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)

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?)

Genuine

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is that?” I asked.

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

“You will like it.”  

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t sign me up. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It ends your valuable customer status quickly.

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

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

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

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

Nightmares, right here

Let Go

One of the strange things that happens in my house is that snacks get left uneaten and never entirely gone. Nothing is immune. Pretzels, cereal, crackers. If a box of something has been opened, none of us will finish it.

You ignore it when you live like this for a while. For some reason, I realized it the other day while it had fallen upon me once again to go through the snack container and start tossing.

I look at expiration dates, if a clip has been used to preserve whatever it is and what is left of the contents. It isn’t unusual to find multiple boxes with one item at the bottom. We just can’t bring ourselves to be “that” person to take the last one.

And while that sounds so gracious and full of self-denialism, it’s not fun to be the one who goes to get the veggie straws, and there is only part of one left surrounded by what looks like sawdust. It’s deceiving and disappointing, but I can only blame myself for being the person to start this somehow with them.

If there’s a batch of cookies, I will have half of one until someone else comes by, tells themselves it’s only half, and has to eat it.

Then, when I want another half, I do it again, or someone else starts the process all over.

My oldest now says when she sees me breaking it in two,

“You might as well take the entire thing! By the end of the day, you will have eaten a whole one!”

“It gives me time to work off the calories from this one,” I say as she plucks an entire one, carefree, putting me on mute.

It’s kind of like the trick I have seen people engage in while in a restaurant where they have a dessert on a plate and put it as far from their reach as possible to make it appear they really aren’t eating it.

I always want to go over and scooch it closer so that they know we know. But I cut cookies in half, so who am I to judge? They have their psychological crutch, and so do I.

The other challenge I face is knowing what to throw and when to.

I have been known on occasion to get tired of seeing all the accumulation and pitch whatever appears to be past its time. And then two hours later I will hear,

“What happened to that brand new bottle of ranch dressing I just bought the other day?”

“That looked crusty,” I will say in my defense.

“I just got that!”

Yet, most of what I threw away was from a month ago.

This has led to regularly holding food adoption sessions because God help me if I get rid of something too soon.

“Whose is this?”

Both glance up to claim or deny.

“That’s mine.”

“Do you want this?”

Cue the elevator music as we wait on pins and needles.

“Uh….no.”

Out it goes.

“What about this?”

I try to predict whether it’s a keep or toss mentally. It’s like playing Suduko or one of those brain exercise games that strengthen the synapses.

If it’s dripping, leaking, or molding, I make the executive decision to send it on.

Nine times out of ten, it all gets sent to the garbage because no one wants it.

So between the half-eaten items and trying to learn how to discern what’s old and what’s new, it’s madness. Yet, I can always count on finding one crumb left of something or an almost empty bottle that has barely a drop.

I bought a cold brew, ready-made coffee, which I never do so that I could grab it to go on the days I’m in a hurry and can’t make my usual one. I shared it when I brought it home. I knew there was some left, so I went to get it.

“What happened to my coffee that was on the bottom shelf?” I began to wonder if I had put it in another place and couldn’t remember. Did I pour it out and forget?

“There were three ounces left. I drank it,” said my youngest daughter from the other room.

On the one hand, I was proud of her for breaking the curse, yet I wasn’t.

“I cannot believe that someone in this house actually finished something.”

She came around the corner, looking at me hanging off the refrigerator door like I was just invited to a funeral.

“Did you drink it, or are you just saying that?”

“It was three ounces.”

“That three ounces was closure for me.”

“Closure? Three ounces of coffee?”

“Yes. I have to go get more now.”

I had suspicions that she rounded way down on the amount she slurped up.

“There was at least half a bottle.”

“There were three ounces, mother. Three.”

Sometimes when you are a trailblazer, you might encounter resistance from those who aren’t accustomed to such an abrupt change in behavior by the inhabitants of your home.

“Can I have the rest? Or will this not give you closure?” she asked me.

“For what?”

“The coffee?”

I forgot I had gotten a new one.

“You don’t remember how that three ounces I drank left you without closure?”

“Oh. Go ahead. I don’t care.”

“Now it’s not a big deal?” She said as she poured it into a glass.

Keep up, child.

What was so important days ago now was not even on my mind.

That’s not just something that happens with leftover coffee.

I cannot recall what I was concerned about a year ago today. Most of us can’t unless it was a major, life-changing event. Facebook will dredge up what we posted to our attention, but we usually don’t show our fears online. It’s generally masked by something else, so the world thinks we are doing fine.

It can keep us awake at night and consume our thoughts so much that it takes us out of the present.

I recall worrying about how I had a utility bill breathing down my neck while trying to celebrate one of my daughter’s birthdays. She didn’t know, but later, I could not remember it very well when I tried to think about what had happened that day. My mind was elsewhere. I felt like the entire event was erased from my memory. I looked at pictures, and it was as if I was not in attendance. But I do know the bill got paid.

It’s a fight not to do that. But in Matthew 6:34, it is made clear what we are to do:

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)

The other day I decided to clean out my dad’s closet. While he sat on the edge of his bed, I pulled shirts out to have him tell me whether he wanted to donate them or keep them.

“Does it have a pocket in the front?”

“Yes, but it has long sleeves.”

“Put it in the pile.”

There were so many of them that the entire closet was jammed, but I knew he had hardly worn any of them. I had told him that there were people in the world without clothes, so maybe he should get rid of some of them to help out.

He looked at me for a minute and said,

“Like poor people?”

“Yes.”

If I lead him down that road, there is less resistance. He comes from a time in history where people hang on to everything, but if I can convince him there are less fortunate people out there, he will always release his death grip on items.

I brought out hanger after hanger for him to judge.

The first question was if it had a front pocket. If it was no, then it was put aside. If I said yes, then we moved to question number two.

“Is it short-sleeved?”

“No.”

Then the nod to the pile. If I said yes, then it was the scrutiny of color.

Tilting the head with one eye closed while I stood there holding it up. Please, God, help.

“I don’t really like that one. Give it.”

Next up.

“That one I have to keep.”

“Really? Why?”

“I don’t know. I just want it.”

“Okay.”

“There are so many you are giving away,” he said, looking at the ones gathering around my feet. “I am not going to have any clothes left.”

“Do you realize your dresser drawers are full to the point I can barely shut them? These are from the far dark corner of your closet that you have not touched in almost three years?”

“Really? I have been here three years?”

“Almost. What about this?”

“Does it have a pocket in the front?”

An hour later, he had parted ways with prized possessions that he had no idea were taking up space in his closet.

It is human nature to hang on to things because they are familiar. I believe it gives one comfort to look in a dresser, a cupboard, or a drawer and see its space taken up, even if it houses items that aren’t used. It’s a false sense of security.

Along with this, there are people and places that God will call you away from to be moved on to what is next. In Isaiah 43:18 it says,

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? (NLT)

I read in one of the million books I have come across that the mind can only focus its attention on one issue at a time. When you are so stuck on those things that have worn out their welcome, you are expending energy on not seeing what can show up next.

The other day I had to remove a bandage after a blood draw. It hurt, but the tape was uncomfortable on my skin. What was once put there to help stop the bleeding for survival now was no longer functional. It would only affix itself tighter. From experience, I knew that the longer I left it there, the more difficult it would be to remove later.

The decision is always the slow peel or the abrupt, get it over with, ripping off. I chose the quick way and screamed through it just as much as I would have with the other option.

Within hours, I forgot it had been there, and the pain had completely gone away.

When you follow God’s lead, you may have to make choices that don’t always make sense but to trust and grow spiritually means to let go.

Watching

“My watch isn’t working,” he said, looking down at his wrist.

“Again?” I asked, hoping silently it was just off by a few minutes.

As my dad has aged, seasons and time have come to mean nothing. Yet, he wants the security of a band encircling his arm, reminding him of the hour and day.

Right as fall changed to winter, and snow was coming down outside his apartment, I said,

“It’s so horrible outside right now.” I had driven on slippery roads to get to him to be sure he was okay.

“Spring is coming,” he said.

I pointed to the large clock displaying the time, day, and month.

“What does that say?”

He squinted.

“It says December 28th.”

“When did winter start? What day?”

“I don’t know. Why?”

“You just said spring is coming. Winter just started on December 21. How many days ago was that?”

He often goes silent while calculating numbers in his mind.

“7 days ago? It’s only been winter for a week?”

“Yes.”

“Spring is still coming, though.”

“When isn’t it?”

The other discussion he has with me a lot lately is how long my mom has been in heaven and the length of time he has been at an assisted living.

“How long have I been here?”

“Three years this summer.”

“What? I thought it was less than a year. Where have I been all this time? I don’t remember almost three years going by.”

“It has.”

“Mom has been gone that long?”

“Yes.”

“I’m losing it, Chris. I really am.”

“It’s okay. What difference does any of this make? As long as you are safe and have help. Nothing else matters.”

To cut down on the confusion, I try to ensure that the time is correct if he has his watch on. So when he said it wasn’t working, I looked at it.

As with everything he has ever owned, this particular timepiece was probably in his possession since the pioneer days. He comes from an era that gets rid of nothing.

Less than a year ago, I had replaced the battery because he wouldn’t let me buy him a new watch. He had two, and both had stopped functioning. He sent me on a mission to have fresh batteries installed.

I walked into a department store, thinking the person at the jewelry counter could help. A guy was trying on sunglasses from a case. As he put each one on and looked in a mirror and handed them back, she had a disinfectant wipe at the ready.

“Can I help you?” She said while Mr. Ray-Ban was preoccupied with himself in the mirror.

I took out both watches and told her what I needed.

“You will have to go to a battery store. Since Covid, our store policy doesn’t allow us to touch personal items anymore.”

“How do these look on me?” He asked like I had shown up as his personal fashion assistant.

“Great,” I answered, wondering how one virus had taken away so many things, except for vanity.

I went to the place she suggested. One was quickly fixed.

“You will have to go to a jewelry store specifically for this other one. I don’t have the proper tool to open it.”

I paid for the one, got back in my car, and went to destination three to see if they could help. You will go to great lengths for the ones under your care.

The second one was put back in working order, and I took them to him.

When I showed him they were fixed, it was like his lifeline to the world had been restored. He promptly fastened it back where he felt it belonged.

The familiarity of it, I realized, was an anchor for him, somehow helping him be grounded in a subtle way.

One of the two stopped working immediately.

“Just forget it, Chris. I can use this one.”

Well, that one less than a year later was now starting to fade again, and I didn’t want to go through the process of a battery change.

“This has quit working.”

“Should I get you a new one?”

The question was going to yield an answer I could not guess. I was assuming he was going to cling to the old.

“Yes. I think I want something else.”

Talk about throwing all caution to the wind!

That small change for a person nearing ninety is quite the step.

Happy that I didn’t have to go through the hassle of the battery, I went to the store. I realized I was not aware of the assortment of watches that there are to choose from. I needed something simple.

I use my phone to see the time. I was delving into an arena I hadn’t been paying attention to since the 80s.

No, I don’t want to monitor his heart rate; he worries enough, and knowing him, he would watch the numbers go up and worry more. No, he doesn’t need a stopwatch function because he isn’t running track. No, it can’t have five million buttons on both sides. Yes, it required a large face with two different hands.

I laughed when I saw the display for Casio. I instantly saw John Candy in Trains, Planes, and Automobiles trying to sell it so he could get a hotel room.

I found a rare one that only kept time and had a small window showing the date.

When I arrived, there was an activity about ready to happen with a lady playing the piano. I showed him the watch.

“I will set it for you while she plays,” I said.

He glanced down at his wrist, remembering something was absent.

“I don’t have the time.”

“I think you have quite a bit of it unless you are now working a full-time job that I’m not aware of.”

He laughed.

“No. I have plenty of time, just not something to tell me how slow the day is going.”

While sitting next to him at the social event, I was trying to read the fine print. Not just fine, but super small, like I needed a magnifying glass. I held up the tiny paper away from me to try and focus.

I heard him laugh slightly. I squinted. I moved the instructions closer.

He leaned over and said,

“You need a new pair of glasses now that you have bought me a new watch.” I didn’t have my glasses on.

“And a refresher course in a foreign language because I just realized I was trying to read in Spanish.”

After I got it set, I slipped it on his arm.

He looked at it and said,

“It’s not working, Chris.”

“What? This is brand new.”

Sure enough, it had stopped for no reason.

“I think you have lived past your time,” I said smiling, and he laughed again. “This is a sign your time is up.” He has been in multiple situations where he has dodged death, so I knew he would not take me seriously.

When I tried to snap the band back in place, it wouldn’t. I thought I had succeeded, and it fell to the floor. But, it was running right. So that was going in my favor.

“When things are fighting me this much, I’m thinking you are not supposed to be concerned with time at all.”

After a lot more struggling, I had it, and so did he.

Sighing, he said,

“Nothing seems easy anymore. I need to move on from all of this.”

“You will someday,” I said.

We all will. The one thing we all can count on besides a Timex that keeps on ticking is our departure. But no one wants to really talk about it.

A few months ago, I took an online course to be certified as a death doula. Just like there are people devoted to bringing babies into the world, there are those who want to help people go on to eternity.

When my dentist asked me what I was up to, and I told him, he said,

“You are a death angel? Is that what you are? People see you coming and run?”

He also asked if I needed less novocaine since I was so in tune with the afterlife.

In one of the chapters of the material, there were resources listed that a person could use to discuss the topic with more ease. One way this is happening is death coffee shops popping up. I have had a cup of coffee or two taste like death, but these places are expressly set up to have people get together and converse solely about their demise. Instead of avoiding it, they are planning what they want and making sure to write out what they don’t.

We aren’t accustomed to not knowing what is next. You can pull up a guide on your remote, and it will list every single show that will be on for days. If you are going somewhere, you can map it out and see precisely where you will be and when. Almost every electronic device has a timer, so you can set it and know it will turn on and off at certain hours.

But when it comes to the ultimate end, we don’t fully know, which causes many not to want to think about it. In Ecclesiastes 12:7 it says,

Life, lovely while it lasts, is soon over. Life as we know it, precious and beautiful, ends. The body is put back in the same ground it came from. The spirit returns to God, who first breathed it. (Message)

You aren’t guaranteed a tomorrow, and while that sounds morbid, it should prompt you to live today with a more significant awareness of the people God has put into your life for a reason, that the minor irritations that come your way, like getting delayed, mean nothing in the vast scheme of things, and that you are a vital piece of the puzzle, needed to fulfill your life purpose.

Colossians 3:2 will help keep your focus on what is important:

Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. (NLT)

A sense of peace will come when you decide to do that. This will help you go through your days, knowing that you are not doing this alone and God is watching.