Irritant

I had finally escaped the pain that was zipping through my face by falling asleep. Once it started, it would sometimes last for three days before subsiding. When you do everything you can to stop it, and nothing seems to be working, you start to wonder if it will go back to normal.

Acupuncture and chiropractor visits had offset it, but stress was the culprit that had promoted it. Mentally, it was wearing, taunting me to forget everything I knew was true about healing. Even when it subsided, there was this low level fear that it would return without warning.

I had used a TENS unit to send electrical pulses to the area as a way to activate the central nervous system, which can create a temporary respite.

The one thing I learned not to do was increase the intensity quickly. With the pads adhered to the side of my face and down my neck, I had to turn the dial slowly. At the lowest level, nothing could be felt, so I had to move it up until it was tolerable.

There would be this slight pinching feeling that would begin and spread out into a wave. I always felt a tingling on the inside of my cheek.

I found out the hard way that if the dial were accidentally bumped up to the highest level, you would have an impromptu shock therapy session.

Like in a movie where someone is being tortured to cough up the truth, this self-inflicted move will have you become vocal so that every person around you knows that you would be indebted for life if there were a swear jar. The current that shoots into your body could light up a small town.

I felt like someone was watching me as I blinked my eyes. It seemed like my jaw, where it had started, felt better. Maybe I was on the mend, and it followed a pattern, it seemed. Once at this point, from past flare ups, I knew I was probably past the worst of it.

Just as I was about to say this, she appeared above me with something in her hand. Like she had been waiting for me to wake up. I wasn’t quite fully conscious.

“What are you…”

I felt a coldness on my temple as she went to work rolling on some liquid in a glass bottle. I don’t know how this had happened, but somewhere along the way, my daughter had become a holistic medicine person, researching, buying, and applying it to me. Just to see how it went.

I had flashbacks from my childhood when remedies would be forced upon me with no explanation. Ointments, sprays, or yucky tasting liquids, all slathered, spritzed, or presented on a spoon, were given without warning. It was futile to refuse.

“I read that peppermint oil is supposed to help this type of pain.”

She put it across my forehead and on my other temple. I had to close my eyes as the scent was strong like one gigantic after-dinner mint.

“It feels better since I slept,” as she continued to put more on.

I was starting to detect the coolness turning to warmth on my face. Similar to going near a source of heat when you are chilled. At first, it was soothing until the burning started.

I stopped her mid-application.

“Something isn’t okay,” I said.

“What?”

It was going up from mild to scorching rapidly. When I felt drips of it reach both corners of my eyes, I knew that I was going to have to wash some of it off.

“How much of this are you supposed to put on?”

“I don’t know. Maybe I should do it differently next time. This is supposed to be good for this type of thing.”

At that moment, I recalled that sometimes less is better. I had to remove the pads and run blindly for a sink without opening my eyes. That was impressive. If I ever had to leave my home in an emergency, I had just proven to myself I could do it without having sight.

The nerve pain in my face was long forgotten as I tried to remember what I had learned in chemistry when hydrochloric acid had spilled and splashed at me. This felt worse.

When you are a part of an experiment not conducted by any scientific means, you run the risk of coming to your own rescue.

Hanging over the sink, I said in between handfuls of water that I was drowning myself in,

“What happened to me waking up in a blissful state? You pounced on me the minute that you saw I was awake!”

She came into the bathroom to check on me. As usual, when she is standing there looking at me, it makes me laugh. I don’t want to, but it’s something about how she looks so bewildered as to why her carefully laid plans have gone astray.

I grabbed a towel to dry off, but I had to plunge back in and continue to try and remove it.

“What is this supposed to do? How was this supposed to help? What did you find online that said this was a good idea?”

I said all this as I choked on all the water in the world I could get.

“It is supposed to relax the nerve.”

“I am not relaxed right now. None of my nerves are at peace right now.”

The next time I used it, I put it on my wrists, as far from my face as I could get it. You can do that, and it will still bring results without incinerating your skin.

Worse than an adverse reaction to a substance is to be forced to deal with a person that has become a nuisance, gotten under your skin, and possibly on your last nerve.

There was an Aunt Sophie vs. my Dad period during my childhood, which was tumultuous. When I was seven, I recall seeing him struggle with dealing with his mom. My grandma had gone through a series of strokes and health issues, so she was considered a vulnerable adult, but back then, it was not viewed as it is today. She lived with her sister, Sophie, who was not the best at taking care of herself, let alone another human being.

People were left to their own devices and the help we have today to deal with these types of situations was not there back then.

He would always get this impatient tone when he had to field a call from Sophie. I noticed that he held the handset far from his ear when she spoke like he was putting as much distance between her lips and his ear as possible.

I could visualize her in my mind. She always had on the brightest shade of red, usually smeared across her front teeth.

His only response strategically placed was,

“Uh, huh.”

She could talk his face off, and he was not one for being on the phone when he wanted to be outside doing a task he considered enjoyable, like building something out of wood. He didn’t want to listen to a woman talk at him. It was never a pleasant exchange.

There always was some upset that he was expected to deal with. I was too young to understand what the pressure exerted on him was, but I saw his blood pressure go up the minute he had to speak to her.

If I came in the kitchen when this was going on, my mom would whisper,

“It’s Sophie. You might want to leave.” She didn’t want me to be subjected to more of his language than I had to be. She knew that he would go off at some point when he had reached his limit.

Her calls were the worst timing when he would finally be free from work, and it was a Saturday where he had no schedule.

“Sophie, stop crying. I can’t understand what you are saying.”

This was usually the opening statement, and it was stated mechanically.

I often stood there looking up at him to see if he would notice me. He rarely did because something had to happen to bring him back once he went into this far-off state. His eyes would glaze over like he wanted to leave his body.

I could hear her shrill voice on the other end. When he took me with him to see her, I asked him later why she chewed gum every time I saw her.

“That’s not gum, Chris. That’s her nerves. She can’t sit still. She is crazy.” And this was the person in charge of his mother.

On one particular day, he was at his wit’s end. My mom had yelled out the front door that he was wanted on the phone.

“Who is it?”

“Sophie. I think something is wrong.”

It was always the same thing to guilt him into coming in.

I could tell the minute he stepped in the house that this wouldn’t go well. I heard a deep sigh as he said,

“Hello?”

For a few brief seconds, it was silent. Then after months, and maybe years of this, the explosion happened. He had been stuffing down his frustration for so long he could not hold it back anymore.

The whole thing ended with him yelling super loud, and he smashed the phone back into the cradle. He stormed back outside. My mom looked at me. I looked at her. It was like someone had pushed his final button.

It was a warm spring day, so all the windows were open. From the garage, we heard him yelp. Like one of those Fred Flintstone shriek’s that seem fake, but this was not.

“What was that?” she asked me. I shrugged. We both looked out the kitchen window to see him coming back, holding onto his hand.

“John, what did you do to yourself?”

Always the nurse ready to get out her bandages and splints.

He held out his thumb, which was quickly becoming double its size.

“I was going to hammer in a nail, and Sophie made me so mad that I hit myself instead. I cannot stand that woman!”

An ice bag was applied to his injury, and the coldness in his heart toward his aunt didn’t improve, especially once he found out that she was stealing funds from my grandma.

He had to learn to tolerate her even though he looked like he was being scraped with sandpaper every time they had to be in the same room together.

He tried his absolute best to follow Proverbs 15:1:

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (NIV)

Sometimes that is all you can do. Did he roll his eyes when he would have to see her? Yes, every time. He made sure to look at me and do that. But, he kept his mouth shut and his temper under control. He found out it wasn’t worth getting all bent out of shape or almost breaking his thumb.

He had to learn to limit his time with her to keep his peace. Just like I had to learn how to use the oil sparingly to help my physical pain, we have to do that with people sometimes. And believe it or not, you might be the object of someone’s angst. We all can be.

I have a list of the eight most common emotions hanging on my refrigerator. Each one gives examples of what is felt, such as frustration or resentment associated with anger. But, with each one, another column tells what gift is earned as you work with each one.

So that friend or neighbor who drives you up the wall is building your inner strength, helping you put up boundaries, and allowing you to develop some assertiveness skills.

God can do that, even with the worst irritant.

Peaceful Balance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hebrews 12:17 says,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(That’s not even full yet…)

King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It is considered theft.”

Hypocrisy at its highest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She immediately vaporized in the hall.

“How did it go?”

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

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

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

Her life stressors didn’t excuse her brutality.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further in verses 25-29,

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

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

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

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…)

Clue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?” she asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you have cable?”

“Yes,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

“I have said I am not interested.”

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

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

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

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

I moved away again.

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

I started dialing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wait

It felt like football minutes for her to come back into the building. I often refer to time in that way to indicate when something should go quickly, but then it feels like it takes so much longer. It was one of those parenting moments when your child is involved, and you have to sit it out.

I had taken her to all of her behind-the-wheel classes, took her to pass the permit test, which was a bit of a nail biter even though she passed with flying colors, hired a private company to take her out on the road, spent time going on back roads that I was familiar with so we wouldn’t get lost. Because with me in the passenger seat, it’s a given. Getting lost comes by me easily.

I sat in the area designated for those of us who are not good at staving off panic attacks. I had no one around to help distract or offset my overthinking. Usually, if I can find someone to talk to, I get so wrapped in their life story that I forget where I am—no such luck. I had to wait with me, and I am not the best person to keep myself company.

The window was behind me, and I was tempted to look out and see which section of the test she was on. But then again, I didn’t want to. She was going to pass, and I had to settle it in my mind. These are the moments when I can pray, and God takes over, helping me not count the seconds dragging by.

It is said that time is an illusion. Try using that as an excuse when someone expects you at a specific appointment. Our lives are structured heavily by the clock.

Before I opened my eyes, I knew my furnace had stopped working. Under multiple blankets, the only visible part of me was my face, and I could tell by the frigid air that something had gone amiss. It wasn’t yet the dead middle of winter, but the temperature was starting to drop at night more and more.

I knew what I had to do next because I had to do it so many times before. I have lived in this house long enough that I know all of its quirks. Every other year, this would happen, and there was a reset switch that if I flicked it off and on, crossed all my fingers, and held my breath, it might come back on again. If not, I would have to call the gas company to send someone out.

I have every single appliance covered under their repair plan in case I had something like this happen. At first, it was an excellent service, but it has not been as great over the years. What used to be a one-day wait has become a week unless it is an emergency—a water heater blowing up, for example. Freezing to death isn’t a huge priority to them.

“We can schedule this for tomorrow,” the representative said.

“What time?” I asked, somewhat surprised that this was going to happen so quickly.

“My computer won’t show me a time, but I can see that I have it confirmed for you.”

“So anytime between when the sun comes up and when it goes down?”

“Pretty much. We will send an email confirmation to you so you will then know a more specific time.”

I received no such thing, so I called back in the morning by eight a.m. to verify.

“Yes. We have you in the system as having a furnace appointment today, but I cannot give you an exact arrival time. My computer isn’t letting me do that.”

So, I became a prisoner in my own home. I tried to preoccupy myself and not pay attention to the ticking clock. After four hours, I called them again.

“It says right here that you are on the schedule. I am sure someone will be out to you shortly.”

Another four hours went by.

“Christine? Can you hold?”

Like my whole life wasn’t already on one. After a few moments,

“I found you, and you are on the list for today. But, I cannot give you a time.”

Every time I called in to ask, I got a different person. I had this nagging feeling that something wasn’t right, and I wanted to get out of sitting around if that was the case. I was okay with not having anything done that day, but I needed someone to say it.

Once six o’clock rolled by, and then eight, I called again.

“We have you..”

“Right on the list…I know. Are you sure? Is someone going to come here?”

“Yes. We have technicians out until midnight sometimes. Be sure to turn on your outside lights when it gets dark so our employee can see that you are still waiting. We have had some customers not do that, so it appears they have gone to bed.”

“Okay,” I said, still trusting them.

At ten, I was getting more skeptical. I was feeling stood up. So, I called again.

“Is this an emergency?” I now was getting the after-hours help.

“Not really, but yes. I have no heat, and I have been waiting for someone to show up all day. I have asked if anyone is coming, and I keep being told that I am on the schedule. What can you tell me?”

“Do you have a space heater?”

That was the first crack in the solid foundation of lies they had told me all day long.

“I have ways to stay warm. I just want to know if someone is showing up here at this address on this day.”

“You are scheduled. It says it right here.”

“I know it says that. But, is it true?”

“If someone doesn’t show up by midnight, then call back.”

Click.

Two hours later, I was back on the phone.

“Can you see how many times I have called in today and for what reason?” I asked.

“Yes, Christine. I can see that.”

“So, it shows that I have waited all day, and I have been told that I would get help?”

“Yes.”

“And, now it is midnight, so now what? My problem has not been resolved.”

I was trying to focus on my breathing. I had lost count of how many others I had spoken to, and to take out my frustration on this one would not have been fair.

“All of our technicians go home by eight. So, who told you that you had to wait until midnight? That was wrong information.”

Breathing. Inhale, exhale.

“I am not sure.”

“Let me see what I can do. I need to put you on a brief hold.”

I wanted to scream into the nearest pillow.

“Christine?”

Who else would it be?

“I can have someone come right away in the morning tomorrow.”

Did tomorrow mean the next day or a week, a month, or never?

“How certain are you of this?”

“I am putting you in as a priority. Someone will be there right at eight.”

“Morning or night?”

Earth time?

“Morning.”

I hung up, still not fully believing it was going to happen. I decided to send customer service a note explaining what had occurred.

I got up the next day, and soon, I heard the familiar beep of a truck backing up into my driveway.

When he walked in, I explained what had happened the day before.

“Who told you that someone would be here at midnight? We never do that unless it is way below zero. We aren’t there yet.”

After he left, I was never so glad to have my freedom back. And a warm house. I ended up getting two months of no payment on my bill for my trouble.

While I was in the midst of the dilemma, it seemed like it lasted forever. When I think about it now, I just see the result. It was a hassle not to do what I wanted for an entire day because I was confined to my residence, but I did end up getting what I had asked for, just not when I thought I would.

That has happened to me when I have prayed, and I have had to be patient for an answer. They aren’t always instantaneous. We are accustomed to microwave minutes, not slow cook.

When something doesn’t come as quickly as presumed, it can be easy to lose faith and trust in God. In Lamentations 3:25, there is this promise,

God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits, to the woman who diligently seeks. It’s good to hope and hope for God’s help quietly. (Message)

It says it is ‘good,’ but it doesn’t always seem that way. While I was writing this, a page wouldn’t load due to a slow internet connection. While I was repeatedly hitting the enter button, I became aware of that. God will take every opportunity to have patience become more robust in you through any means possible.

During the ‘hangtime,’ I often have to go back and review what has been done for me in the past. Sometimes, we find ourselves finally thinking about what has been done on our behalf in the most uncomfortable moments. You begin to realize the faithfulness of heaven, and maybe that is its purpose because everything happens for a reason.

You will see clearly where you have come from and where you want to go while you wait.

(It’s 5 o’clock somewhere)

Found

I had looked everywhere and couldn’t find them. They had disappeared into the same vortex that had been sucking up our socks for years. The weather had turned bitterly cold, and I knew I would quickly morph into a walking reptile if I didn’t cover my hands.

“I cannot find my gloves,” I said twice a day every day.

I searched all the familiar places. The closets, the garage on the off chance that I had left them there, the shed, the basement, my car, under every seat, the pockets of my winter coats, under the kitchen table, cupboards, and the junk drawer. I would be doing something and suddenly have an image of where I hadn’t looked. I thought for sure I would locate them. Dropping everything, I would search and come up with nothing.

I had purchased them the fall before, so how could I have misplaced them over the summer? This was the mystery I was faced with every year. I didn’t just toss them into the trash, but somehow they ran away from home when the seasons changed.

If I didn’t do something to put a barrier between me and the weather, I would have to suffer through cracks that would bleed. While at the height of raising kids and changing diapers, I had a pediatrician take one of my red, chapped hands and say,

“You need to take care of this. You are probably washing a lot and need to put on moisturizer.”

Until he pointed that out, I had no idea how awful they were. I was too busy trying to sleep when I could and think straight. It wasn’t like I was being chased down to be a hand model.

It had been an ongoing problem even after they were grown. If I let it get out of control, it was the worst session of burning one could imagine when I tried to put a cream on them. It had to be applied with eyes shut, and mouth closed screaming.

“I cannot believe I lost another pair!” I told my daughter. She watched as I pulled items off of shelves and ransacked the entire house.

I decided to let myself suffer until I found them. If it got too bad, I would jam my hands into the pockets of my coat.

I found two mismatched options that were thin and should not have counted as mittens. They did nothing to stop the cold air from going right through to my skin. I searched for the hand lotion and discovered that this had also vanished. I imagined my gloves and the bottle sitting somewhere in the sun laughing at me while I frantically tried to hold off the incoming damage.

By Christmas, I was still periodically slathering on the product I had gotten made especially for ‘working hands.’ It had a picture of a guy with a hammer, so at first, I thought maybe I shouldn’t get it. I didn’t go about my days putting nails into wood. But, my hands were never idle, so I decided I qualified. They should rename it for those who multitask, otherwise, it cuts off a whole population of people who think they aren’t good enough.

Even with that on, I was still walking on thin ice. I am not the best at remembering to apply it because other than winter, who needs it? By the time I would go to bed at night, and as my eyes closed, I would drift off thinking about how I forgot to put it on. I promised I would do it the following day, and by night time, when I was falling asleep again, I realized I had forgotten.

Then I lost the gloves that were doing me no good.

On Christmas Day, my self-inflicted torture came to an end when I opened up a brand new pair of gloves from my daughter, who had stood by sighing, telling me to buy another pair.

When I first got them, I was mindful of where they were at all times. I tried to keep my mind focused on when I put them in my purse. On occasion, when I was in a hurry, which is every day, I would slide them into my coat pockets. Then, I would check my purse and wonder where I had put them. I was fighting a monster, and it was me.

One night, I had to run multiple errands to various places. It was warmer, so my evil twin put them in my pockets. The next day, I checked my purse and went through the entire crazy search again. This time, I only found one of the two in my coat. This led me to my car, under seats, the trunk, the garage, and back to square one. It wasn’t even spring, and I had done it to myself again.

All day I tormented myself with thoughts of how careless I was.

“I don’t deserve gloves,” I texted her.

“You lost them?” she asked.

“One of them,” I said.

At least I was getting better at not losing both. The difficult part was that she had gone out of her way to help me, and I had returned immediately to what I had always done.

“Where were you last?” she asked.

“A lot of places,” I said, thinking about where it could have gotten left.

After not being able to forget it, I decided to be shown where it was. I said out loud,

“Nothing is lost or stolen in the kingdom of heaven. Please let me see where my glove is.”

I had read that in a book, and it had worked to help me find other things. Why I hadn’t thought of it sooner, I don’t know. Maybe because I had decided to punish myself, and that was all I was focused on?

In a flash, I saw my wayward black glove in a parking lot that I had been in the previous night. I drove there, parked where I had, got out, and was reunited with it. Out of all the places I had been, this was the one I had seen when I asked for help. I didn’t delay in acting on it.

When we condemn ourselves, we shut off the divine assistance that would so readily come. In 1 John 3:20, there is an excellent reminder not to follow my horrible example:

My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves. (Message)

What else don’t we see because we write ourselves off as unworthy? God has other great ideas for you, but you are too preoccupied going over all your failures and can’t imagine being forgiven or counted as productive for heaven. As unreal as it sounds, being mean to yourself is a comfort zone. It feels safer to stay in self-condemnation mode if you have practiced it for years.

So when God whispers to your spirit to take on something new, you recall every single thing you have ever done to mess up. You couldn’t possibly be a candidate for the job you are being asked to carry out. And, just like that, you stay where you are because it’s familiar.

It’s so much easier to drift with no strings attached instead of being on a steady course, advancing and going forward. It’s also miserable. At the heart of it, you aren’t happy while you pretend to be content. You have the choice to self-destruct or move in the direction that will have you fulfilling your purpose. It’s up to you, and it won’t be forced upon you.

No one is ever too far out of reach for God to heal and retrieve from the lost and found.

(I still have them. Who is winning?)

Best For Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whatever that was.

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

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

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

Being a negotiator, she said,

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

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

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

When she would say,

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

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

I had other things I wanted to do instead.

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

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

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

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

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

Boots.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I lost my voice.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t care! Where are they?”

They were in my locker, not available until Monday.

“At school.”

This took it up another notch.

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

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

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

She followed me.

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

Not the full name. I faced her again.

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

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

“No! I won’t! I hate them!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Get to your room.”

She walked away.

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

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

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

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

This was the best news I had heard so far.

“Won’t you be mad at me if I don’t?”

This seemed too easy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obedience Training

A while ago, as if in another life inside this one, I acquired a black lab. I had said farewell to my first dog, Libby, a Beagle. She was eight and had been a trial run to see if I could parent a child. I had read in a book that if you can raise a dog, chances are, you are a good fit as a parent. I’m not kidding when I say that. I was young and impressionable, so I didn’t know any better. 

Libby saw me through the early stages of my marriage and the birth of my children. She stood by as I let daycare kids into my home to make a living. I often found her under a pile of little ones who were all trying to hug her at once. She was patient as circumstances changed around her. Death came to call so early, I felt, and I wanted her to know she could leave. Every night, I would go out into the quiet of the living room, lay my hands on her and ask for a peaceful passing. As I put groceries away a few days later, I felt this overwhelming pull to the living room. I rushed to her as she took her last breath. When I returned to the kitchen later, I had left the refrigerator door wide open, and I had dropped everything all over the floor. Tears overwhelmed me as I cleaned up. 

Having another dog wasn’t something I desired until one night, after tucking my girls in bed, I heard: make room for another one. There was a gigantic hole in my heart, but I covered it up as my kids were young, and I didn’t have time to sit around and grieve. 

I went to bed thinking..no!

The following week, Shady was living in my home. She had an owner who loved her dearly, but his wife did not. This dog landed in my household at nine months old with absolutely no training and extreme separation anxiety. Her black lab stature was pushing more than 80 pounds from being fed from the table and spoiled rotten. She was convinced she was a small lap dog and tried to execute this move frequently. When she wanted my attention, she got it, whether I was prepared to give it or not. 

Having no real bond with me initially, I had to learn how to deal with the bad habits that her previous owner had instilled, but who was I to enforce the rules? Leaving her alone in the house was a nightmare. I never knew what I was going to come home to find destroyed. I had gone from a well-trained Beagle to a black machine of mass destruction. I consoled myself by realizing this wasn’t her fault but the lack of teaching she never received. 

My commands to her were a foreign language because she never had to obey before. It was like taking in an animal from the wild. She loved water as this breed is naturally inclined to, and we had an above-ground pool. Her idea was to get into the water, and mine was to keep her out because her nails would shred the liner. I always made sure to close the safety gate behind me to keep her at bay-until I forgot.

One morning while I was pulling back the cover to put in weekly chemicals, I saw a gigantic shadow over my reflection in the water as I was crouched down. Instinctively, I glanced upward to see the underside of Shady hurdling over me to get into the pool. With a thundering splash, she cleared me but then began to panic, not knowing how to get out. The ladder was way too small, and the pool was deep. I had no choice but to jump in freshly showered and with full make-up on to rescue her. As I tried to reach her, she would move away. By some miracle, I got behind her and was able to shove her hulking form onto the deck. She shook off her coat, turned, and looked at me as if this was such a wonderful spontaneous moment. Like we had just had the best pool party of our lives. I had ten minutes to get reassembled and out the door, while she napped on the kitchen floor, exhausted from her morning swim. 

Because she was accustomed to going everywhere all the time in her previous living situation, I was left in a quandary trying to curb her extreme fear of being left alone. I thought as time passed, she would get the idea that when we left, we would return. But her anxiety got the best of her, and she was causing damage. The final straw came when I walked in the door to see one of my daughter’s Beta fish tanks in the living room. In a frenzy, she had decided to take it off the kitchen table and run with it. There was water, rocks and an empty plastic container proudly strewn all over.

When I heard my daughter sadly say, “Oh, no! Not Oscar!” I began frantically searching for the tiny red fish, hoping the whale hadn’t swallowed him! 

I found him breathing quite rapidly under the table, so I rushed around trying to make it right and stop the tears of a little girl for her beloved fish. I think he died of a heart attack. Oscar joined the other dearly departed Beta fish in the little cemetery we had created. I think he was number ten. I lost count. 

This prompted me to buy the most oversized kennel I could find. I put the softest of all dog beds inside it to convey how nice she had it. It was to be a safe oasis for her to meditate and center herself while she was alone. I gave the idea a try. The kennel was placed and left open for her to come and go. To coax her in, I would leave treats for her to find. She would buzz in quick and fly out just as fast. It was a battle of wills by the time I made her go in, but I knew this had to be done. 

I gave her an extra treat through the metal front and told her that we would be right back. While driving away, I realized I now had acquired an anxiety disorder about leaving her. I brushed the thoughts away, hoping for the best. 

When we returned home, Shady greeted me at the door. I regret not leaving a recording device while we were away. I looked across the room at the kennel, and it appeared perfectly intact. The door was secure and locked. It wasn’t until I walked to the side that I saw the gaping hole where she had made her escape. She stood by once again, whipping me with a happy tail while I took in the incredible handiwork she had done, eating away at the plastic to gain her freedom. It was impressive to see that she had cut out the perfect side door with just her teeth. 

Shady taught me some lessons. First, fear can make both people and animals do crazy things. She was perfectly safe, but she thought she wasn’t, and she made a mess trying to solve her illusionary problems. The kennel was a respite, not a trap. Second, she left me to understand that when someone feels they are limited, there’s always a way out. It may not be the most logical, but the drive to change circumstances to one’s liking can happen no matter what. Shady wasn’t happy, so Shady made a way where there seemed to be no way.

Do we let our fears get the best of us? Or do we see with the eyes of God? Do we rest and allow a safe place to be provided where our spirit knows that it’s okay to stay awhile? Or do we chew and claw at the walls of our lives, desperate to create an opening by our willpower? Or do we get still and let the divine take over so that the outcome is perfect? 

I applaud Shady’s desire to run free, but her solution wasn’t ideal. In 1 Corinthians 10:13 it says: 

All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it. (Message) 

So how do we get to this point of just strolling through panic mode? We have to embrace the thought that we are loved beyond measure in an unearthly way. It requires receiving, not striving. 

Romans 8:28 says: That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good. (Message) 

God’s love, trust, and faith are the best things to rely on while people (and dogs) must undergo obedience training. 

Afterthought: Shady lived with me for three years. I used clicker training and other devices to help her adjust. It didn’t tame all of the wild behavior, but enough to cohabitate decently. In the end, she went to live with another family. I was getting a divorce, and she required a lot more attention than I had at the time. Again, by forces beyond my control, a family was provided. They lived on a lake. The day the couple came to see her, she greeted them like they were old friends. They asked if they could take her. At first, I thought…huh? Then I gathered up her bowls, her leash, and all other items. We walked outside; the lady slid open the door to their van, and Shady jumped in without glancing in my direction. The last I heard of her, she was retrieving tennis balls from the lake. 

Stop and Smell the Roses

I yanked with my gloved hands as the bush’s thorns started to bite into my palms.

“Come out!” I said through gritted teeth.  “You will never win!”

I was attempting to follow through with my spring cleaning list and this eyesore was being removed whether it wanted to be or not.  I had worked around the roots with my shovel and thought that it would easily slide right out of the earth.  Instead, it wouldn’t budge.  I felt a twinge across my lower back as the muscles strained there and along the back of my calves.  Without warning, I was airborne across the lawn with the prize in hand over my head. It had played a nasty trick by suddenly and unexpectedly releasing its hold.  I landed with a thud directly on my back while clutching the dirty monster to my chest.

I looked up at the sky and did an inward safety inspection.  From time to time when I have taken a spill, I often lay still for a minute to make sure nothing is fractured, dangling or throbbing incessantly.  Feeling no pain and knowing that the coast was clear, I began to laugh.  I pictured the neighbors peering out their windows seeing an irate woman yelling at foliage and then being flung to the ground in a heap.  I sat up and brushed the dead grass out of my hair.  I was covered in soil but I was triumphant.  Not only had I gotten the rebellious bush out of its place, but I could check something off my to do list, and I had done it myself.

A few days prior to my seek and destroy mission, I sat on my back porch to write down what I wanted to get done around the house.  I had come to have a love hate relationship with my dwelling after it was awarded to me in the divorce.  My marriage had been one of the traditional nature where I attended to the indoor tasks while he worked outside.  I had found myself slightly unprepared to handle both, and my budget wasn’t allowing for too much improvement. I had determined to do what I could to clean up and declutter where I could without generating an expense. Removing the long forgotten about landscaping had been a priority.

As the list came together, I glanced over at the above ground pool that had a stocking cap at the bottom of it.  In the days when it was working properly, a cover would have concealed it at this time of the year.  But, the liner had succumbed to a tear, so it was drained and my youngest daughter and her friend had found delight in constructing a snowman in it over the winter. Frosty had melted and his hat, nose and eyes were all that was left of him.  It brought me a bit of sadness to see the pool in that state of disarray as I recalled the girls and I enjoying soaks in it on hot summer days. I knew I couldn’t fix it due to money constraints so I didn’t add it to my list.

As I sipped on my hot tea that morning, a thought went through my mind,

Do what you can on your list.  I will send a man to help with the pool.

I didn’t know what that meant exactly so I began to clean up what I could a little at a time day by day.

One afternoon, about a month later, my doorbell rang. When I answered it, a man with a city badge hanging on a lanyard greeted me.

“Hi. I am Patrick from the city.  Your home is due for an inspection for property tax purposes.”

I let him in and we walked from room to room as he made notes and checked out the interior of the house.

When we got out on the back porch, I said,

“That pool bugs me.  It is so ugly right now. It needs a new liner.  Since my divorce, I haven’t been able to fix it.”

He got really quiet and took a step closer to the window to look down on it.

“I think I might be able to help you with that.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  When I made the statements about the pool, it was more of a complaint than a proposal.  I wasn’t asking for help. I was bemoaning my existence.

“I can’t promise you anything but let me see what I can do.”

He had my contact information and we parted ways.

In a few days, he called asking if he and a friend could come over and inspect the pool.  I gave the go ahead and after he and his friend looked it over, he said,

“We would like to fix your pool for you.”

“What?”  Of course, my money fears surfaced so I said, “I don’t really have the money to pay for a new liner right now.  So, that is very nice of both of you, but I can’t pay for it.”

“We don’t want to be paid.  We want to fix it for you.”

“Really?”

“Yes,” his friend replied. “It should be pretty easy to do.  I work in the pool business so I know how to do them, and I can get the supplies fairly cheap.”

He went on to say that he was only in town for a few days to visit but he would enjoy doing the work.

That is when it came back to me….

I will send a man to help with the pool. 

I agreed to let them fix it, and within a few days my pool was up and running again.  Not only did they both work on it in the evening, but they also purchased chemicals that I needed to keep it in good shape. They didn’t ask me to be home while they were there, but requested that the side gate remain unlocked so they could come and go.

One night, I arrived home and went outside to see how they were coming along.  I found three different colored lounge chairs sitting on the deck. They knew that I was a single mom with two daughters, so they had purchased us each a place to sit poolside.  The pool was filled with sparkling, crystal clear water.   It had been restored to perfection.

After all that, and many years later, my fears of not having enough money or being taken care of should not even exist anymore.  Right?  No. I still fight with it at times when I am faced with uncertainty and not knowing how I am going to overcome a situation.

The other night as I was retiring for the day, I found myself wondering about my finances.  In that moment, I had completely forgotten of the story I just shared with you and all the other ones that have transpired over the years where I have been blessed with supernatural help. I went to bed questioning the upcoming months and some changes that will occur.  I am not an ebb and flow type person where I will ‘wait’ and see what happens. I like to plan things out at times, and when I can’t, I find myself doubting the trusted hand that has been with me every step of the way.  I got this message:

Buy yourself a bouquet of pink roses tomorrow.  Inhale the scent of them and know that I am in charge of everything.

My thoughts were no longer on finances but the idea that pink usually wasn’t my color of choice for roses.  I usually gravitate toward bright, bold, and dramatic colors.  Then, I thought,

How much will this cost me?

I drifted off to sleep wondering how roses were going to improve my outlook on life.

I was walking into the store the next day and again came the words,

Buy yourself a bouquet of pink roses.  Breathe in their scent and know that I am in charge of your life.

I obediently walked right over to the floral section.  There was an array of all colors, but only one small bunch that housed five pink roses.  I grabbed the cellophane wrapper and turned it around to check for a price.  A small label was attached to the front that read: Faith.

I immediately looked for more pink roses and found none.  I checked all the other flowers for the same word and could not find it!  Some said smile, some said freedom, but not a single batch of them had this message written on them. I gently placed them on the bottom of my empty shopping cart.  Tears began to well in my eyes as I smiled and thought how absurd my worries are.  Just more proof that we are loved unconditionally even if we don’t feel it at times.  In all of your ups and downs with this life, cast your care on God to bring you through, and take some time to stop and smell the roses.

 

flowers