Surprise Party

“I want to go in there,” she said.

This has become a familiar phrase over the years, and when it’s stated, I know that something that its original owner has long forgotten is going to be in her hands.

It’s always the same smell—the opposite of new car scent. Everything assaults the senses at the door for me. When I first started to frequent second-hand shops with her, I always said,

“I’m looking at dead people’s stuff.”

I just couldn’t get past the idea that those 1970 avocado green coffee cups had once graced Aunt Myrtle’s kitchen counter. Or Olga’s mustard yellow crockpot had seen its final potluck when the grim reaper showed up, halting all the fun. I easily could put faces and names to all the merchandise.

The dusty burgundy brandy glasses had seen Helen’s last toast, and that super ugly lamp in the corner had gone dark after many days of illuminating the room so Fred could read the evening newspaper. Uncle Bud’s collection of beer bottle caps testify to the world that he liked to drink in excess while his team lost, and the ax leaning against the wall that once had given George calloused hands as he chopped wood is on clearance.

The ladle that great-grandma Beatrice used every Thanksgiving for her thick, bland gravy is up for grabs alongside cousin Lucille’s flour sifter and canister set with the yellow daffodils. Who could pass up on Sir Edward the Third’s favorite smoking jacket and Philip’s baseball cards that he had gotten with his first pack of gum? And then there’s the hatpin Betsy fastened neatly before her monthly book club meeting and Richard’s flashing neon man cave signs that have a bit of mid-life crisis attached to them.

I could go on, but besides envisioning the dearly departed, I could only think of one word: hoarding.

And there’s always these extra rooms and signs with arrows pointing to another secret passage that say: more, more, more!

In almost every visit, I have gone into lower levels where it seems like you are intruding into someone’s basement that got stuck in a time machine. Like a dungeon with concrete walls all around. It doesn’t help when you say to yourself,

“This feels like I am descending into hell.”

And the person who placed items for purchase thought it was a great idea to put all the rubber masks right at the bottom of the creaky stairs. So you are greeted by eyeless sockets.

She always gravitates toward the toy section because this is why we are there in the first place. As a successful creator on YouTube, she searches for more props to utilize in future videos. She is also highly skilled at resurrecting the dead through hair restoration and giving new meaning to dolls long fallen by the wayside. Once it’s in her possession, she will provide it with the best home and a life’s purpose.

I try to preoccupy myself with browsing through the items I once owned as a child and now are considered “vintage”. That sounds nicer than ancient.

How reckless were adults to give us real wooden objects to build with and risk getting a sliver? Or paint that contained unknown ingredients had we eaten possibly could have caused severe side effects? We lived on the edge then, I guess.

I have gotten more comfortable as time has rolled by. I try to block out the idea of the deceased and see it as a warehouse for second chances. I still have to combat a lot of sensations, and if I get too overloaded in a space, I move on to another one. My first indication of needing to keep moving is dizziness and a bit of disorientation.

We recently visited a busy store, and I struggled with feeling overwhelmed by all the stuff. As my daughters and I rounded a corner, she appeared with the most dazzling smile.

“Aren’t you girls finding anything fun?”

“Not yet,” I said.

She was beaming.

“There is a lot of good things in here. I was the owner, but I sold the place to my son. I’m 87 years old, and it was time. He has taken over and done way beyond what I did, and I am very proud of him.”

“You do not look your age at all,” I said.

“You are in the will!” She quickly replied.

“What do I get? All of this?” I said, sweeping my hand around as they do on game shows over all the prizes.

She threw her head back and laughed.

“Do you know what keeps me going?”

“No.”

“Fireball whiskey. I was given a huge jug of it, and it was so big it had a handle on it.”

“Did you get through the entire thing?”

“Of course I did!” More radiance.

I don’t recall how we got around to guessing my age, but she put me back into my 40s. She was close, but not quite. She went on to guess the ages of my girls. She couldn’t talk enough about her family living abroad in various countries.

“Would you ever go see them?”

“I don’t want to travel alone.”

Her husband had passed on.

“He had the best sense of humor. We got along so well, and it’s important to laugh in life.”

“And drink whiskey.”

“You are definitely in the will!”

Surprisingly, we left without a purchase, but then hours later, my daughter regretted not listening to her inward leading toward a particular doll.

“I can go back with you tomorrow.”

“I hope it will still be there.”

This is the one who always gives me the “look” when I am at a cross-road decision on something, and she knows I am supposed to have it.

“Angels are guarding it. God will make sure you have it.”

The next day was much quieter and calmer. Her prized possession was still waiting on the shelf, and she decided that there were some others worth looking at in locked cases.

While she stood by what she needed to view, I went to the desk where a woman was pricing merchandise.

“Can I help you?”

“I need key 21 to unlock a case.”

She turned and spoke to a man who I recognized from the night before.

“If you get me the key, I can help them,” he said.

When he came over to us, I asked,

“I met the former owner last night. Are you the son who took over?”

He laughed.

“I am not her son, but I did buy it from her at the beginning of the year. She always refers to me as her son, and it’s so nice of her to do that.”

She was a sharp person, so it wasn’t a case of dementia. She truly counted him as her child.

“I am in her will now,” I said.

“Get in line. She says that to everyone.”

“She had nothing but good things to say about you. You took what she started and are making it even better.”

He pointed to a poster on the wall. The business had earned one of this year’s Best Awards, meaning it was voted as a number one place to visit in the area.

“I did that already, and we aren’t slowing down.”

With both cases laid out on the counter, my daughter began looking through the piles of clothes and accessories. The lady who had been marking items now was watching.

“She restores things,” I said.

“I do too. I redesign old clothing. I have a big room I work in at home, and it passes the time since my husband isn’t around anymore.”

I saw a man standing behind her with his hand on her left shoulder.

“My husband Barry died eight years ago.”

“You know he is standing right next to you. You can feel that, right?”

It’s getting harder lately not to let it be said, and the words seem to fly out of my mouth before I know they are going to.

“Oh, yes! Right here,” she said, pointing to the spot where I could see him. You can’t spend that much time with a person and have them just disappear forever.”

“You are right. I’m glad you know it.”

“He was diagnosed with throat cancer, and we were told that it would be easily cured. Well, it wasn’t. It was a big shock when he passed on. But his alarm clock went off every morning when he used to get up for work. Even if I turned it off, it would wake me up the next morning. He has never left me.”

I know she misses him, but she also seemed very peaceful about it. I guess she has come to accept what is, but the feeling that he is near also is helpful.

God just keeps showing me more as I ask for it. There’s a scripture that says in 1 Corinthians 15:55-57:

O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”(ESV)

I can say that when you know that someone has advanced on and they are at peace, it makes grieving easier. You miss them, but like in this woman’s case, she can still sense him around. I keep having similar experiences.

The night before my birthday last summer, I was in a store by the bakery waiting with my daughter. She was having the worker write a message on a cake. When it was handed off to her, this older woman came out of nowhere, leaned in, and read it out loud to me with much emphasis:

“Happy 53rd Birthday, mom!”

Like loud, like my mom would have. And her body language and clothing were in full mother mode. Then she disappeared into the masses.

The next day, on my birthday, while I was standing outside a building looking at flowers, a man walked right up behind me and started singing Happy Birthday at the top of his lungs in this super booming low voice. He sang it all the way to his car. About a week before that, I had said,

“Mom, I want you to sing Happy Birthday to me.”

I had forgotten I had requested it until he was yelling it practically into my hair!

While driving home that day, I recalled that we would see my grandparents on some of my birthdays in North Dakota. They always saved one firework for me.

In Minnesota, the powers that be don’t think we can handle it, so it’s illegal. But not there. Apparently, the residents have better eye-hand coordination in that state.

I told my girls that I always had one bottle rocket or something sent skyward to commemorate another year.

Later, after I got home, I thought I heard a muffled pop. This was way past the 4th. I went out the front door to see the biggest explosion of color rain down over my house. That was it—just one.

“Thanks, mom,” I said, going back in.

I think we have put the afterlife into a confined space to make it more acceptable. Many people have a low-level fear that keeps them from seeing clearly, and then the sadness of grief gets piled on.

The preoccupation with loss blocks some vital heavenly signs from being seen or heard. And, while it seems like something has been taken, it has been transformed into better. That doesn’t mean there won’t be tears, but there also can be laughter which is just as healing. And those who have walked through the door, we all will someday, wish us joy.

I have gotten used to not being able to explain anything, and the more I allow it, God keeps sending extra my way.

I can’t say I’m okay with all of it at times, especially if it’s something really extraordinary and out there, but I have decided to do this from Proverbs 3:5-6:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight. (NIV)

It is a little scary to live like this, casting yourself totally into the care of heaven. But it also is so fun at times that I can’t imagine living without it. It sets you apart from the trivial cares and traps that are easily laid before us.

It helps you understand and see everything at a higher level of existence so you can drop away from those things that really don’t matter.

In some ways, it’s like being the unsuspecting victim of something good happening. Like when all your friends decide to secretly plan something that you will be the center of attention. You walk into a room expecting one thing, and then they all jump out of hiding. It takes the mind a minute to accept it, but then you realize this has been done for you. Once the shock wears off, you see it for what it really is.

You never know where God will show up next, who you will cross paths with, and how you will be spiritually awakened further by the next surprise party.

Focus

Almost every single photo of me from my childhood includes a shadow of my dad’s thumb as he tried to navigate a big and cumbersome camera way back when. No matter how much he gripped the outside of it and tried to fold his hand, the familiar image loomed.

It was always a surprise to see what morphed onto the film because, unlike today, it was anyone’s guess if the flash would go off or if the person operating it remembered to advance the roll.

It was a lot of standing straight as a picket fence and waiting for the signal that something was about to happen.

“Wait. Ok. No. Wait. Ok. No…”

More strap adjustments, moving the lens, looking through the viewfinder to see distance.

“Move in. Move in. Ok. No. Move back. Go to the left. No, that’s too far.”

Then he would put the camera down, try to get us all better grouped, and we would begin the process again of more maneuvering.

One of my brothers taught me the peace sign. I recall having my index finger and a middle finger placed upright while the rest were squished down. I was told that this was something I was supposed to do. It was done repeatedly to be sure that I caught on like a good student. For a five-year-old who felt left out of everything that her older siblings were doing, this was something I thought made me more sophisticated like they were. For them, I was easy to program.

They would implement ideas, and I would carry them out like a machine, much to their amusement. It always was,

“Hey, Chris, try this. It will be so neat.”

My mom hated that I was taught this, and she tried continuously to break the habit. I was too little to remember to use both fingers at that age, so I was probably flipping everyone off.

She would catch me running through the house doing something they had exposed me to, like singing racy song lyrics and saying words I shouldn’t. She was up against a force of three teenage boys and me.

“Christine, stop doing that!” Even the use of my formal name didn’t deter me. If they instructed me to do something, I carried out their command, and it pretty much was a done deal and would not disappear quickly.

I tried to sneak in the hand sign while everyone was preoccupied with staring straight ahead at the camera.

“Chris! Quit it!” She would suddenly say as she noticed I was doing it again. At one point, she gripped my hand that was closest to her to be sure I was listening.

When my dad would finally count down to the actual snap, there were a few occasions I would move quickly and hold up my pinky and the one next to it more obscurely. She wouldn’t find out until later when she held the finished product in her hand.

“Chris, you need to stop doing this. You are ruining every picture we take.” That only made me want to do it more.

As taking photos became more elaborate, I had a digital camera that still required film, but it had a panoramic setting which I never used. It required a simple slide of a button over to that setting.

I noticed that the film was at the end of the roll, so I took it in to get it developed. I couldn’t recall what I had used it for, but I had two small kids at the time, so I thought I might have used it on them.

When I picked them up to pay, the amount seemed higher than usual.

I looked at the package, and there was a box checked that said ‘wide’ angle.

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“They had to process these differently. You must have a camera that can take landscape-type photos, and it costs more to develop those.”

I didn’t recall doing that. Was I getting amnesia? When you have children, you ask yourself that question sometimes.

Much to my shock, there were twenty-four pictures of the same thing when I opened the package. My daughter, who was two at the time, had done selfies before they were a thing, and she had turned the camera to the panoramic setting. She had taken pictures of her lips and teeth over and over.

“Did you use my camera?” I held the smoking gun in my hand, but the answer?

“No.”

“I think you did,” I said, showing her the evidence. “I think what is on here belongs to you.”

I hid my camera after that.

On another occasion, I went to pick up pictures that had been taken with an underwater camera. When I got home, I opened the envelope and discovered that I had been given the wrong ones. Strangers were staring at me. When I went back to exchange them, the other party had returned mine, and they had opened it just like I had done to theirs, not knowing there was a mistake.

I cannot imagine what they thought when they saw the contents of mine. My daughter, who didn’t know how to use the new camera well, had taken shots of body parts. No faces. Just various poorly executed images of legs, arms, and other compromising things. I threw them all away to forget about it. I hoped the other family didn’t end up in therapy for too long.

Just like taking pictures, what you set your sites on in life, is what manifests. If you choose to think about issues that tend toward the negative, that will show up. The opposite is true as well. I have found that the more I see the good, it starts to appear easier without much effort except for thinking that it will.

This lesson probably hasn’t been taught to most of us. We are expected at young ages to fit in with our peer group. And most of humanity has its heart set on worry and anxiety.

In Romans 12:2 it says:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (ESV)

I read a long time ago that the human brain can only concentrate on one thing at a time. If you think of a particular idea, then that is what is on your mind. Taking control of your thought life is part of the renovation process if you want to break free from toxicity. Becoming mindful of what you are thinking about helps in overcoming old, unhelpful patterns.

When I speak to strangers in public, the topic of conversation takes a turn for the worst very quickly these days. I have heard so much lately about families at odds over the state of affairs regarding politics and vaccines.

One woman told me while I waited in a line that her family is so split on their opinions that they can’t all get together like they used to. Her eyes looked tired and hurt as she spoke of a relative who she missed. There has been a significant fracturing of our society because I repeatedly hear this same story. We probably won’t fully understand the damage that has been done for a while. It’s too bad we have lost our ability to change the subject to something neutral for all.

In Proverbs 17:22, sound advice is offered:

A cheerful disposition is good for your health; gloom and doom leave you bone-tired. (Message)

I get drained very quickly when I am in the presence of someone who continually speaks nothing but bad news, so I always try to change it. Sometimes I can, and other times my words fall on deaf ears.

Being in constant mental fatigue, many compromise their immune systems suffering sickness and disease directly resulting from what they are dwelling on. No one likes to hear that, but it’s the truth. In John 8:32 there’s good news with this:

“..and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”(ESV)

God wants you to live in a place of peace, not turmoil. It’s difficult to execute when the world continues to scream in our ears.

The most disappointing result that used to happen in the old days with photography was a double exposure. This is where two photos are taken in the same frame. The film wasn’t correctly advanced, and you end up with images right on top of one another that make absolutely no sense. You cannot see what was originally in the scene because another one has intruded right over it. It’s a blurred mess.

Much like this verse from James 1:8:

“He is a double-minded man, unstable in all of his ways.”(ESV)

When this happens, you pray for something, and then you go around and undo it with what you say. Your faith in what you believe in is dead, and that will be the result. Nothing.

Wouldn’t it be much nicer to fall more on the side of happiness? To not entertain the darkness but to stay in the light?

In Isaiah 26:3, there is a clue on how to do that:

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you because he trusts in you.” (ESV)

It might be a bit of a battle to come against what the general population would have you participate in. It’s easy to go through your days mindlessly accepting whatever is thrown at you and reacting to it, but God can help.

If you allow it, you will come to realize that there is a higher way of living where you walk above and beyond the ‘normal’ as you turn to heaven, ask for guidance, and change your focus.

(The camera my dad used)

Best Advice

“Pick someone in the room that you think God wants you to talk to.”

This wasn’t my usual Saturday morning, but I chose to attend a workshop to learn how to hear from heaven more acutely. I wasn’t the only one as there were probably fifty of us who had shown up. It seemed that we were willing to jump over some barriers to access higher abilities.

One of the mental hurdles I have had to overcome in this area is that I am “hearing voices”. That implies that this practice isn’t usual and should land one in a padded cell with a syringe plunged into the upper arm.

How many Hollywood productions have been made that depict a character who gets a bad nose bleed or excruciating headaches when they have otherworldly experiences? They spend most of their time clutching their foreheads and try not to hemorrhage. The brainwashing has been that if you have a gift to interact with the divine, you have to suffer physically or be super weird.

If you get past all that, bring on the poltergeist and dark forces ready to wreak havoc in your home. Who wants to tangle with an unruly spirit that will require an exorcism? Just because you went looking for answers, now you have to move.

If that doesn’t stop a person, then the sheer fact that the One who made everything would want to speak is somewhat staggering. Why would God want to take the time to talk to us? Isn’t that kind of presumptuous with all the trouble going on in the world?

Any one of those scenarios can keep us closed down and shut off.

I knew exactly who I was to speak to on that particular morning. The entire hour that we sat listening to the presenter talk about his experiences, my attention kept being directed to a woman across the room. It began with a slight nudge.

“Do you see the lady with the purple glasses?” the still, small voice whispered.

I scanned the attentive audience, and I saw her wearing reading glasses. It’s always subtle at first like that. It seems like it’s my idea to look up, but later I realize I was told to.

I focused back on what was being taught.

“Do you see her scarf? It matches her glasses.” Accesories are important.

As people began looking around to see who they should pair up with, I went right to her and said,

“I’m supposed to tell you something; I have no idea what it is.”

“I’m so relieved you came over. This is so hard for me to do, and I want to learn how to do it, but I’m a little scared.”

“I think we all aren’t totally comfortable with it, but we can try.”

She and I went to a quiet corner away from everyone else. We were given easy-to-follow instructions on how to get a message.

First, we were to ask what God wanted this person to know. Next, we were to ask for a specific verse if there was one and then to get a vision of what was needed. That sounds like a lot, but we were told we could do it, so the idea was to believe we could.

I started by asking the first question. Both of us shut our eyes, and she grabbed my right hand. I had to brush away the thought that I was with an absolute stranger. I didn’t know her even thirty minutes ago, but now I was to deliver important news from God.

“A special place has been prepared for you at the table,” I said. I could see her sitting in an elaborate venue, surrounded by others and being served. She looked relaxed with a radiant smile.

“Do you spend a lot of your time giving to others and not yourself?”

“Yes. I’m a pastor, and I’m always helping other people but not me.”

“Do you feel guilty when you take time for yourself?”

“Yes.”

“God wants you to know that you need to take time for yourself and let other people help you. You are burning yourself out trying to be nice.”

“You’re right,” she said quietly. Inwardly, I breathed a sigh of relief. I felt calm, but I had no idea if what I was saying would be accurate. To have her confirm it kept me going.

“I see you wondering if you can clean up the tables or get the other people something to drink. God says no. Sit down.”

She laughed.

“That’s me. Right when I start to enjoy myself, I think I have to jump up and do something, or I’m being lazy.”

“You aren’t giving yourself a break. You are going to break down. So listen to what is being said. God is telling you to rest. Let others serve you for once. You are supposed to enjoy life just like everyone else. You can be happy even when you aren’t working. Don’t let people take advantage of your kindness. Put up boundaries and have some balance. Otherwise, you aren’t going to be able to help anyone. You are going to start resenting the whole thing.”

When we opened our eyes, she got out a tissue to wipe away tears.

“It’s hard for me not to do it all for everyone all the time.”

“Do you ask for help?” How did I know to ask that? Because we had a lot in common.

“No. I try to do it all myself. I don’t like asking for help, and no one usually offers.”

“Then you have to ask, and don’t feel bad about it.”

“I will. I don’t want to burn myself out. I like what I do, so I don’t want to ruin it.”

Then it was her turn to be in the hot seat to see what I needed to hear. It took her a minute to pull herself together after what I had said.

She retook my hand, and we closed our eyes.

“God, what do you want Chris to know?”

I instantly saw myself sitting in a canoe drifting in a river. The sun was bright, no one else was around, and it was peaceful.

“Come to me all who are weary, and I will give you rest. God wants you to rest. I see you floating in a…a..a..” She paused like she couldn’t find the right word.

“Canoe?”

“Yes!” She said. “I didn’t want to say it was a boat because it isn’t.”

I saw everything before she said it, and when I would describe something, she saw it too.

“You are sitting in a..” She was at a loss for words again.

“Meadow? With flowers all around me?”

“Yes! And God wants you to rest and see the beauty of creation. Don’t be so busy that you don’t stop and see it.”

In the end, we walked away, no longer not knowing one another.

We didn’t have special powers come over us. There was no chanting in Latin involved or burning of incense. What did we do? We asked.

There are many sources of information available to all of us anytime we want. The news will tell you what’s going on. And usually, it’s not good. If by chance, you get Chinese food, a fortune cookie can be your guide. But that generally wears off and doesn’t provide a lot of depth.

I recall having a Magic Eight Ball when I was a kid. I would think of a question and shake the heck out of it, hoping for the answer I wanted to hear. Through the little window, the smoky blue water would reveal words on the plastic triangle inside. The worst result was: Answer Unknown. How frustrating is that? I wasn’t any further ahead in life with that response! It proved to be unreliable, leaking all over the place, and it got tossed.

I realized that after taking the class that it’s vital to be able to hear on a level that is above the physical to benefit myself when I cannot sleep and I don’t understand a difficulty I am up against. Another advantage is to use it when bringing comfort to others. It’s amazing to speak something that immediately brings relief to another. You know it isn’t you, but it is straight from heaven.

You can begin to apply this from Jeremiah 33:3:

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

Then there’s a bonus thrown in if you do:

How happy you are to believe that the Lord’s message to you will come true! (Luke 1:45, Good News Translation)

When you take the time to get quiet and ask for answers, it builds your confidence and boosts your mood; it changes your mindset and strengthens the bond between you and the unseen realm. And just like anything else that you give a priority in your day, it becomes easier to execute.

Soon, you will only want to seek that which offers you something of great return like nothing else can. You won’t want to settle for anything that leaves you feeling unfulfilled and empty. You don’t have to chase it down like a crazy person, thinking that others have the answers for your life. And you come to know that God directly gives the best advice.

(THEN WHAT?!)

Scary

My oldest daughter attended an online charter school in 7th grade that required a laptop. Because those were the days I was working three jobs and trying to home school, I had to find something I could afford. Luckily, we did just before she was to start.

Barely out of the box, one of us tripped over the charger, ripping it straight out of where it was plugged in. This was round number one to replace it.

A few weeks later, after we moved the computer to another location, someone else did the same exact thing, requiring a second run for another one.

The third mishap could have turned out way worse than it did. At the time, our dogs were puppies, and one of them chewed up the charger cord while it was plugged in. No one got fried in the process.

Except for me. I was beyond my tolerance for having this repeat itself. I was worn out from going through the double doors of the electronic store, becoming a regular like at a bar.

I thought we were out of the woods once we hit the six-month mark, but then the modem died. So it was back to the same store but with a different problem.

I was hoping to circumvent help, grab something and go. But, the options were endless, so I had to stay longer than I wanted, which then drew an employee’s attention. I was just fine on my own, but she took it upon herself to assist.

I must not have masked my feelings very well. I wasn’t taking my annoyance out on her, but I wasn’t exactly overly welcoming. My goal was to get out of there as quickly as I could. My youngest daughter was with me, also trying to speed up the process. I tried not to make much eye contact or speak, to rush it along. The “helper” was happily chirping away about various models and prices. And any other topic she thought would be of interest to me. She wasn’t picking up on my nonverbal cues, and I decided I might as well speak because she was there for the duration.

Finally, I said,

“This is my fourth time here.”

I explained my charger drama as I went back to looking on the shelf for what we needed. I began talking to make time go by faster and not complaining, just trying to make an awkward situation less uncomfortable since she seemed bored and wanted something to do.

She edged closer to me. I thought I was in her way, so I moved over. I picked up a box, decided that was the one, and turned to thank her for trying to help.

Out of absolutely nowhere, she said,

“You need a hug!” And she threw herself at me.

I was somewhat shocked that I hadn’t been fast enough to dodge out of the way.

I was highly skilled at this from having to face many overzealous church greeters. I learned quickly to avoid the double arm maneuver in the lobby.

It was first the handshake, then the forearm grab as you are pulled in before you can change your mind and run back to your car. Your limb is nearly dislocated, but you feel thoroughly greeted.

To avoid being involved with that, I would get so preoccupied with my purse and keys, pretending to juggle them so I didn’t have a free hand to spare. Instead, I would smile, say hi, look totally stressed out trying to handle my bag, and move on, bypassing the whole thing. I was a professional at it.

I had also been subjected to embracers as well, and my best excuse was to say I had to run to the bathroom. Even the most hardcore smotherer for the Lord won’t bother you if they think you have had a lot of water to drink before a service. They wish you well from afar and say they will catch you next time.

I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, so I decided my skirting around them was a win for all of us. I was freeing them up for the next unsuspecting victim.

I believed I had a rock solid barrier between myself and this type of behavior. I was completely surprised by her actions; I was frozen in place, hanging on to the modem box. My arms were at my sides, unmoving. Was this part of the employee of the month program? Was she going to have her picture posted on a wall somewhere just for ninja attacking me? She was not letting go quickly, and time for me had halted.

After the unwanted advance, she stepped back and said,

“I hope you feel better.”

I had dissociated from my body momentarily.

My daughter held in the biggest laugh of her life because she is well aware of my small personal bubble. I somewhat staggered backward to regain my independence.

“Have a great day!” she said.

I nodded and walked away like a zombie to the register. My daughter, no longer able to contain herself, said in between gasps for air,

“Your face! You should have seen it!”

“Why did she do that to me? That is not normal! We are in a store!” I said in a yell whisper.

I was afraid she was lurking nearby within listening range, and I didn’t want to give her any reason to feel sorry for me again. That was not my intention in the first place. I kept looking around as if she was going to pop up out of nowhere.

This only made her laugh more all the way to the car. Loudly.

I locked all the doors, which brought on another round of hysteria.

“I just can’t stop thinking of how you looked!”

“How am I supposed to look when someone lunges at me like that? Who does that?”

On the one hand, it’s nice to know that we have good hearted people in the world, but I couldn’t get past its oddity.

This is not the only time a worker has gone out of their way to console me but in a less invasive way.

I had taken my lawnmower in for an oil change and to get the blade sharpened. It’s not my favorite thing to do in the world as I am totally out of my element. I have a smaller, less crowded hardware store nearby, but it’s still very testosterone leaning, and the rows of unknown things are mind-blowing.

Who has time to browse the aisles looking at miles of gadgets and minuscule metal objects? From my observation: retired men. Of which I am not one. Who generally works there? The same demographic.

I don’t do this at the beginning of spring because everyone else does. I try to time it to go in after the onslaught of eager lawn fanatics so I will get it back faster. With fewer mowers, I wait a shorter time.

A week went by, and I heard nothing. That seemed unusual, so I called to ask if it had gotten taken care of.

“I don’t see it here,” the person who answered the phone said. “Our system says it’s still out for repair.”

That made me wonder if something was wrong with it that I didn’t know about.

“What is the date it has been promised to be done?”

“A week from today. But it’s always done way early when I bring it in at this time of the year.”

“Well, then wait until then. It’s not here.”

I felt like I was interrupting her life, so I did what she said. I always default to being the one who is wrong when it comes to not being confident in what I am dealing with.

Two whole weeks went by, which seemed off to me. This was the first time it had taken this long. I usually get a text saying it’s ready for pick up, but my promised date had passed. So I called to see if it had been overlooked.

“Nope, it’s not back yet,” she said. “It says it’s still out for service when I look it up.”

I hung up, realizing I was going to have to use their loaner. I drove over to get it. I’m accustomed to mine, which is self-propelled. What they gave me was similar to that metal clipper-type thing that has to be pushed. It was heavy and nearly broke my spirit by the time I finished both yards. I didn’t realize how nice I had it.

A week later, now three weeks of waiting, I went into the store again. I just felt that something wasn’t right, and there was no reason for this to be taking so long.

I told my story to another person, gave them my receipt, and waited while they went to check in storage. Within moments, my mower was coming through the door.

“The tag says it was back three weeks ago, and it only took a couple of days because the inventory was low.”

So, the very first time I called to ask, it was finished and waiting for me.

“I tried to get it, but no one had contacted me. When I called in, I was told it was still out, and I had to wait until the exact date I had been given.”

“It was sitting there the entire time. Whoever answered the phone should have double checked the storage room and not just the computer. That thing can be wrong all the time. I am sorry.”

“I’m just glad to get it out of jail,” I said.

She laughed and took my paperwork to the register. I hadn’t ever seen her before.

There was a long line to wait through, and I kept an eye on my mower so it wouldn’t be retaken hostage.

When I was going to pay, I was told a certain amount that seemed low.

“Are you sure you typed that in right?”

When I dropped it off, I had put down a deposit, and the remainder should have been more.

“The manager said you had some problems, so she wanted to make it right.”

I was stunned.

“She doesn’t have to do that. I’m not upset at all, and I’m just glad I got it back.”

“She wants to be sure you come back.”

“I always come here. This won’t change that.”

They wouldn’t charge me the full price no matter how much I insisted they should.

On my way to the car, I looked at the receipt; it had a personal note attached, professing their apologies and adoration for me. Very similar to the hugger many years ago, and just out of the ordinary.

God will show up in ways that seem strange. In neither of those incidents was I outwardly exhibiting my frustration, but I was polite and trying to navigate my way through unpleasant situations. Part of what I was trying to do was resolve problems that are areas of life I find unfamiliar, which is the root of the stress. Electronics and tools are just not high on my list of expertise, and God knows that. Every time I have been forced to deal with an issue that seems too big to handle, I have discovered that I can. And it makes it easier the next time.

In Isaiah 65:24 it says:
I will answer them before they even call to me. While they are still talking about their needs, I will go ahead and answer their prayers!(NLT)

So maybe all those times I got sent back to the same store was to purge my fear of the unknown. The repetition, even though maddening, created familiarity. Not that God wanted me to have bad things happen, but everything can be used to bring us up higher. I can now look back and say maybe, just maybe, the weird hug was to congratulate me on a job well done. I’m still not sure, and I don’t need it to happen again in the middle of the electronic department. Ever.

In Psalm 139, this comforting promise is made:

You have searched me
and known me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
You understand my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down;
You are aware of all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
You know all about it.
You hem me in behind and before;
You have laid Your hand upon me.(NLT)

Isn’t the goal to live anxiety-free and to walk by faith? Then sometimes, we will be required to stop avoiding what we don’t like, face it, know it’s for our good, and check it off the list as no longer scary.

(My receipt..who wouldn’t keep this?)

The Door of Her Heart

I made it my mission to teach my oldest daughter about God even before she could speak. I was coming to understand faith, and while my spiritual walk was moving ahead, I had to be quiet about it as my household at the time was divided. If I tried to voice my beliefs, it didn’t go over well.

Instead of causing conflict, I studied and kept hidden anything related to the subject. I put books at the bottom of my dresser or tucked away in a dark corner that I only knew about. I didn’t let the opposition stop what God and I had started, but I went out of my way to guard myself.

I turned all of my knowledge toward her because she was a clean slate without any religious baggage or ability to argue with me.

In the car, no matter where she and I went, I played children’s music that incorporated scripture verses set to tunes that easily got stuck in the memory. As she got older, I would hear her humming happily to herself as she played with her toys.

It became very apparent that this was effective when she and I were in a crowded restaurant. She always was content sitting next to me coloring, talking non-stop about everything she could think of. On this particular night, she jumped to her feet in the booth, and at the top of her lungs, started singing Go Tell It On the Mountain.

No matter how much I tried to stop her, she wouldn’t quit. All the other customers got quiet and looked over at us. I was so worried that she was disrupting them with her unexpected off-Broadway dinner show, so I kept quietly saying her name, trying to get her to zip it.

Many people don’t appreciate an acapella version of a song in public. And I’m very aware that children, by some, are barely tolerated. But, there was no stopping her. I kept glancing up, and as she kept on going, I saw people smiling, so I just gave up my efforts. She was determined to finish all the lyrics, and there was no other choice.

At the end of it, she received applause. As if it was no big deal, she went back to her crayons.

On another occasion, my neighbor lady saw me outside working in the backyard.

“Do you know what one of my favorite things is in the evening?”

“No,” I said.

“I will be washing dishes, and I can hear your daughter singing while she is on her swing set. She goes through this long list of songs.”

It was spring, so all of us had our windows wide open for fresh air.

I had heard her do it too, and her ability to say certain words was still a challenge. Abraham was pronounced with an “n”, and it sounded like Neighborham.

“I like that one the best of all,” she said, laughing.

Someone gave me a large glass jar filled with slips of paper in it. On each one, there was a question regarding God that you could ask your child. It was an exercise to help expand their thinking about the unseen.

Because I continued to plant what I could in a secretive way, I thought this would fit right in.

So every night before bed, she would pick out a random piece of paper to be quizzed. She loved it so much that one was never enough, and sometimes she wanted so many I had to cut her off. She was like a sponge for learning and enjoyed what I was teaching her.

One night, she handed me her choice, and I asked:

“What does it mean to have God knock on the door of your heart?”

She did her usual squint and looked up at the ceiling.

“I know! That’s the song that I sing in the car. He knock, knock, knocks on your heart.” She added a closed fist pounding to her chest.

“So, what does that mean?”

“Ummm…What does it mean?” She asked.

“You don’t know?”

“No.”

I couldn’t believe that we were at this point already. It had taken me years to get to this, and now at 4, she was already inquiring about such a deep topic.

“Well, when you think you want to, you can let God be in charge of your life. It can’t be taken away from you, but you willingly give it.”

I grabbed a book where I knew there was a picture of Jesus knocking on a door.

“It’s like you open the door and say come in. That’s it. Do you want to do that?”

She said she did, so I had her say a little prayer with me.

After that, she had daily prayer sessions with her infant sister. She would prop her up in her carrier and try to explain the Bible. Just like I did with her, it was someone who had to listen and couldn’t talk back or run away. Even if her audience drifted off to sleep, she would keep on expounding her newfound wisdom.

I sometimes regret the decision I made to have her attend various churches alongside me. Not that she still didn’t keep the simple message she learned, but as with most formal organizations, there are rules to follow, and people get in the way by putting their own spin on it. Soon, what was so easy to know at such a young age had become so complex that the relationship started to wane. Why? Because the spiritual upkeep got to be overwhelming.

You are pressured to be something you are not, everything you do is monitored, and you slowly lose your freedom of choice. Anything supernatural that cannot be explained must be evil; the devil is behind everything, and conformity is a must because being different is unacceptable. Life becomes anxiety riddled, and you hope you are still on God’s good side.

Now you no longer depend on inner guidance, but you rely on those in leadership to educate you and discipline your wayward passage. You seek people instead of the One who holds all the answers that you need. You are instructed how to think and speak, so you don’t stand out from the rest. It was so far away from her innocent singing songs that made her heart happy. The joy of having a close relationship with the Creator was slowly being stripped away. None of this moved either of us up higher or into a deeper place with God.

If that’s how you feel where you are, get out and return to the truth. Go back to where she and I started as it says in Ephesians 5:1:

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. (ESV)

So how do you act like something you cannot see? In 1 John 4:16 it says this:

We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. (NIV)

It doesn’t take a lot of discernment to recognize when you are tangled in something that doesn’t reflect that. People are not ever going to be perfect, but there’s no reason to stay too long and lose your way.

The God I introduced my daughter to wasn’t harsh; like an old friend, He was welcoming and didn’t require anything but her eager willingness to answer the knock at the door of her heart.

Do Over

“We had a common-law marriage so that we could get a tax deduction,” she said in a monotone voice.

That was a new one, I thought, as I wrote it down in the margin. It didn’t exactly fit into any of my categories, and I would have to work my magic and present it less shockingly.

“I thought he would someday commit, but he wanted his freedom. Signing a paper made him feel trapped, and I held on waiting, thinking he would change his mind.”

Her voice was lifeless, like she was tired of answering this question.

She wasn’t my usual interview for a social history. As part of the intake information I had to gather, I met with those who were newly admitted to the nursing home to get their stories. Most of them were similar with staunch religious upbringing, early entry into matrimony, 19 kids and counting, traditional roles of running a household, and then the death of a spouse.

I usually could write it with my eyes shut, and I hadn’t had this type of answer given to me before.

She was a bit younger than most of our residents, with long, wild grey hair and clothes that were somewhat more modern. This was back when assisted living, and home health care was not yet prominent like it is today, which she would have been a prime candidate for now.

While physically she was in good shape, she had developed mental issues that caused unsafe living conditions.

She had done a lot of drugs that had contributed to the problem as she aged. Her life experiences were the exact opposite of what I usually had people tell me.

“We didn’t have any children, but I thought I was happy.”

“You weren’t? This wasn’t what you wanted?”

I was under the false assumption that everyone from the free love movement was blissfully content, living contrary to what everyone else was doing. That’s how it had been advertised.

“No. Toward the end, I tried to say that I wanted more, and he walked away. By then, we couldn’t have kids, but I wanted the paper signed. We ended up getting into a huge fight over it, and he left. He came back later to get all of his things, and that was it. He immediately moved in with someone else. I knew his behavior wasn’t right for a long time, but I just put up with it. I kept thinking he would change his mind.”

“That’s too bad,” I said.

I recall being at a loss for words. She had bought into a non-traditional way of thinking that hadn’t worked how she thought it would.

“I most regret not having kids. I feel like that was taken away from me. I thought I would be okay without that, but now I feel I have made a mistake.”

She had chosen to isolate herself as a way to cope and was struggling now to reside where she wasn’t alone.

These were the times during my social worker days where I had to help people grieve a loss. Sometimes, like in this case, I just listened and held her hand.

“None of this will be public knowledge,” I told her. “But you can talk to me anytime you want about it. You did the best you could, right?”

Somehow God would come in and calm the situation down when I had no idea how to. This was before I even had a prayer life; that is how good God is. I was rescued from many situations when I didn’t know what to say.

“Yes. I did what I thought was right at the time. I have not ever gotten over it, though.”

“You can’t go back and change it, but you can make a new life.”

She did have extended family, nieces, and nephews that visited. Slowly, she adapted to her surroundings, where I often saw her talking to other people, and she looked more relaxed. When we had kids come into volunteer and do activities, I made sure to pair her up with one because I knew she had missed out on raising her own.

Little by little, she let go of her past and let God fill in the empty places with new experiences. She quickly found herself surrounded by a supportive group of women that had gone through loss differently, but she could relate to.

Years later, I actually met a woman who had come through a worse situation.

I started with the usual questions of birthplace, parents’ names, and sibling count.

“I got married at sixteen. My family knew his, and they had a bakery in a town next to ours.”

While she became pregnant multiple times and ran the house, her husband’s responsibility at the bakery grew. He assumed the role as sole owner, and he was gone for long hours at a time, but she accepted it because they had a family to raise.

She spent many evenings alone as he would decide to stay overnight instead of making the commute home. He had to be up at the crack of dawn to bake, so it made sense not to trek back to her.

“We had eight children, so I was never without something to do. I sewed their clothes, helped them with school, made all the meals. It wasn’t an easy life, but I did what I had to do.”

I jotted down her words, and I was going to move on to the next subject.

“I thought he was at work day and night, but that’s before I knew he had a whole other family.”

I remember looking up at her trying to conceal my true emotions. Did she say that he had another family? I thought people only did shady things like this in the 1970s. This man was way before his time, and I had a lot to learn back in my early twenties.

“I don’t understand,” that is all I could come up with.

“I found out from someone in town that he was married to another woman in the town where the bakery was, and they had children. He wasn’t working all those hours as he told me.”

I had to write this angle into her biography, but I didn’t want it to be like the National Enquirer!

This was supposed to be a way for the staff and other residents to get to know her. We used this as an ice breaker technique so a new person was introduced to the community. Her picture and what I wrote would be posted in the main lobby.

This was to tell others about her interests and strengths. I was going to have to do a lot of cutting and pasting.

“It was hidden from me for years. I’m not afraid to talk about it.”

“So what happened? You found this out, and then what?”

“I went looking for the truth. He had set up a whole life with this other woman, and they had as many kids as we did. He spent holidays with them and everything, but his lies were so good, he had me fooled. I was young and naive. I remember the worst thing was that I found out he spent Christmas with his other family. He was so good at making sure he covered his tracks that he got gifts for the children and me. That really hurt me. All of it was hurtful.”

Explaining it to the kids wasn’t the easiest either. They couldn’t figure out why their dad was gone and not coming back.

After her husband’s unfaithfulness surfaced, her parents stepped in and helped her get past the rough time. An older man came into the picture, and she got remarried.

“Was it hard for you to trust him?”

“Sometimes. But he went out of his way to prove to me that he wouldn’t do what my first husband did. He took on eight kids, and most men wouldn’t do that, so that helped. We had a great life. I had to put all of that behind me.”

Both of these women had given their best efforts and had been left holding an empty bag. They recovered from a betrayal in their own way. One chose to live a closed off existence while the other decided to take a chance and trust again.

God leaves that up to each of us.

What do you do when life presents you with a person described in Psalm 41:9?

Even my best friend, the one I always told everything
—he ate meals at my house all the time!—
has bitten my hand. (Message)

No one is immune to having this happen, and in my own experience, it takes time. A lot of people say…just forgive and move on. What if it doesn’t come that easy? For some, it might, and for others, it may take longer. The key is not to get stuck in it.

God wants us to see it for what it is and heal. But if we stubbornly refuse to get past it, we cripple ourselves, and we will miss out on this from Jeremiah 29:11:

I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. (Message)

Some relationships aren’t going to make it to the ‘until death do us part’. For one reason or another, it happens. Having been through a divorce, nothing is certain except the promise that we always have the opportunity to brush ourselves off, figure out how not to repeat a mistake, and let God lead us in a new direction of a do over.

(They took the Until Death Do We Part..a little too literal…)
(This had the song I Got You Babe playing…shudder…)

Growing Up

It seems that no matter where I attended church, I always worked with the kids, and I found that I fit in better with them than sitting in the sanctuary with the adults.

I think the reason was because of the spontaneity of the atmosphere. Children are so much more open to the voice of God and aren’t usually afraid to say it out loud. I’m not against listening to someone speak, but I found so much more value in being in a classroom thinking I was the teacher, but really, I would often be the student.

At one time, I was in charge of a class of thirty, four-year-olds. I had one older woman who struggled to walk but would always help where she could and my daughter would come with me.

Every Tuesday, while their moms would go to a Bible study, I would go to work on helping them understand God better. I had them do role-playing, skits, and team-building exercises to expand their awareness of the spiritual side of life. It was always fun to see someone their age acting in the role of an important Biblical figure. I had so many who wanted to be Noah, Moses, or Jesus. I was never short on volunteers.

At the start of the day, I would ask them to tell us what they needed prayer for, so everyone knew what might be troubling their friend. Some would make requests for a new dog or bike, and I put no limitation on it because I wanted them to know that they could ask for anything from God. And many times, by the next week, they would return to tell me that their prayers were being answered.

They did love to have the spotlight.

“Miss Chris, look at my new shoes!”

That statement and others like it led to all of them wanting me to comment on their new shirt, hair cut or whatever else they were proud of. Once that started, it was a chain reaction of them jumping to their feet to gain my attention. Did I say there were 30 of them and one of me?

You would think that there would have been a lot of crowd control or discipline needed with a group of children that big. There wasn’t. I don’t know if it was all the prayers we said together, but they were the most unusually well behaved kids I had ever seen. They always wanted to help, and they actually shared with one another. There wasn’t the tug of war over hot ticket items.

I witnessed a live, in action expression of how life should operate if one is surrendered to God. There was no backbiting, complaining, whining, competition, or hating someone because they were different. None of that existed, and I did not have to put in much effort to make it go so easily. There was no conflict at all, and without the negativity, God showed up all the more.

One day, I had them close their eyes, and I shut off all the lights. This was way off the prescribed plan of what I had been told to teach them. One of the women who ran this ministry of the church had looked in through the door window. She wondered what I was doing, but she said there was so much peace flowing toward her, she let me go ahead.

I had each child become very still and see whatever came to mind. This was with preschoolers, and they did what I said without any hesitation. No one made a sound. Right there, that was a miracle. Afterward, I had them stand up and tell me what they experienced. One boy said,

“Miss Chris! I saw a huge angel standing next to me!”

“You did? That’s great,” I said.

Others had similar experiences, and I told them to go home and continue to practice this.

The following week, the boy’s mom told me that her son had been having nightmares, but they had disappeared after he saw the angel, and he continued to see it. She said his fear of bedtime no longer existed.

While many good outcomes such as this happened with the kids, I had the opportunity to put my faith into action.

I walked into the church office, and one of the other teachers held a tissue to her eyes.

“I might have you take my kids into your room today. My eyes are burning and won’t stop watering.”

I looked at her in total shock. I already had 30 of them! Taking in all of hers would have my number rocking the boat at 50. I decided that wasn’t going to happen. I had a nice little thing going, so I stepped forward and said,

“What is wrong with your eyes?”

“I don’t know. I have tried eye drops, rinsing them with water, but they hurt so much. I can’t see. I am not going to be able to lead my class today.”

Her eyelids were bright red, and tears dripped uncontrollably down each side. She had to keep catching them with the cloth in her hand.

I had no idea what I was doing, but I just followed what I heard in my mind.

“Close your eyes.”

She complied, and more wetness covered her cheeks. I had to close my own eyes as I prayed because her symptoms were stripping down my faith. It looked horrible, and who was I to come along and help her?

I started praying that she was healed. At the end, I opened my eyes, and I snapped my fingers at the center of her forehead while saying, “dry up!”

What was I doing? I would have never thought to do that. Other people were watching us now.

She mopped up her face and blinked.

“They don’t hurt anymore.”

The next few minutes were critical because the moms and kids would be arriving, and she had to decide. I saw her eyes clear, she smiled, looked at me without squinting as she had been, and said,

“It’s gone. “Thank you. It’s all back to normal.”

I was just glad I didn’t have to corral 50 kids.

That all happened during a time where I had just had a 17-year marriage end. I would tell people that I felt like I was jumping out of an airplane without a parachute, waiting to hit the ground. I was in a daily free fall of anxiety, not knowing what would happen to me next.

But, in that, I had been given little ones who showed me who God really was and how I could walk in a quiet place on the inside and see the good happen on the outside. Their childlike faith had strengthened me in my most desperate time, where rejection and abandonment were running high. They demonstrated to me that God would never leave even if people did.

They brought to life this verse in 1 Peter 2:2 that says: As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby.”

I had been stretched to a place in my spiritual life that I didn’t even know existed. And it continues to this very day. Every step is one more leap than the last.

There is a verse that says not to despise the days of small beginnings. Just when I thought I had something important to impart to those who were so very young, they surprisingly gave it back to me and set me on a lifelong course toward growing up.

(I walk every day..this was on my path the other day…there’s always more to learn from God)

Unnecessary Chain

When you raise children, you have no idea what is coming your way. Suddenly you see life with a new set of eyes, and if you are a good parent, you don’t want to repeat the mistakes made in your past. So I read every single parenting book possible, but I found there are just some situations that no expert can prepare you for.

My oldest daughter would say to me out of the blue,

“Mom, I think I’m going to tell a lie.”

I would say, “Then don’t.”

“Okay,” she would reply and then would look relieved just to have told me. This became a quick fix to stop underhandedness.

My youngest daughter tended to conceal or go around the truth. It wasn’t a flat-out lie, but there was a bit of sleight of hand.

It wasn’t done to harm others but to be to her advantage. What I didn’t know wouldn’t hurt me, and she flew under the radar, so she thought. This began at a very young age, so I tried to get a grip on it right away to avoid it getting worse.

I was at a register paying, and I glanced down to see her looking at something in a bin about her height. She was about to put it in her jacket pocket. She was only two at the time, so I crouched down and whispered that she couldn’t do that. No one around me knew, and I could tell she wasn’t fully aware that her actions weren’t right. I put it back discreetly.

Once I got her into the car and I was driving, I calmly started to explain that what she had been doing was stealing, and God didn’t want us to do that. She was silent as I spoke, taking in what I was saying.

“Some big people go to jail for taking things, so don’t do it anymore. They don’t care that it’s wrong, and then they go to prison.”

I drove a little further and heard a little gasp. I looked in my rearview mirror.

With tears streaming down her face, she screamed,

“I don’t wanna go to jail!!”

“Hey! Listen..you won’t….”

She was screaming so loud she couldn’t hear me.

“I don’t wanna go to jail! I don’t wanna go to jail!”

“You won’t…hey… listen….”

Her older sister had a hard time not laughing.

In between wails, I kept trying to reassure her she wasn’t headed for the big house.

“Do the right thing. Don’t take things that don’t belong to you, and you won’t go to jail, ok?”

“Okay,” she said, finally able to hear my voice.

You would think she would have changed her ways after that, but she was still learning and pushed the envelope where she could.

Every morning, I had each of them take a chewable vitamin. One loved them, and the other was not very amicable to anything healthy. She wanted bottomless bowls of goldfish crackers with apple juice free flowing. Her older sister would pop down whatever I asked, but she would put up a fight after running it through her invisible mental filter and deeming it “yucky”.

I let her pick the color she wanted out of the bottle, and she would run off to her room to take it. One day, I heard: Tell her to show you her teeth.

She ran past me, and I said,

“Open your mouth. I want to see something.”

Her choice of the day was purple, and if she had just eaten it, her teeth would show the evidence. She immediately complied, so she had no idea the trap that was being set.

They were white as snow.

“What did you do with your vitamin?” I asked.

“I ate it.”

“No. You didn’t.”

She closed her mouth, realizing I was on to her.

I walked into her room and found the dog frantically trying to dig behind her dresser.

“What is happening?”

I pulled the heavy piece of furniture away from the wall. A year’s worth of vitamins spilled out from where she had been stashing them.

I used both her first and middle names to summon her while I fought off the dog from gulping them down and overdosing.

She appeared in the doorway, between her sparkling teeth and the dog leading me, she knew her number was up.

“You haven’t taken any of these? Ever?”

She shook her head no.

I wanted to laugh, but I didn’t want her to think it was okay.

She confessed that she had slipped the tiny supplement into a small opening daily. It was like the actions of a person in a locked ward bypassing their medication. I didn’t even know what to do with that. She had come up with something I had never read in any of my parental training manuals. Ever.

“You have to tell me the truth and don’t hide things.”

I think I gave up on the vitamins after that.

She promised to be good as gold, but there were a few more minor things that she tried to get away with.

Years later, she told me while trying not to laugh, she crawled under my bed and watched a show that I told her I wanted to preview first to see if it was age-appropriate. I had no idea she was happily watching along with me while I was trying to protect her innocence. At the end of it, she crawled out, unknown to me, without a twinge of guilt.

Somewhere along the way, she became honest as the day is long, developed a healthy conscience, and became her authentic self.

It has been my experience that a person can only hide in the shadows for so long until a moment comes when they are brought into the spotlight of truth. There are various shades of dishonesty, from the mild, like hers, to the more extreme, where its become a lifestyle of functioning in an alternative reality.

For some, it comes in the form of people pleasing. We don’t want to let others down, and conflict isn’t our favorite subject. So, we push our true feelings aside, make excuses and carry on with a smile. It appears to be a noble undertaking because we go out of our way to make everybody happy and don’t want to disappoint, all the while we are withering away on the inside. We keep skirting past those uncomfortable moments of setting boundaries and saying no because we need to keep the peace.

No one becomes a doormat without allowing it.

The other day, I opened up a cupboard and pulled out a bag of organic potatoes. They had been enjoying their time in the dark, sprouting major eyes and decomposing second by second. Because they were pushed to the back, no one realized they were there.

I moved them to the counter from where they had been on the floor. A brown, oily puddle began to form and seeped its way under the microwave. The worst part was the smell that started to infiltrate the kitchen.

I grabbed the nearest roll of paper towels and the bottle of kitchen cleaner in an attempt to stop the problem.

My daughter, who heard my muffled screams because I was holding my breath, materialized with her can of pumpkin spray, which I still have some trauma from last year’s spray down episode. She tried to combat one overwhelming scent with another with her shirt pulled up to her eyebrows.

No matter how fast I was trying to clean it up, the rancid smell was winning. The only solution was to triple bag the rotting produce and put it outside. Hours later, there were still hints of it in the air. Mixed with pumpkin air freshener.

Like those hidden potatoes, when you stuff down your true feelings, they will eventually leak out in some way. Either the body will manifest symptoms, or your emotional well-being will suffer. God doesn’t want you to live like that.

In Matthew 5:37, it says: Say only yes if you mean yes, and no if you mean no. (NCV)

And in Romans 13:8 it states: Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another..(NASB)

Don’t hold yourself hostage by surrendering your power to keep others feeling content.

Fear is the culprit, promising in a twisted way to keep you safe from upset, but every time you shut off what you want to say, your spirit fades a little more, and it gets easier to do so. Then when you do speak up, it’s such a foreign and rare occurrence that you aren’t taken seriously, so you go back into your corner and convince yourself that this is how it’s supposed to be. It seems normal, but it isn’t.

This way of conducting oneself is usually years in the making, probably going back to childhood, so to get out of it will be somewhat of a struggle, but every time the decision is made to correct it, you gain more of yourself back. You learn how to live in a balanced way where you aren’t a pushover or an aggressive bully.

This is where your prayer life has to be taken seriously as you seek answers that will help undo old habits. As usual, if you involve God, then it can be done, and it says so in 2 Corinthians 3:17:

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (NLT)

In addition to doing an inward search, I have found that just like all the parenting advice I used to read, there are plenty of resources to look to for healing this part of your life so you can be genuine, live unafraid, and finally break the unnecessary chain.

Transition

In January, I knew something wasn’t right when she sent me a text saying he had shown up at her house to surprise her. While Dan resided in Iowa and she lived in Minnesota, they continued to have a close relationship headed toward marriage. The plan was 2021 for that. When they met, she was under the impression that he had gone into remission after a cancer scare. If you knew him, it was as if the diagnosis never existed. He said he was healed, and she believed him. After years of never being married and single, she let him into her life.

He refused to give in to what he had been told so many years prior that he only had relied on his faith and no medical intervention. He was way past the false expiration date the doctor had proclaimed and held tightly onto God’s hand to live as if he was cancer free. He concealed some information to protect her, but also because he was adamant about not letting a physician’s opinion define him. She didn’t feel betrayed by that because she loves him so much.

They traveled and spent as much time together as possible. He could fix and build anything, which is one of the things he loved to do the most. Even in severe pain, he would always be willing to get a hammer or another tool to accomplish a job just because someone needed him.

On that cold January day, when he showed up out of the blue, she was happy to see him, but then she realized how off his balance was. When he fell and cut himself, she had fear strike as she cleaned up the blood and applied a bandage.

She wasn’t too pleased that he was smoking cigarettes either. It seemed out of character and reckless. None of this was like him at all.

She decided to follow him back to Iowa, driving behind him to ensure he stayed on the road. She called me so frazzled; I wasn’t sure if they would make it to their destination, but somehow they did.

He had come to get her and had not told her everything that was going on. Shortly after, he fell again, fracturing his elbow. This incident led to a hospitalization where the doctor gave him the ultimatum: hospice or radiation therapy. The chemo he had finally opted for wasn’t working.

Unknown to Jeanne, he had a tumor in his brain. The cancer was spreading, but with his fighting spirit, he chose radiation. He was not giving in at all.

At this time, I asked God a question without realizing what I was fully getting into.

“Show me what you see, God. What is happening?”

I instantly saw a man with his head bowed as if in prayer, holding a fedora. One of those old fashioned hats from a time long ago. This wasn’t my first experience doing something like this, and I knew the hat was significant. It represented a period that this man had been on the earth, and he was standing by.

I opened my eyes and told my daughter what I had seen. She said she saw the exact image. Using resources at her fingertips, she went online and found a picture of Dan’s father. That was the man, and his dad had gone on to heaven a while ago.

“I’m not certain what this means, but I am not telling a soul! It’s like he is waiting for him,” I said.

Anytime I went inward and wondered what reality was, this is what came. And as the days went on, it got stronger. It was as if I was standing in a room of all white, and he was advancing closer to me, in the same posture, with his hat in his hands in reverence.

I didn’t like it because I knew this wasn’t the outcome that they wanted to hear. They longed for him to be healed and made whole on earth. When I would see all the posts on social media of all the prayers being sent up for Dan’s restoration, I felt guilty for not joining in. God had put a gag order on me. I was only to discuss what I saw with my daughter and no one else. I was to keep silent until I was given the nod from heaven to say anything.

I checked in multiple times a day to see where his dad was in relation to me in the waiting room. Then, a second man appeared. Side by side, they stood with the exact same look, but I also saw them laughing. Quietly, their shoulders moved up and down as if they had a funny inside joke between them.

Once again, an online search revealed this other person looked like Dan’s grandfather. Within moments of this discovery, I got a text from Jeanne:

“Dan and I just got married.”

“What?”

She had told me they were going to wait until he had recovered.

“I married us in his hospital room. We said our vows, and it’s not legal, but in God’s eyes, we are married.”

She sent me a laughing emoji. Now I knew why the men were giggling.

“Good for you guys!”

They both changed their status to married, which created an uproar from their friends who wondered what in the world was happening. It was a much needed lighter moment during this.

She spent many miserable days fighting ice and snow to make the drive to the hospital to be with him. He asked her repeatedly to agree with him for a miracle. And like a good wife, she never failed to do as he asked.

She would call me while in the car and alone, crying her heart out. In his presence, she was absolutely strong, but when the day was over, she needed to get it all out.

I held my secret and did not indicate what I knew was coming. I would never go against what God had told me to do, and the timing had to be right. So I asked questions and let her openly grieve.

Meanwhile, these heavenly helpers were now as near to me in my vision as possible, and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Dan was about to leave. So many times, I wished I was wrong, and I was hoping I was. But I had asked to see the truth, and my daughter kept confirming everything.

When hospice became the only option left, he was placed in his daughter’s home. Jeanne remained near him day and night, even getting up at two in the morning to get him the ice cream that he loved.

On Friday, February 19, after almost an entire month of all of this, I heard:

“Tell Jeanne about the fedoras you see in their hands.”

I could not fathom I was about to do this. I knew they still believed in a complete reversal.

I had a hard time seeing as I wrote:

“Did Dan’s dad wear a fedora? Can you ask him?”

A response came back that he did have one that he had worn. I went on to tell her about the two men waiting to carry Dan into heaven. I had gone weeks knowing this and at times felt so frustrated by it. Now I was telling her, and I didn’t want to.

I felt I was risking my entire friendship with her. The only thing I had going for me was that I had been sending her messages from God to encourage her, and she always would say..oh! I just heard that for myself too! So on some level, she knew I wasn’t wrong.

After she asked Dan about the fedora, he lost his ability to verbalize. I was so grateful I had not resisted and asked, or I would have never known. I went to bed Friday night late, wondering where this was all going.

On Saturday around 6 am, I felt a sharp, persistent poke on my left shoulder.

“Chris, wake up! Ask Jeanne how long she has known Dan.”

I flipped over. No. It’s early; she is worn out and probably sleeping.

Again the weird poke in the shoulder on the other side and the same thing requested. This went on for 45 minutes. Me saying no and being harassed to wake up, just like when my mom always tried to get me up for school.

I gave in, picked up my phone, and sent:

“How long have you and Dan been together? Would it be 3 years? 3 years in September?”(6:42 am)

While I waited for her response, I heard the sound of water, and I saw a beautiful steamship. Dan’s spirit was sitting up on the side of his bed, getting ready to link arms with his dad and grandpa, who were now wearing their fedoras. They were going to board the ship to go to heaven. Dan said,

“You are a good friend to Jeanne. I will always love her. I can speak and send messages to her if she allows it. I know she will miss me, and I want to help her with everything still. I see I can do more from the spirit than I ever could in my body that is limited. Take care of her. You are a good friend to her.”

“I will, Dan. I promise.”

Jeanne answered my text:

I met him in Oct 2017. We got together Oct 25
2018
(7:02 am)

I began writing out my response, but I was also watching Dan leave. He even had a suitcase that went with him. This was all done to make the move easier. Familiar people and everyday objects help.

I saw him link arms with each man to leave the room. He took one last look at his body lying in bed. And he shrugged as if to convey…well, that’s over, and it’s ok.

They passed through the wall. He stood at the walkway up to the ship, and he was in awe. I heard him say: What a beautiful boat this is!

He walked arm and arm with each man. Strong, proud, and tall. He was so happy to be on the move again, having the ability to walk.

I saw him standing at the back of the boat, hanging onto the rails, looking from where he came. The wind was blowing through his hair. He was smiling, and he said: I feel so surrounded by love. Warmth and love.

I sent my response to Jeanne:

I’m glad you made room for him in your heart. I said this a few weeks ago, and I will say it again…this was a decision that a lot of women wouldn’t have signed up for. They would have run away and missed it entirely. Not you. You have planted yourself firmly into the place that God asked you to be. (7:19 am)

She immediately sent at the same moment: Just took his last breath (7:19)

I know (7:19)

I saw him laughing and looking at the views around him. Both men laughed with him. The wind continued to blow through his hair.

I heard the sound of the boat horn. I was standing on a dock watching it leave, going over toward the horizon. I saw Dan smiling and waving. He looked so amazed by what was all around him. His head was back, looking up and then to each side. Like he couldn’t move fast enough to take it all in. The boat became just a speck. I saw the last puff of smoke from the ship. I heard the water up against the dock I was on as the sun shone beautifully off the water.

Then I was back in my bed staring at the ceiling. He had made it, but I had to help rescue his other half.

I met her in a parking lot to help her get back home.

As she hugged me and we cried, I said,

“I was so worried you would hate me if I told you he was going to heaven.”

“No. You told me at the right time. If you had said it before you did, I wouldn’t have accepted it.”

During our drive, we talked about how I saw him leave on a ship.

“He loved boats, and he wanted me to go on a cruise with him. I didn’t want to.”

I had no idea.

As the miles went by, she told me that if I hadn’t texted her, she would have missed his last breath; she had fallen asleep and forgot to set the alarm for his next dose of morphine. My message had jolted her awake and into his room.

I knew the months ahead of her were going to be difficult, but she had carried out the assignment she had been given; happily, she had taken it on in full.

She now has a bond between heaven and earth that can never die. Dan is not gone and never can be. She has come to find out that it’s only a transition.

(The wood holder Dan built for me..even while he was in pain…)

Shine

“I stopped doing it because I was told it was witchcraft.”

This was the first time I had heard this.

“What possible connection would there be between what you were doing and practicing the dark arts?”

“I don’t know, but it made me feel so guilty that I didn’t do it again.”

I knew she had spiritual powers, but she had hidden them, and now I knew why. This was why she had me stifle my own because she didn’t want me to be subjected to the same comments.

“I thought this person was closer to God than I was. I didn’t want to do anything wrong.”

“You sent healing to a sick person, and this isn’t from God? That makes no sense.”

“I did it all the time. Once when your dad was really sick and in the hospital, I did it then because he was having kidney problems.”

I remembered that because it was so frightening. When I was eight years old, I woke up to him yelling things that didn’t make sense. My bedroom was right off the kitchen, so any slight noise there would immediately wake me up.

“We have to get the boats in! There’s a storm coming! Hurry up!”

He started saying the names of my brothers and family members as if he could see them. What was happening? I was lying in bed wondering if I was dreaming.

“Jack, come with me. It will be okay,” I heard her say.

“No! We have to get the boats in. There’s a storm! It’s going to get worse in a few minutes.”

“I will help you get safe. Just come with me.” She sounded calm, as if this happened every day. I guess her training as a nurse in a crisis was kicking in.

“Hurry up! You are moving too slow! Get the fishing rods! Run!”

This craziness went on for a while. She was trying to get him to the car, and he was off somewhere on a lake. She opened my door and said,

“Chris, I have to get your dad to the doctor. I will be back in a little while.”

There were older siblings to make sure I was not left alone, but it was so scary when she said it. I thought he was dying.

Eventually, she was able to get him out of the house and to the Emergency Room. Later, I found out that he had a fever so high he was hallucinating.

They discovered he had kidney stones that would require surgery. The doctor was convinced there was no other way but to have the procedure. When she left the hospital, he was still very ill and not responding to the treatment they were administering.

“No one was around when I got home. So I sat at the kitchen table. I shut my eyes, and I could see him lying in bed at the hospital. It was so real like I had been transported there. I asked the Holy Spirit to help me. I was in two places at once. I knew I was in the kitchen, but I also was in his room. I felt this warm light start in my chest and flow out of my hands, and I directed it to him. I just sat like that for a while, not saying anything but letting this energy go through me to him.”

“When you explained this story, did you use the word “energy?”

“Yes.”

“Well, that’s what made you into a witch. Dogmatic Christians can be hypersensitive to what words are used. But what you are saying is an accurate description of what it is. Energy, light, divine healing…I guess you didn’t use the right buzzword and got yourself in trouble.”

“I guess so. But right after I did that, he got better. His fever lifted, and the stones dissolved. The doctor couldn’t believe it. He had a total turnaround, and it worked every time I used it.”

“And that’s a bad thing?”

“I was made to feel that way. I have had the Holy Spirit with me for a long time. When I was twelve, I went to a tent revival, and since then, I have had a lot of spiritual help.”

She grew up in a small town where gossip and secrets ran rampant. I always had this view of her hometown as honest and pure until she told me some of the incidents that had been hidden from public view. There were extramarital affairs, children born from those affairs, and a bunch of other shady behavior. The priest would make house calls while the husbands were away at work, and he left his Bible and rosary at home. My grandma refused to let him in.

My mom’s story was the most buried, and I had uncovered it a few years prior. She had confessed to me that her father had sexually abused her. This had left her feeling ashamed and guilt ridden. He would target her when her mom would leave her in his care. She was afraid to speak up because in one instant, when she tried to say something, her mom told her she would kill him if he ever did that. My mom kept quiet because she didn’t want her mother to go to jail for murder.

These ugly encounters with her dad were going on consistently, and she didn’t know how to escape. When she heard that a preacher was coming to town, she snuck into the meetings, against her Catholic upbringing. When a man from this group was walking around and had asked her dad if he had found Jesus, he had sarcastically responded,

“I didn’t know he was lost.” His sense of humor was always cutting and at the expense of others.

She was taking a huge risk by attending the traveling preacher’s meeting, but something was pulling her in. When they asked people to come forward for the altar call, she went up, and her life changed from that moment.

At home that night in her bedroom, she was looking out her window. She felt a strong presence all around her and a strength that was not there before. She heard the familiar sound of his feet coming up the stairs, just like all the other times.

When he opened her door, she looked him in the eye and said,

“You will never touch me again.”

He backed up and walked away.

He still verbally abused her and made her life miserable in other ways. But she said he no longer made her afraid.

“I have had this power with me since then, and I have used it when I have needed it.”

“But, you keep some of it hidden to fit in, right?”

“Yes. I don’t want to do anything wrong, and I don’t want to argue with people.”

When she told me all this, I didn’t fully grasp it, but I do now. I continually have things happen that I cannot explain, and I don’t go looking for them. They show up, and while I used to be frightened by some of it, I am not anymore.

I find it so interesting how Jesus said this,

“The person who trusts in me will not only do what I am doing but even greater things..”

He walked on water, changed water into wine, healed the sick…and we are supposed to do even better than what was done? If you have a gift that doesn’t make sense, don’t let anyone convince you that it isn’t God just because they don’t understand it and are missing it.

I have been subjected to the same treatment, even being told demons possessed me by a church leader who had the worst behavior I have ever seen in life. Why? He was scared and felt threatened when I told him the truth. To counter that, he had to make me look bad.

If you allow heaven to invade your life, you will reap this reward in Mark 4:11:

He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of God.”

If you ask for more, it will come, and it won’t always make sense, but God will work through you so that you can let your light shine.