Watched Over

Throughout the years, I have tried to heal my relationship issues with money. I have attempted to keep gratitude journals where I have been known to write: Nothing bad happened today.

I saw this as a good thing to be thankful for, as simple as it was.

Another thing I did was I started writing thank you on the back of every payment I sent out. It reminded me I was paying someone’s wage to help them afford their mortgage or meals for their kids. I even sent my regards to the IRS when I mailed in my quarterly estimated taxes. I drew a smile on the envelope to add to the positivity. Did I mean it? I am not sure, but they say if you do the action, the feelings might show up later.

I have done money drops where I would take cash and encouraging notes and place them for the unsuspecting to find. I stuffed them into diaper boxes at the store, left them in bathroom stalls at the airport and in books at the library.

While all that was fun, it still didn’t do much to reverse this lack mindset that had been ingrained in me since childhood, where money was the root of all evil. If anything good came my way, it was pure luck and not to expect anything.

I recall at age seven opening a birthday card with money and saying to my mom in front of a relative,

“You can’t use this for new socks this time!”

I was catching on to what the green bills meant and how they were being taken away from me. I remember she looked slightly embarrassed. I was always challenging her frugal approach to life. Something inside of me knew that her view of things was slightly off.

When she was making her grocery list one day, I said I wanted something.

“It’s not on my list, Chris.”

She had her head down, writing out this massive novel of needed items. I didn’t understand the tight rope she was on trying to make it all work. I was tired of this worn out answer she always gave me.

“Just put it on your list,” I said, thinking this was the most brilliant idea that she had never thought of.

She looked at me and started laughing. That was not the response I was hoping for, so I one-upped her and scribbled out what I wanted onto her overloaded piece of paper when she left it unattended.

“Here,” she said to my shock while she handed me the item after she returned from the store. She hid her list after that.

If I had holes in my clothes, which was inevitable because they were never new, she would stitch them or put a patch on them. She taught me to wear something until it literally fell off my body and was paper-thin from the wash.

The message was continually sent that we could not afford anything, so get used to it. After years of that, it’s no wonder I have struggled to believe I could have it better.

Having a divorce thrown in on top of that didn’t help either, which only took my uncertainty up a notch.

At the same time, I picked up on the idea to give away things to help others. My street is busy, so if I need to get rid of anything, I set it out at night, and it disappears by dawn. I have had people come to my door asking if I meant for the items to be free because they are in good shape. I have given away tables, children’s items, and everything else under the sun. Someone always needs it more than I do.

The other day I cleaned my room and came across yet another experiment that I tried in 2014. I decided to write down every good thing that happened to me for the year and placed the notes in a jar.

When I read through them, I could still see that part of me was wanting to believe that what I learned as a kid wasn’t true. I realized the progress I had made between then and now, which that in itself is worth it.

And I discovered something else. God has been faithful. Even during the most challenging times, I still never got down to my last dime, even though I sometimes skated close to that. I always had ideas come to me on how to manage, and multiple people stepped in at times to save the day unknowingly.

I wrote everything, including the tiniest detail, like finding $2 at the mall. As I have let God cure me of my money trauma, the worries have faded, and I can handle the unexpected a lot better than I used to.

At one time, if I got a bill in the mail, I would obsess over it so much that I would miss out on something more substantial, like a daughter’s birthday. I would be present in the body, but my mind was whirling, figuring out how to meet that obligation. The first time I realized I wasn’t doing that anymore was a significant milestone for me.

And where did all that fretting get me? Nowhere. I wish I had known this verse from 2 Corinthians 9:8:

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (NLT)

I cannot overlook the fact that this was passed down to me from someone I trusted and was looking to for answers about life. So, if you are acting like this, your children are watching and will repeat your mistakes. That was a huge reason for me to correct this in myself because I don’t want my girls to be mentally tormented as I have been.

One day in the middle of the pasta aisle, my youngest daughter couldn’t take it anymore.

“Get the organic one.”

“It’s more expensive.”

“It’s a quarter more! Get it! It’s better for us than the other one!”

I held each jar. She was sending lasers with her eyes and I knew I wasn’t going home with the cheaper one. My final fight with her was over cheese, and I said,

“You know what? I am no longer at the age where I can waste my time arguing with someone over dairy products, so fine! I will get the one you want me to, and move on!”

That started me on a new road to buying healthier options.

I used to try to skimp by on everything as much as I could. God met me in that place and provided because that is how it works. I don’t do that anymore, but if something comes along that I know has been discounted to make me feel heaven’s presence, that’s another story.

Today, my friend had breast cancer surgery. It was particularly tough because her fiance, Dan, went on to heaven last winter. He had cancer for nine years and had defied all odds. He often nudges me to buy her orange flowers, and anytime I bring them to her, she has always prayed and asked for them as a sign that he is near.

I went into the store and had that persistent thought to get flowers from her heavenly husband. I knew what color they had to be, but I didn’t know if they would have any. I had made up my mind to get her a bunch, and I didn’t care what the cost was.

In the floral department, I found three big bouquets set apart from all the rest. Of course, and he never makes me guess but always directs me to them. I thought I saw a clearance price, but I wasn’t sure, so they rang up really low when I ran them through the self-checkout.

“Is this right?” I asked the employee standing nearby.

“Yes, we got a big over shipment of flowers that we had to sell. Those are really pretty.”

A blessing had found me when I least expected it.

I spent next to nothing for them when I was prepared to empty my bank account to ensure she knew how much she is watched over.

Stumped

Restringing the weed whipper on the first try is a small victory for me. I have often gone into deep, intercessory prayer for myself while working with the thin nylon line that has a mind of its own. When you think it’s cooperating, it all unravels from the spool, and it’s back to the drawing board. 

Since becoming the sole owner of my home, I have learned that the lawn isn’t going to cut itself, the leaves won’t jump into the bags without my effort, and the weeds need constant attention. 

Last summer, while redoing the rock outside the perimeter, I suddenly saw a man standing nearby. I have noise-canceling headphones, so I didn’t hear him approach. His lips were moving, but I heard absolutely nothing. I removed one earbud. 

In situations such as this, I freeze. I assess my escape plan, and I only half pay attention to what is said. He looked like someone I could easily throw rocks at if I had to for a defense mechanism. Once I had mentally decided I could get away quickly if I had to, I heard, 

“…do you mind if I take some?”

“I didn’t hear the first part of the question. What did you say?”

“I was just asking if I could take one of your rhubarb plants.”

I looked over at the row my dad and I had planted long ago. They were ancestors of some from my grandma’s garden then transplanted at my mom’s house. 

“Well,” I said hesitantly. 

Who was this guy? He shows up and wants something? 

“I don’t need any,” he said quickly. 

“No. I don’t know if I want you to take an entire plant. You can have some stalks if you want because they grow back quickly.”

“Ok. Well, I didn’t know how to ask you, and I have seen you out here as I walked by.”

I had many visitors throughout the days as I did this time consuming chore. No one helped me, but all of them wanted a free therapy session. Some sat on the retaining wall and told me their issues ranging from childhood, parenting troubles, and landlord hassles. It helped pass the time as I filled and moved heavy buckets. 

It was hot, and my clothes were clinging to me, and I didn’t feel like standing there longer than I had to. If I kept working on the task, I didn’t notice how much I was dripping sweat. He appeared to be of retirement age, with nowhere to go. Wonderful. 

He was lingering, telling me of his time in the service, that he had recovered from a heart attack, his mom was in an assisted living, his wife loved quilting and a whole host of other things. I decided that I would give him my time. I was unemployed, so what was my rush? 

“I need to ask you something.”

Bracing myself, I said, 

“Okay.”

“I walk through the neighborhood all the time, and I pray. I ask God who I can help. I used the rhubarb as an excuse to come and speak to you.”

I was slightly concerned and a bit skeptical. What did he really want from me? Because he had mentioned he was married, I felt it was safe to stay, but I kept my distance. 

“Is there anything I can do? God told me to ask you that.”

 I wasn’t used to strangers coming off the street readily asking this question. 

“Really?” 

“Yes. What do you need help with? Do you want me to move all these rocks?” 

I looked down at the million stones at my feet. I could handle this, and I wanted something to do outside. This was like being handed a genie lamp and getting one wish. 

“I cut down trees, I redo bathrooms, I do all kinds of work.” 

I didn’t want him in my house. I wasn’t comfortable with that.

My neighbor had been over the night before and said,

“Chris, you need that tree cut down.”

Dreaded words as I had one taken down the summer before, it was a mess and expensive. 

“You cut down trees?”

“Yes, do you need that?”

I showed him the tree in my backyard. 

“I can do that. God told me to help you.”

He convinced me he could do it. 

I didn’t hear from him for a couple of days, but then he resurfaced. He brought a gigantic ladder and an electric chainsaw. Slightly a bit scary to me on the ground, he ascended with the saw in hand. At one point, he precariously balanced on his right leg while the long extension cord dangled next to me. 

He had no safety net or any harness. He seemed calm as could be. I began to wonder if my homeowner’s insurance would cover an unexpected fall or if he had life insurance to protect his spouse financially after his untimely death. I was pondering this as I heard a cracking sound. 

I barely had time to sprint to the far corner of my yard as a massive branch fell. Maybe I was the one who needed better life insurance.

“Sorry about that,” he yelled. “I was trying to send that in the other direction.” 

As he adjusted himself from side to side, there was a tense moment where he almost dropped the saw. He caught it with one hand by some act of every angel available in heaven, while the other quickly grabbed the ladder. I covered my eyes, not ready to catch him or the power tool. It was like watching a person on a tight rope. His crowd of one was relieved to open her eyes and see him still above, working away without a care. 

More of the tree came down in places he wasn’t expecting, with apologies following. I wasn’t safe anywhere I stood. The last one struck my chain link fence, bending it slightly.

“I’m so sorry!” I could tell he felt terrible. “I will replace it for you.”

I moved it back into place. 

“It’s still standing. That is okay.”

Over the next few days, he returned to keep hacking away at branches. Often I would ask if he wanted my help, but he would shoo me away. Sometimes, I would insist on helping. 

“God told me to do this for you. You don’t have to be out here.” 

I felt guilty seeing him wilting in the summer heat, hauling pieces of wood and remnants into a pile by himself. I would go out and work with him and bring him ice water, even while he tried to get rid of me. I learned he was a very proud grandfather, uncle, and churchgoing man. He loved serving his country and told me of various jobs he had worked to make a living. 

One day, while I was away, my neighbor lady kept an eye on him from their window. I hadn’t asked her to do this, but she looks out for me. 

“What was he doing earlier today?”

I had no idea what she was talking about.

“He was crawling on your lawn, Chris. Down on his hands and knees moving across the back yard.”

That was a new one for me. 

“Why would he need to do that if he’s cutting up a tree?” She asked. 

I ran this by another friend of mine.

“He was on the grass, crawling,” I said.

“Did you ask him why?”

“No. I don’t want him to think my neighbor is spying on him.”

“You said he is a veteran, right?”

“Yes.”

Where was she going with this?

“Well, maybe he was doing tactical maneuvers in your backyard as he used to in the military.”

“Are you serious?” I said with concern. 

She burst out laughing. 

“Ya, maybe he’s re-enacting something from the past.”

“Like he has PTSD?”

“Maybe.”

“I hope not!” What next? Was he going to set up a bunker and blow off a cannon? 

I had no clue, but why question his approach to things? He could have been stretching out his lower back or examining the dirt for all I cared. The job was getting accomplished. 

He ended up taking all the brush away on a day I was gone. It was nice to see the work get finished without barely lifting a finger. 

The wood was piled up, and I lost touch with him for a little while. 

This spring, my rhubarb plants came up as usual. I picked a bunch to give away to a friend. One night while I was out walking, I ran into him.  

“My sister passed away.”

He told me she had been sick for a short time, and he had stepped in to help. He didn’t shed a tear as he spoke of her; I had come to know his slightly stoic, friendly nature. 

“Guess what my wife made for the gathering after the funeral? Rhubarb cake. I came and took some of your rhubarb. People loved it!”

“You finally took some a year later? Get more. It grows non-stop.”

He has been back a few times. 

As I walk with God, I cannot predict who will be sent my way or for whatever reason. 

In mid-summer, I was out in the back working, and I glanced over at where the tree had been removed. It was beginning to look like a small shrub, so I knew I had to deal with the next step, and I wasn’t sure what to do. 

A few hours later, my neighbor, who had been gone all weekend, yelled over my fence, “Do you want that stump removed?”

He had not been around to see me standing there earlier pondering what to do next. 

“Sure!”

I could not believe that I was being helped again without having to beg anyone. In no time, it was done, and my neighbor returned to fill it all in with black dirt.

I asked him what I owed him, and he told me not to worry about it. 

These are the times when I am astonished by God’s hand in my life. Psalm 63:7 expresses it best. 

Because you are my helper, I sing under the shadow of your wings. (NLT)

And what a beautiful picture is painted in these words from John 15:5: 

“I am the vine; you are the branches.” (NLT) 

When God shows up unexpectedly and removes a burden, you might not be able to figure out how or why. And it’s okay just to move on happily stumped.