Let God Speak

I came in the door, and a loud beeping sound began. I was balancing multiple grocery bags and froze. I thought it was happening again.

My daughter came around the corner.

“What are you doing?”

“I thought it was the alarm.”

She laughed, went over to the air fryer, and shut it off. It was the appliance coming to the end of its cycle, but it had the same tone, just less intense than the one that had surprised me for two years.

“You really thought the house was armed?”

“Yes! I was trying to think how to stop it quickly, but I would have had to drop everything.”

This has happened so many times since 2019. I have lost count. We had gone years without a security system, and while my mom was in hospice, we had it installed. My thoughts were partially elsewhere as the guy walked around the house, showing me where he had placed the sensors.

“I look for vulnerable spots where most criminals will try a break-in. The cameras at the front and back of the house will pick up sound and anyone approaching. Each door has an alarm.”

He had put a small device with a screen on the counter that would allow us to get information from each window and door.

“I labeled them, so if a window is open at night and you don’t want it to be, you can just look on the screen and see which one it is.”

He went through all the instructions on how to arm the system at night or while we were away.

“You can do that from the keypad or use the app on your phone. Many people pull into their garage and disarm it from their car on their phone.”

That sounded easy.

“If you set the alarm off in the next five days, the police will not show up because we notify them that you are still getting used to it. But after that, they will come if you don’t get it to shut off in time. And they aren’t too pleasant after a lot of false alarm runs.”

I was trying really hard to concentrate, but my mind was having difficulty focusing. I had not been sleeping and was spending many hours at the hospital. My attention was split between what he said and wondering when my phone would ring.

“If you trip the alarm, you must type in your code to have it stop. You can do this at the keypad or on the app. But, if you don’t get it in time, the company will call you to verify that you need help. They will assume you want assistance, and you have to give them the secret word you picked.”

My daughter and I had chosen a numerical sequence and a word that would be easy to remember.

“If you say the password, they will assume you are not being held at gunpoint. People will purposely say the wrong one, so they will still send the police because they are in danger, but it doesn’t alert the intruder.”

He handed me a stack of paperwork.

“Read over all of that. It will help you recall what I just told you.”

After he left, I made the familiar trek back to the hospital.

During the day and into many evenings, I sat with my dad, who had difficulty realizing that my mom’s condition would not improve. She would sleep and wake up briefly. I had been given the ability to hear and see all that she was experiencing. If I shut my eyes, I could see her contemplating leaving earth as she stood at the beginning of a bridge that would lead to eternity.

This was new to me, but I wrote down everything I witnessed. I could also hear her voice telling me what was happening. I would write what she said, and she would slightly move in bed, look at me, and say exactly what I had just heard. I was being trained on how to hear and see the other side.

I realized she wasn’t one to leave a party early. She had to be sure that someone could communicate with her before leaving. I was chosen, and so was my daughter. I am still not sure why. But I never want it to go away. It helps make sense of everything.

Without my daughter’s confirmation, I would have thought I needed an intervention. I would have assumed grief was at the heart of these strange experiences, but with someone else having it happen too and getting the same messages, it helped me adjust.

It was determined that she would be discharged back to her home to receive hospice.

The day after we had the security system installed, I wrote in my journal that I could see her in a waiting room for the final transition. She had crossed the bridge, but this is what I saw and heard:

May 22, 2019, 8:30 AM
I see the waiting room filled with people praying. Mom’s head is bowed, and her lips are moving. Everyone looks like that. Absolute silence. No one sees me watching. Intense prayer. This seems to be a time of reverence. I’m getting the impression that the body created is such a sacred thing, and as it dies, heaven prays and worships the Creator.

10:30 AM
Mom has prayed for peace for the family. She doesn’t want us sad. She wants to hear us laugh. They continue to pray.

1:53 pm
“This is beautiful—the coming together of all these people to pray. We are praying for the family. We went to each child, each household and placed a blessing on them. I placed a drop of oil on your forehead to seal you into the kingdom of peace. My children will go ahead now without me and know that God is with them. The generations to come after you will know of His love. It may appear that the world can corrupt them, but the seal is placed now into the bloodlines. It’s a promise of God.”

When I write these things, I don’t know until later sometimes what they mean.

Because there was so much going on with my mom being moved to her home and spending all the time there, several days went by after I had jotted that down. But, proof of her visitation to my home showed up.

“I checked the security camera footage, and I think there is an orb. It looks like a bright ball of light,” my daughter said.

She pulled up the video, and I was shocked. On the camera at the back of the house, by the garage, a strange moving object appeared on screen and floated around and into the side of the wall. I watched it over and over.

“It looks like a flashlight, but it isn’t,” I said. This appeared the night before I had written what I did in my journal.

I did show other people, and only one had an adverse reaction. I understand its fear because I have gone into all of this reluctantly.

“Didn’t you write that she had visited us?” My daughter asked.

I went back through my notes and found that I had. We had lamps that would click on and off for a while, but this seemed more significant. One of the most strange things is that my daughter will smell the perfume my mom used to wear. She will pull her ponytail over to see if she is right.

“I smell her in my hair!”

My mom used to love to play with my daughter’s long hair and say how much she loved it.

Now she says, “My grandmother is in my hair!” This usually means that we need some problem solved. And the answer will come quickly when it happens.

Since then, we have had orbs show up on that camera many times. I have my grandma’s refrigerator on the other side of the wall where they travel.

“The refrigerator is probably a portal,” I said to my daughter jokingly.

I am sure some information is out there that claims this type of thing likes to travel through cold spaces and checks out the freezer for ice cream. I have no idea how it all works. It’s too bad we are dairy-free.

While this otherworldly experience is fun, the alarm going off due to us forgetting about it has been not.

Like the night I woke up to that sound you don’t want to hear at 3 am—a dog on the brink of throwing up all over your bed. If you haven’t had this happen, you are running toward the door before you are fully awake, and there is no thought of needing to shut off the night alarm. Your mind goes blank while formulating the numbers to get it to cease. The idea that you have to hurry doesn’t help either. Meanwhile, the dog throws up all over the kitchen floor.

Another time you might not consider the security system is when your daughter texts you from her bedroom in the basement saying she hears a weird sound outside her window. When you go half-asleep to see what is happening and open the window, the blaring noise reminds you that it is 2 am.

Or when you come back from somewhere, everyone forgets, and it screams when you barely go through the entry an inch.

So when I came in the door with my arms unavailable and heard a beeping sound, I was not being unreasonable for being alarm sensitive. I have been educated by trial and error on responding to the slightest sound. This is similar to my spiritual senses that have been activated and put on high alert.

So many signs have shown up, and circumstances have happened to me in the last two years that the uncertainty and doubt have evaporated. I don’t care if people believe me or not. I used to, but now I don’t. I don’t care if people agree with me either.

All of this, from ringing alarms, orbs, unexplained visitations, and visions, have made me more heavenly-minded. And, none of it would have happened without me dropping what I thought I knew and adopting a new mindset. I had to leave behind the rhetoric that is too familiar and comfortable for many believers.

I can easily say the buzzwords and make myself fit in when I have to, but I don’t do that as often.

I asked God to help me understand death better, and I am continually shown new things. But, not everyone is going to agree.

In John 17:16, we are told not to expect any of this to be ‘normal’:

They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. (ESV)

Start paying attention to the subtle signs of heaven coming your way. It’s not that complicated, and sometimes they will come gently in like a whisper, a bird singing you a song or something spoken at just the right time.

In Isaiah 55:3 it says:

Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, and you will find life. (NLT)

(Our very first visit in 2019..that I am aware of…)

Your faith will grow exponentially once you decide to get quiet, hear, and let God speak.

(While I was sleeping…)

Come Clean

“Would you have time to write about a lady named Terry who is about to graduate from the program?” He asked me.

I knew that this friend of mine had a heart for those struggling to begin a new life free from drugs. He was a volunteer who helped serve on a board and was involved with the ceremony to celebrate those who had crossed the finish line. My writing would be used as a part of that.

I had never been to a treatment facility before, and an opportunity to highlight the achievements of one of their success stories was being presented to me.

I agreed to meet with her, unsure of what this would look like.

I knew that this resource for helping those with chemical dependency issues had been around for a while, serving teens, men, and women. I was taken to a location in Minneapolis where only female housing was available.

It was afternoon, and I felt a stillness when we entered. I was given a brief tour of the resident rooms, the community meeting place, and the kitchen. It was explained to me that this environment offered peace to those coming from very intense lifestyles, where the addictions ran so strong, many had come close to death.

I met with her in a simple room consisting of a bed and a dresser.

She grew up in a family of wealth, and the high school she attended had a peer group of the same affluence. I had been under the wrong impression that if a person is surrounded by material ease, life will open up much better than one of financial struggle.

This was not the case, as it afforded her a way to buy and use substances that would eventually take over her life.

She was by no means unintelligent. She was a hard worker who found herself at the top of the chain no matter what business employed her. Everything she did made the atmosphere around her better. But, unknown to her coworkers, she was deep into self-destruction.

One of the most shocking things she related to me was that she would go into high-end department stores, grab clothes off the rack, and go put on layers in the women’s changing rooms. She got so crafty at sneaking under the radar that she was carting out expensive items under the nose of security. This was before the invention of the devices attached to items for purchase.

She used all of her dishonest gains to trade on the street for what she wanted. At one point, she was stealing specific items that had been requested. It eventually caught up with her both physically and mentally. And her path led to recovery.

I would not have known for a second the pain she had overcome to now be in such a positive mindset. She had taken all of her coursework seriously, and at the root of it was the understanding that God was on her side, leading the charge to a brand new way of living. He had come in and taken up residence in her heart; that was what she had been longing for that all along. She just didn’t know it.

As much as she had been determined before to get her hands on pills, liquids, and inhalants, she now was going to use that same power to become a mentor to other women.

She had dropped her pursuit of those things that had only brought her harm to embrace a love that was streaming from heaven. This wasn’t a fake display where I saw a person who could easily slip back into her former self. She was upfront and about where she had been and the hurdles she still would face moving on.

But I could see the strength in her eyes and feel the perseverance flooding her spirit. While she had walked a troublesome road, she had her sites set on helping others find their way. That light streaming from heaven was going to touch many around her.

At her lowest, she had been taken in, surrounded by good people who saw her true potential and was given a chance. God had become her priority, and out of a cleansing process, she found her purpose, and there wasn’t anything that would stop her. She had a detailed plan of her every move to keep her on track with laser focus.

I parted ways with her, feeling joy. That is the gift she imparted to me. It was faith building to know that someone could come from such a broken experience and be lifted to a higher plane of existence. I could feel her connection. In her voice, I could hear compassion as she now was moving from self-absorption to an absolute urgent calling to pull others from the flames of despair.

For her life to do a complete turnaround, she had to be willing to look into her past to see where she had been overtaken by darkness that seemed to offer her good but was leading to her early demise. She had to put aside herself and let God take over, and this wasn’t without resistance as her body revolted, wanting its way, just like old times. Habits that had long been entrenched and a mind programmed to respond had to be made new.

But God can do that. And, you don’t have to be in Terry’s same situation to get the help that will reverse a self-control issue or anything that you have fallen prey to. Whatever out of control circumstances seem to have you in their grip, there is a way of escape. Like it says in 1 Corinthians 10:13:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation, he will also provide the way of escape that you may be able to endure it. (ESV)

It requires one of the most challenging actions a person must undertake to overcome. Surrender. To let go of what we might hold onto tightly as a security blanket because it’s familiar.

Terry was very honest about all of her former excuse making. She rationalized her strung-out functioning, which only fueled the problem more. Once she decided that she had value and not all the money that was readily available, this is when the change began. She quit fighting to stay where she was to move ahead.

She had to look back to move forward.

I had this demonstrated through an object lesson.

“I can’t find that letter,” she said, flying past me. I could tell by how she was rushing that something wasn’t right.

I heard things being moved, sighing, and more swift shuffling.

“Where was it last?”

“On the table. It’s not there now.”

I was hoping it would appear in an obscure place because what would happen next wouldn’t be pleasant.

There was more searching, and frantic mode was approaching.

“It isn’t in your room?”

“No.”

“Where did you see it last?”

“In the kitchen.”

I began looking with her trying to calm her down.

Then she said what I was dreading.

“It is probably in the garbage.”

I glanced over at the bag I was about to take outside.

“It cannot be in there,” I said as flashes of times past came to mind.

I had been involved in far too many of these rescue operations, and it was the last thing on earth I wanted to do at midnight. Yet, we don’t always get our way.

I reluctantly sat on the floor and untied the knot I had tightly made because this wasn’t supposed to be happening. My real self was sleeping, not about to delve into a messy, disgusting pile of discarded waste.

“I hate this,” I said, as she stood by looking like she were ready to hurl. It always amazes me that the one not doing the task appears to suffer the most. I got a pair of gloves because, well, because.

I began slogging through the contents, putting them into an empty bag beside me.

“If this piece of paper is in here, it’s going to be soaking wet.”

I had that happen multiple times before, with checks that had come and accidentally been thrown away like we were so rich it was disposable. I had to retrieve them and get out the hairdryer.

“I don’t want to be here right now,” I said. But I was, and I wasn’t finding whatever she had lost; I had just cleaned out the refrigerator where everything was on its final breath to add to the fun.

“What day did you have it last?”

“I think on Monday,” she said with much uncertainty.

Because time is an illusion in my house, that could have been two Fridays ago or a random Wednesday.

Getting to the bottom of the bag, I had to say it.

“There are more bags outside.”

I dragged myself out to the driveway as we both tried to uncover the elusive correspondence.

“Do you realize I am sitting outside at 12:30 in the morning digging through the garbage?”

Wasn’t carrying her for nine months and bringing her into the world enough? No, because once you are a parent, a good one anyway, you’re driven by forces outside of your will to help.

We came up short. While I reassembled the garbage to make it more pretty, she went back into the house to see if she had overlooked a hiding spot.

As I stuffed everything back into the container, I was struck by the thought that going through those bags was returning to the past.

Just like Terry had to retrace her steps, I had to subject myself to what was once edible but now was a massive conglomeration of unwanted and unnecessary baggage. I shut the lid and went back in. There was no way I would do that anymore—both literally and symbolically.

“I think it was a scam.”

The much sought-after prize was business related, with a deadline and payment requirement.

“What?” I said, standing in her doorway feeling unwashed.

“I went online and looked it up. It wasn’t real, and if I had followed the instructions, I would have been scammed. I guess something protected me from falling for it by taking away the letter.”

She smiled at me. It was now 1 am. Spiritual growth can come at all hours, and you just dismiss the bags under your eyes the next day.

God will continually pursue you to get your attention to remove those things that have hounded you and have prevented a higher climb. Whether we believe it or not, we are a critical piece of the puzzle, and in the grand design, your role is needed.

But it won’t be forced upon you.

It’s an invitation to walk away from the false safety nets and go where heaven knows that genuine awaits. All that is required is to get honest with what is not really for your good, recognize what needs to go, and come clean.

(Friend by day, foe by night…)

Foreign

I had been convinced to help a friend with a purchase.

“I want to place an order for beef, but the smallest amount is too much. If you split it with me, then it would work out better.”

There was an organic farm not too far away, and she was trying to rid her life of anything artificial. Hydrogenated oils and artificial sweeteners were on her hit list.

I agreed to try it with her and was told it would be a few days before I could pick it up. I totally forgot about it because this was when I was homeschooling, trying to get around to everything, and I didn’t have mental space for livestock.

“Is dis Christine?” The accent was heavy, and the voice unfamiliar. I wished I had let the call go when I couldn’t identify the number.

“Yes,” I said hesitantly. Who was calling from Norway?

“Dis is Helga. I need ta ask you questions.”

I now wondered if this was a long-lost relative. A Norwegian from my grandma’s side of the family with that name. Could this be the call where I am told I have inherited the unknown family fortune?

“I have beef dat you wanted. I need ta know how you want it.”

I was listening intently because she was trying so hard to get her message across to me. I always feel bad when speaking to someone who tries their best in English, and I have to make them repeat themselves.

“I am so sorry. Could you ask that again?”

This was happening multiple times as she tried to talk me through the steps. I had never done this before, so I had no idea what I was doing.

I finally understood that she wanted me to select cuts and different types of processing. It was smooth sailing from there once I comprehended what the point of this was. We were doing great, me and Helga until she got to the final question.

“Do you want da liver?”

“No, I will pick up my order.”

What an odd thing to say after being told that I would have to drive thirty minutes to get it.

“Da liver or no?”

“I will come to get it,” I repeated.

“No. No. Do you want da liver?!”

“When do you want me to come to get it?” I decided not to answer the question since we were getting nowhere.

“Da liver! Da liver? Do you want that?”

With Helga raising her voice many decibels, I took a minute to think. It dawned on me that she wasn’t giving me a delivery option.

“Oh!” I said, and I could almost hear her collapse. Now that I knew, I was slightly grossed out.

“No. I don’t want that.”

And with that, Helga went on to her next frustrating phone call.

That wasn’t my first brush with a foreign language. In middle school, I had to take Spanish, German and French.

German was the hardest because of the pronunciation coming all from the throat, it seemed. My brothers were always watching Hogan’s Heroes, and my goal in life as an 8th grader was not to sound like Colonel Klink or Sergeant Shultz. It just had a bad mental image for me, making it even more difficult to learn.

The other two were okay, but I struggled overall. When I got to college, I decided to take French to fulfill the requirement for earning my degree. I didn’t picture myself jetting off to Paris, but I wanted to graduate as quickly as possible.

So you run the gauntlet.

Our instructor was not the warmest person. Behind her smile, I could sense a drill officer who expected perfection. At this stage of life, most classes had no required seating, but not her. We were put in alphabetical order, and this class met every single day.

We had one of the biggest snowstorms strike during the winter, and she would not cancel. We all dragged ourselves in, risking life and limb to do her bidding while the rest of the school shut down. It was apparent to me that day she had us under mind control. Not a seat was vacant, and all of us looked stressed. One girl showed up in her pajamas. This was before doing that in public was fashionable.

She used intimidation as a tool to educate us about what is known as the language of love.

The toughest part for me was learning the male and female pronouns. It was bad enough trying to grasp words and their meaning, but then you had to know if an object was masculine or feminine. Even for a visual person, this was a struggle. And if you remembered wrong, you were already lost by choosing the incorrect pronoun.

There was a rule that if a word ended with an ‘e’, then it was feminine. Your choice for the word “the” was un or une depending on what gender was involved, but not always, and that is where the confusion came in.

She would lead us in group reciting sessions so we all could cover our inadequacies. Our voices joined as one made it easy to whisper and let others drown you out. The absolute horror of this class was when we would walk in and find headphones at all of our seats on a Monday. She loved her pop quizzes.

She would station herself in a soundproof booth while we read passages out loud from the textbook. She would click in to listen to us each individually.

It was so clear who she was targeting. While the rest of us moved on, I could hear some poor soul going over and over the same sentence trying to appease her.

It happened to me all the time. And the guy next to me always looked scared because he knew he was going to be next.

“No! Do it again!” She would yell. So I would.

“No! No! Again! Again!”

I could hear the F being scribbled into her teacher’s notes.

Then she would always try the tactic of pronouncing it and wanting me to follow what she said. The chorus of voices around me, robotically speaking, always threw me off. And the sound was staticky because this was way before technology and noise canceling earbuds.

At some point, I decided there was no pleasing this woman. She was a perfectionist, and even if I did something right, she marched on finding more faults.

Because a significant portion of our grade was based on the actual speaking of the language, I was not doing so well, and neither was anyone else. Weirdly, I redeemed myself on the tests along the way. When I went back to review, I realized I had memorized many words, and I could write sentences and read, but I couldn’t say it.

Without her negative attitude breathing down my neck, I realized I wasn’t that dumb like she made us all out to be. In the quiet, without her around, I could think and do better.

I had to get comfortable with making it to the tests and not look at how horrible I was doing along the way. She was a bad teacher, but I was somehow still learning despite her.

When that clicked, I was able to escape with a B. My test scores were outstanding, but she would have never told me that. I’m sure she’s way retired by now eating a Pillsbury croissant somewhere. If no more students are being tortured, that’s a good thing.

Understanding how God talks is much like learning a foreign language, and it requires putting aside what you think you know. In 2 Corinthians 5:7 it says:

We live by faith, not by sight. (NLT)

I remember the first time someone said that to me. I was having a crisis in my life and was worrying non-stop. That statement made no sense to me. Wouldn’t my sweating it out bring the problem to a close faster?

Matthew 6:27 says no:

Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? (NLT)

So we aren’t supposed to be afraid, trust God, cast all our care into heaven’s hands, and use faith, not our physical senses, to live from a powerful spiritual standpoint. None of that sounds simple because it isn’t, you have to learn it, and it doesn’t happen overnight.

It’s a job done from the inside out, but the more you persist and keep exposing yourself to communication with God, you unlearn what you thought was so important. There’s another way of living where you are allowed to have insight into an unseen realm. You pray, and you crawl before you walk. But, you see the gradual building of something valuable.

God doesn’t want people wandering around in the dark, not knowing what to do. In Matthew 7:7-8 it is presented this way:

Be direct. Ask for what you need. This isn’t a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in. (Message)

The great thing about learning to come up higher spiritually is that you can help others navigate through their rough waters. You can hear and see things they can’t, and if they listen and apply what you say, there’s a blessing for both of you.

Be careful who you let be your authority figure in this. My French teacher impeded my progress to learning by coming at us in an aggressive nature. I have been to churches that believe that you have to run it by them, and you live in a crippled state of never advancing because someone has convinced you they know better than you do. No one knows you better than God. If it doesn’t feel like you have the freedom to think on your own and ask questions, that isn’t the place to grow.

God is always in the business of expansion. But the prerequisite is that you start small and work your way up. Learn the vocabulary, and soon it won’t feel so foreign.

(There are problems in EVERY language!)

Unity

Art class was never my favorite, but the public school system was always on a mission to create a well-rounded individual. So for those who were going to pursue basket weaving or making paper chains, we had to put in our time so our future would be successful.

There is artistic talent in my family that my daughters inherited, but it seemed to bypass me. It is so frustrating to see mentally what I want to put on paper but then produce something that is not even near what was intended. There’s darkness between that part of my brain and my hand.

I had always been under the impression that the ability to draw was given to some, not to others. There are claims out there that this isn’t true. If you work at it, like playing the piano, you can pick it up just as if you have natural talent.

I was never given this insight in school. Most of our instructors floated into the room and seemed abstract, like the projects they expected us to complete. We were supposed to glue things and apply paint to blank pieces of paper.

It was to reveal my deeper self with no directions, and it was a “do what comes to mind” type of thing.

This was the exact opposite of books and writing that I was drawn to. Those have rules like reading left to right, and there’s a point.

An article I read recently about this topic lost credibility for me with its grammatical and punctuation errors. It solidified my theory that we each have strengths and those we should capitalize on. Literally, use capital letters and punctuation when you write, and complete sentences are great, too.

I recently attended an evening of decorating glass ornaments with my two girls. It’s bad enough that I lack in this area, but then to sit next to those two who can whip out masterpiece work in seconds, my efforts look like preschool.

Within minutes, I was unimpressed. The idea was to take ink and apply it to the outside of frosted white glass globes.

After a while, it started to remind me of another object the more I had to labor over it.

“If a lamp burns out at home in the next 24 hours, I’m leaving it. These are making me hate light bulbs,” I said to my youngest daughter, who was in the middle of applying her magic effortlessly.

“And it reminds me of dying eggs for Easter. You know what happens when I mix colors.”

They always somehow turned out looking like grey rocks.

She was a bit annoyed but was making the best of it. She had set aside her colors right where she was going to sit, but when we left the room for minutes and returned, someone had taken all of her choices. Looking around, we realized we were immersed in hostile territory where some were taking this little craft way too seriously.

The person leading this had shown us how to use sponges and plastic wrap. During this demo, one woman kept saying,

“Wow! That is so amazing!” Like she had come from another planet.

What was I missing? I wasn’t catching the vision, just like all those times in school.

I was in great company with a lady across from me. She was throwing back one cocktail after another to cope, and this wasn’t her interest either. While she drank away her evening, I struggled to get through the task at hand. All the alcohol started to catch up with her, and she became a great distraction for me.

“Do you know what would make this even better?” She said.

“What?”

“If I went outside and smoked a cigarette.”

Every time she picked up a bottle of ink to start applying it, it was empty.

“I think that is a sign,” I said.

“I think it is,” she said, trying to squeeze any stray liquid from the bottle.

After making absolutely no effort, she quit. Her friend across from her was intricately painting like Martha Stewart, and all of hers were identical and perfectly done. She then started telling those around her how they could improve their efforts.

“I think you should add some gold to that,” she said randomly as she took another swallow of the never ending liquid in front of her.

She looked like she was going to doze off at any minute.

The lady seated at the very end of our table was going with an all blue motif.

When it was time to quit, my hands were covered in various shades that would not come off that easily.

“Oh, look at that!” A lady said, gushing over the heart that my daughter had meticulously added to hers. She had somehow gotten over the adversity of having thieves take her supplies.

My other daughter was glad it was over as she found herself in my shoes for once. This just wasn’t a match for her artistic talent.

“Could you take my picture?” I heard to my left. The room had cleared, and she was alone; I thought she was with the group that had been there.

“I’m going to give these balls to my boyfriend for Christmas. I painted them blue, and he will get the joke,” she said, laughing. I wanted to say: there are children in the room, but there weren’t.

She just threw that at me. Like she knew me her whole life, and even then, that wouldn’t have been long enough. As usual, I didn’t flinch outwardly, but I cringed inwardly. She started to hand me her phone, but then pulled it back.

“Wait! Let me show you what he looks like.”

I wasn’t sure what I was about to see, but we had come this far, and there was no turning back.

“He is 65, and so am I.”

She flicked through pictures of his house, seemed to be focused and enamored with his wealth, and spoke like she had been with him for centuries. It felt a little desperate to me, and I had a bad feeling creeping in.

“How long have you known him?”

“A month. I went on a dating app. That’s how I meet everyone that I date. The guy I was with before him cheated on me, and the one before that too, but I went on the app and picked another one.” Just like shopping for eggs at the grocery store. Dozens to choose from.

I would rather be thrown in a pit of snakes than live that kind of life.

“Doesn’t that get frustrating? Going from one person to the next? Searching?” I asked.

“Sometimes. But, I really think this time he is the one. My husband died in 2012, so I have been dating since then.”

I saw a brief flash in my mind of her on her phone and looking for another option.

She posed with her creations while I snapped this precious moment in time. A year from now, it would probably be a long forgotten memory and deleted.

How do you tell someone that history is about to repeat itself while they gush on excitedly about their circumstances? You don’t.

She asked me where I lived, and apparently, one of her former cheaters lives near me. She warned me to stay off a specific street. Like I was going to be his next target on a drive-by? What powers did she think this guy had?

Suddenly, she started to talk about God and the church she attended. And then came the question I’m always asked,

“Where do you go to church?”

My standard answer is: online. Otherwise, it’s like attending a timeshare presentation, and they want you to sign up and commit on the spot.

I thought about her later that night, and I heard: She’s worried about her age and being alone, which is why she keeps making the same mistakes. Fear is motivating her, and that always leads to failure.

I was shown that while she wants to connect with God, she keeps getting swayed to look for protection and security in men. And while she sets her sights on the outside, she cannot graduate to a higher level on the inside. If she would, the striving to find what she thinks will make her happy would cease.

Do you know that God is okay with you coming close to Him, or were you taught to be afraid and to keep a distance? In Psalm 17:15, there is an answer that could clear up a lot of unnecessary chasing:

And me? I plan on looking
you full in the face. When I get up,
I’ll see your full stature
and live heaven on earth. (Message)

The invisible realm is challenging to rely on because you cannot always see it, but it can be felt. The more time you spend seeking that instead of what the world claims to give, you find peace beginning to settle in. You have to get comfortable with not always being able to view it as we usually do.

In Philippians 4:6-7, it is explained how to let go of the dating app and hold on to God’s hand:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. (NLT)

Instead of looking at all the broken pieces and trails of disappointments, God can use it all to create an original mosaic that can be viewed as magnificent.

There is an art term that sums up what can happen if we let God do the work in us:

Unity: The arrangement of one or more of the elements used to create a feeling of completeness. Everything in the work seems to belong and contributes to the overall picture.

When you let go of your plan, and let heaven direct circumstances for your highest good, you will come to realize a new level of existence that is known as unity.

Best Gift

When I had to go through my parent’s house and sort through 60 years of possessions, the one thing I would have taken if it still existed would have been the original nativity set.

But, it had long been gone after seeing its days spent in the hands of all the kids. I don’t think one of us didn’t take them out of their places and play with them. By the time I got to them, they were chipped and dented.

With three boys, I can only imagine what they did to those, and they were made out of ceramic. Nothing fragile or plastic was ever safe around them. Many of the things that had survived their childhood path of destruction were barely hanging on.

Like the Monopoly money that was taped together, one of them got so mad that he ripped the fake currency in half. When my mom saw what he had done, she made him piece it all back together. Her purpose was twofold. They probably couldn’t afford to buy a brand new game, and for the rest of time, this temper tantrum would be long remembered so as not to repeat itself. It was a message to all of us that consequences might last forever if we did something once.

Because of his brief tirade, I had to hand over bills with yellowing tape every time I wanted to buy Boardwalk. The question was always asked when I played with friends,

“Why does this look like this?”

I had to explain that one of my brothers had gone crazy momentarily long ago. They would look at me like I was related to a notorious criminal.

My mom told me that one year she and my dad had bought toys for Christmas on credit.

“Before we had it paid off, every single thing we gave them had broken. We never did that again.”

So it was no surprise that the pieces from her nativity were beaten up. When she put them out, they would soon be scattered all over the room. It took mileage to get the wise men from point A to B.

First, Mary and Joseph had to get to the stable, which wasn’t a short jaunt. I had to pack up my tiny Barbie suitcase with clothes for the journey. And the camel that got them there ran on green energy with no fuel emissions, so the going was slow.

If my mom had to vacuum the carpet, that just set back the trip, and I would have to start the process all over again.

I would get the two of them all the way to living room Bethlehem and take them from the couch to a chair, the stereo, the end tables, and finally, the stable that was losing its roofing.

“Chris, I need to dust. You need to leave.”

It never failed! She always thwarted the birth of Jesus.

That meant I would have to start all over again later, and I hadn’t even gotten the wise men on their way yet.

I have a hazy memory from about four, where I pretended to be the Virgin Mary. I had a light blue blanket that I would drape over my head because every movie that depicts her puts her in a blue-colored head covering. I grabbed whatever doll I could find, Raggedy Andy would do, and I would put him under the tree.

My mom had told me that God had sent the world a gift in the form of a baby. In my mind, then, he should be where all the other presents were.

“They were expecting a baby to come, and God surprised them. It was a great plan because no one could figure it out,” she always told me.

I was taught young, growing up Catholic, that Mary was to be worshipped. But as I grew up, I never felt she was any different than anyone else. God just handpicked her because He knew she could accomplish a mission that not many would be able to, and we all can do that.

A lot was expected of her that the world was not going to understand. I can relate as more supernatural events keep on showing up.

Because I was the youngest, I got the job of putting Jesus in the crib on Christmas Eve. My mom would leave him in the box until then. She always made a cake, sang Happy Birthday, and handed me the tiny figure wrapped in a little cloth. If she had put it up high to keep me from moving the pieces, someone had to lift me so I could reach.

I was the only one of the six who had the longest record of having this assignment. With them all so close in age and as an outlier, I had no one to compete with. I begged for a younger sibling, but she always said,

“You will have to wait for someone else in the family to have a baby someday.”

I thought she was being mean to me, not realizing she was past 40, and all of her patience was long gone.

And so was mine when her house had been left in disarray without a single thought of who would have to deal with it. They lived like death didn’t exist; I don’t recommend doing that to your children.

I had started working on it in June, and by October, it was listed. Just before that, my daughter and I went back over, which we had been doing daily.

All of the Christmas decorations were long gone, but in the middle of one of the rooms was a handmade ornament with my mom’s name on it. There was absolutely no reason for that to be there, with all of that having been removed months before. Just like a little thank you note.

It had become her way of getting my attention during that time so I wouldn’t forget that she was still around. She let me know that just because I couldn’t see her didn’t mean that she wasn’t still alive.

In the first year of her moving on to heaven, I wrote daily passages. I would get a vision of her sitting at a table, and she would put on a pair of glasses.

I wondered why she wore glasses in heaven, and I was made aware that it symbolized wisdom and that I was about to learn something. I knew I was to start writing, and it wasn’t the greatest to see that while I was driving. Her timing wasn’t always the best.

When I go back and read some of the passages from two years ago, I see a subtle warning about an upcoming pandemic, encouraging words on how to stay strong in the face of adversity, and a lot of details of her heavenly home. Basically, she reiterates a truth to me repeatedly. God loves humanity. In this entry from my journal on June 5th, 2019, I was having one of these learning sessions:

“Chris, God is God. People can make Him into whatever they want, but He is the Creator. And there are no shifting shadows in Him. The spin that the world puts on Him is nonsense and makes no difference. God longs to come and be in communion with His creation. The pain you see in the world, the confusion and the self hatred is lack of communion with God. When His love floods the body and the mind, all these things will flee.”

It fits right in with John 3:16, where we are told that God loves the world.

I try to keep that in mind as I am given reasons to hate it more and more. But it must not show because people are drawn to His presence like a magnet.

I continually have people smile at me when I walk through stores; some say hi, some want to know where the soup aisle is, and others want to tell me their life stories. Like the guy who saw me put back something, I was considering buying as an ingredient.

“You really didn’t want that anyway,” he said.

This is how it always starts. I’m minding my own business, and someone appears.

“I love my grandchildren, and I am getting them candy before I go see them.”

He started grabbing boxes and examining others, trying to decide what they would like best. He chatted on about anything he could think of while I kept trying to find something on my list.

He explained to me that his car wasn’t working right; he and his son had to fix it.

“The tires are shot. You know what I wish?”

“No. What.” It could be anything.

“I wish I could ride a horse everywhere I go, and that would be great.” And, he kept right on looking for what he wanted.

I laughed. Where did he come from, and why?

“I love horses. And they are more reliable than driving a car. I got to spend ten days on a ranch, and I wish I could go back, and I want a horse. That’s all I need.”

“I think you are going to need a lot of money for food and vet bills.”

“Ya, that might be more expensive.”

He talked about his kids, his job, and everything that was going right in his life. He was a fountain of positivity. And as fast as he appeared, he said goodbye to me.

As I drove home, I heard: It’s not all bad. See? I just showed you that. That man is happy even when things aren’t going right with his car. He found other things to be grateful for, which will keep him going through all that is ahead of him a lot easier.

God can be straightforward like that and not complicated at all. So keep an eye out for those encounters that offset the negative.

When you need encouragement from heaven, and it arrives in a way that you weren’t looking for, that is the best gift.

Simple

Brittle

“Chris, the timer is going to go off. Can you turn the cookie sheet and put five minutes on the clock?”

I grew up in a house that had a dysfunctional oven. Nothing was ever done to correct it, and when it was in use, care had to be taken to watch the time or half of what was in there would burn.

It seemed that my mom was always off in another room when it had to be handled. If not done right, there would be smoke, a scorched unrecognizable and inedible object. A pizza could quickly become a plastic frisbee and a pan of brownies transformed into a brick.

So when she told me I had to deal with whatever she was baking, I moved fast because that night’s meal hung balanced precariously between life and death.

The heat blast that came from it when the door was opened was nuclear radiation quality. With my eyes closed and oven mitts on, I repositioned whatever was the scientific experiment that night. We were in unfamiliar territory and what came to the table in the evening was anyone’s guess.

My dad was put on a low fat diet, and a doctor’s visit had revealed that his cholesterol was out of line. His Saturday breakfast of eggs and bacon was replaced by whatever was considered devoid of the ‘F’ word. Not a thought was given to high sugar content as long as he was eating artificial, man made products with enough preservatives to provide it with a shelf life of at least ten years. But, by God, he would have triglycerides that would be phenomenal.

It was a sure fire way to help him live longer and make him hate his existence.

He was raised on meatloaf, pork chops, and chocolate cake that he poured gravy on. The first recollection I have of him doing that, I knew it was wrong. I tried to tell him not to eat it, and maybe I would have warded off his cholesterol issues, but he turned a deaf ear to my gagging. He sealed his fate.

All of his favorites were off-limits, and he was undergoing a massive adjustment with his taste buds and mentally trying to cope with what she was throwing at him.

One night she tried to use crispy rice cereal to make a coating on the chicken. I don’t know what other ingredients she put in it, but when he went to take some, all of these tentacle-like strings inhibited his ability to get it on his plate, and it kept bouncing away from him like a gigantic Slinky.

In exasperation, he put the spoon back and said he was not going to eat it. It had become like a workout for his bicep. She somehow got some of the glop on his plate, and he ate it to make it to another day. He was almost living the dream.

Occasionally, I was the unlucky recipient of his lunch because she sometimes mixed the bags up. He basically ate a sandwich heavily laden with mustard and crammed with lettuce. When I got that by mistake, I fasted. He, on the other hand, had the best meal he had in weeks.

“Chris, I got your lunch today. It was great.”

I had taken one for the team.

Somehow, he adjusted, and she found recipes that he accepted half-heartedly. When Christmas came around, though, he relaxed a little, took a vacation from it almost entirely.

She baked a variety of cookies which he had a hard time staying away from. She would stuff them into their big freezer, and he would grab a handful because calories don’t count when you steal them away from the watchful eye of the prison warden.

I don’t know how this started, but they joined forces to make peanut brittle at that time of year. I have made it, and I have never needed help, so I still am unclear why this was a team effort. It just shouldn’t have been.

One year, my arrival was way off as I went over to their house at the height of him stirring the liquidy syrup on the stove. It has to get to a specific temperature, and a candy thermometer is needed so you know exactly when it’s done. It has to get to 300 degrees usually to create a hard crack texture. The only thing cracking up was him.

He nervously kept an eye on it while the bubbles began to increase the whole time he stood there.

Meanwhile, she stood by with a box of baking soda and a teaspoon. The mixture gets thick as it cooks, and you have to keep it from scorching. This is when the yearly argument would ensue.

“You have to throw that in quick.”

“I know, John. I have done this a million times.”

“I don’t want to burn this.”

“Keep stirring. Move it around more.”

“I can’t move it around more. It’s getting thicker.”

Two bags of spanish peanuts had been added; those weren’t the only nuts in the room.

“Let me do it then.”

“No. You will burn it.”

“I will not. Just let me see.”

He would not release the spoon to her, but he kept voicing his anxiety.

“If we don’t get this to a certain temperature, it’s going to be sticky and will get stuck in your teeth when you eat it. I don’t like it like that.”

“I know. Let me see what it’s like.”

I should have left. It doesn’t get better from here.

“I am sweating,” he said. This was common for him, and not so much from standing over the burner, but his nerves.

She realized I was standing there watching. I still had my hand on the doorknob and was considering going back out to my car.

“Hey! You’re just in time to watch us fight,” she said, laughing. She and I tried to talk about other things while he kept sighing, stirring, and fretting. It was good he wasn’t in charge of national emergencies.

“He gets too upset over this.”

“Why do you two do this every year?”

“It’s tradition,” she said with a smile.

“So, you purposely put yourselves in a position to argue every year?”

“It makes us closer.” She always had this way of trying to diffuse him while in the heat, literally, of the battle.

“Hey!” he said. “Stop talking and pay attention to what I am doing. I need you to throw that in right when I say to.”

This elicited a frown from her. No one told her to stop talking, ever.

“I can talk to her all I want,” she said.

Here it comes; I still stood right by the door.

“You always are talking. I need it quiet.” He said, staring straight into the saucepan in front of him.

“You would think a man who had six kids running around here at one time would be able to handle us talking. Chris, what are you up to today?”

Now she was going to drag me to take her side, and he had tripped her rebellious switch.

“I..uh..” I didn’t want to commit.

“Are you paying attention?” he barked. As the temperature rose, so did he.

“Yes, John. I can do two things at once. I can talk and pay attention to what you are doing, but I don’t get all bent out of shape about things like you do. Why are you here, Chris?”

I had words forming in my head that kept getting stopped before being spoken. I did not want to be in the middle of this madness.

“You better be ready with that baking soda when I say it has to go in.”

She grabbed the oven mitt and whacked him with it.

“I will be!”

It didn’t phase him.

“Don’t goof around. I need you to be ready!”

“This is why men don’t have babies, Chris.”

We were all over the board on subjects, just because they were both in the kitchen at the same time trying to accomplish a task.

“I think I could have had kids just fine,” he said in his defense.

“No way! You stub your toe, and you go down for days! A little sniffle sets you back. Having a baby would kill you.”

“Being quiet would kill you.”

Her response was always to act hurt, laugh, and keep on talking.

“See? He isn’t nice to me, Chris.”

Still trying to get me on her side.

“I am very nice to you! Do you have the teaspoon and soda ready?”

“For Pete’s sake! I am right here with both of them. Can’t you see me?”

His glasses were fogging up from the steam rising upward.

“I am so hot!”

“Let me see what you are doing.”

“No. Just wait until I tell you what to do.”

“So, why are you here, Chris?”

“I don’t know,” I said, forgetting why I had even come in the door.

I saw him lean in to read the small print on the thermometer.

“I think it is time. I can’t read it.”

She tried to see it, so both of their heads were close together as they fought to see what the number was.

“I can’t see with you sticking your nose in here,” he said.

“I can’t see with you not moving out of my way!”

“Get the glass of water!” He said.

They didn’t trust the reading, so the old-fashioned way of doing things was still used. A small drip was put into a cold cup of water, and if it wasn’t sticky, it was good to go.

Both of them huddled over the glass and saw the crystal shape form.

“It’s ready! Get the soda! Right now!”

He moved the pan over to the next burner but accidentally pushed her across the room, making her drop the teaspoon and the soda that she had ready.

“Get it in there!” He said.

“I am trying to!”

She scrambled to pick up what he had knocked out of her hand.

“What is wrong with you, woman? Hurry up!”

I was in crazy land. These two had been my role models as a kid. Now, I wasn’t sure why I ever listened to them.

“I have to get a new teaspoon. This one was on the floor, and it’s dirty now.”

You did not take anything off the floor that was dropped and use it in her world. Her nurse’s training was in full gear to sanitize all things.

“Hurry up! You have to throw it in right now!”

She started finding another measuring spoon in a drawer that was not known for its ease in locating anything. Forks, knives, and other metal objects were being tossed around as she rummaged through, trying to find a clean one.

He was having a stroke and a heart attack all at once. Maybe even a brain embolism.

Finally, she did her part and threw in the key ingredient. The mixture puffed up like it was supposed to. But, the next step had to be executed.

“That has to be put on the cookie sheet now,” he said.

We weren’t out of the woods yet.

There was more pushing, shoving, trying to get past each other. Their workspace was small, and when one moved one way, so did the other. They kept crashing into each other.

“John, just slow down. You are going to drop it!”

“Move. I can do it.”

She felt the need to keep on stirring while he transported the pan across the room to the kitchen table. She was on her tiptoes because he was taller than her.

It finally made it to its destination. I knew if I came back the following year, I would be a witness to it all over again.

“You are spreading that too thin,” she said.

Not able to take it anymore, she grabbed the spatula out of his hand. He stood over her watching her every move.

“You aren’t moving that quick enough. One side of that is going to be thinner than another.”

“John, I know what I am doing. Just let me do it!”

He sighed, looked at me.

“When did you get here?”

I was inches from him the whole time.

“I have been here too long,” I said.

Once he saw that she was not inept, he said,

“I am out of here!”

“We are making two batches,” she said. “You aren’t going anywhere.”

“What? I thought we were done!” His whole Saturday was going to hell in a handbasket.

“We always make two.”

He rolled his eyes at me.

“I am going to go sit down somewhere for a second. I am sweating!”

At this point, his glands should have been running on empty.

“So, why are you here?” she asked, turning to look at me.

Now that she had finished using the spatula, she decided to taste it, and she bit off some and started chewing.

“I had nothing better to do than come here to see this,” I said. My time was free-flowing before I had kids, so there was no real reason to be there other than to enjoy their marital bliss.

“This is chewy,” she said. She ripped off another piece with her teeth while holding the spatula up and looking at me.

“Is work busy?” she asked. “He is going to be so mad that this turned out so chewy.”

Her jaw was working overtime. But she kept trying to engage me in a conversation.

She had no idea that she was eating the spatula, and I could see a huge bite taken off the hard plastic corner. She kept on struggling to eat it.

“You might want to stop doing that,” I said.

“Why? I am taste testing it to see if we did okay. It’s just really hard to chew!”

I grabbed the spatula out of her hand.

“Look at this. Don’t eat anymore of that. Spit it out!”

Her eyes got huge, and she ran over to the garbage.

“What’s wrong with it?” he said from the living room.

She and I started laughing, so we could not speak.

“Is it sticky? Is to too chewy?” he yelled.

That just made us laugh more.

“What is wrong with you two?”

If a stranger had come into that house and observed, a determination could have easily been made that they had the worst relationship. But, I knew it was only a tiny snippet of the entire picture.

Our walk with God is sometimes the same way. We get in the way, worry about the outcome, and if someone from the outside sees us, we might be marked as having no faith. But, all that is required is a mustard seed, and they must have had that going for them.

Anytime she asked him to do anything, he did it. Maybe not without a grumble or two, but he complied because he wanted her to be happy. And when he needed her, she was right there to help. They worked together most weirdly at times, but at the foundation of it, they kept each other a priority, working to keep their hearts soft and not brittle.

(No spatulas were harmed or injured in the making of this year’s double batch)
(Unassisted and in a meditative state)

True Self

I had finally gotten all of them under control. Whenever I walked into a classroom, I was overtaken at the door by a mob of preschoolers who knew I only visited them once a week. It was one of three jobs I was working, and a company hired me to go to various daycare centers and lead a music class. I had beaten out those with much higher qualifications academically, and the job market was scarce, so I knew this opportunity had come my way for a reason.

I unzipped my suitcase and let the kids pick out their instruments. I rarely followed the curriculum but always was interested to see what they wanted to do.

In every room I visited, I saw the weariness in the teachers’ eyes. Most of them would collapse in a corner while I had the children’s full attention.

I always sat on the floor, and if they had their way, all of them would have been as close to me as possible. I had to fight my way in, and my shirt and jeans always showed proof of many runny noses using me as a Kleenex. They all would wrap themselves around my waist, ankles, and arms, anything they could grab onto. The minute I got home, my clothes went in the wash on high-power sanitize mode.

“What should we start with?” I asked.

They started to raise their hands. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her crawling toward me. Before I knew what was happening, she curled up in my lap like a cat.

“Miss Chris, I don’t feel good.”

I could tell she was running a fever from the heat that was coming off of her. She settled herself in like this was a normal thing to do. I was supposed to teach a class where no one ever sat still, and now I was somewhat trapped.

She fell asleep.

I looked to the teacher for information.

“Her mom couldn’t take off work today. She has a double ear infection with bronchitis, and she is on an antibiotic, but I don’t think it’s helping.”

“There wasn’t anyone else who could help?” I asked.

“No, and as long as they are on a medication, they can come here.”

I put one hand on her back. I guess I was going to have to get creative as all eyes were on me. I would have had all the kids pray for her in a church, but if I had done that in this setting, I would have been escorted out the door to my car.

“I think I have been coming to see you guys so much that I bet if I sit here and tell you what to do, you will be able to, right? Like, big kids?”

I have found that if you tell people they are capable of more, they at least try, and this age group always seems eager to be more grown-up.

“Yes,” they all said at once.

“What do we use to hear music?” I asked.

“Our ears,” they all said.

“Okay, so if I tell you what to do, can you use your ears to do that even if you don’t see me doing it too?”

The little girl was in the deepest sleep, not moving an inch.

“Yes,” they all said again.

They did everything I asked of them, and even when I turned on music for them to follow along, she never woke up.

They crashed cymbals, marched around the room, and went through various hand motions I had taught them to do with certain songs. For an hour, I stayed stationary like a piece of furniture so this child could rest, and it was as if she was in a soundproof room.

When it was time for me to leave, she flipped over and looked up at me.

“I feel better,” she said.

“You do?”

“I was tired, Miss Chris.”

“I think you were.”

The color in her face looked brighter and her eyes less sick. She got up, walked over to where her group of friends was, and jumped in to play with them.

“That’s the best I have seen her look all day,” the teacher said.

Sometimes, we just need a nap.

Mine came in the form of a guided meditation this past June. I had read an article on psychological healing that suggested success in recovering from deeply embedded wounds. Because of my strong ability to visualize anything, it didn’t take long to go inward to this place that often lays dormant.

It felt similar to having a dream, but I could easily come back if I had to.

I was taken to a wooded area where I was instructed to sit on a rock. I saw a short form appear as if hiding behind a tree, peering out at me as I looked. It was all black, almost cartoon-looking. I could see a head, legs, arms, and hands, but no details. Similar to a pedestrian sign type drawing. I got the understanding that it was a representation of a human form.

As I watched, this figure came and sat across from me. I realized that this was a part of me that had been there all along, buried under by a lot of dirt that had been piled on her.

I was to have a conversation with this aspect of myself and let her know that she was not in danger despite all the pain she had previously been subjected to. That even though life had not gone the smoothest, I would no longer contribute to her suffering.

Often what happens when a person is subjected to the cruelty of others, two outcomes can occur. Either you reject it or accept it. Usually, those who are seen as weak are targeted and vulnerable. They believe the spoken remarks, and even when the aggressor is long gone, the words continue to play in the mind like a broken record.

Soon, you hate yourself, and you don’t even really remember why. This negative mindset attracts more “proof” as these types of people manifest themselves from time to time to serve as a reminder that it’s a fact, which helps to solidify the idea more. You swim continually in a pool of misinformation, and if anyone tries to tell you differently, it’s hard to believe it. You have been programmed to have a critical low-level self-loathing view no matter how often you are presented with the truth.

It’s similar to the brainwashing that recruits undergo when cult members work to break them down mentally to implant conformity.

Now that I was face to face with the innocent part of me who did absolutely nothing but show up on the earth, I was to tell her that it wasn’t her fault and not to believe what she had heard, even if it had been said by an authority figure or someone she was supposed to trust.

I started doing this practice daily. Sometimes I floated in a canoe with my young self, met with her in a field of flowers or back in our original meeting place.

After a month of this, I found myself in a room that had three folding chairs. It had gotten to the point where I didn’t need to listen to an audio at all. I could close my eyes and see what I needed to. I walked in and sat down, not sure what was going to happen. There was a whiteboard with words written on it that had long plagued me. Ugly, fat, stupid, not good enough. They were all there. The door opened, and an angelic being sat in one of the empty chairs. Then she came into the room, totally different than our first encounter. I recognized myself. No longer was covered in blackness, but I could see every feature.

I knew it was me, but I felt protective of her as I would be over one of my daughters. Where before, she kept her distance, now she sat near me just like all the kids I had met over the years.

A bright light began to circulate from the angel to her, then me and back around. I looked again at the words on the board, and they began to disappear. Soon, it was empty. All of these sessions had been a dismantling of years of self-inflicted wounds ignited by the negative and careless comments of others.

In Revelation 21:5-7, it is made clear how God wants us to be our best selves, free from the restraints we put ourselves in:

Then the one who sits on the throne said, “And now I make all things new!” He also said to me, “Write this, because these words are true and can be trusted.”

And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty, I will give freely from the springs of the water of life.

All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.”(NLT)

In Romans 8:33, things are made more clear about how important we are to God:

I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love…(Message)

The uncovering process isn’t something I got up every day excited about. It made painful memories surface that I had buried, but it helped me understand the why behind some of my thinking about myself.

Am I fully healed? No. But I’m more aware of how my past has affected me, and I don’t want to carry it with me any further. And, I don’t tolerate personal attacks on my character like I used to. Instead of letting them slide by, I am assertive and confront them. Why let history repeat itself?

You have to be willing to make it an ongoing project to uproot those things that aren’t serving you and are hindering your growth.

If you do, you are going to feel like someone has come along and stripped away all the fake exterior that has served as your protection. But the result will be that you will finally be your true self.

(She looks a lot like the one I met over this past summer…)

Less Tears

“Did you see that?” She asked as I walked through the store, trying to focus.

I stopped to look at what she wanted me to notice. It was a display of cardinals. Glassware, plates, and mugs were adorned with the red-winged symbol. I picked up a miniature one and saw that it had a small card associated with it.

My eyes were so swollen from crying I could hardly read.

“It says that when someone wants to send you a message from heaven to tell you they are ok, a cardinal will appear.”

I was having a lot of other signs happening, but not this one. When my mom moved on in 2019, my life dramatically changed as I could easily go between the two realms.

I had seen a few videos where people described their encounters with birds, but I hadn’t had the experience. I picked up a small charm to purchase and went back to looking around.

It was the day after my dog had passed on to heaven in my lap. I had gotten out of the house to distract myself and was trying to feel normal.

I felt guilty for being so lost without him. How could I feel this way about a dog? People had died that I knew, and I wasn’t this upset. I felt like I had watched my child go away, and I kept trying to tell myself I had to pull it together.

I had been trained not to feel anything as I grew up, so I was used to being able to pretend the pain wasn’t there. But, this time, I couldn’t make it stop. It kept coming in waves, and I knew that he wouldn’t be there when I got back home as he had been for 12 years.

Over the noise in my mind, I heard it playing on a speaker above my head.

“Do you hear that?” I asked my daughter.

It was Ave Maria. That was always a strong indication that my mom was trying to tell me she was around.

I have found that music is an easy way for those in heaven to communicate with us. My playlist on my phone will suddenly go to a song with lyrics that tells me how to look at a situation in a helpful way. Or there will be words that will comfort me when I don’t understand circumstances that seem so out of control. It will happen while I am driving or shopping.

At first, I used to ignore it or explain it away. That’s one way we keep ourselves safe and try to understand what we don’t understand. It’s just a coincidence, and it means nothing, right?

But when you start to listen closely and pay attention, it becomes so pronounced that you can’t brush it off anymore.

While my mom was days away from her transition into eternal life, I could not go anywhere without hearing Rod Stewart sing Forever Young. After the third time, I started to notice this, and I would suddenly catch the lyrics while in a store, restaurant, or even on hold. It really hit me when I was in the freezer section of a small grocery store I rarely went to.

The realization of it was astounding. All knowledge is given where she is, so songs, books, anything is available to send subtle messages.

I had to unlearn what I thought I knew about the other side. I had been taught not to mess with the dead because that was demonic. Evil can come as light, so don’t go near it, like when you are taught as a kid not to touch a hot stove. So I had tried for years to push away what was trying to break through into my existence.

As I stood there not twenty-four hours after his departure, I listened to this significant tune being played just for me. I knew I was being told I wasn’t alone.

Grief can do that in the most unrelenting way. It comes in and covers you in darkness. No unseen forces are working against you; this is you against you.

While I knew I had to feel what I did, I didn’t want to stay stuck in it, which is easy to do. So I was trying to remain mindful of how much I was getting swept up in the sadness. I had wanted to leave with him, and I couldn’t. I was trying not to think about the long dark tunnel that was ahead for me without him.

And then the guilt.

When I told my daughter about that, she said,

“People are always going to do things that make us upset, and they are going to hurt and disappoint us, but he never did that to you. He gave you unconditional love, and sometimes you had to correct him, but he never hurt you.”

That helped.

So as Ave Maria played, I turned and saw a shelf of battery-operated lanterns. When the switch on the bottom was moved, it lit up, and a fan started to move glittery snowflakes like a snow globe but with no effort to shake it.

One of them had a male and female cardinal in it. My dad didn’t want a Christmas tree put up the year before, so I thought maybe he would like this instead. It had a significant meaning attached to it as he went through his second year as a widower. Having her favorite song play nonstop was guiding me on how to help him and me.

When I gave it to him and told him I had one, he said,

“Maybe we will be looking at them at the same time.”

“Should we communicate by telepathy through the birds?”

At first, he thought I was serious, and he always gets this look on his face that makes me laugh. The same one that put her into hysterics.

“Is that possible?” He asked.

“I’m just kidding,” I said. Who knows at this point. Maybe.

“Oh. You had me a little worried there for a minute.”

After all I had told him about my supernatural life, this was a worry?

“I do have strange things that I can’t explain happen to me all the time.”

“Accept it, Chris. God has chosen you to give this gift to. Just accept it.”

We didn’t access supernatural powers through our Christmas lanterns, but mine would turn itself on at random times. Even if the off switch were on, it would startup, and I just accepted it.

I had been searching for something to put on my tree in memory of my dog. I couldn’t find anything in the store that day, so I went online. I was briefly disappointed to see that a particular one had sold out. It was a cardinal looking into a window. He had always sat with one eye toward the living room windows to be sure we were protected.

“I want this,” I said, showing my daughter. “But it’s gone.”

I tried to find something else, but I kept coming back to that one.

One day as I was walking past my tree, which I had put up early as another distraction from my grief, I said,

“I expect to get that ornament, and I am going to put it right on this branch!”

I was somewhat moving into the anger portion of my loss. Not severe, but enough to not put up with the lack of supply for something I wanted. I wasn’t asking for the world, just something small. And if God owned everything, then I could have it.

Every day, sometimes more than once, I would go up to that spot on my tree and say out loud,

“That ornament is going right there, and it’s going to hang on that branch.”

I never looked at it online again, but my daughter did.

A handful of days into this, she was woken up at 2 am and told to search a particular website. To her amazement, there was one available, and she purchased it before falling back to sleep.

Every day she had to listen to my speech about how great my tree looked with the ornament on it. She waited as time went by, and there was no delivery. She messaged the seller and was told that it had been delayed, but it was coming.

Meanwhile, I kept repeating the same mantra every single time I walked by the space. It was mine, and I wasn’t taking no for an answer.

On December 19, many weeks after all this began, I got home late and I was trying to tell her something. She kept shifting her eyes away while I was speaking. Finally, I said,

“What is wrong with you? Why do you keep doing that with your eyes?”

She didn’t answer me but looked away again. I squinted, trying to get a reading on what was up. Had the stress of her career gotten to her? What problem was I now going to have to help her solve? Was she overworked? I came up with nothing. Usually, I just knew.

“What is going on?”

More of a head nod this time made me look toward whatever had her attention. The entire house was dark except for the lights on the tree, and I stepped closer to the spot that had been empty.

I could not believe it! The sold-out ornament was on the tree!

“What? How did this happen?” I said.

She told me about her late night purchase with my mom’s voice telling her where to get it.

I thought that was the end of it, but we had two cardinals repeatedly show up in the yard over the summer. They were replicas of the ones in my lantern, and I had never had this happen before. One of them started to fly so close to me at times, I had to shut the door quickly so that it wouldn’t get in the house.

During all of this, my grief still raged on at times so harshly that it would stop me in mid-sentence or come out of nowhere when I thought I was fine.

I was sitting in my friend’s salon chair in mid-July as she mixed up hair color. She had her dog go to heaven days after mine did, very unexpectedly, so she knew first hand the sorrow I was feeling.

She stopped what she was doing and stepped in front of me. This was unusual for her as she is a very driven person who doesn’t stop once involved in a task.

She took off her glasses and said,

“God just said me that He is going to show you the love that your dog had for you in a different way. Stinky was an example of what is coming next into your life.”

Then she went back to work on my hair. But that became an anchor for me as I have drifted in and out of rough places, being tossed around, wondering if life would be okay without him.

We are being taken care of in so many ways, and we don’t even know it. To see, though, it requires expansion. I still miss my dog, but the sting of it has gotten easier. I still want him to materialize next to me on the couch and scratch my hand to get me to pet him, but that’s not going to happen. Instead, I have to move on because there is more to do here. He isn’t coming back no matter how much I want him to.

But, what I can do is keep myself as close as possible to the One who created him just for me.

In Psalm 34:18 it says,

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. (NLT)

This I have found to be true. As I have drawn near to God, I have overcome some of the hurt to get through the darker days. As I have allowed healing to come without resistance, my capacity to help others has grown. I can’t go anywhere now without someone telling me they have had to say goodbye to an important person.

Last weekend, I was in a hardware store getting zip ties, and the cashier randomly said his best friend had died at the end of October. I could see a tall man standing next to him, around fifty years old.

“Do you feel his presence? Was he tall?” I was testing the waters.

“Yes, I can feel him by me every day. He was much taller than me and died at 55. But it’s like he never left.”

And I thought I was going to get zip ties.

My faith has increased through all of it, my spiritual ears have become more receptive, and my eyes opened to more incredible things with less tears.

Made to Last

“Was it love at first sight?” She asked. I looked over at him and already knew the answer.

“What?” He asked.

He looked to me for guidance because he couldn’t hear her behind the mask.

“When you met your wife, was it love, at first sight?”

The inquiry was in its processing stage, and then I saw the understanding hit.

“No!” He said as if having to endure it again.

“Really? Why not?” She asked.

He crossed his arms tightly across his chest and said,

“She was a prude!”

“Well, you were no catch either,” I said in her defense, recalling her version of their first meeting. He smiled at me, knowing I was telling the truth.

It was a blind date, set up by friends that were a couple. They thought the two of them were compatible, but it was an act of God because they were from two different planets.

While she grew up in a small town in North Dakota, highly disciplined, he was on the streets of St Paul, causing a whole bunch of mischief. He had learned how to scam people wherever he could just to get a few cents in his pocket.

While still in elementary school, he took a handful of free pamphlets from the church and sought out the homebound elderly in his neighborhood.

“I would sell them. It was a quick way to make money. I had to sit and talk to them sometimes, which was boring. Sometimes I got a cookie, which made it better. But I always got paid.”

He was also in the recycling business. A small store sold pop in bottles which he and his friends would steal. They would drink it and then go in the shop’s back door where the owner would give them change. Then, they would race around to the front and buy candy.

“You could get a lot of penny candy back then.” He always said it like he wore a badge of honor.

He attended Catholic school where nuns were at the ready to whack him across the forehead with a ruler for any infraction. This did not deter him from getting out of line. He and a friend would sneak into the empty church during recess and roll under the seating.

It was on a hill with a dramatic slope from the back to the front.

“We would get on our sides to see who could get to the front first.”

One day, the back door flew open, echoing across the empty sanctuary.

“Who is in here?”

The two boys didn’t move a muscle, hiding under the pews, hoping she didn’t find them. He saw her long, ankle-length dress and heard the swinging of the beads as she went row by row.

“Jackie! Are you in here?”

Out of all the kids, she could name from his class, he was on the radar.

His prayers were answered, and she didn’t find them. And instead of being led by fear, he and his companion continued their daily race. If he could get away with it, he did it.

He graduated with all F’s and was sent into the military.

Meanwhile, my mom was scoring at the genius level on IQ tests and was the valedictorian of her class. She walked the straight and narrow path and lived under her father’s constant verbal and tormenting abuse. She escaped to nursing school in Minnesota, and this is where their two very mismatched worlds collided.

Doctors were in pursuit of her, and she went out on dates quite frequently. The night before her encounter with my dad, a suitor had brought her a corsage that she had pinned on a dress coat; she left it on because the flowers were fresh.

“I had to come down this long staircase,” she had told me. “He was waiting at the bottom.”

When she took the last step, he turned to her, pointed at the corsage, and said sarcastically,

“What do you think we are going to a ball or something?”

That set the tone for the night. She instantly hated him. And to send the message, she crossed her arms and made sure he came nowhere close to her.

“I was getting long-stemmed red roses and gifts from men who already had graduated from medical school. There was one in particular that I thought was going to develop into something more serious.”

I always envisioned the outcome of that. By some chance, what if she had married a wealthy doctor and I had been born into it?

“But your dad and I were a marriage made in heaven.”

And just like that, the pony, the outdoor pool, and everything else I ever wanted would vanish.

An unseen force was pushing them together; they saw each other again and somehow figured it out. While she loved picnics, he abhorred them. She loved to dance, but he didn’t. But she had a way of getting her way.

One night when he refused to dance with her, she accepted the invitation of another man. He had gone to use the restroom, and when he came back, he couldn’t find her. When he saw she was enjoying herself with someone else, that was the last time he said no to dancing.

Later, they found out they had been at the same party at a house before knowing one another. As they talked about it, all the details were the same, but they never saw each other there.

“We were just supposed to be together,” she would always say even when things weren’t perfect.

“We got into a big fight, and I took my engagement ring off right before the wedding,” she told me. “I was done with the whole thing. But then he came and looked so devastated that I forgave him.”

I guess when a divine plan is at work, anything can happen. I had seen her unflinching attitude once her mind was made up. But he somehow had worn down her defenses.

“He kissed me and slid the ring back on my finger.”

There went my mansion on easy street.

I didn’t come into their lives until way after the initial flames had flickered. One child after another had arrived, and I was the last of the six. When my dad wanted my attention and said my name, he would accidentally rattle off all five ahead of me before landing on mine. One morning I woke up to my mom calling in the dog.

“Chris! Stop barking and get in this house!”

“Did you just yell my name out the door?” I asked from my room that was near the kitchen.

This had now gone to a whole other level. She opened my door and looked at me in shock; it was an expression I came to know well as she tried to keep up with so many kids and things to attend to.

Many years later, while I was in high school, I had come home one evening to find him lying on the kitchen floor trying to fix the dishwasher. He had gotten off work early because it was their anniversary, and he had walked into a pool of water.

He could usually repair anything, build what she wanted, and never took a car in for an oil change. He did everything himself. But this was proving to be a challenge.

“We were supposed to go out,” she said when I came in. “He’s been working on this for hours.”

I could tell that the tension in the room was high as his frustration was climbing, and he was hungry.

Much to his dismay, he could not remedy whatever was wrong. This meant he would have to call for someone to help, but it was way past the time to do that. It was a blow to his ego.

Their evening out turned into a pizza delivery, and she got out paper plates. He still seemed annoyed as he mindlessly ate while still trying to figure out why he couldn’t solve the problem.

Suddenly, he came back to reality and remembered this wasn’t a usual weeknight.

“I got you a card,” he said, jumping up to go get it. He came back and handed it to her.

She opened it and started to laugh to the point she had to put it down on the table.

He looked at her like she needed to be committed to the nearest facility.

“Why are you laughing? That card isn’t funny!”

She tried to catch her breath, and once she did, she read it out loud.

“To my dearest wife, on her birthday!” This put her right back over again while he just shook his head and said,

“Dammit! I hate this day!”

She laughed louder. But, I saw him start to relax. For her, it was the perfect anniversary with no dishes to do, no meal to cook, and he had made her smile unexpectedly.

When something is meant to be, God will make it happen for the benefit of both. In Ecclesiastes 4:9 it says:

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor: One can help the other up if either of them falls down. NIT)

That was the secret to their success, even if it looked worn out, frazzled, and all-out insane. They used their strengths to help one another’s weaknesses.

My parent’s entire relationship was filled with moments where they had to see the good in the middle of big messes. No matter how bad things got, it was made to last.

(All smiles until all the kids showed up; 68 years later this week)

Wear It

“What is this?” I asked my daughter. “It has your name on it.”

I was struggling to get a gigantic package through the front door.

“I don’t remember.”

This is a common occurrence at our house where she will order items she needs for her business and then forget what is coming.

I shoved it through the entryway into the middle of the living room. She opened the top and peered inside.

“Oh no! I didn’t know it was going to be this big!”

“What is it?”

“It’s a shoe.”

She kept staring into the box with a wary look.

“This is one shoe? For what?”

“I wanted a small Cinderella slipper that I could put under my Christmas tree. I didn’t know it was going to be this big!”

Her work involves scale, so it was quite a shock for her to see she had underestimated the size.

She took it out of the box and assembled it. My idea of a dainty princess flew out the window. When she plugged it in, it was so bright we turned off all the lights to conserve energy.

“I guess that is going to go outside.”

“It’s for the kids who drive by.”

Her goal was to set up a massive display so our house would stand out like Las Vegas in the darkness of winter.

That huge high heel began the process of more deliveries, zip ties, frozen fingers, and pounding stakes into the ground.

A gigantic engagement ring and a carriage took their places from the fairy tale of the girl who was down and out who suddenly found herself the center of attention in the eyes of the prince.

As the story goes, he was not satisfied until he found the rightful owner of the stray shoe. Many tried to force it on, but only she was the perfect fit.

And while he is on the hunt, she goes back to her everyday life, of mundane tasks and being verbally abused by a stepmother and half-sisters. And where is her dad? I always wondered that.

She accepted her lot in life, didn’t get bitter after seeing the wealthier side for one night and the people who had it a lot easier than she did.

She was grateful for the small opportunity that she didn’t know would lead to a life-changing event.

There are over 500 versions of this tale, and many of them date back before Disney brought out their rendition. In one of them, the mean stepsisters get their eyes pecked out by birds while serving as bridesmaids at the royal wedding. That gruesome part, understandably, didn’t make the cut for children.

It can’t be overlooked that their lack of vision and hatred toward their sibling brought on trouble of their own making. When there’s a plan in progress, a path will be cleared past those who stand in the way and bring torment.

I came across a made-for-TV movie that changed the footwear to a magic stocking. A young woman attends a masquerade ball at a mansion and ends up finding the favor of the millionaire because he picks the stocking she brought.

I could only take so much between the overacting and the cheeseball lines, but the message was the same: a rescue mission.

That is the role of God in every person’s life. In Psalm 18:30, it is explained how we are taken care of,

As for God, his way is perfect: The Lord’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him. (NLT)

When you hear God speak or guide you in a specific direction, it brings peace in the middle of chaos. That is the beginning of the end for aimlessly going through the motions, embattled by anxiety and feeling trapped. It starts with becoming more aware that there is a Creator of all who wants a connection with you.

Cinderella didn’t bat an eyelash when she was told to put the rags aside and get out of the house. She allowed it to happen without knowing how it would. Putting one foot in front of the other, the plan began to unfold, and she walked into it.

Sometimes you have to mentally barricade yourself from those who don’t support where you are headed. You just keep on letting God lead. Despite the negativity swirling around her, everything came together perfectly.

We are given these instructions about how to combat interruptions,

Keep your eyes straight ahead;
ignore all sideshow distractions.
Watch your step, and the road will stretch out smooth before you. (Proverbs 4:27, Message)

Often, we forget those moments when what we have been praying for manifests. We don’t enjoy the “happily ever after” part but rush on to the next problem.

It’s good to go back and write down all the times that blessings have come, so you don’t forget and to show gratitude.

I remember what the Lord did;
I remember the miracles you did long ago. (Psalm 77:11)

Through signs and wonders, heaven will make sure you know the truth even when all hope looks gone.

In verse 8 of 1 Corinthians 13, it is stated that love never fails, and this presented itself right before my eyes.

One evening last year, just before Christmas, my daughter said,

“Look at what the camera recorded from the front yard.”

I pulled it up on my phone after she told me a date and time. On the sidewalk directly in front of my house, a couple had stopped to look at her handiwork. She added dogs, a ballerina, trees, music, and the Eiffel Tower, which created a unique glow.

Apparently, this inspired an overwhelming, romantic Hallmark moment, and it turned into a kiss cam like at a sporting event. Seconds turned to minutes as the security footage rolled on.

I believe that your outlook on life creates your circumstances, and positive attracts more of the same.

When I watched this secret encounter happen, I knew that it had been drawn in as if by a powerful magnet. It sent a loud and clear message to me. In the middle of a pandemic where hatred had presented itself in so many ugly ways, the love of God had shown up and manifested a surprise public display of affection.

We live in a self-centered world, where it often seems that kindness is in short supply. What will you be remembered for? If your memorial service was held today, what would people say?

That you are a miser with a bad temper? Or a giver who would come to the aid of anyone at any time? A person who always has the right words exactly when they are needed? A critical nitpicker who drains the energy in every room by seeing only the bad in every single situation? Someone who takes advantage of others so you can get ahead? Or putting others before yourself for the joy of seeing them succeed?

The choice is yours, and if the shoe fits, wear it.

I don’t know if this is a big enough engagement ring…