Vision

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

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

Then the world should be full of short people.

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

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

Well, sort of.

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

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

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

“Ick.”

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

I would often hear him say to her,

“Have you seen my pipe?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seeing her about to leave him brought on a meltdown.

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

There was a reason why she had done this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I backed up with more crunching.

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

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

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

“What do you have in your hand?”

I held up the bag.

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

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

“He told me he quit!”

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

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

“John! Where are you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cringe. Not good.

“This is it?”

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

A coincidence? I don’t think so.

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

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

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

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

I didn’t fully get it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Purity

“Everything in moderation, Chris. That’s the best way.”

She always said this when she saw that I was conflicted over a decision. It can be applied to anything, really. Food, sleep, and binge watching a show on a streaming platform. How much is too much? It depends if the snow is piled up to the doorknob and your eyelashes freeze when you go get the mail. That’s at least an entire season justified for being planted, immobile, without it being extreme.

Two seasons of a show warrants more scrutiny, but by episode seven of anything, you have established characters and are emotionally invested. Sometimes there is no coming back.

Along the lines of practicing discipline, I was taught how to drink at home at an early age, around twelve. We weren’t doing shots on a daily basis, but every once in a while, she would give me a small portion of wine or a cocktail to have me taste it. This comes as such a shock to many people, but my mom had a method to her madness. She was not promoting alcoholism but teaching me how to respect it.

The first time I tried it, I could not believe that people enjoyed swallowing such awful tasting stuff, and to the point of getting drunk? That seemed so crazy to me.

“I want you to learn how to handle it so I can trust you not to abuse it later in life.”

While other kids my age were breaking into their parent’s liquor cabinets, she said “cheers” to me.

“I don’t want you to be out somewhere and suddenly have too much beyond what you can deal with. I want you to be able to feel the effects of it where you are safe, so if you are ever offered this, you will be smart about it.”

I never felt like I had to sneak it behind their back when it was something that was presented as a non-rebellious issue.

I think she did this partly because she observed and became more educated as a parent while raising the older ones.

When I was about six years old, my parents invited the entire block to party in their basement. We had the smallest rambler, so why they did this, I do not know. My oldest sister had gone out for the night. And I was being held hostage upstairs with my three brothers and another sister.

I was barricaded into my parent’s bedroom with my brothers while my sister was in the next room. They had turned the tv up to its highest volume so that they could hear above the sounds of the nightclub going on downstairs. The noise was making the floor vibrate.

My mom had told them all to keep an eye on me, and none of us were to leave the upstairs unless it was an emergency.

As it got close to my bedtime, the plan was to have me sleep on the floor in between my sister’s twin beds. I remember laying there hearing the muffled talk and loud laughter through the floorboards. The genius who came up with putting me on the floor did not think this through.

My bedroom, though, was being used for all the neighbor’s coats. My bed was piled high with them. I didn’t dare venture in there because I was told I would be in trouble if I did. It was like my mom was trying to hide us like the Von Trapp kids in the Sound of Music.

We had to stay out of sight or be subjected to punishment, and the threat of the unknown was always worse than the actual reprimand. I guess she wanted to pretend she didn’t have six kids and enjoy herself for once.

I somehow fell asleep but woke up to whispering. One of my brothers said something to my sister, trying not to wake me up. I had my eyes open, but they thought I was out. That is when they tried to get my other sister to her bed stealthily.

The room was pitch dark.

She had returned home from being out with friends and was a little tipsy. Fearing the wrath of my dad coming down on her, my brother was trying to get her out of harm’s way. I heard a lot of stumbling and a slight giggle that got shushed.

All was going well until they forgot I was in the middle of the room, right in her path. Unintentionally, she stepped full force on my stomach, which produced a blood-curdling scream from me. I think my brother shoved her in the direction of her bed and ran.

Because at that moment, the people who had come over were starting to leave, and my mom was coming up to usher out guests and say goodbye.

I recall hearing my sister trying not to laugh in her inebriated state, while the other one was stone silent. I couldn’t take the madness anymore.

I sat up and started crying so loud that every single person heard me. Not just a tiny whimper but a top of the lungs, no breath taken, long wailing exhale. Life had just taken a scary turn for me, and I knew this would bring back “normal”.

The bedroom door flew open with the woman who had abandoned her offspring for a night standing there looking annoyed. What would the neighbors think if one of us was out of control like that?

“Chris! What is wrong with you? Did you have a bad dream?”

Sure, let’s just go with that.

No one had just tried to dislocate my rib.

I was too upset to answer, so she assumed that this was the problem.

“Just go back to sleep. You are with your sisters. You aren’t alone.”

I heard her trail off and told people I was having a nightmare. She had no idea.

It was my first and not last experience with someone who had taken in a little too much liquor.

In addition to that type of self-control, handwashing was an absolute must with her, and I sat through many speeches about this non-negotiable part of life. With her training as a nurse, during a time we would consider the dark age, hot water, soap, and scrubbing like you were about to go into surgery were expected. You didn’t dare come into her presence with dirt anywhere on you.

It was ingrained in me to remove my shoes at the door and wash my hands.

“What is this?”

It was an interrogation if she found a dark fingerprint or handprint on the wall. Everything but the spotlight shining on me was missing.

I learned to think quickly.

“I was on my way to the bathroom to wash my hands, and I must have touched that.”

All she heard was that I was being compliant. Jail time was avoided, and my record was expunged.

Not everyone in the world was put through sanitation school like I was.

It was astounding for me to witness a woman’s conduct while in a line for a self-checkout at a grocery store. I saw a domed container standing nearby with pieces of muffins in it. Instead of placing them in individual cups for people to take, they had thrown all of it in there in a jumbled up mess.

Someone must have had too much to drink in the bakery.

The whole thing was crammed with parts from a morning gone awry while in the kitchen. None of it was burnt, so still consumable, just not in a pretty muffin shape.

Both my youngest daughter and I saw an elderly woman open up the lid, reach in with her hands and start shoving crumbs into her mouth. She was breaking all my unwritten rules. There was no cleanliness and no regard for the amount being consumed.

I usually am a professional at hiding my disdain for such displays, but I must have dropped my guard and voiced my disgust too loudly. I looked away, unable to take one more second of the scarf monster next to me.

Back in the car, my daughter said as she took a sip of her coffee,

“Thank you for teaching me right from wrong.”

“What do you mean?”

I had already forgotten about the unsightly inhaling job by the senior citizen.

“I’m glad you taught me about washing my hands. Not grabbing things in public like that. Just everything. Not everyone is given that. You just took really good care of us when we were little, so we know all these things now.”

“I can’t take full credit. My mom made sure I knew this, so then I passed it down to you and your sister.”

“That lady scowled at you.”

“She did?”

“Yes, like you were the wrong one. That’s why I said I was grateful you taught us the right way.”

I wonder how she feels about stuffing food in her mouth with filthy hands now? This happened before 2020. Covid 19, anyone?

If you wait out life long enough, you sometimes get justified in what you believe.

There are simple truths that seem to prove themselves while you stand there and do what you know is correct even if no one else does.

In 1 Corinthians 15:58, it says,

With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort. (Message)

That friend that thinks you are an absolute lunatic for praying and asking God for help will be calling you tomorrow in the middle of a crisis. Suddenly, your faith will be her anchor.

In a world that can be confusing with conflicting messages, God can use you as an example to bring others peace through your steadfast purity.

(Even though this contains 68% alcohol, I would not recommend drinking it)

Combination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Jean! Get up right now!” He ordered.

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

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

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

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

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

“He was outside staining wood.”

“Okay.”

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

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

Another round of bent over laughing.

“He sat on the lid!”

“What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the other room, I heard her say,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why?”

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

That would do it, simple as that.

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

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

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

“You’re done!”

He had not taken one bite.

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

This went on for years.

“John, do you want a cookie?”

“No.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

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

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

“John!”

“What?”

“Is that yes or no?”

“For what?”

“A cookie! Do you want one?”

“I already said no.”

“I thought you changed your mind.”

He was gone again.

“Are you sure?”

“About what?”

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

“I can’t see around you!”

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

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

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

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

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

“Mom is there, right?”

“Yes.”

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

“That’s good. I miss her.”

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

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

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

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

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

She would always say,

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

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

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

“John. It’s time.”

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

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

Precisely Calculated

I would come home from school and see the chalkboard propped up on my bed. Neatly written, there would be four rows of math problems to solve.

It was the basics of addition and subtraction. She knew I was struggling in this area, so she would sit down and go over my work from school during the day, where she saw that I was not grasping a concept and would write it out.

I actually did not appreciate it, but there was a method behind her madness. While she was trying to help me, I only saw it as more work to do. The first time she did this, she was not so sure I would fill in all the answers. It was a wild card moment because she knew I had this inward drive to do what she said, but there had also been times when I would try to put her on ignore. If even for just a few seconds.

“You got all of these right,” she said later after she checked them. Her tactic of using praise was another way for me to be swayed into continuing with her plan.

This started in the lower grades, and she kept it going. It wasn’t every day, only when she noticed that some of my homework had errors. It increased when I was subjected to a new teacher in second grade. I could not learn from him, and she recognized this.

“You have never had a problem with reading and writing; what is happening?”

They had us rotate to another classroom for other subjects at the school I was in. He was not my permanently assigned instructor. I spent an hour being taught by him about verbs, subjects, and the basics of reading. I usually had no difficulty, but I began to disassociate mentally.

“You have a personality clash with him,” she said.

I had no idea what this meant. All I knew was that he targeted me with unkind remarks, then expected me to treat him with respect. This was confusing and made me withdraw as a way to protect myself. When he spoke, I would become afraid he would run me down. It would happen out of the blue, so I became on high alert to prepare myself.

Because of the mental torment, this shut off my ability to learn.

The way public school worked back then was if you were not scoring the greatest, it was overlooked until it got so bad that it was clear that concepts weren’t being understood. You could move along at a subpar level and not fully comprehend ideas built on one another.

She knew this, so she took it upon herself to make sure I wouldn’t get too far off course. Math challenged me, but literacy and reading had never been a problem.

She spoke to this instructor directly. Of course, he was on his best behavior with her on the phone as she was challenging him and looking into why I was not performing well. I was so young I couldn’t articulate what was occurring to me. He felt threatened, I think, and started to leave me alone. There was some inclination that his treatment of me in his classroom was beginning to go too far, so he retreated.

“Chris, you and I will work on this at home. He’s not getting through to you somehow.”

She still wrote out math problems on the board, and every day she worked with me on the other subject.

Because of her tenacity, I got through that grade and on to the next. Amazingly, this is where my ability to write became pronounced. Being aware on some level that God had given me a gift, she was not about to let him steal it away from me.

I had to face him again in sixth grade for math. (See Problem Solved listed below)

One of the phrases that she said repeatedly was,

“It’s not the problem. It’s how you solve it.”

The first time she said this to me, I shook my head at her. It was like she wasn’t listening to what I was trying to tell her. I knew that girls at school were shoplifting, and they wanted me to do it with them.

I kept declining the offer because I knew it was wrong. Day after day, they would talk of what they had stolen after school and how fun it was. When I refused to go along with them, they turned on me. This was the beginning of my awakening that I needed to cut off certain members of society for my good.

When I finally told her the pressure I was under, her response was,

“Chris, it’s not the problem. It’s how you solve it.”

And that was it. No matter what I would bring to her, that would be her answer. I would go over all the details of the injustice or who said what or was acting like a fool. She would look at me and throw out that answer for everything.

“You ALWAYS say this to me!” I said back to her more than once.

“Because it’s the only answer. You already have the problem, so now you have to focus on responding to it. Are you going to keep going over the issue a million times, or are you going to deal with it and move on?”

I didn’t understand her point then, but I do now. The energy one expends on continually bashing against the wall of what was said or done could be channeled toward getting on with your life. She told me that to stop the situation from mushrooming, I had to see the solution, and you can’t do that if you are emotionally stuck in the situation.

Not everyone will like you or get along with you. What I surprise, I know.

Some people will use you and not give it a second thought. They will deceive you. There will be words and actions taken against you that will not be pleasant, and that is a fact. That was not a concept I easily accepted as a child and sometimes as an adult. She was trying to tell me then not to let it devastate my world.

In Matthew 10:14 it says,

Any city or home that doesn’t welcome you—shake off the dust of that place from your feet as you leave. (TLB)

Nowhere does that say to linger.

God had a higher calling on my life, and He does for everyone. When something comes along to disrupt that, this is when you decide to move past it or hang on to it. You get that choice.

I had heard on so many occasions that if you genuinely have forgiven someone of their trespasses against you, you will continually be in their presence. Not true. I have had God physically separate me from what wasn’t working. It might have appeared that I was shutting people out of my life, but I was prompted to move ahead and leave the toxic part behind. The dead end will not lead you anywhere, and while you are expending your thoughts on it, you are missing out on what is valuable.

You are trading your time for something that will not bring you to go where God wants you to.

In Matthew 8:21, Jesus addressed this concept when he said,

First things first. Your business is life, not death. Follow me. Pursue life. (Message)

Not one time did He sweat it out over what people said about Him or their actions toward Him. And that is a great example to follow. Not always easy because of the pain that gets inflicted. How can you be healed if you are so focused on what caused the wound in the first place?

It’s not about stuffing down your feelings or pretending all is well and slapping on a smile. Been there, always done that. That doesn’t work either. So what is your option? Give it to God. There is a promise in Psalm 147: 3-12,

He is the healer of the brokenhearted. He is the one who bandages their wounds. He determines the number of stars. He gives each one a name. Our Lord is great, and his power is great. There is no limit to his understanding. The LORD gives relief to those who are oppressed. (Message)

The one thing that I have come to understand from her simple response is that the work was to be done by me. It wasn’t up to the other party to take responsibility for their actions. To wait around for that or to expect that would have amounted to absolutely nothing. I had to take what had been presented and transmute it into something that no longer harmed me. That has to happen at a spiritual level, not an exterior one. Until you drop the “I am right” fight that can go on mentally for years and years, your peace won’t manifest itself.

I thought that the worst class I ever had to take was geometry. It was an exhausting study for one who just wanted to read a book and not think about numbers. All the steps involved to get from point A to Z were laborious. There were theorems and proofs to work through regarding shapes and how they related to one another. The concepts started slow but then built over the course.

One of the most straightforward ideas to understand was intersecting lines. This is where two lines meet and share a common point.

We will have to deal with this for the rest of our time here. There will be no way around it. The commonality of it is that God is in the middle of it. As two cross paths, for whatever reason, good or not so great, there will be something learned from it.

As we go on, we will be better at discerning, returning to peace more quickly, able to help those who we are supposed to who are having a rough time and waste less of ours on things that have no eternal meaning. This all opens the way to fulfill your true purpose.

Each time you decide not to let a person or concern roll you and take you down, your insight becomes sharper, more accurate, with fewer errors, and precisely calculated.

(This is not the kind of pie I prefer…)

*Problem Solved

Posted on  by Christine

Please don’t call on me. Please don’t call on me.  This was my daily mantra during his math class in sixth grade. I had a history with this man and had hoped to never be his student again.

Previously I was in one of his classes in second grade, and I had gone from being an avid reader with great pronunciation skills to not being able to comprehend sentences.  I began to bring home extra work to do with my mom to improve my understanding.  She noticed that I was not struggling as she and I worked together.  After a couple of these sessions, she said to me,

“I don’t think you like your teacher.”

“No. I don’t.”

“Why?”

My seven-year-old mind could not articulate clearly why I did not like him.  I just knew I didn’t.  In hindsight, it was my first experience with being intimidated, but I didn’t understand it.  It wasn’t that he was a male teacher as much as his attitude. I recall seeing him flirt with the young female teacher across the hall, and in an instant, his demeanor would become harsh with the children in his room.  He was unpredictable, and I never knew when I would meet his approval or not.  He put me on edge, and I always felt his anger simmering below the surface. To add to my fear, he towered over me. One of my brothers was just as tall, but it was the way this man glared at me from above that made me cower.

During our one on one reading sessions, he would often laugh and ridicule those who were not pronouncing words correctly.   He would use another student to ‘correct’ the one who was making a fool of himself.  It was a form of public humiliation amongst the peers.  Not being able to take the pressure, I shut myself down, and with that my favorite subject became my most difficult.  My voice, which once was strong, became small and weak with the idea that he was going to lash out and make me feel horrible about myself.  The best part of my day was when our hour of reading with him was over, and I returned to my homeroom next door.

When second grade ended, I wasn’t only glad to welcome in the freedom of summer but to be away from him forever.  Forever lasted until the sixth grade. He picked up right where we had left off. This time, he was my math instructor which wasn’t my best subject.   His eyes would scan the room looking for his prey to call up to the board. Hands across the room would fly up, but I always put my hands under my desk to be sure there was no mistaking my desire to stay seated.   Regardless, he would pick me.  I never got used to being in front of the entire class sweating over the board trying to appease him only to be interrupted.  I would just begin to write and he would snap.

“No! That’s already wrong. Go sit down.”  I would quietly put the chalk back in its place while he would then call upon his star math student who would go up and show us all how it was to be done.

“Now, that is perfect,” he would say shooting me a satisfied sadistic smile.

The worst part was the homework.  He would hand out our assignment and expect it back by the end of the day.  For a person who caught on to numbers quickly, this would have been easy.  But, I had such a mental block, partially due to him making me feel stupid, I needed the extra time in the evenings to complete the work.  If a student didn’t turn in the homework of the day, then she was expected to ask him permission to take it home and turn it in the next morning.  Every day I made the short but long walk to his door to ask if I could have an extension. It was a ritual short of bowing and kissing a ring on his hand. Some afternoons when he was preoccupied with impressing some of his young female students, I would get a head nod followed by a grunt. Other times, he would torture me with tormenting questions.

“Can I take my math work home tonight?” I would squeak.

“Again? Why can’t you get it done during the day like everyone else?”  He knew full well I needed the extra time.  After making me feel like an absolute idiot, I would finally get the approval to take my work home.

One day, as I walked slowly down the hall, I noticed him standing in his classroom doorway facing his students.  He was quiet and so was the entire class.  Looking back now, I should have known to just turn around and forget it, but I didn’t realize what I was walking into.  As I neared him, he began to yell at the top of his lungs.

“I told you all to shut up, and I mean it!  I don’t want to hear another word until the bell rings!”  His voice echoed off the walls around me.  Sensing I was behind him, he whirled around.  Screaming in my face he said,
“WHAT DO YOU WANT?” Spit flew from his mouth and his eyes were crazy looking.

“I need to take my math home….” I think I actually whispered my request.

“I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU DO!”

He spun on his heel and slammed the door so hard that the floor beneath my feet shook.  I ran back to my class. When I came in the door, my teacher asked,

“Are you okay, Christine?”

I kept my head down and nodded.  He looked at me for a while like he wasn’t so convinced.  I don’t know how he hadn’t heard the commotion out in the hallway, but I was so paralyzed with fear I could not speak.

I left elementary school and went on to middle school, high school, and college bearing the unseen scars that he inflicted.  I was amazed by the other kids who could whip out math answers while I struggled over each and every problem. I had a teacher tell my mom at a conference that he felt sorry for me because he could see that I really wanted to comprehend the material but it just didn’t stick.  Something was blocking my ability to get to the right answer.  When she told me this I must have been touched by it because on the next test I whizzed through it.  By the end of that year, I had gotten a low B in his class.

The damage wasn’t just confined to school.  If I was with a group of people playing a game where a score needed to be tallied, and I was questioned on my accuracy, I would immediately say,

“I am bad at math.” I was merely verbalizing the thought I was having twenty-four seven.

Usually, I hadn’t made an error, but due to early childhood programming by a bully math teacher, I constantly defaulted to what I thought was true.  If the person in my social circle was somewhat aggressive, I found myself thinking for certain I was at fault and he or she was right. I was continuing to exist as a sixth-grade math student.

The pattern of living this way began to dissolve when I decided to home school my daughter. I knew that I was going to excel with instructing her on reading, writing, spelling, and basic math, but there was the nagging question of whether I had what it took to effectively teach math at the sixth-grade level or higher. The summer before she was to begin that grade, a packet came in the mail that included a math placement test. Before I gave the exam to her, I took it. I was shocked to see that I scored rather high. Calculations that would have been confusing made absolute sense. How had I become one of those kids that I had envied so much?

That is when I realized how my thinking was not correct on this matter.  There were other hints along the way, but I had brushed them off quickly because after all, “I was bad at math.”

When I began home school, I purposefully bought a math curriculum that used a hands-on approach to teaching not only basics but also some geometric and algebraic principles. As I showed her the logic to solving equations, I began to understand that I had not been taught properly. I was slowly beginning to see that I was not the stupid idiot I thought I was. I actually had not been given good instructions nor was I treated like I should have been.

This made me begin to question what other lies I was believing about myself that were not true, and I made a determination to begin an ‘uncovering’ process to free myself from deceptive thinking.  This meant asking God to reveal whatever wasn’t right so I could correct it.   After all, it is promised that ‘all crooked paths will be made straight.’  I am realizing that this is an ongoing process.

This man was in my life more than 36 years ago.  And all these years later I can conjure up his face, his words, and his demeanor.  The difference, however, is that I no longer believe him.  I have put a loving arm around my sixth-grade self, and I have told her,

“You are good at math.  Problem solved.”

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)

Holes

I had dragged myself out of my bedroom after hours of studying. She noticed the dark circles under my eyes.

I had a final math test the next day, and this subject was never an easy one for me. I didn’t have a sore throat or a fever coming on, so I had to be at my desk with a pencil in hand. I would probably use the eraser more than anything. No matter how hard I tried to find the correct answer, I couldn’t.

She knew of my struggles because my math teacher had told her he felt sorry for me.

“I know she puts in the effort, but for some reason, she has mental blocks that keep her from finding the solution.”

“Have you asked the Holy Spirit to help you solve the problem?”

“No. Why would I do that?” I asked.

She almost dropped her dishrag.

“You’ve got to be kidding me. You don’t know why you would pray and ask for help?”

This came as a shock to her after I had cleared all the Catholic hurdles: baptism, confession, and confirmation. She was so confident that if I had gone through the triathlon of events, I would for sure have ascended to high master status spiritually.

“Didn’t you learn anything in all of your classes?”

How was I supposed to answer that? If I said yes, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. If I said no, then that was stating the obvious.

So I went with,

“I don’t know.”

“Christine. How could you sit through hours and hours of instruction and not know to call on the Holy Spirit if you had trouble with something?”

After years of gym classes, how did she not know how to throw a softball? Or catch one without ducking and running away when I threw it to her? That was the same sort of question.

“I don’t know.”

“They didn’t teach you to ask for help from God?”

They might have, but all I was thinking about was how much I didn’t want to attend the required home group. This meant I was forced to go to a house every Wednesday night and sit through more school work. That is what it felt like as a ninth-grader.

“Did they not tell you that you would receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit when you got confirmed?”

They might have. But, I was not interested, and my mind was wandering the entire time I had to be there.

“What did you think confirmation meant?”

More pain and torture, but away from home.

“I don’t know.”

The typical sigh then followed because she thought I was being difficult. I wasn’t. I just didn’t care.

I had spent all my days with my peer group, which I had no desire to get to know better. I preferred not mingling with them. In fact, one time, when a guy called my parent’s home looking for me, and I answered the phone, and I got rid of him in the kindest way I could think of.

“Is Chris at home?” Recognizing his voice, I said,

“Let me see,” I said, pretending to be my mom. I pulled the phone away from my ear for a couple of seconds. My mom frowned at me as she wiped down the stove.

“No, she isn’t here,” I said. “Can I take a message?”

I pretended to take down his name and phone number.

“I will let her know you called.”

I wanted to be sure who I was dealing with, so I could avoid him more at school if I had to.

My suspicions had been right, so when I hung up, I made a mental note not to engage in conversations with him as much. He was getting the wrong impression. I had this sneaking feeling that this would happen at some point, but I wasn’t sure. So I wasn’t totally devoid of discernment like she was making me out to be.

My goal was to get in and out of school as fast as possible, so the additional class to study religion was not high on my list. And, apparently, I had missed some crucial information on how to pass a math test.

“When you don’t know what to do in life, you are to call on the Holy Spirit and ask for help. An answer will come to you.”

“Really?”

Another sigh.

“Yes, Chris, if you had paid attention, you would know this. Go back into your room and ask for help on the test. Then stop studying. All the answers will come to you as you take the exam tomorrow.”

She had graduated valedictorian from high school and college. Also, she scored on the genius level when asked to take a psychology test. Her advice for school was generally good, even if she couldn’t throw or catch a flying object.

The stop studying part of what she said appealed to me the most. If I could have set the book on fire, that would have been even better.

I did what she said, and the next day, the pressure didn’t feel as high in my math class. It seemed like when I went to work my way through a question, I was being guided to apply specific skills. I scored high on it to increase my overall grade for the year.

That had an impact on me. Not hours of church services or endless reciting of incantations from a book. But a practical application of a prayer that resulted in something positive. When something gives us a payoff, you tend to believe it can work again.

I started to use it in emergencies, not realizing it could be used at any time. What fit the profile of an urgent situation? Something that was beyond my ability to solve by myself or anything that kept me awake at night.

I employed this technique the most when I had to work with a woman named Tilly. She had been admitted to the nursing home under my watch as her social worker. She requested only me when problems arose for her.

I learned as much as I could about her. It was determined that she had a borderline personality disorder.

In a nutshell, that meant she would be challenging to deal with, and when someone would try to calm her down, her behavior usually escalated. I attended a seminar on how to interact with the elderly who had been given a diagnosis such as this, and it was not hopeful.

The presenter held up a piece of Swiss cheese and said that healing this would be like trying to fill in the holes. It was a long-standing issue for her as she was moved from one residence to the next without making much progress.

“Chris, Tilly wants to see you,” would be the daily summons I would get. Sometimes it was more than once, and usually, the last one would be right as I was going to walk out the door at night.

“Do we know what the trouble is?” I would ask.

I was barely in my twenties, with no real life experience, yet somehow, I was the one that was sought after as a source of comfort.

“She says her clothes are all missing.”

“Same as yesterday, then,” I would say.

“Yes. She says that someone came into her room and stole her pink robe, her slippers, and all of her candy.”

It was always the same—a crazed sugar eater who liked to run off with loungewear.

“Okay. I will be right up.”

I would take off my coat, put my purse down and grab my notepad to document what would transpire. I had a script I could have printed off.

The minute I stepped into her room, she would say,

“Hey! Someone stole all of my stuff that my daughter gave me yesterday.”

There was no real sense of time, but I ignored that.

“What is missing?” I already knew, but I wanted to see if she changed her story.

“My brand new pink robe and slippers. They are gone, and someone stole them!”

I opened the closet door, pulled out all the worn items long past new she talked about, and put them on her bed.

“What else?”

“I had candy bars on my dresser, and they are all gone!”

“Did you eat them?” I asked.

“No! Why would I do that?” She could get defensive quickly even if I were her source of help.

I would open her dresser’s top drawer, pull out a container, and show her that they were all there.

“Oh. I didn’t see them.”

“I have the clothing you said was missing on your bed. Do you see it? It is here.”

“Oh.”

As I put things away, I would ask her questions and talk to her until she was in a better mood.

“Is there anything else that is bothering you?” I would ask as I sat on her bed.

“No. I was just worried about all of that. I thought someone stole it.”

“Anyone can help you find things if you think they are gone,” I would tell her. I was trying to unhook myself from this strange obsession she had with me.

“But, they don’t help me as you do.” So, that sealed my fate. If Tilly had a problem, I was her only help in the building that was filled with multiple staff. I was called a few times over weekends to come in and diffuse her behavior because no one else could. I lived close by, so I did just to help.

“She really likes you. She won’t listen to any of the rest of us,” a nurse had told me.

My secret weapon was the Holy Spirit because every time I had to deal with her, I asked for help, and I was always given a solution in every situation. Where she could get so angry and physically combative with others, she would turn into a compliant, grateful person with me.

That is what God can do in every situation, whether dire or not. It can get turned around when it seems as if there is no real way out of it. In Psalm 91, it says,

He will call on me, and I will answer; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue and honor him. (NLT)

I have found that it works for everything from small to big. And, really, in God’s eyes, all things are equal. So if you find yourself in need of help, it is always available to clear a path, show you the way and fill in all the holes.

Best For Us

The biggest arguments my mom and I had were over apparel. Typically, this happens in the teen years when a girl wears something that shocks the previous generation. Less and less material is used as each decade clicks by, which can cause a young person and her authority figure to be at odds.

I was in kindergarten, so this was way before the appointed time. And I wanted to cover up more, not less. I was raised with a pack of wolves, known as brothers, and I wanted to run free and not be slowed down by dress shoes and skirts.

Depending on what I was wearing determined my comfort level for playing. I couldn’t have my brother launch me halfway across the backyard unless I had pants on.

He would lay on his back and put both of his feet up. He would balance me on them and then do a countdown. He would push me forward with all his strength to see how far I could go. Similar to shotput but from a prone position.

Because I was so young and trusted everything, I never contemplated the head injury I could have sustained. I always landed face first in the grass. I would get up and have him do it again.

This was in direct competition with what my mom was trying to accomplish.

She, on the other hand, had received her last child and wanted to mold and shape me into what she thought was “proper.”

“My job, Chris, is to teach you social graces.”

Whatever that was.

It was like a page ripped out of My Fair Lady. We spoke in different dialects.

She tried her best, but I defied her at every turn.

She recognized that I would fight her every step of the way. I didn’t want to give up my brother’s circus training I was participating in. Who knew where my high-flying tricks would lead me?

Being a negotiator, she said,

“You have to wear a dress to school at least once a week.”

I was five, so I was learning how to tell time. We had analog that actually made you have to think and count. But the concept of what it was still was a mystery to me. I desperately wanted to be like my older siblings, so I even wore one of their old watches.

It had stopped working when it was given to me, but it made me feel less behind the rest of them.

When she would say,

“Today is the day for you to wear a dress,” it felt like it had just happened the day before.

I would slide into whatever she handed over and go into funeral mode. It felt like I was dying. It was bad enough that my days of freedom had been interrupted by the school demanding I be there for half a day.

I had other things I wanted to do instead.

I had to associate with children my age which seemed lame compared to all the older people I lived with. This particular kid always wanted to sit by me, and when the teacher would say,

“Exchange your crayon with a person next to you,” he would always come for mine.

Just because I extended him a few seconds of my time, he thought he owned me. I couldn’t move anywhere in the classroom without him next to me like my shadow. And he always asked me what time it was because of my broken watch. I just made up a number.

The whole experience felt unnecessary, and so did wearing a dress.

I wore her out because she dropped the rule by first grade, but our war moved on to another article of clothing.

Boots.

I did not like wearing them when the weather changed. She would send my tennis shoes with me to change into once I got to school. We did not live that far from the elementary school, so I thought it was overkill to change.

As I went up in grades, I resisted wearing them more and more. I believe I had assimilated into what the rest of my peer group was doing. Snow boots were deemed for babies. I had witnessed a classmate of mine being ridiculed for wearing them, so to ward this off, I would leave the house, take off my boots and wear my other shoes the rest of the way.

What she didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her, and I wouldn’t be targeted.

This was all going along swimmingly until the day I forgot to bring my boots home from my locker. In my haste to get out of jail and back into the free world, I grabbed my jacket, my books and walked out the front door.

It was a Friday, so that made it even better.

The house was unusually quiet when I walked in. She was at the kitchen sink rinsing a glass. Turning, she said in a whisper,

“I lost my voice.”

I was going to respond as I saw her eyes travel downward toward my feet.

I was in trouble. She didn’t need her vocal cords to bring fire and fury.

“Where are your boots?” She hissed, moving closer. She knew by motherly intuition that this was probably an ongoing habit that I had hidden.

The look on her face was pure anger. I was trying to come up with an excuse, a lie, a handwritten note from my doctor, but nothing was coming to me. So I went with the truth.

“I left them in my locker at school. I didn’t wear them home.”

If she had stopped interrogating me right there, we would have gone about our lives. But, no, she had to say,

“Do you go to school and change into your tennis shoes before you get there? And put your boots back on when you are almost home?” All of this was forcefully said in a hushed tone.

Had she hired a private investigator to track me and my underhanded ways? How did she know this? Because she could be scary like that. I decided to be bold.

“Yes, I do. I don’t like wearing boots. It looks stupid!”

“You need to wear them! There is ice you could fall on.” A physical injury was less important to me than psychological trauma.

Because of her laryngitis, her lecture wasn’t as long as usual.

“I don’t like them.” I kept it simple.

“I don’t care! Where are they?”

They were in my locker, not available until Monday.

“At school.”

This took it up another notch.

“You better never do this again! You know this was wrong!”

She was trying to exert herself to get me to be compliant. I slid out of my shoes and walked away. It’s hard to take someone seriously when they are whispering.

I realized that if I wasn’t in front of her, she couldn’t yell, and my chances of hearing her were less. I was not committing to her ways anytime soon.

She followed me.

“Christine Ann, don’t you walk away from me while I’m speaking!”

Not the full name. I faced her again.

“You will wear your boots like I have told you!”

I cannot explain why I did what I did next. But instead of talking to her in my normal voice, I whispered back,

“No! I won’t! I hate them!”

She thought I was making fun of her, and now we had another problem.

I was going to try and explain myself, but then the humor of it hit me. I started laughing. It appeared I had just gone into total rebelliousness. This just made it worse. Coffin, meet nail.

“Don’t you dare mock me! How dare you first not listen to me and then think my illness is funny!”

She was straining super hard. I wish I had known then to tell her that she could permanently damage her voice by doing that. It was probably good I didn’t.

I had to get myself under control. I knew she wouldn’t hit me, but I didn’t want to chance it. I had never been this far down the road before.

“I don’t know why..” I started to explain, and then I started laughing again.

She stood there with her arms crossed, looking at me like I didn’t belong to her.

“Get to your room.”

She walked away.

I didn’t dare slam my door because she would make me open and close it quietly whenever I did. So I skipped that part. There was enough to contend with.

I was met with icy silence, and it was not all related to her losing her voice.

Later, she came back into my room and sat on my bed.

“You don’t have to do what I tell you.”

This was the best news I had heard so far.

“Won’t you be mad at me if I don’t?”

This seemed too easy.

“No, I won’t be angry. I will be disappointed. There’s a difference. I have to trust that you will obey me.”

She was speaking directly to my conscience, and it was like she took a hammer to my chest.

“You can keep up with what you are doing, and if you fall and hurt yourself, I won’t be mad. I will be sad that you didn’t listen.”

I wore my boots and put up with the heckling from that time on. Her relationship with me was more important than a group of losers at school.

I have had to get to that point many times on various issues with God. I want my way, but I hear that still, small voice say, “No, do this instead.”

It might put us in an uncomfortable situation, and we don’t always see why at first, but we have to trust that heaven sees and knows what is best for us.

(That’s how I took them off..am I coming or going?)
(Evidence of WHY I should not have been forced into a dress! Ugh!)

Fenced In

“I think your dog got out,” she said when I came around the corner. “My boys opened the front door, and she ran off.”

She was still speaking while I was flying toward the front yard. The way it was said so casually indicated to me that she had no idea the jog I was about to take. Or the danger that my pet was in.

It was pouring rain, and I had dashed out without shoes so my socks were soaking wet in seconds. I could see her way up ahead, nose to the ground, oblivious to the cars zipping by.

This wasn’t the first chase I had been on since getting her. I had no idea when I was researching dog breeds and which one to get that this would be something to contend with.

She had been born and raised in a place that wasn’t the best. When I got to the location, there were beagle puppies running everywhere. The mom hid under an old beat-up car and looked at me with sad eyes. I didn’t know about puppy mills back then, but the conditions looked rough. When I took her to the vet because she had so many parasites, I was given medication actually to save her life.

“If you hadn’t taken her in, she would have died soon,” I was told. She was so wild and full of energy that I would have never known.

It appeared to be a farm that hadn’t been taken care of, so dog breeding had been thrown in to raise funds. There were so many dogs going in all directions that I decided to sit on a gravel path to see what would happen.

A very tiny girl puppy came and started pulling on my shoelace. The harder I tried to get it away from her, the more ferocious she held on and threw in a little growl while wagging her tail. When she was tired of that, she curled up in my lap.

“She’s the runt of the litter,” the breeder said. So was I, and she became mine.

My backyard had no fence, but we were told she was so small that we could probably catch her. Probably not. A chain-link fence had to go up immediately.

I took her to obedience classes. While all the other students ran to their owners, she visited everyone else and their dogs around the room. I wasn’t even an afterthought.

“Beagles have a heart of gold, but they will not listen. They will follow a scent and forget what is around them completely. They get focused and do not hear. It’s really difficult to train that out of them.”

So I ran down the sidewalk yelling her name, trying to catch her attention during a spring thunderstorm. We never went out the front door, and the people there were looking to buy something listed in the paper.

A neighbor waved at me from his garage as I tried to get closer to her. All of them had seen this happen so many times between the two of us.

She would spend a few moments on one spot of grass and then suddenly zoom away as if triggered by a smell of something she just had to investigate.

It ended the same way every single time. I was now blocks from home, within inches of her, out of breath, and she would realize I was behind her.

“Libby!” I would say for the millionth time, and she would stop.

“You stay.” And she would, now worn out from her half-crazed jaunt.

She wasn’t sitting still out of realizing she had done wrong; she was exhausted and wanted a lift back home.

Curling into a small ball, she would wait until I picked her up to carry her.

I walked back into my house with a dripping wet dog. I peeled off my socks in the kitchen.

“Oh. You caught her,” the lady said, smiling. My hair was dripping into my eyes. One of her teenage boys went through the front door, and Libby charged again, ready to have a second round. I grabbed her before It could happen.

I went over and locked the door. The lady looked at me like I was being rude, locking her son outside.

With a tight grip on the dog, I said,

“Either they stay in the garage or come in the house. I have had my exercise for today.”

I stalked off to find dry towels with her securely in my arms. If given a chance, she would do it all over again. And that lady didn’t get it.

Some would say that an animal can’t control their behavior, such as Libby, who once on a trail had to follow it.

I have met people who have been on that path. It’s operating on no filter and sheer determination to satisfy something that may be a bit out of balance.

During one of my shifts as a shelver at a public library, I was approached by a woman.

“Can you tell me where the adult videos are?” It was a low whisper.

I held a stack of DVDs that I was putting back. I knew what she was asking me, but I decided to pretend I didn’t fully comprehend.

“All of the material for adults is right here. The children’s section is toward the entry.”

I made no eye contact and went back to my task. This was one of those moments when I wished she had gone to the reference desk. I was a lowly shelver, and they were paid and trained to deal with these issues.

“No,” she insisted. This is not what I am looking for. I want movies for adults.”

I held up what I had in my hands.

“These are for adults.”

I was trying to have her give up and walk away. Inwardly, I was screaming for God to help me. I kept my facial expression neutral.

“You don’t seem to understand me,” she retorted. Now she was getting snippy, not realizing I was brushing her off for her good.

“I want movies made for adults only.”

“You are looking right at them,” I said, not budging for the third time.

“I want X-rated movies. Porn! I want porn!” She said this not with an inside voice, and her quest to get what she wanted had overtaken her ability to practice self-control in a public place.

A couple of patrons glanced our way. It was a quiet weeknight, so the crowd was thin, but the older man looking at the history selection looked a bit shocked. I smiled weakly at him. I knew it was part of my job to keep things orderly, and that wasn’t just the books.

My subtle efforts to redirect her had gone unnoticed, so I had to set her straight now. Her drive for something like my beagle escaping was taking her to places she shouldn’t be.

“This is a public library. Are you aware of how the media gets paid for so you and everyone else can come here and check out material for free? Do you know how that system works?”

She blinked when the realization hit her that I was a lot more intelligent than I had come across initially. I didn’t demean her, but with as much professionalism I had within me, I continued to inform her about the ways and means of purchases made so the community at large could enjoy them.

“This is all possible with taxpayer money. Do you think people will sign up to pay for what you are looking for?”

Now she had gone silent. I had killed the mood with talk about taxes. You can pretty much make a room go silent if you start talking about the IRS.

“You aren’t going to find what you are looking for anywhere in this building. Does that make sense?”

She nodded.

“I don’t want to see you wasting your time going from place to place searching for something that doesn’t exist. You will not find that here or at any other locations.”

I was helping her but also sparing other employees from this conversation later.

I kept my voice low and made sure I didn’t make her feel bad. If anyone felt horrible, it was me! I wanted to drop everything and run for the break room. But I fought off my awkwardness to help her understand.

Suddenly, she looked ashamed, mumbled thank you, and walked away.

She just needed someone to put down a boundary to bring clarity.

No one is immune to saying or doing things based on habits or even false ways of thinking. Self-discipline isn’t always at the top of the priority list, and something that starts out innocently can run amuck.

I learned this when I was in elementary school. Every Christmas, my dad would make homemade chip dip. This was the only time of the year that we would have it, and it was my favorite. I basically ate nothing else but that when he brought it out on Christmas Eve. It was like a bowl of an addictive substance I could not leave alone. And every year at midnight, I was violently throwing up.

When I was nine years old, my mom anticipated my upcoming vomit session by addressing me before it hit the table.

“Chris, try not to overeat that this year.” She told me this while he had the mixer going and was in the process of putting it together.

As she gave me this speech, my brother’s girlfriend asked,

“What are you talking about?”

“Chris throws up every year because she overeats chip dip. Every year!” She had to add a sigh like it was the end of the world.

“I will give you a quarter if you don’t get sick this time,” she said.

As the night went by, I thought about the deal struck, and it made me consider my choices. I limited my indulgence. It was my first year that I didn’t have to run for the bathroom in the early hours of Christmas Day. My mother rejoiced and offered me a quarter until my late thirties to ensure I never did it again.

All that was needed was a guideline so I could adjust my actions. While I had to be the guardian of Libby and give assertive instruction to a stranger in the library, I had control over my own fate.

When it gets difficult to see past the addiction or the behaviors that aren’t for your highest good, that’s where God can help. Heaven will come gently to your side and offer assistance so you can advance. It might be in the form of a counselor, a sign that change must occur, or a quarter. In 2 Corinthians 3:17, it says,

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (NIV)

And if you are wondering if God wants to be there for you, read this from Psalm 91,

If you’ll hold on to me for dear life,” says God,
“I’ll get you out of any trouble.
I’ll give you the best of care
if you’ll only get to know and trust me.
Call me, and I’ll answer, be at your side in bad times;
I’ll rescue you, then throw you a party.
I’ll give you a long life.” (Message)

All it takes is realizing that you want better for yourself and a simple prayer. Strength will come to you to get past the situation where you can live at a higher level, with no limitations, never feeling restricted or fenced in.

(Just Say No…)

Illusion

“Do you see the penny?”

“Yes,” I said.

I knew what was coming next because my brothers had shown me this trick repeatedly. The shiny copper piece would be held before my eyes to ensure I watched. The master was performing it, though, and he had taught the three of them how to do it.

“Now watch. I’m going to rub it into my elbow.”

When I think about it now, that’s the most ridiculous thing I could ever imagine falling for. Why not involve his kneecap? What was so magical about his elbow? A magician has to use whatever he can to get his audience to be receptive.

So he would start to move his hand with the coin in it, but he would drop it at least three times to keep my full attention. He would pretend to be clumsy, let it loudly rattle on the table, and have to start the process all over again.

Then, it would totally disappear. The hand it had been in would be empty. He would take the other hand, put it up to my ear and say,

“It’s right here!” And it would materialize out of thin air. I hadn’t felt a thing, so how could that happen? If I had money stashed away that close by, life would have been so much easier.

“Do you want to see it again?” He would ask.

“Yes,” I would say because I thought I had missed something. My dad could do that at least 100 times, and it was like watching it for the first time.

As I got out of my preschool years, I wanted to know how he manipulated it, but he wouldn’t show me. The other day I said,

“Here. Teach me how to do that disappearing thing you used to do.” I handed him a dime.

“What? That’s so ancient! I can’t remember that, Chris.”

“You better. I have waited a long time for you to tell me this. It will come back to you.”

He dropped the dime I had given him multiple times due to his shaky hands, not for the show. But it did all flood into his memory as he went through the motions.

“So you switched hands,” I said. I demonstrated it to him.

“I never showed you how I did that?”

“No.”

“Now it spoils it for you. It takes away the mystery. But now you can baffle people.”

“Baffle, huh? Really? I wouldn’t say anyone would be in awe of that unless they are really naive.”

He laughed.

“But it does take away the secret of it.”

It wasn’t the first time I had been told the truth about something that had seemed so real.

I was led to think that Santa would show up every Christmas Eve. Presents from him would always appear in the living room while I was in the basement. I was the last one of the kids to accept this, and the others never said a word. They let me have the experience just like they had.

I trusted that what I heard was true. I equated Santa with God. So when my mom announced to me on Christmas Eve that he wasn’t real, I thought she was joking. When it became clear that she wasn’t lying to me, I wondered if everything else I had been told was accurate.

It wasn’t difficult to be in a religious organization and lack a closeness with God. And this upsetting news made it easy for me to question everything. It wasn’t that I had been fooled into a myth, it was how I was told and when. The timing of it was not ideal for a seven-year-old.

When unpleasant things happen, you can decide not to repeat history, and that was my goal with my girls. Because of my disappointment long ago, I chose to skip the traditional man in the red suit coming down the chimney. Instead, I always hid a gift that they had to find. Because after all, the element of surprise was the aim. There were a few wrinkles to iron out, however.

I found out that the game of hot and cold was a challenge for my oldest. As she got closer to what she was seeking, and I would say, “You are burning up,” she would suddenly run away as if she were in danger. It took a few times for her to understand that cold wasn’t what she wanted. I had spent years telling her not to touch a hot stove, so that’s where I think the confusion came in. So, we pressed on, and I had to undo some of my parental training so she could find her elusive item.

I made sure to reiterate not to run with scissors, though.

“You are ruining Christmas!” A family member said who learned of my rouge departure from the iconic Christmas character. I got a tongue lashing on how horrible I was for taking away all the ‘fun’ out of the holiday. There was another person nearby who agreed with my stance, but they suddenly lost their ability to speak, so I withstood the beat down.

I didn’t listen. I bought a book that explained the place St. Nicholas took in history as a generous man who made sure that the poor were cared for. I educated my girls to know who he really was, not the one depicted in movies or cartoons.

I told them both to never ruin it for others but keep it to themselves.

“Santa isn’t real,” said my youngest daughter at the age of three, out loud to her friend as they looked at a display at a mall. Before I could clamp my hand over her mouth to stop more from spilling out, her friend said,

“Oh, I know! That’s Santa’s helpers. That isn’t the real Santa, silly!”

There is a God.

I wondered at times if I was damaging them somehow by not adhering to age-old rules. Was I stripping them of something that others were participating in and they were not? There were small indications along the way that I wasn’t completely destroying their childhood.

“I’m buying this so I will get a Nintendo DS.”

My oldest daughter showed me a game that only could be played on that particular handheld device. At the age of twelve, she set the intention and expected it; soon, she got it. She applied her faith, and the money she needed to buy it showed up.

My youngest daughter was sitting on my lap during a magic show when she was four years old. The guy on stage would hold out his hands, and doves would suddenly fly out. I watched as she put her hands together, trying to recreate what he was doing. It was the beginning of her understanding that she could make things appear that hadn’t been there before.

Throughout the years, I tried to model for them what this verse meant from Hebrews 11:1,

What is faith? It is the confident assurance that something we want is going to happen. It is the certainty that what we hope for is waiting for us, even though we cannot see it up ahead. (Living Bible)

During tough times, I would write down what I needed God to do for me. Like a Christmas list, mine had things on it, such as getting the house repainted, the dishwasher fixed, and money for a car repair. I wanted them to understand that prayer doesn’t only operate during a season, but it is always available to stream to us what we need. There were times I had no idea how problems would be solved, but I let them know I was giving it to God, so they could do the same.

The idea that we can ask for help from an entity outside ourselves is prevalent. It seems to have been downloaded right into our DNA.

Instead of having them put their hopes in a legend, I had them look to the One who owns it all and have lifelong, genuine communication with heaven, which is real and not an illusion.

(He is a good second place, though)

Best Gift

When I had to go through my parent’s house and sort through 60 years of possessions, the one thing I would have taken if it still existed would have been the original nativity set.

But, it had long been gone after seeing its days spent in the hands of all the kids. I don’t think one of us didn’t take them out of their places and play with them. By the time I got to them, they were chipped and dented.

With three boys, I can only imagine what they did to those, and they were made out of ceramic. Nothing fragile or plastic was ever safe around them. Many of the things that had survived their childhood path of destruction were barely hanging on.

Like the Monopoly money that was taped together, one of them got so mad that he ripped the fake currency in half. When my mom saw what he had done, she made him piece it all back together. Her purpose was twofold. They probably couldn’t afford to buy a brand new game, and for the rest of time, this temper tantrum would be long remembered so as not to repeat itself. It was a message to all of us that consequences might last forever if we did something once.

Because of his brief tirade, I had to hand over bills with yellowing tape every time I wanted to buy Boardwalk. The question was always asked when I played with friends,

“Why does this look like this?”

I had to explain that one of my brothers had gone crazy momentarily long ago. They would look at me like I was related to a notorious criminal.

My mom told me that one year she and my dad had bought toys for Christmas on credit.

“Before we had it paid off, every single thing we gave them had broken. We never did that again.”

So it was no surprise that the pieces from her nativity were beaten up. When she put them out, they would soon be scattered all over the room. It took mileage to get the wise men from point A to B.

First, Mary and Joseph had to get to the stable, which wasn’t a short jaunt. I had to pack up my tiny Barbie suitcase with clothes for the journey. And the camel that got them there ran on green energy with no fuel emissions, so the going was slow.

If my mom had to vacuum the carpet, that just set back the trip, and I would have to start the process all over again.

I would get the two of them all the way to living room Bethlehem and take them from the couch to a chair, the stereo, the end tables, and finally, the stable that was losing its roofing.

“Chris, I need to dust. You need to leave.”

It never failed! She always thwarted the birth of Jesus.

That meant I would have to start all over again later, and I hadn’t even gotten the wise men on their way yet.

I have a hazy memory from about four, where I pretended to be the Virgin Mary. I had a light blue blanket that I would drape over my head because every movie that depicts her puts her in a blue-colored head covering. I grabbed whatever doll I could find, Raggedy Andy would do, and I would put him under the tree.

My mom had told me that God had sent the world a gift in the form of a baby. In my mind, then, he should be where all the other presents were.

“They were expecting a baby to come, and God surprised them. It was a great plan because no one could figure it out,” she always told me.

I was taught young, growing up Catholic, that Mary was to be worshipped. But as I grew up, I never felt she was any different than anyone else. God just handpicked her because He knew she could accomplish a mission that not many would be able to, and we all can do that.

A lot was expected of her that the world was not going to understand. I can relate as more supernatural events keep on showing up.

Because I was the youngest, I got the job of putting Jesus in the crib on Christmas Eve. My mom would leave him in the box until then. She always made a cake, sang Happy Birthday, and handed me the tiny figure wrapped in a little cloth. If she had put it up high to keep me from moving the pieces, someone had to lift me so I could reach.

I was the only one of the six who had the longest record of having this assignment. With them all so close in age and as an outlier, I had no one to compete with. I begged for a younger sibling, but she always said,

“You will have to wait for someone else in the family to have a baby someday.”

I thought she was being mean to me, not realizing she was past 40, and all of her patience was long gone.

And so was mine when her house had been left in disarray without a single thought of who would have to deal with it. They lived like death didn’t exist; I don’t recommend doing that to your children.

I had started working on it in June, and by October, it was listed. Just before that, my daughter and I went back over, which we had been doing daily.

All of the Christmas decorations were long gone, but in the middle of one of the rooms was a handmade ornament with my mom’s name on it. There was absolutely no reason for that to be there, with all of that having been removed months before. Just like a little thank you note.

It had become her way of getting my attention during that time so I wouldn’t forget that she was still around. She let me know that just because I couldn’t see her didn’t mean that she wasn’t still alive.

In the first year of her moving on to heaven, I wrote daily passages. I would get a vision of her sitting at a table, and she would put on a pair of glasses.

I wondered why she wore glasses in heaven, and I was made aware that it symbolized wisdom and that I was about to learn something. I knew I was to start writing, and it wasn’t the greatest to see that while I was driving. Her timing wasn’t always the best.

When I go back and read some of the passages from two years ago, I see a subtle warning about an upcoming pandemic, encouraging words on how to stay strong in the face of adversity, and a lot of details of her heavenly home. Basically, she reiterates a truth to me repeatedly. God loves humanity. In this entry from my journal on June 5th, 2019, I was having one of these learning sessions:

“Chris, God is God. People can make Him into whatever they want, but He is the Creator. And there are no shifting shadows in Him. The spin that the world puts on Him is nonsense and makes no difference. God longs to come and be in communion with His creation. The pain you see in the world, the confusion and the self hatred is lack of communion with God. When His love floods the body and the mind, all these things will flee.”

It fits right in with John 3:16, where we are told that God loves the world.

I try to keep that in mind as I am given reasons to hate it more and more. But it must not show because people are drawn to His presence like a magnet.

I continually have people smile at me when I walk through stores; some say hi, some want to know where the soup aisle is, and others want to tell me their life stories. Like the guy who saw me put back something, I was considering buying as an ingredient.

“You really didn’t want that anyway,” he said.

This is how it always starts. I’m minding my own business, and someone appears.

“I love my grandchildren, and I am getting them candy before I go see them.”

He started grabbing boxes and examining others, trying to decide what they would like best. He chatted on about anything he could think of while I kept trying to find something on my list.

He explained to me that his car wasn’t working right; he and his son had to fix it.

“The tires are shot. You know what I wish?”

“No. What.” It could be anything.

“I wish I could ride a horse everywhere I go, and that would be great.” And, he kept right on looking for what he wanted.

I laughed. Where did he come from, and why?

“I love horses. And they are more reliable than driving a car. I got to spend ten days on a ranch, and I wish I could go back, and I want a horse. That’s all I need.”

“I think you are going to need a lot of money for food and vet bills.”

“Ya, that might be more expensive.”

He talked about his kids, his job, and everything that was going right in his life. He was a fountain of positivity. And as fast as he appeared, he said goodbye to me.

As I drove home, I heard: It’s not all bad. See? I just showed you that. That man is happy even when things aren’t going right with his car. He found other things to be grateful for, which will keep him going through all that is ahead of him a lot easier.

God can be straightforward like that and not complicated at all. So keep an eye out for those encounters that offset the negative.

When you need encouragement from heaven, and it arrives in a way that you weren’t looking for, that is the best gift.

Simple