Irritant

I had finally escaped the pain that was zipping through my face by falling asleep. Once it started, it would sometimes last for three days before subsiding. When you do everything you can to stop it, and nothing seems to be working, you start to wonder if it will go back to normal.

Acupuncture and chiropractor visits had offset it, but stress was the culprit that had promoted it. Mentally, it was wearing, taunting me to forget everything I knew was true about healing. Even when it subsided, there was this low level fear that it would return without warning.

I had used a TENS unit to send electrical pulses to the area as a way to activate the central nervous system, which can create a temporary respite.

The one thing I learned not to do was increase the intensity quickly. With the pads adhered to the side of my face and down my neck, I had to turn the dial slowly. At the lowest level, nothing could be felt, so I had to move it up until it was tolerable.

There would be this slight pinching feeling that would begin and spread out into a wave. I always felt a tingling on the inside of my cheek.

I found out the hard way that if the dial were accidentally bumped up to the highest level, you would have an impromptu shock therapy session.

Like in a movie where someone is being tortured to cough up the truth, this self-inflicted move will have you become vocal so that every person around you knows that you would be indebted for life if there were a swear jar. The current that shoots into your body could light up a small town.

I felt like someone was watching me as I blinked my eyes. It seemed like my jaw, where it had started, felt better. Maybe I was on the mend, and it followed a pattern, it seemed. Once at this point, from past flare ups, I knew I was probably past the worst of it.

Just as I was about to say this, she appeared above me with something in her hand. Like she had been waiting for me to wake up. I wasn’t quite fully conscious.

“What are you…”

I felt a coldness on my temple as she went to work rolling on some liquid in a glass bottle. I don’t know how this had happened, but somewhere along the way, my daughter had become a holistic medicine person, researching, buying, and applying it to me. Just to see how it went.

I had flashbacks from my childhood when remedies would be forced upon me with no explanation. Ointments, sprays, or yucky tasting liquids, all slathered, spritzed, or presented on a spoon, were given without warning. It was futile to refuse.

“I read that peppermint oil is supposed to help this type of pain.”

She put it across my forehead and on my other temple. I had to close my eyes as the scent was strong like one gigantic after-dinner mint.

“It feels better since I slept,” as she continued to put more on.

I was starting to detect the coolness turning to warmth on my face. Similar to going near a source of heat when you are chilled. At first, it was soothing until the burning started.

I stopped her mid-application.

“Something isn’t okay,” I said.

“What?”

It was going up from mild to scorching rapidly. When I felt drips of it reach both corners of my eyes, I knew that I was going to have to wash some of it off.

“How much of this are you supposed to put on?”

“I don’t know. Maybe I should do it differently next time. This is supposed to be good for this type of thing.”

At that moment, I recalled that sometimes less is better. I had to remove the pads and run blindly for a sink without opening my eyes. That was impressive. If I ever had to leave my home in an emergency, I had just proven to myself I could do it without having sight.

The nerve pain in my face was long forgotten as I tried to remember what I had learned in chemistry when hydrochloric acid had spilled and splashed at me. This felt worse.

When you are a part of an experiment not conducted by any scientific means, you run the risk of coming to your own rescue.

Hanging over the sink, I said in between handfuls of water that I was drowning myself in,

“What happened to me waking up in a blissful state? You pounced on me the minute that you saw I was awake!”

She came into the bathroom to check on me. As usual, when she is standing there looking at me, it makes me laugh. I don’t want to, but it’s something about how she looks so bewildered as to why her carefully laid plans have gone astray.

I grabbed a towel to dry off, but I had to plunge back in and continue to try and remove it.

“What is this supposed to do? How was this supposed to help? What did you find online that said this was a good idea?”

I said all this as I choked on all the water in the world I could get.

“It is supposed to relax the nerve.”

“I am not relaxed right now. None of my nerves are at peace right now.”

The next time I used it, I put it on my wrists, as far from my face as I could get it. You can do that, and it will still bring results without incinerating your skin.

Worse than an adverse reaction to a substance is to be forced to deal with a person that has become a nuisance, gotten under your skin, and possibly on your last nerve.

There was an Aunt Sophie vs. my Dad period during my childhood, which was tumultuous. When I was seven, I recall seeing him struggle with dealing with his mom. My grandma had gone through a series of strokes and health issues, so she was considered a vulnerable adult, but back then, it was not viewed as it is today. She lived with her sister, Sophie, who was not the best at taking care of herself, let alone another human being.

People were left to their own devices and the help we have today to deal with these types of situations was not there back then.

He would always get this impatient tone when he had to field a call from Sophie. I noticed that he held the handset far from his ear when she spoke like he was putting as much distance between her lips and his ear as possible.

I could visualize her in my mind. She always had on the brightest shade of red, usually smeared across her front teeth.

His only response strategically placed was,

“Uh, huh.”

She could talk his face off, and he was not one for being on the phone when he wanted to be outside doing a task he considered enjoyable, like building something out of wood. He didn’t want to listen to a woman talk at him. It was never a pleasant exchange.

There always was some upset that he was expected to deal with. I was too young to understand what the pressure exerted on him was, but I saw his blood pressure go up the minute he had to speak to her.

If I came in the kitchen when this was going on, my mom would whisper,

“It’s Sophie. You might want to leave.” She didn’t want me to be subjected to more of his language than I had to be. She knew that he would go off at some point when he had reached his limit.

Her calls were the worst timing when he would finally be free from work, and it was a Saturday where he had no schedule.

“Sophie, stop crying. I can’t understand what you are saying.”

This was usually the opening statement, and it was stated mechanically.

I often stood there looking up at him to see if he would notice me. He rarely did because something had to happen to bring him back once he went into this far-off state. His eyes would glaze over like he wanted to leave his body.

I could hear her shrill voice on the other end. When he took me with him to see her, I asked him later why she chewed gum every time I saw her.

“That’s not gum, Chris. That’s her nerves. She can’t sit still. She is crazy.” And this was the person in charge of his mother.

On one particular day, he was at his wit’s end. My mom had yelled out the front door that he was wanted on the phone.

“Who is it?”

“Sophie. I think something is wrong.”

It was always the same thing to guilt him into coming in.

I could tell the minute he stepped in the house that this wouldn’t go well. I heard a deep sigh as he said,

“Hello?”

For a few brief seconds, it was silent. Then after months, and maybe years of this, the explosion happened. He had been stuffing down his frustration for so long he could not hold it back anymore.

The whole thing ended with him yelling super loud, and he smashed the phone back into the cradle. He stormed back outside. My mom looked at me. I looked at her. It was like someone had pushed his final button.

It was a warm spring day, so all the windows were open. From the garage, we heard him yelp. Like one of those Fred Flintstone shriek’s that seem fake, but this was not.

“What was that?” she asked me. I shrugged. We both looked out the kitchen window to see him coming back, holding onto his hand.

“John, what did you do to yourself?”

Always the nurse ready to get out her bandages and splints.

He held out his thumb, which was quickly becoming double its size.

“I was going to hammer in a nail, and Sophie made me so mad that I hit myself instead. I cannot stand that woman!”

An ice bag was applied to his injury, and the coldness in his heart toward his aunt didn’t improve, especially once he found out that she was stealing funds from my grandma.

He had to learn to tolerate her even though he looked like he was being scraped with sandpaper every time they had to be in the same room together.

He tried his absolute best to follow Proverbs 15:1:

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (NIV)

Sometimes that is all you can do. Did he roll his eyes when he would have to see her? Yes, every time. He made sure to look at me and do that. But, he kept his mouth shut and his temper under control. He found out it wasn’t worth getting all bent out of shape or almost breaking his thumb.

He had to learn to limit his time with her to keep his peace. Just like I had to learn how to use the oil sparingly to help my physical pain, we have to do that with people sometimes. And believe it or not, you might be the object of someone’s angst. We all can be.

I have a list of the eight most common emotions hanging on my refrigerator. Each one gives examples of what is felt, such as frustration or resentment associated with anger. But, with each one, another column tells what gift is earned as you work with each one.

So that friend or neighbor who drives you up the wall is building your inner strength, helping you put up boundaries, and allowing you to develop some assertiveness skills.

God can do that, even with the worst irritant.

Peaceful Balance

Garbage day shouldn’t be that difficult to remember. Only a handful of times have I missed it. You don’t soon forget it, though, when you do because it becomes a full-time job figuring out how to deal with the excess.

It’s one of those moments when you are minding your own business in a deep sleep that you desperately need after a night of insomnia, and you hear the faint sound of beeping. It floats into your mind, and it tries to make sense of it, turning it into a weird dream where you are disarming a bomb. You have to decide what color wire you should cut to save the world.

Just as you are about to snip the black one because it makes the most sense, you come into consciousness just a bit more as you hear your neighbor’s trash going into the truck.

In a half-sleep state, you start to consider time. Isn’t it Wednesday? No. That was two days ago when you had to take the dog to the vet. It must be Thursday. Maybe not. It doesn’t feel like a Thursday. It seems more like a Tuesday, but you know it isn’t because you had a Zoom meeting you attended where you had to turn off your camera because you were zoning out from lack of sleep. It has to be Thursday, then. But something says it isn’t.

That something is the garbage truck that drives past your house at ninety miles an hour because they don’t need to stop at the next place by yours because they use a different company. It is long gone into the next county by the time you are near the front window.

The last time this happened, it was a short day due to a holiday. They usually will send a driver back later, but they didn’t want to keep anyone from their family this time. I agreed but knew I would have to get creative. A week of garbage plus a week more was going to be trouble.

But when you set your mind on succeeding, you do. By the time the following week came, I had skillfully stacked as much as I could short of needing a ladder to get the final bag on top. It was artistic and practical. There was no way I was missing it again.

Our service was delayed a day, but my structure stood firm even though we had heavy gusts of wind come through. I had proven the saying that necessity is the mother of invention. You learn what your dormant natural abilities are. This is the crucial stuff they will never teach you in school.

If there were an award for cramming as much as possible into a garbage bag, my house would win it, hands down. The metal container I have is not all that big, so often, I will place the bag outside of it and continue to fill it.

The idea is to not waste room toward the top. I am often amazed at the ability of all of us who strategically place more into it just to avoid a trip to take it out. You would think it was a five-mile walk to the garbage cart, but it’s steps from the front door.

The plastic drawstring, used by normal people, is generally cinched together to close it off. Not ours. Those are there to strap down the contents that have been piled over the capacity of what it can hold. They become the glue that holds it all together.

I always have the right intention when I think I could fit just a little more in. And then it becomes a competition to see just how far we can go. If there’s the tiniest space on a side, for sure, someone will find it and force another thing in.

You tell yourself just one more item tossed in there won’t hurt, so you jam in one more paper towel and walk away, not considering that moments later, someone else is going to repeat what you just did.

When it finally looks like the Pillsbury Doughboy with arms, legs, and the beginning of a head, you make the difficult decision to stop the madness. They have outlasted you, and you know it. You now wish you would have trekked it out the day before when there wasn’t a blizzard happening outside with sideways winds.

Now it’s a six-mile walk from the kitchen with a 500-pound bag that is bigger than yourself, so you use both hands to drag it to the door.

We cause ourselves a lot of problems. I could just end this with that sentence and let us all go into a deep depression. Have a nice day.

It’s the truth, though. We take something like trash or dishes and leave them to accumulate; then, it takes more effort and adds time to deal with a task that would have felt like nothing had it been attended to in increments. We let it build up, and now it’s a monster.

Maybe instead of a stockpile of old newspapers, it’s unresolved irritation over something that started so trivial and now has mushroomed into full-blown unforgiveness. It has grown in stages to bitterness.

As you recall the event or moments of the past, the details get uglier, and more gets added to the storyline, making it into a heap that is difficult to see past.

That’s where God comes in. With divine help, you can get over it and move on instead of letting it create a larger mess, like stuffing a bag of garbage to death.

Hebrews 12:17 says,

Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent. A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time. (Message)

I have let God work with me while also keeping myself away from the source of my contention. Sometimes it’s only possible to have no emotional reaction about another person by not being in their presence. You can think neutral thoughts from afar. That’s okay, and there should be no beating oneself up over that.

I used to think that my forgiveness of someone hinged on whether or not I could be in the same room with them. If I can think of them and I have no thoughts either way, good or bad, that indicates to me that they have lost control over who I am.

Pushing your feelings down isn’t a bright idea either. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. In Ephesians 4, there is some guidance on how to handle your emotions.

What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself.

Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. (Message)

Nowhere does it say to hide your feelings, but you are given parameters on how to conduct yourself. You are not to be a doormat nor a raving lunatic that cannot see anything but red twenty-four hours a day. Why? Because you stay stuck, unmoving spiritually, and cutting yourself off from seeing beyond this realm. You start only to see what’s wrong with the world instead of what’s right.

And that final banana peel that someone carelessly tosses on top of your already packed and ready-to-burst emotional trash bag has you saying and doing things that stunt your growth. Not theirs. Yours.

To put it in scientific terms, to remove the mystery, your choice of how you react and what state of mind you live in most will determine your frequency, like a radio wave. Negative responses keep you in shallow conditions. Heaven is high.

Your spiritual insight and advancement depend on how long you allow yourself to operate in lower states of mind, such as fear, anger, or depression. This doesn’t mean God doesn’t love you. You are limiting and blocking your potential.

If anything, try as much as you can not to do this:

Don’t grieve God. Don’t break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don’t take such a gift for granted. (Ephesians 4/Message)

Believe it or not, when you live in a place where you are not happy, either is God. There is the temptation to believe that you are being punished, causing a victim mentality. If you think that you are supported by a power greater than yourself, you will be.

Gradually, what burned you before, won’t be there, and more won’t be added on. You won’t have to try and find a place to put more of your unhelpful perceptions, causing the problem to linger. It will dissolve itself, and you will be given a peaceful balance.

(That’s not even full yet…)

Spill

When you live in a state that gets snow and a lot of it, you are in a season where you have to adjust your thinking when you walk into the house and remove your shoes. There is nothing more annoying than to step in a puddle of water left by the boots of another before you. Somehow, the rug got missed, and you come in unknowingly and find your foot soaking wet. It doesn’t get any better when you remove your socks and then step into another wet place with your bare feet, which are already freezing.

This is where analytical thinking takes over. You have the choice to hop across the room for the paper towels, so you only leave one track versus two to clean up or move faster and have to deal with more of a mess.

If you do not attend to this immediately, you run the risk of this happening for the rest of the day, and words you would not say that many times in a row stream from your mouth as you use multiple pairs of socks and now you have to do laundry because you have gone through all that you own.

Another object that can cause the same havoc is the dog’s water bowl. A pleasant morning can take a turn when you hit that, sending it all over you while trying to put something in the garbage, which then tips over. Within moments of getting out of bed, you wonder what you have done to cause the forces of nature to already be against you.

Adding insult to injury, you go to the fridge, and someone has precariously balanced a can of something on the very edge of the shelf to fit it in because no one has taken the time to declutter and throw unwanted items. It flies out and lands on the foot that went unscathed by the water bowl and splashes all of you. Just go back to bed for the week.

I sat down at a grocery store in a section that had tables and chairs so I could look over my list for a second because there is nothing worse than to make your way through the aisles, get all the way home, and discover you left the one thing that you needed the most.

I was drinking something out of a glass without a lid. After one sip, I knocked it directly into my lap. My workout pants were instantly a sponge sucking up all of the liquid. I jumped up, grabbed anything that would have been in the path of it, and looked to my daughter for help, whose eyes were gigantic.

She, way slower than I would have liked, started to wander, trying to find napkins or anything to assist me. I could not believe how she walked unhurriedly to come to my rescue. Later, she said,

“I was concentrating! Do you want me to panic when I am trying to help?”

Yes! I do.

“It appeared that you did not care when you did not go quicker.”

“I think better when I go slower.”

“While you went slower, the water was soaking into my skin more.”

Seeing my horrible situation, a man sprinted over and handed me a towel. We still don’t know where he got it or where he came from. She threw a bunch of napkins my way to start cleaning up the table.

I froze in place when it happened, but now I had to move.

“I feel like my water broke. I never had this happen in real life. I can cross this off my bucket list now,” I said. “It’s not as glamorous as they make it out to be.”

“I am sorry this happened,” she said. I looked over at her again with a highly wet napkin in my hand as I tried to mop up the damage. That’s when she burst out laughing so loud she couldn’t contain herself. Just when you think they are sincere.

“No, really, I am sorry…” and she couldn’t finish what she was saying because she kept getting hit with laughter. Which then made me laugh.

“Where did that guy come from?” she asked, trying to catch her breath.

“I don’t know, but he moved faster than you did.”

Now I had a decision to make. Do I leave and come back later with dry clothes on? Or do I bite the bullet and walk around with water seeping into places I would rather not have it be? Every time I moved, it made itself at home even more than seconds before.

With every wince, she tried to be sympathetic, she really did, but she couldn’t help her giggles that kept surfacing.

“I feel like I have to walk like I just got off a horse. If I do that, it’s bearable.”

“Let me see how bad it looks,” she said.

I turned all the way around so she could see me from all angles. The front of my legs had dark spots where I had been flooded.

“It’s not that noticeable. I can hardly see anything.” That’s what they all say.

“That’s because the worst of its in a place that cannot be seen with the human eye right now.”

“Put your coat on. That will cover up most of it.”

It was true. I was in good shape until I started to walk, and a draft began.

“You would not believe how cold I am right now,” I said. When we got to the freezer section, the temperature dropped significantly from my waist down.

By the time I was at the checkout, I didn’t notice it as much. I had on moisture-wicking pants, so they had gone to work, giving me a false sense of security. I exited, and a brutal wind chill cut across my lower half, reminding me that I wasn’t home free yet. Running to the car to speed up my departure wasn’t the most exciting either.

“Are you really getting into the car ahead of me?” I asked as she jumped into the passenger side.

“I am COLD!” She said as her hair whipped her across the face.

“Really?”

I could either argue my point or get the cart back. Another sprint wasn’t going to kill me. Sitting down on my cold car seat would.

“I wish I could drive standing up,” I said, with my entire body pushed away as far from a seated position. My head was on the roof as I dangled my keys in my right hand, putting off the unpleasantness that was about to come.

I slowly slid down to face the inevitable. Breathing always helps just when it doesn’t.

“I am going to have icicles where I do not want them,” I said in between clenched teeth.

When I got back home, I became so involved with putting everything away, and my other daughter started telling me about her day, I completely forgot all about the incident.

About an hour later, my daughter said,

“Are you still wearing the same pants you had on in the store?”

I looked down and realized I had forgotten all about it.

“Oh, my gosh! Yes! They have totally dried!”

This sent her into another wave of laughter.

We have secrets that we think are so big that we cannot divulge them to another person. But, God wants us to walk in freedom, so a trusted person will come across your path at some point that you can tell everything to. You will know when you find yourself suddenly talking about something you would have never imagined expressing.

If you haven’t had this happen, pray for it. A person will be sent so you can unburden this weight that so heavily keeps you in a place that feels like torture. And, the one who is supplied to help you won’t ridicule you, they will make you see the truth of a situation that probably isn’t as bad as you think it is and will lead you into breathing easy again.

God is so kind that I have been given more than one who will all say the same things to me in response without anyone knowing except for me. That’s always an indication that God is at work when you hear the same message that brings comfort.

Just like when I unexpectedly gave myself a shower in the middle of a store, revealing this hidden part of yourself will feel uncomfortable at first, but then you will forget all about it. When you let another person or two bring you the support you need, you see the feelings of fear begin to lift as they bring you up higher.

In Ephesians 4:25, we are given a warning against not letting others know true, deep things and how this, in the long run, creates problems,

Stop lying to each other; tell the truth, for we are parts of each other, and when we lie to each other, we are hurting ourselves.(TLB)

Whatever you see on the outside reflects what is happening on the inside of you. If you want to associate with like-minded, caring people, then you will have to change your ways. You can swim in the deep end or wade in the shallow, safe parts of the pool.

In Ephesians 4:15, it is explained how this will work out to your advantage,

God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth, and tell it in love. (Message)

If you insist on hiding, you will, and it’s miserable, stunting your spiritual growth. But, if you allow yourself to be vulnerable and trust that others can help, a whole new world will open up before you. You will see the good in people, and it will prove to you that you are not alone or crazy. Hold yourself back, restrain your authentic self, and live in a minimal way. Or let it spill.

(At least pretend to hurry…)

Found

I had looked everywhere and couldn’t find them. They had disappeared into the same vortex that had been sucking up our socks for years. The weather had turned bitterly cold, and I knew I would quickly morph into a walking reptile if I didn’t cover my hands.

“I cannot find my gloves,” I said twice a day every day.

I searched all the familiar places. The closets, the garage on the off chance that I had left them there, the shed, the basement, my car, under every seat, the pockets of my winter coats, under the kitchen table, cupboards, and the junk drawer. I would be doing something and suddenly have an image of where I hadn’t looked. I thought for sure I would locate them. Dropping everything, I would search and come up with nothing.

I had purchased them the fall before, so how could I have misplaced them over the summer? This was the mystery I was faced with every year. I didn’t just toss them into the trash, but somehow they ran away from home when the seasons changed.

If I didn’t do something to put a barrier between me and the weather, I would have to suffer through cracks that would bleed. While at the height of raising kids and changing diapers, I had a pediatrician take one of my red, chapped hands and say,

“You need to take care of this. You are probably washing a lot and need to put on moisturizer.”

Until he pointed that out, I had no idea how awful they were. I was too busy trying to sleep when I could and think straight. It wasn’t like I was being chased down to be a hand model.

It had been an ongoing problem even after they were grown. If I let it get out of control, it was the worst session of burning one could imagine when I tried to put a cream on them. It had to be applied with eyes shut, and mouth closed screaming.

“I cannot believe I lost another pair!” I told my daughter. She watched as I pulled items off of shelves and ransacked the entire house.

I decided to let myself suffer until I found them. If it got too bad, I would jam my hands into the pockets of my coat.

I found two mismatched options that were thin and should not have counted as mittens. They did nothing to stop the cold air from going right through to my skin. I searched for the hand lotion and discovered that this had also vanished. I imagined my gloves and the bottle sitting somewhere in the sun laughing at me while I frantically tried to hold off the incoming damage.

By Christmas, I was still periodically slathering on the product I had gotten made especially for ‘working hands.’ It had a picture of a guy with a hammer, so at first, I thought maybe I shouldn’t get it. I didn’t go about my days putting nails into wood. But, my hands were never idle, so I decided I qualified. They should rename it for those who multitask, otherwise, it cuts off a whole population of people who think they aren’t good enough.

Even with that on, I was still walking on thin ice. I am not the best at remembering to apply it because other than winter, who needs it? By the time I would go to bed at night, and as my eyes closed, I would drift off thinking about how I forgot to put it on. I promised I would do it the following day, and by night time, when I was falling asleep again, I realized I had forgotten.

Then I lost the gloves that were doing me no good.

On Christmas Day, my self-inflicted torture came to an end when I opened up a brand new pair of gloves from my daughter, who had stood by sighing, telling me to buy another pair.

When I first got them, I was mindful of where they were at all times. I tried to keep my mind focused on when I put them in my purse. On occasion, when I was in a hurry, which is every day, I would slide them into my coat pockets. Then, I would check my purse and wonder where I had put them. I was fighting a monster, and it was me.

One night, I had to run multiple errands to various places. It was warmer, so my evil twin put them in my pockets. The next day, I checked my purse and went through the entire crazy search again. This time, I only found one of the two in my coat. This led me to my car, under seats, the trunk, the garage, and back to square one. It wasn’t even spring, and I had done it to myself again.

All day I tormented myself with thoughts of how careless I was.

“I don’t deserve gloves,” I texted her.

“You lost them?” she asked.

“One of them,” I said.

At least I was getting better at not losing both. The difficult part was that she had gone out of her way to help me, and I had returned immediately to what I had always done.

“Where were you last?” she asked.

“A lot of places,” I said, thinking about where it could have gotten left.

After not being able to forget it, I decided to be shown where it was. I said out loud,

“Nothing is lost or stolen in the kingdom of heaven. Please let me see where my glove is.”

I had read that in a book, and it had worked to help me find other things. Why I hadn’t thought of it sooner, I don’t know. Maybe because I had decided to punish myself, and that was all I was focused on?

In a flash, I saw my wayward black glove in a parking lot that I had been in the previous night. I drove there, parked where I had, got out, and was reunited with it. Out of all the places I had been, this was the one I had seen when I asked for help. I didn’t delay in acting on it.

When we condemn ourselves, we shut off the divine assistance that would so readily come. In 1 John 3:20, there is an excellent reminder not to follow my horrible example:

My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves. (Message)

What else don’t we see because we write ourselves off as unworthy? God has other great ideas for you, but you are too preoccupied going over all your failures and can’t imagine being forgiven or counted as productive for heaven. As unreal as it sounds, being mean to yourself is a comfort zone. It feels safer to stay in self-condemnation mode if you have practiced it for years.

So when God whispers to your spirit to take on something new, you recall every single thing you have ever done to mess up. You couldn’t possibly be a candidate for the job you are being asked to carry out. And, just like that, you stay where you are because it’s familiar.

It’s so much easier to drift with no strings attached instead of being on a steady course, advancing and going forward. It’s also miserable. At the heart of it, you aren’t happy while you pretend to be content. You have the choice to self-destruct or move in the direction that will have you fulfilling your purpose. It’s up to you, and it won’t be forced upon you.

No one is ever too far out of reach for God to heal and retrieve from the lost and found.

(I still have them. Who is winning?)

Best For Us

The biggest arguments my mom and I had were over apparel. Typically, this happens in the teen years when a girl wears something that shocks the previous generation. Less and less material is used as each decade clicks by, which can cause a young person and her authority figure to be at odds.

I was in kindergarten, so this was way before the appointed time. And I wanted to cover up more, not less. I was raised with a pack of wolves, known as brothers, and I wanted to run free and not be slowed down by dress shoes and skirts.

Depending on what I was wearing determined my comfort level for playing. I couldn’t have my brother launch me halfway across the backyard unless I had pants on.

He would lay on his back and put both of his feet up. He would balance me on them and then do a countdown. He would push me forward with all his strength to see how far I could go. Similar to shotput but from a prone position.

Because I was so young and trusted everything, I never contemplated the head injury I could have sustained. I always landed face first in the grass. I would get up and have him do it again.

This was in direct competition with what my mom was trying to accomplish.

She, on the other hand, had received her last child and wanted to mold and shape me into what she thought was “proper.”

“My job, Chris, is to teach you social graces.”

Whatever that was.

It was like a page ripped out of My Fair Lady. We spoke in different dialects.

She tried her best, but I defied her at every turn.

She recognized that I would fight her every step of the way. I didn’t want to give up my brother’s circus training I was participating in. Who knew where my high-flying tricks would lead me?

Being a negotiator, she said,

“You have to wear a dress to school at least once a week.”

I was five, so I was learning how to tell time. We had analog that actually made you have to think and count. But the concept of what it was still was a mystery to me. I desperately wanted to be like my older siblings, so I even wore one of their old watches.

It had stopped working when it was given to me, but it made me feel less behind the rest of them.

When she would say,

“Today is the day for you to wear a dress,” it felt like it had just happened the day before.

I would slide into whatever she handed over and go into funeral mode. It felt like I was dying. It was bad enough that my days of freedom had been interrupted by the school demanding I be there for half a day.

I had other things I wanted to do instead.

I had to associate with children my age which seemed lame compared to all the older people I lived with. This particular kid always wanted to sit by me, and when the teacher would say,

“Exchange your crayon with a person next to you,” he would always come for mine.

Just because I extended him a few seconds of my time, he thought he owned me. I couldn’t move anywhere in the classroom without him next to me like my shadow. And he always asked me what time it was because of my broken watch. I just made up a number.

The whole experience felt unnecessary, and so did wearing a dress.

I wore her out because she dropped the rule by first grade, but our war moved on to another article of clothing.

Boots.

I did not like wearing them when the weather changed. She would send my tennis shoes with me to change into once I got to school. We did not live that far from the elementary school, so I thought it was overkill to change.

As I went up in grades, I resisted wearing them more and more. I believe I had assimilated into what the rest of my peer group was doing. Snow boots were deemed for babies. I had witnessed a classmate of mine being ridiculed for wearing them, so to ward this off, I would leave the house, take off my boots and wear my other shoes the rest of the way.

What she didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her, and I wouldn’t be targeted.

This was all going along swimmingly until the day I forgot to bring my boots home from my locker. In my haste to get out of jail and back into the free world, I grabbed my jacket, my books and walked out the front door.

It was a Friday, so that made it even better.

The house was unusually quiet when I walked in. She was at the kitchen sink rinsing a glass. Turning, she said in a whisper,

“I lost my voice.”

I was going to respond as I saw her eyes travel downward toward my feet.

I was in trouble. She didn’t need her vocal cords to bring fire and fury.

“Where are your boots?” She hissed, moving closer. She knew by motherly intuition that this was probably an ongoing habit that I had hidden.

The look on her face was pure anger. I was trying to come up with an excuse, a lie, a handwritten note from my doctor, but nothing was coming to me. So I went with the truth.

“I left them in my locker at school. I didn’t wear them home.”

If she had stopped interrogating me right there, we would have gone about our lives. But, no, she had to say,

“Do you go to school and change into your tennis shoes before you get there? And put your boots back on when you are almost home?” All of this was forcefully said in a hushed tone.

Had she hired a private investigator to track me and my underhanded ways? How did she know this? Because she could be scary like that. I decided to be bold.

“Yes, I do. I don’t like wearing boots. It looks stupid!”

“You need to wear them! There is ice you could fall on.” A physical injury was less important to me than psychological trauma.

Because of her laryngitis, her lecture wasn’t as long as usual.

“I don’t like them.” I kept it simple.

“I don’t care! Where are they?”

They were in my locker, not available until Monday.

“At school.”

This took it up another notch.

“You better never do this again! You know this was wrong!”

She was trying to exert herself to get me to be compliant. I slid out of my shoes and walked away. It’s hard to take someone seriously when they are whispering.

I realized that if I wasn’t in front of her, she couldn’t yell, and my chances of hearing her were less. I was not committing to her ways anytime soon.

She followed me.

“Christine Ann, don’t you walk away from me while I’m speaking!”

Not the full name. I faced her again.

“You will wear your boots like I have told you!”

I cannot explain why I did what I did next. But instead of talking to her in my normal voice, I whispered back,

“No! I won’t! I hate them!”

She thought I was making fun of her, and now we had another problem.

I was going to try and explain myself, but then the humor of it hit me. I started laughing. It appeared I had just gone into total rebelliousness. This just made it worse. Coffin, meet nail.

“Don’t you dare mock me! How dare you first not listen to me and then think my illness is funny!”

She was straining super hard. I wish I had known then to tell her that she could permanently damage her voice by doing that. It was probably good I didn’t.

I had to get myself under control. I knew she wouldn’t hit me, but I didn’t want to chance it. I had never been this far down the road before.

“I don’t know why..” I started to explain, and then I started laughing again.

She stood there with her arms crossed, looking at me like I didn’t belong to her.

“Get to your room.”

She walked away.

I didn’t dare slam my door because she would make me open and close it quietly whenever I did. So I skipped that part. There was enough to contend with.

I was met with icy silence, and it was not all related to her losing her voice.

Later, she came back into my room and sat on my bed.

“You don’t have to do what I tell you.”

This was the best news I had heard so far.

“Won’t you be mad at me if I don’t?”

This seemed too easy.

“No, I won’t be angry. I will be disappointed. There’s a difference. I have to trust that you will obey me.”

She was speaking directly to my conscience, and it was like she took a hammer to my chest.

“You can keep up with what you are doing, and if you fall and hurt yourself, I won’t be mad. I will be sad that you didn’t listen.”

I wore my boots and put up with the heckling from that time on. Her relationship with me was more important than a group of losers at school.

I have had to get to that point many times on various issues with God. I want my way, but I hear that still, small voice say, “No, do this instead.”

It might put us in an uncomfortable situation, and we don’t always see why at first, but we have to trust that heaven sees and knows what is best for us.

(That’s how I took them off..am I coming or going?)
(Evidence of WHY I should not have been forced into a dress! Ugh!)

Small Stuff

Going into the building was the last thing I wanted to do. So many changes were happening at once, but I was moving forward, trying to make life seem normal after the wreckage.

I was newly divorced with two young girls, one eight and the other barely thirteen. It was up to me to make sure they saw me as confident because I felt enough damage had already been done.

I had a mix of emotions, from guilt, fear to relief. It was as if I would circle through those repeatedly, never really staying secure at any given moment. I expected bad news to come all the time.

My lawyer had me complete paperwork to apply for medical assistance through the state. I had a family member make sure to tell me I was on “welfare,” which disturbed me. It was stated in a way to let me know that I had fallen to a level of low that they for sure never would.

I had difficulty believing I was relying on taxpayer money to live. It brought me so much shame that even with “free” healthcare provided, I rarely went to see a doctor, even if I was deathly ill. And during this time of high stress and negative thinking, I was sick a lot.

I chose not to accept food stamps, which seemed like I totally hadn’t plunged into darkness. It gave me a shred of hope that I could at least buy food and household items without it being a handout. The comment by my relative had bothered me so much that I brought it up to the therapist I was seeing. I had been given a court order to attend counseling sessions, so the girls and I complied.

The therapist’s response was,

“I would gladly pay for you to get back on your feet again. For you and your girls.”

I never forgot the remark that was made to me because it was cruel, but it also made me see how far I had come to understand all of this where before I hadn’t.

If someone mentioned that their marriage was over, I used to let it go in one ear and out the other. I had absolutely no understanding of the pain involved, so I stood silently by. But after mine, I was able to ask questions, understand, and put myself in that person’s shoes. I wanted details so I could help if I could.

I realized that the demeaning comment that was made was from ignorance.

I had to deliver the applications to the office building following legal advice. I waited in a room with countless others who all had the same dead look in their eyes. Many had small children with them while others were like me, sitting with a number in hand and a packet in the other.

A few floors down, there was a community food shelf that my dad volunteered for. Every Friday, he would get up early and drive to various grocery stores to pick up boxes and donations. He would then drop them off and go to work handing out items to those in need. He knew I was struggling mentally with all of this, so he would pull up into my driveway and carry in what had been left after every one of his shifts.

“I just brought you a few things,” he would say to get past my objection.

Because my kids were so happy to see him, I allowed him to help me. But, I hated that I was in this situation, to begin with. It took a while for gratitude to replace my low feelings.

Because money had been so scarce, I had even cut back on what I ate; It was a form of self-punishment for being one half of a failed equation. I felt like I deserved nothing good, and the girls were innocent victims, so I wanted everything to go to them.

I worked three jobs, home-schooled, and felt like I was living in hell. All the outdoor work was mine to contend with, from raking, mowing, and snow removal. I couldn’t afford to hire anyone, so I had to learn quickly.

When they wanted lights on the house for Christmas, I got on a ladder and did it myself.

I had asked for help from someone who knew how, but instead of coming over and showing me what to do, he tried to explain it over the phone. This was not helpful at all. It reminded me of this verse, 1 John 3:17:

If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love? It disappears. And you made it disappear. (Message)

It sent the message to me that I wasn’t worth the time.

I went to church, prayed, read my Bible, and taught various children’s classes, but I was fighting off panic attacks, sleepless nights and felt dread as if something terrible could happen at any moment. Yet, I slapped a smile on and pretended that all was well.

Somehow, a friend convinced me to go in to have a physical. I think she could see the stress wearing on me.

“If something happens to you, what would happen to your kids?”

Because I solely existed for them, I listened and went in. A few days later, I received a phone call.

“The results of your mammogram show something abnormal on your left side. We need you to schedule a follow-up appointment so we can run more tests.”

The next phone call was from a support counselor.

“Are you afraid of getting a cancer diagnosis?“

“No,” I said. And I meant it. I was so numb and worn out from all the turmoil of my life, I didn’t care anymore.

“Are you sure you aren’t worried?” I didn’t have any of it left.

“No,” I repeated. “God will help me. Whatever the outcome, I will be okay.”

I could say all the right things robotically, but I didn’t trust God altogether because of all the bad that had come my way.

A few weeks later, I was in another waiting room with a lady who had the same appearance as what I had seen in the financial assistance office. It was the look of dejection and uncertainty. The person with her tried to cheer her up, but she kept crying. When her name was called, she slowly got up, slumped shoulders, and went off to find out her fate.

Usually, that would have made me afraid, but I wasn’t. When you don’t care anymore, fear can’t even find you.

“We saw a shadow on the left.” The room was dark and only lit by the machine. “We want to do a test that will give us a sharper image,” the technician said.

As she went through various procedures, she asked me about my life. So I told her everything. All of it. It poured out of me without any emotional upheaval.

She stood back from me for a minute and said,

“Do you know how strong you are? Do you see that in yourself?”

“No,” I said.

“You are so strong. I have never met someone as strong as you.”

And, yet, I felt alone and weak.

When she said “strong,” I instantly saw my youngest daughter hugging me. When the breakdown of our family began, she would run up to me, throw herself around my waist and not let me move. No matter how I tried to get away from her, she would hold me in place, and she would say over and over,

“Mom, you are strong.” This little eight-year-old child was the voice of God, and I hadn’t even realized it.

The results came back that nothing was out of the ordinary, so I was spared.

Many more trials have come since then, and most not pleasant; however, I have learned in each instance. And I have seen the faithfulness of God.

The other day, when I said something out loud that was bothering me, the same girl who told me I was strong 15 years ago looked at me and said,

“Mother, you hear from heaven! Why would you even worry about this?”

She’s right. Sometimes we don’t see in ourselves what others can, and a reminder is necessary. God can bring that to you when you need it most. Even in a coffee shop.

I was with my oldest daughter at a mall, and to our surprise, all drinks, no matter the size, were $1.00.

So I let her pay. On the wall, we saw a row of pins hanging. A guy who worked there said,

“Take one. They are complementary.”

I chose the one that has been my lesson while here on earth. The enormity of a problem is only as much as you worry about it.

When you put it into God’s hands, you become an observer, as you watch heaven take over and transform it, you stress less about the small stuff.

Boy

Sometimes, it’s hard to believe that it’s almost been a whole year since you haven’t greeted me at the door. Or followed closely nearby. Even if I were still half asleep, you and your sister would be so happy to see me in the morning. You would both run to the kitchen, but you always turned back to walk behind me—every single day.

Last year while the world tuned into politics on Election Night, I went downstairs to test my Christmas lights. There is nothing worse than setting up a tree and having lights not work. It was early, but I felt I was to do it.

When I plugged in the first string, I heard,

“We will take good care of him over here, Chris.”

I didn’t get it.

“He will be leaving soon, Chris. We will take good care of him here.”

I sat there in total silence. This could not be possible. My dog of twelve years just had developed a slight limp. He was eating fine, maybe sleeping a little more but went into his usual high energy bark mode at everything that passed by the front window.

“What?” I asked.

“He’s leaving you, Chris. He’s coming to the other side, and he will be taken really good care of.”

“No. I don’t believe it,” I whispered. “No way. He just has a limp.”

He had this same issue many times, and the vet had told me eventually he might need a knee replaced. He wasn’t a dog who gracefully jumped from couch to chair, but he flew without his feet touching the ground. If there was something for him to guard us against, he was in the air leaping.

I tried to stop this behavior by buying a set of dog stairs, and he jumped over them. It was just in his DNA to fly to his next location. This had taken a toll on his joints. I gave him a supplement to help, but his mobility would show signs of weakness every once in a while.

I sat there wondering if my mind was playing tricks on me. Maybe it was a case of worry, and I imagined the worst.

“Chris, it’s true. He’s leaving soon.”

Suddenly I realized that what I heard was coming. I crawled into the bathroom and shut the door. I lay on the floor as tears streamed down. I was hoping I was wrong.

“Where’s mom?” I heard someone say from upstairs. I had to pretend all was well. I was probably just making this up in my head. I splashed cold water all over my face. I have done this so many times in my life. Just cover and don’t say a word. I had gotten very good at it.

Slap on a smile and give a good performance.

When I got upstairs, no one would have guessed what I knew. I glanced across the room to see him sleeping so peacefully. See? You’re wrong.

I decided to text my younger daughter, and I just couldn’t say the words out loud.

“Do you think he is leaving us?”

She looked at me with a frown and shook her head no. Oh, good. I was wrong.

The following day he wouldn’t eat, which helped me decide to bring him in.

“We are going to have to do surgery on his back leg. And we took blood. Once that comes back, we can go ahead, but we have to make sure the anesthesia will be safe for him to have. Other than his leg, he is really healthy, and I think he has at least another 5-8 years to live. You have taken such good care of him.”

I had known this vet the entire twelve years of our dogs’ lives, and his advice has always been trustworthy.

“I’m going to give you some pain pills for him, and that should help with his eating. Once the blood sample is back, I will call you.”

I took him home and started on the medication. Just like I was told, he began to eat again. Not as much, but I figured it was a good sign. I kept pushing away the still, small voice. Nope. It wasn’t right.

The next day, he was back to not eating again. I made another call to the doctor. It was late in the day by the time he got back to me. He has a busy practice.

“I need you to bring him into my office tomorrow immediately. The blood work shows he has no red blood cells. This is impossible. He shouldn’t even be here right now. I want to take another sample and read it under a microscope myself. We had the other sample sent to the lab, and I want to be sure it’s right. I’m leaving medication for him at the front for you to pick up tonight. But you have to promise me you will bring him back in tomorrow morning right away. I normally don’t come in on Saturday, but something isn’t right.”

I gave him the pills to get his body to produce red blood cells and the pain medication. I tried to stop the inevitable, but I had to, and I continued to ignore the other thoughts.

What didn’t help was that my daughter, who initially said I was wrong, now thought I was right.

“I don’t want to be right,” I said after his first dose. And it was a fight to get him to take it.

The next day, I took him in. This was during the shutdown, and usually, I had to wait in the car. But, they had made an exception. Sitting in the exam room all alone, I couldn’t get away from what was happening, and there was nothing to distract myself with.

“He has no red blood cells, and I saw it for myself. Please continue to give him all the medication over the weekend and see how he does. Do your daughters know that he is very sick? I’m shocked. Until I saw the bloodwork, I would have never guessed.”

“They know everything you have said.”

“I will call you Monday. The medication can really help.”

They handed him over to me, and he relaxed into my arms. He never was a big fan of going there.

By Monday morning, I knew for sure we were about to say goodbye. I had left my bedroom door open on Sunday night, and he had gone into the kitchen, which he never did. He slept with one eye open by me every night. For him to not stay with me was his way of trying to spare me.

I was undecided about what to do. He was weak but sleeping. His breathing was somewhat off, but he didn’t seem to be in pain. At 9 am, the vet called.

“How is he?”

“I think he is leaving.”

“You can bring him in. And I will be here to help. You don’t want him to suffer.”

“This is happening fast. I need to think. I will call you back.”

“Okay. You let me know. If I weren’t so busy, I would come to your house.”

I started looking up in-home pet agencies that would come and assist us with end of life services.

“Wait until noon, Chris.” That still, small voice. I put my arm around his neck as I lay on the floor by him, and he rested his chin in the crook of my elbow.

“If you need to leave. You can, and I don’t need you to stay. We will be okay without you.”

I felt I needed to give him permission to go, and so did my daughters. We each told him it would be okay.

I continued to look up emergency services as the clock ticked.

He got up and moved into the kitchen, and I followed, putting him on my lap. He had been avoiding me most of the morning. My daughter sat next to me.

“You can go. We will be ok,” I said again.

“I think he is going to leave,” she said.

“Me too.”

“He’s giving us a gift, so we don’t have to make the decision.”

“I know.”

He took a deep breath, and we knew. I looked at the clock, and it was exactly twelve.

For a brief moment, I felt peace, just like it should be. I saw him leap into heaven, from my lap into the arms of God.

The next part was one I didn’t see coming. His body shut down, and blood poured over my legs, ankles, and feet. I found out later this is common, but I panicked. I moved him off of me, and I knew it was over. I couldn’t breathe as I lay on the floor. I felt myself begin to blackout.

I suddenly was leaving my body. I wanted to go with him, and he just couldn’t leave me. It hadn’t even been a week since I had heard what was about to happen.

My daughter put her hand on me to call me back, and I could barely hear her voice. I just wanted to go with him. How was I going to go so long without him? He was my watchdog and guardian.

When I was sick once with a high fever, I hung on to his paw, and he let me while I had drifted into and out of sleep. He was the one to make me laugh when I didn’t want to and scratch my hand when he wanted attention. I couldn’t imagine being without him. He had arrived after my divorce and brought stability to a chaotic house. God had sent him to us, and I didn’t realize the depth of it until he left.

As I came back into my body and could breathe again, I had to deal with the next step. I went into the bathroom to wash his blood off of me. I didn’t want to, and it meant he was gone. I just kept telling myself I had to do the next thing. Step by step, as if in slow motion, I moved. I had to hand him over at the place I had taken him so many times to be made well.

He was cremated, and I took his ashes to the home where he was born. His dad and sister are buried there, so we thought he should be too. That drive is short, but it was the longest of my life. Each small thing felt like a new goodbye.

They say the first year is challenging following a death, and it is. I felt guilty sometimes because I missed him more than some people I knew that had died, and I felt like I had lost a child.

It’s an adjustment, but he lets me know he’s not far away. One night, I had a dream. I saw him sitting next to a little girl who was maybe about two years old. She looked bewildered, like she didn’t know where she was. He was on his best behavior, sitting up straight in guard dog stance. I saw dog tags on his neck, which I never had him wear.

I heard:

“His job is to welcome in those little ones who get to heaven young. He makes it seem more familiar so that they can get used to it. He earned those tags at your house.”

I wanted so selfishly to say..no! He is mine! But I couldn’t because he never really was. He was on loan to me for a purpose, which he fulfilled.

On a summer evening, I was walking back towards home, and I saw his doppelgänger. All black with the same little bounce and plume-like tail. He turned to bark at me just like mine would have.

“Shadow! No!” The lady said.

I sat down in the grass. He quit barking.

“They get scared when people walk by them,” I said. He came right up to me and sniffed my knee.

Then, he stood with both front paws on my leg and sniffed my face.

“Shadow! He never does this to anyone!”

“It’s ok.”

He started licking my face.

“He usually barks at everyone. He has never done anything like this!”

“Well, he must know I like his kind.”

He had all the same issues mine had…teeth issues, back leg problems, and quickly put on weight if they gave him too many snacks. He is only four, so I was able to tell her what I did to help with some of the problems.

“Does be fly off the couch to get to the chair? Without touching the ground?”

“Yes. You can’t stop him.”

“No, you can’t.”

When I stood up, he licked my hand one last time. Then he barked at me as if he had never met me. Just like mine would have.

His real name given to him at birth before I got him was Stinky. His perfect white stripe down his tummy reminded the breeder of a skunk. To my house, he was Mr. Hairy, Stinky La Rue, Harold, Frenney, my buddy, and whatever else we all thought he should be. He came no matter what we called him, especially if we had food in our hands. But most importantly, he was my boy.

(He always was a good listener when we needed a therapist)
One last look. This is my last picture of him. 12 o’clock came right after I took this.
My gift from heaven…

Wounds

It wasn’t uncommon for me to suffer disappointment while growing up. My parents came out of the Great Depression, where they were taught that money was scarce, nothing should be wasted, and everything could be repaired. 

It was a routine, but horrible experience, to have water added to the ketchup or salad dressing bottle so every last drip could be consumed. She would shake it all together, try to hand it to me, and I refused because I had found it tasted like death. 

“Chris, just use it. It’s not that bad.”

Even her head shaking and sighing would not move me. She had stockpiled more, and I knew it. Sometimes she would give in and act as she had just found a brand new bottle that she had “forgotten all about.” Miracles can happen every day if you are stubborn enough. 

Besides holding my ground on condiments, I had to beg and plead for her to open the purse strings for anything. If she could find a way to buy something that never needed to be replaced, she was on board. So my request to get a pumpkin at a farm was coloring way out of the lines.

“I want a real pumpkin,” I kept saying day and night, starting in September. This was a tactic that had worked on a few things in the past. But, not always. If I got her to say,

“Maybe,” I knew I was closer to my goal. 

Every house in our neighborhood had carved pumpkins on the front steps. She had chosen to buy a plastic one that she could plug in, which she had gotten long before I was on earth. Frugal at its finest. 

It didn’t have the personal touch of a kitchen knife in an artist’s imperfect hand. It was a factory-produced, false rendition of something organic, started from a seed, grown in a field. Hers was a far cry from that. The light bulb had started to burn off some of the original orange paint. But, to no avail, she got it out every single year, which killed my chances of getting a real one. 

The year I had given up, feeling that she was not going to budge an inch, she took me by total surprise and said,

“I think it would be fun to go to a pumpkin patch.”

I could not believe it! I acted as if it was not a big deal, but it was. We made the drive to the nearest place. 

I walked through rows and rows of them, trying to decide which one would be mine. Because of the age gap between my siblings and me, I was the only kid in the age bracket to find this experience exciting. All my energy and wear-down approach had finally paid off in fourth grade. 

I carried my selection to the person who she would pay. She suddenly noticed the sign stating the price per pound. I hadn’t chosen the largest one I could have, but her default kicked in once it hit the scale. 

“That’s way too much. I’m not going to spend that.”

The guy dressed like a farmer looked at her and then at me. I could not believe that she was actually going to back out now. 

“Is that the real price?” She asked. I could tell that the “fun” part was being sucked out of it. 

“Yes.”

“No, thank you. Chris, let’s go.”

I had been so close! The guy glanced over at me again with very sympathetic eyes. It wasn’t until that moment I realized I shouldn’t be happy. I had been denied so many other things so often that my ability to feel sadness had been curtailed. I was supposed to accept that whatever she did or said would produce no emotional response on my part. 

I had become really good at it, but I also made a vow to myself that once I had children, I would never do to them what had been done to me. Or at least try not to. 

So whether it was acceptable or not, I took my girls to get pumpkins in the fall. The stigma of doing so and going against what was presented as evil in the church’s eyes didn’t stop me. I read all the literature and folklore about its practice and decided that God knew my heart. I wasn’t doing this to ward off mischievous spirits or engage in the dark arts. I was trying to heal something from my past. 

It worked as I watched them produce some of the most beautiful pieces of art I had ever seen. Somewhere in their DNA, they were awarded the ability to draw and create things I had never been given. Scribbling out a stick figure is a challenge for me. 

One year, my youngest daughter decided to spraypaint her pumpkin. She had seen the idea somewhere and decided that this was something she wanted to try. She purchased a can of purple glitter spray and covered the entire thing. It turned out very professional looking. 

The only thing was that it never occurred to us to put it outside in the cold air to preserve it. Day after day, it sat in the house looking like a royal piece of artistry straight out of a fairy tale, subjected to a warm environment. One night I noticed a strange smell. Why this always befalls me, I do not know. 

“Is that your pumpkin starting not to smell so great?” I asked as it was in the air drifting and becoming more fragrant. Pumpkin in a can of spray is nowhere near this natural one.

“Maybe,” she said. 

Both of us approached it warily. I have learned the hard way that once something makes its presence known by way of a foul odor, you have to think before reacting. I had been the unfortunate recipient of cleaning out the refrigerator and unearthing containers that held contents that once had good intentions of being used later. Refried beans are not your friend on day 237. And by all means, do not hastily remove the lid unless you are right over the garbage with a hazmat suit securely fastened. 

Now we stood in front of the most magical looking pretty display, trying to decide which one of us was going to pick it up. She knows she can outlast me, so of course, it would be me. 

All that glitters on the outside is not necessarily a good representation of what is really going on.

When I slowly moved it, I immediately saw the mold that started at the base and rapidly spread. Pieces of paint were falling off in the back as the green fuzz was making its attack. She leaned in to get a better look, and I turned it so she could see how bad it was. Right as I did, an enormous black spider jumped out from its hiding place, trying to dodge being squished into the afterlife.

I heard her scream, and when I looked, she was long gone, just like the spider. 

I could not stop laughing. 

“Where did it go?” She said from the farthest corner of the house. 

“I don’t know.” Dreaded words for one who is terrified of things that crawl. 

I had to throw away the decayed piece of produce, and she spent days looking over her shoulder for the escapee. 

God can bring resolution to the biggest and smallest of pain. And heaven has a way of providing it in the most perfect of ways. Even if the person who hurt you never apologizes, fractures can be mended. It may come in the form of a funny moment or a simple word spoken like this one in Psalm 71:20, 

Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth, you will again bring me up. (NIV) 

In addition, this is a steadfast promise of God’s faithfulness from Psalm 147:3: “He heals the brokenhearted and bandages up their wounds.” (NLT) 

Yep..I have talent in my house

A Miracle On 132nd Ave.

I slumped in the passenger seat as she backed down the driveway. I looked longingly at my house wishing I was wearing my over sized pajamas with a warm dog snuggled near me on each side.

I glanced at the clock.  It was 7:30 and we were already an hour late.

“I really don’t want to go to this,” I thought.

She had invited me to attend a prayer gathering at a home very close to mine.  It wasn’t the theme of the evening that was bothering me as much as it was that I didn’t want to be around people.  In my life, I have gone to many of these type of meetings with enthusiasm expecting for someone to give me a ‘word’.  However, I wasn’t much in the mood for a word, a sentence or even a paragraph.

Situations swirling around me regarding relationships, finances and the approaching pressure of the holidays was fully weighing me down.  I had gotten out of bed that morning feeling absolutely dead inside.  I was quickly finding out that my frustration at not being able to fix my problems was leading me quickly down the dark road of depression.  Every time I went inward, I felt an empty space of nothing.  On the one hand, I didn’t want to care about anything, and on the other I felt so grieved at the overwhelming loneliness I felt.

“If anyone has anything to say to me, they can say it, but I am not telling anyone what is going on with me.  If God has something to say, it will happen.”

“I would like Brad to pray for you while we are there,” she said.

I was fine with that, but I was not going to open up and let any one of these people in on my problems.  Either God was going to reach out and take hold of me or I was on my own.

I watched the streets go by as she followed her GPS and its instructions.  The drive was only eight minutes but it felt like an eternity.  I couldn’t wait to go back home and flop down in my despair with a cup of hot tea.

As we were turning toward our destination, I sent up this silent prayer,

“God, if you care about me, I need you to give me $1,000 in cash for Christmas.  I have nearly nothing left to give right now.”

For weeks, I had been running low on money but made choices to cut back on things to make it work.  At the same time, I kept getting small promptings to give where I could to put what I had into circulation to help combat the fear.  Yet, I knew I had obligations coming and the strain of it all was taking me down.

I had heard on the radio that the average American family spends $961.00 for gifts. I don’t know if I come close to that amount, but being in the position of not being able to give anything was part of my unhappy state.  The decorations and music in the stores were not helping.  Everything was simply reminding me that I was going to be left empty handed.

My friend parked her car and I stood by the driver’s side as she collected her purse.  I did not tell her that I asked God for money.

“I want this to be a night I remember,” I said.  “I hope this doesn’t waste my time.”

We walked into an empty upstairs but found about twenty people in the basement listening to a man speaking about how God could fix anything if you let it happen.   I watched as people went forward for prayer as he spoke positive, uplifting words.  We were trying to slip in quietly.  She found a seat near the front while I took one toward the back.  My intention was to sit and watch.

Without warning, the pastor turned toward me and said,

“Do you have needs?”

I thought he was looking at me, but I was hoping he wasn’t.  Two women who were seated in front of me shook their heads no, but then he said,

“The one in the pink.  Do you have needs?”  He pointed right at me.

There was no escaping it now.  I had worn the brightest pink hoodie in my entire collection.

I answered,

“Uh…. ya.”

“Do you want to get rid of them?”

I paused because I knew what was coming.

“Yes,” I said.

“Then come on up.”  Oh, boy, so much for sitting in the back and letting the evening go by.

I could feel my friend’s eyes on my back.

“Do you have a physical ailment?”

I shook my head no.

“Are you going to say what you need?”

I shook my head no.  I was holding to my vow in the car on the way over.  If God had something to say, then it would present itself without me giving out any information.

He began to speak, and his words pierced my heart. Two weeks before this, I had visited a church one evening and went into a room with two women who sat quietly for a few minutes praying and then began to speak.  They had told me that my future was ‘bright’ and that there was nothing to worry about.  They kept saying that I was going to be okay and not to worry or fall into despair.  His words greatly mirrored what I had already been told.  I felt my resolve crumbling as my pain, anger, frustration and sadness burst out of me.

I began to cry so hard I was paralyzed where I stood.  His wife came and took me to a couch where she continued to pray for me.  The only thing I felt in that moment was what I whispered,

“I feel forgotten.  I feel like I am all by myself, and I don’t matter anymore.”

As the evening went on, more people came up for prayer, and I was still not totally out of my funk.

I heard my friend say to a man across the room,

“I would like you to give a word to my friend Christine.”

I was still wallowing in a puddle of tears, so  I attempted to clean my face up which left all of my makeup on a tissue.

“This is Brad,” she said to me.  He was meeting me at probably one of the lowest times of my life.

He knelt down by my side, and I closed my eyes as he began to pray.

The one thing I recall that he said was this:

“God wants you to know John 14:27 is for you.”

John 14:27 says this:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

He said,

“It’s like your mind is racing at all times.  I see it going so fast and things coming and going in and out of your mind.”

Unknown to him, I was completely consumed with worry about my finances from the time my eyes would open in the morning.  I would get out of bed just to immerse myself in tasks to keep my mind off of it.

As he spoke, I felt myself relax because his words were ringing true. He called his wife over who was so joyful that no one could possibly stay sad in her presence. It was energy that was alive and contagious that only further erased my negative state of being.  It was like the two of them picked me up, stood me on my feet, brushed off the dirt and put me back on the road.

As she prayed for me, I noticed he put his hand over his heart, then he leaned over and whispered something in her ear.  She nodded and smiled and he got up and walked away.  I figured maybe he was leaving me in her care while he helped another.

Within moments, he returned with an envelope with my name written on it.

“We want to sow this into your life.”

I looked at it not fully understanding.  I eventually took it from him and put it in my purse.

The pain had disappeared, and I felt happier and more secure.  It’s difficult to describe an event when it is a spiritual experience.  But, much like having a surgery, I felt as if a toxin that was choking the life out of me had been removed.

After thanking those who had helped me, I got into my friend’s car and said,

“Oh, I have an envelope with something in it.”

“From who?”

“Brad and his wife Lori gave me this.”

As I slid my finger along the enclosed edge, I suddenly recalled my silent plea to God for $1,000 in cash on the way to meeting.

I carefully opened it and saw a $100 bill on top.  I slammed it shut.

“Oh my gosh!  Oh my gosh!  I think God did what I asked.  I think…”  I started crying again as I looked at and counted $1,000 cash, all in $100 bills, in my lap.

“WHAT!?” my friend said as she leaned over to see.  We headed for curbs and lawns as she tried to keep the car on the road.

I could not speak because I felt how much I was truly loved.  For you see, it wasn’t just about the money, it was about feeling that divine, strong, powerful connection between myself and the One who is unseen. My request to God was said as a sort of ultimatum that I thought would go unanswered.  I had asked for something to touch with my hands but it was so much more touching to my heart.

My faith was completely restored and in the past week since this event, I have found myself feeling more secure than ever and my problems seem to be more distant now than a heavy load on my back to carry.

I began to wonder the other day why I was able to have this prayer answered when I didn’t say a word to anyone about it.  I was immediately directed to this passage of scripture:

But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.  (Matthew 6:6 NLT)

What I did that night was I shut myself away from others and sent up a private request that only my Creator was aware of.  And, as I did so, my reward presented itself rather quickly. I encourage all of you that are weary to never give up, and to ask for supernatural help.  I had no idea that I would go into a stranger’s home for a mere two hours and come out the recipient of a miracle on 132nd Ave.

 

envelope

 

 

 

Eau De Oxiclean


When a bag of ice is in the trunk on a hot summer day and the trip from Walmart to home isn’t short, there is a sort of panic that ensues. No one wants to arrive home with a gigantic bag of water. In my haste last Sunday to unearth my ice from the thousands of Walmart bags I had carelessly piled on top of it, I grabbed my industrial sized jug of laundry soap and was holding it in one hand while attempting to grasp onto the bag that housed the ice. The large soap container slipped from my hold which I attempted to stop with my right foot. The bottle bounced and landed on its cap smacking the gargage floor sending a beautiful blue shower of fluid onto my new shoes, my ankles and both knee caps. It’s at times like this when a person loses all sense of speech and just keeps on repeating,

“Oh no. Oh no. Oh no,” while trying to reach down to stop the madness of the river forming around the feet.

The dilemma really was to try and get out of the blue puddle and race my fast melting purchase a few steps into the outside freezer without tracking detergent all over. At the same time, I was very aware of the sticky feeling that was beginning to happen between my toes. The ice took precedence as I skipped unhappily over to the refrigeratior to solve problem number one.

When I returned to the scene of the mess, my daughter came outside to help carry in more groceries. Because the liquid was right behind the trunk of my car, she had to keep her feet way back, reach in to grab more groceries and edge her way out without touching the glob. While she did this, I carefully picked up the container to attempt to clean it off and get it to the laundry room.

“I purposely picked out the bigger one with Oxiclean it. Now it’s all over the floor!” I said as I whisked into the house irritated at the circumstances.

While I was downstairs attending to the task, I heard the door to the kitchen open, and I heard her say,

“Trouble. Trouble Trouble.” Followed by a bit of running over ahead and then the sound of the faucet running.

It turned out, she had her run in with the soap as well. As she was trying to get more groceries out of the back, a large wrapped loaf of Italian bread took a dive into the puddle. I found the bread in the sink.

My hands and entire body reeked of detergent.

“Here. You hold the bag. I will use these tongs to slide the bread out without touching the bag, and I think we can save it.”

“My hands smell like laundry soap. I don’t think I can do it. I don’t want to ruin the bread.”

With the skills of a kitchen Ninja I carefully extracted the bread from the bag with the tongs without touching the afflicted bag. And, then it hit me.

Laughter. I was laughing so hard thinking about the two of us nearly running into each other in the garage and walking with my feet spread wide apart as if that would help anything. And it doesn’t. It never does, but I do it anyway to make myself feel better in those types of situations.

This then led me to recalling another time of chaos.

“Mom, I don’t feel good,” she had said just before bed. “I have a headache and my stomach feels weird.” I was exahusted from a full day of chores around the house, and I wanted to get to bed.

“Why don’t you sleep on my floor?” I made up a bed for her with pillows, extra bedding and a basin in case of an emergency.

“Just try to go to sleep. I will be back in a minute. I have dishes to clean up.”

Within moments of being in the kitchen, I heard my bedroom door open. I knew instinctively that something was amiss. Our black lab, Shady, thought my daughter was coming out to play. While I attempted to get to my daughter, the dog lept in my way.

Dog and daughter collided in the hallway and suddenly there was vomit all over the back end of that dog! My daughter scampered into the bathroom while the dog ran crazily into my other daughter’s bedroom, jumped on her BRAND NEW comforter and began rolling around on it. I stood in the hallway not knowing which way to go first. Do I get the dog off of my upset teenager’s bed, or do I go rescue the one in the bathroom?

I opted to check on the one who threw up while hearing the other one yell,

“What is happening?!?!”

The next step was to get the dog calmed down which wasn’t easy. Once in insane play mode at over 80 pounds, she was difficult to harness. I finally grabbed her by the collar and dragged her into the tub. She abhored baths and thought of them as punishment, so to make her feel better, I got in with her and turned on the water. She sat down looking defeated and dumbstruck. How had playtime turned into bath time? As I began scrubbing her down, I began to laugh so hard I was crying. Her face looked so dejected.

It had been months since I had really had a genuine good laugh. I had just come through a horrible divorce where grief and pain greeted me each day as a reminder that my life seemed like a failure. There was no room for joy as I went through the motions of trying to get to everyone and everything. The more I laughed, the more depressed the dog looked which made me laugh more.

Once the dog was dry and escaped the bathroom happily, the ill child was sleeping peacefully, and I had loaded the dirty bedding into the washer, I felt relaxed. It was nearly 2 am before I got to bed, but I went to sleep that night feeling that some of the sadness had departed from my spirit. I was on my way to healing.

I believe it is in the moments of what we would call ‘insanity’ that many of us come to realize we need to find our sense of humor. If we don’t find it, it may just come calling for us. Joy snaps us out of a place of despair and connects us again to the One who wants to see us happy.

I decided not to wash off the smell of the laundry soap. It’s my new scent.  Eau De Oxiclean. (That may be French.  I am not sure)

laundry