Imposter

I had a tree taken down in my backyard two years ago. I had gotten rid of some of the wood by offering to cart it over to the new neighbors who had just put in a fire pit. The rest of this massive tree sat stacked up against the shed with the idea it would be burned. 

Common sense took over, and maybe a touch of generosity as I considered getting rid of it. I saw a sign at a store that a small bundle of it was selling for $8, so I thought maybe someone could use it since I probably would not outlive the pile.

On the first day, I did a small test run to see if it would attract any attention. Because it was only 30 degrees at the time, I had the beginning of frostbite set in, so I lost the ability to feel my hands, forcing me to quit. 

I put out smaller pieces with a FREE sign and left for about 30 minutes. I returned to see that where I had placed it was empty. 

The following afternoon, I returned to the backyard with gloved hands, warmer weather, and an anger infused attitude. Like seething, yet justified. They say that faith can move mountains. When you are unhappy, you can use that to your advantage and throw heavy logs around like toothpicks. When you think of one injustice suffered, you can suddenly think of a million of them. They all come flooding in with friends. 

You consider your losses and how they occurred, and why. The things you wished you would have said at the time, but the maddening knowledge it wouldn’t have made a difference. So you turn to the woodpile and take it out on that because it’s an inanimate object that you cannot damage or offend. 

To the outside observer, I looked like a workhorse ripping through a spring clean-up job, getting ahead of the summer heat by performing a strenuous activity in cooler temperatures. My outward rage was really masking a stab directly to my heart that I somehow couldn’t run away from. Whatever barrier God had placed before was gone, so I had to feel it thoroughly to get rid of it. 

Talking about it wasn’t helping me go around it. Praying for it to go away had done nothing. I had to go through it to release it. 

At one point, I stopped for a second and realized that the nagging thoughts about a different issue had gone away momentarily. A while ago, I read that the brain can only have you address one conflict at a time, which is why multitasking leads to overload. My long list of concerns had been whittled down to this one upset consuming all of my emotions and attention. 

What had been bothering me so much earlier was now forgotten as this painful grievance took center stage. It had been ignited from a few words sent my way by text that had set me spiraling into this hurt that had been waiting in the shadows for its time to come.

I went to grab a gigantic piece of trunk, and because it had been untouched for two years, the bark easily slid right off. Before, it had been heavy with water, almost immovable, but now after drying out, I could manage it somewhat without pulling every back and arm muscle. 

I made one trip after another to the front yard, stacking all shapes and sizes, pushing a wheelbarrow up an incline with adrenaline leading the way. As the physical exhaustion hit, I moved to stage two, where the flowing tears slowed me down. The confines and darkness of the shed gave me a minute of privacy. 

Like the tree, I had gotten down to the inner layer of the turmoil. My bark had slipped off, and I let all the water that had been trapped inside of me out to make me feel lighter to let go of this burden that I had been carrying below the surface. 

I stood there alone, wondering why it had come to this and how. 

When I returned to what I was doing, I decided only to take one more load. I knew I was pushing myself beyond my capability. With a lot more to go for a few days ahead, I didn’t want to leave myself physically incapacitated and unable to finish. 

I took smaller pieces this time, feeling weak and barely able to get to the boulevard. I saw him loading his car. He smiled at me as if I were his best friend.

“Take it all,” I said to him as he raced back and forth, and I unloaded what I had been able to manage. 

“I will. You have no idea how happy this makes me. We love building fires, and wood is way too expensive.”

“I put some out yesterday, and it disappeared quickly.”

“That was me. My wife drove by and called me, saying I had to get over here. We live up the street and my neighbor cut down a tree. I knocked on their door to see if I could take some, but they never answered. Then she saw this.”

“I have more,” I said.

“Really? I will take as much as I can.”

When he couldn’t cram anymore in, he said,

“I will come back,” just as another car pulled up to take his place. A lady with two kids rolled down the windows. A boy in the back said, 

“Is the wood free?”

“Yes. You can take as much as you want. I’m trying to get rid of it.”

“Really?”

I didn’t realize how unbelievable this was to people.

“Yes. Whatever I put out here is to be taken, and I have a lot more. Even larger pieces than this.”

They jumped out and started loading their trunk.

The woman asked,

“Is it okay if we come back later to get more?”

“Yes,” I said as I trailed off to keep going. 

Now that I had seen the gratitude, I had to keep going despite wanting to quit. Sometimes you put yourself aside during a struggle to bring joy to others. 

I made one last pile and let the rest go for the next day. I stopped because my daughter came outside and saw my condition. Strangers couldn’t recognize the anguish I had just been through, but she could. Sometimes, you need someone to come along and tell you that you have done enough. 

As I was getting into my car to leave, the woman had returned with her kids and others.

“I told my neighbors so they could take some too.”

“Thank you,” I said. “I thought no one would want it.”

“Are you kidding me? Do you know how much this costs? We should be thanking you!”

We don’t always know the value of things or even ourselves. 

I have been working on writing out an affirmation ten times daily for almost a month now. I follow this by writing out what a dream life would be. This piece of advice was presented to me, and I knew it was God’s direction. 

As I sat writing out everything that came to my mind about how I want the rest of my life to go, I heard,

“If something or someone doesn’t fit into what you write on this paper, let that be the test by which you determine what stays and what has to go. This is the way to make it be what you want so you avoid making mistakes. Only allow what will open the door to the life you want.”

I put together an artificial Christmas tree I no longer need the following day. It was from my past and had been up in the attic for years. When I hear in my mind that “someone can use that,” I don’t hesitate to put it out so it can go to its owner. 

I set it up by the woodpile and realized I was looking at a counterfeit tree up against something that had been living and breathing in my backyard at one time. The one that had provided shade and towered up so high now was in jagged pieces. Disease had brought it to its end, and it had been brought down in mercy. 

Both serve a purpose with the same title, but one is fake, pretending to be something it is not. It’s a green glorified bristle brush that can be beautiful if adorned with sparkly additions. Without all the glitz, it doesn’t hold a candle to a genuine creation by God. 

It never ever will be real, no matter how hard it tries. 

That pine scent in a can? It’s manufactured. You aren’t fooling anyone, especially when you have to spray it to keep the facade going. 

You can’t go on like that, wanting to live an authentic life all the while covering yourself with a smile, hoping that circumstances will line up to how you want them to be. If God has designed you for a purpose, and you have surrendered yourself to heaven’s call no matter what, all the deceptions and situations that hold you back or keep you in your place will be removed not to hurt you but to free you. 

When the saw gets taken to dismantle what isn’t aligned to your spiritual advancement, you are cut through to your core down to the root. Only then do you find what you were missing.

We spend a lot of time stringing up lights and throwing tinsel on ourselves, trying to fit in because that’s all we have ever done. And maybe without realizing it. 

In Matthew 16:25-26, an important truth is revealed:

Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me, and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for? (Message)

I have been shown there’s more to gain by living in honesty, no longer an imposter.

One of these things is not like the others…

Genuine

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is that?” I asked.

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

“You will like it.”  

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t sign me up. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It ends your valuable customer status quickly.

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

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

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

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

Nightmares, right here

True Purpose

“I think you are all going to be blown away by what I have written,” he said.

This was such a bold statement from someone who was about to share an excerpt from his manuscript with a roomful of strangers. Most of us were cautious about letting anyone hear what we had written for fear of ridicule. Not this guy. He was all out there, ready to wow us.

The person in charge told him to go ahead. The next few minutes, which seemed like hours, became one long stream of consciousness with not many stops along the way, such as pauses where punctuation had been added. A good edit job would not have helped because the content was so confusing.

Details of a hitman, a machine gun, and the typical violin case housing a weapon were all there. As he read, I tried to visualize what he said, and just as I had an image form, it was quickly erased like on an Etch A Sketch that was violently shaken.

There was a lot of blood, maiming, and murder. Just dangling pieces of information that made absolutely no sense, and I wasn’t the only one not getting it. He would read the names of characters who would appear and exit quickly just because they could, for no reason at all, without any depth.

I looked at the other faces around me, and they all were frowning deeply. We all wanted to like it, we all were trying to find a shred of something to cling to, but right as it would get to a place where I thought it was taking a turn for the better, he would plunge us back into a dark area of nothingness. Random pieces of scenes and fragmented sentences with no substance kept on coming.

My mind couldn’t take it anymore as it searched for understanding. Instead of a sample reading, it felt like I was undergoing a form of brainwashing where I was supposed to make sense of what he was presenting and accept it. He had set the stage by saying this was right up there in excellence, like Moses reading the Ten Commandments. What was I not getting?

When he uttered his last sentence, he said smiling brightly,

“Isn’t it great?”

I looked to the ceiling to avoid eye contact as he was seated across from me. I was trying to give the impression that I was in deep thought. When really, I was trying to recover from the mental assault we had all just experienced.

The silence in the room was like none I had encountered before. There was throat clearing and hard swallows as we all tried to come up with a response. This was why we were here. Getting hit by a truck was all I could imagine.

We met weekly in a classroom at a church as fellow writers to discuss what we were working on. And the goal was to get feedback on how to improve and where we were hitting the mark perfectly.

He was expecting us to comment, and no one could think of anything to say. I could tell that the man running the group was calculating some thought, as was I. The only thing that came out of my mouth was,

“After hearing it out loud, how do you think you did?”

It was a clever trick I had seen Randy Jackson use as a judge on American Idol. When a singer was at their worst, he would turn it around and have them explain their view rather than give his opinion. It was a way to discuss without causing any harm.

And none of us wanted to make him feel bad. He thought what he had put down on paper would be the next New York Times bestseller.

“I think I could clean it up in a few places,” he said.

“Like where?” I asked.

“I could take out a few of the killing scenes because that got to be a bit much.”

I was out. Someone else, though, picked up on that and began to explain how to improve. Another attendee pointed out another aspect where he could rearrange some things for better meaning. Instead of taking in the ideas gratefully, he got angry, hastily put away his manuscript, and said,

“You don’t get it.” That was the first thing he said all evening I understood.

We were the problem, not him.

As I went to more of these sessions, I noticed that the best writers had extreme difficulty exposing what was on their pages. That is how I felt. Like I was letting reckless people look after my children. I recall one woman reading the most enchanting children’s story with a timid voice.

“I don’t think it’s my best,” she stated at the end.

“Why?” I asked. It was so well done.

“It sounds boring.”

“How many times have you read it?”

“Too many.”

“That’s why. Put it aside and then come back to it. It will be brand new to you then.”

“I feel like something is missing, though.”

“While you were reading it, I kept seeing it as a pop-up book where each page is three-dimensional versus flat.”

“Oh! I like that idea! I already have an interested publisher. I just felt like I needed it to stand out in the crowd from other material like this, and that would help.”

On another occasion, a woman gave us a glimpse into her recent work. Without much fanfare, she led us into a world of a man who had committed a crime and was on a prison bus, pondering his existence. It was easy to get caught up in the storyline, and her words were vivid. You could feel the anxiety of this character coming right through, along with his deep regret.

We all were awestruck at her talent. She was very unassuming looking with her hair half combed, a dirty, stained tee-shirt, and stretchy pants that had seen too many days. I knew her background as a single mom who was struggling like I was at the time. I had engaged in conversation with her to listen and tell her that what she was going through would have a good outcome.

I had no idea she housed such a gift inside.

“That was amazing,” said the leader.

“Really? I thought you wouldn’t like it. I almost threw the whole thing away yesterday.”

“No. I think you should keep going with it and see where it leads you. You have the start of something great.”

“I usually don’t write about topics like this. I write erotic romance novels.”

It was one of those moments where you think you heard wrong, and inwardly you are saying to yourself…huh?

The look on his face told me I had heard correctly.

Stumbling over himself, he said,

“Go in this direction. See where God takes you with it.”

“I guess so. Writing smut is easy for me.”

It was like being punched directly in the chest.

He looked at me to add help to the situation, and I was thinking,

“You are in charge, buddy, not me.”

“Smut just flows off my pen so easily.”

This felt like it was turning into an after-hours 1-900 phone chat. Before she got into any further details, I said,

“Maybe God wants you to do something else. What you have been doing was just for a period of time until you got to this point.”

I was trying to tone it down and break the uncomfortable feelings I sensed from all around me. She was being honest, so I didn’t want to be anything but delicate in how I addressed it.

I had seen a lot of nonverbal reactions in my time, but the expressions around the table were unreal. Wide-eyed and pale, I think most of them were shocked to their core. My goal was to get her to see she was better than where she had been, and she needed to embrace it.

“Your writing is from God. You know that, right?”

“I never thought of it that way,” she said. “I just did it.”

“God wants you to be aware of the idea that you can tell a story that you are given, and it will have deep meaning to many people. Maybe the genre you were writing was limiting God speaking through you.”

No one in that room would have ever read what she said was her usual. Well, maybe one guy, but I could tell by the muted reaction that most would not have touched it with a ten-foot pole.

“You have a choice. You can do what is easy, or you can move to where you have never been and see what you are made of.”

She had been in a comfort zone where what she produced would show up without effort, but now she had to put some work into it with genuine feelings. Right away, she was ready to throw the entire thing into the trash because she believed it wasn’t good. But, when she got outward recognition and support, telling her the truth, then she was willing to keep on going.

Moving from one place of being into another isn’t something most of us excitedly sign up for. We like safety nets and the false assumption that life will somehow change before us if we keep on doing what we have always done. We cannot walk a higher road until we decide to get on another path. That is the scary part. Leaving behind what is familiar to seek out something that is calling us to unknown territory. Sometimes we need another voice in our lives to come along and tell us we can do it.

Many creative or spiritually gifted people often hide their talents for fear of what others will think. Proverbs 29:25 explains,

The fear of human opinion disables; trusting in God protects you from that. (Message)

There’s that word again: trust. And if you have been criticized or hurt in the past, it’s easy to want to protect yourself. So you self isolate and cut yourself off from the world.

The other illusion is that we are just a tiny drop in an ocean of others who are so much better than we are. What do we have to offer the world? We convince ourselves that we aren’t anyone of value so that painting goes undone, the book isn’t written, the speech is never delivered, and a healing prayer is never spoken. It’s just another way to keep ourselves safely tucked away out of the limelight. Yet in Proverbs 18:16, this is stated,

“A man’s gift makes room for him.” (NKJV)

So instead of sitting on the sidelines making excuses while God waits to do the best divine work ever in your life, be willing to step into the real reason why you were created and live out your true purpose.