravel road, come to a stop sign, and then go about two inches before you run right into a gas station that got robbed last week and take an immediate left. Continue straight until you see a white picket fence that needs a fresh coat, and then there will be this huge sign that you cannot miss. The entryway will be right there. But, you can’t park there, so you will have to drive around to the back, and there is this small section where visitors can park, or you will be towed. Does that make sense?”

Sure, it does. And you drove with a piece of paper in your hand with things scribbled on it that made sense when you wrote them, but now they are not readable.

It was madness, and if I was unfamiliar with an area, I could easily get lost. I struggle with getting left and right correct at times. Throw in a snowstorm, then that was a whole other variable to contend with.

I had to work closely with nursing. While I assessed the person’s personality, they determined how much care we would provide. Depending on where the opening was, we had to match the resident to the proper location in the building.

“I am ready to go,” she said, entering my office.

“Okay,” I said, not knowing much about her. She was a new hire, much older than I was, but she seemed very knowledgeable about her profession. This was her first time going on a visit like this, and her supervisor knew I had gone on many of them and would be able to help her.

“I will drive,” she said.

“Do you have directions?” I asked.

“Yes. I wrote them down. You can help me get there.”

I didn’t notice her edginess at first, but then I did detect her breathing seemed a bit more rapid. I kept my eyes on the road as we had started to get into more heavy traffic. While we had been discussing the details of the family we were about to see, she had seemed relaxed, but as we went, she suddenly got quieter.

That is when she started applying the brake too much. There wasn’t any reason to do what she was doing, so I said,

“Are you having trouble driving?”

Cars were going around her, and I could see that people were getting annoyed with her sudden stops.

“I have a trigger leg,” she said with a choke.

I have this weird thing where I see pictures when people say certain words in my mind. I pictured the horse Trigger.

“What?” I asked. “I don’t understand.”

“When I drive, and I get scared, I can’t control my leg.”

I looked down.

“Which one are we talking about?” I asked. I was hoping to God it was not the one she used to drive.

“The one I drive with.” I saw her hands gripped tighter on the wheel, and her forehead looked sweaty.

“I think we are okay. There isn’t anything to be afraid of right now.”

I said this as if I believed it. I was not frightened by the other cars around her, but more so by her behavior.

“Why didn’t you tell me this? I could have done the driving,” I said, feeling trapped in. I controlled my voice so she didn’t know how terrified I was.

“It embarrasses me to tell people,” she said awkwardly.

It got more pronounced with my neck being jolted forward and back, and I was starting to feel sick. I would have to be admitted to the hospital for whiplash by the time we arrived.

I had that familiar feeling of something else taking over and speaking through me to her. The more I told her she was safe, she seemed to stop doing what she said was so uncontrollable. A peace seemed to take over the car, and she quit repeatedly pushing on the brake.

When she parked the car, she told me that she had never been able to get it under control like that before. After our appointment, she asked me if I wanted to drive.

“No,” I said, not believing I was going to let her take me on another ride. “I think you will do just fine.”

It was now rush hour, and she had no problem getting us back without one hiccup or trigger or anything.

In both cases, I was unknowingly in places with the potential for bad outcomes, but it seems like I had been given some heavenly help to protect from injury or death. I was not where I am spiritually now. I was not even giving God the time of day during those periods of my life. But, I was extended what is described in Psalm 34:7,

The messenger of the Eternal God surrounds everyone who walks with Him and is always there to protect us and rescue us. (VOICE)

That says to me that God looks beyond our faults or ignorance and is not a fire and brimstone deity that has been professed by those who don’t know the truth.

The other day, I saw a man standing by the gates of heaven as he waited for someone to cross over. A lady was in hospice and expected to pass soon. She did that night.

I saw him waiting with a big bouquet of flowers that took both hands to hold. I told her daughter this as she was afraid of the process and felt as if her mom would be alone. There was uncertainty about the afterlife and what to expect. Would she be accepted into heaven?

The flowers represented how much he loved this one about to transition. I saw some specific details of this man who resembled a relative that had passed on. When I don’t personally know the family, I feel like I am shooting in the dark, but it was suspected he was a person the dying woman had been very close to by the way I described him. I was able to comfort the daughter, who was feeling uncertain. That is how God works. Even at the point of leaving this world, we are cared for.

Every time I have seen heaven, the gates are never closed. He doesn’t want to shut us out but longs to welcome everyone in.

Shine

“I stopped doing it because I was told it was witchcraft.”

This was the first time I had heard this.

“What possible connection would there be between what you were doing and practicing the dark arts?”

“I don’t know, but it made me feel so guilty that I didn’t do it again.”

I knew she had spiritual powers, but she had hidden them, and now I knew why. This was why she had me stifle my own because she didn’t want me to be subjected to the same comments.

“I thought this person was closer to God than I was. I didn’t want to do anything wrong.”

“You sent healing to a sick person, and this isn’t from God? That makes no sense.”

“I did it all the time. Once when your dad was really sick and in the hospital, I did it then because he was having kidney problems.”

I remembered that because it was so frightening. When I was eight years old, I woke up to him yelling things that didn’t make sense. My bedroom was right off the kitchen, so any slight noise there would immediately wake me up.

“We have to get the boats in! There’s a storm coming! Hurry up!”

He started saying the names of my brothers and family members as if he could see them. What was happening? I was lying in bed wondering if I was dreaming.

“Jack, come with me. It will be okay,” I heard her say.

“No! We have to get the boats in. There’s a storm! It’s going to get worse in a few minutes.”

“I will help you get safe. Just come with me.” She sounded calm, as if this happened every day. I guess her training as a nurse in a crisis was kicking in.

“Hurry up! You are moving too slow! Get the fishing rods! Run!”

This craziness went on for a while. She was trying to get him to the car, and he was off somewhere on a lake. She opened my door and said,

“Chris, I have to get your dad to the doctor. I will be back in a little while.”

There were older siblings to make sure I was not left alone, but it was so scary when she said it. I thought he was dying.

Eventually, she was able to get him out of the house and to the Emergency Room. Later, I found out that he had a fever so high he was hallucinating.

They discovered he had kidney stones that would require surgery. The doctor was convinced there was no other way but to have the procedure. When she left the hospital, he was still very ill and not responding to the treatment they were administering.

“No one was around when I got home. So I sat at the kitchen table. I shut my eyes, and I could see him lying in bed at the hospital. It was so real like I had been transported there. I asked the Holy Spirit to help me. I was in two places at once. I knew I was in the kitchen, but I also was in his room. I felt this warm light start in my chest and flow out of my hands, and I directed it to him. I just sat like that for a while, not saying anything but letting this energy go through me to him.”

“When you explained this story, did you use the word “energy?”

“Yes.”

“Well, that’s what made you into a witch. Dogmatic Christians can be hypersensitive to what words are used. But what you are saying is an accurate description of what it is. Energy, light, divine healing…I guess you didn’t use the right buzzword and got yourself in trouble.”

“I guess so. But right after I did that, he got better. His fever lifted, and the stones dissolved. The doctor couldn’t believe it. He had a total turnaround, and it worked every time I used it.”

“And that’s a bad thing?”

“I was made to feel that way. I have had the Holy Spirit with me for a long time. When I was twelve, I went to a tent revival, and since then, I have had a lot of spiritual help.”

She grew up in a small town where gossip and secrets ran rampant. I always had this view of her hometown as honest and pure until she told me some of the incidents that had been hidden from public view. There were extramarital affairs, children born from those affairs, and a bunch of other shady behavior. The priest would make house calls while the husbands were away at work, and he left his Bible and rosary at home. My grandma refused to let him in.

My mom’s story was the most buried, and I had uncovered it a few years prior. She had confessed to me that her father had sexually abused her. This had left her feeling ashamed and guilt ridden. He would target her when her mom would leave her in his care. She was afraid to speak up because in one instant, when she tried to say something, her mom told her she would kill him if he ever did that. My mom kept quiet because she didn’t want her mother to go to jail for murder.

These ugly encounters with her dad were going on consistently, and she didn’t know how to escape. When she heard that a preacher was coming to town, she snuck into the meetings, against her Catholic upbringing. When a man from this group was walking around and had asked her dad if he had found Jesus, he had sarcastically responded,

“I didn’t know he was lost.” His sense of humor was always cutting and at the expense of others.

She was taking a huge risk by attending the traveling preacher’s meeting, but something was pulling her in. When they asked people to come forward for the altar call, she went up, and her life changed from that moment.

At home that night in her bedroom, she was looking out her window. She felt a strong presence all around her and a strength that was not there before. She heard the familiar sound of his feet coming up the stairs, just like all the other times.

When he opened her door, she looked him in the eye and said,

“You will never touch me again.”

He backed up and walked away.

He still verbally abused her and made her life miserable in other ways. But she said he no longer made her afraid.

“I have had this power with me since then, and I have used it when I have needed it.”

“But, you keep some of it hidden to fit in, right?”

“Yes. I don’t want to do anything wrong, and I don’t want to argue with people.”

When she told me all this, I didn’t fully grasp it, but I do now. I continually have things happen that I cannot explain, and I don’t go looking for them. They show up, and while I used to be frightened by some of it, I am not anymore.

I find it so interesting how Jesus said this,

“The person who trusts in me will not only do what I am doing but even greater things..”

He walked on water, changed water into wine, healed the sick…and we are supposed to do even better than what was done? If you have a gift that doesn’t make sense, don’t let anyone convince you that it isn’t God just because they don’t understand it and are missing it.

I have been subjected to the same treatment, even being told demons possessed me by a church leader who had the worst behavior I have ever seen in life. Why? He was scared and felt threatened when I told him the truth. To counter that, he had to make me look bad.

If you allow heaven to invade your life, you will reap this reward in Mark 4:11:

He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of God.”

If you ask for more, it will come, and it won’t always make sense, but God will work through you so that you can let your light shine.

Time After Time

I heard the familiar click and wondered what the selection would be. There was no song playing. I looked up and saw that the bottom piece was spinning, and it was the right time, but it wasn’t doing what it should. Wondering if someone switched off the sound, I got up and took it off the wall.

On the side, there was a reset button, so I tried that, and nothing happened. I pushed the other option, and I got the same result. The next solution was to check the batteries, and after that didn’t help, I was at a loss.

My daughter had purchased the clock while my mom was in hospice. The day after she went on to heaven, it was delivered to our house. Because of the many supernatural experiences I kept having during that time, I found it no coincidence that this became a part of it.

One of my mom’s favorite songs was Ave Maria. Every time the hour struck, that melody would play even though there was a selection of at least thirty other tunes. Many times, when I was in the height of frustration trying to clean their house of sixty-one years and wondering why this wasn’t something my parents had done before, I would come home late to that playing the minute I opened the door.

“You’re welcome, mother!” I would say to the ceiling as I walked into my room and threw myself across my bed, exhausted.

Other times, when I was engaged in a conversation about her, whether good or bad, that song would suddenly come on to interrupt me mid-sentence as if to say,

“Chris, I can hear you!”

Their lack of planning was a burden, but I realized that to get out from under it, we had to get the house on the market. I spent days moving heavy items to the curb and had college kids who had no money come and take furniture for their housing. They were elated to have such good choices free of charge. I just wanted it gone, and that was payment enough.

It wasn’t just big items that were a nuisance but a lot of paper. They kept every single scrap. Whether it was an old bill or a magazine, they had it. I could have had a bonfire twice a day for the rest of my life with all of it—hours of shredding what was once important and throwing what wasn’t. Not to mention the canned food that could have fed an entire country. I hated every single minute of it. So much so that I went through my entire household and tossed things left and right, never to put that on my children.

This was not a sentimental journey where I looked at items and had my heartstrings pulled, but all I saw was a mess left for someone else to deal with. The self-centeredness of this would grate on me, but I knew I would only prolong the escape process if I got too wrapped up in it. I wanted out, so I put my mind to what was in front of me and shook off the resentment.

I could shut my eyes and see the interior of the house as if it were indelibly stamped in my mind. It had consumed my life from morning until night. There had been so many treks to the front yard with free signs hoping that someone would take mercy on me. One of the items was the ugliest chairs on the planet. It had sat there for a few days, and one night as I was leaving, I rolled down my window, pointed at it, and told its owner to get it immediately. The next day it was gone. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.

Near the end of this, my daughter and I made the trip back over to wrap up a few things that would finally set me free.

“I will not miss driving down this road,” I said.

That day, when we walked into the nearly empty living room, there was a cassette tape on the floor that my daughter picked up.

“Where did this come from?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “What is it?”

“It’s her favorite song. The one that has been playing all the time on the clock.”

I laughed. She was the most undead woman I had ever met.

So for the clock to quit working all of a sudden seemed like a loss of something that had been used to pull me through a stressful time.

“What is wrong with this?” I asked my daughter.

“I don’t know.”

This is unusual for her to give me that answer because she can usually figure out anything. She went through the same motions I had to try and fix it, but we were both left without answers.

I tried going online to see if I could contact the company where it was made. The purchase had been on Amazon, but I found the original manufacturer, so I sent out an email and got nothing in return.

The next step was to locate a repair place near us to take it apart and see what was wrong. She found one about thirty minutes away that claimed to be able to help even the worst case.

I made a call and talked to a man who seemed very accommodating.

“We don’t know why it stopped working, and we have done everything we can to fix it.”

“I work in the department that can do this for you. Bring it in, and I will take a look at it.”

It was our first glimmer of hope in solving the mystery.

I had no idea where this was, so I had to listen to the directions closely, and she made sure I didn’t miss a turn or go off in the wrong direction.

She seemed sad as if all the dead ends were starting to get to her. The clock just wasn’t a timepiece because of the significance it had taken. I tried to stay positive.

“The guy was so nice, and he seemed like he could help us. I think it will all work out just fine, and if we have to leave it with them, I think we will have it back quickly. I keep thinking it’s not as bad as we think it is.”

I felt like my cheerleader’s advice wasn’t going over.

The shop was small, but it wasn’t short of clocks. Just walking in was overwhelming with all the clicking and clacking going on. How did people work in this environment day after day? Talk about time staring you in the face. I started to think about how old I was standing there.

A lady came to the register.

“How can I help you?”

I put the clock on the counter and started to explain what had been going on.

“I called, and whoever I spoke to said to bring it in so it could be repaired.”

That’s when the attitude started. Like a light switch was flipped, I felt my upbeat mood challenged.

She picked up the clock, looked at us, and said,

“Did you drop this?”

“No. It’s been hanging on the wall in the same spot for the entire time.”

She popped open the back and removed the batteries.

“These look cheap.”

“No. They are the ones that came with the clock, and I got the same ones when we replaced them.”

Her icy expression continued.

“The company that makes these are very picky about returns. Do you still have the warranty papers?”

We said we did.

“Well, I highly doubt they will want to replace or repair this for you because they will claim you broke it by dropping it.”

Where was she coming up with this story? No one had dropped or mishandled the clock.

“That never happened,” I said.

She sighed and shook her head condescendingly.

Was I in the right clock shop? Was this the place where I had called and gotten such excellent assistance and was now up against the crypt keeper? Did they change owners in the thirty minutes it took me to drive?

“All of the parts in this are plastic. Let me see what I can find out,” she snapped.

She walked into a back room. I looked at my daughter, who seemed highly distressed. While she was sinking into a bit more of a down mood, this lady was pushing me to the brink with her accusations, and the slow burn inside of me was starting. There is one thing I cannot stand: being told I did something wrong when I haven’t.

I was hoping she would come back with a changed outlook on life but to no avail.

“They won’t take this. I already told them that this was probably not worth our time at all. It seems to have been damaged somehow.”

There it was again. The subtle blame the customer speech. I took back the clock before my hair caught on fire from the anger coursing through me.

“Okay,” I said quietly, suppressing the rage. I looked at the cuckoo clock on the wall behind her. Very fitting.

Back in the car, my daughter slumped down from the chastising while I was not at all feeling shame.

“We have done nothing wrong,” I said.

“She made me feel that way, though. Like I did something to cause this problem.”

“But, we know we didn’t, and she can say whatever she wants. She is a poor representative for working with the public. She didn’t want to help us. I am going to find a way to resolve this.”

Just then, I had a memory flash through my mind of a speech I heard where it was said that if you have closed doors and keep getting the answer no, that means you haven’t found your yes.

“I am going to get your yes.”

When we got home, I went back online to search for any help. I kept finding nothing, so finally, I said,

“God, help!”

That was it. I didn’t throw ashes on my head, light candles, or get down on my knees and beg.

I clicked on a link, and suddenly I found an obscure email address that I hadn’t seen before. I explained the entire situation, crossed all my fingers, and hit send.

In a few days, I got a response.

“Who is Eugene?”

I opened it, and he explained that he would be sending a shipping label for us to print. All he needed was the original papers from the purchase, including the warranty, and he would try to repair it.

We sent it on its way, and about three weeks later, I got another email.

“There was something defective with that clock, and I am sending you a brand new one. Be on the lookout for it.” So much for the company being challenging to deal with. It was back on the wall in no time and happily playing the same song again, over and over.

When you are supposed to have something, God will make sure you get it. It has been proven to me time after time.

Unexpected

My daughter and I wandered into the air freshener aisle at the store. Cans of seasonal sprays, plug-in devices, and candles pervaded an entire section. It was one massive scent parade. An equally large clearance display housed the already forgotten summer fare of cotton laundry, ocean breezes, sunflower burst, and Malibu sunshine. It was, after all, barely the first week of September. Room needed to be made immediately for everything that suggested colder weather, crackling fireplaces, and sweaters. There was no more running wild in flip-flops and short sleeve shirts. It was time to buckle down and bundle up! Yet, it was still 85 degrees outside. 

She sensed my dissatisfaction with looking at pumpkin anything this early. I pulled out my phone to distract myself as she surveyed her options. 

“You don’t want me to get this,” she said, picking up my thought. 

It felt too early. My tan lines hadn’t faded, and I knew how this always ended. By the stroke of midnight one second past Thanksgiving, everything she was considering buying would be in the trash. All of this seemed so thrilling now but day after day of it got to be monotonous. Half of the product would go unused. Then it would be onto evergreen or sugar cookie, which I already saw on the shelf creeping their way in. 

“No, I don’t. Are you sure you will even use it? You know how you get tired of it quickly.”

She has a slight weakness for anything marked Limited Edition, so I didn’t put a lot of energy into dissuading her as I knew my efforts were futile. 

She went on to smell another offering, and I went back to not paying attention. Locking down her choice and sliding it into the cart, I still had a visual of me throwing it away in two months. 

Once at home, I took out a new box of baking soda. I had scoured the extra refrigerator in the garage, and it needed a replacement. My daughter was emptying the contents of her shopping bags on the kitchen table as I headed out the door. 

I was just about to open the fridge when I realized I forgot to mark the date to remind myself when another box would be necessary. 

I spun around quickly in the pursuit of a black sharpie located in the kitchen. From that moment, I don’t clearly recall everything. Right as I pushed open the door to go back in, I collided with my daughter, who had one arm upraised. This caused me to look upward at her hand. In a swift, sweeping motion, she dispensed pumpkin air freshener into my eyes, onto my lips, and straight up my nose. I gasped, which only caused me to inhale more, and my tongue fell victim. I had luckily slammed my eyes shut out of an initial response. 

“Mom! Oh, no! Are you ok? Mom! Mom!” 

I was saturated in an artificial mist cloud, leaving me without the ability to communicate or breathe properly. 

The more I was frozen in place with my eyes closed, the more she panicked. 

“Mom! Please say you are ok! Mom!”

Finally, able to speak, I said one word, 

“Why?” 

“I wanted you to be able to smell it when you came back in. I was going to spray it around the whole door, so you could see what it was like. You were supposed to walk through it and be surrounded by it.

She had maced me. 

I ventured to open my eyes a crack. There was no burning, just the overpowering aroma of factory produced pumpkin, mainly because I had a wet upper lip dripping with the scent. 

I looked at her through the haze. Her eyes were wide with her finger still on the nozzle. 

I have lived long enough to have tasted pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, and pumpkin bars. This was not that at all. Not even close. It was a disguised can of hair spray marketed for autumn. 

I noticed I had somehow held onto the box of soda as I started to return to a state of consciousness. 

“Mom? Are you ok?”

“No! I am not! I’m not okay! No! None of this is okay! Nothing about this is ok at all!”

And that’s when I started laughing so hard I could not stand up. I ended up lying on my back in the middle of the kitchen. The air closer to the floor wasn’t as perfume ladened, but I was a walking fragrance from which there was no escape. I tried rubbing it off my face, but it soaked in more and transferred itself onto my hands. As I took in oxygen, I got to experience the simulation of fall over and over. 

Assuming I was fine, she laughed with me. 

“I wanted you to see that it wasn’t a waste to buy it, and I would use it.” 

I rolled to my side, trying to stop the waves of laughter that gripped me. 

I caught my breath for a moment to say, 

“It is not even fall yet!”

Being in the wrong place at the wrong time isn’t a pleasant experience. I was going about my life, not anticipating a seasonal assault at the door. 

My daughter intended to “cozy” up the house, but it didn’t turn out that way. Her timing and mine were off. What if your timing and God’s don’t coincide? Do you keep trying to make something happen, or do you wait until the way opens up? 

I think we all know when something is easy, and all the pieces fall simply into place. There’s no force needed or coercion, and it just comes along naturally. Often with God, we are left with mouths hanging open in awe. All of your plans could never be as detailed and take into account all that is involved. 

Lagging is never a good idea either because opportunities get missed, and regrets happen later. So how do you walk in line with the Creator of all? 

Proverbs 3:5-12

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;

    don’t try to figure out everything on your own.

Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;

    he’s the one who will keep you on track. (Message)

So as we move into another season, where things change beyond our control, remember the One who is in control of it all. You never know when that great thing you have been waiting for will suddenly manifest. 

Often God’s timing is just like that pumpkin spray…unexpected.

Loved From Head to Tail

I flopped into my bed at sunrise after a night of Black Friday shopping. I shivered under the covers as a slight hypothermia had started to set in. In a drowsy state waiting for sleep to fully descend, a picture began to form in my thoughts of my youngest daughter carrying a puppy in her arms. In my mind, I saw her go into her bedroom and shut the door. Then, another scene took its place of my other daughter carrying a puppy into her room and closing a door.

I opened my eyes. Had I been dreaming? I glanced at the clock. Not even a minute had gone by. I was pretty sure I had been awake with my eyes shut. A strange longing to give each girl a dog for Christmas began to grow as I stared up at the ceiling. Like a little nudge by someone saying,

“You want this. You know you do.”

After a few moments of consideration, I began to come up with every reason why I would NOT want this at all!

I just had gone through a horrible divorce.
I just had given away our black lab less than a year prior to a family who loved her. (A fallout from the divorce and lack of being able to take the time to keep her.)
I had never raised two dogs at one time.
Neither girl was asking for a dog for Christmas.

And, then I added this out loud:

“I need them to be free.  I cannot afford to buy dogs right now.”   I knew if I threw that on it, it would not come about.

I turned over satisfied that I had dismissed the entire emotional episode and fell into the most peaceful sleep during the daytime with the sun fully shining.

A week later, I received a phone call.

“I am at an appointment, and there is this lady who has puppies she wants to find good homes for before Christmas.  I was thinking you could take two. One for each of your girls.”

I had not spoken of my experience, and I had forgotten about it.

“How much does she want for them?” I asked.

“She is giving them away for free.”

“How much?”

My ability to hear correctly shut down because the event from the week before was hitting me full on.

“They are free.”

“How much?”

“Chris, they are free! She wants them to go to good homes.”

“Well, maybe I can take one.”

After I made that statement, I felt a heaviness and slight sadness in my heart. So much so that I had to blurt out the whole story about each girl getting a puppy for Christmas.

Once the entire encounter was out in the open, he said,

“You need to take two.  One for each girl.”

“I guess I will,” I said.

I told him to give my phone number to the puppy owner so she could call me later in the day.  She did so, and I made the mistake of putting the call on speaker phone.  I had each girl hanging on my every word as we spoke.  My oldest daughter wanted a boy, and the other wanted a female.  Taking only one was no longer an option.  I made arrangements to go see the entire litter later that day.

While driving over for our visit, I began to feel myself panic.  I silently went over all my reasons why I should not have been engaging in this.  Once I saw the puppies, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to say no.  As I fretted along, I felt a strong peace settle in my chest.  It was like my mind was whirling a hundred miles an hour, but I had a calm that kept my foot on the gas and the car moving toward the destination.

When we arrived and I knocked on the door, I heard a chorus of barking.  The three of us were greeted by puppies running around us in circles.  We decided to sit down in the middle of it all to see what would happen.  A small little male came and settled in quite nicely on my oldest daughter’s lap.  A smaller female came to occupy the other daughter’s lap.

“Ever since we got off the phone, these two have been sitting by the door like they were waiting for you to come,” Ellie, the owner, said.

The decision had made itself.  Lily and Stinky were now ours to keep.

We left them in her care for another week and on December 12 they came to take up permanent residence in my home.  Both girls had been given free dogs for Christmas.

I still don’t fully understand how they came to be mine because having two dogs was the farthest thing from any of my wishes.  However, they completely changed the entire atmosphere of my home.  We all laughed more often, and I worried less.  Many times, we would entertain ourselves watching the two of them tussle over toys.  I can still see Lily, all of two pounds at the time, dragging her brother Stinky across the living room floor by the toy in his mouth. He had clamped onto her favorite stuffed animal and wouldn’t let it go.  They became a good distraction from all that had gone wrong.

Oddly, after we had gotten them, my youngest daughter told me something even more strange.  After our black lab was adopted, she created a virtual dog on one of her gaming systems. It helped her to get over the fact that our real dog was no longer with us.  She named her virtual pet ‘Lily’ and gave her a black coat just exactly like the real Lily.  The dogs were already named when we went to go visit them, and we kept their names once we got them home. All of it seemed to be so arranged.  In a very good way.

The following year, as Christmas was approaching, I made up cookie trays and wondered if Ellie would like one.  On the night before Christmas Eve, I had a strong inclination to put together a tray and get it to her house.  Snow was falling hard that night, but I knew I was to deliver this to her.  When I knocked on the door, I heard the familiar sound of barks.

“Merry Christmas,” I said when she opened the door.  “I brought you a cookie tray that I made.”

I saw the tears come into her eyes, and then she hugged me while I tried not to drop the entire tray.

“I just got back from the store.  My oven broke so I can’t bake anything, and I was trying to find packages of cookies or something.  This comes at just the right time.”

That is how I felt about her gift of the dogs to me.  They came at just the right moment in my life, and I didn’t even realize then how much I needed them.  Someone who loves me deeply knew and sent them my way.  Just more proof that we are loved completely from head to tail.

stinky

Stinky and Lily