Vision

My parents smoked many cigarettes when the surgeon general wasn’t involved with warning labels.

“We were told it was only dangerous in that it would stunt a person’s growth,” my mom said.

Then the world should be full of short people.

Obviously, this was a myth that kept many citizens puffing away, all the while making their lungs turn black.

“Once we found out that it could cause more health issues, we quit.”

Well, sort of.

My dad traded the death sticks over to smoking a pipe. I remember seeing it hanging out of his mouth while he was sawing something in half, driving a nail into a board, or in the stands watching me play softball.

“I love the smell of that,” many of my friends would say.

While some were impressed by his habit, my mom was not. Usually, she summed it up in one word:

“Ick.”

Part of the reason for her dislike of this was that he would leave pipes all over the house. The basement, outside, or anywhere he felt he was going to need to smoke, he would leave one for later. His dresser was always a mess with a few of them there.

I would often hear him say to her,

“Have you seen my pipe?”

“Which one? You have a million of them.”

He would start looking, unhappily wasting his time when he could be outside doing something else. She would leave for a few seconds, unable to deal with his mumbling during the rescue mission.

“Here. I found one,” she would say, handing him what he had been trying to find.

It took me a while to catch on, but I figured out that she would, in an attempt to keep the clutter down, move all of them into one central location that he wasn’t aware of.

While he would happily leave with it in his possession, thinking she was the best locator of missing items, she knew exactly where they were all along.

Their relationship had small, built-in devices like that, where she got her way without him realizing it.

“When we were first married, he wanted to go sit at a bar with his friends and leave me at home. He did this before we were together, but I wasn’t in favor of that once we got married, and I told him. He refused to listen to me. So one Friday night, I got dressed up and told him I was going out without him.”

I knew he had been extremely protective of her. He had never gotten over witnessing her dance with another guy after he had said no while they were dating. Having her about to leave him in her dust to go off to a shady place on a Friday night set him off into panic mode.

She had been raised in a small town, which made him consider her naive and unable to handle herself in the “real” world. He would always say to me,

“I met her right after she fell off the turnip truck.” Or, “She is a country bumpkin that just fell out of a wagon.”

Then he would laugh while she shook her head. He had no idea how much she actually used all that to her advantage. He believed she was not up to his speed while quietly she got him to do her bidding, believing that it was his own idea. So, who was the turnip?

Seeing her about to leave him brought on a meltdown.

“He would not let me leave. He stood in front of the door, refusing to move. I had made the whole thing up to see what he would do. I never told him I didn’t have plans, but he got so upset by it, he said he wouldn’t leave me sitting at home alone ever again.”

There was a reason why she had done this.

“His friends were wild and not married yet, so I didn’t want him out there acting like them and coming home drunk. I felt this would eventually ruin everything, so that’s why I did it. He would not listen to me, so I thought to myself..I will show you. It worked. He knew what men were like at bars back then, and he couldn’t bear the idea of me being on display. We came to an agreement that we would go places together to guard our marriage at the beginning.”

Her tactic was to get him to see her point of view without saying a word as she was about to walk out the door with no place to go.

She became a full-time mom when all the kids started showing up. This didn’t stop her from educating herself regarding the latest health problems and their causes.

Because I ended up being with her the most as the others grew up and moved out, I was often involved in her findings of what was considered cutting-edge information.

“It says here that steak can harm your arteries.”

She was like a sponge when she read the newspaper, learning as she had extra time with fewer children to deal with.

For some reason, I had no idea that she had discovered that smoking a pipe had been linked to lip, tongue, and cheek cancer. This bothered her so much that she demanded he quit. She couldn’t use her usual technique of getting him to see things her way with a bait and switch approach. He just needed to believe her on this one.

Now we know it to be accurate, but at the time, it wasn’t prevalent knowledge, so it could be easily dismissed as “it won’t ever happen to me.”

One night from work, I came home and parked my car in the garage.

He kept his vehicle outside and gave me his spot—another perk of being born last, way after everyone else.

While my siblings had to leave their cars in the driveway in the heat of summer or blizzards of winter, he moved out so I could move in. I had grandparents at that point.

On that particular night that I pulled in, I heard a loud crunching sound near my front wheel on the driver’s side. I immediately stopped, jumped out, and saw a plastic bag sticking out from my tire.

I backed up with more crunching.

I got out, picked up the bag, and saw that I had crushed his pipes. I had no idea where they had come from. These were on their way to the graveyard with no way to save them. The back and forth over them had murdered them.

I thought nothing of it. I didn’t do it on purpose, and I knew he had more somewhere. I parked and took the bag inside. It was summer with the air running at top speed, and the house was closed up, so she hadn’t heard me come home.

She was in the living room reading. She looked up and said,

“What do you have in your hand?”

I held up the bag.

“I think I ran over some of dad’s pipes.”

Her mouth popped open. I got worried for a minute, thinking she was mad at me. I knew that familiar look where her eyebrows met in the middle, and her eyes looked like they could kill.

“He told me he quit!”

Oh. So I wasn’t in trouble, then? But, there was another storm ready to blow up.

She flew by me, snatched the bag, and stomped out the door.

“John! Where are you?”

Just run! I wanted to send him a message telepathically.

She was taking this outside where the neighbors might hear? She was seeing red.

I walked over to the window and saw him trying to develop some sort of explanation. She was an infuriated country bumpkin.

I opened the window slightly to hear what stellar excuse he was going to give.

“How many more of these do you have?” She said, shaking the pieces in the bag.

I knew she was coming at him for a good reason, but I felt a little guilty, like I had just walked him to the executioner.

“That’s all I had left. I put them in the garage so I could still have some without you knowing.”

Cringe. Not good.

“This is it?”

“Yes. I had them hidden, and I must have left them out. When she pulled in, they fell under her tire.”

A coincidence? I don’t think so.

I watched her walk over to the garbage and throw them away.

“I promise that’s it. I don’t have anymore.”

She noticed that I felt responsible for their argument when she came back in.

“God used you, Chris. Don’t feel bad about that. It was supposed to happen.”

I didn’t fully get it.

He stuck to his word, even though it was difficult at times getting past the craving for it, but his marriage was higher up on the priority list. And in the end, her urgency to get him to stop freed him from suffering consequences that would have been terrible.

Sometimes you can sense the detrimental while the other person can’t.

That is how God works. Everything is seen from a viewpoint that we might not always understand. Throw in our free will, then we can ignore that still small voice and go on our way, thinking we know it all.

God will place people in your life to be seers. They may come in different shapes and styles, but they are there for your good, prompting you to come up higher and dodging around hazards you may not think are harmful because it’s a habit. Or you are just plain ignorant. Yes, I said it.

The Holy Spirit is described this way in John 16:13:

But when the Friend comes, the Spirit of the Truth, he will take you by the hand and guide you into all the truth there is. He won’t draw attention to himself, but will make sense out of what is about to happen. (Message)

If you aren’t making yourself available to hear God’s message to you, someone will be sent, motivated by heaven, to try to wake you up to what you need to know. This is not punishment or condemnation, but to illuminate something you are not seeing or paying attention to.

From my experience, I don’t walk away feeling dejected or scolded but instead empowered to deal with an issue that was dragging me down spiritually, like fear or worry. A person looking out for your highest well-being is often a messenger, and you might not understand that at first.

In Isaiah 55:9, there is a reason why we might not get it right away:

For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than yours, and my thoughts than yours. (TLB)

Just like it was believed that smoking cigarettes would hinder a person’s height, not heeding what God is gently trying to tell you will slow down your walk to an elevated place, moving in the direction you are supposed to go. When we cling to what is familiar and not useful, refusing to embrace the truth and shutting the door, God will come through another way.

That is how much heaven wants you to achieve your life purpose and protect you from harm.

When you are blind, it is a promise that a helper will come to get your attention and give you the needed direction and vision.

Blowing Smoke

I unpacked my overnight bag and immediately put the items into the wash with extra soap poured on for good measure. My hair reeked of the smell, but I couldn’t throw myself in with the clothes so a different kind of scrubbing was needed.

Any type of establishment that allows smoking inside the premises leaves its trace long after one has departed. Standing outside in hurricane type gales would not even do the trick to remove the odor.

So it was after a night away that I found myself hurriedly transferring the offensive garments to the machine and thanking myself for quitting the habit at the age of eleven .

What would have happened to me if I would have let it take hold? I wondered.

One day while at a friends house, unattended by any responsible adult, we were left to our own devices.  I was sitting in the living room when she rounded the corner with a lit cigarette between her long skinny fingers.  She sat down next to me, handed me one and said,

“Here.  Try this.”

“Where did you get this from?” I asked.

“My mom’s room. She doesn’t even know when I take some.”

I felt a slight twinge in my stomach.  I wasn’t the type to steal, lie or do anything that suggested shadiness.  However, before I knew it, I had white puffs coming out of my mouth that I was trying to fashion into different shapes.

I didn’t go into a coughing rage or choking fit.  I watched what she did, repeated it and took one drag after another.  Once down to the end of it, we both ran them under cold water and threw them outside into the trash.

That is when the guilt hit.  I had just smoked a cigarette!  All the way home, I wondered,

Would they smell it on me?  Would I look different when I walked in?  Would my mother look me in the eye and know what I had been up to?  

Anxiety overwhelmed me as I strode in the door and made a quick turn into my bedroom.

That entire evening as I ate dinner, worked on my homework and changed into my pajamas, I prepared myself mentally for the bomb to drop.  Nothing happened.

The next day I found myself in the same set of circumstances and the days to follow.  Soon, it was becoming a regular afternoon occurrence to which she invited another girl to join us.  My worries became non-existent as my confidence grew that my parents did not have a clue as to what I was doing.  I generally limited myself to one, but with the three of us smoking in the same room, it would get hazy fairly quickly.

One evening, while eating dinner, my dad said,

“I bet when Chris grows up she is going to smoke.”

It was like he jabbed a hot poker into my chest.

“Why?  What? No I wouldn’t.”

He slurped down a spaghetti noodle and said,

“I think you will.”

I became instantly angry with him for unfairly judging me.

“I would not!  I will not smoke!” I raised my voice much louder than I normally would.

How dare he look across the table and decide what I was going to do when I was an adult? Then, I remembered.  I was already smoking.

“I think you will, ” he said again.  “And anger shows guilt.”

It was like the ceiling fell on top of me.

He knew!  He knew!  How did he know?  I thought I had covered my tracks carefully by spraying myself with perfume and chomping on mint gum.

“When someone is angry like that it shows they are guilty.”

“I am not guilty,” I said looking at my carrots on my plate.

My mom saw how upset I was getting, so she added,

“She won’t smoke.  Smoking is bad for your health.  Chris is too smart for that.”

Oh, boy.  I finished my meal and slunked away.

The following day when I was offered a cigarette, I declined.

“I think my mom and dad might know,” I told her.  “I am quitting right now.”

For a few weeks I was ridiculed by the two smoking partners, but the situation changed when the thief was caught stealing from her mother’s stash.  Fortunately, I was not a part of their group that had grown to a club of eight.  I guess, lifting one or two goes unnoticed, but that amount got her into trouble.

The subject was never discussed in my household again until I was in my twenties.

“How did you know I was smoking?” I asked my dad.

“What do you mean?”

“You know. That time I was sitting at the table and you kept saying I was going to smoke when I grew up, and I got mad. You said anger shows guilt.”

“I was just joking.  You were smoking?”

“Yes!  And, I thought you knew I was so I quit the next day because I thought you were on to me.”

“No.  I was teasing you.”

“You and mom really didn’t know what I was doing?”

“Nope.”

I am grateful to this day for the intervention of an unseen source on my behalf.   We hear of statistics of many dying from lung cancer due to this, and yet if you stop in traffic long enough and glance around, chances are you will see someone who has gotten caught into the addiction.  Most likely, someone made the offer and they took it.  Just like I did.

The other day while in the grocery store, the cashier said,

“You don’t drink pop?”

She held up a bottle of an antioxidant fruit beverage.

“No.  I quit drinking it.  And, that is my substitution.”

“Is it good?”

“Yes, but quitting wasn’t easy.  I am okay now, but it took a few days.”

“I know how that goes.  I quit smoking a year ago.  Cold turkey.  I decided one day not to do it anymore, and I had been smoking for awhile.  I started before my teens.”

“You quit without any type of help?”

“Yes.  My mom told me I would never be able to do it.”

I asked the obvious,

“Does your mom smoke?”

“Oh, yes, really bad.”

“That is why she told you that you couldn’t do it because if you were successful, then she would have no excuse not to quit too.”

Once out in the parking lot, I thought about the power of that mother smoking and discouraging her daughter from doing something healthy.  What a triumph to overcome the cigarettes in the face of such adversity.  Not everyone has the “I will show you” attitude.  In fact, many of us shrink down under the presence of a negative thinker with a bad outlook on life, and we take on their pessimistic stench.

How many times have you gone into an environment in a peaceful state and were inundated with harsh words, a sharp bark or a put down only to find your sunny disposition gone within seconds? Suddenly, the world is dark and unfavorable.  The next thing you know you have a headache or some other sort of pain in your body, and maybe a whole week goes by where you find yourself depressed and out of sorts. All because you allowed someone else’s foul ideas to permeate your spirit.

Here is a possible solution to not living like that anymore.

Above all else, guard your heart,
    for everything you do flows from it.
24 Keep your mouth free of perversity;
    keep corrupt talk far from your lips.
25 Let your eyes look straight ahead;
    fix your gaze directly before you.
26 Give careful thought to the[c] paths for your feet
    and be steadfast in all your ways. (Proverbs 4:23-26;NLT)

Here we are given a wonderful answer to how we can combat and protect ourselves from being pulled into the opinion or drama of another.  If we stay connected closely to the Creator and only exist to please heaven, then one can remain on the outside of the mess without stepping into it.  A love filled relationship with God provides a way for us to see the genuine goodness of life and avoid those who are just blowing smoke.

 

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A Breath of Fresh Air

I pushed my overflowing cart into the room just as she gasped.

“Help!’ she gurgled. Slumping back onto her pillows that were piled up behind her head, she reached her hand out to me. I put down my squirt bottle and walked over to her side.

That is when the coughing started. Not the simple clearing of the throat, but a lung rattling never ending choke that made her grip my hand all the more.

Then, when the moment had passed, the sound of fluid in her lungs began again as she struggled for oxygen. Her eyes wide with fear she said,

“Help me.”

“You are okay,” I said softly. On the outside I put on the best comforting face I could and placed my other hand over hers, but on the inside, I was horrified by what I was witnessing.

With those words I saw her relax a little just before a second round of a choking fit overtook her.

“Please,” she cried in between the paralyzing coughs and gasps. “I can’t breathe! Help!” The more she panicked, the worse her symptoms raged.

I pushed the call button to summon the nursing staff. I had seen this type of situation before but not this severe. I had begun working at the nursing home at age sixteen, and I was about a year into seeing people at the end stage of life. Contrast this with going to high school, and I was living in two worlds. While the elderly were clinging to life and some wished they had more time, many of my so called peers were on their way to destroying their existence with drugs and alcohol and thought they were going to live forever.

The nurse arrived quickly.

“How are we doing?” she asked.

Always a bright light in most situations, I was glad she was the one working this particular shift. No matter how dire the circumstance, she seemed to bring peace when she spoke to the patients.

“I can’t breathe,” the woman replied with all her strength.

“You can breathe. Just slow down a little and it will help. The harder you struggle, and the more worried you get, the more it feels like you can’t breathe.”

She adjusted the tube under the nose, turned up the oxygen a notch and administered something to relieve the situation. I walked out into the hallway to grab cleaning supplies from my cart.

As she walked past me, I said,

“I feel bad for her. That seems so miserable.”

“She has a lot of fluid in her lungs. She has emphysema from all her years of smoking. When she can’t take a deep breath it makes her panic because she feels like she is drowning.  I gave her the medication the doctor ordered to help her relax a little.”

I returned to the room to find her quiet and only coughing occasionally. I silently went about my work so I wouldn’t disturb her. As I wiped down her dresser, I could see her reflection in the mirror. She was so vulnerable and frail looking with her eyes closed and her labored breathing interrupted by a torrent of rumbling in her chest.  I carefully moved all of her items, dusted and put everything back in its place.  I watered her flowers that the family had brought in, straightened up clothing on a chair, and emptied the waste basket.  Any little movement or sound from her made me look in her direction to be sure she was okay.

I noticed her window was dirty, so I began to spray it with cleaner.  Her view overlooked the parking lot, so as I scrubbed, I could see various staff coming and going.  The back door to the building opened, and the nurse who had just given such good care to the ailing lady exited.  Much to my shock, I watched as she pulled out a pack of cigarettes, lit one and smoked away as if she hadn’t just cared for someone who was on her deathbed.  I stood there with my paper towel roll in mid-air as a coughing fit seized the woman in bed and the nurse happily puffed away in the parking lot smiling and talking to a fellow co-worker smoker.

I could not make sense of it, and to this day the vivid memory haunts me.  I realize addiction exists but what does it take to wake us up to the reality that the decisions we make determine the quality and direction of our path? I am sure the woman confined to her bed would have loved to rewind the clock at that moment and go back to make different choices. She would have given anything to take one, long, deep, satisfying intake of air.  But, would she?  If given another shot, would she soon get swept up in the habit again which would only lead to the same result?

We engage in activities knowing full well that they lead to our own destruction.   I’m not just talking about smoking or over eating. What about worrying? Uncontrolled anger? Jealousy? Judgment? Resentment? Unforgiveness? Fear? Our emotions can be just as detrimental to our physical well being as ingesting a poisonous substance. And, if we feed on the negative thoughts long enough, it can ultimately lead to early death.

In addition, even if the end doesn’t come, living with dark thoughts and attitudes is just as miserable as the woman who couldn’t breathe.  Life becomes confined to a small space where depression and mental torment become the normal.  If this condition is left to go on you become just like the woman who could not escape her own failing lungs.

The good news is this: we have choices.  It may not seem like we do. We want to make excuses for ourselves and say we can’t help the decisions we make.  But we will always have the ultimate say about the direction we are heading.   We can put down the fork. We can extinguish the cigarette.  We can chose to forgive even if the other person is a real piece of work.  There is an important passage that says: Death and life are in the power of your tongue. Choose life!

Speak blessings instead of complaining.  Give someone a compliment instead of a put down.  Start with one little thing and build on it day by day until the light penetrates the dark.  It may take effort.  It doesn’t happen necessarily overnight to rewire ourselves.

“But, I can’t do it on my own. I am not strong enough.”

To this, there is another answer and it isn’t a pill, potion or a puff of something.  Look to the One who created you.  Yes, it is as easy as that.  There doesn’t have to be a long list of rules to follow. There just has to be a simple asking for help and a willing heart that seeks better.  Heaven will respond because you are loved that much.

Similar to opening up a window to let in a gentle breeze that blows away the staleness, inhale the goodness that has been there for you all along. Now, isn’t that a breath of fresh air?

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