Peaceful Balance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hebrews 12:17 says,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(That’s not even full yet…)

King

Some would say she was a determined leader, and that was true. She had to manage many employees, and one catastrophe could pull the rug out from her perfectly orchestrated day at any moment. I could hear her shoes stomping down the hall before she made an appearance.

Her expectations were extremely high, from the dress code to the volume of your voice. If she found a person’s choice of clothing for the day distasteful, she would engage them in a lengthy conversation and then tell that person’s supervisor she disapproved of their appearance.

She was not above producing a ruler to measure where the hem of a skirt fell in relation to a knee cap. She mainly did that to the younger ones she wanted to see wearing apparel from the Victorian era. If anyone questioned this, we noticed they disappeared shortly after. Yes, just like the mafia.

It left us all wondering who her next unsuspecting victim would be.

It was done with the purpose to maintain her position of authority. Literally, she threw her weight around by being intimidating.

The place didn’t run on respect for her; it operated on fear. When I heard her heels coming and saw her entering my office, I knew it usually meant we were about to get reprimanded for some unwritten, vague infraction.

She had at least thirty years on me. Her speech was like a machine gun going off directing, telling, and commanding. As fast as she whipped into a room, she flew out onto her next mission of ridding the place of any peace.

“You are stealing money from the company if you are socializing when you should be working.”

We were forced to attend monthly meetings with that kind of team-building inspirational speech.

“It is considered theft.”

Hypocrisy at its highest.

At one time in my career there, I had worked in the kitchen when I was a teen in high school. At least twice a week, this individual would walk into the cooler and devour the chocolate pudding ordered explicitly for the residents. I never saw a spoon in her hand.

Because the floor was tile, I could hear the cadence of her approach quite clearly. We all would freeze, hoping she didn’t stop to inspect our hairnets and purse her lips as she took in our appearance. We all breathed easier when she disappeared.

“The sergeant is here, I see,” said one of my coworkers who was putting water glasses on a cart.

Once she had ducked into the refrigerator to eat to her heart’s content, an older woman I worked with would always whisper to me,

“It must be her time of the month again, dear. She’s on the rag.”

“That’s what you said last week,” I would reply in a hushed tone.

When she came back out, we knew she hadn’t been in there to run an inventory. Not with pudding as lip liner.

“Make sure you check expiration dates. I think I saw some that were outdated.”

“Okay,” we would say, going along with her game. The clicking of her heels signaled the departure.

Once I moved up into a higher position, the office I worked from was right next to hers. I was fully aware that she was your ally one day, and the next, you were on the hit list.

How did I deal with the madness? I found my sense of humor. I didn’t realize what a great coping mechanism this was. God will have your finest gifts come to the forefront when trying to survive a horrible situation.

When she would swoop in acting uptight, I would say something that would diffuse her anger. Instead of getting her wrath, I would make her laugh, and she would find someone else to chew out. It was a part of me that I had never known that I possessed.

Soon, she was coming in to sit down and rest. She no longer was showing up to rattle off orders but to take a few minutes to talk about life issues that were bothering her. I still would make her laugh, but I also asked her questions to try and build a rapport with her.

It never got to where I wanted her as my best friend, but I understood her better. She conversed about the pressure of her job and the stress of her home life. I got a better understanding of who she was, but she never was a staff favorite. I had learned how to circumvent her tirades and tongue lashings.

I often would walk into the gossip of those she had run over with her harsh behavior. The worst complaint about her was that she would make life miserable behind the scenes if someone weren’t up to her expectations. Every discussion always seemed to revolve around her eventually. She had planted herself firmly in all of our minds by way of bullying.

If a decision had to be made about anything, it always came down to if she would give it her stamp of approval. It had to be strategically laid out step by step, looking for landmines that could trigger a volatile reaction. Even a man’s best-made plans can still be for naught. I heard many staff weeping through the thin walls of my office and hers. Walking on eggshells doesn’t always guarantee bypassing a wicked reaction.

I had watched from my desk people get escorted to their cars after being fired. This wasn’t a gesture of courtesy. It was like watching someone on death row go to the executioner.

We were drilled on state requirements and prepared for drop-in inspections. We were always told to act calm when a state inspector showed, and if they suddenly came, every one of us knew who to contact so the entire facility was aware. There was a chain of command to follow. Her ultimate badge of honor was to be deficiency-free no matter the carnage of staff she left in her wake.

The idea was not to let them see us sweat. She thought if we showed any nervousness, this would go over as guilt. Like we were hiding something.

I was on the phone gathering information on a potential client, and over the loudspeaker, I heard her scream,

“They are here! I repeat! They are here!”If she would have had a nuclear button on her desk, she would have hit it with a hammer.

So much for serenity. I heard the familiar beat of heels getting their workout as she ran for the front door. The atmosphere changed from tense to unbearable. This would be a week of intrusion that we all hoped would result in the news she wanted to hear.

None of us wanted to get a poor result, but the added layer of how she could potentially make us pay if we did was foremost on the minds of all.

As an assistant, it would be rare for me to go head to head with anyone representing the state. Usually, the supervisors of each department were introduced to batten down the hatches. It was one of her worst nightmares to think that one of us underlings would be able to handle a situation and say the right thing.

It was viewed like the segment in the Miss America competition where we had to give answers on the spur of the moment. Minus the swimsuit or evening gown portion. She didn’t want anyone to stumble over their words and appear uneducated. She feared that someone would babble.

Imagine her coronary arteries going into an uproar when I was suddenly greeted by one of the inspectors from the state.

“Can I come in?” He asked, knocking on the door. My supervisor had just left for a few moments, and I had to be her substitute because that was the rule. They could quiz all of us at any given moment.

He extended his hand and introduced himself. Sitting down, I knew from training, I was to close the door. This is when I saw her look at me through the window. Eyes wide and a hard swallow, with a slight head shake, were signs signaling that she thought I was about to blow her perfect record.

I heard her go into her office next door. Probably with her ear to the wall to be sure I was the perfect Stepford Wife.

He started to ask me a series of questions about finances and how payment was processed. I went through each type, pulling out examples of paperwork, explaining each one. About halfway through, I realized he had no idea what I was talking about. He seemed nervous.

“Could you repeat that?” He would say as he took notes on his sheet. So I asked him,

“Do you know the difference between Medicare and Medical Assistance?”

“Not at all. I’m new to this, so you are helping me learn.”

I went from feeling put on the spot to being his mentor in seconds. I knew what it was like not to understand something complex but necessary to perform well on a job.

By the time our interaction was over, he left like he had attended a seminar on the subject and thanked me.

She immediately vaporized in the hall.

“How did it go?”

She had listened through the wall, so she already knew.

This is how I remember her all these years later. I don’t think it was necessarily a personality disorder as it was a drive for perfectionism and power. She conducted herself in a way that left mental scars on many. Some of us could withstand it, while others escaped, often feeling like failures.

No longer able or willing to undergo her temper tantrums, they departed with awful memories of her. For those of us who somehow managed to stay aboard the Titanic, it was for a check. None of us had any loyalty toward her.

Her life stressors didn’t excuse her brutality.

She never considered the pain she inflicted on those around her. While she was so consumed by being monitored by the government, she never thought that God was watching. Every unkind word, act, and power play was being observed by heaven. She didn’t just break the Golden Rule. She crushed it into the ground under her mauve-colored pumps with many spirits attached.

No one is God, so her fate is in His hands.

The other day I saw this advertisement by a fast food restaurant looking to hire:

Why work for a clown when you can work for a King?

I knew the reference, but I saw it in another way.

In many church circles I have been in and out of, one of the repetitive phrases has been that we are “daughters and sons of the King.” So often, we slave under conditions where a message is sent loud and clear. We aren’t valued for what we do.

You might hear a thank you once in a while, but you are very aware of how ungrateful your boss is the rest of the time. You are made to feel that your paycheck is a gift, not a given. While you put in your best effort, you are subjected to the cruel nature of a dictator who is on a power trip.

When you wake up to it because your self-worth increases, there really is no going back. You are done with what was accepted by you before. Boundaries are put into place where there had been none, and you no longer can sit under the weight of someone else’s darkness and be suffocated by it.

You have this epiphany that the fear no longer holds you down. You don’t have to settle anymore to play the punching bag at the office. God has shown you the way, and He is your source for all you need.

You throw all caution to the wind and walk away, freeing yourself from the false tyranny.

In Psalm 37:18-19, God’s character is revealed,

God keeps track of the decent folk; what they do won’t soon be forgotten. In hard times, they’ll hold their heads high when the shelves are bare, they’ll be full. (Message)

Further in verses 25-29,

I once was young, now I’m a graybeard—
not once have I seen an abandoned believer or his kids out roaming the streets. Every day he’s out giving and lending, his children making him proud.
Turn your back on evil, work for the good, and don’t quit. God loves this kind of thing, never turns away from his friends. Live this way, and you’ve got it made, but rotten eggs will be tossed out. (Message)

The choice is yours—Trade in the clown for the King.

(Clowns to the left of me..jokers to the right…)

Succeed

I don’t know how the thoughts started, but they were relentless. I had difficulty concentrating in school, and the only way to describe it was like living underwater. I still managed to get all of my work done, and my classes passed, but it was a challenge to overcome this dark voice that constantly told me to end it. 

I recall listening to one of my friends speak to me in a hallway, and while it appeared I was listening, my mind was a million miles away. I could go through the motions of pretending all was well, but it wasn’t. I couldn’t exactly figure out why it had suddenly come out of nowhere, but now I see it was years of hiding who I was and trying to conform to what was expected.

I had to get perfect grades because I lived with a perfectionist. On the one hand, she would tell me to do my best, but then if I came home with less than an A, she would ask me why I hadn’t achieved that—residing in a home with someone like that makes for instability.

I never knew when I would hit the right mark to make her pleased with me. I knew for sure when she was unhappy, which was a lot of the time because I was not exactly one not to fight the system.  

Her way of parenting was control, and I was her subject. She didn’t take into account how I felt about most things. There was a house to clean, food to buy, kids to cart all over for various activities, and that did not leave time for her to sit down and interact with me. She had a list of chores to get done, and a lot of the time, I felt like I was one of them. 

These thoughts became more prevalent and would be right with me in the morning when I would wake up. It was like having a person around nagging me and giving me reasons why I should execute it.  

It would have been the classic case of a straight-A student suddenly snapping and taking her life. Every time I hear of this happening, it isn’t a surprise to me like it seems to be to others. When you are under that much pressure not to make any mistakes, and it has been years of it, it eventually becomes like a volcano. Issues are going on under the surface that no one knows. 

There was a gigantic disconnection between what I was showing on the outside and what really was going on inside. All of her insistence of me attending every single church service with her was not working its magic like she thought it was. I recall that I defiantly refused to leave the house with her one time. My dad was gone on a fishing trip, and she expected me to go to mass with her.

“I am going to go start the car,” she said.

“You go right ahead,” I said.  

“Hurry up. You are going to be late.”

“I am not going.”

You would have thought I said I murdered someone.  

“Oh, yes, you are.”

“No. No, I am not.”

“Okay,” she said, trying to use reverse psychology on me. “I guess I will just go without you.”

I was never so happy to hear her say it. I went to my room and decided to enjoy the peace. It was rare to be alone, and I wanted to be.

“Christine Ann..”

Oh, here it was.

“You get yourself in that car right this minute!”

And, as usual, I dragged myself to the vehicle and sat silent the whole time while she talked about how great it was to go to church.  

Was she out of touch with reality? Yes. Often, she was because she had a filter through which she saw life.

I didn’t know this until a lot later, but her dad’s sexual abuse of her affected my entire upbringing. She had cut herself off emotionally from all people. While many were drawn to her for her wisdom and immense problem solving, she was not one to be invested in feeling what others felt. It was a mixed bag of spiritual insight, but she kept everyone at arm’s length.  

And, after years of that with me, I had come to a place where it was all breaking down. One day, I was walking past her as she was ironing.  

“How was school?”

“Fine,” the typical response just to get it over with. 

“Are you starving yourself? What have you been eating?”

When she spoke to me, I was taught that I was to stop what I was doing and engage. But, it was the last thing I wanted to do.

“I don’t think you are eating. Is this true?”

She was now on to me. I had subtly been using that as a way to self-destruct.  

“Yes,” I admitted.  

“Why are you doing that?”

I decided to tell her what my thoughts had been. She started checking on me more often and made sure that I was eating. She would put food on a plate and stand over me while I ate it, so I had no choice. 

That’s what most people do. They don’t look inward to solve the problems, and everything externally is exhausted to bring relief. She saw her daughter exhibiting a particular behavior, but she missed the point of what was at the root of it. 

We quickly judge people’s outward behavior but miss what is driving the real issues.

If you see someone doing something that you know will destroy them in the long run, that’s a sign that something on the inside is not okay. Sometimes, God will call you to help them, and other times you aren’t the one. 

Many years later, I continued to conceal my emotions. I recall filling out a lengthy intake form for therapy, and at the end of it, I heard in my mind,

Go back to page eight. You lied.

When I flipped back to that spot, I realized I had answered no to some questions that clearly should have been yes regarding some of the things I had endured. I had gotten so good at denying it, I believed my lies. I had been trained to do that. To cover up the truth and soldier on. 

In my case, the complete healing of the wounds inflicted by her didn’t come until after her death. During her transition, I was able to see where she was, what she was experiencing, and she told me everything. In the beginning of being in heaven, she started making amends.

I watched her walk into eternity for many days over a long bridge before she was fully there on May 28th, 2019. 

On June 2, 2019, she told me this:

On that bridge, I saw every place where I missed the mark. And I couldn’t fix it, but I asked God to fix it. There is nothing that can’t be fixed by the hand of God. I couldn’t go on and rest if I left such pain behind. I wish more people knew that. Every word. Every action. No one is perfect. Perfection is only obtained after you walk through the gates. And, yes, there are gates. They aren’t pearly. Just beautiful ornate gates that are open wide. I got to walk right through!

Not one time did she tell me she experienced remorse, but she was shown where she chose herself at the expense of others. But, this didn’t keep her out of heaven. That is how loving God is.  

She went on to tell me this:

I see how people fit into my life. It was all God’s plan. It was a beautiful work of art that I didn’t always understand. I tried to control the brush in the painter’s hand. That was a losing battle. He had such a good life for me, and I always didn’t see it that way. How I wish I could take back those days of storming around acting so nuts. I lost my mind, Chris. All the junk I thought was so important was not at all. I saw Jesus hold all of that in His hand and blow it away like pieces of tiny dust. That’s how important it was.

In another conversation with me, she stated regarding the fallout of her abuse and never dealing with it,

I became tough on the exterior to show the world that I would never put up with anyone treating terrible me again. It’s so regrettable I did that. The fullness of my life got squashed down. And I squashed down others in the process.  

When I told her I wished we could have a do-over, she said,

I know. But I am now. So this is why you are here with me. God saw that you always wanted a real mom. Your prayers have come before God, and I can do it. I am not on earth, but I am a new creation here. Isn’t that exciting to know you can be changed? 

Revelation 21:3-5 says,

I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate.” (Message)

My understanding of what happens in the afterlife has been changed. I never knew that those who had gone on would be given a chance to continue to help us. It’s not to earn an award or ascend higher. It’s the goodness of God who has created an eternal bond between you and others. The most amazing part of all of this for me is that even someone who might have been an obstacle to your growth while they were here, can now be used to help you along your path.

This isn’t something you can purchase online or do externally. This is all work that comes from a place that is unseen and from a spiritual standpoint. There will be signs and people put on your path if you start to pay attention. All of this will point you into fulfilling your purpose on earth as heaven wants to see you succeed.

(Even the word ‘feelings’ is hiding itself.. don’t do that..it’s not good)

Spill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes! I do.

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

“I think better when I go slower.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Really?”

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

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

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

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

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

About an hour later, my daughter said,

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

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

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

This sent her into another wave of laughter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(At least pretend to hurry…)

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 I 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…)

Problem Solved

Please don’t call on me. Please don’t call on me.  This was my daily mental mantra during his math class in sixth grade. I had a history with this man and had hoped to never be his student again.

Previously I was in one of his classes in second grade, and I had gone from being an avid reader with great pronunciation skills to not being able to comprehend sentences.  I began to bring home extra work to do with my mom to improve my understanding.  She noticed that I was not struggling as she and I worked together.  After a couple of these sessions, she said to me,

“I don’t think you like your teacher.”

“No. I don’t.”

“Why?”

My seven year old mind could not articulate clearly why I did not like him.  I just knew I didn’t.  In hindsight, it was my first experience with being intimidated, but I didn’t understand it.  It wasn’t that he was a male teacher as much as his attitude about being of that gender.  I recall seeing him flirt with the young female teacher across the hall, and in an instant his demeanor would become harsh with the children in his room.  He was unpredictable, and I never knew when I would meet his approval or not.  He put me on edge, and I always felt his anger simmering below the surface. To add to my fear, he towered over me. One of my brothers was just as tall, but it was the way this man glared at me from above that made me cower.

During our one on one reading sessions he would often laugh and ridicule those who were not pronouncing words correctly.   He would use another student to ‘correct’ the one who was making a fool of himself.  It was a form of public humiliation amongst the peers.  Not being able to take the pressure, I shut myself down and with that my favorite subject became my most difficult.  My voice, that once was strong, became small and weak with the idea that he was going to lash out and make me feel horrible about myself.  The best part of my day was when our hour of reading with him was over, and I returned to my home room next door.

When second grade ended, I wasn’t only glad to welcome in the freedom of summer but to be away from him forever.  Forever lasted until the sixth grade. He picked up right where we had left off. This time, he was my math instructor which wasn’t my best subject.   His eyes would scan the room looking for his prey to call up to the board. Hands across the room would fly up, but I always put my hands under my desk to be sure there was no mistaking my desire to stay seated.   Regardless, he would pick me.  I never got used to being in front of the entire class sweating over the board trying to appease him only to be interrupted.  I would just begin to write and he would snap.

“No! That’s already wrong. Go sit down.”  I would quietly put the chalk back in its place while he would then call upon his star math student who would go up and show us all how it was to be done.

“Now, that is perfect,” he would say shooting me a satisfied sadistic smile.

The worst part was the homework.  He would hand out our assignment and expect it back by the end of the day.  For a person who caught on to numbers quickly this would have been easy.  But, I had such a mental block, partially due to him making me feel stupid, I needed the extra time in the evenings to complete the work.  If a student didn’t turn in the homework of the day, then she was expected to ask him permission to take it home and turn it in the next morning.  Every day I made the short but long walk to his door to ask if I could have an extension. It was a ritual short of bowing and kissing a ring on his hand. Some afternoons when he was preoccupied with impressing some of his young female students, I would get a head nod followed by a grunt. Other times, he would torture me with tormenting questions.

“Can I take my math work home tonight?” I would squeak.

“Again? Why can’t you get it done during the day like everyone else?”  He knew full well I needed the extra time.  After making me feel like an absolute idiot, I would finally get the approval to take my work home.

One day, as I walked slowly down the hall, I noticed him standing in his classroom doorway facing his students.  He was quiet and so was the entire class.  Looking back now, I should have known to just turn around and forget it, but I didn’t realize what I was walking into.  As I neared him, he began to yell at the top of his lungs.

“I told you all to shut up, and I mean it!  I don’t want to hear another word until the bell rings!”  His voice echoed off the walls around me.  Sensing I was behind him, he whirled around.  Screaming in my face he said,
“WHAT DO YOU WANT?” Spit flew from his mouth and his eyes were crazy looking.

“I need to take my math home….” I think I actually whispered my request.

“I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU DO!”

He spun on his heel and slammed the door so hard that the floor beneath my feet shook.  I ran back to my class. When I came in the door, my teacher asked,

“Are you okay, Christine?”

I kept my head down and nodded.  He looked at me for awhile like he wasn’t so convinced.  I don’t know how he hadn’t heard the commotion out in the hallway, but I was so paralyzed with fear I could not speak.

I left elementary school and went on to middle school, high school and college bearing the unseen scars that he inflicted.  I was amazed by the other kids who could whip out math answers while I struggled over each and every problem. I had a teacher tell my mom at a conference that he felt sorry for me because he could see that I really wanted to comprehend the material but it just didn’t stick.  Something was blocking my ability to get to the right answer.  When she told me this I must have been touched by it because on the next test I whizzed through it.  By the end of that year I had gotten a low B in his class.

The damage wasn’t just confined to school.  If I was with a group of people playing a game where a score needed to be tallied, and I was questioned on my accuracy, I would immediately say,

“I am bad at math.” I was merely verbalizing the thought I was having twenty-four seven.

Usually I hadn’t made an error, but due to early childhood programming by a bully math teacher, I constantly defaulted to what I thought was true.  If the person in my social circle was somewhat aggressive, I found myself thinking for certain I was at fault and he or she was right. I was continuing to exist as a sixth grade math student.

The pattern of living this way began to dissolve when I decided to home school my daughter.  I knew that I was going to excel with instructing her on reading, writing, spelling and basic math, but there was the nagging question if I had what it took to effectively teach math at the sixth grade level or higher.  The summer before she was to begin that grade, a packet came in the mail that included a math placement test.  Before I gave the exam to her, I took it.  I was shocked to see that I scored rather high.  Calculations that would have been confusing made absolute sense.  How had I become one of those kids that I had envied so much?

That is when I realized how my thinking was not correct on this matter.  There were other hints along the way, but I had brushed them off quickly because after all, “I was bad at math.”

When I began to home school, I purposefully bought a math curriculum that used a hands on approach to teaching not only basics but also some geometric and algebraic principles.  As I showed her the logic to solving equations, I began to understand that I had not been taught properly.  I was slowly beginning to see that I was not the stupid idiot I thought I was.  I actually had not been given good instructions nor was I treated like I should have been.

This made me begin to question what other lies I was believing about myself that were not true, and I made a determination to begin an ‘uncovering’ process to free myself from deceptive thinking.  This meant asking God to reveal whatever wasn’t right so I could correct it.   After all, it is promised that ‘all crooked paths will be made straight.’  I am realizing that this is an ongoing process.

This man was in my life more than 36 years ago.  And all these years later I can conjure up his face, his words and his demeanor.  The difference, however, is that I no longer believe him.  I have put a loving arm around my sixth grade self, and I have told her,

“You are good at math.  Problem solved.”

math

Wedding Bells and Empty Shells

“She is dating a co-worker of mine. I see them together everyday while I am here and they flirt with each other right in front of me.”

“And you have been married how long to this woman?”

“A month.”

“So, you were married a month ago and already she is cheating on you?”

“She says she isn’t, but at the end of her shift she goes home with him for the night.  She has told me that nothing is going on.”

“Have you known her for awhile?”

“Yes. We have a two year old son together.” He pulled out his phone to show me a picture of himself and an adorable red headed boy.

“Was she like this before you got married?”

“She flirted with men, but it wasn’t like this. She won’t let me touch her or kiss her. She is like a totally different person.”

“Who helps you with the baby?”

“Her parents do.”

“Have you discussed her behavior with them?”

“Yes. They don’t approve but they told me that they love their daughter and it wasn’t their business to get involved in our marriage.”

“Did you tell them you might divorce her?”

“Yes, and they told me to go ahead with whatever I felt was right.”

He continued talking about how miserable his life was with this person.

“She tells me that nothing is going on, and that I am being unreasonable about all of it. She took off her wedding ring because she said she has a rash on that hand and can’t wear it. Everyone here at work knows they are together. This guy has had four kids with four different women.”

Alarm bells and red flags!

“Why are you still with her? I know you just got married a month ago, but what keeps you in this marriage?”

He shrugged his shoulders.

“I love her.”

“That is admirable of you, but do you see that you are being used? She is carrying on with another man while you are working, raising your son and she is making you out to look like a liar while she is cheating.”

He fiddled with his wedding ring spinning it around on his finger. “I know, but I love her.”

“Are you happy? Is this what you consider marriage?”

“No. But I love her. I want to punch the guy in the face everytime I see him.”

“What about her? She is participating along with him.”

“I know.” I saw a few glints of tears in his angry eyes.

“I am not trying to tell you what to do. I have been through a divorce and it isn’t fun at all for anybody. This person is married to you and using it as a front to be with someone else. Is this really what you want out of life?”

“No, I didn’t think it would work out like this at all. I thought things would be different.”

“Then maybe your next step should be to pack it in, start fresh, raise your son and move on and let her find her way.”

“I can’t. I love her.”

No matter what I said, it came back to this same answer. This conversation began when I had gone to the front desk of the resort where we were staying to pick up a card that would offer me discounts on area attractions. Little did I know that the representative behind the desk would begin telling me his whole life story.

I had simply asked for my card, told him the neighbors above our unit were extremely noisy and the next thing I knew he was unloading his pain on me in massive doses.

“If you are this unhappy now, what will it be like ten years from now?  Will she go to counseling with you to get help?”

“No. She claims she isn’t doing anything wrong so she won’t go with me.”

“What if she gets pregnant with this man?” At this, his neck became red up to the roots of his hair.

“I am worried that might happen.” I sensed the slight tremor of fear.

“You have to take some time and think all of this through,” I said. “I have to say you are doing the best you can in a very tough situation.” He thanked me for listening, and I began my walk down the long hallway.

I have had situations such as this happen over my years where someone I don’t know very well will begin to spill very serious and intimate details of his or her life. Usually, my inward reaction is shock, and I want to check my shirt to see if it reads: Please tell me all your problems right now!

I cannot explain it fully, but while those emotions are going on, something else takes over. I often feel a calm settle over me as I listen, ask questions and try to sort through the mess. On the outside it appears that I am cool and collected while many times I am thinking,

“What is happening?!?”

As I walked away from him I began to think of how I had ‘trapped’ myself into situations over the years. I think many of us get our hearts set on something and even when it is going very badly, we cling to it hoping things will change.  We make up stories in our heads and dismiss the fact that our problem is in fact our unwillingness to look things squarely in the eye and make a decision to save ourselves from agony.  Sometimes, as in this man’s case, it is too painful to acknowledge the pain.

I believe in prayer.  I do believe miracles can happen. I have experienced prayers being answered in ways where things that were not serving me were removed. I have prayed for burdens to be lifted and to walk in freedom only to find that I was hindering my own progress by not letting go.

As I approached the door of my condo, I saw a couple walk by holding hands and having a lively conversation. You know the kind where you can feel the electricity in their attraction as they talk and walk. I thought of the wounded and dejected guy behind the desk. This is what he was longing for deeply but missing it because his partner was not on board.

I thought about the vow he had so recently taken about being together “until death do us part”. I never used to think of it this way, but there have been times in my life where something has ‘died’ so to speak, and I have not wanted to part with it.

Relationships fizzle out when one doesn’t reverance and honor the other party.  A picture comes to mind of a shell on the beach that has washed up without the creature inside. The housing still exists but the contents are empty. It appears that you have stumbled upon a treasure but when you flip it over you realize that whatever lived there before is gone. The shell is just a remnant of the life that was.

I send my best prayers to this man who so deeply loves a woman who does not love him back.  He deserves a good outcome that is more than living life like an empty shell.

shells