King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It is considered theft.”

Hypocrisy at its highest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She immediately vaporized in the hall.

“How did it go?”

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

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

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

Her life stressors didn’t excuse her brutality.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further in verses 25-29,

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

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

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

Thirst

We all have that one cupboard or drawer, or maybe several of them that we approach with caution. It might even be a closet that holds more than its capacity. You know you have put way too much into it, and you only have yourself to blame when you are subjected to the avalanche that ensues.

The accumulation of plastic containers and lids is one of them. This is where I go and search for two matching pieces and never can find them. They have gotten a divorce and parted ways somehow, even though I paired them only days ago after washing them. I end up looking at every single piece and usually have to put two mismatched ones together just to have a place to put leftovers.

When I move one, there is always another one stuck to that, and when I attempt to shove that one out of the way, two more join forces and try to fall to the floor.

Usually, I am standing on the counter, trying to block the whole shelf of them from getting by me. If one goes, they all will, so it takes a careful hand when shuffling them around. If not, it’s like watching a waterfall, and you just let it happen because it’s a no-win situation. I end up cramming a rectangle lid onto a square shape and call it a day.

Worse than that is the space that houses all of my spices. I have learned not to yank open the door by trial and error because I never know what will come flying out at me. It’s not fun to be knocked between the eyes with an enormous container of seasoned salt. It hurts.

The best way to approach it is to move slowly, and if I see one starting to tumble down, I can use the door as a defense shield to control the onslaught. It gives me a chance to catch them one at a time.

The trouble started long ago when I would go to the store and never recall having a specific one at home. If I needed it and didn’t know if I had it, instead of chancing it, I would buy another one.

That is why I own 10,000 bottles of garlic powder now. If vampires attack, they won’t know what hit them.

“Where is the oregano?” I ask when I am exhausted from wading through all the choices. My daughter has this insight to find what I need, no matter what a mess it is.

“It is on the second shelf toward the back,” she will say from the other room. And sure enough, when I look in the location she speaks of, I find it. Spiritual gifts come in many forms. The Bible says to cast your cares on God, so it counts.

Then comes the process of trying to stack them all on one another so I can walk away peacefully. Because some of them are bigger than others, it’s a puzzle, and if one of them falls, it’s a domino effect that sets me back a while. That box of toothpicks you decided to throw in there for fun, also is not your friend as it empties itself like an offering.

Before I have to make something, and if I remember, I will put the ones aside that I need so I don’t have to go through the hunt. That usually works out well unless someone comes along looking for what they need and rearranges everything. My cinnamon is now long gone into the abyss, replaced by paprika. You don’t dare just grab and go without reading the label, or a disaster awaits. You can easily measure out pepper, thinking you are working with poppyseeds. It’s not a good exchange.

Not long ago, we decided to go through the entire cupboard and toss the ones that had expired. It was so out of control. I thought for sure we had conquered it, but then in less than a month, it was jam-packed.

Have you ever heard of the phrase: Nature abhors a vacuum? This was something that Aristotle observed and said to mean that if there is a space, it will soon be filled, as this is how the laws of nature operate. This theory is clearly at work.

God expanded on this. Instead of seeing it as too much, I started to see it as abundance. While I really could stop this horrible habit of overstocking, it also shows me that we do not live in lack.

I grew up with the mindset of not having enough. This was a prevalent idea based on the statement that ‘money was the root of all evil.’ But, here is what that scripture says,

“For the love of money is the first step toward all kinds of sin. Some people have even turned away from God because of their love for it, and as a result have pierced themselves with many sorrows.” (1 Timothy 6:10 TLB)

It was assumed that if a person had money, they would lose their faith and relationship with God. When that is implanted in your belief system at a young age, you believe that you have to carefully keep yourself from slipping over the edge where material possessions become more important than God.

There was no balance to it, so there is this hidden operating system going on within a person’s subconscious mind where finances must be repelled or mishandled. Maybe you get yourself in and out of debt repeatedly. Or, if extra comes your way, you have to try and get rid of it as soon as possible by spending it. Another possibility is the notion that you deserve nothing, so you live with a poverty outlook.

You aren’t managing money, it is running you.

Several years ago, I started waking up to the fact that I was instructed totally wrong on this subject. God began to have me take notice of nature and all the things around me that had been created. Nothing is lacking or in short supply.

Every tree on my street had too many leaves to count. The same went for all the blades of grass on the lawns. In the winter, the snow piling up reminded me that we were not living without plenty as I tried to move it out of the way so I could get my car out of the driveway. When a couple of flakes got together, it would create an impassable mountain in no time.

In the spring, the weeds and dandelions were a representation of excess. When I walked along a beach, the grains of sand and the vast ocean spoke to the surplus of what surrounds us all the time.

There is no good reason to believe that we will go without when God is in charge. We don’t need to exist in scarcity. If we do, don’t blame the Creator because there is proof that this is a lie.

What stops it, then? Why does there seem to be not enough? Because we have fallen for the falsehood that there isn’t an overflow. Somewhere along the way, we were convinced that we had to scrounge to get what we wanted. It all goes back to what you think.

I saw a movie recently where a man went into the family business even though he had been reluctant to. He became a cold-hearted, ruthless person. We are made to assume that the increase did this to him, so the intention is to send a message to audiences that this can happen to anyone at any time.

When Jesus healed some men that were blind, He said:

“Become what you believe.” It happened. They saw. (Matthew 9:29/Message)

If you transform into what you believe, then you live it. If you think money will make you greedy, and you are a good person, you will block God from bringing in all that He wants to. If you already have miserly ways in your heart, that will be the outcome. It’s not the provision that creates it.

In Psalm 84:11, there is comfort given for those of us who think we are going to become changed by what the world has to offer,

The Lord God is our protector and glorious king. He blesses us with kindness and honor. The Lord freely gives every good thing to those who do what is right. (ERV)

From this, you will become an excellent example to those around you. Many just like you think they cannot have it better because they have absorbed it into their minds. When you know that God is your source, and you are excelling, people will want to know how you stay so calm when there are tidings of bad news daily. The stock market might crash, and then it might not. The gas prices might go up, and what if food becomes so outrageously expensive that you starve? Come to my house. I have some garlic powder I can share if things get tough.

How do you possibly have this reassurance that everything will go your way? Because you trust God. And when you do, you can help others rely on this as well. They can cast aside their anxiety and fears, and soon, others are following the same path.

Have you ever gone to put a sprinkle of seasoning on something, and you aren’t sure how much came out, but you decide to live dangerously and taste it anyway? And you need to hang your head under the faucet running full blast because it’s burning your tongue off? Neither have I.

“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth.”(Matthew 5:13-14/Message)

If we get ourselves in order and are willing to rethink what we thought we knew, others will ultimately be led to wholeness. You will make them want to pursue the steady peace that you possess in the chaos, and it will bring on an unstoppable thirst.

(I forgot all about the candles..)

Dark Path

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If your eyes are still functioning. 

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

Because it’s pretty.  

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

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

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

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

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

The young mom said,

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

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

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

I had read this in the book of James,

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

I didn’t want my faith to be dead. 

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

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

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

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)

Small Stuff

Going into the building was the last thing I wanted to do. So many changes were happening at once, but I was moving forward, trying to make life seem normal after the wreckage.

I was newly divorced with two young girls, one eight and the other barely thirteen. It was up to me to make sure they saw me as confident because I felt enough damage had already been done.

I had a mix of emotions, from guilt, fear to relief. It was as if I would circle through those repeatedly, never really staying secure at any given moment. I expected bad news to come all the time.

My lawyer had me complete paperwork to apply for medical assistance through the state. I had a family member make sure to tell me I was on “welfare,” which disturbed me. It was stated in a way to let me know that I had fallen to a level of low that they for sure never would.

I had difficulty believing I was relying on taxpayer money to live. It brought me so much shame that even with “free” healthcare provided, I rarely went to see a doctor, even if I was deathly ill. And during this time of high stress and negative thinking, I was sick a lot.

I chose not to accept food stamps, which seemed like I totally hadn’t plunged into darkness. It gave me a shred of hope that I could at least buy food and household items without it being a handout. The comment by my relative had bothered me so much that I brought it up to the therapist I was seeing. I had been given a court order to attend counseling sessions, so the girls and I complied.

The therapist’s response was,

“I would gladly pay for you to get back on your feet again. For you and your girls.”

I never forgot the remark that was made to me because it was cruel, but it also made me see how far I had come to understand all of this where before I hadn’t.

If someone mentioned that their marriage was over, I used to let it go in one ear and out the other. I had absolutely no understanding of the pain involved, so I stood silently by. But after mine, I was able to ask questions, understand, and put myself in that person’s shoes. I wanted details so I could help if I could.

I realized that the demeaning comment that was made was from ignorance.

I had to deliver the applications to the office building following legal advice. I waited in a room with countless others who all had the same dead look in their eyes. Many had small children with them while others were like me, sitting with a number in hand and a packet in the other.

A few floors down, there was a community food shelf that my dad volunteered for. Every Friday, he would get up early and drive to various grocery stores to pick up boxes and donations. He would then drop them off and go to work handing out items to those in need. He knew I was struggling mentally with all of this, so he would pull up into my driveway and carry in what had been left after every one of his shifts.

“I just brought you a few things,” he would say to get past my objection.

Because my kids were so happy to see him, I allowed him to help me. But, I hated that I was in this situation, to begin with. It took a while for gratitude to replace my low feelings.

Because money had been so scarce, I had even cut back on what I ate; It was a form of self-punishment for being one half of a failed equation. I felt like I deserved nothing good, and the girls were innocent victims, so I wanted everything to go to them.

I worked three jobs, home-schooled, and felt like I was living in hell. All the outdoor work was mine to contend with, from raking, mowing, and snow removal. I couldn’t afford to hire anyone, so I had to learn quickly.

When they wanted lights on the house for Christmas, I got on a ladder and did it myself.

I had asked for help from someone who knew how, but instead of coming over and showing me what to do, he tried to explain it over the phone. This was not helpful at all. It reminded me of this verse, 1 John 3:17:

If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love? It disappears. And you made it disappear. (Message)

It sent the message to me that I wasn’t worth the time.

I went to church, prayed, read my Bible, and taught various children’s classes, but I was fighting off panic attacks, sleepless nights and felt dread as if something terrible could happen at any moment. Yet, I slapped a smile on and pretended that all was well.

Somehow, a friend convinced me to go in to have a physical. I think she could see the stress wearing on me.

“If something happens to you, what would happen to your kids?”

Because I solely existed for them, I listened and went in. A few days later, I received a phone call.

“The results of your mammogram show something abnormal on your left side. We need you to schedule a follow-up appointment so we can run more tests.”

The next phone call was from a support counselor.

“Are you afraid of getting a cancer diagnosis?“

“No,” I said. And I meant it. I was so numb and worn out from all the turmoil of my life, I didn’t care anymore.

“Are you sure you aren’t worried?” I didn’t have any of it left.

“No,” I repeated. “God will help me. Whatever the outcome, I will be okay.”

I could say all the right things robotically, but I didn’t trust God altogether because of all the bad that had come my way.

A few weeks later, I was in another waiting room with a lady who had the same appearance as what I had seen in the financial assistance office. It was the look of dejection and uncertainty. The person with her tried to cheer her up, but she kept crying. When her name was called, she slowly got up, slumped shoulders, and went off to find out her fate.

Usually, that would have made me afraid, but I wasn’t. When you don’t care anymore, fear can’t even find you.

“We saw a shadow on the left.” The room was dark and only lit by the machine. “We want to do a test that will give us a sharper image,” the technician said.

As she went through various procedures, she asked me about my life. So I told her everything. All of it. It poured out of me without any emotional upheaval.

She stood back from me for a minute and said,

“Do you know how strong you are? Do you see that in yourself?”

“No,” I said.

“You are so strong. I have never met someone as strong as you.”

And, yet, I felt alone and weak.

When she said “strong,” I instantly saw my youngest daughter hugging me. When the breakdown of our family began, she would run up to me, throw herself around my waist and not let me move. No matter how I tried to get away from her, she would hold me in place, and she would say over and over,

“Mom, you are strong.” This little eight-year-old child was the voice of God, and I hadn’t even realized it.

The results came back that nothing was out of the ordinary, so I was spared.

Many more trials have come since then, and most not pleasant; however, I have learned in each instance. And I have seen the faithfulness of God.

The other day, when I said something out loud that was bothering me, the same girl who told me I was strong 15 years ago looked at me and said,

“Mother, you hear from heaven! Why would you even worry about this?”

She’s right. Sometimes we don’t see in ourselves what others can, and a reminder is necessary. God can bring that to you when you need it most. Even in a coffee shop.

I was with my oldest daughter at a mall, and to our surprise, all drinks, no matter the size, were $1.00.

So I let her pay. On the wall, we saw a row of pins hanging. A guy who worked there said,

“Take one. They are complementary.”

I chose the one that has been my lesson while here on earth. The enormity of a problem is only as much as you worry about it.

When you put it into God’s hands, you become an observer, as you watch heaven take over and transform it, you stress less about the small stuff.

Crown

I knew something was off when I felt a burning feeling across my gums. It didn’t stop there. A headache was beginning on both sides of my skull. My alarm went off, so I had no choice but to fully come into consciousness and deal with the harshness of what this morning was about to bring.

I had braces put on the day before, and while I slept, my memory erased it. I briefly thought it would be like any of my other days. I had no idea what was ahead.

My teeth felt hot, and if they would touch, it felt like electrical shocks, but I didn’t want to look like a monster with my mouth open all day. As each bracket was cemented on, the orthodontist said I might experience some discomfort the next day. His idea of that and mine was light-years apart. This was excruciating.

Pain reliever helped somewhat, but it did nothing for the metal that was scraping the inside of my mouth. I had been given soft pieces of wax to rip off and mold over the places where it was causing the most damage. That pretty much was every square inch.

I had a job as a social worker that demanded I speak, so it wasn’t like I could hide by myself in a cubicle and keep my mouth closed. I had to talk to staff, residents, and families all day long. The protective coating was melty, so it appeared I was drooling like a lunatic.

That was only the first day of many more to come.

The rubber band phase was even worse. I had hooks installed on my top and bottom teeth that I had to stretch bands across. They tended to disengage at the most inopportune times. It wasn’t uncommon for me to be in the middle of a serious discussion at a care conference and have one of them launch itself straight at a family member across from me. It was awkward to be discussing the poor oral hygiene of a resident and as if on cue, have my band go flying.

One man had to dodge it from hitting him in the eye. And that was just because I smiled at him. I said I was sorry a lot during that time of my life.

Everything I ate, I had to cut into pieces. Biting into an apple would have snapped off hardware, and I was told to stay away from anything sticky completely.

Every small change that was made brought on more adjusting. I had started out trying to solve a tooth problem that was slightly behind the rest on the bottom toward the front. I had put up with it for years, but I knew getting treatment was expensive.

Instead of putting that financial burden on my parents, I waited until my mid-twenties to get it resolved. There were many appointments starting with a cast made of my mouth. There were tightenings and band replacements as I went through nearly two years of being a cyborg.

Getting them off was another long appointment that led to being fitted for the retainer.

“You have to wear this twenty-four hours a day,” I was told.

On the bottom, he fastened a little permanent bar to stop shifting from occurring and clicked in a molded replica of the upper part of my mouth.

“How does that feel?” he asked.

“Gwait,” I said, now speaking in a foreign tongue.

Every phone call I had to take at work was a challenge. The tip of my tongue clashed with the plastic making my words sound distorted. I didn’t even understand me.

“This isth Quistine. Thoscial thersevice.” The actual words: This is Christine. Social Service.

I was required to say this at the beginning of every call, or the administrator would have a heart attack. She had rigorous protocols whether or not a person had a temporary speech impediment.

If I had removed my retainer every time I spoke, I would never have had it in my mouth. So I adapted and wore it. Soon, my speech became normal. It’s incredible how that happens when it seems like all hope is lost at first.

One of the long-term effects of straightening my teeth was it caused them to be weak. My treatment was done at a time when technology and procedures weren’t as advanced as now.

My daughters both have gone through the same experience as me, but much more manageable. The dentist I had them see also did their braces, and I became his patient.

“I am going to put a patch on this tooth,” he said to me. “This could break at lunch tomorrow, and you will need a permanent solution.”

It lasted ten years until it didn’t a few weeks ago. It seems everything that can cause trouble happens on a Friday night after ten p.m. when no help is available. And that’s when I crunched into a piece of popcorn.

Looking into the mirror, I saw that his work had come undone. The following week, I was in a chair for a cleaning and check. When I told the hygienist what had happened, she came forth quickly with information like an encyclopedia.

“I need to take your blood pressure,” she said, putting a watch-like band on my wrist. Gone are the days of the cuff on the arm and the air pumping that leads to your bicep being squeezed.

She had me hold out my arm, and she fastened it, hitting a start button. I could clearly see the numbers.

“So with that tooth, he is going to have to remove it completely. You will probably need an implant. My mom just had her tooth pulled for the same thing yesterday. Sorry.”

I kept watching my numbers climb. Her timing was terrible for delivering bad news while she was checking the rate at which my heart was beating. But, oddly, I felt peaceful. I had that happen before where I wasn’t panicked during a highly stressful situation but felt a calm come over me. Like what is described in Philippians 4:7,

Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. (NLT)

After she went through the cleaning, he appeared and said that a root canal was necessary and then the application of a crown. My tooth would not be pulled as she had said.

My biggest worry was that he would lecture me on not having been in to see him for a while. He didn’t do that at all. The rest of my teeth were perfect.

“You had braces, right?”

“Yes. A long time ago.”

“But not by me.” He said it could have happened anytime whether I had been in or not.

“I’m just glad you are back. I love you and your girls. You guys are great.”

I thought there was going to be chastisement for my lack of care for myself. And that’s really what it had been. I kept putting it off because I put myself last as unimportant. In addition, the longer time went on in between visits, the more fearful I became. I never asked God’s advice. I just let myself slip into a wrong way of living, and I had mixed up a cocktail of fear and guilt. But, none of what I thought was going to happen ever did.

Instead, I was met with kindness, and he went to work repairing the damage.

That is the nature of God. Once you stop running away and making excuses, you will find that there is grace waiting. Many don’t do this, though, for fear of retribution. What if I had been met with a harsh response? Would I have died? No. The issue would have been resolved anyway. I would have been momentarily uncomfortable facing my disregard for my health, but it was the truth. I hadn’t kept up with my six-month checks as I should have. He had every right to put me in my place.

But he didn’t. Because he wants me to keep coming back. A good dentist and God operate that way. That’s wisdom and how fitting that this can be found in Proverbs 4:7-9,

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a graceful garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.”(NLT)

(Next up..the castle)

Burn Out

It all starts with a simple sentence, spoken by one of the three of us, that causes time to slip away as if we have been abducted by aliens.

“Look at this candle.”

That always begins a session of smelling, comparing, discerning, deciphering, and sometimes gagging as we go along the shelves searching for the perfect one. And just because it is displayed in an attractive jar does not mean that is the pick. We have specific criteria that have to be met.

Not too floral. Not too much like a dirty sock that hasn’t seen a washing machine in years. Not the scent of a deceased relative’s musky perfume. Not anything that resembles something forgotten in the fridge for a while. Or an armpit in need of deodorant.

There’s a whole section to be avoided at all costs. The enticing aroma of cinnamon rolls, sugar cookies, or salted caramel needs to be handled with discipline. If those get lit, we all become ravenously hungry, causing a storm of binge eating and wanting to bake. Anything with the word “grandma” on it usually means something associated with a calorie-laden concoction that will lead us down a diabolical path.

We have rigorous standards, and sometimes none of them meet the requirements. When the sneezing starts and the sinus cavity is burning, it’s time to stop.

We have fallen prey to purchasing specific ones online that, once burned to a certain point, a small jewel is exposed. Just like the lottery, it could be worth millions. So far, not.

On the more conventional side, those once burned can be converted into a wine glass. While the candle is a long-forgotten memory, the jar can be used until it gets knocked off the counter shattering into a thousand shards of glass, and you wish you were not barefoot right then.

“Put a light in every room so you are aware of my presence.”

This was at a time when life was at its height of uncertainty. I was not sleeping, eating very little, and worrying about everything. I told a counselor who I was seeing at the time that I felt like I had jumped out of an airplane and was in a free fall every day, anticipating a crash into the ground.

Panic attacks came out of nowhere as I tried to regain some normalcy even though God remained with me. The shadows would descend, leaving me unable to breathe and wanting to die. When I would return to reality, I would beat myself up for not having enough faith.

So when the simple message came to me while I wrote in my journal, I knew that God was sending me an answer.

I had very little extra money, so I had to find a way to buy inexpensive candles for every room. We had some, but I needed more, and I couldn’t afford to purchase the high-end kind made with exotic ingredients. My existence had become low-budget.

The dollar store was my best friend for things such as this. I placed tall, white, unscented candles throughout my house to remind me that I wasn’t alone. I was aware of them enough to have my daughters help me blow them out at night or when we left, but I often forgot about them until I would come across one burning brightly. This would instantly ground me in the fact that I was protected and God was in charge.

“Help! Oh, no!”

I heard this from the bathroom. That is never my favorite thing, and I must have been out of energy because I did not jump up as usual. When your child yells for you, particularly from that part of the house, you dread what will be asked of you.

“Mom!”

I looked at my older daughter, and she looked back at me. I did not budge. Neither did she.

“Help!” came another plea.

I couldn’t handle another thing.

“What is going on in there?”I said to the one staring at me. She got up to investigate and cautiously opened the door.

I watched the expression on her face go from neutral to horrified in a millisecond. She kept cringing and flinching, not saying a word.

“What is going on?” Now I was on high alert just because of her body language.

“There’s a fire,” she said, staring blankly forward.

“What?!”

Now I was on my feet.

“The rug is on fire.”

My youngest daughter, fully clothed, was standing on the toilet seat, trying to avoid the potential raging inferno going on below her. She had decided to wave a piece of toilet paper over the open flame for fun, thinking she could flirt with fate. When it caught ablaze, she threw it toward the floor onto the rug, setting off a more significant problem.

I quickly threw water on it, and from that moment on, the bathroom went without God’s presence.

While flames can be beautiful, I have seen them get out of hand. My dad demonstrated this quite professionally.

My parents had gotten a fireplace built into their basement when I was twelve. My mom was in seventh heaven, while he wasn’t so much enamored because he had to put in all the work.

“I want you to make a fire,” she would say, and his whole countenance would immediately drop.

This meant his evening would be spent building it, messing with the damper, and keeping it going. For him, it was a chore, and it would infringe on his time to not exert himself.

I knew he hated every minute of it, not only because of the effort but because he wasn’t totally confident in his abilities. A night of tranquility would take a turn when all was going well, and then the smoke would be pouring into the room out of his control.

There would be “why” questions from her, all the lights turned on, and swear words flowing from him.

One Sunday afternoon, I came home from ice skating, and the minute I walked in, I could smell burnt wood. My mom was in her room reading, so I surmised he must have attempted to learn how to use it better during daylight.

The dark haze burnt my eyes the minute I started going down the stairs. It appeared that no one was there through the heavy air, but then I saw him lying on the floor as if he had suffered from smoke inhalation.

They say where there is smoke, there is fire. In his case, there were barely glowing embers.

He was sound asleep just below the thick fog. Now the hard decision. To wake or not to wake. He never liked it when his nap was interrupted, but I threw all caution to the wind.

“Dad!” I said. Nothing. “Dad!”

Still no response. I had seen him sleep like this many times, so I knew he had not died.

I shook his shoulder.

“Wake up!”

“Chris! What do you want!” Yelling before his eyes were even open.

“The room is full of smoke.”

He blinked, trying to see me.

“You need to get up.”

Now I knew first hand the misery my mom went through every morning trying to catapult him out of bed for work.

He looked at me like I was a ghost materializing out of a mist. He committed to sitting halfway, came to, and suddenly realized that he had made a fire. That’s when the swearing started, and I left to do my homework.

The final straw came when the entire family was over, and he started a fire outside the fireplace. He always used a small propane torch to get it started. He set it aside, not realizing it was still on. While he frantically poked and stirred up the kindling, a vase filled with dry, ugly weeds that she thought were decorative went up in seconds. He was oblivious while everyone yelled to get his attention.

That was one of the last fires I ever saw him attempt; he was over it.

Our walk with God can be just as contentious. A burning light in every space in my house brought me peace, but the same element made my dad highly frustrated. When things start to go wrong, it’s easy for some to turn on the One who would offer the most help. But it’s vital to remember 1 John 1:5:

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him, there is no darkness at all. (NIV)

When you start to believe that God isn’t on your side or has your best interests in mind, that is when resentment or distrust can begin to take hold. And the lie has to be dismantled.

Romans 8:28 states:

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (NLT)

When you find yourself feeling as if all things familiar seem out of control, apply this: 1 Peter 5:7:

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (NIV)

Instead of carrying the weight of what seems like a burden, give it to God, so you can go on being a glowing lantern in the world and never burn out.

Remaining To Be Seen

How many times did I have to hear her tell this story? It was ingrained in my mind, and I didn’t fully believe it. It would come out of nowhere, and it made me uncomfortable sometimes because it gave off the idea that I was “special.” I didn’t want to be perceived as that.

“Your dad thought you were going to be a boy, and I knew we were going to have another girl.”

This is how the soliloquy always started. She would get this far-off look and go back in time.

“We chose your name because we knew we could go either way with it, and you were destined to either be a Christine or a Christopher.”

When I started printing my name, I realized the first part looked like a major holiday. She displayed all of the cards after getting them in the mail. I took one of them to her and said,

“Is Christmas named after me?”

I pointed out the first five letters. If she said yes, my life at six years old was about to change for the better.

“No. It’s named after Christ and not Christine.”

What a major disappointment!

“The “mas” part means mass. So together, it means Christ’s Mass, and to celebrate his birth.”

This is why I was at church on Christmas Eve at midnight, trying not to fall asleep. I would never make kids do that if it was named after me. There would have been one present after another, candy and no school, ever for the rest of our lives. Instead, it was a hot environment with lung-burning incense and words spoken in Latin in low monotone voices. That was a tranquilizer right there.

“Your dad was so sure that you were going to be a boy that he went out and bought a set of infant pajamas that said little slugger on them. He wanted a boy to play baseball.”

Somehow his wish was granted. I played softball for eight years, and he was at every single game.

He was so accustomed to having three sons ahead of me; he tried to lure me into the fold. I think he secretly wanted to outnumber the girls and get an advantage over my mother.

If I didn’t want to eat something, he would look at me and say,

“Chris, eat that! It will put hair on your chest!”

“John! Don’t tell her that! She really won’t eat it now!”

She was right because I visualized everything. I was not about to leave that table looking like a gorilla because he convinced me to eat beets. No way.

I watched every football game with him, and he always had me open the numbers that he had bought at the office.

“Open these, Chris. You have better luck than I do.”

It never made sense to me, but I took the paper that was sealed and opened it. He always won some small amount based on the score, and I recall two zeros won him $50.

“Here. Sip the foam.”

He would hand me his mug of beer. I absolutely hated the taste, but it was his, so I slurped as he said to.

It was an indoctrination to tip the scales in his favor.

“The day I went into labor with you, he took his time. I told him we had to go, and he made himself a cup of coffee, took a long shower, slowly shaved every hair off his face, and had breakfast. I kept telling him to hurry up. He thought it would be like the other five. A long, laborious process and him sitting in a waiting room. I told him it wouldn’t be that way this time.”

The nurse had gotten her into the room and settled.

“I think you should call the doctor right away,” she said.

“Oh, it will be a while.” I will be back to check on you in a little bit.”

“That was so frustrating not to have anyone listen to me. I knew it was going to happen fast.”

She pushed her call light, and when the nurse appeared again, she insisted.

“You need to get the doctor now!”

The nurse saw that my mom was right and ran to get help.

“The obstetrician slid into the room and caught you at the last second. And then the moment came!”

This is when the story always took a higher, dramatic turn.

“I told your dad that I didn’t enjoy looking into a baby’s eyes because they never looked back at me. It was like a blank slate with nothing there. But not you! You looked at me, and I said…look! She has an understanding of things, and she came here with knowledge, and God sent her here with a message.”

I didn’t fully believe her recounting of this because she also went around telling everyone I had blue eyes way past the point of it being a possibility. She desperately wanted one of her children to have my dad’s colored eyes, but her predominant brown always won out.

“I never got my blue-eyed child! Actually, his eyes can be blue sometimes and switch to green. I would have taken either one.”

I innocently asked him once,

“Why do your eyes change color?”

“They are green when I have money and blue when I don’t.”

I believed him, so I always looked at him closely before executing my begging session for spare change.

“You had something that no other infant I held ever had. Instead of a dark void, you were born with wisdom, Chris.”

She had seen her fair share of dealing with births, from her own to those she assisted with as an RN.

In later years, I searched the meaning of my name and found out it means “follower of Christ.” She knew what she was doing, sealing my association with God.

She also gave me this piece of advice,

“You can always tell what’s going on with a person by looking them in the eye.”

Her words came to life for me recently when I was at a restaurant with a friend. She travels with her small dog everywhere she goes, and she puts her in a high chair. The staff at this particular place think something is wrong if she doesn’t show up with her pet. Not a single patron took offense, and everyone who looked our way would smile brightly.

We had been there for a while, and a lady on her way out stopped.

“That is the cutest thing I have ever seen!”

Then, she broke down crying.

“I had to put my beagle down a few months ago.”

She was so overcome with grief we had her pull up a chair. She told us that her significant other of twenty years had died unexpectedly in March. He was driving his semi-truck, and an autopsy later showed he had suffered a blood clot to the brain, killing him instantly. A man saw what was happening and took control of the truck, and called for help.

I found out she was in her mid-70s, while he had been 64 and one year away from retirement.

“Do you feel his presence?” I asked.

She wasn’t drawn to us to just admire the dog.

“Not really. I miss him terribly.”

Her pain was so severe, and I felt a crushing pain in my chest. She felt as if her life was turned upside down financially, and fear gripped her regarding how she would take care of a house all by herself. As she spoke of all of her worries, she cried harder.

I knew this type of fear, not from death but from a divorce. Except she was much older than I had been when my unexpected adjustment arrived.

“He’s standing right here. I can see him, and he isn’t gone.” I tried to break past her pain for just a second.

I start to feel like I’m saying the same thing to different people, but this is how it seems to be. Those who have gone on stand near or behind those to who they are connected to. This seemed to calm her down a bit.

“I do feel him sometimes on the side you say he is.”

“What about lights? Mine used to get clicked on and off when my mom first wanted my attention. I would suddenly be sitting in a dark room, and then they would blink back on. Does that happen to you?”

“Oh. Yes. I have a lamp that does that all the time.”

“That’s him. He’s trying to tell you that he is around. And I know you have to grieve, but try to take yourself out of it for a little bit. When you feel happy, that is the frequency he is on. Heaven isn’t on anything but joy.”

“I kept seeing a cardinal in my daughter’s yard all last summer, and it would come to sit by me. Do you know about what is said about that?”

Do I know about the symbols of cardinals showing up to represent a message from heaven? Definitely.

“Yes. I know about that a lot. So, you said at first you didn’t feel his presence, but you do. He isn’t gone from you at all. You miss the physical part of who he was, but if you can feel his presence, it will help you heal. It will help you overcome the loneliness.”

I took her hand and asked God to have her start seeing what I could.

By the time she said goodbye to us, I saw her smile reach her eyes. I was witnessing Psalm 147:3 in action:

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (NIV)

“I’m so glad I met you both,” she said on her way out. There wasn’t a trace of one tear because I helped her realize this from Psalm 32:8 that says:

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. (NIV)

They say that the eyes are the window to the soul. When you allow God to take over your life completely, all else will fall to the wayside and that will be the only thing remaining to be seen.

I still think it should have been named after me…

Watched Over

Throughout the years, I have tried to heal my relationship issues with money. I have attempted to keep gratitude journals where I have been known to write: Nothing bad happened today.

I saw this as a good thing to be thankful for, as simple as it was.

Another thing I did was I started writing thank you on the back of every payment I sent out. It reminded me I was paying someone’s wage to help them afford their mortgage or meals for their kids. I even sent my regards to the IRS when I mailed in my quarterly estimated taxes. I drew a smile on the envelope to add to the positivity. Did I mean it? I am not sure, but they say if you do the action, the feelings might show up later.

I have done money drops where I would take cash and encouraging notes and place them for the unsuspecting to find. I stuffed them into diaper boxes at the store, left them in bathroom stalls at the airport and in books at the library.

While all that was fun, it still didn’t do much to reverse this lack mindset that had been ingrained in me since childhood, where money was the root of all evil. If anything good came my way, it was pure luck and not to expect anything.

I recall at age seven opening a birthday card with money and saying to my mom in front of a relative,

“You can’t use this for new socks this time!”

I was catching on to what the green bills meant and how they were being taken away from me. I remember she looked slightly embarrassed. I was always challenging her frugal approach to life. Something inside of me knew that her view of things was slightly off.

When she was making her grocery list one day, I said I wanted something.

“It’s not on my list, Chris.”

She had her head down, writing out this massive novel of needed items. I didn’t understand the tight rope she was on trying to make it all work. I was tired of this worn out answer she always gave me.

“Just put it on your list,” I said, thinking this was the most brilliant idea that she had never thought of.

She looked at me and started laughing. That was not the response I was hoping for, so I one-upped her and scribbled out what I wanted onto her overloaded piece of paper when she left it unattended.

“Here,” she said to my shock while she handed me the item after she returned from the store. She hid her list after that.

If I had holes in my clothes, which was inevitable because they were never new, she would stitch them or put a patch on them. She taught me to wear something until it literally fell off my body and was paper-thin from the wash.

The message was continually sent that we could not afford anything, so get used to it. After years of that, it’s no wonder I have struggled to believe I could have it better.

Having a divorce thrown in on top of that didn’t help either, which only took my uncertainty up a notch.

At the same time, I picked up on the idea to give away things to help others. My street is busy, so if I need to get rid of anything, I set it out at night, and it disappears by dawn. I have had people come to my door asking if I meant for the items to be free because they are in good shape. I have given away tables, children’s items, and everything else under the sun. Someone always needs it more than I do.

The other day I cleaned my room and came across yet another experiment that I tried in 2014. I decided to write down every good thing that happened to me for the year and placed the notes in a jar.

When I read through them, I could still see that part of me was wanting to believe that what I learned as a kid wasn’t true. I realized the progress I had made between then and now, which that in itself is worth it.

And I discovered something else. God has been faithful. Even during the most challenging times, I still never got down to my last dime, even though I sometimes skated close to that. I always had ideas come to me on how to manage, and multiple people stepped in at times to save the day unknowingly.

I wrote everything, including the tiniest detail, like finding $2 at the mall. As I have let God cure me of my money trauma, the worries have faded, and I can handle the unexpected a lot better than I used to.

At one time, if I got a bill in the mail, I would obsess over it so much that I would miss out on something more substantial, like a daughter’s birthday. I would be present in the body, but my mind was whirling, figuring out how to meet that obligation. The first time I realized I wasn’t doing that anymore was a significant milestone for me.

And where did all that fretting get me? Nowhere. I wish I had known this verse from 2 Corinthians 9:8:

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (NLT)

I cannot overlook the fact that this was passed down to me from someone I trusted and was looking to for answers about life. So, if you are acting like this, your children are watching and will repeat your mistakes. That was a huge reason for me to correct this in myself because I don’t want my girls to be mentally tormented as I have been.

One day in the middle of the pasta aisle, my youngest daughter couldn’t take it anymore.

“Get the organic one.”

“It’s more expensive.”

“It’s a quarter more! Get it! It’s better for us than the other one!”

I held each jar. She was sending lasers with her eyes and I knew I wasn’t going home with the cheaper one. My final fight with her was over cheese, and I said,

“You know what? I am no longer at the age where I can waste my time arguing with someone over dairy products, so fine! I will get the one you want me to, and move on!”

That started me on a new road to buying healthier options.

I used to try to skimp by on everything as much as I could. God met me in that place and provided because that is how it works. I don’t do that anymore, but if something comes along that I know has been discounted to make me feel heaven’s presence, that’s another story.

Today, my friend had breast cancer surgery. It was particularly tough because her fiance, Dan, went on to heaven last winter. He had cancer for nine years and had defied all odds. He often nudges me to buy her orange flowers, and anytime I bring them to her, she has always prayed and asked for them as a sign that he is near.

I went into the store and had that persistent thought to get flowers from her heavenly husband. I knew what color they had to be, but I didn’t know if they would have any. I had made up my mind to get her a bunch, and I didn’t care what the cost was.

In the floral department, I found three big bouquets set apart from all the rest. Of course, and he never makes me guess but always directs me to them. I thought I saw a clearance price, but I wasn’t sure, so they rang up really low when I ran them through the self-checkout.

“Is this right?” I asked the employee standing nearby.

“Yes, we got a big over shipment of flowers that we had to sell. Those are really pretty.”

A blessing had found me when I least expected it.

I spent next to nothing for them when I was prepared to empty my bank account to ensure she knew how much she is watched over.

Strong Finish

“I prayed for a money bonus,” she said as I walked through the living room.

“A bonus?”

“Yes. I asked God to send me extra money as a way to practice using my words and faith. I want to see if it will work.”

My daughter wasn’t asking out of a need but to build her walk with God. I didn’t know what that was like. I always asked heaven for financial help to pay a bill, and so far, so good.

Her request was a bit beyond mine, and I had never thought to pray for something I wasn’t in a crisis for because I thought that was the rule. Don’t you have to have an emergency to wring a drop of help from above?

“I’m just putting it out there to see what happens.”

“So is this bonus like at the casino where the machine launches you into that extra thing? You play the regular game, and then it suddenly takes you to a different screen to accumulate more?” I had watched her do that numerous times.

“Yes. That’s why I am saying it’s a bonus, and it’s an add-on to what I already have.”

With Christmas around the corner, my thought was her chances were pretty high that someone would give her a gift, possibly money.

But, the holidays came and went, and her prayer went unfulfilled. I forgot all about it, and she didn’t mention it to me again.

She doesn’t like clutter, but she often gets very busy with her career, so her room and workspaces can be a mess.

During the first week of January, she declared one morning that she would straighten up her room. It had gotten to the point of overload where she was feeling confined. Just like me, this process feels like an evil necessity. I don’t want to do it, but I know I will love it when I walk in the door to be surprised as if a maid had magically appeared. She would thank herself later for taking the time now.

I began my day when I heard,

“Mom! Oh my gosh! MOTHER!”

It was one of those statements where I was in her room and didn’t recall how I got there that fast.

“What’s wrong?”

She was standing by her bookshelves, holding two $50 bills.

“Did you find that?”

When both my girls tidy up, they always find a small lost treasure, like a couple of extra dollars or a piece of jewelry.

“This wasn’t here before.”

She kept looking at each hand.

“What?”

“Remember how I asked for a money bonus? I didn’t put a time on it or an amount. I was cleaning that top shelf, and these were folded neatly there.”

The space she spoke of was high, and no one had been in her room or in our house to do this.

I took one of the brand new bills from her hand. It had that new smell, and the paper wasn’t worn. Like it had been freshly printed.

Even though she knew it would eventually manifest, her shock was quite evident.

“I know it works now.”

“Put it to work for me,” I said.

In the summer, we went to the track. She took the money with her because she had intended that it would be used for something entertaining. As each race ended, her money was dwindling. Her picks weren’t coming to fruition, and I could see her irritation rising. She isn’t accustomed to losing, and while she looked serene to the outside world, I sensed the frustration. Her mind was making her believe that all was not going her way.

As we approached the machine to make her guesses for the final race, she said with much annoyance,

“I am here to have fun! And I’m getting all my money back right now!”

I watched her fingers fly across the touch screen as she decided to play the trifecta. This meant she had to correctly predict the horses that would come in to win, place and show, and it was an all-or-nothing chance. She didn’t bat an eyelash as she punched it in and hastily grabbed the printout.

We had some time to wait, and she said again,

“I’m getting it all back! Right now!”

There was a tone in her voice that meant she wasn’t backing off believing that she could. Like when Jesus flipped tables kind of energy.

The horses lined up, and the bell rang. We watched the screen to see how it would all end. I wasn’t even sure who she had bet on because she hadn’t told me.

She calmly watched as all three of her picks eased across the finish line in the exact order she had set.

At the collection window, she was given back all of her bonus money.

She had won the trifecta once before, so she had the confidence that she could do it again. That made all the difference when the mood went from downcast to “nothing can stop me from accomplishing this.”

In Jeremiah 17:7-8 it says,

But blessed is the man who trusts God,
the woman who sticks with God.
They’re like trees replanted in Eden,
putting down roots near the rivers.
Never a worry through the hottest of summers,
never dropping a leaf,
Serene and calm through droughts,
bearing fresh fruit every season.

It looked like she was going to lose it all, but she came out the winner.

You and I are running a race with God cheering us on. We get to decide how we proceed. Will we do it with joy, peace, and faith? Or do we go with a double mind mentality and doubt? My daughter put no parameters on her prayer, and she just flung it out there on a whim to see what would transpire and let it go. It all came to pass, and we all have that power.

No horse limped across the line. They were in their best shape, charging forward with the end in mind. Are you doing that? Are you inwardly driven to victory?

2 Timothy 4:7 says:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

Determine to have a strong finish.