Do Over

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s too bad,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Was it hard for you to trust him?”

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

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

God leaves that up to each of us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unnecessary Chain

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

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

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

I would say, “Then don’t.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With tears streaming down her face, she screamed,

“I don’t wanna go to jail!!”

“Hey! Listen..you won’t….”

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

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

“You won’t…hey… listen….”

Her older sister had a hard time not laughing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

She ran past me, and I said,

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

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

They were white as snow.

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

“I ate it.”

“No. You didn’t.”

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

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

“What is happening?”

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

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

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

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

She shook her head no.

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

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

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

I think I gave up on the vitamins after that.

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

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

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

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

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

No one becomes a doormat without allowing it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shine

“I stopped doing it because I was told it was witchcraft.”

This was the first time I had heard this.

“What possible connection would there be between what you were doing and practicing the dark arts?”

“I don’t know, but it made me feel so guilty that I didn’t do it again.”

I knew she had spiritual powers, but she had hidden them, and now I knew why. This was why she had me stifle my own because she didn’t want me to be subjected to the same comments.

“I thought this person was closer to God than I was. I didn’t want to do anything wrong.”

“You sent healing to a sick person, and this isn’t from God? That makes no sense.”

“I did it all the time. Once when your dad was really sick and in the hospital, I did it then because he was having kidney problems.”

I remembered that because it was so frightening. When I was eight years old, I woke up to him yelling things that didn’t make sense. My bedroom was right off the kitchen, so any slight noise there would immediately wake me up.

“We have to get the boats in! There’s a storm coming! Hurry up!”

He started saying the names of my brothers and family members as if he could see them. What was happening? I was lying in bed wondering if I was dreaming.

“Jack, come with me. It will be okay,” I heard her say.

“No! We have to get the boats in. There’s a storm! It’s going to get worse in a few minutes.”

“I will help you get safe. Just come with me.” She sounded calm, as if this happened every day. I guess her training as a nurse in a crisis was kicking in.

“Hurry up! You are moving too slow! Get the fishing rods! Run!”

This craziness went on for a while. She was trying to get him to the car, and he was off somewhere on a lake. She opened my door and said,

“Chris, I have to get your dad to the doctor. I will be back in a little while.”

There were older siblings to make sure I was not left alone, but it was so scary when she said it. I thought he was dying.

Eventually, she was able to get him out of the house and to the Emergency Room. Later, I found out that he had a fever so high he was hallucinating.

They discovered he had kidney stones that would require surgery. The doctor was convinced there was no other way but to have the procedure. When she left the hospital, he was still very ill and not responding to the treatment they were administering.

“No one was around when I got home. So I sat at the kitchen table. I shut my eyes, and I could see him lying in bed at the hospital. It was so real like I had been transported there. I asked the Holy Spirit to help me. I was in two places at once. I knew I was in the kitchen, but I also was in his room. I felt this warm light start in my chest and flow out of my hands, and I directed it to him. I just sat like that for a while, not saying anything but letting this energy go through me to him.”

“When you explained this story, did you use the word “energy?”

“Yes.”

“Well, that’s what made you into a witch. Dogmatic Christians can be hypersensitive to what words are used. But what you are saying is an accurate description of what it is. Energy, light, divine healing…I guess you didn’t use the right buzzword and got yourself in trouble.”

“I guess so. But right after I did that, he got better. His fever lifted, and the stones dissolved. The doctor couldn’t believe it. He had a total turnaround, and it worked every time I used it.”

“And that’s a bad thing?”

“I was made to feel that way. I have had the Holy Spirit with me for a long time. When I was twelve, I went to a tent revival, and since then, I have had a lot of spiritual help.”

She grew up in a small town where gossip and secrets ran rampant. I always had this view of her hometown as honest and pure until she told me some of the incidents that had been hidden from public view. There were extramarital affairs, children born from those affairs, and a bunch of other shady behavior. The priest would make house calls while the husbands were away at work, and he left his Bible and rosary at home. My grandma refused to let him in.

My mom’s story was the most buried, and I had uncovered it a few years prior. She had confessed to me that her father had sexually abused her. This had left her feeling ashamed and guilt ridden. He would target her when her mom would leave her in his care. She was afraid to speak up because in one instant, when she tried to say something, her mom told her she would kill him if he ever did that. My mom kept quiet because she didn’t want her mother to go to jail for murder.

These ugly encounters with her dad were going on consistently, and she didn’t know how to escape. When she heard that a preacher was coming to town, she snuck into the meetings, against her Catholic upbringing. When a man from this group was walking around and had asked her dad if he had found Jesus, he had sarcastically responded,

“I didn’t know he was lost.” His sense of humor was always cutting and at the expense of others.

She was taking a huge risk by attending the traveling preacher’s meeting, but something was pulling her in. When they asked people to come forward for the altar call, she went up, and her life changed from that moment.

At home that night in her bedroom, she was looking out her window. She felt a strong presence all around her and a strength that was not there before. She heard the familiar sound of his feet coming up the stairs, just like all the other times.

When he opened her door, she looked him in the eye and said,

“You will never touch me again.”

He backed up and walked away.

He still verbally abused her and made her life miserable in other ways. But she said he no longer made her afraid.

“I have had this power with me since then, and I have used it when I have needed it.”

“But, you keep some of it hidden to fit in, right?”

“Yes. I don’t want to do anything wrong, and I don’t want to argue with people.”

When she told me all this, I didn’t fully grasp it, but I do now. I continually have things happen that I cannot explain, and I don’t go looking for them. They show up, and while I used to be frightened by some of it, I am not anymore.

I find it so interesting how Jesus said this,

“The person who trusts in me will not only do what I am doing but even greater things..”

He walked on water, changed water into wine, healed the sick…and we are supposed to do even better than what was done? If you have a gift that doesn’t make sense, don’t let anyone convince you that it isn’t God just because they don’t understand it and are missing it.

I have been subjected to the same treatment, even being told demons possessed me by a church leader who had the worst behavior I have ever seen in life. Why? He was scared and felt threatened when I told him the truth. To counter that, he had to make me look bad.

If you allow heaven to invade your life, you will reap this reward in Mark 4:11:

He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of God.”

If you ask for more, it will come, and it won’t always make sense, but God will work through you so that you can let your light shine.