Death

I quit my job in January. One that I had done for a long time. Unless there was something new to learn, I could work with my eyes closed throughout my daily existence. When I started, I knew nothing about the industry I was helping in; everything was an acronym. When I was in the presence of seasoned business world employees, I felt so stupid, not knowing what anyone was talking about.

I had to go to the local jail and have my fingerprints taken to do my job. I remember feeling so frightened by the presence of so many in authority and this overwhelming feeling of sadness mixed with aggression. I had to wait, and out of mounting anxiety, I stood with my back against the wall to ensure that no one would be unexpectedly behind me. 

I was alone and didn’t feel safe, even though I was in the presence of law enforcement. I watched as a man went through the process I was there for, but he was not going to work, but rather a cell. Some have said their jobs are a prison, and his was about to be at that moment. The female officer took his fingers, rolled them on an ink pad, and placed them on a white card. 

They said nothing to one another. 

When he was moved on, I was summoned forward with her motioning to me with her hand. There were no pleasantries spoken. 

I went in her direction, not fully knowing what I needed to say. I was adjusting to encountering uncertain circumstances as I had never been in before. 

Just as I was going to speak, a man was escorted past me in handcuffs by two police officers, one on each side. He had his head down, like he was ashamed of himself, not wanting any of us to make eye contact with him. His sins had caught up with him, and he couldn’t bear to look humanity in the eye. 

How does a person get there? He was once a small boy, innocently set into the world, and now going into a cage that clearly wouldn’t offer him any forgiveness. He had to be held accountable for whatever transgressions he had done, but what had created this life along the way? This dejected individual had participated in activity that had landed him here, but why? What had been the mixture of mistakes blended, putting him on a path of self-destruction? 

As a mom of two, newly divorced, and wanting to raise them right, I wanted to know. I turned away quickly and told her what I needed. 

She mechanically went to work, doing the same as the man before me. I glanced nervously around, keeping my purse secured across the front of my body. I was in a place where many thieves were gathered, so I felt this overwhelming need to protect myself. 

As she finished my last finger, I said,

“This is the only time I am ever doing this.”

This brought on a smile from her and a slight laugh.

“That’s a good idea,” she said.

I was given a copy of my identity, the one God gave me at birth, and I left the jail that day a free woman. 

The intimidation there was nothing compared to what was up next. 

I recall being at a meeting and overhearing someone commenting on another assistant. She had asked a basic question, which was being made fun of. It was along the lines of, “Can you believe she asked that? She should know that.” This was when I was brand new. 

I wasn’t up for exposing myself to ridicule. From that point on, I listened intently, wanting so much to learn the language. Never fully revealing that I was so lost, especially not in public. 

I found myself flying under the radar like I always had to smile and nod as if I knew what was going on. I didn’t realize I was advancing as I sat day after day, trying to overcome what felt like a learning disability. While the rest of the class was moving on, I felt the dead weight, looking at paperwork with many questions and writing it down. Multicolored sticky notes graced everything in those early days, or I would spend a lot of energy trying to remember who was who and what was what to exasperation. 

They say it takes six months to comprehend a new job. Don’t give up until you hit that mark, is the advice, so I stayed for fourteen years. Sometimes not fully comprehending what was happening but desperately wanted to do a good job. 

I could have quit many times during that span, but I held on, not fully aware of all the understanding I was getting. God had put me there for a reason, and I knew that I would miss out on something of importance if I quit. 

One day, as I looked at the piles and stacks of everything that needed a proper place, I had a vision of an abandoned field. It had rocks and weeds all over it, left unattended for a while. 

“Don’t give up. Help clean up the field so the ground is good again. I will help you do it; you can do this no matter how difficult it might get.”

Then I was shown a field filled with healthy crops, growing strong, every inch producing as it should.

“Help make that happen,” I heard in my mind. 

I never can say no to God. While I wanted to run and find a different place entirely, I knew that this was what I was being asked to do. I instantly remembered telling God a while before this that I didn’t want my will anymore and was giving myself away to heaven’s lead. I was fully aware of having my own “will,” and many a preacher had expounded on this; God and I would forever be at odds, me wanting my way against His. 

I chose to give mine up, and whenever faced with a moment of possible tug of war between my Creator and me, the still small voice would say,

“Did you give me your will?”

That is still all it takes for me to drop the fight. 

The place I found the most helpful to navigate the unknown waters of this job was one that many would have overlooked. But, God led me in the way I was to go, true to the promise. 

One of the biggest challenges was organizing all the paper that used to accumulate. There were boxes and boxes filled with filing to do, so I began sorting through it all by name, putting everything in alphabetical order, still not fully seeing the bigger picture. This was before the idea of going green existed. To help my mind keep things straight, I implemented a system of colors, with each folder representing a specific type of client and what they had with the company. 

I was so wrapped up in trying to grasp every concept that any small mistake I made was like an absolute failure. When I thought I had mastered something, it would be called to my attention that I hadn’t done something right. That wasn’t easy to swallow and put my self-confidence back at zero. 

In reality, all those missteps taught me how to become what I was striving to be. 

As I went through the organization process, I began creating “dead files” boxes. These were shoved into a far dark corner, known as cold storage. They had no purpose anymore, some from customers who had moved on to other advisors and others who had moved on from earth.

After getting the active cases put away, which took months, I looked around to see what I could fix next. I opened the lid on the first of many. When I had been trying to focus on the “living,” I had randomly placed all of the old ones haphazardly aside to deal with later.

Now was later. 

A critical component of my position was to be sure that past information was locked up and shredded, adhering to the law. If a client no longer was with the company, their files had to be kept for a certain amount of time and then destroyed. I went about creating a database, cataloging everyone, especially those who needed to be disposed of, so we would comply. 

Amazingly, this is what held the key to my understanding. 

Day after day, I spent an entire summer alone, sifting through unneeded material, either shredding on the spot or marking it to be done later. Because these were no longer viable contacts, I became relaxed, and specific ideas and thoughts would become illuminated that had been so dark. It was as if a silent instructor stood by me, telling me what to do, taking away the struggle. I finally started to learn the language. 

I remember being shocked that I could carry on an intelligent conversation, putting words and sentences together because I finally understood what I was doing. Even though it took a lot of trial and error, I was thrilled that I knew more than before. 

Somewhere amongst the dead files, I had found life. 

I did what I knew I was to do, behind the scenes digging up a plot of land, making room for a productive venture that could function at its highest, bringing great benefits to the clients under the company’s care and even myself in some ways I had not imagined at the onset. 

To leave that behind wasn’t easy. But, again, I started to hear that voice telling me there was something else I was needed for. 

I ignored it for a while, not wanting to go back to a time of uncertainty. I had overcome the hurdles, and now I tried to coast along, believing this was it. I had made it. Why mess with something that I had worked so diligently to construct? 

Because I don’t belong to me. 

Driving alone with nothing to distract me, I heard,

“I have something else I need you to do. You will thank me later.”

It wasn’t easy to see the road after that, but I knew I wasn’t staying where I had been. 

It isn’t until you no longer do what you have been that you are mindful of how much of yourself you had committed to that. You have flashes of memories where you see you did what you were told to do even when you didn’t want to. You put everything of yourself in it, and now what? Do that again? 

Within days of resigning, I heard one morning, when I was barely awake, 

“You need to be a hospice volunteer.”

I had wanted to go into this for a while, but I had put it off. Three years ago, I looked at getting a higher education to my B.A. in Psychology to do this and earn money doing it, but as I tried to, doors seemed slammed shut. I was given wrong information, left messages that never got called back, and was told the only way I could do the work I wanted and get paid was to spend at least four years in school far and away from the actual work. 

While out on a walk in deep frustration, again the voice came,

“Work with people for now. Not paper.”

I knew this was an answer to stop pursuing school and sign up for the work, even if it meant doing it for free. 

Then Covid hit, closing the door for a bit.

Now unemployed, I was being told to pick it up again. I looked up hospice in my area, which there are a million, but picked the one that appeared first. I have learned that doors fly open when God leads you, despite trying to reason your way out of it. 

Filling out 21 pages of the orientation requirements made me wonder what they do to a person who they hire for real. I had to submit a resume, give them three references from people who would vouch for my character, do a background check, and even give blood. 

The technician was new, and it sprayed everywhere. I felt so emotionally beat down that it was a sign I was still alive. Usually, that might have bothered me, but I didn’t even care. 

“I am so sorry!” She said, embarrassed, eyes wide behind her mask. 

“That’s ok,” I said, remembering what it was like to start a new job that I had just left. I had moved quickly enough so it missed my clothes. For a week, the massive bruise on my arm reminded me that I had signed up for this. 

I was given some patients and began the journey. It’s a lot of listening, praying, and sometimes just quietly sitting still and observing. 

I often listen with my eyes. That sounds strange, but it’s true. 

A few weeks ago, as I said hello to one under my care, she looked at me, and I knew. 

Nothing was different about her health situation, and it appeared the same, but I was made aware with the voice speaking to me again of what was to come. She wasn’t going to be here much longer. So I did my best despite knowing that it wasn’t going to be long. 

Last week, when I went to see her before I got to her room, I heard in my mind, 

“If you see her lying in bed, this is your sign that you know she’s leaving soon.”

Usually sitting up in the sun in the day room, I found her lying on her bed, sound asleep. I didn’t wake her, but I knew this would be the last time I saw her, so I quietly said goodbye.

I thought of her this past week, the day before I was to visit again. I even commented to my daughter that I felt I wouldn’t see her. Just before I left the house to go to her assisted living, I felt like I was to check my email. There I found a note telling me she had passed that morning. I was thanked for making her time left more pleasant.

I was glad I said certain things to her and made her laugh. It was the only indication that she was okay with me being there. When you know things ahead of time like this, a mixture of emotions follows. 

“I will check in on you next week,” I would say as I would leave. “I wanted to see how you were doing.”

She would then smile and say,

“I am so glad you did.” 

Her door was shut to her room when I got there the other day, and the spot in the day room where she sat was vacant. It appears as if it’s over to those who don’t see. On the other side, however, she is beaming in bright light, fully back to the fullness of her youth. I know that she walks now alongside those who have gone before her, and she is happy to be next to her husband, who she loved on earth so very much. 

This isn’t a job where I shuffle papers, and it’s not going to pay a single bill. 

It is a moment to become more aware of my days and those ahead of me. 

Again I find myself trying to understand something new about life while looking for answers to what is deemed as death. 

 It’s what we trust in but don’t yet see that keeps us going. Do you suppose a few ruts in the road or rocks in the path are going to stop us? When the time comes, we’ll be plenty ready to exchange exile for homecoming. (2 Corinthians. 5:7)

He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less. (John 3:30)

(One of the places, I listen with my eyes)

Yucky Parts

Sometimes it’s the smallest of things that make you realize how much God sees the details. Heaven seems to show up at just the right time to remind you that you have done alright, no matter what memories you might have surface to say otherwise.

She handed me a book that I forgot I even had.

“Where was this?” I asked.

“In my room.”

That happens quite often where we share without me realizing it. But, if it had not been in my possession for that long, then I guess I didn’t really miss it.

I recognized the cover and title from a while ago. I had gone through this phase where I could not absorb enough about people experiencing miracles. It can help you to believe when you read about the circumstances of others, prompting you to follow those leads that God is always putting in front of you.

To say you don’t have any isn’t the truth. You have to get quiet, and one way to do so is to read material about the very thing that you are seeking. While memorizing scripture is excellent, sometimes you need to subject yourself to multiple stories where people of various walks of life have all had incredible things happen to them.

The unusual happenings in the Bible, from the parting of the Red Sea to Jonah being swallowed by ocean life, sometimes don’t seem relevant unless I am stuck in traffic and I need an act of God to move cars along so that I can get back to my real life. The whale thing doesn’t really coincide unless I have to tell someone bad news, and I would rather not. I don’t live where there are whales readily available, though.

What does resonate is when a mortgage gets paid off unexpectedly, a child is healed of an incurable disease, or someone escapes a life that was leading to destruction. The themes are generally the same, with a person needing an unseen hand to intervene and come to the rescue seemingly out of nowhere.

I think it’s difficult to imagine God doing that because we always believe that it’s for everybody else. Our neighbor might fit the bill up the street, but we aren’t good enough to have it happen to us.

Isn’t that what blocks the miracle? Not God, but us.

“I was told to give you that book, and you need to look in the front cover.”

“Why? I haven’t seen this for so long.”

“Just look.”

When she tells me to do something, I do it.

Inside the cover was a note from her that I had used as a bookmark. She had written this to me during the height of a very tormenting and dark time in my life. My marriage had turned into divorce, and I had to figure out somehow how to keep it all on track.

I was constantly concerned that I wasn’t doing enough or being a good mother while working three jobs at once and homeschooling. I struggled to keep a stable environment for them while the world around me looked nothing like it had before.

While some of the existing problems were now absent, a host of other troubles seemed to be cropping up all the time.

One way I can describe it was like walking into one of those rooms where the whole structure is built at an angle. You have to navigate your way through using force to lean and move. You might have to hang on to a few walls to get through it, and right when you think you can let go of the support, you start to fall again. In the middle of it all, you come to a new understanding regarding the instability of life.

Believe it or not, it’s a gift. You realize that what is here today can be quickly gone tomorrow.

I would be rushing through the living room, trying to get to the next responsibility on my list, and she would tackle me with her eight-year-old self. She knew I was faking my way through it all, hiding my pain and trying to convince everyone that all was well.

In a death grip, she wouldn’t let me go and would repeatedly say,

“You are strong, mom. You are strong.”

I learned not to fight to get away because, one, it was pointless because she would suddenly have an iron hold on me that I could not release myself from. She would have both of her arms wrapped around my legs, making it impossible for me to move.

I know it sounds strange, but I had to stand still against my will when this happened. After a few times, I realized that God was speaking to me through her.

I felt the exact opposite of what she was saying. Totally weak and broken down, I was running on fumes, forcing myself out of bed every day, fearing that I would not be able to keep up with it all. And in the chaos of that, I had this shorter version of me stopping me in my tracks, giving me the advice I would give anyone else I saw in the same situation.

I had taught her without knowing it.

When I gave my life to God, I made it my mission to make sure both of my girls understood its importance. I didn’t want them walking the same trail that I had, not knowing who God really was. There were pitfalls along the way as we all learned, and still do, what spirituality really means. My goal was to have God be real to them, not some fictional guy in a book. And here it was on full display as she forced me to take a minute to listen.

“You are strong, mom. You are strong.”

One time, I said to her,

“Our house has been destroyed. Your dad is gone.” I thought that would make her quit doing this. It was inconvenient most of the time.

She looked me in the eye and said with much assertiveness and on the verge of anger,

“He is my real Father!” She pointed up. I couldn’t argue with that, and she made me stand there longer than usual. I learned not to be resistant to it anymore.

When I look at what she wrote back then, I can see now what she meant. Those sessions of making me stop what I was doing were times that God infused me with the strength I needed to go on. I just didn’t know it then like I do now.

She brought to life this verse from Psalm 46:10 that says:

Be still and know that I am God.

Sometimes when you look in the rearview mirror of your life, you see that all isn’t lost. It makes sense now.

In those places that seem impossible to endure, something is changing on the inside of you.

She and I went to a yoga class at a very early hour on a Saturday when the temperature was fourteen below. The drive was nearly forty minutes away, but the class was free, and there would be a litter of puppies.

“I want to go to this,” she said.

I did, and I didn’t. I know dogs and me, and I will want them all. I wasn’t so sure I could do all the moves either, but I was willing to try. Above all of that, I can never say no to her.

As we progressed through a flow of maneuvers that required balancing, many in the class around us were trying not to fall over.

“Relax your face as you move along,” the instructor said randomly with her back to us as she demonstrated, and we followed.

Immediately a woman in the back row said,

“I feel called out,” and started to laugh.

When it got quiet, and all of us were shaking uncontrollably, trying to stay upright while forcing our muscles to be more productive, the leader said,

“Breathe through the yucky parts. You are becoming a better person.”

If I have learned anything, you must know that God is holding your hand, everything will work out when you think it won’t, and now is the time to breathe through the yucky parts.

(I’m not crying..YOU are crying….)

After the Burn

It was a great idea born out of not being able to leave the house safely. We had been warned that the worst blast of cold air was coming, and if you stepped one foot outside, you better have your funeral arrangements in order. 

You don’t take your chances with a windchill forecast at almost 60 below. We were making history, they said. With that announcement, the frantic rush to the grocery store always comes, and as I don’t panic, I watch others who do. I just happen to pop in, and I forget we are on the verge of the world coming to an end. Again. 

If it’s not a meteor ready to scrape up against the globe, sending us spinning off the axis, it’s the ice age resurrecting itself that will for sure this time put us into deathly hypothermia and kill us all. 

I have seen things in stores that I often do not understand when we are on red alert, like the lady in the spaghetti aisle grabbing every jar of sauce while wearing multiple black trash bags. This was to ward off the virus when it first began. 

I think there may have been some time spent on the internet researching what germs may or may not adhere to. She was on the cutting edge of an unknown scientific fact, I’m sure. It definitely wasn’t to create a fashion statement.  

I felt guilty taking the one I did. She wasn’t in the organic section, but she eyed me from afar as if I was stealing, with sweat on her brow.  

I walked away from Darth Vader, hearing the sound of her plastic wardrobe crunch with every move she made. I wanted to tell her to hang on to that for when we experienced a cold snap again. Make it versatile for pandemics and artic freezes.  

Once you get past the hunting and gathering portion of the impending doom, and you know you will be inside, you start to think of those chores you have not gotten around to. Tasks that you push aside because no one will ever know if you did it or not, except the people who live there. 

I used the oven, and someone, probably me, had the unfortunate mishap of a piece of food falling on the burner below. Every time it got hot, smoke would start to roll out. It caused me to look further and see that not one of us had taken the time to attend to it. 

With it being so cold, I figured why not turn on the self-clean cycle and let it do the work while I buried myself under a million blankets? 

I had to look online to find the instructions as the owner’s manual was long gone. Once I shut the door and set it at the highest setting, I walked away to live a life of polar vortex luxury. 

As long as the furnace kept up, we were secure. I figured with the stove going at its highest heat, it would help the house stay warm. I had done this in the summer one time, and it caused the air conditioner to be on the whole time it went through the process. 

I thought I was being so bright this time.

Until we all couldn’t see each other over the black haze that suddenly started filling the entire upstairs, and the smoke alarm went off. 

My first inclination was to open the oven door, but it has that safety feature where it locks until it cools down, so a crazy person trying to open it can’t. Someone at a drawing board had thought this through. I guess it was so that I wouldn’t burn off important parts of myself.

There will be a person who needs to open this, and we have to make it so they cannot do that for their own good. Let them inhale the smoke instead. That’s much safer. 

The next thing to do was grab a dishtowel and try to get the loud blaring sound to quit. If this was going off in the dead of night, that is one thing. But, this was not an emergency that warranted the alarm. So this life-saving device was now just annoying. Once I got it under control, I knew I would have to open up windows.

“I cannot believe I am doing this!” I said to the two people who already think my ways are a little off.  

One of them puts tags on my Christmas presents that say: To: Danny Tanner.

The dad from Full House who has this weird cleaning obsession on the show. 

There are crucial moments with your kids where you just know they live their lives trying to just get past your dumb ideas. And, it was so apparent in their eyes as they watched me frantically claw to get fresh air in. The air that most wanted to keep out and we had been warned about to avoid. 

I heard the furnace click on, and the smoke alarm went off again. We were freezing, breathing in cough-inducing fumes. But, the oven was the cleanest it had been in a long time. Whatever had been burnt to a crisp in there was long gone. Looking back now, I probably wouldn’t make that same decision. 

There are other situations such as that one that I would not ever repeat, like being in the sun with no protection on my skin. When I was younger, I gave it no thought. You learn as you go, and when you fall asleep on your stomach while floating on a lake, it helps you to understand why that was not a good life choice. Food isn’t the only substance that can become scorched. 

It wasn’t so bad right after I woke up and went back inside. It was that night when I was unable to move without a billion needles going through my whole back. Just moving my toothbrush across my teeth was volcanic. 

My mom had a lotion that she attempted to rub into the area. With her hands. On my skin. Not a spray from halfway across the room. No, it had to be applied by her rough, calloused hands all over me. 

“Chris, just stand still. I need to put this on you. Why did you stay out there so long?”

These were the questions that I never understood when she asked me. My lips were too cracked to even answer. 

“My face hurts,” I said, barely able to speak.

“It hurts me more,” my dad said as he came whipping by, laughing. Never helpful. 

The worst part of the healing process was when that area was accidentally exposed to sunlight too soon after. It was instant pain. Or if any type of noun touched it. Like bed sheets, clothing, anything. It all was excruciating.  

The next part was gross as my body shed off all the dead skin. I flaked everywhere I went as a reminder that I had made a bad mistake. 

Years later, I had a few moles removed because they claimed they were precancerous.  

“It must be from that time you spent too much time in the sun,” she said.  

I had taken sunblock seriously after that. To the point of getting the highest SPF possible. Still, I have always had this slight paranoia that it might happen again when I least expect it. You just don’t forget the experience of a charring session like that. 

I have found that the same can be said for an emotional torching as well. When you have been through a situation that has been difficult, but you make it, anything that comes close to reminding you of that time makes you want to run away, just like finding shade to not inflict more hurt. 

I cannot go through life avoiding the sun completely. And, really, it’s not the light’s fault. It was the amount of time I spent in it which caused the damage. I then had to learn how to handle it differently and not let history repeat itself. 

That is what boundaries are for. You know those things that you put down to make it clear that you won’t put up with certain things happening in your life anymore. Maybe you figure out your value, so you don’t want to be around people who don’t see you as God does.  

Another thing that happens is you start to see those pieces of yourself where you still struggle and need God’s help. They are there to remind you that you spent too much time being fried. And when you feel that familiar uncomfortable feeling, it is time to acknowledge it and address it. It’s better to bring it into the daylight.

When something triggers a bad memory, that is not the time to run and hide, but to give it to God so it can be taken care of. Like this from Psalm 34:18:

If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there;

if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath. (Message)

I slept through my sunburn. The difficult part came later when I had to let my skin re-establish itself. I had to take precautions, be more mindful and let myself regenerate to live without suffering. 

Whether it is physical or mental, this same treatment can be applied after the burn. 

Get the spray..for real..

Fenced In

“I think your dog got out,” she said when I came around the corner. “My boys opened the front door, and she ran off.”

She was still speaking while I was flying toward the front yard. The way it was said so casually indicated to me that she had no idea the jog I was about to take. Or the danger that my pet was in.

It was pouring rain, and I had dashed out without shoes so my socks were soaking wet in seconds. I could see her way up ahead, nose to the ground, oblivious to the cars zipping by.

This wasn’t the first chase I had been on since getting her. I had no idea when I was researching dog breeds and which one to get that this would be something to contend with.

She had been born and raised in a place that wasn’t the best. When I got to the location, there were beagle puppies running everywhere. The mom hid under an old beat-up car and looked at me with sad eyes. I didn’t know about puppy mills back then, but the conditions looked rough. When I took her to the vet because she had so many parasites, I was given medication actually to save her life.

“If you hadn’t taken her in, she would have died soon,” I was told. She was so wild and full of energy that I would have never known.

It appeared to be a farm that hadn’t been taken care of, so dog breeding had been thrown in to raise funds. There were so many dogs going in all directions that I decided to sit on a gravel path to see what would happen.

A very tiny girl puppy came and started pulling on my shoelace. The harder I tried to get it away from her, the more ferocious she held on and threw in a little growl while wagging her tail. When she was tired of that, she curled up in my lap.

“She’s the runt of the litter,” the breeder said. So was I, and she became mine.

My backyard had no fence, but we were told she was so small that we could probably catch her. Probably not. A chain-link fence had to go up immediately.

I took her to obedience classes. While all the other students ran to their owners, she visited everyone else and their dogs around the room. I wasn’t even an afterthought.

“Beagles have a heart of gold, but they will not listen. They will follow a scent and forget what is around them completely. They get focused and do not hear. It’s really difficult to train that out of them.”

So I ran down the sidewalk yelling her name, trying to catch her attention during a spring thunderstorm. We never went out the front door, and the people there were looking to buy something listed in the paper.

A neighbor waved at me from his garage as I tried to get closer to her. All of them had seen this happen so many times between the two of us.

She would spend a few moments on one spot of grass and then suddenly zoom away as if triggered by a smell of something she just had to investigate.

It ended the same way every single time. I was now blocks from home, within inches of her, out of breath, and she would realize I was behind her.

“Libby!” I would say for the millionth time, and she would stop.

“You stay.” And she would, now worn out from her half-crazed jaunt.

She wasn’t sitting still out of realizing she had done wrong; she was exhausted and wanted a lift back home.

Curling into a small ball, she would wait until I picked her up to carry her.

I walked back into my house with a dripping wet dog. I peeled off my socks in the kitchen.

“Oh. You caught her,” the lady said, smiling. My hair was dripping into my eyes. One of her teenage boys went through the front door, and Libby charged again, ready to have a second round. I grabbed her before It could happen.

I went over and locked the door. The lady looked at me like I was being rude, locking her son outside.

With a tight grip on the dog, I said,

“Either they stay in the garage or come in the house. I have had my exercise for today.”

I stalked off to find dry towels with her securely in my arms. If given a chance, she would do it all over again. And that lady didn’t get it.

Some would say that an animal can’t control their behavior, such as Libby, who once on a trail had to follow it.

I have met people who have been on that path. It’s operating on no filter and sheer determination to satisfy something that may be a bit out of balance.

During one of my shifts as a shelver at a public library, I was approached by a woman.

“Can you tell me where the adult videos are?” It was a low whisper.

I held a stack of DVDs that I was putting back. I knew what she was asking me, but I decided to pretend I didn’t fully comprehend.

“All of the material for adults is right here. The children’s section is toward the entry.”

I made no eye contact and went back to my task. This was one of those moments when I wished she had gone to the reference desk. I was a lowly shelver, and they were paid and trained to deal with these issues.

“No,” she insisted. This is not what I am looking for. I want movies for adults.”

I held up what I had in my hands.

“These are for adults.”

I was trying to have her give up and walk away. Inwardly, I was screaming for God to help me. I kept my facial expression neutral.

“You don’t seem to understand me,” she retorted. Now she was getting snippy, not realizing I was brushing her off for her good.

“I want movies made for adults only.”

“You are looking right at them,” I said, not budging for the third time.

“I want X-rated movies. Porn! I want porn!” She said this not with an inside voice, and her quest to get what she wanted had overtaken her ability to practice self-control in a public place.

A couple of patrons glanced our way. It was a quiet weeknight, so the crowd was thin, but the older man looking at the history selection looked a bit shocked. I smiled weakly at him. I knew it was part of my job to keep things orderly, and that wasn’t just the books.

My subtle efforts to redirect her had gone unnoticed, so I had to set her straight now. Her drive for something like my beagle escaping was taking her to places she shouldn’t be.

“This is a public library. Are you aware of how the media gets paid for so you and everyone else can come here and check out material for free? Do you know how that system works?”

She blinked when the realization hit her that I was a lot more intelligent than I had come across initially. I didn’t demean her, but with as much professionalism I had within me, I continued to inform her about the ways and means of purchases made so the community at large could enjoy them.

“This is all possible with taxpayer money. Do you think people will sign up to pay for what you are looking for?”

Now she had gone silent. I had killed the mood with talk about taxes. You can pretty much make a room go silent if you start talking about the IRS.

“You aren’t going to find what you are looking for anywhere in this building. Does that make sense?”

She nodded.

“I don’t want to see you wasting your time going from place to place searching for something that doesn’t exist. You will not find that here or at any other locations.”

I was helping her but also sparing other employees from this conversation later.

I kept my voice low and made sure I didn’t make her feel bad. If anyone felt horrible, it was me! I wanted to drop everything and run for the break room. But I fought off my awkwardness to help her understand.

Suddenly, she looked ashamed, mumbled thank you, and walked away.

She just needed someone to put down a boundary to bring clarity.

No one is immune to saying or doing things based on habits or even false ways of thinking. Self-discipline isn’t always at the top of the priority list, and something that starts out innocently can run amuck.

I learned this when I was in elementary school. Every Christmas, my dad would make homemade chip dip. This was the only time of the year that we would have it, and it was my favorite. I basically ate nothing else but that when he brought it out on Christmas Eve. It was like a bowl of an addictive substance I could not leave alone. And every year at midnight, I was violently throwing up.

When I was nine years old, my mom anticipated my upcoming vomit session by addressing me before it hit the table.

“Chris, try not to overeat that this year.” She told me this while he had the mixer going and was in the process of putting it together.

As she gave me this speech, my brother’s girlfriend asked,

“What are you talking about?”

“Chris throws up every year because she overeats chip dip. Every year!” She had to add a sigh like it was the end of the world.

“I will give you a quarter if you don’t get sick this time,” she said.

As the night went by, I thought about the deal struck, and it made me consider my choices. I limited my indulgence. It was my first year that I didn’t have to run for the bathroom in the early hours of Christmas Day. My mother rejoiced and offered me a quarter until my late thirties to ensure I never did it again.

All that was needed was a guideline so I could adjust my actions. While I had to be the guardian of Libby and give assertive instruction to a stranger in the library, I had control over my own fate.

When it gets difficult to see past the addiction or the behaviors that aren’t for your highest good, that’s where God can help. Heaven will come gently to your side and offer assistance so you can advance. It might be in the form of a counselor, a sign that change must occur, or a quarter. In 2 Corinthians 3:17, it says,

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

And if you are wondering if God wants to be there for you, read this from Psalm 91,

If you’ll hold on to me for dear life,” says God,
“I’ll get you out of any trouble.
I’ll give you the best of care
if you’ll only get to know and trust me.
Call me, and I’ll answer, be at your side in bad times;
I’ll rescue you, then throw you a party.
I’ll give you a long life.” (Message)

All it takes is realizing that you want better for yourself and a simple prayer. Strength will come to you to get past the situation where you can live at a higher level, with no limitations, never feeling restricted or fenced in.

(Just Say No…)

Wherever You Go

“You are trying to live a champagne life on a beer budget,” he said to me.

“What does that mean?” He generally spoke straightforward and not in riddles.

“You want what you cannot afford.”

We were in a car lot, and my dad was tired of hearing me say ‘no’ to all the options he had given me for vehicle choices.

“I don’t like any of them.”

The salesperson tried to stay positive, but my dad had mercy on him and said,

“We will be back. We need to figure out what she can have.”

Being the youngest, I was offered something that everyone else ahead of me had to wait for. My parents were worn out from driving kids all over town, so they decided to find a used car for me when I was seventeen to cut themselves free from the responsibility forever. I was the only one left. Having older parents had its advantages; they were more like grandparents when I was in my late teens. What they once had endless energy for, now was no longer a priority.

I ended up being given an older Pontiac Firebird, which halted my searches through car lots. But, I was not spared the long speech.

“If you get a speeding ticket, we will take the car away.” There were more rules stated, but I zoned out. I figured if I did something wrong, they would let me know later. For now, I had my own transportation.

I could not believe that I had hit a taxi. I did not live in a vast metropolis where we had cabs on every corner with people chasing them down, and they were rarely seen on the route I was traveling. The driver slammed his door and seemed angry as he walked to my car.

It was early morning, and I was on my way to high school. I must have been tired from working all weekend and had a momentary too long of a blink. I heard the sound of metal and crunching.

I was already saying I was sorry before I got out of my car. I saw that he had a passenger in the back seat. He crouched down and looked at his bumper and mine. I must have read his initial facial expression wrong because he looked up at me, smiled, and said,

“Are you okay?”

I said I was. Physically, yes, but mentally, no.

“Well, I have no damage. These are built like tanks, and it looks like you have the worst of it.”

Most of the people in my school were driving cars that barely started. I was asked if my family was wealthy because mine was in such great shape. Now, I had put a dent in it.

“Are you sure you are alright? You don’t look like you are,” he said.

This was before cell phones, so I couldn’t just call my dad and have him come to my rescue, and this had never happened to me before.

“I have a special needs student in the back, so I have to get him to school. Can you make it to where you are going? That damage to your car can be easily fixed. You didn’t hit me that hard.”

I believed him, and we parted ways. I had to find a payphone.

“I hit a taxi,” I said, trying not to cry.

“What? You hit a what?” He was a father of six. Wasn’t he supposed to be ready for anything at all times?

“A taxi,” I said with my throat beginning to close.

“How did you do that?”

All the questions! Always.

“I don’t know. It was in front of me at a light, and I hit him!”

He actually started to laugh, so that meant I wasn’t going to get a lecture.

“Just go to school, and I will come look at it.”

He fixed it for me, but after that, I had a slight fear while out driving. Something that had been so automatic now didn’t seem like it. I got over it, and that was the only accident I have ever been in. But, my relationship with cars, dealing with them and their surprises have not been my favorite.

It’s always at the most inconvenient time when a battery dies, something leaks, or there’s a weird sound that starts up. And while getting my oil changed, I have been met by the dire news that some thing-a-ma-jig isn’t doing what it should, so now I have to pay for it without warning.

The most recent was my gas line coming off. I had just had my car in for a service, and the technician did not secure it properly with a clip after flushing that out. I took a turn, and my car died immediately. With my hands still on the wheel, I sat there wondering why I was smelling gasoline. I got out and saw that the full tank of gas I had just put in was spilling all over the ground.

One little broken clip required a tow back to the shop. To say that my patience has been tried is an understatement. With all of our technology, why are we not teleporting at this point?

On a Saturday morning not too long ago, my oldest daughter was getting ready to leave for work. Neither one of us really take the time to speak at that time of day because she is in a hurry, and I don’t want to slow her down. I was reading something, and I heard the garage door go up.

I saw her back out of the driveway, and for some odd reason, I said,

“God, put angels around her car.”

I just had this weird feeling.

Within a minute, my phone was ringing.

“A guy hit me.”

“I am coming,” I said.

She had made it to the corner on our street, so my drive was about 30 seconds. When I pulled up, I started walking straight for my daughter. The other driver came around his truck, blocked me, and said,

“Hi, mom!”

I stepped back from him, inwardly cringed, and said a quick hello. I skirted him, but he followed close behind me, and I wasn’t sure what he was trying to accomplish.

“Are you okay?” I asked her.

“Yes,” she said.

I glanced to my right, and he could not have been standing any closer to me. I backed up again.

“She was turning, and she hit me,” was his claim.

I called the police so a report could be filed.

He acted like we were old acquaintances, and that wasn’t making me feel so comfortable. I tried not to say anything, but the silence got to him.

“Where were you going?” He asked her.

“To work,” she answered.

“Where do you work?” he asked.

She pointed randomly straight ahead.

“That way.”

I raised a smart one.

He was so strange, and I tried to keep moving the two of us away from him. Every time I tried to talk to her alone, he would zoom in between us.

First, he told us he had never been involved in an accident, then went on to say he had some sort of road rage incident. I started to wonder what drugs he was on.

The police officer arrived, took down their information and stories. He looked like we had gotten him out of bed for the day. Before he left, he handed each of them his card and said that a report would be online to give to our insurance companies.

I told her to get into her car and roll the window down, which was the only moment she and I had together alone.

“Are you sure you are okay?”

“Yes,” she said again.

I looked over, and he was behind his wheel, staring at us.

Her car was driveable, so she took off. I made sure he went in the opposite direction. I wanted to go home and hose myself down after being in the presence of that man.

The police report was posted within a day, and officer Barney Fife stated that my bright orange vehicle was involved in the accident, not her very white one. He had glanced at the insurance card, where both cars were listed, and wrote in mine. It was no surprise that he also hadn’t listened to her account and messed that up as well.

After that was corrected and her car was repaired by paying the deductible, it became a ‘he said, she said’ case. He claimed she swerved into his left turn lane while she took a right. And she said he hit her in her lane. The whole thing, I was told, wasn’t going to go anywhere and would be a waste of time, especially because of the botched police report.

So what do you do when you know you have been wronged? You have to give it to God and count the things that worked in your favor. She didn’t get hurt, the car was fixed quickly, my insurance lady helped me on a Saturday because we are good friends, and we never have to see that guy again. I hope.

And, I was grateful for the angels that acted on her behalf when I asked for them to come, just like Psalm 91 says:

He orders his angels to guard you wherever you go. (Message)

Stop and Smell the Roses

I yanked with my gloved hands as the bush’s thorns started to bite into my palms.

“Come out!” I said through gritted teeth.  “You will never win!”

I was attempting to follow through with my spring cleaning list and this eyesore was being removed whether it wanted to be or not.  I had worked around the roots with my shovel and thought that it would easily slide right out of the earth.  Instead, it wouldn’t budge.  I felt a twinge across my lower back as the muscles strained there and along the back of my calves.  Without warning, I was airborne across the lawn with the prize in hand over my head. It had played a nasty trick by suddenly and unexpectedly releasing its hold.  I landed with a thud directly on my back while clutching the dirty monster to my chest.

I looked up at the sky and did an inward safety inspection.  From time to time when I have taken a spill, I often lay still for a minute to make sure nothing is fractured, dangling or throbbing incessantly.  Feeling no pain and knowing that the coast was clear, I began to laugh.  I pictured the neighbors peering out their windows seeing an irate woman yelling at foliage and then being flung to the ground in a heap.  I sat up and brushed the dead grass out of my hair.  I was covered in soil but I was triumphant.  Not only had I gotten the rebellious bush out of its place, but I could check something off my to do list, and I had done it myself.

A few days prior to my seek and destroy mission, I sat on my back porch to write down what I wanted to get done around the house.  I had come to have a love hate relationship with my dwelling after it was awarded to me in the divorce.  My marriage had been one of the traditional nature where I attended to the indoor tasks while he worked outside.  I had found myself slightly unprepared to handle both, and my budget wasn’t allowing for too much improvement. I had determined to do what I could to clean up and declutter where I could without generating an expense. Removing the long forgotten about landscaping had been a priority.

As the list came together, I glanced over at the above ground pool that had a stocking cap at the bottom of it.  In the days when it was working properly, a cover would have concealed it at this time of the year.  But, the liner had succumbed to a tear, so it was drained and my youngest daughter and her friend had found delight in constructing a snowman in it over the winter. Frosty had melted and his hat, nose and eyes were all that was left of him.  It brought me a bit of sadness to see the pool in that state of disarray as I recalled the girls and I enjoying soaks in it on hot summer days. I knew I couldn’t fix it due to money constraints so I didn’t add it to my list.

As I sipped on my hot tea that morning, a thought went through my mind,

Do what you can on your list.  I will send a man to help with the pool.

I didn’t know what that meant exactly so I began to clean up what I could a little at a time day by day.

One afternoon, about a month later, my doorbell rang. When I answered it, a man with a city badge hanging on a lanyard greeted me.

“Hi. I am Patrick from the city.  Your home is due for an inspection for property tax purposes.”

I let him in and we walked from room to room as he made notes and checked out the interior of the house.

When we got out on the back porch, I said,

“That pool bugs me.  It is so ugly right now. It needs a new liner.  Since my divorce, I haven’t been able to fix it.”

He got really quiet and took a step closer to the window to look down on it.

“I think I might be able to help you with that.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  When I made the statements about the pool, it was more of a complaint than a proposal.  I wasn’t asking for help. I was bemoaning my existence.

“I can’t promise you anything but let me see what I can do.”

He had my contact information and we parted ways.

In a few days, he called asking if he and a friend could come over and inspect the pool.  I gave the go ahead and after he and his friend looked it over, he said,

“We would like to fix your pool for you.”

“What?”  Of course, my money fears surfaced so I said, “I don’t really have the money to pay for a new liner right now.  So, that is very nice of both of you, but I can’t pay for it.”

“We don’t want to be paid.  We want to fix it for you.”

“Really?”

“Yes,” his friend replied. “It should be pretty easy to do.  I work in the pool business so I know how to do them, and I can get the supplies fairly cheap.”

He went on to say that he was only in town for a few days to visit but he would enjoy doing the work.

That is when it came back to me….

I will send a man to help with the pool. 

I agreed to let them fix it, and within a few days my pool was up and running again.  Not only did they both work on it in the evening, but they also purchased chemicals that I needed to keep it in good shape. They didn’t ask me to be home while they were there, but requested that the side gate remain unlocked so they could come and go.

One night, I arrived home and went outside to see how they were coming along.  I found three different colored lounge chairs sitting on the deck. They knew that I was a single mom with two daughters, so they had purchased us each a place to sit poolside.  The pool was filled with sparkling, crystal clear water.   It had been restored to perfection.

After all that, and many years later, my fears of not having enough money or being taken care of should not even exist anymore.  Right?  No. I still fight with it at times when I am faced with uncertainty and not knowing how I am going to overcome a situation.

The other night as I was retiring for the day, I found myself wondering about my finances.  In that moment, I had completely forgotten of the story I just shared with you and all the other ones that have transpired over the years where I have been blessed with supernatural help. I went to bed questioning the upcoming months and some changes that will occur.  I am not an ebb and flow type person where I will ‘wait’ and see what happens. I like to plan things out at times, and when I can’t, I find myself doubting the trusted hand that has been with me every step of the way.  I got this message:

Buy yourself a bouquet of pink roses tomorrow.  Inhale the scent of them and know that I am in charge of everything.

My thoughts were no longer on finances but the idea that pink usually wasn’t my color of choice for roses.  I usually gravitate toward bright, bold, and dramatic colors.  Then, I thought,

How much will this cost me?

I drifted off to sleep wondering how roses were going to improve my outlook on life.

I was walking into the store the next day and again came the words,

Buy yourself a bouquet of pink roses.  Breathe in their scent and know that I am in charge of your life.

I obediently walked right over to the floral section.  There was an array of all colors, but only one small bunch that housed five pink roses.  I grabbed the cellophane wrapper and turned it around to check for a price.  A small label was attached to the front that read: Faith.

I immediately looked for more pink roses and found none.  I checked all the other flowers for the same word and could not find it!  Some said smile, some said freedom, but not a single batch of them had this message written on them. I gently placed them on the bottom of my empty shopping cart.  Tears began to well in my eyes as I smiled and thought how absurd my worries are.  Just more proof that we are loved unconditionally even if we don’t feel it at times.  In all of your ups and downs with this life, cast your care on God to bring you through, and take some time to stop and smell the roses.

 

flowers

 

 

 

 

 

Down the Drain

A few weeks ago I reached my hand under the sink to quickly grab a plastic bag and found it slightly wet. This dark place in my kitchen is rarely paid attention to. Items that need storage are quickly tossed in and the cabinet door is shut. I usually sense what I need by touch and don’t even look. This meant I actually had to get down on my knees and peer inside.

I did not see any water leaking at that present moment. Upon further investigation, I found more wet bags, and a few ruined paper towels. After shifting and dragging things out into the open, I found the entire bottom shelf soaking wet. The paper towels that had come out unscathed were used to sop up the mess.

There was no denying that something was amiss. Before turning on the faucet, I placed a plastic bowl under the pipes to see where the trouble was coming from. I ended up carefully taking off the elbow portion and seeing if something was stuck. As far as I could see, it looked normal. I carefully put everything back fearing that I would damage something.

I have to admit that during times like this I find myself frustrated that I cannot solve it myself. I am not a plumber, an electrician, or a carpenter. Yet, I wish secretly I was so that I would not have to rely on other people.

I was left with one option. To call my dad who always can fix the problem or give me advice on how to go about repairing something. He is the one I give a jingle when a sink isn’t draining, a sink is leaking, a fence is falling apart, a lawnmower is malfunctioning, ect.

He always knows a ‘guy’ if he cannot help me. When I explained my situation, he said,

“I know this handyman. I will give him a call.”

I don’t know why certain words conjure up images in my mind, but the word ‘handyman’ reminds me of a guy wearing overalls who carries a box full of various gadgets and tools of the trade.  Two days later, Tony  the handyman was knocking on my front door. He didn’t disappoint as he fit my imaginative handyman image perfectly.

He arrived at the exact time he said he would which I am not accustomed to. Usually, I am given a three hour window of time for sitting and waiting until the person usually shows at the last minute of the three hours.  Not this time. He was prompt and headed straight for the kitchen sink.

I have had other repairmen in my home over the years, and I often sit nearby while they work to find out more about them. Some have taken my friendliness for an invitation to ask me my relationship status which instantly makes me less friendly. It’s a repair call, not a booty call.

Most, I have found, are very open about their problems. I have spoken to many who have been through divorces such as myself with child support issues, ex-wives that are not very nice and the struggle to juggle work and parenting time with kids. Usually, as I engage in this question and answer period, most of the workmen talk freely about their feelings. I figure as long as they have come all this way to help me, I can at least listen and take an interest in what concerns them.By the time the job is done, they hardly know they have worked, and I am happy to have learned something new about a person.

This was not the case with Tony. He asked me as many questions as I asked him. I found out that he and his wife had raised children to adulthood and then went on to adopt two more children who they home schooled. Because of my experience with home schooling, this made our conversation easy as we connected on this common ground. Our interaction was positive as we discussed triumphs instead of tragedies.

What I found refreshing was his concern with how he billed people and how much time he took to do a job. After putting sealant on the drain, he found that a new drain was in order but didn’t have one with him. He told me he didn’t want to charge for time spent running out and coming back so he would just return the following week to install a new one.

He cleaned up his entire mess, which is not always the case with some, and he bid me goodbye until the following Monday. There was such a peace and calm about him that I had not felt with others before. I wondered what was it with Tony that was different?

True to his word, he showed up ahead of schedule when he said he would and was done with the job in record time.

I walked him to the front door, thanked him for helping me and thought he would rush off. He said he had another job to get to, so I didn’t expect what he said next.

“Could I pray a blessing over your home?” He asked with slight hesitation as if I might decline this wonderful suggestion.

“Yes, ” I replied without a stutter.

He went on to pray the nicest prayer anyone ever could. I was slightly surprised when he made a request to heaven that all of the things in my house would function like they should. Not a normal thing to hear a repairman say. He finished up by speaking a blessing over me and my children.  The entire time he spoke, I felt great waves of peace flooding over me because I knew he had been sent for more than just my sink repair.  When he finished, I thanked him again.

As he drove on to his next appointment, I realized this was what I had sensed was different about Tony. He had a deep faith in something other than himself. He did his job, but at the same time realized that he wasn’t only just living for his work. The person he was doing the job for was the important part.

I found myself thinking back to a few days prior when I didn’t want to rely on someone other than myself to fix the sink. Yet, had I been so self reliant, I would never had Tony come and speak such kind words over my household. His visit turned out to be a surprise gift in encouragement.

When you are in a place where help is needed, God will always send just the right person along to uplift you and remind you that everything has not gone down the drain.

drain