Illusion

Having two daughters spaced four years apart had its challenges. The younger one always wanted to be as advanced as her sister and was slightly annoyed if she felt I was paying more attention to her sibling. She made sure I knew it. Even before she could speak, she would make it known that she wanted to be the top dog.

She noticed early on that our physical abilities were superior to hers, and she wasn’t happy until she was on the same level.

She learned to crawl by eight months old and began to pull herself up by using the furniture to hang on to within that same time frame.

One night, she saw that we were sitting with a blanket over us. My oldest daughter had meticulously set up her pillow, a few stuffed animals and had settled in next to me, absolutely content watching one of her favorite shows.

The other one came by, pulled on the blanket, and screeched. She pulled so hard that before I could lift her that it sent her sister’s enormous bowl of popcorn showering all over us. The quilt we were using ended up on the ground. The stuffed animals were in a crumpled mess with pillows scattered everywhere.

Like that magic trick where the person pulls the tablecloth, but the silverware doesn’t budge.

Jealousy and competition had given her the strength of ten people. It was so shocking to witness an infant take over like that.

While we cleaned up the mess, she sat on the floor laughing.

She progressed quickly from barely walking and was fully able to run by nine months old. Not always steadily, but with speed.

“Mom! Help!”

I saw the two of them run by, but the younger one had gotten a hold of the back of her sister’s nightgown. She had her in a hostage situation, clutching onto the material with both hands. While the little one beamed with glee, the other one panicked.

“Mom! She has me! Help!”

It was the strangest sight to see the younger one executing such a power play over someone who could easily outmatch her.

“You do know she’s a baby. You are four. You are older and can get away from her?”

I unhooked her from her kidnapper so she could go free.

When the oldest was learning to print her name when she turned 5, I thought it would be a great idea to have her write it on all the valentines for a homeschool party she would attend with other kids her age. I figured after 40 of them, she would have it down pretty good.

I didn’t want to leave the other out even though she did not yet possess the motor skills. I found her a little purple ink stamp with her name on it so she could use it.

Before I left the room, I said,

“Only use that on the paper, okay? Don’t put that on anything but the paper.”

She nodded in understanding.

I left for milliseconds and returned to find her name emblazoned across her forehead, arms, and any place bare skin had been. The one across her lips was creative.

Her sister had been so concentrated on forming each letter of her name that she hadn’t noticed the rampage next to her.

It wouldn’t be the last time she had a run-in with ink.

A few months later, while her sister attended a roller skating birthday party, she and I sat off to the side watching. I had brought an assortment of things for her to do, including washable markers and coloring books. I had glanced up to check on her sister when I heard the sucking in of air, like a deep gasp.

I quickly turned back to find her holding both hands up in front of her face in total horror. Her color choice had been red, and it had gotten on her fingers.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, wondering why this was so traumatic. She could come into the house totally filthy and not care. Her mouth was wide open in a silent scream as she gathered in as much oxygen as her lungs would allow. Then the wailing started.

I had a difficult time making out what she was trying to say.

“I..I..I am….bl…eed…”

“What? I don’t understand.”

“I AM BLEEDING!” She used all of her strength to say it as panic shut her down.

It appeared that she had been playing with sharp knives.

I got out a wet wipe and quickly cleaned her hands. Within a split second, she looked down, smiled, and said,

“Oh.”

Things aren’t always as they appear. Like a funhouse mirror that distorts your image to make you look taller or shorter, sometimes our senses and how we think can play tricks on us.

Three years ago, I had my roof replaced after a storm. A sunny day suddenly turned dark as the skies broiled angrily with fast moving clouds.

I had received a message from a family member that they had gotten hit with strong winds, and he sent photos of chunks of hail. It was headed my way.

Our sirens were going off, indicating that we should go into the basement. However, it looked so calm outside that I went out to see how ominous it was. My daughter and I watched as large raindrops started to hit the driveway. We were standing in a corner that provided us the ability to not get wet between the house and the garage.

Slight sprinklings of pea-sized hail began.

“This isn’t good,” I said. “I think we should go in.”

As I said this, it was as if a switch was thrown, and ice baseballs began to come down everywhere. We were trapped because there was no way to come out for a split second without getting nailed with multiple of these.

We watched as puddles in the street looked like they were hit with small bombs nonstop. We huddled in the corner as the wind whipped branches and other debris flew in the air.

Once we quit screaming, we went back into the house unscathed. But, I knew that the house was not.

I immediately contacted my insurance representative, who sent over someone the next day to help. It was determined I had damage, and the process for repair on paper was begun.

First, I had to come up with a $2500 deductible, which I did not have.

“We can fix this right now,” he said.

“I don’t have the deductible at the moment.”

I knew if I had him do the work, I would be in debt. I was using everything I had to pay off a $10,000 debt that had been strangling me financially for over eight years. I had vowed to myself never to create more of it after taking lousy advice under pressure in the past and being too trusting.

This meant living in a limited, constricted way. I didn’t want to add to the stress.

“We do roofs until the first week of October. That way, we know we won’t have any snow. You are one of my first houses. We will book up quickly, so we really should do it right now.”

As he said this, one of my neighbors appeared.

“Do you replace roofs?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“Can you look at mine?“

After inspecting it, it was determined she needed it fixed.

“How quickly can you do this? I’m putting it on the market next week.”

There were workers all over her property by the next day, and I had been given a referral discount off of mine.

I noticed another neighbor needed work done, so I wondered if they wanted a second opinion. They already had a sign in their yard from one of the many companies going door to door. I knew the competition was high.

After my inspection, a stranger came with a ladder and climbed up unsolicited. When I confronted him with the threat I could report him to the city; he realized he was at the wrong address and quickly left.

When my other neighbor signed up with the man I referred, this meant another discount for me.

I was still short $1500.

With work being completed on both sides of me, I was tempted to get it done and figure out the cost later. I kept hearing to wait it out.

By early fall, I received a higher property tax refund than anticipated.

“I think we should fix your gutters, too,” I was told in the interim. “I will do them at cost.”

Four months had gone by while I watched everyone else having work done. We had gorgeous weather, and I had paid it off in full by the time the job was completed. I had made up my mind not to allow more debt.

What had appeared impossible at the start took care of itself.

The only slight setback in the whole process was that the noise of the reconstruction had deeply disturbed one of my dogs. It was as if she anticipated the entire house crashing down even though there was no danger. She refused to sleep lying down, but as fatigue would hit her, she would fall over, wake up, and the process would start again. For days she did this until her body forced her back into a regular sleep pattern.

Her faulty senses and limited ability to understand had resulted in her being a nervous wreck.

Unlike her, we have access to insider information that can be easily tapped into if we allow it.

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)

This leading generally doesn’t come in noisily but rather in subtle, quiet ways that only can be heard when there is no fear interference. Your reaction in the moment of adversity will determine how long you suffer.

Frustration, competition, and jealousy aren’t the ways out.

If you are willing to put aside what you think is true and seek out the One of all truth, the drama gets silenced. You won’t bleed to death because it’s just an illusion.

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

Song

I had been putting it off for weeks. I didn’t want to go up the rickety ladder to clean out the attic. But, there was this nagging feeling to get it done. It has pull-down wooden stairs, and then I have to put a shorter ladder underneath it to climb them. One of the springs holding the whole thing has come loose on one side, and it feels wobbly as I go up every time. I always tighten the screws on each side to make myself feel better.

I always keep my fingers crossed that this won’t be when I have to cash in my life insurance policy. I have learned how to go up quickly if everything gives way. And then I will live there for the rest of time, surrounded by all the things that I should have gotten rid of long ago.

I always go up intending to throw things away, but then I come across my kryptonite. The photo albums that I forgot were there. Suddenly, four hours have gone by, and I have nothing to show for it except wondering where the time has gone. Not for just that day, but years that I will never see again. And my natural hair color. Gone. Just like that.

This time, I also was dealing with some items I had taken from my parents’ home when I cleaned it three years ago. I pushed aside my mom’s wedding dress that I couldn’t throw, but no one wanted and started making discard and keep piles.

I felt so sluggish as I attempted to do this. Not energetic at all about setting myself free of things that no longer were serving a purpose. That is how I usually feel when I do this. I donate to the Salvation Army next to new items, which has always motivated me to clean so that someone else can use them. But that mental trick wasn’t working either.

I quit wondering why I was feeling so lazy and decided to wait until the next day to get it finished. I forced myself up there again with my oldest daughter catching what I was tossing to her below. They say that what goes up must come down. That was not the case with the gigantic Christmas tree I forgot was in a bag.

I tried every angle to push that through the opening to no avail. I even placed both of my feet on it and shoved. I realized I was making sounds like you would hear if someone gave birth.

“Are you grabbing this?” I asked, finally getting it past the metal hinges on the stairs it had gotten caught on.

No answer.

“Hey! Are you catching this?” I asked again, trying not to slide down with it.

She was too busy recording me. You just can’t get good help these days.

I kept going, and once the momentum built, I was not slowing down. As I handed her an item that sent a plume of dust all over her, I said,

“Do we still have your old guitar?”

“I don’t think so,” she said, coughing.

I turned and saw the black cloth zippered case and wasn’t sure. But, when I opened it, it was a perfectly brand new Fender electric guitar that was barely used.

This was from a time when she thought she wanted to learn and took brief lessons online with an instructor. After a while, she got bored with it. When I handed her this to take down, she said,

“I don’t know why I thought I wanted to do this.”

Usually, after determining what I would donate, I load everything in my car and drive to the thrift store to give it all away, but I had started so late on a Sunday that I decided to wait until the next day.

When I woke up the following morning, I heard very distinctly that I was to go to a particular location right by my house after an appointment that I had. I wasn’t sure why, but I never usually do.

I pulled around the back of the building and waited behind a car with a small trailer attached to it. A man came and went from the donation center, loading up shopping carts and taking them in.

Once the guy in front of me moved on, I pulled up and started taking things out of the back of my car. The worker pulled another cart and started helping me. When we got down to the last donation, I said,

“I have a strange question.”

This is the part where I always find myself in uncertain territory. Sometimes they take what you have, and other times you have to go elsewhere to get rid of things. During COVID, they took next to nothing for fear of spreading the disease.

“I have a brand new electric guitar to give away. But, I don’t know if you take those here.”

I handed it to him. I knew it was valued at $300, but that made no difference. I just wanted someone who needed it to have it.

Oddly, this very talkative man went mute. I couldn’t tell if he was struggling to tell me I had to go to a music store or list it for sale. He just stood there, staring at it. Because I have been turned away so many times and had to drag things back home, I said,

“I don’t even care if one of the intake workers takes this. I don’t want to have to deal with it.”

He just stared at it. And I kept trying to figure out why he had gone silent. He moved forward and put it back in my car.

Oh, great. He was too afraid to tell me I had to take it back.

Quietly, he said,

“I am in rehab. I am sixty days sober.”

“That’s good,” I said suddenly, unsure where we were going with this conversation.

Stammering, he said quietly,

“I really want that guitar.”

Now I was the one who had lost all of her words.

“You do?”

“Yes. I have been in rehab, and I am learning to play the guitar. I could really use that.”

It was one of those moments where you just know you have not been out of the divine timing of God one second. I might have missed him if I had cleaned the attic on Saturday and driven it over. Our paths were set to cross exactly then so God could show him that he was on the right road. I wasn’t lazy on Saturday! Or, at least, that’s what I decided.

“Where is your car? I can put it in there for you.”

I realized that he could get into trouble for this, so I tried to sneak it into his possession.

“I don’t have one. I lost all privileges. I get picked up by a bus at the end of my shift. Could I take your phone number and have my case manager call you?”

That sounded a little unsafe to me.

“What is your phone number?”

“I had that taken away too. I am still on probation because I have only completed 60 days.”

“You realize that this is God speaking to you right now, right?” I asked. “He sends me to help people, and He is telling you that if you learn how to play this instrument, this will be your way to stay sober and live a better life.”

He smiled and said,

“Yes. I know. That’s why I really want that guitar. Maybe you can Google where I am staying and talk to my caseworker.”

I told him I would and had to pull forward as another person pulled in behind me.

I looked up the address, and after some confusion, I was put in touch with someone in human resources. I left a message for the caseworker he had told me to contact.

I realized I had not heard back the next day, so I called and left another message. It was going to be challenging to get rid of me. I was going to keep calling until I got this delivered to him.

After a day of waiting, I was instructed where I could go to drop off the guitar and the speaker. This meant I would have to drive outside of my comfort zone and into the heart of the city that has had a lot of controversy in the past few years. Riots, violence, and other unsavory things have been going on there, but I was not going to be deterred.

I stuffed down my slight anxiety when I felt the darkness that seemed to be there and hurried into the rehab center.

I was greeted by a man sitting at a desk inhaling a donut.

“How can I help you,” he said, shoving in more of it.

“I was told I could drop off a guitar and speaker for a man who lives here.”

When I told him the man’s name, he said,

“Oh. He is learning how to play the guitar, and he is getting good at it.”

“I wasn’t sure this would work out, so I am glad.”

“I am a little jealous. I wish I had a pretty lady dropping off gifts for me.”

I saw that there was a placard on the desk that said Blessed.

“You are blessed, though,” I said quickly to get the attention off of me.

“Not really,” he said, laughing. “Are you nervous?”

I was trying my hardest not to let that show.

“Yes. I am not familiar with this neighborhood. I am always afraid of getting lost, and this isn’t the nicest spot to be in.”

“Me too,” he said. “It is scary down here.”

How reassuring.

Another guy came down the stairs.

“This is my boss. Is it okay if she leaves this guitar and speaker?”

When it was explained what I was doing, this man said,

“That is so nice of you! This is his second time in, and he is doing so well.”

“I told him that God was telling him to stay on the path he was on. The guitar was his sign.”

“Do you want to be a counselor here?” The donut guy behind the desk asked. Uh, no.

“God can do anything,” the other man said. “He can just come along and do anything. Everyone needs a sign from God.”

I just wanted about one million angels to escort me back to my car parked by a ladened graffiti building.

“We will be sure he gets that to start using it right away.”

I drove past the donation place on the way home, but there was no sign of him. I am sure they rotate their help where it’s needed. It wasn’t lost on me that I had helped a person to know God loved him. And the weird part was that I wasn’t even aware of it at the time. A musician from heaven was directing my steps.

In Psalm 96, it says this:

Good people, cheer God!
Right-living people sound best when praising.
Use guitars to reinforce your Hallelujahs! (Message)

You never know how you will be used to help others sing a new song.

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)

Changed

We used the food scale for weeks to accurately measure portion sizes, watching the digital readout grow dimmer by the second. Once in a while, it would flash a warning reading ‘Lo’ indicating that the batteries might be nearing the end of their existence. It was so worn down, it couldn’t even add the ‘w’ to make a complete word.

As with anything that isn’t blowing up or causing urgency, we kept using it, thinking it wasn’t being serious. It’s like when the gas light goes on in your car. You always have some time before you have to pay attention to it.

I don’t take my chances too long with the car, but it seems like it’s jumping the gun a bit when you have to deal with an issue with electronic devices. I could manage fine if I squinted just right and turned it, so the light wasn’t directly shining on the screen.

Even when I could hardly read if it measured in grams or ounces, I ignored it, and once it had given me what I needed, I would forget about it until the next time I had to use it.

“I really should put new batteries in this,” I would say with every single use with absolutely no intention of doing so.

History seems to repeat itself. I have never gotten a different outcome when I have lived on the edge in this way. I pushed the on button, and it remained silent. I hit it again, thinking I had not done it hard enough. No familiar beep meant the unthinkable. It had died.

How could it betray me like this after so much time of it running on fumes, trying to warn me it was on its way out?

I opened “the drawer.” Everyone has one where you keep items, but nothing resides in there that is useful for times like these.

You move aside keys you have no idea what they open, a flashlight that when you flick it on has the same affliction as the food scale and screws. Lots and lots of mismatched screws that belong to something somewhere, essential oils that have names like breathe easy and relax, glue sticks, charger cords that have gotten separated from whatever they are supposed to bring back to life, and underneath everything, you find that package of homeopathic stress mints.

You do get credit for that extra refrigerator light bulb because you bought it months ago and threw it in there, totally prepared for when that burns out.

You wade through it all on the hunt for the triple A’s that seem to disappear the minute you bring the package across the house’s threshold. You have double-A, C, and D. The square 9 volt. When was the last time you ever needed that? The tiny round ones that no one should ever swallow and the flat pancake-shaped offering that belongs to nothing in the whole house.

You are left with only one choice. Go around and start kidnapping what you need from the other devices you own. Because you don’t need one or two, this monster takes three. You swear on a stack of Bibles that you will replace them. Later, you use the remote for the tv, and it’s not working. Why? Because the food scale is now functioning at its best.

It’s not like you haven’t been near a display at the store where you could solve your problem. But it seems that your brain decides to have amnesia, making you forget you have a crisis at home where inanimate objects run your life and drain your energy.

This leads to getting so over the situation that you make a special trip to get them, buy them and find a stash you have put away in that ‘other’ drawer from the last time you did this.

It’s a fun game I don’t recommend playing.

While not only battery challenged, there’s another issue in my home that baffles the mind. No one except me will put a new roll of toilet paper on the holder. I don’t know where this started and how I became responsible for it; I must have signed a contract I am not aware of.

It’s not uncommon to see a new roll sitting next to the holder on the sink or an entire pile of them on the floor by where one needs to be placed. But, never, will it be hanging on display. Never.

When my daughters were younger, I thought maybe removing the old and putting on the new was not something they could handle, but no one lacks motor skills at this point. If they can brush their own hair and swipe a credit card, they can do this; I know it. So it can only mean one thing. I enabled it.

When I became aware of that, I did try to fight back by going on strike and not doing it anymore so that they would understand what it was like to be me. It was an ‘I will show them’ moment. No one seemed to notice, and it drove me to resume the job of replacing it. You just know when you are up against those who are more strong-willed than you are.

It makes one wonder how we get into the habits we do. According to those who have studied human behavior, it’s not always easy to break patterns we have established because they can become unconscious, making it difficult for us to see them in the first place, like fears, worries, and irrational thoughts.

When my youngest daughter was six, she went through a time of having nightmares. It was not uncommon for her to suddenly be next to my bed, waking me up, tormented, asking for me to come into her room and pray. I had the same thing happen when I was young, so I knew the feeling.

I would get her to calm down, remind her that she had protection around at all times, and she would get through it. This kept happening to her for a while, but then it suddenly stopped. When that occurs, you let it go because it means your prayers have been answered, and you get to go back to not being woken up by a frightened child.

Shortly after her bad dreams had ceased, I noticed one day that she put her finger to the middle of her forehead and pushed on it.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I am changing the disc in my head.”

She went on to tell me that one night, while terrified after another alarming middle of the night awakening, instead of having me help her, something told her to pretend she was putting a new movie into her mind. She followed the instructions she was given, and this cured the problem.

“I use it when I have thoughts I don’t like. It works on everything,” she said.

She told me it was like putting in a new DVD and went through the physical motion of pretending to take out something, put something new in, and push the spot on her forehead again. (This was well before all of the streaming services we have now)

Whether by angelic intervention or not, we can change how we process a situation. Once you realize that the way you are thinking is not serving you, that is the minute you can take over and put things in their proper order.

Another way to end the struggle within over outside circumstances is to do this from Romans 12:2:

Let God change your life. First of all, let Him give you a new mind. Then you will know what God wants you to do. And the things you do will be good and pleasing and perfect. (NLV)

Matthew 7:7-8 describes how you can do that:

Ask, and what you are asking for will be given to you. Look, and what you are looking for, you will find. Knock, and the door you are knocking on will be opened to you. Everyone who asks receives what he asks for. Everyone who looks finds what he is looking for. Everyone who knocks has the door opened to him. (NLV)

Pray and ask God to replace unhelpful ideas that play in your mind and hold you hostage. Like old batteries and empty toilet paper rolls, you can be changed.

Sometimes it looks like they are winning…
(Keep these buried in the drawer where the batteries that you need should be…You will have no problem swallowing all 30 of them at once)

Cross

I sent her to her room for a minute to think. It wasn’t so much for her as it was for me. I had read countless parenting books about how to deal with the unruly. I had gotten it down to steps. First came the warning that someone would be booked on a one-way ticket to another part of the house away from me if things didn’t change.

If that was not heeded by some chance, which was unusual, separation from everyday living occurred. While this would seem like discipline to some, my youngest daughter took this as an opportunity to make the most of it. When many would be beating down the door like it was a prison cell, wanting to escape, she did the opposite.

She got out every available toy, knowing she would not have to share with her sister, and got lost in her imagination as she played alone.

I would have to tell her she could come back out, but she often wouldn’t because she was enjoying herself so much.

One time, she took what should have been isolation a bit too far. She had gotten into an altercation, tested my patience, and landed in solitary confinement. After the prescribed minutes of being in juvenile lockup, I told her that her time of self-reflection was over. The door stayed shut, and she made no move to free herself.

I had gotten to the point where I let her decide, but it was so quiet I decided to check on her. It was just past Easter, and I could tell she had merrily passed the time by living it up, eating her candy, and tossing wrappers all over the room. So much for only bread and water.

As I was taking that in, she ran past me, which I found strangely suspicious. It wasn’t until later when I heard her sister yell her name that she had been up to no good.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

I had given them each a small cross made of chocolate. My oldest daughter had a white one with bright colored flowers in the middle. Unlike her younger sister, she made things last. It wasn’t uncommon for the Fourth of July to roll in, and she still hadn’t finished all of what she had been given.

“She ate my cross!”

You don’t hear that every day. In horror, my oldest explained that she had purposefully not eaten the middle part, but her sister had no problem swallowing it down.

“I had saved where the pretty flowers were, and she ate it!”

She showed me the empty box it had been in.

How do you punish someone that you had already detained in punishment? This was not in any of my parenting books. There were no steps after this one. I found so many times along the way the conflicting emotions that would crop up as I was presented with this type of dilemma.

The first thing you try not to do is smile or laugh at how hilarious it is because of hurt feelings, and it’s so wrong. You mentally repeat that this is not funny, so you can commiserate with the victim whose last bite has been gulped down by a three-year-old who knew precisely what she was doing. You immediately go to the store to try and find something to make up for the loss while doing your best acting job frowning at the other one.

That’s where the forehead wrinkles come from.

Like my daughter, who adapted to wherever her behavior got her, some people can accept unpleasant situations better than others. They make the best of it, knowing that it won’t last forever. They don’t go on social media and rant for hours on end, tell every neighbor they see, and talk to every stranger at the grocery store.

Sometimes I’m surprised when I find out later that a person is plagued with a problem, and I would have no idea until someone told me. It’s not that they are faking their way through it. There’s this heavenly glow about them because they have made up their mind to accept the news, deal with it and still live as if nothing has changed. It’s not a secret, but it’s not been made the focal point of their existence. They don’t seem to be suffering in silence either. They have revealed their pain to a select few who offer steadfast support and give the rest to God.

They have tapped into a part of themselves where the peace that passes all understanding resides.

Since we have been taught that if you receive “bad” news or you have to deal with something that has been identified as unfavorable, this must require you to limp through life, making sure everyone knows how bad off you are.

I have been handed my fair share of circumstances that I would have instead bypassed. But in all those instances, I have learned more about God and a strength that I would have never known.

While embroiled in it, you aren’t always aware of the work that is being done inwardly, but it starts showing up in small ways. You begin to view things differently, as if God has placed a pair of glasses over your eyes and you have keen insider knowledge about situations before they occur.

You get to the point that whatever the trial is that you are involved in, you start to be thankful for it because, without it, you would never have transformed into a better version of yourself—one who can extend herself to those in their times of pain.

In James 1:2-4, it is stated:

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. (Message)

I have to say, this can take a minute to get to this realization. It’s not necessarily an overnight adjustment.

I have been in many spiritual circles where people talk about wanting to be more “mature”. They express that they desire to come up higher and experience the more extraordinary things of God, but I don’t think they understand the sacrifice it takes to come to an elevated level. Usually, this means addressing something you have grown accustomed to blocking your progress. It has become so familiar it can feel like a vital organ or body part needed for survival when it really isn’t.

Take worry, for example. Or substances that disengage you from feeling. And comfort zones that numb your spiritual senses.

When all of those get stripped away because you realize they are only temporary fixes and confront what you don’t want to, you realize there’s a God you can trust. The heaviness of it all seems to lessen even though the trouble may still exist. You get a little wrapped up in this supernatural bubble where you don’t need to run from it anymore because it lost its power over who you are. You only look to God.

When you trade in your default mechanisms for coping, you are rewarded with spiritual tools that far surpass anything else you could ever devise. You are then able to bear your cross.

Bear your cross, don’t eat other people’s crosses…

Seeking

“You have to work from the end to the beginning,” he said. 

It wasn’t often that my dad got involved with my homework, but for some reason, he saw me struggling and jumped in to rescue me so I could learn a life-changing skill. 

He graduated with all F’s, so I am sure this shortcut he was about to show me came from his days of looking for an easy way out. And pure genius that they never would teach you in school.

When you are in first grade, the powers that be want to keep you interested in attending, so the workload is minimal. The love-hate relationship between me and having to sit for hours at a desk hadn’t kicked in at that age yet. I was still eager to show up and try to do the assignments that were sent home.

He saw me moving a pencil across a sheet of paper and erasing. So much erasing and sighing. He knew all the signs of overwhelm. 

“What are you doing, Chris?”

He sat down at the table next to me and took the paper so he could see it. 

“Are you having trouble with this?”

It was obvious. 

“Do you see where it says the word end?”

“Yes.”

“Start there. Whenever you do a maze on paper, start at the end and work your way back to the start.”

I looked at it again from a different perspective. 

I was following the crowd, and he was telling me not to. I had been so focused on getting to the conclusion and following the instructions that I didn’t realize I could do it any other way. I thought, on some level, it was cheating if I didn’t do it like everyone else was attempting to. 

I thought it was written in stone that I had only one way of solving the problem, so it was blocking me from figuring it out.  

Having the teacher say,

“I’m sending you home with a puzzle to solve,” was another mental obstacle. 

Even then, I was sensitive to words and their impression on me. One phrase or sentence can emotionally impact me subconsciously, and I have to discern whether it’s the truth or not. I didn’t realize I had this “gift” then. 

I automatically visualize when someone tells me something, and I can’t unsee it. It connects me to what is being said so I can understand and empathize with a situation as if I have experienced it. I can bypass it at other times because I have taught myself how to do that. But, at this age, I was still not aware of what my mind did with information. 

To say I was impressionable was an understatement. It was like a superpower that I had to learn how to harness to use for good.  

The word ‘puzzle’ set the idea it would be difficult. This wasn’t going to be a simple flashcard with an image on it like a cow, dog, or a pig that I had to identify and verbalize. It was a more challenging task to complete, and it wasn’t like she gave us a rallying speech that said she knew we could accomplish it. 

It was more daunting as if we were not going to graduate from life if we came back with the wrong answer. 

He handed it back to me, and with his finger, he showed me this clear-cut path that led to the start. There were no dead ends or starting completely over. There was no questioning of left or right, getting hung up in a far dark corner and then figuring out which way to go. It cut the confusion completely out and illuminated the only way. 

“Start at the opposite end of the paper and work your way to the top.”

I felt like I had been shown a way where there seemed to be no way. I was free from the dilemma that had been handed to me and given guidance from someone who had been in my situation before. 

Within seconds, I followed what he had told me to do, and I was no longer chained down to what the public school system thought would shape me into a better person.  

His advice was good, and when I taught my girls this method, they found it to be foolproof. They were saved from the same torment that I was.  

After proving that we could escape an enclosure on paper, we were sent home with a word search where we had to circle whatever terms were listed at the bottom. 

I was having trouble finding a particular word. It was one massive conglomeration of letters in rows that had no meaning but were hiding what I was determined to find. 

While I was sweating it out, my mom noticed I was stuck. 

“Chris, pick out one letter and just look for that one. It will eventually lead you to what you are trying to find.”

For example, if you are trying to find the word zebra, look for a z only. 

When I put her trick to the test, just like my dad’s instructions for making things less complicated, it saved me time. Instead of looking at the big picture, I focused my attention on a smaller scale.

“If you break something apart, it makes it easier to spot instead of looking at all of it at once.”

There were solid spiritual messages that I don’t think either party was aware of in both cases, but now I get it.  

Starting at the bottom and working your way to the top can happen after you have decided to give up what you thought was right, but God is calling you to a new way. It’s part of a rebuilding process where everything seems as if you are doing things from a backward standpoint to get to where you want to go. So much erasing. 

Nothing is familiar; you feel like you die a new death every day, and by night, you cry yourself to sleep, questioning your decision-making, being pulled by what you know is God because the signs keep on showing up. And somehow, you keep trying to walk in the way your spirit leads you. 

Sometimes you aren’t walking but dragging yourself down the path with the promise that things might get better. Most of that is just the fatigue from insomnia, but you cling to this from Psalm 119:1-8:

You’re blessed when you stay on course, walking steadily on the road revealed by God.

You’re blessed when you follow his directions,

doing your best to find him.

That’s right—you don’t go off on your own;

you walk straight along the road he set.

You, God, prescribed the right way to live;

now you expect us to live it.

Oh, that my steps might be steady,

keeping to the course you set;

Then I’d never have any regrets

in comparing my life with your counsel.

I thank you for speaking straight from your heart;

I learn the pattern of your righteous ways.

I’m going to do what you tell me to do;

don’t ever walk off and leave me. (Message)

My mom’s help reminds me of this from Matthew 6:34:

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes. (Message)

If that doesn’t say to take the largeness of life and go piece by piece, one day at a time, I don’t know what does. 

Most of us want to do things in the order that makes sense, and we want it done yesterday. That usually isn’t how God makes things happen. 

“Seek,” she said to me.  

It was one of those moments when I didn’t want to take her advice, but there it was already in the air and aimed at me.   

“What?” I asked my youngest daughter.

“You need to seek.”

“No, I think you do.”

We were watching tennis, so it felt right to volley it back at her. 

“NO, you do.”  

She wasn’t the one questioning everything, so maybe she was right. 

I picked up a journal that I had written in several months prior, and it fell open to a page where I had written in the margin,

Seek Ye First

I forgot I had written it. I turned it around so she could see it—big mistake. Her piercing stare said it was now an assignment. 

In Matthew 6:30-33 it says:

If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. (Message)

You already know the ending when you see a movie or read a book more than once. Isaiah 46 follows along with that idea. 

I am God, the only God you’ve had or ever will have—

    incomparable, irreplaceable—

From the very beginning telling you what the ending will be,

All along letting you in

on what is going to happen,

Assuring you, ‘I’m in this for the long haul,

I’ll do exactly what I set out to do’. (Message)

And in John 16:13, we are promised this:

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. (NLT)

If you find yourself trying to figure something out, God promises to show you things that might not make sense now but will help during the struggle of the seeking. 

(Is it bad if I see the word BAD in the Love puzzle?)

Suck

A few years ago, my daughter and I had the pleasure of tearing the vacuum cleaner apart on a Saturday. I needed to use it, and it wasn’t working right. 

After unplugging it, I flipped it over, and this particular model wouldn’t let me remove the beater bar. I got out a pair of scissors and began to cut away all the hair that had wrapped itself around it. With all of our technology, this act feels like it’s a throwback to caveman days. 

It’s just one step up from pounding letters onto a rock slab. 

I looked at the pile of hair I had freed and wondered why none of us had gone bald. Or donated it to be made into ten wigs. 

This same problem seems to cause drain issues with the shower. I always seem to be the lucky one who gets to experience water creeping up to my knees because it clogs during my turn. We only have one, so by some luck of the draw, it decides enough is enough, and soon the tub is filling up. 

There are only two solutions at that moment for this kind of trouble. Either stop the water and try to remedy it while you stand there freezing, which generally isn’t the answer because it needs something poured down it to clear it. Or you move faster before you drown in the oncoming flood. 

It’s a blessing to have a healthy head of hair until you have three adults shedding. 

So after untangling the mess, I expected the vacuum to roar back to life. It didn’t. Unbeknownst to me at the time, my youngest daughter possessed the ability to rip things apart and put them back together. I am not mechanically inclined, so I’m unsure where she inherited this trait. 

We both dismantled what we could, tried to make it look new, and then put it back together—some of the screws that should have been easy to get out fought us. 

After hours, magically, it worked. 

“What is this for?” I asked, discovering a piece on the floor after we were done. 

“I don’t know,” she said, looking at it. That is one of those moments where you decide to ignore the leftover part and move on. 

A different vacuum has been purchased since then, one that claimed it could handle a lot of pet fur, so why not apply that to humans as well?

I have not read the instruction manual one time in the five years since we have had the new one unless I have to. I have a stack of books to get through; who has time to read a book on how to vacuum? 

I read an excellent section about using the attachment that is supposed to be used on the upholstery.  

Thrilling.

It seems every so often, I realize there is a new hidden feature on it that needs to be maintained. It took me two years to conclude that I could separate the entire canister from the inside filter to empty it. 

Then I had the revelation of a filter in the filter that also needed attention. 

I have found at least three places where years of debris had collected that should have been emptied. How do I know this? Because it quit working correctly, I had to go through trying to figure out where the problem was. This is usually when I pull up the manual online, deal with that one issue and move on. 

“I found another plastic clamp that unhooks this thing, and I should have known this five years ago,” I say to her.

“Again?“

“Yes.”

This has happened so many times I have lost count. 

The vacuum my parents had didn’t have tubes and valves to deal with. It was a glorified broom and dustpan. You ran it, threw away a bag, and then forgot to put in another bag before your mom used it the next time, so you got in trouble for not replacing it. Simple. 

I am still, in some ways, not accustomed to using a machine that requires me to think. 

I thought I had finally learned everything there was to know about this current one. No longer was I going around being naive to its functions. If something was amiss, it was no longer taking up my time to fix it or have the worry I was going to break it.

A few Saturdays ago, I hit the on button, and the bar wouldn’t spin. It sent out crud instead of picking up. Along the way, you learn that you cannot ignore certain things. Like the filth it is sending out, making the carpet dirtier, and the smell of scorched hair. 

It never fails when there is the slightest hint of this in the air, I will hear from another room,

“What is that horrible smell?”

I want to say that it’s my Saturday afternoon getting burned up while I waste my time on cleaning something that is supposed to be cleaning. 

I got out the scissors again to cut away the accumulation. This did nothing to get it working right; the bar would not budge. 

“You are going to have to help me,” I told her.

Neither of us was looking forward to it as we sat in the middle of the living room, looking at it like we were about to perform surgery. 

“This whole section comes off,” she said with great confidence. 

I had not seen her doing any research to know this. 

“Are you sure? I don’t want to do that and then find out an hour from now it wasn’t right.”

The sigh speaks volumes. 

I found two new red levers I hadn’t realized were there before, which made the entire piece pop off easily in seconds. We got down to the problem at record speed but then realized the whole bar had to come off. 

Something jammed on one side of it, impeding its spinning ability. She got out a tweezer-like instrument and started to pluck away at the stuff that was sticking out. Small, precise movements that had me looking at the clock instantly.  

This is where the prayers to God began. 

At some point, you realize you are threatening the tiniest screw that won’t turn, and it holds you hostage. One small inanimate object has you at gunpoint, bringing to the surface in your mind every swear word you have ever thought of. 

Then you go into the laughing portion of it where you both don’t know why you are, but you are, and anyone walking into the room would think you have gone off your medication or you require some. 

She pulled on the stuck piece while I tried to free the screw one last time. It broke off. Sometimes there are causalities when you are involved in situations like this. 

You cut your losses, fix it, and go on, knowing the other three will keep it together. 

I vacuumed the entire house without any other issues.

“Why is the vacuum not working?” She asked me five days later. She was cleaning her room.

“What do you mean? It worked perfectly after we took it apart.”

“It won’t turn on.”

It had to be the outlet, so I tried another one. It wasn’t that either.

So we began the process of checking all the usual trouble spots, but I saw nothing wrong. The advice I found online pointed to the on/off switch. Once you take off the brush below, a reset button requires you to hold down one of the two buttons to get it going again. 

Who knew it had a snooze function? 

I was dealing with nothing short of a highly advanced piece of equipment that now screamed overkill. It was like I was dealing with the space shuttle, and it did take rocket science to figure it out. 

I did exactly as instructed, and it sat stone-cold silent. 

We looked at each other like we had committed murder.

“This worked after we fixed it. This makes no sense.”

We went over everything again, coming up with no answers. 

Then she had a lightbulb moment.

“Is the power off?”

The sun was out, so there was no need to have lights on. I flicked the light switch, and nothing happened. I tried others and got the same result.

Others were functioning, and I had this experience many times over the years. It was the trek to the circuit box, looking at the small map that shows me what runs on which one. I heard the vacuum come on above me with two switches dealt with. 

Sometimes what you think is the problem isn’t the problem.

Your ability to solve something in your life can seem so black and white when you look at it logically. You should take part A and hook it up to part B and be on your way. But what if that isn’t the solution? What if God is trying to show you a deeper issue that needs healing for you to get past it and never have to deal with it in the future? Unless you are willing to look further into it, it can lay dormant, waiting to present itself again, just like always, causing the same problems.

Instead of that, it’s helpful to undergo a process where God reveals to you the exact source of the issue so you can fix it. 

In Psalm 139:23-24 it says,

Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; Cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I’m about; See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong—then guide me on the road to eternal life. (Message)

When you allow God to do this, you can move ahead, being led strongly into new power, leaving you able to deal with anything that presents itself that seemed impossible before. 

Heaven’s mission is always to bring you to your highest potential, where your faith runs at its best, you see the good in all, and unlike my rouge vacuum, life doesn’t suck.

 

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.