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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Failings Exposed, Conclusion

I don’t really recall when smoking two packs of Marlboro entered my daily routine, only that it wasn’t long after the Canadian Rich and Rare whiskey soothed my aching backside. I’ll never forget just how it happened, though.

I sat behind the wheel of my metallic brown Chrysler Newport, parked and tilted at that angle so familiar with the outdoor movie theaters of that time period. Of course, the passenger window on my side of the car had to be open just a little in order to hang the speaker to provide sound for the movie.

If this evening had been a date, I’d not have minded the open window’s cool air for this last movie of the season; it’d give me a good excuse to cuddle close to the driver. However, since my movie companion was Sandy*, she sat on the front seat passenger side and I began to get chilled from the open window.

“Hey, you want a smoke? It’ll help keep you warm.”

“No, thanks. I’ll be fine. The icy Coke I just inhaled with the salty popcorn didn’t help. I’ll be fine, once that stops chilling my innards.”

Sandy harrumphed. “I told you we should have brought along a little R and R. That would have kept your innards from getting chilled; I can guarantee you that.”

“Well, maybe, but it’s not legal to have an open liquor container in the car, and who can guarantee we’d not have been stopped by the cops, as long as you are throwing out those guarantees? Sandy, I’m one of those people who gets caught, whenever I’m doing something wrong. It’s like some kind of radar goes out or something, you know? I’d rather be cold than take a chance on getting stopped by the cops for a DUI or open-container violation.”

At least, I still had the fear of a police record, because my fear of God being the One to see me drinking everyone under the table had long since ceased to move me to do the right thing—or to abstain from doing the wrong thing. I no longer felt a twinge of guilt when I reached for the alcohol.

“Well, there’s no law that says you can’t smoke and drive. Here.” Sandy waved the pack of cigarettes before my eyes, which were still looking straight ahead at the huge movie screen. “Or, do you want me to light one for you?”

My thoughts raced back to my mother’s tale of her first, and last, session smoking. She’d been caught by her father, who was furious. Her punishment was to smoke an entire cigar. Mom had been so sick, she’d never even thought of taking a drag without remembering the feeling of needing to throw up. Would that happen to me?

When I’d told friends Mom’s story, they all said it was because she didn’t inhale. That wouldn’t happen to me, if I just breathed the smoke into my lungs and not swallowed it. Fearing being humiliated if Mom’s experience ended up being mine, I always refused the cigarette.

However, Sandy wouldn’t take no for an answer, so I reached for the pack and shook out a thin, filtered cigarette. As soon as the thing slid between my lips, Sandy’s lighter snapped into action.

Startled, I coughed a little and then took a slow, deep pull on the filter. Remember to breathe out, I told myself, attempting to act like I’d smoked all my life.

I could feel Sandy’s eyes on me, and I waited for her hearty laugh. Instead, she just said, “See? Isn’t that better now; it’ll keep you warm for the rest of the movie.”

Too busy trying to remember not to swallow, but to breathe in and breathe out, I only nodded. I reckon my serious concentration on what should have been a natural part of life, served to keep me as warm as the thin stream of smoke could have, but I didn’t want to lose my focus by forming a verbal answer. I vowed that night that it just took too much effort to smoke and I’d not be doing it again. I’d order hot chocolate the next time this theater opened in the spring, and maybe even bring a blanket.

Weeks later, I’d forgotten all about the vow. Someone had just knocked on the front door, and here I stood--lit cigarette in my right hand, a slippery glass of R and R Coke in the other. I set the drink down on the kitchen table and reached for the doorknob.

As I twisted the knob, I recognized the sound of the pick-up engine. No time to find an ash tray to smash the cigarette. I pulled my right hand behind my back, hoping I’d not catch myself on fire.

“Hi Dad!” I coughed as I spoke, wearing that cat-who-ate-the-canary-smile. “Uh, what brings you out here?”

My thoughts were racing, willing Dad not to ask to come in for a minute. How would I hide the drink just to my left, and could he see smoke rising behind my back yet? Could I back up and dump the cig in the kitchen sink, without being noticed?

“I’m on my way home from work, but one of the guys told me about these silk roses, so I stopped by the shop.”

That’s when I noticed he held a vase with a bouquet of three beautiful pink, silk roses. “Oh, Daddy, they’re lovely. Mom’s gonna love them.”

“Do you think so? I hope so, ‘cuz I’ve got some for her, too, These are for you.”

Smiling, he held out the gift that ripped my heart with guilt. I just couldn’t ask him to come in; his heart would break if he saw what his daughter had become.

“Well, I need to get going; I just wanted to drop these by. I’m glad you like them, Punkin.”

“Oh, Daddy, I love them! Thank you so much.”

Did I run down those three steps and hug my caring, tender-hearted father? No, I didn’t. I died a thousand deaths as I watched him walk away. No hug, no kiss—only a smoke-scented breath of thanks. He never mentioned it, but I’m sure he had to have smelled it.

By the end of that evening, I’d consumed my usual fifth of whiskey and six-pack of beer, as well as finished off two packs of cigarettes. As usual, I never felt drunk, and never woke up with a hang-over. Something genetic permitted me to by-pass the unpleasant, physical effects of consuming so much alcohol. The taste of nicotine so saturated the lining of my mouth that I no longer tasted it. In fact, I felt pretty dead to the disgusting parts of these vices.

Or, I had until Dad came calling with his beautiful bouquet. Now, my guilt over hiding what I’d become from him gnawed at me like some kind of wild animal. I just couldn’t get over it, or let it go. His smiling face holding out the vase of roses to me filled my days and nights.

Finally, I gave up and cried out to God for help. I didn’t ask for help to stop smoking. I didn’t ask God to make the taste of alcohol repugnant to me. I never gave these things a thought, actually. (The beer? Oh, yeah, I don’t remember when that started either, but it had to do with the price of whiskey. Beer was cheaper; when I had to buy it myself that mattered. In the bar, I only drank the expensive stuff some guy bought for me. Yeah, I know; that’s disgusting.)

I didn’t ask God to help me break the bad habits. I asked God to help me find my way back to Him. I’d repulsed myself with the way I’d treated my father that day—not asking him in or giving him a hug. That’s what I wanted to change; not my habits, but me.

I didn’t want to be the person I’d become. However, I knew it was my own weakness and failing that had put me in the place I now lived, so how could I get myself out? I knew better; I needed God’s help.

God heard my prayers; the Bible says He stored up the many bottles of tears I cried over my failings. When I asked God for help with a heart ready to surrender my will to Him, God moved in a mighty way in my life.

One day a couple of weeks after Dad’s almost-visit, I received a phone call. I’d been offered the job of Hospital Administrator 192 miles from my hometown, and present location. No doubt, God had engineered this change for me, and I purposed in my heart not to blow my second chance.

The day I filled my Chrysler with all of my worldly goods, I left the ugly me behind. I plugged Christian music into my eight-track and sang as I drove away—headed for Jordan, the place of my new beginning. My seven months of rebellion had ended, and I’d never return to that awful, ugly and extremely lonely place. Without God, there will always be an emptiness in the human heart.

Now, I’d returned to the Lord, and His joy filled me to overflowing. It’s been forty years since I turned my back on my rebellion. I never did smoke or drink again. My filthy language became a bad memory, too. I surrounded myself with people who loved God, and music that honored Him.

Those months of living on the wild side only served to confirm that the world has nothing to offer us in terms of happiness and peace. Without God, neither peace nor happiness are possible. Seeing my failings exposed to me that day ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me.

*Name changed.

***Surrender to God is the path to real happiness!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Failings Exposed, Scene 2

Flipping the stick into park, I gingerly slid from behind the wheel; the thirty-minute drive home felt like an eternity of pain. Just three steps to climb, and at last, I dropped to the living room floor, stretching out, face-down. “Ooh, ooh, a-ah. Who would have thought ten hours in a secretary’s chair could hurt so much?” I said into the worn carpet.

“What you need is a beer,” Sandy* said, as soon as her guffawing quieted enough to speak.

Shifting my arm to put forehead to forearm, I registered the advice offered from the kitchen. “Unless you have a vat of it that I can soak my backside in, I don’t think it’ll reach the affected area.” The pop-fizz let me know the Bud had been opened.

“Here, sit up and take a swig; it’ll dull the pain.” Sandy pressed the icy can against my hand. “Or, do you need one of those flex-straws so you can drink it face-down on the floor?”

“No really, Sandy, I don’t drink beer, and you’re right, I’d need a straw, if I did. I just can’t sit on this tender rear-end one minute more.” Her laughter dissolved my own grouchies. I could never refuse to laugh when I heard Sandy, no matter how much I didn’t want to join her. “How can people work in an office? I mean, they must surely develop calluses back there or something. I hope I don’t take too long to toughen up. Stop laughing! I am really hurting here.”

Sandy had returned to the kitchen during my whine. I heard the clink of ice cubes in a glass, followed by another pop-fizz.

A moment later, my new roommate knelt down next to my prone body again. This time a tall glass, dripping with condensation, touched my hand.

I’d not anticipated the cold, and reflexively pulled back. The instant my head lifted, I felt a straw shoved between my lips. “Take a sip; you don’t even have to move.”

I did as ordered, smelling the familiar fragrance of Coca Cola. Speaking around the straw, I voiced my shock. “Ugh, Sandy; what’s wrong with this Coke?”

“Nothing at all. Take another sip.”

Again, I swallowed the familiar beverage with the unfamiliar taste. The smell resembled my favorite refreshment on a hot (or even cold) day, but I couldn’t place the unusual taste. Also of note, my lips began to tingle. My shoulder muscles no longer felt like cords about to snap, and my throat and tummy burned. “Sa-a-an-ndy? (cough, snort.) ” Wha-a-at zin de--”

R and R. Like it?” I shook my head. “It’s okay; you’ll get used to it. Just drink up and you’ll be feeling fine in no time.”

Though not totally convinced, the warmth spreading rapidly throughout my body, felt good. I drained the glass and fell asleep on the floor. Not just this first day of my new job, but each of the next three home-from-work evenings began with a tall, icy glass of Coke liberally laced with Canada’s best Rich and Rare whiskey.

By Friday evening, my backside showed positive signs of hardening up for the long haul. My previous jobs, far from the sedentary type, had not prepared me for a ten-hour-a-day job at the typewriter, ears covered with the business end of the hospital’s Dictaphone headset. Definitely a difficult change for me, but my body showed progress. I could actually sit in a chair as soon as I got home, without needing a few hours of prostration on the carpet first.

“Okay, Kiddo, let’s wolf down a snack and hit the road. I’m ready to boogie, girl!” Sandy had already started dancing around the kitchen. “Where’s your favorite hangout on a Friday night?”

Did I dare tell her I had none? Or, should I admit to a wild fascination for that new fast food joint where the hamburgers cost a whopping fifteen cents and the fries ten? I couldn’t be sure I had the name right even—MacGregor’s, MacFriendly, MacDonalds? There hadn’t been anyone dancing when I had been in there, so probably not the place on her mind. “No, not really. Where do you want to go?”

“There’s a cowboy bar off the Frontage Road that’s a good place to start. The music’s great, but sometimes the guys aren’t. We’ll check it out and move along if the place’s full of jerks.”

“Uh, Sandy, I don’t really go to bars.”

“Oh, I know. Kinda like you don’t drink beer, right? You don’t go for the cheap stuff; you want a real drink! Well, there might only be beer drinkers in that bar, but it’s a start. You can tell them you don’t drink beer and see if the guy’ll spring for a real drink.” I didn’t laugh when she did, because I realized I didn’t really understand what she meant. That should have been a good indicator that I should just stay home and watch television instead of following her out the door.

What in the world am I doing in here? I thought as I watched Sandy two-stepping with some guy she’d just met. My hand wrapped around a warming glass of R and R Coke, I turned to stare down at my own dress pair of Tony Lama boots. I’m sorry, God. I don’t belong here; but well, here I am.

“Hey there, little lady; let’s dance.” I half-smiled and politely refused his invitation. “Playin’ hard to git, huh?”

Before I knew what was happening, he had me standing, pressed up hard against him. Locked in his clench, I couldn’t get my hands between us to push him away.

In a flash, I heard my roommate’s voice shouting in the ear attached to the head trying to find my lips. “Let her go, cowboy.”

“Whoa there, now, Miss! I meant no harm.”

“Just let go of her before things get ugly here.”

“Please, Sandy, can we just go?” Humiliated, I only wanted to go home.

“Yeah, c’mon. I know another place with gentlemen cowboys who know how to treat a lady.”

We left the bar, and two more before Sandy finished her night of dancing. I danced with a few guys; let some buy me a drink, but not a beer; and can’t say I had much fun. I knew I didn’t belong there, drinking beverages that thickened my tongue and dulled my senses.

Where was God in all of this? Watching, waiting, and probably sending His Holy Spirit to convict me that I was His and had no business bar hopping, getting drunk, or letting inebriated cowboys rub their over-stimulated bodies up against me in the tight embrace of the slow dancing.

God never sent down a single lightning bolt to strike me dead, or at least, shock the foolishness out of me. How I longed for God to zap me back to fearing Him more than being afraid I wouldn’t fit in if I didn’t do these things others seemed to enjoy.

However, making choices for us isn’t God’s way. He wants us to voluntarily make right choices, pulling back to let us walk on the wrong path for as long as it takes for the consequences to draw us back to Him. My journey of coming face-to-face with my own failings had just begun.

*Name changed.

****Failings Exposed, Scene 3…Next Post

 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Failings Exposed

Yesterday I listened as another writer taught a class on developing characters, reminding us to include some flaws or, at least, some failings in the hero of the story; nobody’s perfect, after all. While I don’t write fiction, I would have to agree that I had struggled with issues that have caused me more than a bit of grief. So, in the interest of full-disclosure, I’m not leaving out what came next in my life’s journey.

To bring the story back to the last point of reference*, I had just completed a most fulfilling assignment on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation. I’d learned as much from my trainees as they’d learned from me. All twenty-one had qualified as Registered Emergency Medical Technicians for the new ambulance service I’d helped develop on the tribal land. It was time to leave the service in their competent hands. With gratitude in my heart for all that God did in and through me, I drove away. Truly, I never even imagined the changes that would come into my life and behavior following this mountaintop experience.

I returned to my parents’ home, and though I’d been asked to take over the manager’s position of the local ambulance service, I felt that my adrenaline had been depleted sufficiently for that decade, at least. I did continue helping out as an attendant or driver when needed, but I searched for another employment option—the next step in finding a life’s occupation.

As with all previous summers of my young adult life, employment opportunities didn’t just jump into my well-educated lap. In fact, I continued to hear potential employers tell me I was too educated for the position, or my degree was too narrow. It’s hard to grab ahold of the idea that a degree in Pre-Medical Science would be too narrow for a job at the check-out stand of the local grocery store or as the Assistant Manager of a fast food restaurant; but alas, such was the excuse for not hiring me.

I knew that I’d always find employment as a nursing aid at any nursing home or hospital, but I’d done that all through my undergraduate study. I wanted something new. Okay, I do admit a bit of pride entered the picture. Though I really enjoyed working with the elderly nursing home patients and the more short-term patients in the hospitals, the entire time I worked as an aid, I told myself I wouldn’t do it once I had completed my degree. Of course, that was way back when I never considered the possibility that I’d not get into medical school.

 At twenty-five years of age, I had time to look for something new. I scoured the Want Ads of the newspaper every day, filling in on the ambulance as needed. Of course, having lived on my own for most of the seven years since graduating from high school, I looked forward to leaving the temporary shelter of my parents’ home again. No way I could do that without a job.

Finally, I landed a job as a medical transcriber in one of the area hospitals. My typing speed was “adequate,” and they expected it’d improve with the many hours a day of practice. Here, my narrow degree bought me the hired sticker. No one would have to teach me how to spell those complicated medical terms; I spoke medicalese fluently.

Before I’d completed my orientation week, I’d moved to another lodging. It was one of those friend-of-a-friend things. I didn’t really know the girl, but the gal who’d trained me in the ambulance biz knew her well, suggesting I get a place with her.

Yes, I knew that she owned and operated her own beauty shop, and that she and her truck driver husband had been in the throes of domestic conflict for some time, but that’s about all I knew. Naturally, the details of this same-age girl came to me through our mutual friend, who also knew that the lady needed a roommate to be able to afford to move out of the couple’s home. Sounded like the opportunity I’d been waiting for, according to my ambulance friend. Having seen the size of her husband, I had my doubts.

While I feared his anger would be focused on me if I joined his wife in a move to a separate lodging, I should have been more concerned over the change that would come into my own life. As all young women my age, living with roommates was just part of paying the bills. Sometimes our personal habits irritated each other, but their own habits never became a part of my life.

Things are different now, but back in those days, homosexuality never entered the picture. The issues of conflict revolved around whose turn it was to clean the bathroom, or buy the milk. Normally, my taste in men differed from my roommates enough that there wasn’t jealousy on that level to create tension in the home.

Other issues slowly began to emerge, and unexpectedly, my own home-grown wall of beliefs began to crack. Never before had they been seriously challenged. I believed in God from my earliest remembrances, and though I’d had my time of rebellion as an adolescent, accepting right from wrong had never been an issue. However, when I moved into the mobile home on the other side of town, the winds of change began to blow. A wild side of me I’d not yet met surfaced.

And, what did God do? Well, nothing to stop me; God gave me full rein to make the wrong choices—over and over again. However, God’s Word says that He will never leave me nor forsake me, even when I dump Him for the pleasures of this world’s destructive ways. Still, God kept His eye on me, until just the right moment; then, God moved in.

*Posts related to ambulance service on the reservation began with
 
 
****Failings Exposed, Continued…Next Post

 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

But What Will You Do in the End?

Today marks the second anniversary of this blog, and the end of the summer hiatus. I’m still working on the book that kept me away from the blog, but am nearly finished with the first draft, so I’m ready to resume the journey to find God’s hand in my life from my earliest memories. This reflection of years gone by adds to my knowledge of the Almighty Father God, helping me understand Him a bit better each day I sojourn here on Planet Earth.

Though I’d planned to resume my remembrance where we left off in the mid-twenties, I found I needed to break the summer blog writing fast by sharing a short eye-opener that struck me this week from Jeremiah Chapter Five. God’s addressing people who claim to know Him and consider Him their God, yet they make all kinds of excuses why His laws don’t need to be followed. In this current climate of tolerance for all things evil or good, the last verses put me in mind of the current state of many of our churches today.

We need to remember that the State or federal legalizing of activities God sees as evil doesn’t make God look the other way. Be it issues related to abortion, sexual relationships outside of the covenant of marriage, pornography, or homosexuality, God’s Word is clearly against such things. People don’t argue that the Bible records God’s objections to such practices, only that it is the opinion of the Bible writers and old-fashioned out-dated restrictions that don’t apply in the Twenty-First Century church.

Perhaps, like me, you have loved ones dear to your own heart, who have chosen to live according to the ways of the world, not the Word of God? One of my precious ones even teaches Sunday School and is active in many aspects of the church life. The fact that the Church says nothing validates the practices in the eyes of the ones choosing what has been legalized, so there is no fear of what God may think.

I encourage you to love them with all of your heart; don’t reject the person, because you must reject the practice. Keep connected with their lives so they know you do care, praying for them; but also, pray fervently for the church to stand boldly for what the Lord has written in His Word. The easier way is to just say nothing, but it’s time to stand up and speak out for God’s laws that bring true peace to His children, His created loved ones. God never ordained his priests/pastors to make their own laws; God’s prophets speak His truth, not declare God’s favor in the midst of a climate of tolerance for what God calls sin.

I’ll not do my usual expounding on the verses I read this week, but would very much appreciate your comments, if you’d like to share them.

From Jeremiah 5:30-31…

 “A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land:
 The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way.

But what will you do in the end?”

One day, whether through physical death or through the Rapture of the Church, all of us will stand before God to give an account “in the end.” Regardless of what your national government may have legalized, God is asking each of us in the Church, “But, what will you do in the end?”


Related Post:

SameGender Friendships: A Biblical Perspective

 And for what Jesus had to say on the issue…


 

Cross references: