Climbing Helga’s Ladder

I LOVE my job. I love everything about my job. Very few people can say that about their jobs, and it reminds me how blessed I am. I said I’d never do fast food, and it’s turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. The people I work with are incredible. The management and operators are fantastic. I’ve worked other cashiering jobs where the customers were rude and nasty, and once in a while you’d get one that was polite. This job is total opposite. We get a crazy once in a while, but when I have to think longer than 0.3 seconds to think of a story, that’s a good clientele. Because that’s 0.3 seconds longer than I would have had to think at my last job. (Except after today, when I had a very inebriated lady yell through my window to take of my jacket and show her my boobs… But that’s for another post.)

I love our guests. I love the people I work with. I love my managers. I love my regulars. My factory job was less work with more pay, but I still make more than minimum wage, and money isn’t everything.

Now, all of that having been said… There is one thing I can’t stand. Actually, let me use punctuation to explain this…

There is one thing; I can’t stand.

When I see it coming, the first thing I will do is gauge the shelf I’m trying to reach, and the probability that I might be able to handle it on my own. Most things, I’ve gotten down to a science. Like our three boxes stacked on top of each other, if I’m needing utensils or straws, I know I can get all three down at once to get the one I need, and then I can throw them back up there still stacked. The air units over our windows? Cake! Use the hook on the topping dispenser to flip the switch up or down. Sauces in the break room? Shimmy the box little by little, prepare to catch it as it falls, and pray it doesn’t land on your face.

If I can’t get to something no matter how hard I try, my next plan is to look and see who is around me. A tall person, hopefully. If I find one, I will quickly assess how busy he is. If he looks like he could spare a couple of seconds, I’ll recruit him to help me. Problem solved.

But sometimes, neither of those things will work. Sometimes, the box of cup lids is pushed all the way to the back of the shelf, and you only have three large lids left. Or you run out if receipt paper, and the best place we could find to stash extra rolls was on a rack ten miles off the ground. And then, you know there’s no other choice. So you immediately begin fasting and praying, because you know you’re gonna need Jesus to survive this.

And so, with tears in your eyes, you go and get Helga.

I named our ladder Helga…

Before you even put one foot on Helga, you notice that she wobbles worse than Amy Whinehouse’s teeth. When Helga wobbles, you wobble. Ladders should not wobble. Most ladders are not Helga. Helga wobbles.

I blame a childhood incident on my irrational fear. When my dad was building our first house, he built the stairs last. So for a while, if you wanted to go upstairs, you had to climb a ladder. My dad never wanted me to go up by myself, so he would hold the ladder while I climbed. The other thing was, the downstairs floor was slick hardwood. It would have been too easy for the ladder to just slide out of place, and you would have face-planted into the floor.

So one day, I decide that I really want to go upstairs. My dad isn’t anywhere around. I don’t remember if I had sneaked over to the house, or if he had just left. Nonetheless, I climbed the ladder alone, and when I got to the top, I felt very proud of myself. Just one problem:  I couldn’t get back down. Because about the time I made my last step, the ladder went down with a bang.

I don’t know how long I was up there, but it was longer than I wanted to be. Suddenly, I wasn’t feeling like a big girl anymore. My only way down was a shaky, sliding ladder, which was now on the floor, and there was nobody around to help me. To a little kid, this was as terrifying as a situation could be. I was hysterical and screaming at the top of my lungs, but nobody heard my cries. Even to this day, I have never had another moment where I felt more alone and hopeless than I did at the top of those stairs. And the only solution my little six-year-old mind could come up with was to pray. In my blubbering mess and choking sobs, all I could say was, “Jesus, help me.”

The people of Israel felt the shaking of the ladder. They felt the fear and the pain caused by their rebellion and their disbelief. The uneasiness of where they stood led them to cry out. Their foundation was crumbling beneath their feet. In their desperation, they cried out to God, and they begged Him for a rescue. These people were dying.

The prophet Isaiah asked them a question. He said, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom.”

I don’t like ladders, and I have a special hatred for Helga. But as unsafe as she feels, I know she IS safe. I know every piece is bolted together. I know there’s rubber pads on the bottom so she won’t slide out from underneath me. I always feel thoroughly for my next step before I take it, and Helga’s steps have never moved or shifted. She might feel dangerous, but she is doing everything she was designed to do. And when something needs to be retrieved from a high shelf, whether you trust her or not, you have to make the climb.

I had been stuck on the second floor for a long time before my dad finally found me. But what took even longer was trying to convince me it was okay to climb down. It’s a wonder nobody called the police as much as I was shrieking. I kept telling him it was going to fall. He said it wouldn’t, but he just didn’t get it.

“Daddy, I saw it fall! It’ll fall if I step on it.”

“No, it won’t! I’m gonna hold it. It won’t slip.”

“I just watched it slip. I don’t want to fall.”

“You won’t fall. But I’ll catch you if you do.”

I was a daddy’s girl growing up. I was terrified of that death trap he was trying to get me to climb down, but I finally resolved in my mind that I had to do it. Because in that moment, in that sheer terror and desperation for comfort, the only thing I wanted, and the only place I wanted to be, was in my daddy’s arms. I got back down the ladder, threw myself around him, and I cried while he carried me to my grandmother’s house. I cried the whole way and then some. I remember it so vividly, I can hear him shushing me gently, and telling me over and over again, “You’re alright. I got you. You’re okay.”

Maybe you’re in a place right now that feels like it could cave in on you. Your ground may feel like it is shaking and unsteady. You might feel like you’re climbing something that is on its last leg, and you could come crashing down at any moment. And you may not know what you were thinking when you decided coming to this place was a good idea, but the reality is that you are in this place. The destination looked exciting from way back there, but now you’re here, and you don’t know how you’re going to ever make it back without falling to the ground. All you know is that everything around you is uneasy. And one thing you will discover in life is that oftentimes, the climb up is much, much easier than the climb back down.

When you feel like you’re going to fall, when you feel like you can’t take one more step, when the ladder begins to slide and you start to lose your grip, know this:  That the same God who watched the very moment of your heart’s first beat, who dreamed of you at the very beginning of an eternity with no beginning, and the same God who is worshipped by the stars and the heavens… That same God is holding onto you. He is holding onto the things that are shaking around you. So whether you fall down or climb down from wherever you’ve been, He will be there. He will wrap you in His arms, shush you gently in your ear, and tell you over and over and over, “You’re alright. I got you. It’s okay.”


Fishers of Men (Who Can’t Swim)

Life is going to hurt.

Growing up, we lived on a hill just above the Ohio River. My dad always had a pontoon boat somewhere, and we would go out on the river. To this day, I can tell you the best places to fish and swim on the Illinois border. I loved to lay down on my stomach at the front of the boat and watch the water jet by beneath me. My childhood memories are full dysfunction and turmoil, but those parts of my life did not exist when I was on the water.

Early one morning when I was about eleven, I left with my dad and brother to go fishing. We loaded up, got the boat hitched to the truck, and headed down to the ramp. It was the same as any other time we’d gone, and I was in my usual spot at the front. I can remember being in a wide open area of water, but my dad would steer around all over the place before really picking up speed. The spiral path he took was because he knew where every rock and log was, and what direction to go so we would avoid hitting anything. My dad was a bona fide Magellan.

On this day, my dad wasn’t Magellan like a fellan. It happened so fast that you wouldn’t have even seen it if you blinked at a bad time. Suddenly, the boat launched into the air like Titanic before the final plunge, and all three of us were thrown into the water.

The Bible doesn’t say “if” you have troubles, or “if” you will face trials. It says that in this world, you WILL have trouble. And we’re not talking about losing your car keys, or dropping your phone in the toilet, or facing difficult customers at work, or getting the flu. When I say “trouble,” we’re talking big stuff. We’re talking life-shaking, heart-shattering, mind-wrecking stuff that leaves you bleeding. We’re talking stuff that makes you question the love of a loving Father, and the power of an omnipotent God.

Life. Will. Hurt.

We are all constantly in one of two places in our lives. Either we are in the middle of deep, deep trouble, or we are rapidly approaching trouble. It will come. And when it comes, it will throw you overboard in an instant.

None of us were wearing life jackets. And except for maybe a doggie paddle in shallow water, I couldn’t swim. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway because we couldn’t tell which way was up. I didn’t know if I was floating up or swimming deeper down. You couldn’t see the light of day. Even Michael Phelps would have been in trouble. No amount of swimming skill could have helped.

Everything was dark and clouded. I couldn’t see or feel anything but the water. I was flailing my arms frantically trying to find the surface, knowing I was running out of air and time. People say when you’re drowning, the pain and panic stops once you “breathe” and water fills your lungs. But even when I thought I’d reached the end and tried to breathe, it felt like my throat was just closed off completely.

It was a 50/50 shot that I was swimming upwards. God tipped the scale just enough that, somehow, I’d chosen the right direction. After all that trauma, you’d think once we found the surface, it’d be over. Right? No… Because now, the waves are keeping you from staying above the water. And you have just enough time in between waves to gasp for air before you go back under. You don’t feel like you’re getting enough air before you’re cut off again. My strength was failing.

My dad and brother reached the surface before I did. And they both say that for whatever reason, the boat just seemed to turn itself around and come back towards us. It was going slow enough that my dad could catch it. He got my brother into the boat, and then himself. Before I knew the boat was anywhere near me, I realized another wave was coming. And I gave up. It was right then, as I was preparing for what I knew would be the last wave, I felt myself being lifted out of the water by my dad.

I know what it feels like, emotionally and physically, to drown. I know… And I have found myself in my own life crying out to God, gasping for air as the waves kept taking me under. In the anguish, in the agony, in the exhaustion, I cried out to God and said, “I can’t do this. Lord, I don’t have the strength to keep swimming. I can’t breathe. I can’t fight. I don’t know which way is up, and I am drowning here. I keep getting beaten down by wave after wave after wave, and I can’t do this anymore. I can’t take one more wave. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. And if You don’t do something, I am going to die.”

My circumstances haven’t changed. The things in my life that have caused me so much pain and disgrace are still there. God can, and sometimes does, pull you out of the water. Not always… But there will be a final wave. And if you will give it to God, I promise you, He will use that wave to carry you to His shores. And on those shores, you will find rest.

Wherever you are tonight, whatever circumstances in life that are threatening to take you out, know this… That there is a God who loves you. He is not blind to your pain, or deaf to your cries. He is, and will be, an ever-present help in times of trouble. And He will give you enough breath to go just a little more. Then when that’s gone, He will give you another breath. And when that’s gone, another. And another. And another. And whether He pulls you out of the water or delivers you ashore, know that there is NOTHING He won’t do to bring you home.