No Way

“Can you open your mouth like a big girl?” She asked. The hygienist couldn’t have been any nicer, but she was up against a rebel.

She had even put sunglasses on her so that the light above her head wouldn’t hurt her eyes.

“I just need to count all of your teeth.”

I watched as she clamped her lips tighter together and shook her head no.

“You have to let her help you,” I said, thinking I could convince her.

This was the first time I had taken my youngest daughter to the dentist for an exam and cleaning, and her two-year-old plus self wanted nothing to do with it.

Between this lady and me, we went around and around with her for thirty minutes. Her mouth stayed slammed shut. Finally, she said,

“I don’t think she is going to cooperate. You will have to reschedule. I have another client coming, and we need this exam room.”

This little girl had just pushed my patience farther than anyone had ever. Her sister always complied, and I had never seen this brick wall behavior before.

I was trying not to say a word even though I could not believe that a preschooler was running the show. I expected her to act better than that.

The minute we got outside of the suite and into an empty hallway, she threw the nuclear bomb.

“That was easy,” she said with a slight smile.

If she had stayed quiet or said she was scared, that would have been a different story.

I could not believe she so casually said that. Where had she possibly gotten such a stubborn nature from? The apple hadn’t fallen that far from the tree, but I didn’t recognize it then.

I could not contain myself any longer. In a yell whisper, I said,

“You will never do that again. When someone asks you to do something, you will do it.”

I saw that what I was saying wasn’t sinking in, so I added,

“I’m skipping the toy store. I was going to take you there after this, but you didn’t let her look at your teeth.”

That struck a nerve. I started walking toward the exit.

“I will go back in! Please!”

“It’s too late. They have other people coming now.”

She was in anguish all the way home. I was hoping she was learning something, but it was hard to tell with this one.

The following week when we returned, she did everything that was asked of her, and I then took her to Toys R Us.

For years, it was a reward for her following upsetting times like when she had to go to the doctor for immunizations. And it held happy memories like when she had been given money to spend. Even though other stores had the same products, the glistening aisles, and the giraffe meant the world to her.

When they announced their bankruptcy and possible closure, she followed every scrap of information to see if there would be a last minute rescue operation.

On the day that the founder and original owner died, the company made it public that they were going out of business for good. It was reported that the people who had taken it over had run it directly into the ground, and there wouldn’t be any saving it.

As the emptying of the building progressed, everything was on sale. One night we went to see what was left. Light fixtures and shelving were everywhere, waiting to be purchased. What had held such great memories for her looked empty and lonely.

As we were leaving, she saw a shopping cart.

“I want that,” she said.

“Really? Why?”

“It’s from here.” It was a way to hang on to something from her childhood.

We found an employee, and $35 later, she was the proud owner of the big blue cart.

I opened the back of my car and flipped both seats down. Neither one of us had any clue how we were going to fit it in. We tried shoving it in one way, and it got stuck. For sure, we reasoned, if we jam it in the other way, it will slide right in. It was not working no matter what we did. At one point, I went into the store to see if they had any tools. I was going to try and take it apart.

“We don’t have tools. We sold them.”

Of course.

I went back to the car where she was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

After an hour, I had visions of her pushing it home. I looked up how long it would take. An hour and forty minutes seemed a bit steep. There were sidewalks along the way, and when I mentioned it, she paused her attempt at getting it into my car. Her eyes were wild, and I saw sweat on her brow. The look I got was piercing and somewhat scary.

“No! I keep seeing myself doing that! I’m not doing that!”

I started laughing as I saw it more clearly in my mind. Her schlepping it all the way home would look a lot like she was wandering the streets homeless.

“I will drive slow and follow you,” I suggested trying not to laugh more.

“NO!”

I could not stop laughing. I don’t know if the summer heat was getting to me mixed with desperation or what.

What happened next is still unexplainable, but she snapped and suddenly wasn’t willing to play this game anymore. Similar to when a pregnant lady lifts a car off of someone pinned underneath it, she gathered together her strength and applied it to this situation.

With a forceful shove and a primal-like scream, it popped right in. She stomped off to get into the front seat. She had somehow solved the puzzle, like a Rubix Cube. I was astonished she had done it by herself.

“How did you get that in there?” I said, pulling out of the parking lot.

“I don’t know. I got angry, and it went in as it should have over an hour ago!”

I laughed, thinking of the alternative if it hadn’t.

Once I pulled into the garage, I figured it would be easy for us to remove it, but I was wrong. We were right back at square one.

“What is with this thing!” I said. More perspiration and it not budging. Now I was getting worried.

“What if we can’t get this out? I will have to drive around with a Toys R Us cart in the back of my car forever!”

“Stop!” She said, trying to catch her breath.

Her sister wandered out to help.

“How did you get this in there?”

“We don’t know,” I said.

All three of us put in our best effort from various angles. My concern was growing exponentially, and there wasn’t any way to take this molded piece of plastic apart.

“What if I have to sell my car someday? Who is going to want this?”

I could see the ad: It even comes with a shopping cart!

“Stop!” She said again, with her irritation charging off the charts.

I stood back to observe. I was at a total loss. It was like one of those moments when you wished it was a bad dream.

“I’m going in the house for a minute,” I said.

I realized that looking at the mess we were in wasn’t helping me solve the dilemma, and I had to get away from it.

I had read so many books that had discussed the benefits of visualization and seeing the outcome. I sat on the couch, closed my eyes, and imagined her coming in the door telling me she had figured it out. I felt like this was more productive than me watching and worrying.

Within a very short while, the door opened, and she said,

“I got it out!” Exactly what I saw in my imagination.

Like birthing a baby with sheer determination, she had single-handedly yanked it out of my car.

“You did?”

“Yes!” And she collapsed in a heap on the floor. She was more mentally tired than anything.

This speaks to what we are capable of if we put our mind to it. Each one of us can overcome every obstacle that comes our way. She kept trying no matter how much effort was required, and I removed myself to help her more.

In Isaiah 40:29 it says:

He gives power to the faint and weary, and to him who has no might, He increases strength, causing it to multiply and making it abound. (AMP)

I knew that my negativity and fear were not helping, so I turned my attention inward to what we wanted instead of what we didn’t want.

In Hebrews 11:1, it is described like this:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

I saw what hadn’t happened yet, and then it materialized. I sat in the comfort of my air-conditioned house without stress or strain and saw the best images I possibly could.

Each of us has been given the ability to overcome anything if we are willing to apply our faith. To the unsuspecting eye, it looked like I had fallen asleep in the living room, but I was putting in as much work as she was.

The combination of her not giving up and me seeing the solution freed us from all toil. Our repeated actions were not making any difference, and it wasn’t until I tried something else we made progress.

When tenacity is combined with the simple act of prayer, heaven seems to suddenly jump into action to make a way where there seems to be no way.

The Puzzle
Looks so simple…

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…

Surprise Party

“I want to go in there,” she said.

This has become a familiar phrase over the years, and when it’s stated, I know that something that its original owner has long forgotten is going to be in her hands.

It’s always the same smell—the opposite of new car scent. Everything assaults the senses at the door for me. When I first started to frequent second-hand shops with her, I always said,

“I’m looking at dead people’s stuff.”

I just couldn’t get past the idea that those 1970 avocado green coffee cups had once graced Aunt Myrtle’s kitchen counter. Or Olga’s mustard yellow crockpot had seen its final potluck when the grim reaper showed up, halting all the fun. I easily could put faces and names to all the merchandise.

The dusty burgundy brandy glasses had seen Helen’s last toast, and that super ugly lamp in the corner had gone dark after many days of illuminating the room so Fred could read the evening newspaper. Uncle Bud’s collection of beer bottle caps testify to the world that he liked to drink in excess while his team lost, and the ax leaning against the wall that once had given George calloused hands as he chopped wood is on clearance.

The ladle that great-grandma Beatrice used every Thanksgiving for her thick, bland gravy is up for grabs alongside cousin Lucille’s flour sifter and canister set with the yellow daffodils. Who could pass up on Sir Edward the Third’s favorite smoking jacket and Philip’s baseball cards that he had gotten with his first pack of gum? And then there’s the hatpin Betsy fastened neatly before her monthly book club meeting and Richard’s flashing neon man cave signs that have a bit of mid-life crisis attached to them.

I could go on, but besides envisioning the dearly departed, I could only think of one word: hoarding.

And there’s always these extra rooms and signs with arrows pointing to another secret passage that say: more, more, more!

In almost every visit, I have gone into lower levels where it seems like you are intruding into someone’s basement that got stuck in a time machine. Like a dungeon with concrete walls all around. It doesn’t help when you say to yourself,

“This feels like I am descending into hell.”

And the person who placed items for purchase thought it was a great idea to put all the rubber masks right at the bottom of the creaky stairs. So you are greeted by eyeless sockets.

She always gravitates toward the toy section because this is why we are there in the first place. As a successful creator on YouTube, she searches for more props to utilize in future videos. She is also highly skilled at resurrecting the dead through hair restoration and giving new meaning to dolls long fallen by the wayside. Once it’s in her possession, she will provide it with the best home and a life’s purpose.

I try to preoccupy myself with browsing through the items I once owned as a child and now are considered “vintage”. That sounds nicer than ancient.

How reckless were adults to give us real wooden objects to build with and risk getting a sliver? Or paint that contained unknown ingredients had we eaten possibly could have caused severe side effects? We lived on the edge then, I guess.

I have gotten more comfortable as time has rolled by. I try to block out the idea of the deceased and see it as a warehouse for second chances. I still have to combat a lot of sensations, and if I get too overloaded in a space, I move on to another one. My first indication of needing to keep moving is dizziness and a bit of disorientation.

We recently visited a busy store, and I struggled with feeling overwhelmed by all the stuff. As my daughters and I rounded a corner, she appeared with the most dazzling smile.

“Aren’t you girls finding anything fun?”

“Not yet,” I said.

She was beaming.

“There is a lot of good things in here. I was the owner, but I sold the place to my son. I’m 87 years old, and it was time. He has taken over and done way beyond what I did, and I am very proud of him.”

“You do not look your age at all,” I said.

“You are in the will!” She quickly replied.

“What do I get? All of this?” I said, sweeping my hand around as they do on game shows over all the prizes.

She threw her head back and laughed.

“Do you know what keeps me going?”

“No.”

“Fireball whiskey. I was given a huge jug of it, and it was so big it had a handle on it.”

“Did you get through the entire thing?”

“Of course I did!” More radiance.

I don’t recall how we got around to guessing my age, but she put me back into my 40s. She was close, but not quite. She went on to guess the ages of my girls. She couldn’t talk enough about her family living abroad in various countries.

“Would you ever go see them?”

“I don’t want to travel alone.”

Her husband had passed on.

“He had the best sense of humor. We got along so well, and it’s important to laugh in life.”

“And drink whiskey.”

“You are definitely in the will!”

Surprisingly, we left without a purchase, but then hours later, my daughter regretted not listening to her inward leading toward a particular doll.

“I can go back with you tomorrow.”

“I hope it will still be there.”

This is the one who always gives me the “look” when I am at a cross-road decision on something, and she knows I am supposed to have it.

“Angels are guarding it. God will make sure you have it.”

The next day was much quieter and calmer. Her prized possession was still waiting on the shelf, and she decided that there were some others worth looking at in locked cases.

While she stood by what she needed to view, I went to the desk where a woman was pricing merchandise.

“Can I help you?”

“I need key 21 to unlock a case.”

She turned and spoke to a man who I recognized from the night before.

“If you get me the key, I can help them,” he said.

When he came over to us, I asked,

“I met the former owner last night. Are you the son who took over?”

He laughed.

“I am not her son, but I did buy it from her at the beginning of the year. She always refers to me as her son, and it’s so nice of her to do that.”

She was a sharp person, so it wasn’t a case of dementia. She truly counted him as her child.

“I am in her will now,” I said.

“Get in line. She says that to everyone.”

“She had nothing but good things to say about you. You took what she started and are making it even better.”

He pointed to a poster on the wall. The business had earned one of this year’s Best Awards, meaning it was voted as a number one place to visit in the area.

“I did that already, and we aren’t slowing down.”

With both cases laid out on the counter, my daughter began looking through the piles of clothes and accessories. The lady who had been marking items now was watching.

“She restores things,” I said.

“I do too. I redesign old clothing. I have a big room I work in at home, and it passes the time since my husband isn’t around anymore.”

I saw a man standing behind her with his hand on her left shoulder.

“My husband Barry died eight years ago.”

“You know he is standing right next to you. You can feel that, right?”

It’s getting harder lately not to let it be said, and the words seem to fly out of my mouth before I know they are going to.

“Oh, yes! Right here,” she said, pointing to the spot where I could see him. You can’t spend that much time with a person and have them just disappear forever.”

“You are right. I’m glad you know it.”

“He was diagnosed with throat cancer, and we were told that it would be easily cured. Well, it wasn’t. It was a big shock when he passed on. But his alarm clock went off every morning when he used to get up for work. Even if I turned it off, it would wake me up the next morning. He has never left me.”

I know she misses him, but she also seemed very peaceful about it. I guess she has come to accept what is, but the feeling that he is near also is helpful.

God just keeps showing me more as I ask for it. There’s a scripture that says in 1 Corinthians 15:55-57:

O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”(ESV)

I can say that when you know that someone has advanced on and they are at peace, it makes grieving easier. You miss them, but like in this woman’s case, she can still sense him around. I keep having similar experiences.

The night before my birthday last summer, I was in a store by the bakery waiting with my daughter. She was having the worker write a message on a cake. When it was handed off to her, this older woman came out of nowhere, leaned in, and read it out loud to me with much emphasis:

“Happy 53rd Birthday, mom!”

Like loud, like my mom would have. And her body language and clothing were in full mother mode. Then she disappeared into the masses.

The next day, on my birthday, while I was standing outside a building looking at flowers, a man walked right up behind me and started singing Happy Birthday at the top of his lungs in this super booming low voice. He sang it all the way to his car. About a week before that, I had said,

“Mom, I want you to sing Happy Birthday to me.”

I had forgotten I had requested it until he was yelling it practically into my hair!

While driving home that day, I recalled that we would see my grandparents on some of my birthdays in North Dakota. They always saved one firework for me.

In Minnesota, the powers that be don’t think we can handle it, so it’s illegal. But not there. Apparently, the residents have better eye-hand coordination in that state.

I told my girls that I always had one bottle rocket or something sent skyward to commemorate another year.

Later, after I got home, I thought I heard a muffled pop. This was way past the 4th. I went out the front door to see the biggest explosion of color rain down over my house. That was it—just one.

“Thanks, mom,” I said, going back in.

I think we have put the afterlife into a confined space to make it more acceptable. Many people have a low-level fear that keeps them from seeing clearly, and then the sadness of grief gets piled on.

The preoccupation with loss blocks some vital heavenly signs from being seen or heard. And, while it seems like something has been taken, it has been transformed into better. That doesn’t mean there won’t be tears, but there also can be laughter which is just as healing. And those who have walked through the door, we all will someday, wish us joy.

I have gotten used to not being able to explain anything, and the more I allow it, God keeps sending extra my way.

I can’t say I’m okay with all of it at times, especially if it’s something really extraordinary and out there, but I have decided to do this from Proverbs 3:5-6:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight. (NIV)

It is a little scary to live like this, casting yourself totally into the care of heaven. But it also is so fun at times that I can’t imagine living without it. It sets you apart from the trivial cares and traps that are easily laid before us.

It helps you understand and see everything at a higher level of existence so you can drop away from those things that really don’t matter.

In some ways, it’s like being the unsuspecting victim of something good happening. Like when all your friends decide to secretly plan something that you will be the center of attention. You walk into a room expecting one thing, and then they all jump out of hiding. It takes the mind a minute to accept it, but then you realize this has been done for you. Once the shock wears off, you see it for what it really is.

You never know where God will show up next, who you will cross paths with, and how you will be spiritually awakened further by the next surprise party.

Best Advice

“Pick someone in the room that you think God wants you to talk to.”

This wasn’t my usual Saturday morning, but I chose to attend a workshop to learn how to hear from heaven more acutely. I wasn’t the only one as there were probably fifty of us who had shown up. It seemed that we were willing to jump over some barriers to access higher abilities.

One of the mental hurdles I have had to overcome in this area is that I am “hearing voices”. That implies that this practice isn’t usual and should land one in a padded cell with a syringe plunged into the upper arm.

How many Hollywood productions have been made that depict a character who gets a bad nose bleed or excruciating headaches when they have otherworldly experiences? They spend most of their time clutching their foreheads and try not to hemorrhage. The brainwashing has been that if you have a gift to interact with the divine, you have to suffer physically or be super weird.

If you get past all that, bring on the poltergeist and dark forces ready to wreak havoc in your home. Who wants to tangle with an unruly spirit that will require an exorcism? Just because you went looking for answers, now you have to move.

If that doesn’t stop a person, then the sheer fact that the One who made everything would want to speak is somewhat staggering. Why would God want to take the time to talk to us? Isn’t that kind of presumptuous with all the trouble going on in the world?

Any one of those scenarios can keep us closed down and shut off.

I knew exactly who I was to speak to on that particular morning. The entire hour that we sat listening to the presenter talk about his experiences, my attention kept being directed to a woman across the room. It began with a slight nudge.

“Do you see the lady with the purple glasses?” the still, small voice whispered.

I scanned the attentive audience, and I saw her wearing reading glasses. It’s always subtle at first like that. It seems like it’s my idea to look up, but later I realize I was told to.

I focused back on what was being taught.

“Do you see her scarf? It matches her glasses.” Accesories are important.

As people began looking around to see who they should pair up with, I went right to her and said,

“I’m supposed to tell you something; I have no idea what it is.”

“I’m so relieved you came over. This is so hard for me to do, and I want to learn how to do it, but I’m a little scared.”

“I think we all aren’t totally comfortable with it, but we can try.”

She and I went to a quiet corner away from everyone else. We were given easy-to-follow instructions on how to get a message.

First, we were to ask what God wanted this person to know. Next, we were to ask for a specific verse if there was one and then to get a vision of what was needed. That sounds like a lot, but we were told we could do it, so the idea was to believe we could.

I started by asking the first question. Both of us shut our eyes, and she grabbed my right hand. I had to brush away the thought that I was with an absolute stranger. I didn’t know her even thirty minutes ago, but now I was to deliver important news from God.

“A special place has been prepared for you at the table,” I said. I could see her sitting in an elaborate venue, surrounded by others and being served. She looked relaxed with a radiant smile.

“Do you spend a lot of your time giving to others and not yourself?”

“Yes. I’m a pastor, and I’m always helping other people but not me.”

“Do you feel guilty when you take time for yourself?”

“Yes.”

“God wants you to know that you need to take time for yourself and let other people help you. You are burning yourself out trying to be nice.”

“You’re right,” she said quietly. Inwardly, I breathed a sigh of relief. I felt calm, but I had no idea if what I was saying would be accurate. To have her confirm it kept me going.

“I see you wondering if you can clean up the tables or get the other people something to drink. God says no. Sit down.”

She laughed.

“That’s me. Right when I start to enjoy myself, I think I have to jump up and do something, or I’m being lazy.”

“You aren’t giving yourself a break. You are going to break down. So listen to what is being said. God is telling you to rest. Let others serve you for once. You are supposed to enjoy life just like everyone else. You can be happy even when you aren’t working. Don’t let people take advantage of your kindness. Put up boundaries and have some balance. Otherwise, you aren’t going to be able to help anyone. You are going to start resenting the whole thing.”

When we opened our eyes, she got out a tissue to wipe away tears.

“It’s hard for me not to do it all for everyone all the time.”

“Do you ask for help?” How did I know to ask that? Because we had a lot in common.

“No. I try to do it all myself. I don’t like asking for help, and no one usually offers.”

“Then you have to ask, and don’t feel bad about it.”

“I will. I don’t want to burn myself out. I like what I do, so I don’t want to ruin it.”

Then it was her turn to be in the hot seat to see what I needed to hear. It took her a minute to pull herself together after what I had said.

She retook my hand, and we closed our eyes.

“God, what do you want Chris to know?”

I instantly saw myself sitting in a canoe drifting in a river. The sun was bright, no one else was around, and it was peaceful.

“Come to me all who are weary, and I will give you rest. God wants you to rest. I see you floating in a…a..a..” She paused like she couldn’t find the right word.

“Canoe?”

“Yes!” She said. “I didn’t want to say it was a boat because it isn’t.”

I saw everything before she said it, and when I would describe something, she saw it too.

“You are sitting in a..” She was at a loss for words again.

“Meadow? With flowers all around me?”

“Yes! And God wants you to rest and see the beauty of creation. Don’t be so busy that you don’t stop and see it.”

In the end, we walked away, no longer not knowing one another.

We didn’t have special powers come over us. There was no chanting in Latin involved or burning of incense. What did we do? We asked.

There are many sources of information available to all of us anytime we want. The news will tell you what’s going on. And usually, it’s not good. If by chance, you get Chinese food, a fortune cookie can be your guide. But that generally wears off and doesn’t provide a lot of depth.

I recall having a Magic Eight Ball when I was a kid. I would think of a question and shake the heck out of it, hoping for the answer I wanted to hear. Through the little window, the smoky blue water would reveal words on the plastic triangle inside. The worst result was: Answer Unknown. How frustrating is that? I wasn’t any further ahead in life with that response! It proved to be unreliable, leaking all over the place, and it got tossed.

I realized that after taking the class that it’s vital to be able to hear on a level that is above the physical to benefit myself when I cannot sleep and I don’t understand a difficulty I am up against. Another advantage is to use it when bringing comfort to others. It’s amazing to speak something that immediately brings relief to another. You know it isn’t you, but it is straight from heaven.

You can begin to apply this from Jeremiah 33:3:

Call to me, and I will answer you and tell you great and hidden things that you have not known. (ESV)

Then there’s a bonus thrown in if you do:

How happy you are to believe that the Lord’s message to you will come true! (Luke 1:45, Good News Translation)

When you take the time to get quiet and ask for answers, it builds your confidence and boosts your mood; it changes your mindset and strengthens the bond between you and the unseen realm. And just like anything else that you give a priority in your day, it becomes easier to execute.

Soon, you will only want to seek that which offers you something of great return like nothing else can. You won’t want to settle for anything that leaves you feeling unfulfilled and empty. You don’t have to chase it down like a crazy person, thinking that others have the answers for your life. And you come to know that God directly gives the best advice.

(THEN WHAT?!)

Peaceful

My dad has been residing in an assisted living for over two years, and it’s been an adjustment for both of us. For the first few months he was there, he was given a temporary unit for rent on the third floor while he waited for his permanent apartment to be repainted and freshly carpeted.

During that time, it was chaotic. I never knew what I was going to walk into when I went to visit. The place isn’t that big, but he never stayed stationary and traveled from floor to floor, making it difficult to locate him. One day, I needed his signature on a document. I am his power of attorney, so I go over everything with him and involve him as long as he can comprehend. This is a way for him not to feel that he has lost his independence entirely.

I was in a hurry, and it was approaching his evening meal. I asked the staff where he was, and I was told he was on the second floor, so I went there. No luck.

At that time of day, the line for the elevator is long, and I am able-bodied, so I always take the back stairwells for speed.

“I think I saw him on the third floor,” said another helper.

“Ok.”

Up a flight, I walked the halls that were like a ghost town.

How can one man who is slow as a snail be so elusive?

Another staff person said she saw him on second floor. Even though I had just been there, I tried it again. And got the same result.

Back to the stairs, I came down to first where I had started. I searched the lobby, both community rooms, and looked around the back of the building where he would sit to get fresh air.

Where’s Waldo had nothing on this guy.

I walked back to the elevator, where the crowd was thick with those waiting for assistance. It was wall to wall wheelchairs and walkers. I thought I would go back up to his apartment for one last glance, but in the meantime, I stood in the corner out of the way.

I also figured if I stopped looking, my moving target might eventually run into me.

The doors opened, and one of the aides pushed him out and right past me like I was invisible! He nodded and smiled at me on his way by like he was a king greeting one of the underlings.

He had a cookie in one hand and a styrofoam cup of milk in the other. He couldn’t hear me, and she didn’t speak English very well, so they kept on moving as I tried to fight my way past the throng.

I was on my tiptoes trying to get to him while dodging the masses. He was happily enjoying his ride. This person had just been driving a car on a revoked license two months prior, gripping on to his keys and driving privileges like a mad man and now was too busy with both hands full, slurping down snacks with an escort into the dining room.

My only advantage in apprehending him was that they got stuck in the hallway.

I put my hand on his shoulder.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

He looked up at me.

“When did you get here?”

“A while ago. Where have you been? I went to every floor.”

“Oh, she took me floor to floor. I have been riding on the elevator.”

“Why are you letting someone else push your wheelchair? Why are you not using your walker?”

He took this moment to chomp a bite off of his cookie and said,

“I don’t know.”

“You need to walk, and you need to use your leg muscles every day.”

“I know. I know,” he said like a rebellious teen, sucking down milk. Role reversal had happened somewhere along the way.

“I realize I am interrupting your busy schedule and your worldwide tour, but I need you to sign something.”

Right as I said that, she started pushing him forward away from me like a programmed machine. I stopped her and said,

“He’s coming with me. I will get him in there in a minute.”

It wasn’t like he would starve as I saw him take another cookie out of his shirt pocket.

I have had calls from him at 1 am, asking me what I’m doing, so we talk like it’s the middle of the afternoon.

“Do you know it’s almost 2 in the morning?” I will ask.

“It is?”

“Yes.”

“Why are you up, Chris?”

“Because you called me?”

“Oh,” and then the laugh.

He has no idea some of the stress and poor communication that I have faced on his behalf. But I don’t want him to know. He has given up everything he knew as familiar to be in a safer place like he should be. I have had to straighten up wrong billing, confront staff who haven’t always been attentive, and run errands when I would rather not.

“Chris, I have no Kleenex left, and they just gave me my last Tylenol. I’m going to need more in the morning.”

This was at 9:30 pm, with all stores closing at 10 pm during the shutdown and limited hours. And it was pouring rain.

“I hate to bother you with this.”

I had just finally sat down for a second.

“I will get it. Don’t worry.”

I can never leave him stranded, no matter what.

For weeks he had been telling me that he wanted a new bed. The one he was using had formed a crater in the middle so deep that he would get stuck if he rolled into it.

I ordered a new mattress for him. It showed up unexpectedly on Christmas Eve, and I set it all up. With his apartment at a scorching 100 degrees, I was an absolute sweaty mess, ripping apart the old one. He was thrilled to get it so his back wouldn’t hurt anymore. As soon as it was put together with the new sheets and the comforter I had gotten, he laid on it and immediately drifted off while I continued to battle the old one.

Once the activities started back up again after the lockdown, he made an effort to go. Reading over the schedule, he said,

“I will not go to Bingo.”

“Why? You don’t like it?”

“The lady who does it runs a tight ship. She scares me, and one of her arms is bigger than my legs, so you don’t mess with her.”

This was the man who was in a street gang at the age of 12 with a lead filled baseball bat on a chain and served in the military as a sergeant, but one woman calling numbers put the fear of God in him.

“She is scary, Chris. I stay clear of her.”

When the activity director asked him one day if he wanted to attend a different event, he inquired,

“Does this include beer and women?”

I shook my head.

“Do you see me standing right here? Do you see your daughter? Do you see me?”

“I see you,” he said, looking at me. “What about it?”

“And you realize my hearing is the best ever, right?” I asked.

He looked back at the activity lady.

“So, is there going to be beer and women?”

I went with him to chaperone, and I got looked up and down like he had found me off of Eharmony. I announced that I was his child so they all could relax, and I wasn’t in the competition. After half of a can of beer, he said,

“Where do I live again?”

I had to help him back to his apartment.

“I shouldn’t drink during the day,” he said.

“Maybe you shouldn’t ever if you can’t get yourself down one hallway.”

I don’t know if he heard me because he was dozing off.

When I saw that it was on the schedule to decorate pumpkins, I told him he needed to go.

“What? No, I’m not going to that!”

“I think you are.”

“Why would I go do that?” He put his finger by the side of his head and swirled it in a circle. This is his universal sign that going there was for those who had lost their minds.

I’m not above using the tricks my mom used to employ to get him to comply.

“You need to go do this, and I will take it home with me. I want you to do it for me.”

I saw the switch go off. The old ways still worked.

“Will they give me a knife?”

“Do you really think they are going to give you a sharp object?” I pretended to stab myself in the side of the neck.

His eyes always get big behind his glasses when he is processing.

“I suppose not,” he said, laughing. “That might be a bad idea around this place.”

Not giving him a choice, I took him, and a pumpkin was set in front of him with a paintbrush and paint.

“I gave up a good nap for this?”

“Yes. You did. Get to work on it.”

For someone who didn’t want to be there, he put in all his effort. He used to draw all the time, but his hands shake now, so it was more difficult. He was concentrating.

The person next to him tried to ask him a question at one point, and he said,

“Don’t bother me. I am busy.”

When he was done with it, he commented,

“I think the teeth make the whole thing.”

“I am assuming this isn’t a self-portrait, right?” I asked with a smile.

He laughed.

“What am I going to do with that?”

“I’m taking it with me.”

“Good riddance. Get it out of here! But thank you for coming to see me.”

“Even if you missed a nap?”

“I don’t nap.”

From moment to moment, I don’t know what he will remember or try to comprehend, so I’m very patient and protective over him. At one point, I didn’t know if I would ever speak to him again, but now it’s as if it never happened. I realized that I have been living this from Exodus 20:12:

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”

Without God, it wouldn’t have come back together in the way that it has. People who knew me a few years ago while I was on my anger induced year and a half sabbatical from my parents are astonished at the turnaround of where he and I are now.

It speaks to the mysterious ways we don’t always understand, working for the best on our behalf if we allow it. When you think everything is beyond hope, God can prove to you this from Matthew 19:26:

“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”(NIV)

Adding to that is Psalm 23:2 that says:

He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside quiet waters. (NIV)

Something that was once ripped to shreds and full of strife can be made peaceful.

Scary

My oldest daughter attended an online charter school in 7th grade that required a laptop. Because those were the days I was working three jobs and trying to home school, I had to find something I could afford. Luckily, we did just before she was to start.

Barely out of the box, one of us tripped over the charger, ripping it straight out of where it was plugged in. This was round number one to replace it.

A few weeks later, after we moved the computer to another location, someone else did the same exact thing, requiring a second run for another one.

The third mishap could have turned out way worse than it did. At the time, our dogs were puppies, and one of them chewed up the charger cord while it was plugged in. No one got fried in the process.

Except for me. I was beyond my tolerance for having this repeat itself. I was worn out from going through the double doors of the electronic store, becoming a regular like at a bar.

I thought we were out of the woods once we hit the six-month mark, but then the modem died. So it was back to the same store but with a different problem.

I was hoping to circumvent help, grab something and go. But, the options were endless, so I had to stay longer than I wanted, which then drew an employee’s attention. I was just fine on my own, but she took it upon herself to assist.

I must not have masked my feelings very well. I wasn’t taking my annoyance out on her, but I wasn’t exactly overly welcoming. My goal was to get out of there as quickly as I could. My youngest daughter was with me, also trying to speed up the process. I tried not to make much eye contact or speak, to rush it along. The “helper” was happily chirping away about various models and prices. And any other topic she thought would be of interest to me. She wasn’t picking up on my nonverbal cues, and I decided I might as well speak because she was there for the duration.

Finally, I said,

“This is my fourth time here.”

I explained my charger drama as I went back to looking on the shelf for what we needed. I began talking to make time go by faster and not complaining, just trying to make an awkward situation less uncomfortable since she seemed bored and wanted something to do.

She edged closer to me. I thought I was in her way, so I moved over. I picked up a box, decided that was the one, and turned to thank her for trying to help.

Out of absolutely nowhere, she said,

“You need a hug!” And she threw herself at me.

I was somewhat shocked that I hadn’t been fast enough to dodge out of the way.

I was highly skilled at this from having to face many overzealous church greeters. I learned quickly to avoid the double arm maneuver in the lobby.

It was first the handshake, then the forearm grab as you are pulled in before you can change your mind and run back to your car. Your limb is nearly dislocated, but you feel thoroughly greeted.

To avoid being involved with that, I would get so preoccupied with my purse and keys, pretending to juggle them so I didn’t have a free hand to spare. Instead, I would smile, say hi, look totally stressed out trying to handle my bag, and move on, bypassing the whole thing. I was a professional at it.

I had also been subjected to embracers as well, and my best excuse was to say I had to run to the bathroom. Even the most hardcore smotherer for the Lord won’t bother you if they think you have had a lot of water to drink before a service. They wish you well from afar and say they will catch you next time.

I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, so I decided my skirting around them was a win for all of us. I was freeing them up for the next unsuspecting victim.

I believed I had a rock solid barrier between myself and this type of behavior. I was completely surprised by her actions; I was frozen in place, hanging on to the modem box. My arms were at my sides, unmoving. Was this part of the employee of the month program? Was she going to have her picture posted on a wall somewhere just for ninja attacking me? She was not letting go quickly, and time for me had halted.

After the unwanted advance, she stepped back and said,

“I hope you feel better.”

I had dissociated from my body momentarily.

My daughter held in the biggest laugh of her life because she is well aware of my small personal bubble. I somewhat staggered backward to regain my independence.

“Have a great day!” she said.

I nodded and walked away like a zombie to the register. My daughter, no longer able to contain herself, said in between gasps for air,

“Your face! You should have seen it!”

“Why did she do that to me? That is not normal! We are in a store!” I said in a yell whisper.

I was afraid she was lurking nearby within listening range, and I didn’t want to give her any reason to feel sorry for me again. That was not my intention in the first place. I kept looking around as if she was going to pop up out of nowhere.

This only made her laugh more all the way to the car. Loudly.

I locked all the doors, which brought on another round of hysteria.

“I just can’t stop thinking of how you looked!”

“How am I supposed to look when someone lunges at me like that? Who does that?”

On the one hand, it’s nice to know that we have good hearted people in the world, but I couldn’t get past its oddity.

This is not the only time a worker has gone out of their way to console me but in a less invasive way.

I had taken my lawnmower in for an oil change and to get the blade sharpened. It’s not my favorite thing to do in the world as I am totally out of my element. I have a smaller, less crowded hardware store nearby, but it’s still very testosterone leaning, and the rows of unknown things are mind-blowing.

Who has time to browse the aisles looking at miles of gadgets and minuscule metal objects? From my observation: retired men. Of which I am not one. Who generally works there? The same demographic.

I don’t do this at the beginning of spring because everyone else does. I try to time it to go in after the onslaught of eager lawn fanatics so I will get it back faster. With fewer mowers, I wait a shorter time.

A week went by, and I heard nothing. That seemed unusual, so I called to ask if it had gotten taken care of.

“I don’t see it here,” the person who answered the phone said. “Our system says it’s still out for repair.”

That made me wonder if something was wrong with it that I didn’t know about.

“What is the date it has been promised to be done?”

“A week from today. But it’s always done way early when I bring it in at this time of the year.”

“Well, then wait until then. It’s not here.”

I felt like I was interrupting her life, so I did what she said. I always default to being the one who is wrong when it comes to not being confident in what I am dealing with.

Two whole weeks went by, which seemed off to me. This was the first time it had taken this long. I usually get a text saying it’s ready for pick up, but my promised date had passed. So I called to see if it had been overlooked.

“Nope, it’s not back yet,” she said. “It says it’s still out for service when I look it up.”

I hung up, realizing I was going to have to use their loaner. I drove over to get it. I’m accustomed to mine, which is self-propelled. What they gave me was similar to that metal clipper-type thing that has to be pushed. It was heavy and nearly broke my spirit by the time I finished both yards. I didn’t realize how nice I had it.

A week later, now three weeks of waiting, I went into the store again. I just felt that something wasn’t right, and there was no reason for this to be taking so long.

I told my story to another person, gave them my receipt, and waited while they went to check in storage. Within moments, my mower was coming through the door.

“The tag says it was back three weeks ago, and it only took a couple of days because the inventory was low.”

So, the very first time I called to ask, it was finished and waiting for me.

“I tried to get it, but no one had contacted me. When I called in, I was told it was still out, and I had to wait until the exact date I had been given.”

“It was sitting there the entire time. Whoever answered the phone should have double checked the storage room and not just the computer. That thing can be wrong all the time. I am sorry.”

“I’m just glad to get it out of jail,” I said.

She laughed and took my paperwork to the register. I hadn’t ever seen her before.

There was a long line to wait through, and I kept an eye on my mower so it wouldn’t be retaken hostage.

When I was going to pay, I was told a certain amount that seemed low.

“Are you sure you typed that in right?”

When I dropped it off, I had put down a deposit, and the remainder should have been more.

“The manager said you had some problems, so she wanted to make it right.”

I was stunned.

“She doesn’t have to do that. I’m not upset at all, and I’m just glad I got it back.”

“She wants to be sure you come back.”

“I always come here. This won’t change that.”

They wouldn’t charge me the full price no matter how much I insisted they should.

On my way to the car, I looked at the receipt; it had a personal note attached, professing their apologies and adoration for me. Very similar to the hugger many years ago, and just out of the ordinary.

God will show up in ways that seem strange. In neither of those incidents was I outwardly exhibiting my frustration, but I was polite and trying to navigate my way through unpleasant situations. Part of what I was trying to do was resolve problems that are areas of life I find unfamiliar, which is the root of the stress. Electronics and tools are just not high on my list of expertise, and God knows that. Every time I have been forced to deal with an issue that seems too big to handle, I have discovered that I can. And it makes it easier the next time.

In Isaiah 65:24 it says:
I will answer them before they even call to me. While they are still talking about their needs, I will go ahead and answer their prayers!(NLT)

So maybe all those times I got sent back to the same store was to purge my fear of the unknown. The repetition, even though maddening, created familiarity. Not that God wanted me to have bad things happen, but everything can be used to bring us up higher. I can now look back and say maybe, just maybe, the weird hug was to congratulate me on a job well done. I’m still not sure, and I don’t need it to happen again in the middle of the electronic department. Ever.

In Psalm 139, this comforting promise is made:

You have searched me
and known me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
You understand my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down;
You are aware of all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
You know all about it.
You hem me in behind and before;
You have laid Your hand upon me.(NLT)

Isn’t the goal to live anxiety-free and to walk by faith? Then sometimes, we will be required to stop avoiding what we don’t like, face it, know it’s for our good, and check it off the list as no longer scary.

(My receipt..who wouldn’t keep this?)

The Door of Her Heart

I made it my mission to teach my oldest daughter about God even before she could speak. I was coming to understand faith, and while my spiritual walk was moving ahead, I had to be quiet about it as my household at the time was divided. If I tried to voice my beliefs, it didn’t go over well.

Instead of causing conflict, I studied and kept hidden anything related to the subject. I put books at the bottom of my dresser or tucked away in a dark corner that I only knew about. I didn’t let the opposition stop what God and I had started, but I went out of my way to guard myself.

I turned all of my knowledge toward her because she was a clean slate without any religious baggage or ability to argue with me.

In the car, no matter where she and I went, I played children’s music that incorporated scripture verses set to tunes that easily got stuck in the memory. As she got older, I would hear her humming happily to herself as she played with her toys.

It became very apparent that this was effective when she and I were in a crowded restaurant. She always was content sitting next to me coloring, talking non-stop about everything she could think of. On this particular night, she jumped to her feet in the booth, and at the top of her lungs, started singing Go Tell It On the Mountain.

No matter how much I tried to stop her, she wouldn’t quit. All the other customers got quiet and looked over at us. I was so worried that she was disrupting them with her unexpected off-Broadway dinner show, so I kept quietly saying her name, trying to get her to zip it.

Many people don’t appreciate an acapella version of a song in public. And I’m very aware that children, by some, are barely tolerated. But, there was no stopping her. I kept glancing up, and as she kept on going, I saw people smiling, so I just gave up my efforts. She was determined to finish all the lyrics, and there was no other choice.

At the end of it, she received applause. As if it was no big deal, she went back to her crayons.

On another occasion, my neighbor lady saw me outside working in the backyard.

“Do you know what one of my favorite things is in the evening?”

“No,” I said.

“I will be washing dishes, and I can hear your daughter singing while she is on her swing set. She goes through this long list of songs.”

It was spring, so all of us had our windows wide open for fresh air.

I had heard her do it too, and her ability to say certain words was still a challenge. Abraham was pronounced with an “n”, and it sounded like Neighborham.

“I like that one the best of all,” she said, laughing.

Someone gave me a large glass jar filled with slips of paper in it. On each one, there was a question regarding God that you could ask your child. It was an exercise to help expand their thinking about the unseen.

Because I continued to plant what I could in a secretive way, I thought this would fit right in.

So every night before bed, she would pick out a random piece of paper to be quizzed. She loved it so much that one was never enough, and sometimes she wanted so many I had to cut her off. She was like a sponge for learning and enjoyed what I was teaching her.

One night, she handed me her choice, and I asked:

“What does it mean to have God knock on the door of your heart?”

She did her usual squint and looked up at the ceiling.

“I know! That’s the song that I sing in the car. He knock, knock, knocks on your heart.” She added a closed fist pounding to her chest.

“So, what does that mean?”

“Ummm…What does it mean?” She asked.

“You don’t know?”

“No.”

I couldn’t believe that we were at this point already. It had taken me years to get to this, and now at 4, she was already inquiring about such a deep topic.

“Well, when you think you want to, you can let God be in charge of your life. It can’t be taken away from you, but you willingly give it.”

I grabbed a book where I knew there was a picture of Jesus knocking on a door.

“It’s like you open the door and say come in. That’s it. Do you want to do that?”

She said she did, so I had her say a little prayer with me.

After that, she had daily prayer sessions with her infant sister. She would prop her up in her carrier and try to explain the Bible. Just like I did with her, it was someone who had to listen and couldn’t talk back or run away. Even if her audience drifted off to sleep, she would keep on expounding her newfound wisdom.

I sometimes regret the decision I made to have her attend various churches alongside me. Not that she still didn’t keep the simple message she learned, but as with most formal organizations, there are rules to follow, and people get in the way by putting their own spin on it. Soon, what was so easy to know at such a young age had become so complex that the relationship started to wane. Why? Because the spiritual upkeep got to be overwhelming.

You are pressured to be something you are not, everything you do is monitored, and you slowly lose your freedom of choice. Anything supernatural that cannot be explained must be evil; the devil is behind everything, and conformity is a must because being different is unacceptable. Life becomes anxiety riddled, and you hope you are still on God’s good side.

Now you no longer depend on inner guidance, but you rely on those in leadership to educate you and discipline your wayward passage. You seek people instead of the One who holds all the answers that you need. You are instructed how to think and speak, so you don’t stand out from the rest. It was so far away from her innocent singing songs that made her heart happy. The joy of having a close relationship with the Creator was slowly being stripped away. None of this moved either of us up higher or into a deeper place with God.

If that’s how you feel where you are, get out and return to the truth. Go back to where she and I started as it says in Ephesians 5:1:

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. (ESV)

So how do you act like something you cannot see? In 1 John 4:16 it says this:

We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. (NIV)

It doesn’t take a lot of discernment to recognize when you are tangled in something that doesn’t reflect that. People are not ever going to be perfect, but there’s no reason to stay too long and lose your way.

The God I introduced my daughter to wasn’t harsh; like an old friend, He was welcoming and didn’t require anything but her eager willingness to answer the knock at the door of her heart.

Do Over

“We had a common-law marriage so that we could get a tax deduction,” she said in a monotone voice.

That was a new one, I thought, as I wrote it down in the margin. It didn’t exactly fit into any of my categories, and I would have to work my magic and present it less shockingly.

“I thought he would someday commit, but he wanted his freedom. Signing a paper made him feel trapped, and I held on waiting, thinking he would change his mind.”

Her voice was lifeless, like she was tired of answering this question.

She wasn’t my usual interview for a social history. As part of the intake information I had to gather, I met with those who were newly admitted to the nursing home to get their stories. Most of them were similar with staunch religious upbringing, early entry into matrimony, 19 kids and counting, traditional roles of running a household, and then the death of a spouse.

I usually could write it with my eyes shut, and I hadn’t had this type of answer given to me before.

She was a bit younger than most of our residents, with long, wild grey hair and clothes that were somewhat more modern. This was back when assisted living, and home health care was not yet prominent like it is today, which she would have been a prime candidate for now.

While physically she was in good shape, she had developed mental issues that caused unsafe living conditions.

She had done a lot of drugs that had contributed to the problem as she aged. Her life experiences were the exact opposite of what I usually had people tell me.

“We didn’t have any children, but I thought I was happy.”

“You weren’t? This wasn’t what you wanted?”

I was under the false assumption that everyone from the free love movement was blissfully content, living contrary to what everyone else was doing. That’s how it had been advertised.

“No. Toward the end, I tried to say that I wanted more, and he walked away. By then, we couldn’t have kids, but I wanted the paper signed. We ended up getting into a huge fight over it, and he left. He came back later to get all of his things, and that was it. He immediately moved in with someone else. I knew his behavior wasn’t right for a long time, but I just put up with it. I kept thinking he would change his mind.”

“That’s too bad,” I said.

I recall being at a loss for words. She had bought into a non-traditional way of thinking that hadn’t worked how she thought it would.

“I most regret not having kids. I feel like that was taken away from me. I thought I would be okay without that, but now I feel I have made a mistake.”

She had chosen to isolate herself as a way to cope and was struggling now to reside where she wasn’t alone.

These were the times during my social worker days where I had to help people grieve a loss. Sometimes, like in this case, I just listened and held her hand.

“None of this will be public knowledge,” I told her. “But you can talk to me anytime you want about it. You did the best you could, right?”

Somehow God would come in and calm the situation down when I had no idea how to. This was before I even had a prayer life; that is how good God is. I was rescued from many situations when I didn’t know what to say.

“Yes. I did what I thought was right at the time. I have not ever gotten over it, though.”

“You can’t go back and change it, but you can make a new life.”

She did have extended family, nieces, and nephews that visited. Slowly, she adapted to her surroundings, where I often saw her talking to other people, and she looked more relaxed. When we had kids come into volunteer and do activities, I made sure to pair her up with one because I knew she had missed out on raising her own.

Little by little, she let go of her past and let God fill in the empty places with new experiences. She quickly found herself surrounded by a supportive group of women that had gone through loss differently, but she could relate to.

Years later, I actually met a woman who had come through a worse situation.

I started with the usual questions of birthplace, parents’ names, and sibling count.

“I got married at sixteen. My family knew his, and they had a bakery in a town next to ours.”

While she became pregnant multiple times and ran the house, her husband’s responsibility at the bakery grew. He assumed the role as sole owner, and he was gone for long hours at a time, but she accepted it because they had a family to raise.

She spent many evenings alone as he would decide to stay overnight instead of making the commute home. He had to be up at the crack of dawn to bake, so it made sense not to trek back to her.

“We had eight children, so I was never without something to do. I sewed their clothes, helped them with school, made all the meals. It wasn’t an easy life, but I did what I had to do.”

I jotted down her words, and I was going to move on to the next subject.

“I thought he was at work day and night, but that’s before I knew he had a whole other family.”

I remember looking up at her trying to conceal my true emotions. Did she say that he had another family? I thought people only did shady things like this in the 1970s. This man was way before his time, and I had a lot to learn back in my early twenties.

“I don’t understand,” that is all I could come up with.

“I found out from someone in town that he was married to another woman in the town where the bakery was, and they had children. He wasn’t working all those hours as he told me.”

I had to write this angle into her biography, but I didn’t want it to be like the National Enquirer!

This was supposed to be a way for the staff and other residents to get to know her. We used this as an ice breaker technique so a new person was introduced to the community. Her picture and what I wrote would be posted in the main lobby.

This was to tell others about her interests and strengths. I was going to have to do a lot of cutting and pasting.

“It was hidden from me for years. I’m not afraid to talk about it.”

“So what happened? You found this out, and then what?”

“I went looking for the truth. He had set up a whole life with this other woman, and they had as many kids as we did. He spent holidays with them and everything, but his lies were so good, he had me fooled. I was young and naive. I remember the worst thing was that I found out he spent Christmas with his other family. He was so good at making sure he covered his tracks that he got gifts for the children and me. That really hurt me. All of it was hurtful.”

Explaining it to the kids wasn’t the easiest either. They couldn’t figure out why their dad was gone and not coming back.

After her husband’s unfaithfulness surfaced, her parents stepped in and helped her get past the rough time. An older man came into the picture, and she got remarried.

“Was it hard for you to trust him?”

“Sometimes. But he went out of his way to prove to me that he wouldn’t do what my first husband did. He took on eight kids, and most men wouldn’t do that, so that helped. We had a great life. I had to put all of that behind me.”

Both of these women had given their best efforts and had been left holding an empty bag. They recovered from a betrayal in their own way. One chose to live a closed off existence while the other decided to take a chance and trust again.

God leaves that up to each of us.

What do you do when life presents you with a person described in Psalm 41:9?

Even my best friend, the one I always told everything
—he ate meals at my house all the time!—
has bitten my hand. (Message)

No one is immune to having this happen, and in my own experience, it takes time. A lot of people say…just forgive and move on. What if it doesn’t come that easy? For some, it might, and for others, it may take longer. The key is not to get stuck in it.

God wants us to see it for what it is and heal. But if we stubbornly refuse to get past it, we cripple ourselves, and we will miss out on this from Jeremiah 29:11:

I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. (Message)

Some relationships aren’t going to make it to the ‘until death do us part’. For one reason or another, it happens. Having been through a divorce, nothing is certain except the promise that we always have the opportunity to brush ourselves off, figure out how not to repeat a mistake, and let God lead us in a new direction of a do over.

(They took the Until Death Do We Part..a little too literal…)
(This had the song I Got You Babe playing…shudder…)

Unnecessary Chain

When you raise children, you have no idea what is coming your way. Suddenly you see life with a new set of eyes, and if you are a good parent, you don’t want to repeat the mistakes made in your past. So I read every single parenting book possible, but I found there are just some situations that no expert can prepare you for.

My oldest daughter would say to me out of the blue,

“Mom, I think I’m going to tell a lie.”

I would say, “Then don’t.”

“Okay,” she would reply and then would look relieved just to have told me. This became a quick fix to stop underhandedness.

My youngest daughter tended to conceal or go around the truth. It wasn’t a flat-out lie, but there was a bit of sleight of hand.

It wasn’t done to harm others but to be to her advantage. What I didn’t know wouldn’t hurt me, and she flew under the radar, so she thought. This began at a very young age, so I tried to get a grip on it right away to avoid it getting worse.

I was at a register paying, and I glanced down to see her looking at something in a bin about her height. She was about to put it in her jacket pocket. She was only two at the time, so I crouched down and whispered that she couldn’t do that. No one around me knew, and I could tell she wasn’t fully aware that her actions weren’t right. I put it back discreetly.

Once I got her into the car and I was driving, I calmly started to explain that what she had been doing was stealing, and God didn’t want us to do that. She was silent as I spoke, taking in what I was saying.

“Some big people go to jail for taking things, so don’t do it anymore. They don’t care that it’s wrong, and then they go to prison.”

I drove a little further and heard a little gasp. I looked in my rearview mirror.

With tears streaming down her face, she screamed,

“I don’t wanna go to jail!!”

“Hey! Listen..you won’t….”

She was screaming so loud she couldn’t hear me.

“I don’t wanna go to jail! I don’t wanna go to jail!”

“You won’t…hey… listen….”

Her older sister had a hard time not laughing.

In between wails, I kept trying to reassure her she wasn’t headed for the big house.

“Do the right thing. Don’t take things that don’t belong to you, and you won’t go to jail, ok?”

“Okay,” she said, finally able to hear my voice.

You would think she would have changed her ways after that, but she was still learning and pushed the envelope where she could.

Every morning, I had each of them take a chewable vitamin. One loved them, and the other was not very amicable to anything healthy. She wanted bottomless bowls of goldfish crackers with apple juice free flowing. Her older sister would pop down whatever I asked, but she would put up a fight after running it through her invisible mental filter and deeming it “yucky”.

I let her pick the color she wanted out of the bottle, and she would run off to her room to take it. One day, I heard: Tell her to show you her teeth.

She ran past me, and I said,

“Open your mouth. I want to see something.”

Her choice of the day was purple, and if she had just eaten it, her teeth would show the evidence. She immediately complied, so she had no idea the trap that was being set.

They were white as snow.

“What did you do with your vitamin?” I asked.

“I ate it.”

“No. You didn’t.”

She closed her mouth, realizing I was on to her.

I walked into her room and found the dog frantically trying to dig behind her dresser.

“What is happening?”

I pulled the heavy piece of furniture away from the wall. A year’s worth of vitamins spilled out from where she had been stashing them.

I used both her first and middle names to summon her while I fought off the dog from gulping them down and overdosing.

She appeared in the doorway, between her sparkling teeth and the dog leading me, she knew her number was up.

“You haven’t taken any of these? Ever?”

She shook her head no.

I wanted to laugh, but I didn’t want her to think it was okay.

She confessed that she had slipped the tiny supplement into a small opening daily. It was like the actions of a person in a locked ward bypassing their medication. I didn’t even know what to do with that. She had come up with something I had never read in any of my parental training manuals. Ever.

“You have to tell me the truth and don’t hide things.”

I think I gave up on the vitamins after that.

She promised to be good as gold, but there were a few more minor things that she tried to get away with.

Years later, she told me while trying not to laugh, she crawled under my bed and watched a show that I told her I wanted to preview first to see if it was age-appropriate. I had no idea she was happily watching along with me while I was trying to protect her innocence. At the end of it, she crawled out, unknown to me, without a twinge of guilt.

Somewhere along the way, she became honest as the day is long, developed a healthy conscience, and became her authentic self.

It has been my experience that a person can only hide in the shadows for so long until a moment comes when they are brought into the spotlight of truth. There are various shades of dishonesty, from the mild, like hers, to the more extreme, where its become a lifestyle of functioning in an alternative reality.

For some, it comes in the form of people pleasing. We don’t want to let others down, and conflict isn’t our favorite subject. So, we push our true feelings aside, make excuses and carry on with a smile. It appears to be a noble undertaking because we go out of our way to make everybody happy and don’t want to disappoint, all the while we are withering away on the inside. We keep skirting past those uncomfortable moments of setting boundaries and saying no because we need to keep the peace.

No one becomes a doormat without allowing it.

The other day, I opened up a cupboard and pulled out a bag of organic potatoes. They had been enjoying their time in the dark, sprouting major eyes and decomposing second by second. Because they were pushed to the back, no one realized they were there.

I moved them to the counter from where they had been on the floor. A brown, oily puddle began to form and seeped its way under the microwave. The worst part was the smell that started to infiltrate the kitchen.

I grabbed the nearest roll of paper towels and the bottle of kitchen cleaner in an attempt to stop the problem.

My daughter, who heard my muffled screams because I was holding my breath, materialized with her can of pumpkin spray, which I still have some trauma from last year’s spray down episode. She tried to combat one overwhelming scent with another with her shirt pulled up to her eyebrows.

No matter how fast I was trying to clean it up, the rancid smell was winning. The only solution was to triple bag the rotting produce and put it outside. Hours later, there were still hints of it in the air. Mixed with pumpkin air freshener.

Like those hidden potatoes, when you stuff down your true feelings, they will eventually leak out in some way. Either the body will manifest symptoms, or your emotional well-being will suffer. God doesn’t want you to live like that.

In Matthew 5:37, it says: Say only yes if you mean yes, and no if you mean no. (NCV)

And in Romans 13:8 it states: Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another..(NASB)

Don’t hold yourself hostage by surrendering your power to keep others feeling content.

Fear is the culprit, promising in a twisted way to keep you safe from upset, but every time you shut off what you want to say, your spirit fades a little more, and it gets easier to do so. Then when you do speak up, it’s such a foreign and rare occurrence that you aren’t taken seriously, so you go back into your corner and convince yourself that this is how it’s supposed to be. It seems normal, but it isn’t.

This way of conducting oneself is usually years in the making, probably going back to childhood, so to get out of it will be somewhat of a struggle, but every time the decision is made to correct it, you gain more of yourself back. You learn how to live in a balanced way where you aren’t a pushover or an aggressive bully.

This is where your prayer life has to be taken seriously as you seek answers that will help undo old habits. As usual, if you involve God, then it can be done, and it says so in 2 Corinthians 3:17:

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

In addition to doing an inward search, I have found that just like all the parenting advice I used to read, there are plenty of resources to look to for healing this part of your life so you can be genuine, live unafraid, and finally break the unnecessary chain.

More

I hate chain letters where you have to forward something or face dire consequences. Out of nowhere, someone in your contacts has a weak moment and falls for the mafia pressure. They make the poor decision to hand off the matter to all their acquaintances so they can sleep at night. 

Along the same lines, I don’t appreciate multilevel marketing schemes where your friends suddenly are known as your ‘upline’. When they call, you stop answering, and you can’t take another meeting that costs you your entire savings account for a supplement made from a rare botanical plant grown in a foreign country. 

Another life invading moment I don’t care for is the bread recipes where a freezer bag of tan liquid is put on your counter without your permission. 

“I’m giving you this nice starter bag.” They say. “It’s so easy to do; just follow the instructions.” 

It appears to be benign, but then you find out you have to stir it for ten minutes each day for ten days at the exact same time, add flour fifteen days in, squish it around in the bag until day twenty and swear yourself over to a new religion at the end of thirty days for the bread to bake.  

Then you have to take the two cups of the liquid you separated and plague someone else with the mess. That’s time you just can’t get back.

And the biggest cringe worthy scam is the one that comes with the promise of a direct connection to heaven by using various gimmicks so you can advance spiritually and unlock all the treasures that are hidden away in a vault.

I was watching something I had recorded and fast-forwarding through commercials when I saw an infomercial for a seed packet. I paused, went back, and watched pure fraud marketed for those who were in desperate situations. As if asking God for help isn’t enough, this flashy segment used words such as “miracle power” and “special blessing” to gain the emotions of the vulnerable. Planting and harvesting ancient sprouts is a sure-fire way to have it all, was the claim. 

They paraded out one paid actor after another, singing the praises of these tiny seeds that produced results that rivaled the parting of the Red Sea, Noah’s Ark, and Lazarus coming back to life. 

The real catch is that no money is needed to obtain the Jack and the Beanstalk beans, but just a simple giving of your home address to get added to the hit list. 

I clicked past it, glad I wasn’t that gullible. 

A few days later, my girls and I were watching something, and the same ad came up again. I had them see how ridiculous it was. Then I forgot all about it until I got a gigantic packet in the mail.

If you have ever attended a closing or refinance on a house, that’s the amount of paperwork that was stuffed into this oversized envelope. I looked at the return address and realized I had somehow been caught in the seed pusher’s snare. 

I said to my daughter, 

“How did they find me?”

She came over to see what I was holding in my hand.

“What is it?”

“It’s from that ministry that promises fake results. How did they get this to me?” Were all the conspiracy theories right about our televisions being one extensive computer database that could be used to infiltrate our lives? How did this happen to me?

I opened it and took out three different colored envelopes along with multiple pages of rules. It would take hours to follow all the steps, so I decided to rip into the red envelope, which held more instructions.

I glanced over at one of the other pieces of paper and saw this written in bold lettering: 

“Do not open the red envelope! This will cause a curse to come upon your house! Open that last!” 

What if someone receiving these were color blind? Would that rule still apply, or would there be an exemption? 

Since I was already flirting with unleashing eternal damnation upon my house, I started opening up all the envelopes to skim read. Why not keep this game of Russian Roulette going? 

The central theme of it was to send in a prayer request and money. The simple message was camouflaged by threatening remarks, intimidation tactics, and arm twisting. It was a “let me help you, help us” type of approach.

Everything was time sensitive. Specific actions and rituals had to take place, or you would miss your “moment of visitation.” Each statement was backed up with a scripture verse as solid proof this was a life changing moment. 

Sprinkled throughout, there was the ego rewarding phrases such as “you have been chosen” for this, and my first name was strategically placed so that I would feel like they knew me. 

Just when I had seen it all, I found a small, clear plastic packet. Holding it up to the light, I could see beads of moisture inside like something had been in it but had evaporated. Looking further through all the material, I solved the mystery. I had not been lucky enough to get a seed packet, but I had been selected to receive healing water that had dried up or leaked out before getting to me. 

I was supposed to place it under my pillow and watch everything I had ever wanted continuously stream to me. 

That was it. I gathered it all up and threw it away, imagining a gasp from an invisible audience. 

Later, I pulled one sheet of the disposed of paper from the trash and showed my other daughter when she came home from work. 

“Do you remember this? We saw this advertised?”

She smiled.

“Yes.”

“They sent me an empty packet of tap water!”

“What?” She said, taking a closer look, laughing. 

“How did these people find me?”

Without hesitation, she said, 

“I signed you up.”

Just like that, very matter of fact.

“You did this?”

So much for being tracked by an evil entity through the TV, thank goodness! 

“Do you know how much junk I am going to get now from this?”

She laughed more. Oh, she knew pretty well what would happen! And she also was very pleased with herself for getting me all rattled. 

“I’m going to take every single thing they send, put it in a box, wrap it and give it to you for Christmas!”

She knew she had done a great job on this and wasn’t threatened in the least. 

I came home a few months later to more correspondence from the dreaded prophet.

“Oh no!”

This one was just as bad as the first with extra pleas because I hadn’t responded. Maybe I was just about to hand over my offering if they coerced more. 

“How are you enjoying your water packet?” was one of the lines. 

I clipped out the stock picture of the guy who said he had such a burden to help me and taped it directly across from my daughter’s bed. He has his arms outstretched and eyes closed, sending that extra special prayer that she needs. 

I haven’t received any more, so maybe he got the hint that I wasn’t such an easy mark. 

The counterfeit is aggravating because you know people fall for it. They think that to gain God’s attention and favor, there has to be something materially given to receive. And those who are hurting can be talked into anything. Their want for a better life isn’t wrong, but it is preyed upon by those who gain financially.

God loves a cheerful giver, not a dragged-out, beaten down, out of guilt and obligation giver. 

And in John 6:35, this verse sets you free from accepting empty promises from water packets and time-consuming recipes: 

I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (NLT).

There are no mountains to climb or steep obligations to meet. Divine messages may come that you don’t understand at first, but it’s never complicated, allowing you to cut out the middle man. God’s recipes for life are simple; Follow Him for more.