Encounter

“Do I need these?” I asked, holding up a pair of workout pants and showing them to my daughter, standing across from me at a table where humanity had trampled through and thrown all the sizes everywhere. I had finally unearthed what I thought would fit.

I hadn’t paid much attention to the lady standing next to me, folding, sorting, and putting them back in order. I saw her nametag briefly, but I was not focusing my attention on her. Instead, I was consumed by an inward mental battle with a nagging voice telling me to leave the store and not come back.

The harassment started in the parking lot before I was out of the car.

You don’t belong here. This is for people who have money. You don’t have any, so turn around and go back home!

I had not heeded its advice and dragged myself through the door. How I ended up in a clothing section was beyond me. I should have been shopping for food to live, not clothes. That is why I asked, 

“Do I need these?”

The woman next to me said,

“Need? I don’t think that has ever stopped me from spending money. I look at things, decide that I want them, and buy.”

Now, she had my full attention. I grabbed two pairs and moved to her other side. They were on sale for a really low price, and I did need them. My other ones were starting to fall apart. 

“When you go through some things financially, you start to ask yourself that question a lot,” I said.  

I noticed she had a smile the entire time she worked correcting the chaos of what the public had created. 

When I got to the other side of the table facing her, I had the familiar light-headed feeling take over. This comes right when I know that I have been placed in the path of someone who needs to hear something from someone in heaven.  

Without me asking much, she told me she had gotten a divorce from a chemically dependent man and had children with him. She was now with a new person who she said did everything for her.

“I don’t need to work now, but I do.”

As she spoke, I saw a woman, a hologram-like person, stand behind her on her right.  

“Do you have family?” I knew it was her mom, but I didn’t assume. I never do.

“Not really. I have a dad, but my mom died..”

Before she finished her sentence, I said,

“She is standing right behind you to your right with her hand on your shoulder. She is proud of the decision you made to get the divorce. You will go on to have grandchildren, your ex-husband will get remarried, and many more family members will come from that.”

“I like that,” she said. 

I saw her surrounded by many people, resulting from her one decision to give up fighting something that would never change. 

Her smile got brighter and brighter.

“Did your mom have a favorite color? I think you will start to see the color pink, and when you do, that’s her.”

She held up her freshly manicured nails, and they were bright pink.

“Pink was her favorite color, so I picked it.”

“Do you celebrate her birthday? Because I feel she would want you to celebrate her passing to heaven more than her birthday.”

“Yes, we always have a party on the day she passed. She had cancer, and she died 16 years ago. That date is coming up in a couple of weeks. Just before you and I started talking, I saw a lady who looked just like her walk past.”

I told her that her decision to leave behind what wasn’t working would open the door for more to come in.  

All of this over a couple of pairs of pants that I was not so sure I should get. I left Laura to go about her business happily, and I was suddenly not afraid to get myself new clothes. 

From there, I went through a drive-thru, and as I was waiting, I saw a young blonde girl filling up a machine with ice. I got her attention, and she came to the window.

“I think you are supposed to go to school. Are you putting it off?”

Her eyes were enormous, and unlike in my other encounter, she only nodded her head and verbalized nothing.  

“Your grandpa, who is in heaven, is trying to tell you that now is the time. Don’t put it off. This is the time. And don’t worry about the money. Are you worried about the money part of it?”

I saw tears fill her huge eyes, and she nodded yes. It was like a paralysis had taken over, and she was frozen, staring at me while the words came at her. 

“Start filling out the paperwork and go now. You will be able to communicate with animals like no one else can, and you will be very successful.”

It’s incredible for me to watch absolute strangers be told things that I would have no clue knowing. By the time her coworker handed me the bag, she was smiling through the tears and promising to look into becoming a vet. 

A few weeks later, I was in a store with my brother, and he needed light bulbs. A woman came around a corner out of nowhere and asked if we needed help.

He told her what he needed, and she meticulously walked him through every choice of light bulb he could choose. She was very experienced in knowing what she was saying and seemed to do this effortlessly. Thomas Edison would have been impressed. 

As she walked away, I felt that familiar pull to give her a message she needed to hear.  

“I need to tell her something,” I said as I watched her walk away. I noticed her shirt was slightly stained in the back, like she didn’t have a lot of money to buy herself new things.  

I know the feeling, and I have found that what I have experienced has made me hyper-aware of those walking that road. 

As I chased her down, my brother said,

“Is this going to be like Touched By an Angel?” 

He knows I do this once in a while when God asks me. 

I ignored him.  

“Excuse me,” I said, trying not to get the whole store looking our way.

“I have to tell you something.”

I explained that this was just a starting point for her and that she would quickly climb the ladder of success. That promotions would come her way quickly, and her co-workers might get a little jealous, but to cast it aside.  

“You are loyal and trustworthy with a good heart. That is leading you through, and someone on the other side is helping open doors for you. That’s why you are moving up so quickly. You will outgrow this place and move way up higher.” I could see far in advance. 

“I have only been here two months, and they have given me two promotions already, which is unusual.”

That’s about all she said because, once again, I think the shock of hearing all of her life secrets, good ones, being spilled out was overwhelming to take in.

She kept saying thank you and then returned to her work. I feel Emily will never forget that she met God in the middle of the cleaning section of a hardware store. 

We moved on to the cash registers, where a lady was waiting with no one in her line. 

You need to ask her who is sick that she knows.

I didn’t want to do that. I tried to get through and get out the door. The question seemed too invasive and might not even be true. When I got to the door, I had to go back.

She was standing at the end of her lane, waiting for customers to come.  

“I have to ask you a question,” I said. “I can see heaven, and I have been told to ask you who is sick that you know.”

“My sister’s son,” she said. She went on to tell me he was in the end stage of disease.  

“He has an angel standing next to him,” I said.

“My sister has spoken to that angel,”

“Tell her that this confirms she is right about it.”

I saw the future and that a grandfather figure would be showing up to take him to heaven.

She told me that his dad had passed on as well.

Both of us were near tears as I said,

“Both men will pick him up and take him to heaven. Tell your sister he will be okay. He probably will say he sees them before he moves on.”

“We believe. Thank you for saying all this. I will tell her.”

The next night, I visited my dad in a rehab he has been in for about a month. Later in the evening, the med technician came in to give him his pills. She introduced herself, and I told her who I was.  

I began to see a grandmother figure.  

She needs to know she is going to have kids soon. You have to tell her,” said the whisper.

Oh, gosh, no! I cannot tell someone they are going to have a baby. What if she doesn’t want one? I thought I would make a big mistake, but when God wants to use your mouth, you and your opinion don’t matter. 

I started with the soft sell.

I explained that I could see and hear heaven; then, I asked questions about her life. Was she married? Yes. Did she have brothers and sisters? Yes.

And then, she opened the door for me to move in a bit further.  

“Does anyone have kids in the family?”

“My brothers and sisters do.”

“You will. You are going to have kids soon.”

I watched her eyes get that shocked look.  

“You are going to have a big family. They will be musical. I see piano players and singers. And this is probably going to happen before you have thought it possible. You are waiting for the money to show up, right?”

She was wearing a mask, and I could see now that her smile was reaching her eyes. 

“Yes, I will stay home and home-school when we have a family. My husband wants a big family, and his whole family is very musical.”

I told her some more, and she looked at my daughter and said,

“Does she do this all the time?”

I sensed she was a bit scared it would happen the next day.  As if she would wake up with ten kids all wanting breakfast.

“This will come to you naturally, but it is coming sooner than you think. When your husband gets a raise, which will be soon, that is your sign.” 

She said this would make her husband so happy and left with a big smile.

Crisis averted for me. That one seemed like a big and frightening jump. 

I don’t have to look for them; they sometimes come to me. 

Like the nursing assistant who told me she had just visited her neighbor who was dying.  

“Did you feel the angels in the room? There are two, one by the foot and the head of his bed.”

“I told them I could feel the angels in the room when I went to visit.”

“There are two of them, and his grandma is coming to get him.”

“His wife kept talking about his grandparents, and he gets to see them again,” she said.

“Yes. They will escort him into heaven.” 

I can always see when the words bring comfort too.

Ask her if she is a teacher.”

Going out on a limb, I asked,

“Are you a teacher? I hear the word teacher.”

I hadn’t ever had a conversation with this woman who works at an assisted living where I was visiting a hospice patient. 

“Yes. I am a teacher.”

“This job will end, and that will be your job again, but less stressful.”  

She told me she taught English to children who were disabled and that it has been very overwhelming.

“It won’t be next time, so don’t turn it away. You’re a teacher, and that’s your life path.”  

She walked away smiling, raising her hands to the ceiling and thanking God. 

There is a promise that God will always keep you in sight and not forsake you, but the world can convince us otherwise. There’s a wearing down process that can take place, making some of us wonder if any of this has a point.

When I am sent to strangers with details I shouldn’t know, there is no denying that everything needed is seen, and the Creator of all is longing to reach us through a loving encounter.

Seeing Red

The color red has been my favorite for a long time. I’m drawn to it like a moth is to a flame. When asked to select a color in kindergarten, I always chose this shade. Most of the time, this boy always wanted whatever I had. And when we were expected to trade, I looked for someone who had it so I could keep it.

This was well before speed dating and swiping past profiles. And Tinder.

I would always look for someone else to exchange with, and he would follow me. Not quietly but relentlessly, making it apparent that he wanted my attention more than my Crayola. The day that the teacher saw me ignoring him and made me publicly make the trade was the last day I avoided him.

I felt like she spotlighted me, and everyone was looking at us. I quickly handed over what he wanted and tried to pretend he wasn’t there.

But whenever we switched to another color, he was right there, waiting for me to give mine to him.

It killed me to use blue, green, or whatever choice he took without thinking. There was no alliance between him and what he randomly grabbed from the box.

Mine was my Ruby birth color, and I knew it was significant even at age five. It was the last stone on my mom’s Mother’s ring that housed five others. I found out later they had to break the ring and make room for mine on the end.

Of course, they did.

Anytime I pick a game piece or am required to create a character if I can get red or an equivalent of it, I try to. When with people who also seem to have this affinity and take it before I can claim it, a part of me dies inside. It’s the kid from kindergarten rearing his ugly head. But, I never say. I go with yellow or some other meaningless option.

I have found you can be defeated whether you play with your favorite color or not. The only consolation is that you at least had that in your possession at the start space.

It’s not surprising to me now that I have a neighbor named Red who drives a red truck.

I have lived in my house for thirty-one years, and my front window faces a busy street where I have seen kids catch busses for school and the same ones graduate and go to college. You don’t realize who is around you until they aren’t anymore.

A few months ago, my daughter and I noticed that this man and his wife were no longer buzzing by every morning at 9 am. Even when I wasn’t working from home, I would see them go by. Stop sign and a left turn.

Suddenly, it wasn’t happening anymore.

“I think you are supposed to help him with hospice for his wife,” she said one day, as she does, and it goes through me like electricity.

That would have been great, but I didn’t know him. I had waved and acknowledged his existence all the years I have lived in my house. I watched a while ago as she started to show signs of having a stroke.

One arm hung down at her side, and he did all the yard work alone. But, every day, they drove past my house.

“I bet they go get coffee,” I said to my daughter. We would often try to guess where they were off to.

So when she said I was to help him, I started paying more attention. The lights were on, but no one was home. He was coming home later at night and started going on walks with a large wooden staff like Moses.

“You have to help them,” she said. As I looked out the window, I watched him in a very slow and sad saunter up the street.

Then I flashed back mentally to 2020—the political yard signs. I saw them and gave them little thought. I had decided to disassociate myself from it. Does it exist in heaven? Then I don’t want anything to do with it.

I know I always get the speech that if I don’t vote, bad, bad things will happen. The horror of horrors! You don’t vote? Your one vote is needed. You are why, Chris, this country is going to the dogs.

To each, their own, and mine is to stay out of the fray.

I listened to comments from those supporting the “opposing” side when they noticed the signs proudly displayed.

“They support them? They are so brainwashed and delusional!”

And I have heard the other side say the same thing.

One day recently, I saw him outside. I ran out the front door and across the street before he could disappear.

I introduced myself, and he said his name was Red. My daughter and I were right in our assessment of him being alone. I found out that his wife is in a care facility near his home. I offered to help him in any way I could, including taking things for donation as he was getting ready to sell the house in the future.

I told him I volunteered for hospice and to let me know if it ever came to that.

He came to my door the other night wanting the hospice’s name. It’s now been determined this is where the situation is.

I gave him the information, and I saw his sadness. There’s no running away from it, and he’s in the most challenging part of the walk.

My daughter’s words were true when I had no idea what was happening.

He came back to get my full name, but I wasn’t home. I caught him the next day in his yard. He was removing plants so the siding could be redone.

I followed him into his house so I could write my name on a sheet of paper. On the way in, I saw it.

In the garage, at least 20 bright red with white lettering I Voted stickers were hanging on a cabinet showing his former treks to the voting booth.

I scribbled my name on a sheet of paper and looked at the surroundings of very feminine collectibles. Even though she was absent, her presence was everywhere I looked.

He told me he and his daughter would start going through belongings to give away.

He pointed to many of the items surrounding us and said,

“She could tell you where she got each one.”

As was the case with me, going through a divorce, I had to get rid of material things. But, I always found someone who needed it.

“When you give these things away, you will feel the gratitude of those who need what you give them. The people who get these things will treat them like she did.”

I said goodbye, and he went back to his work.

Had I let politics come between us, I would not have been able to extend myself to him this way. While many sit in front of their TVs or read the latest headline on their phone regarding where we are as a society and how far we think we have come, I find we haven’t advanced all that much.

Many old ways of doing things, like taking care of your neighbor, have fallen to the wayside because of a piece of paper where you make choices about who will run for an office we are so removed from. Yet, people near us, next to us, need our help.

While the world screams one way, God whispers another. And God’s way won’t leave you seeing red.

Super

When my girls were young, I wanted to take them to a resort about four hours from home. We had been there before with people who owned a timeshare, so it was paid for, but I discovered that we could rent a cabin on the property and use the pools scattered throughout. Instead of being cramped in a tiny hotel room for days, this was a nice option to try for. And, near to it, there are various waterparks and activities that the girls loved to do.

The only obstacle standing in my way was my ex-husband, who told me he didn’t want to spend the money on it. We had plenty of money to do this, but he decided he didn’t want to go. In an attempt to throw me off, he said,

“If you somehow come up with the money and rent it, we can go.”

If this was a poker competition, his money was on himself, thinking I was an at-home mom homeschooling two young kids. In other words, I wasn’t smart enough to come up with the funds because I was not employed, and he held onto the purse strings.

I knew God wanted this for my kids, so I decided to have a garage sale.

The night before, while marking everything, he walked through the garage shaking his head like I was the dumbest person he had ever met. I had included another mom who also was interested in making the trip with us. We kept our items separate.

The sale of my items netted us enough money to pay for the needed cabins and everything else the kids wanted to do. So much for being dumb.

The resort had listed all of its amenities on the website, including an indoor pool and hot tubs in case there was inclement weather.

When we got to the location, the “friend” who had done the sale with me walked into the registration building. When we got to the counter, we were informed that the indoor pool was being repaired. An electrical storm had somehow wiped out its functioning, so they had to close it.

“We are giving everyone passes to go to the Howard Johnson’s up the street so you can swim in their indoor pool. We apologize for the inconvenience.”

I didn’t think anything of it because many outdoor pools throughout the property were set around a golf course. The forecast predicted nice weather, so the need for an indoor pool was not heavy on my mind.

But, this woman who I was coming to find out was not the nicest, said,

“You advertised an indoor pool here. And, now you are telling me you don’t have one?”

“Yes. We are sorry, but we had a bad storm that left the electrical part of the pool unsafe, so we are in the process of fixing it. You and your family are welcome to use the Howard Johnson’s pool. This has the code on it so you can access that area.”

He pushed a piece of paper toward her with a number on it. She shoved it back at him.

I was filling out a form regarding our car with our license plate identification on it. I had just glanced out the window and was headed back to the desk when I saw this exchange begin.

“That is not good enough!” she snapped.

Her husband was out in the car, hiding, I assumed. Why I thought it was a good idea to bring her along, I do not know. My people-pleasing habits have taken a while to die.

It had gotten to the point where if I called their home, he would answer the phone with a whisper and go into a hall closet to speak to me because she didn’t want him talking and laughing with me on the phone as friends. Her control freak nature was rearing its ugly head more and more. She wanted me all to herself.

Often, he would speak to me and quickly say he would get her. There was no way he would want to deal with her Godzilla attitude at the front desk.

The employee swallowed down his fear and said,

“I don’t know how else to solve this problem for you.”

“I paid to have an indoor pool!”

The guy’s eyes caught mine, and I was hoping he didn’t think I was like her just because we walked in the door together.

“I know. And, we are really sorry about that…this is why we are sending people to Howard Johnson’s to try and accommodate everyone.”

“I am not a Howard Johnson’s type of person!” she said with a snarl. Ugly comes in many forms, not just in appearance but in attitude.

What? She had told me she had hardly ever been on vacation, so I was confused about where this entitled attitude was coming from.

Out of nowhere came another employee who was not as discreet as the man trying to help.

“He has explained to you our situation. Howard Johnson’s is it, or nothing.”

“That is not good enough!”

“What do you want me to do? Build you a pool, lady?” said the fresh helper.

My traveling companion then went to nuclear.

“I will contact the management here and let them know you did not go out of your way to compensate me for not having an indoor pool!”

With that, she swiped her papers off the counter and stormed out.

Both employees looked at me. Great.

“I apologize for her behavior,” I said. “I do not share her viewpoint.”

I could not say it enough. My two daughters had watched the entire exchange along with the lady’s two kids.

When I went to say goodnight to my two that night, I whispered,

“I am setting my alarm, and we are going to the indoor pool.” I did not say a word to anyone else.

The following day, while the two men went golfing, I quickly got my two in their suits, and we drove to the Howard Johnson’s. They had a great time swimming and using the hot tub. This was before cell phones, so no one could get a hold of us. And no one knew where we were.

I faced the firing squad when I returned.

“We were looking for you! Where did you go?” she asked the minute I stepped out of the car.

“Howard Johnson’s to swim,” I said without blinking. I wanted to see what reaction I would get.

“Oh,” she said. “Why didn’t you ask us to go?”

“Because you made it quite clear yesterday that you were not a Howard Johnson’s type person. You said that to everyone at the front desk.”

I did not hear one more tirade from this woman for the rest of the time we were there. I wasn’t as predictable as she thought I was.

Did she and I remain friends? No.

Her controlling nature became so severe that even my best people-pleasing nature couldn’t cut it anymore. The more I bowed down to her demands, the worse she became to the point where she was verbally abusive toward me. When I refused to continue being her friend, she tried to turn everyone against me. I preserved, and she is long gone in my rearview mirror.

I had convinced myself that God would not be happy with me if I let her go, so I kept myself attached to her. It got to the point, however, where I was either going to please her, lose myself or break free and be genuine. Sometimes you have to be not liked. And unpopular. It’s just the way it goes.

Proverbs 22:24-25 says, Don’t hang out with angry people; don’t keep company with hotheads.
Bad temper is contagious—don’t get infected. (Message)

That’s the risk you take. You can morph into what you consistently keep company with, so choose those who are God’s best.

As a side note, the ex-spouse was rewarded for not generously giving me the money for the vacation. Shortly after we got home, he cleaned his closet. He made a pile of clothes that no longer fit him as he had ‘grown’. This was intended for the garbage. The other, he was going to keep.

As I walked through the living room, he watched the garbage truck pick up and dump the contents of the can with all the sludge.

“I put all the clothes I wanted to keep in the wrong pile! He just dumped everything into the truck! I have no clothes to wear now except for what I have on! I have to go buy all new ones!”

I wanted to say..why don’t you have a garage sale? But I was too afraid back then to say anything like that. I just kept on walking. Silence is golden, and you let the situation speak for itself, like swimming at Howard Johnson’s on your own.

Galatians 6:7 spells it out pretty plainly:

Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds. All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life. (Message)

There’s another verse in James 4:6 that says:

It’s common knowledge that “God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble.”(Message)

When you walk in humility and do your best to follow God’s way, it may not always be easy, but I have found that you won’t regret how you treat others. You can end each day knowing that you are doing it right, being led through a life that is spiritually super.

(These usually don’t have a pool, just saying..)

Water Into Wine

Please see the post Whiny as this is a continuation of that one.

Sometimes you don’t understand the reason for the adversity, or maybe you see the lesson in it, but God expands it further.

The following morning, after being made to feel unwelcome at the pickle court, we drove back, hoping the group that had only been there on Tuesdays hadn’t returned.

As I pulled around the familiar corner, we saw their cars lined up, so we knew it wasn’t worth the effort to try. I wasn’t going to try to negotiate anything.

Some would say,

“Witness to them! Share God’s love with them! Maybe God wants you to play doubles!”

Another voice says, maybe that lady is right. Maybe you are disrespectful.

When met with so much greed and negativity, it’s easier just to make yourself out to be the bad guy. You start to question if you did the right thing or not.

My daughter’s comment that “humanity is sad” led her also to say,

“I’m not going to live my life on their schedule.”

How could we possibly try to figure out what time to show up? Even if I got there at 3 am, they were so possessive and controlling that I swear they would start to appear from the woods like the zombies from Night of the Living Dead.

Instead of my body, they would want my pickleball space.

“Maybe we are supposed to be doing something else,” she said as we watched them happily play with all the people they associated with. There was no room in their agenda to let us in, and I felt I didn’t want to be “in.”

Just as I had sensed the other day, it was their way or the highway, which was why I felt such a clash. I didn’t match up to the attitude, the spirit, or frequency they operated on.

A lot of us try to “fit in.” We conform and scrunch ourselves down to meet others at their level while becoming a shell of ourselves. When you do that, you miss another opportunity God has for you. From toxic people and dead-end jobs, whatever fills up a place that doesn’t bring you life, it’s taking up the spot of something or someone who could.

“I’m going back to where we started,” I told her as I left.

I felt this strong pull to abandon a situation in which I would never make a dent. It would be me beating my head against a wall. I tried and got absolutely nowhere the day before. Sometimes it’s dark, and God isn’t asking you to be the light at that moment.

Jesus said in Matthew 10:14:

When you knock on a door, be courteous in your greeting. If they welcome you, be gentle in your conversation. If they don’t welcome you, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way. (Message)

So I shrugged.

The familiar streets and the houses I used to walk by on my way to elementary school brought a sense of peace. The park I used to ride my bike to all summer long, where I played softball, was quiet.

This is where she and I tried to play weeks ago when we had no idea what we were doing. The asphalt is nothing special compared to what we had just had the luxury of using, but I knew I was in the right place.

The city marked tan lines over the white ones used for tennis. It’s not pretty and brightly multicolored. It’s cracked with weeds starting to run all over it.

“I will deal with weeds and cracks at this point just to have the enjoyment of playing.”

A retired couple was doing yard work, and I immediately saw the mourning dove perched on the high wire singing. Those are always a reminder to me that my grandma is close by. Her North Dakota yard was filled with them, and their sad song troubled me when I was little.

“I don’t like those woo birds,” I told her. Every time I heard one, I felt this lonesome feeling that I had difficulty explaining when I was a kid.

“Chrissy,” she said smiling, “that’s just how they sing. It’s nothing to be scared of.”

From that day on, she called them “woo birds” with a slight laugh, and her explanation made me not fear them.

I had noticed it before when we had played here, and now it was back in the same spot. Watching.

We began to play, and I realized how far along we had come from those weeks prior when I had to tape up her arm for tennis elbow. We had learned a lot.

“Does this hurt?” I asked when I tried to remove the first piece. I had helped her apply black tape, the type you see all the Olympians wearing while they tough out an injury to play.

“No.”

I took more off. There was no wincing.

“How about now?”

“No,” she replied calmly.

I thought maybe it was like one of those no-stick bandaids. And with no signs of pain, I ripped it across the rest of the way. That’s when the screaming started, but I was in mid-rip, so the momentum carries you.

“You took off all of my DNA!”

“You said it didn’t hurt!”

“Not at first!”

“Do you want me to put another piece on?”

“NO! I will do it!”

I wasn’t getting by pain-free either. Those first few sessions had left my lower body in agony that would strike, especially when I went up or down stairs. Epsom salts and the tub became my best friend.

That was all behind us now as we had gotten stronger and faster.

“That ball hit this crack over here,” she said. I had traded the superior for not as good, so I did what I always did. I prayed. As the hoo bird was my witness, I said,

“God, have the city fill in these cracks and get all these weeds out of here. I command it in the name of Jesus that they clean this up for us.”

That was it. We played, she won, and we switched sides.

I listened to the elderly couple talk and laugh with each other as she weed whipped, and he picked up sticks and branches. What a great antidote to the ugly behavior I had seen the day before.

Within moments, a city truck pulled up, and a man came to the fence.

I was attempting to return a ball.

“That hit the crack, and I still got it over,” I said to my opponent, who can beat me at every game now that her elbow is healed.

“That’s why I’m here. I just sprayed weed killer not long ago, and now I’m back to assess how I can fix this up.”

I told him what had happened at the other court.

“Pickleball players, especially the older ones, can be very mean.”

One of the comments made to me the day before was how “nasty” I was when pickleball was a sport that was always so nice. It was an attempt to bad-mouth me.

“You run into mean people?” I asked.

“Yes.”

There’s another location he services that has courts like the one we had been kicked off of.

“They are not nice. They act like they own that place,” he said.

I had tried to reason nicely, and because I hadn’t given in, I was also called disrespectful. So I wasn’t a bad person, and his description sounded like what I had said to the woman. Territorial.

“We like to play, and I will play here no matter how awful it is to avoid all that meanness.”

“I will work on this,” he said. “I can make this nicer.”

“Don’t make it too nice. Keep it kind of crappy, so it doesn’t get taken over,” I said.

“I will try,” he said, smiling.

Before I left, I introduced myself to the happy couple working in their yard. Even while they were engaged in manual labor, they would stop every so often, talk, and start to laugh.

“You two don’t seem like you are working. You seem happy together.”

As he slathered on sunscreen, he said,

“You don’t see us all the time,” sending her into another round of laughing.

The next day when we returned, he yelled,

“Good morning, ladies!” as he jumped in his truck and drove away.

And just like that, God turned water into wine.

Peace and happiness no matter what…

Imposter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I have more,” I said.

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

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

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

“Is the wood free?”

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

“Really?”

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

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

They jumped out and started loading their trunk.

The woman asked,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of these things is not like the others…

Pickle

When I decided to home school, I was not met with much support. Many people had the idea that this direction in life was too risky. They thought I was putting my children into some experiment that would result in them being different from their peer group.

Exactly. 

It wasn’t viewed as I saw it. It was frowned upon as a negative, and I was warping them for life. I could always tell when the conversation was drifting that way.

“Do they have friends?”

“Yes.”

“Can they read?”

“Yes.”

“Are you a teacher?”

“No.”

“Oh.”

There was always this undercurrent of judgment that I was going against the natural order of things, which must have meant a disaster was coming on the horizon. 

An older man said to me,

“So you will have them miss out on dating football players?”

He was serious. 

Out of all the questions about their academia and overall well-being, he was concerned that there wouldn’t be an opportunity for them to go out with a hormone-enraged teenage boy who had no stability to offer. 

How could I be so irresponsible, manipulating my daughters’ futures like this? 

My girls were 14 and 17 at the time. 

“I guess so,” I said. “I have decided to let them bypass that one.”

He shook his head and clicked his tongue at me like I was an absolute lunatic. 

I wonder where all those football players are now? At the chiropractor, getting an adjustment, scheduling an MRI, and paying child support. 

I knew right from the start that what I was doing was not accepted by the general public. So much so that I threw myself into every single activity that came our way.

I helped start a co-op at a church I was attending. I came up with a name, and we printed off tee shirts, so every time we met or went somewhere, the kids and parents had on something that represented to the public we were not hiding behind closed doors. 

I planned field trips, wrote out a monthly newsletter, and taught weekly gym classes to all the kids from kindergarten on up. 

And we fit in school. Sometimes in the car on the way to whatever we were doing for that day. 

While cleaning, I found an old yearbook that I had helped put together back then.

“This is where I spit into the bushes,” I said, paging through it, reminiscing. 

We took the kids to a farm not too far from my house. It’s been converted into a historical working site that allows visitors to see how it was run in the 1800s. The man who was the original owner learned by reading everything out of various books and experimenting with crops and irrigation. He didn’t come from a lineage of farmers. He was just a guy who knew he could be a success at something without any experience by applying his knowledge. He was driven by learning something new despite the naysayers. 

Similar to homeschooling. 

During each season, they did different activities so the kids could get an idea of what life was like during a long-gone period. 

In the fall, they were shown how sorghum(sugar) was pressed out of plants, and they were allowed to do this by turning a wooden handle on an old-looking machine. In the spring, they participated in planting by walking behind two oxen as a plow sliced through the soil. 

From whatever year we had teleported ourselves back into, the instructors were dressed in that attire. The homestead was preserved so we got to see where they lived and how the indoor work was done. They took the kids through the process of churning butter by hand and making homemade pickles. 

I was handed one by an employee playing the part of one of the family members. No one wanted to sample them, and I wasn’t too excited to either, but I took it to be nice. I put it in my mouth but didn’t commit to chewing. I expected the usual salty dill taste of a vegetable that had been brined. 

It was not even close to that. And as my eyes began to water, I wondered if these were a fresh batch or leftover from the actual 1800s. I could not fathom swallowing it, but I had no backup plan. No napkin. There was nowhere to get rid of it as she stayed in character, expounding on the fact that the recipe was ages old. 

The second she freed us, I turned to go up the cellar stairs, but I got trapped behind other people. I silently prayed no one would speak to me as the juices from this rancid circular disc on my tongue slowly dripped down my throat. 

Right outside the door was an enormous bush. This would be where I spit and spit until I had nothing left to give except for my DNA for historical purposes. As I was in the throes of it, I heard a little girl say,

“Those pickles looked gross!”

You have no idea, child.

It reminds me of this verse from Revelation 3:

I know your deeds that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked?’(NIV)

Chasing a high social status and keeping up false appearances that distract you from serving your true purpose can make one blind and deaf spiritually so that you become useless. It’s easy to believe that you are on the right track when you are surrounded by all that you have acquired. Yet, you and God can be distant. 

God wants to use you in the capacity you have been born to fulfill. Material possessions and habitual living, like a comfort zone out of balance, can be stumbling blocks. It can hinder seeking and finding out why you are here. 

I recall spitting out something else surprisingly disgusting on another occasion. My mom was in the middle of baking brownies from scratch. I walked by, saw a piece of chocolate, and popped it into my mouth. 

“You will not like that,” she said, barely looking away from her measuring spoon.

“Why?”

“It’s unsweetened. It’s probably going to be….”

I heard the word “bitter” as I hung my whole face over the garbage, trying to get rid of it. 

How can something that looked so great on the outside be so toxic on the inside? 

For the next time you are in a heated trivia game, here are 11 signs of someone housing bitterness: 

  1. They hold a grudge
  2. They are always complaining 
  3. They are not grateful for the good in their life
  4. They want bad things to happen to others, so they stay superior 
  5. Jealous of others who have good happening 
  6. Can’t share in others’ joy
  7. Want the spotlight 
  8. Highly cynical
  9. Quick to blame others for their problems 
  10. Nothing positive to say about positive people
  11. Make sweeping assumptions 

Why is this so destructive? Because it affects everyone around them negatively with a high potential to cause others to join in and fall away from God. It’s a pattern of behavior not easily broken, and it sucks the life out of life. But, it’s also low-level living and can be appealing because it doesn’t require any growth. Like being drug-addicted, this is easy to start and difficult to end. And misery loves company. 

It’s explained in Hebrews 12:

Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent. A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time. Watch out for the Esau syndrome: trading away God’s lifelong gift to satisfy a short-term appetite. You well know how Esau later regretted that impulsive act and wanted God’s blessing—but by then it was too late, tears or no tears. (Message)

So how do we avoid getting lured in by the enticement and the world’s empty promises? Or the critical, sour voices that want to drag us down spiritually? You get quiet, ask for help, and this will follow: 

Taste and see that the Lord is good;

blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. (Psalm 34:8/NIV) 

He will distance you from the people and things that keep you from your destiny. 

This is promised in 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.”(Message)

Whether your problems are self-inflicted or not, heaven’s biggest desire is that you complete the work you were sent here to do. When you set your heart entirely on that, God will help you get out of any pickle. 

Don’t buy these, and skip the sour grapes

Death

I quit my job in January. One that I had done for a long time. Unless there was something new to learn, I could work with my eyes closed throughout my daily existence. When I started, I knew nothing about the industry I was helping in; everything was an acronym. When I was in the presence of seasoned business world employees, I felt so stupid, not knowing what anyone was talking about.

I had to go to the local jail and have my fingerprints taken to do my job. I remember feeling so frightened by the presence of so many in authority and this overwhelming feeling of sadness mixed with aggression. I had to wait, and out of mounting anxiety, I stood with my back against the wall to ensure that no one would be unexpectedly behind me. 

I was alone and didn’t feel safe, even though I was in the presence of law enforcement. I watched as a man went through the process I was there for, but he was not going to work, but rather a cell. Some have said their jobs are a prison, and his was about to be at that moment. The female officer took his fingers, rolled them on an ink pad, and placed them on a white card. 

They said nothing to one another. 

When he was moved on, I was summoned forward with her motioning to me with her hand. There were no pleasantries spoken. 

I went in her direction, not fully knowing what I needed to say. I was adjusting to encountering uncertain circumstances as I had never been in before. 

Just as I was going to speak, a man was escorted past me in handcuffs by two police officers, one on each side. He had his head down, like he was ashamed of himself, not wanting any of us to make eye contact with him. His sins had caught up with him, and he couldn’t bear to look humanity in the eye. 

How does a person get there? He was once a small boy, innocently set into the world, and now going into a cage that clearly wouldn’t offer him any forgiveness. He had to be held accountable for whatever transgressions he had done, but what had created this life along the way? This dejected individual had participated in activity that had landed him here, but why? What had been the mixture of mistakes blended, putting him on a path of self-destruction? 

As a mom of two, newly divorced, and wanting to raise them right, I wanted to know. I turned away quickly and told her what I needed. 

She mechanically went to work, doing the same as the man before me. I glanced nervously around, keeping my purse secured across the front of my body. I was in a place where many thieves were gathered, so I felt this overwhelming need to protect myself. 

As she finished my last finger, I said,

“This is the only time I am ever doing this.”

This brought on a smile from her and a slight laugh.

“That’s a good idea,” she said.

I was given a copy of my identity, the one God gave me at birth, and I left the jail that day a free woman. 

The intimidation there was nothing compared to what was up next. 

I recall being at a meeting and overhearing someone commenting on another assistant. She had asked a basic question, which was being made fun of. It was along the lines of, “Can you believe she asked that? She should know that.” This was when I was brand new. 

I wasn’t up for exposing myself to ridicule. From that point on, I listened intently, wanting so much to learn the language. Never fully revealing that I was so lost, especially not in public. 

I found myself flying under the radar like I always had to smile and nod as if I knew what was going on. I didn’t realize I was advancing as I sat day after day, trying to overcome what felt like a learning disability. While the rest of the class was moving on, I felt the dead weight, looking at paperwork with many questions and writing it down. Multicolored sticky notes graced everything in those early days, or I would spend a lot of energy trying to remember who was who and what was what to exasperation. 

They say it takes six months to comprehend a new job. Don’t give up until you hit that mark, is the advice, so I stayed for fourteen years. Sometimes not fully comprehending what was happening but desperately wanted to do a good job. 

I could have quit many times during that span, but I held on, not fully aware of all the understanding I was getting. God had put me there for a reason, and I knew that I would miss out on something of importance if I quit. 

One day, as I looked at the piles and stacks of everything that needed a proper place, I had a vision of an abandoned field. It had rocks and weeds all over it, left unattended for a while. 

“Don’t give up. Help clean up the field so the ground is good again. I will help you do it; you can do this no matter how difficult it might get.”

Then I was shown a field filled with healthy crops, growing strong, every inch producing as it should.

“Help make that happen,” I heard in my mind. 

I never can say no to God. While I wanted to run and find a different place entirely, I knew that this was what I was being asked to do. I instantly remembered telling God a while before this that I didn’t want my will anymore and was giving myself away to heaven’s lead. I was fully aware of having my own “will,” and many a preacher had expounded on this; God and I would forever be at odds, me wanting my way against His. 

I chose to give mine up, and whenever faced with a moment of possible tug of war between my Creator and me, the still small voice would say,

“Did you give me your will?”

That is still all it takes for me to drop the fight. 

The place I found the most helpful to navigate the unknown waters of this job was one that many would have overlooked. But, God led me in the way I was to go, true to the promise. 

One of the biggest challenges was organizing all the paper that used to accumulate. There were boxes and boxes filled with filing to do, so I began sorting through it all by name, putting everything in alphabetical order, still not fully seeing the bigger picture. This was before the idea of going green existed. To help my mind keep things straight, I implemented a system of colors, with each folder representing a specific type of client and what they had with the company. 

I was so wrapped up in trying to grasp every concept that any small mistake I made was like an absolute failure. When I thought I had mastered something, it would be called to my attention that I hadn’t done something right. That wasn’t easy to swallow and put my self-confidence back at zero. 

In reality, all those missteps taught me how to become what I was striving to be. 

As I went through the organization process, I began creating “dead files” boxes. These were shoved into a far dark corner, known as cold storage. They had no purpose anymore, some from customers who had moved on to other advisors and others who had moved on from earth.

After getting the active cases put away, which took months, I looked around to see what I could fix next. I opened the lid on the first of many. When I had been trying to focus on the “living,” I had randomly placed all of the old ones haphazardly aside to deal with later.

Now was later. 

A critical component of my position was to be sure that past information was locked up and shredded, adhering to the law. If a client no longer was with the company, their files had to be kept for a certain amount of time and then destroyed. I went about creating a database, cataloging everyone, especially those who needed to be disposed of, so we would comply. 

Amazingly, this is what held the key to my understanding. 

Day after day, I spent an entire summer alone, sifting through unneeded material, either shredding on the spot or marking it to be done later. Because these were no longer viable contacts, I became relaxed, and specific ideas and thoughts would become illuminated that had been so dark. It was as if a silent instructor stood by me, telling me what to do, taking away the struggle. I finally started to learn the language. 

I remember being shocked that I could carry on an intelligent conversation, putting words and sentences together because I finally understood what I was doing. Even though it took a lot of trial and error, I was thrilled that I knew more than before. 

Somewhere amongst the dead files, I had found life. 

I did what I knew I was to do, behind the scenes digging up a plot of land, making room for a productive venture that could function at its highest, bringing great benefits to the clients under the company’s care and even myself in some ways I had not imagined at the onset. 

To leave that behind wasn’t easy. But, again, I started to hear that voice telling me there was something else I was needed for. 

I ignored it for a while, not wanting to go back to a time of uncertainty. I had overcome the hurdles, and now I tried to coast along, believing this was it. I had made it. Why mess with something that I had worked so diligently to construct? 

Because I don’t belong to me. 

Driving alone with nothing to distract me, I heard,

“I have something else I need you to do. You will thank me later.”

It wasn’t easy to see the road after that, but I knew I wasn’t staying where I had been. 

It isn’t until you no longer do what you have been that you are mindful of how much of yourself you had committed to that. You have flashes of memories where you see you did what you were told to do even when you didn’t want to. You put everything of yourself in it, and now what? Do that again? 

Within days of resigning, I heard one morning, when I was barely awake, 

“You need to be a hospice volunteer.”

I had wanted to go into this for a while, but I had put it off. Three years ago, I looked at getting a higher education to my B.A. in Psychology to do this and earn money doing it, but as I tried to, doors seemed slammed shut. I was given wrong information, left messages that never got called back, and was told the only way I could do the work I wanted and get paid was to spend at least four years in school far and away from the actual work. 

While out on a walk in deep frustration, again the voice came,

“Work with people for now. Not paper.”

I knew this was an answer to stop pursuing school and sign up for the work, even if it meant doing it for free. 

Then Covid hit, closing the door for a bit.

Now unemployed, I was being told to pick it up again. I looked up hospice in my area, which there are a million, but picked the one that appeared first. I have learned that doors fly open when God leads you, despite trying to reason your way out of it. 

Filling out 21 pages of the orientation requirements made me wonder what they do to a person who they hire for real. I had to submit a resume, give them three references from people who would vouch for my character, do a background check, and even give blood. 

The technician was new, and it sprayed everywhere. I felt so emotionally beat down that it was a sign I was still alive. Usually, that might have bothered me, but I didn’t even care. 

“I am so sorry!” She said, embarrassed, eyes wide behind her mask. 

“That’s ok,” I said, remembering what it was like to start a new job that I had just left. I had moved quickly enough so it missed my clothes. For a week, the massive bruise on my arm reminded me that I had signed up for this. 

I was given some patients and began the journey. It’s a lot of listening, praying, and sometimes just quietly sitting still and observing. 

I often listen with my eyes. That sounds strange, but it’s true. 

A few weeks ago, as I said hello to one under my care, she looked at me, and I knew. 

Nothing was different about her health situation, and it appeared the same, but I was made aware with the voice speaking to me again of what was to come. She wasn’t going to be here much longer. So I did my best despite knowing that it wasn’t going to be long. 

Last week, when I went to see her before I got to her room, I heard in my mind, 

“If you see her lying in bed, this is your sign that you know she’s leaving soon.”

Usually sitting up in the sun in the day room, I found her lying on her bed, sound asleep. I didn’t wake her, but I knew this would be the last time I saw her, so I quietly said goodbye.

I thought of her this past week, the day before I was to visit again. I even commented to my daughter that I felt I wouldn’t see her. Just before I left the house to go to her assisted living, I felt like I was to check my email. There I found a note telling me she had passed that morning. I was thanked for making her time left more pleasant.

I was glad I said certain things to her and made her laugh. It was the only indication that she was okay with me being there. When you know things ahead of time like this, a mixture of emotions follows. 

“I will check in on you next week,” I would say as I would leave. “I wanted to see how you were doing.”

She would then smile and say,

“I am so glad you did.” 

Her door was shut to her room when I got there the other day, and the spot in the day room where she sat was vacant. It appears as if it’s over to those who don’t see. On the other side, however, she is beaming in bright light, fully back to the fullness of her youth. I know that she walks now alongside those who have gone before her, and she is happy to be next to her husband, who she loved on earth so very much. 

This isn’t a job where I shuffle papers, and it’s not going to pay a single bill. 

It is a moment to become more aware of my days and those ahead of me. 

Again I find myself trying to understand something new about life while looking for answers to what is deemed as death. 

 It’s what we trust in but don’t yet see that keeps us going. Do you suppose a few ruts in the road or rocks in the path are going to stop us? When the time comes, we’ll be plenty ready to exchange exile for homecoming. (2 Corinthians. 5:7)

He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less. (John 3:30)

(One of the places, I listen with my eyes)

Honorable Discharge

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

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

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

“What is that?”

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

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

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

“I wonder why he does it?” She asked.

See? Like that.

“Did you ask him?”

“Yes. He didn’t hear me.”

He was a master.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you hear her say to get up?”

“She did?”

“Yes. Can you stand up?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Can you hear me?”

He looked right at me and said,

“No, Chris. I can’t hear you.”

That was my sign it was functioning correctly.

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

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

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

I repeated my question with no response.

This time I decided to upgrade.

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

“Selective hearing,” he said, then smiled.

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

Unfortunately, it isn’t.

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

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

“What was that for?”

“To shoot down airplanes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another event he went through was not as humorous.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My dad saw Proverbs 12:1 in action:

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

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

I equate that to when we ignore God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transplant

There was a particular place that she wanted to go to. It couldn’t just be a store that sold many things, but one that only focused their attention on what she was looking for. It’s not something I would pursue because of bad experiences, but she often pushes me past my resistance to trying something again.

I didn’t want to take on another responsibility with all the others that I already had. So my idea was to go with her but not buy anything.

As I drove there, I tried to keep quiet and not think about how many other times I had done this, which led to failure.

“Have you read about how to do this? You know what you are doing?”

“Yes.”

Of course she had because she’s smarter than I am.

We walked across the icy parking lot with an intense winter wind whipping, slapping us across the face. The double doors opened, and warm air surrounded us.

Sunlight streamed in, and it was as if we had gone from the Antarctic to a tropical island with plants of all shapes, colors, and variations. There wasn’t anything that I couldn’t kill from the very tiniest to taller than me. This is why I didn’t want to come in the first place. There was a long list of casualties on my record of house plants not making it very long no matter how closely I followed all the rules or not.

“I want to look at the orchids,” she said.

I had never had one of those, so she was on her own with that. Let the blood of the innocent be on her hands this time.

As we looked at them, I saw instructions sticking up, printed on a card:

Place one ice cube in soil three times per week.

“An ice cube? I don’t get it.”

Where we live, the cold instantly takes the life of any outdoor plant, so now, we were to put ice on our indoor plants? That sounded like someone who had murdered growing things like me; get it over with.

Throw a bag of ice on that, and call it good, that I could do.

I looked into it further, and it was actually a way to make sure it was getting enough water without it draining out. It’s a slow release of hydration instead of one big blast.

When a salesperson came over, I asked her if it was effective.

“I wouldn’t do it. It’s a trend now. Dipping the container in water works best.”

She chose the one she wanted, and I did not believe it would make it until spring, but I knew she had to try.

We looked around, and I overheard a lady trying to figure out what to buy.

This is not a quick decision. You have to think about where you will place it concerning how light comes into your house. Does it need direct sunlight, partial or a completely dark room?

“I have a couch I can move over,” I heard her say to her friend.

If you have to remodel to take in one plant, it might be a good idea to forget it because, with my experience, you can put in an extraordinary amount of care, and they will callously keel over without a second thought.

It always starts with the withered look and leaves that lose their sheen. Then it gradually goes downhill into yellowing and pieces falling off. At first, I always try to revive the situation. I start by removing what has died to be sure all the nutrients are going toward what is left living. I test the soil for dryness, or is it damp? Maybe new dirt would help, and a little plant food.

I walk away knowing I have given it the best care, and I am highly hopeful it will make a comeback because I have applied the detailed advice of a botanist I found online. But by morning, it’s deceased. It just totally checks itself out without even saying goodbye.

I can’t handle that kind of rejection over and over.

So while there looking with her, I had decided not to open up my heart to be crushed by another that for no reason would die. That was until I saw something that I had not considered before.

Bamboo.

They had them in clear vases with decorative rock and no soil. This meant no guessing whether they had enough water or not. When I saw them displayed, Chinese New Year had just started, so next to them was a list of all the good luck they could bring me, depending on how many stalks I put together.

With my horrible track record of keeping anything alive past a week, it would need the luck, not me.

One stalk seemed lonely. It had nothing to do with bad fortune. Two represented love, or that good things come in pairs. Three of them meant happiness and a new beginning. Four was not to mess with because it denoted death. We had already had enough of that.

I settled on five because it looked decent and wasn’t overwhelming like the suggested 888 of them.

After saying I would purchase nothing, I brought them home and crossed all my fingers. These, I was told, were difficult to destroy. They hadn’t met me.

The first year, all was well. My five grew somewhat and were not that much of a bother. Her orchid worried me as it stayed the same, with no flowers.

The second year, I ran into trouble and had to move three out of my five into their own vase.

“Why are they not with the rest?” She asked me.

“They look a little sick. And I read online if they have something wrong, it can spread to the others.” The remaining two were flourishing.

So I quarantined the unhealthy and it turned into hospice.

“I read that this can happen,” she said, trying to make me feel better. “They just don’t make it as long.”

And they didn’t.

Her orchid stayed the same, and I wondered if it had died but looked alive.

“Is yours okay?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

“It’s been two years, and it doesn’t look any different than the day you bought it.”

She let it be, and I saw my two start growing more.

If mine made it past the two-year mark, I found out that it could reach five feet.

At nearly three years, my two were inching upward more and more. I guess I was destined to have a pair that would bring more love into my life. The initial five promised me wealth, but 1 Corinthians 13:2 says there is something more significant:

And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.(ESV)

Sometimes, you have to lose something to trade up.

The other day I asked her again,

“Is your orchid doing okay? It looks the same as when you bought it three years ago.”

She got out potting soil and a larger container. After all this time, I wondered if this disruption would bring too much trauma. That’s the risk that is run when you move something that has gotten its roots down and is locked into a place that it has been for a long time.

I walked past it the next day, and it had doubled in size.

“Did you see your plant?”

I think she expected me to tell her it had croaked.

“No.”

When she looked at it, she was just as surprised as I was to see it spread out so much in its new home.

“You aren’t supposed to replant them for three years.”

“Really? That’s such a long time.”

To be honest, I thought maybe she had neglected it for too long. But, she had read that this was the perfect time to give it a larger space to expand. Every day, it seems to fill out more, seeming to enjoy the room to grow.

In the same way, when the constricting limitations are removed from a person’s life, it ushers in peace and joy that wasn’t there before. Adapting to a new way of living always comes with uncertainty, but God promises to be with you through each step, guiding and protecting you.

In John 15:5 it says:

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing. (NIV)

This speaks to the idea that a life sworn over into the hands of God is not your own.

If you want heaven to make good use of you, increase your influence, heal the hurting and fulfill a mission on earth, you have to be willing to go through a transplant.

Genuine

Minnesota is known for a food atrocity that probably has graced the tables of those unfortunate enough to have put it in their shopping carts. My mom was one of them, and I absolutely refused to partake of it. Meat processed into a can with a globby gel around it ranks right up there with eating chocolate-covered insects. 

I watched a documentary where this lady could not stop consuming lint no matter how detrimental it was to her health. When she would hear the buzzer go off on the dryer, she would take out the trap and start swallowing down the fuzz that had collected on it. Another person’s obsession was hand sanitizer that was guzzled down like water.

If this meat product had been included, I would not have been surprised. 

There must be those who love it, though, because there has been an entire booth set up at the state fair devoted to this. These are the ones with stomachs of steel and absent gag reflexes. They stand in line and pay actual money that they worked hard for in exchange for something that is said to be food, but is it?

They fry it, bake it, grill it, chop it, slice it. They pass this off as a versatile food source that is convenient because it’s precooked, and it never dies because it’s questionable if it ever walked the earth. 

I recall innocently wandering into the kitchen as a child as a can of this was opened.  

“What is that?” I asked.

She made me smell it, and the gooey appearance brought on an instant hunger strike.

“You will like it.”  

This always was the beginning of the coaxing me to try something that I knew I already would hate. When another person had to tell me that I would have an affinity for something, I was already putting up all sorts of defenses.

She knew I was the type of kid who would not eat cooked carrots but accepted them as raw. Hot cereal was death, and cooked beets, kill me now. There wasn’t enough milk produced in the industry to help me get those down without letting them touch my taste buds. She wouldn’t let me plug my nose, either, because that wasn’t ‘good table manners.’ 

It made her uncomfortable seeing me suffering, so I had to hide it and try not to cough, which would have sent everything from my mouth onto the table, and well, that would have ruined everything.    

And, now she was leaping to selling me on canned meat? She had clearly lost her ability to think straight after eating products ladened with chemicals like the very thing she was trying to convince me to swallow. 

She never got her way, and it was a good thing she didn’t. All she saw were dollar signs because this was a cheap fix for a meal. I could go munch down grass out of the backyard for no charge to maintain my life span and enjoy it more. 

Multiple articles claim that this cube-shaped charlatan acting as a protein is full of salt, sugar and processed as much as it can be. How did they combat the bad press and the negativity? They made a light version to accommodate those who are health conscious. They took out more of the bad things to make it better. 

Don’t sign me up. 

And, there are recipes out there. I came across one that lists the top one hundred. That is one hundred too many. Someone asked what the best way was to eat this—the answer: straight out of the can. The real inquiry should be: why, why, why? 

One person thought it was great to shape it into donuts and fry them. To add to the choke factor, they suggested putting chunks of it into the homemade ‘dough’. 

The draw is the affordability, and its craze, with some, has earned it an iconic place in society where there is a museum and merchandise you can wear on your body to let the entire world know that you eat meat out of a metal can. And if that isn’t enough, some restaurants have it on their menu, and the health department does not shut them down. 

I don’t find it an accident that it shares its name with the category in my email that junk mail lands. 

I hadn’t put much thought into that folder. I just figured the system was filtering out sales pitches or offers that would be a waste of my time. In a way, it’s nice to have an invisible hand doing that on my behalf. Some analytical program decides that I shouldn’t be bothered with information that isn’t necessary. It’s so close to being royalty it’s a little frightening.  

Away with you, peasant! I am sorry, but she cannot read that right now. She is by appointment only.

I didn’t have to be bothered with it, and I was a better person for it until I was forced to go there. 

I had tried to reset a password, and instead of sending it to my primary folder, it got sent to the dark abyss. After waiting more than the long sixty seconds that it said I had to, it was suggested I check the other location. 

Much to my amazement, I had compiled an assortment of correspondence that left me wondering who had sold my address to satan. There were not just a few but hundreds of inquiries in all shapes and forms soliciting all kinds of things that left my eyes burning. I actually shut them and started hitting delete. 

I devote a part of my morning to erasing these that seem to keep finding me every day now. Instead of taking the time to get rid of a week’s worth, I found that if I keep up with it, it’s less time-consuming. 

I began to wonder how one gets a job sending out these invitations? There seems to be some thought that goes into the type of emojis and bold capital letters. Not so much the English language is considered, but someone is making a living doing this, somewhere, hoping I will click on the link. 

Outside of the R-rated biddings for my attention, some offer compensation for the legal problems that are plaguing me. In contrast, others want me to finally claim that sum of money sitting in my account for ages with interest collecting. Why am I not responding to the sweepstakes I entered that would give me the life of my dreams?  

At the same time, the IRS is going to put me in jail for something, Amazon loves me and wants to give me a $1000 gift card, and a long-lost relative wants to find me so we can catch up and wouldn’t you know they live in a foreign country? How wonderful that someone in my family tree branched out like that and made something of themselves, stealing credit card numbers in a coffee shop across the ocean.

While all of this might be tempting to some, I have no problem sending them out of sight forever. 

So, why do I do this? Because I know they are there now. Before, I didn’t. I lived in ignorance, and it was beautiful. 

One of my concerns is that if I should die, what would someone think if they opened up my email and found all of these racy, desperate pleas? Just sitting there, like I hadn’t removed them, as if it was okay. I couldn’t live with myself after death if that happened. So, it’s now part of my daily existence to keep up a good image, even if it’s just for me to know, and to save some poor unfortunate soul if I depart. 

The other thing is, I don’t like fake.

Almost every single one of these is based on a scam and trying to bait people into circumstances that aren’t good. This is where the deception begins, where words are used to manipulate and entice into something that has absolutely no substance. I have seen so many people, usually those who are looking for something that is missing, fall for these types of schemes, thinking it will be life-changing. 

After taking over as my dad’s power of attorney, I had to fight off a company that kept coming to him for money that he shouldn’t have been spending. When they wouldn’t leave him alone and flooded his mailbox with their emotionally driven requests, I sent them a letter explaining my position in his life, which put a stop to it. It seems to quiet the waters when you toss the word ‘lawsuit’ out there. 

It ends your valuable customer status quickly.

I am not the only one who doesn’t like shady offers. Look at what this says from Psalm 101:3:

Help me to refuse the low and vulgar things; help me to abhor all crooked deals of every kind, to have no part in them. (TLB)

They inundate us and constantly seek our attention, but we have the choice to remove them from our experience. 

It’s a worthwhile endeavor to start thinning out those things that pose as real but aren’t. From food to friends, God wants you to have the best, and it will be genuine. 

Nightmares, right here