November 25

The Mystery Cookies

I stared at

From Google

the cookie sitting on my desk.

I grabbed my phone and typed in my secretaries extension.

“Christy, did you put a cookie on my desk?”

“There is a cookie on your desk?”

I rolled my eyes.

“Yes, there is a cookie on my desk. Did you put it there?”

“No. Do you think it is poisoned?”

I sighed and stared at the blank wall across my desk. I should really put something on that wall.

“No. Never mind.”

I stared at the cookie and sat down at my desk.

I pulled my hand through my hair and sat back and logged into my computer. I needed to stop thinking about the cookie and start working. I was getting so jumpy lately.

The next day another cookie sat on my desk. Again I looked suspiciously around. I picked up the phone and then dropped it back into the cradle. I was overreacting. I stared at the cookie that happened to be my favorite–chocolate chip. My eyes closed and I thought about my mom making me chocolate chip cookies. They never got old. A tear streaked down my face. She had died six years ago today. I abruptly dropped the cookie into the trash can and stared out the window. Her laughter seemed to echo through the room.

“Hello Ms. Winters.”

I jumped and quickly wiped my eyes as my coworker, Josh, waltzed into the room. His eyes alighted on the cookie in the trash can and he turned a questioning eye on me.

“Ms. Winters, are you alright?”

“Yes. I’m fine. What do you have for me?” His eyes hooded over. I knew that I hurt him, but couldn’t bring myself to apologize.  Apologize? For what?  I silently shook my head. At one point in my life I was able to share my feelings, but that was  before “it” happened. I could hear the screams and the shots being fired, I felt the pain shoot through my body.

“Ms. Winters?”

I came out of my daze and realized that I was clenching my side, the side that would never let me forget the horrific moment of my mom’s death.

“Sorry Josh. Can you tell me this later? I need to go.”

I walked out of the door of my office and walked briskly down the rows of desk and to the bathroom. I stared at the reflection and noticed how pale I was. Who knew that a cookie could evoke such memories of terror and sadness?

When I got back a note in bold handwriting sat on my desk where the cookie had sat before. I looked around for the person that left the note and did not see any person in the vicinity of the note. I also noticed that the trash can had been emptied when I had bolted from the room.

“I am sorry” The note said.

At that moment, the flood of emotions that I had kept back for years broke as I crumbled into my chair. A person stood next to me awkwardly rubbing my back the way my mother would have if she was still here.

I blinked back my tears to see Josh standing by desk. He looked contrite.

I rubbed my face with Kleenex.

“Can I do something for you, Ms. Winters?”

He let me compose myself and then I shook my head. He turned to leave.

“Thank you,” I whispered.

“You are welcome.”

 

October 10

What can we learn from “The Great Gatsby”–F. Scott Fitzgerald?

From Google

Rockefeller was once asked when he would be wealthy enough and he said, “After one more dollar.” When Rockefeller died, he was worth the equivalent of 340 billion dollars. Why was he not satisfied? In the Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the author explores the unattainable in the book. We meet Gatsby at the beginning of the book as an enigma, a mystery that everyone is trying to crack. According to everyone else, he is perfect, but the narrator is not so sure about that. As the reader continues to read, we know that Gatsby wants the unattainable, but we watch as Gatsby slowly self-destructs himself. I found myself asking at the end of the book, why was he not satisfied? While reading this book, I came up with three things that we can learn from this classic.

First, we can learn about not dwelling in the past.How many people have said, “In the good old days” or “life was so much better when…?” I find myself saying this more and more frequently as I grow older. Many times we see the past as beautiful and magical and very different then what actually happened. F. Scott Fitzgerald shows what happens to a character that only wants to live in the past. From the very beginning, Gatsby is not present. His friends are those that he can use, even the narrator is used by the end of the story. Even the story is written past tense rather than in the present. Gatsby tries to grasp what was in the past, but doesn’t realize that it is unattainable. Even if he got the girl, he would still have a daughter to take care of.

Many times we look to the past wishing to change something, but not wanting to realize that whatever happened in the past cannot be changed. Being a history graduate student, it is my job to know what happened in the past. However, knowing what happened in the past and dwelling in the past is two very different things. The Lord wants us to learn from past mistakes and move on once we have asked for forgiveness. We cannot simply turn the clock back and ask for a repeat.

Second, we can learn that we affect those around us. Daisy, Tom, and Gatsby struggled with being satisfied with what they had been given in life. They had everything, but they wanted more. At the end of the story, the main characters had wrecked havoc on the lesser character’s lives. For instance, Mr. and Mrs. Watson die because of the lust of Tom. Gatsby dies because of Daisy and the narrator moves away because of Gatsby.

Whatever a person does, does affect the lives around them. Sometimes we are tempted to believe that whatever we do, does not affect those around us. Being the eldest of four, I knew that whatever I did or didn’t do would be observed by my younger siblings. Whatever I did outside the home would be observed by the younger generation that knew me. I once had friends that I looked up too that I watched. We affect many people around us that we do not even realize. Just the other day someone knew me because they had seen me with my sister. Scary…

Third, we learn about being satisfied with what the Lord has given us. None of the characters in the book were satisfied with what they had. The author portrays them as bored, wealthy brats, I mean aristocrats. It reminds me of Ariel in The Little Mermaid. I hated that movie because Ariel wanted more and more and more. The main characters in the story wanted more. Tom wanted to have a mistress, but still wanted to have his wife. Gatsby wanted Daisy even though she was married. The narrator wanted a different life even though he had enough out west. Each character was not satisfied, even though they were considered the luckiest people alive.

Sometimes I feel like I am not satisfied with what I have. Sometimes I think that I would be happier with a better GPA, a higher-paying job, a different degree and so on. However, I need to learn to appreciate what the Lord has given me. Having the privilege of traveling to foreign countries has allowed me to see the poverty of other people. I have helped children that have no shoes, children that did not have a roof over their head (seriously!), and children without parents or parents that could no longer take care of them. I can still remember the first time that I saw poverty and I hope that the image seared in my brain would never go away.

 

October 1

Is Self-Esteem Important?

Image from Google

Is self-esteem really that important? Does not the Bible call for people to be humble? Lately I found that self-esteem is important because we are hindered to do what the Lord wants us to do when we doubt our abilities. The Lord calls people to be humble, but not to degrade themselves–there is a difference. Someone that is giving a performance must show self-esteem to convince the audience that they are confident in their ability. A leader must show self-esteem when they have to make decisions, even when they secretly do not know if that is the right decision. As soon as you start second-guessing yourself, others start second-guessing your abilities.

It reminds me when Deborah, the prophetess, had to do a man’s job because Barak refused to go down and fight like he was supposed to (Judges 4). Girls jump up and down when they realize that Deborah was stronger than Barak, but I want to know why Barak refused to go down and fight unless Deborah went with him? Did he suffer from low self-esteem?

How about Moses? God tells him verse after verse that he will be with Moses, but Moses hesitates. God ends up rebuking Moses for not having faith and following him. Moses suffered from low self-esteem (Exodus 3-4).

Today, Christians suffer from low self-esteem. They say to themselves that they cannot witness, they cannot use the gifts that the Lord has given them, and they say that the Lord will use someone else. I catch myself saying, “That person is SO much better than me, the Lord will use them.” I look at others with jealousy and say, “Why can’t I be like them.”

It is true that my GPA might not match my goals or that someone is ten times smarter than me, but the secret is that the Lord knows my weaknesses because he made me who I am. I am good at several things that I take for granted.

The fact of the matter is, when we say that we are not good-enough for something, we are telling the Lord that he made a mistake in making us who we are. We, in essence, are calling the Lord a liar.

Why are you holding back? I want to hear the Lord tell me when I get to heaven, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.” (Psalm 119:34).

September 1

Airplane Ride

“Excuse me. Is that seat taken?”

I look up and find an average man standing in the aisle of the plane. It was not going to be a full flight. Why did this particular person have to sit next to me? I moved into the aisle way and allow the man to get into his seat.

“Names Micah.” He stuck out his hand to shake mine. I shook it without responding. His eyebrows rose slightly, but he didn’t ask any questions.

I pulled out my headphones and blasted my music. Ten minutes later he tapped my shoulder.

“Ma’am, did you want anything?” I look up to see the stewardess tapping her fingers against her clipboard.

“Ginger ale, please.”

She imputed the data on her clipboard without a word and passed to the next aisle. I sighed as I started to place my headphones back on my ears.

“What are you doing?” Micah asked before I could put my headphones back on.

“Reading.” I move the headphones back towards my ears.

“Oh, I love to read. Have you read the Lord of the Rings series?”

I tried not to role my eyes. Every time some said they enjoyed reading, they picked a series that had been made into a movie. It made them smarter than they really were.

“Yes.”

He smiled.

“I like to read all sorts of things.” He continued talking. “I like to read fiction, non-fiction, atlases, and obituaries.”

The last word spiked my interest. I looked closer at him. He was slightly older than my twenty-five years and he wore an expensive suit and watch.

“Obituaries? Why?”

He smiled.

“My work kind of requires it.”

It was my turn to raise my eyebrows and him to ignore my hidden question.

He looked familiar. Was he the man that was on that newscast story that I saw just before checking out of my hotel? My heartbeat began to pulse. I tried to remain calm as he began talking to me again.

“My whole family is in the business. It is kind of an ugly business, but it pays real good.”

He flashed his smile at me and I felt like I was going to puke. He was the murderer.

“Oh.” I tried to keep my breathing calm.

“I’m actually on my way to a job now. Los Angeles is a great city. Don’t you agree?”

I was beyond stunned. He seemed to take my silence to mean that I agreed.

“It was where I grew up and I wish I hadn’t needed to move away from there, but it is so expensive to live in LA.”

I pulled my seat buckle off and got up.

“Excuse me. I need to go to the restroom.”

I walked quickly to the lavatory and looked for the stewardess. I looked back towards my seat to see that Micah was looking at me.

I walked into the lavatory and closed the door. I breathed in and out. I was just imagining things. He wasn’t the man on the TV. He couldn’t be. How would he have made it through security without someone spotting him?

The stewardess was standing by the restroom when I got out.

“Ma’am, is something wrong?”

“Yes, I mean. Well, the man sitting next to me. I think he might be a suspect.”

“Micah?”

“Yes, him.” I look down the aisle to see that Micah was still looking at me.

“He told me that he reads the obituaries and…Who reads the obituaries?”

“Ma’am, I think that maybe you should go back to your seat. I’m sure that you are just imagining it.”

She didn’t believe me. I moved back towards my seat.

“Is everything all right?”

“Yeah, just not feeling good.”

“Okay.” He flashed his grin at me again and I felt my stomach lurch. Did he smile at that woman before he killed her too?

“What did you say you do?”

I tried to keep the tremor out of my voice.

“I didn’t say.”

“Oh, then what do you do?”

He narrowed his eyes slightly, but then relaxed.

“Oh, I buy up the property of people that have died and have no heirs then I sell it.”

I breathed a sigh of relief and stilled my tremors. He wasn’t what I thought he was.

A loud noise sounded and I woke up to see an average man asking if the seat next to me was taken.

It was going to be a long flight.

 

 

August 16

A Chance at Love

I stood over the coffin of my Aunt Helen. Memories flashed through me of the last time Aunt Helen talked to me.

“John, you need to find a nice girl and settle down.”

I rolled my eyes before turning to respond to my eighty-year old aunt that sat in the sagging armchair in her apartment. Every week I came over to mow the lawn and work on the mechanical issues around the apartment, every week she told me to settle down.

“We’ve been over this a million times. There are not any good girls out there.”

“Hmm…you are not trying hard enough, young man. I’ll get you settled down yet.”

Now she was gone and she hadn’t managed to settle me down. A mixture of grief and relief warred inside of me. I knew that I would miss the banter. I turned away from the coffin.

“Mr. Bliss”

I turned at the sound of my name being called. An old man stood by the coffin. His suit was decades old and he kept pushing up his glasses to peer at me. His eyes looked magnified. If I wasn’t grieving, I would have probably laughed at the image.

“Yes.”

“I’m your aunt’s lawyer and would like you to join us for the reading of her will.”

“Me? I didn’t know her that well.”

“Well, it is my business to know who is in her will and you are in it.”

Dazed, I walked into the room that the lawyer indicated. I stopped short and stared at the girl that had lived across the street from Aunt Helen for ages. I swallowed slowly.

“Hello John.”

“Maggie.”

I sat down and tried to ignore the jasmine perfume that wafted to my nostrils. Maggie and had been friends, more than friends until one day she broke my heart by breaking up with me. Since then, I had not seen her or had any desire to see her. She was as beautiful as I remembered her. I sat rigidly, trying hard not to stare at her. She seemed to enjoy my discomfort.

The lawyer cleared his throat and looked at me.

“Your Aunt Helen was very insistent that you would find a wife.”

My face burned as Maggie let out a bark of laughter.

“What does this have to do with the will?”

“She says that you cannot have her inheritance if you do not get married within a year of her death.”

“What?”

The lawyer cleared his throat again.

“She has over three million dollars in her bank account, not including the properties that she owned.”

“What happens if I don’t get married?”

“The money goes to Maggie.”

Maggie sat up straight in the chair and frowned. I turned and looked at her accusingly.

“Of course.” I spat, turned around, and left.

“Wait!” I turned around to see Maggie running after me. “I’m sorry John.”

“I didn’t want her money. I never did what I did for her money.” I pulled my hand through my hair and breathed a sigh.

“She knew that. She just wanted you to be happy.” Maggie touched my arm and I jerked it from her grasp.

“Happy?” I laughed. It sounded desperate in my own ears. “She had weird way of showing it.”

I turned around to leave.

“You know that I regret breaking up with you.”

“Yeah, join the club.”

I walked away from her and headed towards my car. I sat down in my car as my emotions tumbled over each other. Why did she leave the money to me under a condition? Why did Maggie have to walk back into my life?

I leaned against the wheel of the car and closed my eyes. I grieved that such a great woman passed away. I grieved that my life was so different then what I had imagined it to be.

I heard a knock on the window. I rolled down the window to see Maggie staring at me.

“John, I didn’t put Aunt Helen up to this.”

“I know. She always thought we would get married.”

She pushed her hair back from her face. She always did this when she was nervous.

“I know it was my fault that it didn’t work out between us.”

“You left me at the alter.”

She flinched at my accusing voice.

“I know. I was young and stupid.”

“I called you and you never responded to my calls.”

“I know. I was scared.”

I breathed in deeply trying to get control of my emotions.

“I loved you and would have never hurt you.”

She was crying. I felt horrible about making her cry.

“I left you at the alter because I needed time to process. We were so young.”

“You crushed me.” I remembered those dark days like they were yesterday. Aunt Helen was the only one that knew of that dark time. Since then she had tried to get me to find happiness. I stared at the woman that I  knew that I still loved. Maybe Aunt Helen knew that I never stopped loving her and found a way to make her come back into my life.

She breathed deeply.

“You don’t know what had happened the weeks before the wedding. I had been diagnosed with cancer. I was scared and you were so distant coming up to the wedding. My mom encouraged me to not get married. I didn’t know if I would survive the year.” She was hiccuping and crying at the same time. I felt like a cad.

“Maggie, I would have supported you. We could have made it.”

She turned glaring eyes at me.

“You say that now, but we might have been torn apart. We might not have made it.”

“Isn’t love about chance? We need to take the chance to see if we would be happy together.”

I got out of my car and gave her a hug.

“I didn’t want to take the chance.” She pushed my arms away and turned away. “I didn’t want to ruin your dreams.”

I turned her towards me and made her look into my face.

“With God’s help we would have made it. My dreams were not more important than you.”

She sniffed and started to laugh.

“When I found out that you were in the will, I told myself that I would not make a fool of myself with you.” She pulled away. “When you walked into that room I could not help remembering all the reasons why I loved you.”

My heart picked up a little bit.

“Are you willing to take a chance?”

She smiled.

“I learned my lesson the hard way. Living without you was the worst decision of my life.”