All That Really Matters

Today would have been my grandfather’s 93rd birthday.

If they celebrate such a thing as earthly birthdays in heaven, then he is surely celebrating.

And if it is anything like the parties he presided over during his life, then he is probably enjoying some brisket (or maybe “The Gospel Bird”), my grandmother’s baked beans, and an angel food cake topped with strawberries and cool whip (or maybe a coconut cake because he liked those too). He would be sure to have my grandmother seated on one side and his mother on the other … and the table would be full of laughing guests, my dad included.

Yet … somehow … I sort of doubt that earthly birthdays get celebrated in heaven.

However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t still remember my grandfather on his special day, or long to give him another hug. I do, because I miss him.

Two days ago, I blogged about my birthday and my father’s death. I shared how I feel grateful that even though my dad passed away on my birthday that isn’t the thing that matters most.

Today, I want to share a special essay about my grandfather and his life.  I’ve shared before on this blog. It was written my by daughter, Maddie, three years ago, as an assignment for a writing class she was taking. She was supposed to interview someone, so Maddie chose my grandfather, and asked him for his best advice on his 90th birthday. Papaw told her many things but ended with saying that at the end of your life knowing Jesus was all that really mattered.

He is right. It is.

So even though it’s been a hard week emotionally,  I’m glad that both my grandfather and my father knew Jesus well. Because right now, that’s not only what matters most, it is all the really matters anyway.

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All That Really Matters

written by Maddie Hamilton,  September 2013

On the surface, the life of James Herbert Terry, my great-grandfather, seems to be very ordinary. Known to his family as Papaw, he was born on September 19, 1923 at his grandparents’ home, located in the hills of Catahoula Parish in north Louisiana. He grew up as an only child, splitting his boyhood days between living in the small town of Harrisonburg (population 3,500 at that time) and staying at his grandparents’ rural farm eighteen miles away.

As an adult, he did all of the typical things expected for men of his generation — married, raised five children, served as a leader in both the local church and community. Papaw worked hard to provide for his family, working as a teacher, banker and real estate agent. He even became a small-business owner with his wife. Even though he just celebrated his 90th birthday, Papaw still goes to work at his office each weekday because he wouldn’t know what to do if he just stayed home all day.

While his life may appear to be typical to someone of my generation, Papaw actually lived through many big events of the 20th century. He can recall his boyhood years during The Great Depression. He remembers what it was like to fight for the freedoms of others as a soldier during the Second World War. Perhaps most importantly, Papaw lived his entire adult life with his personal foundation built upon faith in Jesus Christ. Because of all these reasons, Papaw has many things to teach me about how to have a life worth living.

Papaw’s earliest memory is of The Great Flood of 1927, which was so devastating it actually changed the course of the Mississippi River. During the spring of 1927, most people had between six and eight feet of water inside their homes, so they slept in attics and somehow survived until the flood waters receded. Even though he was only three years old at the time, Papaw can still recall taking a boat ride through the flood water inside of a hardware store owned by his uncle.

Life in rural Louisiana was hard even before the stock market crash of 1929. Papaw, who was just six years old at the start of The Great Depression, recalls that his life didn’t change tremendously as a result of the stock market crash because his family was already poor. His father was a carpenter. His mother didn’t work outside of the home, but she did help provide during those hard times by taking in ironing and babysitting for a family friend who taught school.

Papaw recalls everyone had a vegetable garden, mended their clothes, and learned how to “make do” with whatever they already had on hand. “Every little thing was used,” Papaw told me.

To illustrate the point, Papaw told me the story of how he once asked his mother for pet dog. “What will we feed it?” she asked him. Papaw told her that the dog could eat the table scraps. His mother said, “No, Herbert. We use the scraps to make a pudding.” And Papaw said that’s exactly what she did — leftover rice became rice pudding, leftover bread became bread pudding and leftover corn became a corn pudding.

Looking back, Papaw doesn’t recall that he had many toys as children do today, but he remembers getting presents like oranges, apples and candy at Christmas. Once, when he was in the 5th grade, he got a dictionary, a gift he was especially proud to have received. Papaw told me that living through the Depression taught him many lifelong lessons, such as saving as much as possible, living on as little as you could, and never letting anything go to waste.

As the Depression came to an end, Papaw had grown up into a young man, eager to begin life on his own. Unfortunately, life did not get easier because shortly after Papaw’s 18th birthday America entered World War II. It wasn’t long before he was drafted into the army.

For his first assignment after basic training, Papaw was sent to Vail, Colorado, where he trained to be a medic in the ski patrol. It was a strange job for a young man who had never seen snow or mountains! Somehow, he managed to learn to ski and was soon ready to head to the war front in Europe.

Once he had finished all of his training, Papaw boarded a ship and set sail for Naples, Italy. It was a miserable boat ride! For eighteen days straight, Papaw and all of the other soldiers were allowed to eat only one box of K-rations a day. Each box of K- rations contained a package of stone-hard crackers, a tin of rancid cheese, a bullion cube, and a piece of chocolate. A soldier was to mix the bullion cube into some water, which he would heat for a soup. The crackers could be soaked in the soup before eating them. Papaw said no matter what you did to those K-rations, it still tasted terrible.

In May of 1945, the war in Europe ended. Even though Papaw was glad about that, he was still concerned because his ship was about to leave Italy and head straight over for the Pacific to help win the war there. Needless to say, Papaw was very relieved when the Japanese finally surrendered before his ship departed. By this time, he had been in the army for three years. Papaw was eager to go back home.

Once Papaw was back in the United States, he earned a college degree, married, and began his family. I wondered if perhaps all of the most exciting, interesting, and important parts of his life were over. However, Papaw told me that actually the most important part of his life is something he had all along — his faith in Jesus Christ.

Outside of his mother, who was perhaps the greatest influence upon his decision to become a Christian, two other people encouraged Papaw to grow in his Christian faith. The first was a preacher named Brother Miley. When Papaw was a young teen, Brother Miley would often ask him to go fishing. Papaw said, “I think he mostly wanted to take me because I would always dig the up the worms for our bait.” While he enjoyed those afternoons fishing with Brother Miley, Papaw also said, “I felt uncomfortable about going on those fishing trips because I knew at some point he was going to start talking to me about Jesus. Between him and my mother, I didn’t have a chance!” Finally, when he was 14 years old, Papaw asked Jesus into his heart. As Brother Miley baptized him in the water of Bird’s Creek, the crowd stood on the bank singing the old hymn Shall We Gather at the River.

The other person who greatly influenced his faith in God was his wife, Juanita. They were married for 60 years, most of which they spent working together in their family business six days a week. According to Papaw, she didn’t work with him for free. He chuckled, “I paid her in dimes. She literally took every single dime that came through our store!” Papaw laughed and then continued with a smile, “Some folks would come in just to pay their whole bill in dimes because they knew that way Juanita would get her spending money.” Describing her as his better half, Papaw said, “I never knew her to get angry or to say a cross word to anyone. She had a sweet spirit through and through. She’s been gone almost seven years, but not a day goes by that I don’t miss her being here with me.

This past September, Papaw celebrated his 90th birthday with a luncheon party. The party menu was filled with many of his favorite treats, including “The Gospel Bird” — Papaw’s special name for fried chicken. Surrounded by four of his five children and their spouses, ten of his twelve grandchildren and their spouses, and a myriad of great-grandchildren, Papaw shared with everyone how he had very few regrets about his life. “I am happy. I am blessed. God is good.

Lovingly, Papaw admonished his family to cultivate relationships with others. “Doing so,” he said, “will allow you to have more opportunities to talk about spiritual matters. When chances come along to talk about these things, do not be fearful to tell other people who do not know Jesus about the free gift of salvation found through Him. After all,” Papaw concluded, “at the end of your life, that’s all that really matters.

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Papaw

James Herbert Terry

September 19, 1923 – March 6, 2015

What Matters Most

Today is my birthday. Happy 44th to me.

Sort of.

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Photo Credit: http://www.specialevents.com

You see, today also marks two years since my father passed away …  rather unexpectedly.  I had only been awake about 20 minutes or so when the phone rang telling me that my dad had died. He just didn’t wake up that morning.

I don’t want it to matter that my father died on my birthday.

Honestly, I don’t.

Even the day he died, I didn’t want it to matter. It still did, but I wished it didn’t. After all, my father would have never wanted me to experience any sort of emotional pain over him being called to his eternal home. Getting to meet Jesus face-to-face is a good thing … right?

Even good things hurt sometimes.

My dad used to tell me that after the first week of basketball practice back when I was in junior high.

He was right. A lot of good things hurt … having a baby, getting shots when you are sick, sore muscles after working out, going through physical therapy to recover from an injury, and so on and so forth.

Saying goodbye can be painful too. Especially if it is someone you love. Even if that person gets to go somewhere great. It still hurts the heart.

So that gets me back to where I started. Not wanting it to matter that my dad died on my birthday.

Only right now, today, on this birthday … it still matters.

Jon and I talked a lot this past week about how I feel regarding my birthday. After the second or third such conversation, Jon said, in his matter-of-fact way, “Paige, it is clear to me that you just aren’t done grieving yet. It’s okay. Grief takes time, especially if you love someone. Be as gracious to yourself as you would to someone else in your situation.”

Be gracious to myself.

In my grief.

With my hurting heart.

On this birthday when it still matters so very much.

Just last night, Jon and I were once again talking about my birthday, discussing the details of the day. I have carefully orchestrated my day to ensure I won’t have much time to sit around and dwell on missing my father.

Who wants to play the pity party game on their birthday?! Not me!

So we have planned a day trip to visit with my mom and sister in a nearby city. We’ll grab some lunch at a Mexican restaurant (because I am craving guacamole) and then do some shopping (mostly the window variety). I’ve got a little birthday cash, so I am thinking of looking for a new purse … or I might save it so that I can buy the pendant and earrings to match the opal ring Jon bought me for my birthday this year.

It’s going to be a good day.

Yet, like I told Jon, I am still struggling inside. I have hard questions that my human heart can’t answer.

Why did my dad have to die so relatively young?

Why didn’t God allow him to see his grandchildren graduate high school, get married and have children?

Why did God let him die on my birthday?

And then I confessed this other thought that has persisted in the back of my mind all week long:

What if something else terrible happens on my birthday?

Allow me a moment to push pause right here and said that I married a great guy. One of the many things I love about Jon is that he doesn’t get upset when I share my thoughts. He just listens and lets me talk through all the emotion. That’s exactly what he did last night.

But when I asked that last question out loud, Jon said, “Sure. You can ask that question, but it is an awful way to think. And it will certainly  make you miserable.”

He was quiet for a moment, allowing the heaviness of what he said and the weight of my own emotions to sink in deep.

“Paige, let’s remember what the Bible says about our thinking and how important it is to our own well-being.

What does God want us to think about? Well, He tells us. He said whatever is pure, honorable , just, pure, lovely, commendable, or excellent, we should think on these things.

And why is our thinking so important? Because it is through our thinking that we have our minds renewed. And the renewing of our minds enables us to more fully experience God, to know His will, to see more of His heart.

So, if you change your thinking and quit asking questions that you will never find the answers to, eventually there will be a renewing of your mind and it won’t matter so much anymore. Maybe not this birthday. Perhaps not even the next birthday or two. But trust me, one year it won’t matter nearly as much. Instead, you’ll be able to think about the things that really did matter regarding your father.”

Think on these things.

Experience the renewing of my mind.

Ask what really matters most.

Jon didn’t realize it last night (or maybe he did), but he gave me a place to start, a way to climb out of the hole of self-pity, a little bit of hope that maybe not all my future birthdays will feel so hard.

This gift is better than any opal ring.

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So what is it that mattered most about my dad …

Well, he honored and cherished my mother. He adored his children and grandchildren. My dad placed high importance on maintaining good relationships with people. He had a strong work ethic. My father loved to laugh. He enjoyed life and lived right up until the day he died. My dad was my friend as much as he was my father.

Those are things that mattered about him, far more than the day he died.

But the thing that mattered the most is this:

My father loved and knew Jesus Christ.

And in the end, this is why I know I can grieve with hope. Because my dad had a relationship with God, the day of his death on earth was also his birthday into heaven. I know that for him, then end was really just the beginning of eternity.

So does it really matter that my dad died on my birthday?

 

Well, sure … but it’s not what matters most.

And today, I am especially grateful for that.

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If you like, you can watch this YouTube video I made of some memories of my father.

The music is the Theme from Rudy (The O’Neill Brothers). My dad was a sucker for sentimental movies, and Rudy was one of his favorites.

On the Other Side of Divorce

“Please pray.

I think my husband is leaving me.

My heart is broken,

and I have no idea of how I will ever get through this.”

I read my friend Marla’s text message, and instantly the room began to slightly sway. My head spun, both physically and emotionally, as hundreds of questions raced through my brain. I involuntarily reached up to steady my head, and shivered from the iciness of my fingers against my skin.

In my mind, I recalled how a decade earlier my first husband said he no longer loved me,  how within a matter of weeks we went from planning a second honeymoon to hashing out the details of our divorce.

I share the rest of my story here with my friend Kristi Woods, explaining how my divorce was the best worst thing that ever happened to me and how God has used the pain of that experience to bring about future goodness I never imagined.

My Father’s Voice

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Father’s Day is Sunday.

It’s my second without having my dad to celebrate. I miss him terribly, but feel so blessed to have had him as my father. Perhaps I am biased, but there wasn’t a better Daddy in the world.

So in his honor (and in honor of good dads everywhere), I’m sharing one of my favorite stories about my father.

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Me and my wonderful Daddy, Easter Sunday 1973

Throughout my childhood, my family kept a tiny flock of sheep in the backyard, as part of a 4-H project.  It was not uncommon for the sheep to find a way of escape from the small pen in our backyard.  It seemed we only become aware of their fugitive state whenever some neighbor telephoned to let us know our wooly pets were out wandering along the roadsides.

Whenever our lambs went for one of their strolls, my father always insisted we immediately  go track down those sheep, and return them as soon as possible to the safety of the pen in our backyard. It didn’t matter if it was day or night. As luck would have it, our  lambs were infamous for taking moonlit walks, the deeper into the night the better … or so it seemed.

I could tell many tales about these sheep-chasing escapades, but one time in particular always stands out in my memory.  It happened on a humid night the fall I turned sixteen.

The ringing of our phone roused me slightly from my deep sleep.  It was soon followed by my dad’s hard knock on the door of the bedroom I shared with my sister.   “Paige,” he said, “get up! The sheep are out along the highway, somewhere toward the high school. Your brother and I are heading out now.  You follow along just as soon as you get dressed. Meet us on the other side of the bridge.”

I heard the front door shut as they walked out of the house, and then their voices carrying softly as they walked across the front yard, headed toward the highway that stretched out in front of our brick home.  A wave of jealousy swept over me as I looked over at my younger sister, snugly tucked into dreams instead of being forced to go on a midnight  goose (er … sheep) hunt for a bunch of wayward lambs.

Five or six minutes later I was dressed and walking out of the house.  The night sky was dark.  No moon or stars lit the ground. The street light shone dimly on the other side of the highway, providing me with just enough light to dodge a puddle of water at the edge of our driveway.

Walking down the center of the highway, I suddenly felt very alone in the deep darkness. At shortly after 2 am, the roads in our rural town were quiet.  The only sounds I could hear were the sounds of tree frogs, crickets and the occasional hooting of an owl. I walked along, the fear in my throat growing thicker and sharper with each step that took me away from the safety of my home.  I quickened my pace, taking hurried steps as my shoes pounding against the dark pavement in my efforts to reach my father as soon as possible.

Soon I approached the bridge.  It was darker there. The trees overhung across the road, creating deep shadows.  The intense darkness blocked out even the reflective yellow stripes dividing the two-lane road. I hesitated before stepping onto the bridge. In order to reach the safety of my father I had to cross the bridge to get to the other side. But there was a loud voice in my head that screamed for me to turn around and high-tail it back home instead of crossing over that deep, dark bridge.

Breathing a prayer, I put my foot forward and started across.  Toward the midpoint of the bridge, I heard a noise, a sort of rustling that didn’t sound like the leaves on the trees. I paused, but didn’t hear anything other than the pounding of my own heart.  I started walking again, but after another step I stopped. I had the distinct feeling I wasn’t alone on the bridge.  Unable to see or hear anything, I shook off my fear and picked up my foot, determined to get to the other side.

At that exact moment,  a voice boomed out of the darkness:

“Paige!  Go back and get the truck!”

Immediately, I turned on my heels and began to run, faster than I had ever run in my entire life.  (Honestly, this wasn’t a huge feat. I was never a fast runner to begin with, and so it wouldn’t have taken much more than a steady jog to beat my all-time fastest run. Still, I rather like to recall this run as if I made it back home in record time.)

I ran straight for my dad’s truck, the beat-up old Ford that he drove back and forth to his job at our family hardware store.  Yanking open the door, I dove behind the steering wheel, slamming myself inside the truck. I took several deep, long breaths. My heart thumped wildly in my chest, though I wasn’t sure if it was due to the running, the fear coursing through my body or the realization that I had just heard the voice of God in the night.

The keys were in the truck’s ignition, just where I expected them to be, for in rural Louisiana during the mid-80’s, most people never bothered to take their car keys into the house. I turned the key and the truck rumbled to life. Three minutes later, I pulled over to the side of the road.  Ahead was my father and brother, herding our small flock of sheep toward me.  I quickly hopped out, leaving the headlights on and the engine idling.

As my father approached, he said, “Thanks for bringing the truck! You got here just at the right time.”

I nodded.  “No problem, Dad. I’m just glad God told me to do it … and that I obeyed even though I was really scared.”

My father looked up from his task of calmly guiding the bleating lambs to give me a brief confused look … And then he started to laugh, deep and hard until it seemed as if he might never stop.  He finally caught his breath.  “Paige,” he said between chuckles, “that was me.  I told you to go back for the truck.  Didn’t you recognize my voice?!”

“That was you?  You were on the bridge with me?” It was my turn to be confused.

Obviously still tickled over my confusion, my dad gave me a hug and said, “Yes, Paige.  I hate to disappoint you, but voice you heard was mine …  not the voice of God. But I’m glad you brought the truck anyway. Now, help us load these sheep.”

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Me (in pink) showing my 4-H sheep at the Louisiana State Fair, October 1982

It’s been nearly 27 years since that deep, dark night when I thought I heard God in the sound of my father’s voice.  Yet each time I recall that bridge and the voice that boomed from the darkness, I reminded of two ways that my earthly father taught me important truths about my Heavenly Father.

Almost any Christian will tell you that hearing and recognizing the voice of God can be difficult. Many Christians go through life without ever really learning how to listen for God’s voice.  I was fortunate.  My dad taught me to listen for God’s voice by placing a great importance on studying the scriptures, daily prayer, attending weekly worship services, and by expecting me to learn and obey the teachings of Jesus Christ. Jesus once said, “My sheep hear my voice … and they follow me.” (John 10:27)  I am grateful for my daddy who taught me how to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd.

The second truth is a reminder that in this life we will have troubles.  Jesus Himself said, “You will have suffering in this world.”  (John 16:33).  But He also said, “I am with you always.” (Matthew 28:20)  Just like my dad was with me on that dark bridge so many nights ago, my Heavenly Father is also with me whatever my circumstances.

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Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.  ~Psalm 103:13

A Baptist Girl’s Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday. It seems appropriate to share this again.  ~Paige

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I grew up attending a Southern Baptist church in rural north Louisiana.

My family attended the First Baptist Church, which was the biggest Baptist church in our tiny town. The population was barely 500 people, yet there were at least four other Baptist churches in the area: Bird’s Creek Baptist, Kidron Baptist, Wallace Ridge Baptist, Pisgah Baptist.

It seemed like everyone I knew was also a Southern Baptist.

But if they weren’t Baptist, then chances were pretty good they attended one of the many Pentecostal churches. And there were just as many Pentecostal churches as there were Baptists.

As an elementary school child, I never really understood the difference between Pentecostal and Baptist beliefs  … that is, other than the obvious one. Pentecostal women wore long dresses, had long hair and never wore jewelry or make-up; the men always wore long pants and long sleeves shirts, even in the middle of the hot, humid Louisiana summers. Oh, and Pentecostals believed in raising hands, speaking in tongues and other mysteries I never could quite wrap my childish brain around.

Still, I understood that at its core, Baptists and Pentecostals weren’t all that different. We believed in the same Jesus. We just expressed it differently.

But Catholics … well, that was a different story. I really didn’t understand what Catholics believed.

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I had only one Catholic friend growing up.

Somehow we never did talk religion with each other. She moved away in the sixth grade.  I never did have another close friendship with a Catholic until after my 30th birthday.

Catholicism baffled me. Somehow, even though we talked about the same Jesus and read the same Bible stories, our religions were so different that it felt like we didn’t worship same God at all.   To me it was this huge mystery, too sacred to touch, too frightening to ask questions about.  Yet, more than anything else, I wanted to unravel it to discover everything that was hidden underneath.

Growing up, all I knew about Catholics were that they went to Mass and not church. They prayed to God and Jesus, but also to Mary and the saints. There was this mystery called Confession. And then there were all the different sorts of clergy: fathers, priests, nuns, cardinals, bishops, and the Pope who ruled over them all.

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Much of my understanding of the Catholic faith came from the musical The Sound of Music. Oh, how I loved that movie! It came on TV at least once every year, back in those days before VCR’s and DVD players.

I was always fascinated by the main character Maria, who desperately wanted to love God enough to be a nun, but couldn’t manage to keep all the rules.  I identified with that longing, so much so that I often pretended that I would grow up to be a nun … even though deep down I knew good Baptist girls didn’t become nuns.

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A little over four years ago, I married my husband Jon and moved to his home in the middle of Cajun Country. If you know anything about Cajuns, you know that they are all Catholics. In fact, their religious beliefs is the very reason they were exiled to Louisiana in the first place.

The city of Lafayette has always been home to Jon. Like me, he grew up a good Baptist, our childhood faith stories mirroring each other’s almost perfectly. However, he lived in the shadow of the Catholic church, part of the Protestant religious minority. As a result, his understanding of Catholicism was much better than mine.

We had only been married a matter of days when Mardi Gras season officially kicked off. My previous Mardi Gras knowledge was very limited … essentially parades, beads and King cake. I also knew that it would all culminate on Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras day itself.

Jon had already spent most of that winter in and out of the hospital, literally fighting for his very life.  As the Mardi Gras season came to a dramatic close, Jon was back in the hospital. All day on that Fat Tuesday, the nurses bustled in and out of his room, beads and baubles around their necks.

“You missin’ the parades this year, Sha?” they playfully teased Jon.

I could tell that Jon was happy to be away from all of the Mardi Gras madness, but I grumbled because I was missing out on my first real Mardi Gras in Cajun Country. All I wanted was a chance to experience it for myself, to unravel a little more of the mystery.

But Jon wasn’t sympathetic to my desires.

“Paige, it’s just a bunch of people in costumes throwing out cheap beads. Trust me, the most you are missing is catching a couple of plastic cups … and if we are needing more cups, then you can just go buy some.” 

So, I spent my first Mardi Gras in Cajun Country sitting in a hospital room, trying to be content to watch re-run episodes of Swamp People on the History Channel.

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The next day was Ash Wednesday. Instead of being greeted by giddy nurses wearing beads, this morning everyone who walked into the hospital room seemed much more somber. The lively spirit from the day before was completely gone. In its place was a  sadness so deep it felt almost palpable.

I questioned Jon about it.

“It’s Ash Wednesday,” he responded. “The party is over. Now it is time to repent.”

Late in the morning, my friend Catherine stopped by the hospital to check in on us. At the encouragement of my husband, Catherine decided to whisk me away for a few hours. Lunch, window shopping, but mostly time with a good friend were sure to cure my sagging spirits.

As we walked down one of the long passageways on our way out of the hospital, we passed by the chapel, where an Ash Wednesday service was just about to start. The next thing I knew, Catherine and I were seated inside.

Twenty minutes later, we left the chapel, an ash cross marked upon our foreheads.

photo credit: wikipedia.org
photo credit: wikipedia.org

It was well-after 1 pm by the time Catherine and I walked into a little sandwich shop for lunch.  The lunch crowd has mostly left, and there weren’t but just a couple of other customers in the empty diner. As Catherine and I approached the counter to place our orders, the man behind the counter (who was clearly a Cajun) commented on our ash crosses. He went to great lengths to assure us that he was going to an afternoon service later in the day to get his ash cross as well. Soon, he was peppering us with questions about our plans for Lent.

Catherine, who had grown up Catholic though now practiced a Protestant faith, chatted easily with this friendly man, while I stood by silently, feeling like a mute impostor of sorts.

My mind raced frantically. What was I doing? Did this even represent my personal religious beliefs? I’m a Baptist, for crying out loud.  Good Baptists don’t put ashes on their foreheads. I’m nothing more than a pretender!

Throughout the rest of the afternoon, those ashes burned against the skin along my forehead.

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Several hours later, I walked back into the hospital room. Jon looked up at me and raised his eyebrows quizzically. “I see that you went and got yourself some ashes.”

I hung my head, not really sure how to respond.

Jon smiled at me reassuringly. “It’s okay, Paige. There is nothing wrong with putting ashes on your forehead. In fact, it represents a beautiful truth. Without God and His forgiveness, our lives are nothing more than heaps of ashes. But, when we give our hearts and the ashes of our lives to Jesus … well, He takes that and turns it into something beautiful for His glory. Wearing ashes on your forehead is just an outward symbol of your belief in Jesus, and not something to be ashamed of at all!”

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Four years later, I can laugh about my first Ash Wednesday. 

Since that day, I’ve made more than a few Catholic friends here in Cajun Country. I’ve discovered more about their beliefs, comparing them to my own.  I’ve come to the understanding that we do, in fact, follow the same Jesus, proclaim the same Savior, desire to know the same God. Our expression of faith might be vastly different and we might disagree over certain religious practices, but the basis of our faith is the same.

I’ve also learned to treasure Lent, something that my Baptist faith never taught me to do. What a blessing it is to spend forty days focusing my attention on intentionally living my life so that I grow closer in my relationship with Christ!  Easter means so much more after this period of sacrificing and fasting and preparing my heart for the glory of Resurrection Sunday. It’s a worthwhile practice and I’m blessed each time I diligently consider how I might spend Lent seeking God.

Today is Ash Wednesday. While I won’t go get ashes smeared into the shape of a cross on my forehead, I will spend the next 40 days seeking God a bit more diligently. I am grateful to my Catholic friends who taught me how.

After all, even a good Baptist girl can celebrate Ash Wednesday.

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Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  ~ John 4:16

Celebration Time

Today is February 2nd, and I’m celebrating.

Perhaps you are wondering why Groundhog Day has me so excited. Actually, it’s something more important than Groundhog Day … though Groundhog Day has always been a sort of oddly fun holiday to mark. Would he see his shadow? Will there be six more weeks of winter or is spring on the way? Every Feb. 2nd, I take a walk outside to see if there are shadows on the ground, but the groundhog and his prediction are not what has me in a celebratory mood.

I’m celebrating for a much more personal reason.

Today marks five years since my husband Jon received his mechanical heart valve. Five years of listening to the steady ticking at night as I fall asleep. Five years since he nearly died from a raging heart infection, but God miraculously allowed him to live. Five years of being grateful my marriage didn’t end just as it was beginning.

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My husband Jon one day after his second open-heart surgery … originally taken on Feb. 3, 2011 at his insistence and posted today with his blessing.

Many of my readers know the story well … prayed for Jon’s healing, walked alongside us through that awful time, kept our children, sent cards, shared our need with prayer warriors across the nation. We were grateful for you then; we are grateful for you still.

Some of you might not be familiar with this tale of sickness and health. Here are a couple of links in case you want to read our story:

Cats: A True Story About How My Favorite Animal Nearly Killed the Man I Love

Death Cubed

I love February 2nd! Today, I am looking back in time, remembering vividly how God intervened in a desperate situation.

There is not better reason to celebrate.

I will remember the works of the Lord;
Surely I will remember Your wonders of old.
I will also meditate on all Your work,
And talk of Your deeds.

~Psalm 77:11-12

 

 

The Day I Became a Writer

It’s been 30 years since my 8th grade year of school.

I was probably a lot like any other 13 year old girl, growing up in rural north Louisiana, concerned mostly with things happening at school (such as which girl liked which boy) and homework than I was about anything else that might be happening in the world. Whitney Houston’s latest song or the most recent episode of The Cosby Show were far more interesting than what was being reported on the evening news.  While I knew enough to recognize the names of important world leaders such as President Ronald Reagan, the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher or Russia’s Mikhail Gorbachev, I didn’t really see how what they did affected me or why I should be concerned with events on a grander scale than my small hometown.

But all of that changed one late January day in 1986. Looking back, I realize now, I was never the same again.

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Challenger_Launch

January 28, 1986.

Millions of Americans, including thousands of school children, watched the Space Shuttle Challenger lift-off, carrying with it America’s first civilian teach into space.

Seventy-three seconds later, the shuttle exploded.

Those who watched, whether in Florida or elsewhere via TV screens, stared, transfixed by the plumes of white smoke mixed with traces of red against the backdrop of beautiful blue sky.

Seconds passed by. News announcers stuttered. Disbelief and shock slowly turned to horror.

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Where were you when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded?

I don’t know with exact certainty. School, no doubt, but as to which class or teacher I guess I’ve long forgotten. Honestly, though, if people were talking about it at school I didn’t listen or know.

I do recall after school that day feeling mildly annoyed that there was nothing on TV except breaking news reports about a space shuttle, but I snapped it off without ever sitting down to listen.

Minutes later, the phone rang. I answered and heard my friend’s voice on the other end:

Paige, have you heard? The space shuttle exploded! All of the astronauts were killed!

challenger

The news hit me as if a bombshell had detonated right there in my bedroom. Surely not! I couldn’t believe her words … and yet, as I slowly switched the TV back on, I could see for myself that my friend was right. As the images replayed again and again, I stared at the TV screen, trying to make sense of what I was seeing.

Seven astronauts smiling and waving to the small group of family and friends as they walked toward their waiting spacecraft. The giant white shuttle, pointed heavenward. The gradual lifting of the shuttle. The white trail of smoke against the brilliant blue winter sky. The explosion. One trail of smoke turned into two, before fading completely into the atmosphere.

I felt sick to my stomach, yet I was unable to turn my face away from the TV. All I wanted was for the story to be false, for it all to be a big mistake, for the newscasters to announce that somehow all the  astronauts survived.

But it was true. The shuttle exploded, leaving nothing behind but the shock and grief.  The entire nation mourned.

I was 13 years old …  and it was the first time I can ever recall being emotionally affected by a national tragedy.

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January 29, 1986

Class, today’s writing assignment is to write about yesterday’s tragedy with the Space Shuttle Challenger. You can choose whether to write a factual record of the event factually or write down your emotional reaction to what happened.

My 8th grade English teacher gave out the assignment, and for a long time the only sound to be heard was that of pencils scratching across loose leaf paper. I don’t recall whether or not these essays were turned in that day or if we spent several days editing those first drafts. Perhaps this was a bigger graded assignment, or maybe it was just counted as a daily activity and checked for completion. Some of the details of that school morning are now lost to me.

But I do remember the time I spent writing, how it felt to put all of my emotions down on that white sheet of paper. I wrote about being able to see a tiny bit of every American on board that shuttle … whites, blacks, Asians, men and women, a teacher, even a man with the last name Smith.

As I wrote about the sorrow of the tragedy, I came to realize that as Americans we all lost something on that awful morning.

I also realized something I never knew before. Writing can be cathartic to the soul.

A week or so later, my English teacher, Mrs. Swayze, announced that a small number of the essays written about the Challenger tragedy would be published in our tiny school’s newspaper. Mine was one of those essays chosen. It was the first time when something I wrote was published and read by others. I recall the comments I received from friends and even other teachers at the school, telling me how they felt comforted by the words I had written.

Another realization occurred for until then I never knew how gratifying it was to have others identify and relate to my own thoughts just by reading my words. Writing, I realized, was a way to connect with others.

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Somewhere, among all the boxes where I’ve packed up the scraps and pieces of my childhood, there remains a copy of that old school newspaper. Every five or six years, I will happen across it as I search for something else I know must be tossed in with the boxes of school yearbooks and 4-H ribbons and other items that tell the story of who I was before I grew into an adult.

Whenever I do, I always take a moment to pause and reread that essay. Tears well up in my eyes as I am transported back to that January so long ago, remembering the hours I sat watching the tragedy replayed on the TV screen and the scribbling of my pencil as I tried to write about that deep, sorrowful pain and what it meant to me and to my nation.

January 28, 1986 was a day of national tragedy. It was a day when I grew up just a little bit more, realizing for the first time that world events affected me as an individual and as an American citizen.

IT ALSO HAPPENED TO BE THE DAY BEFORE THE DAY WHEN I BECAME A WRITER.

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And He who sits on the Throne said … “Write, for these words are faithful and true.”     ~Revelation 21:5

Introducing …

Please allow me a moment to introduce my new blog!

Hormonally Speaking

Now before you get worried and start to fret about whether or not you’ll still get updates whenever I randomly post something new or will need to go follow me at some new internet address, please understand my new blog is completely separate from this one. They are very different.

Tales from the Laundry Room is my personal blog, where I write about my marriage, my adventures in raising five teens and tweens, my experiences as a foster mom to two rambunctious toddlers, my dreams and goals and aspirations. Basically, I write about my life … and usually I connect it back to what God is teaching me through it. Naturally, I hope you’ll stay right here with me as I continue to randomly write about whatever happens to be on my mind.

Hormonally Speaking is not a random blog.  In fact, it is a blog where I write for a  specific audience (women) about a determined topic (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome).

Perhaps you have a few questions you’d like to ask. Maybe the first one is:

What is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome anyway?

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, shortened PCOS, is a hormonal disorder.  (Now you know where I got the name for my blog!) It’s the leading cause of infertility among women, but also comes with a host of other symptoms.  Here’s a rather short list:

  • weight-gain/inability to lose weight
  • absence of ovulation
  • irregular menstrual cycles
  • miscarriage
  • problems with breast feeding
  • male pattern hair growth
  • male pattern baldness
  • skin issues (severe acne, psoriasis, skin tags, etc)
  • higher risk for heart disease, Type II diabetes, and certain cancers

There is no cure for PCOS, and in general the medical community tends to treat individual symptoms rather than the whole patient.

Which leads me to question #2 …

Why do you need a whole blog dedicated to PCOS? Why not just write about it here on this blog?

The short answer is that I’m writing a book about my personal experiences  with PCOS, and I want to be able to engage with my audience and get to know them in a way that might not happen here with a wider audience.

The longer answer is that women who have PCOS deal with a lot of issues. Many of the symptoms chip away at a woman’s femininity.

For example, a woman with PCOS might have a difficult time getting pregnant. If she does, she might have a problem with maintaining that pregnancy. Hopefully that won’t happen and she will give birth. However, then she might discover that she cannot breastfeed her baby. It’s a real struggle many women face.

Another example might be a  woman with enough hair on her upper lip to grow a fuller mustache than her husband, yet she also has a receding hairline. How embarrassing! Yet there are many women who spend tons of money just on trying to hide the fact that they are going bald and have hair growing in places it shouldn’t.

Those are issues I want to address, openly and frankly, with my readers. But if I tried to write about those topics here at Tales from the Laundry Room, I might be tempted to hold back my thoughts and feelings on these issues. Emotionally, it’s very hard to discuss these issues. I already feel insecure and embarrassed talking about it in this post, much less if I wanted to go more in-depth on these issues. However, if I were writing to a targeted group of women who are likely to have had many of the same thoughts and feelings and emotions I have experienced, then it will be easier for me to open up and share my personal story.

And my story is important. It’s the reason I believe God called me to write a book about PCOS. You see, I don’t have a medical degree or special insider information about treating PCOS. But I do know the Creator personally, the very One who fashioned each one of us in the womb. And I know that knowing Him is the only way to find true self-worth. So you can see, being able to truly open up and share my heart is essential if I want to be an encourager to other women with PCOS.

The more I thought about trying to mesh the two purposes, the more I realized I simply needed two separate blogs, which is why I decided to make a brand-new blog dedicated to the topic of PCOS. Two blogs; two purposes. I’ll certainly continue to write on both.

The third question you might wish to ask me is perhaps this:

Well, if your new blog isn’t going to interfere with your writing on this blog, then why should I care?

Well, I mentioned earlier that PCOS is the leading cause of infertility for women. In fact, it’s so common that anywhere from 1-3 out of every 10 women has it, and many are undiagnosed.

Stop and think about that statistic for a moment.

Anywhere from 10% to 30% of women child-bearing age or older, suffer from this hormonal disorder.

That’s a lot of women! And what that means is that chances are extremely likely that you know a lady with PCOS. Perhaps it is your sister, your aunt, your next-door neighbor.

Here’s how you can help, both the lady you know with PCOS and me. Introduce them to my new blog. It’s so easy to share the links on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. I would appreciate it so very much!

I love this blog and my readers here. Tales from the Laundry Room has taught me quite a bit about the art of writing, the fun of engaging with my readers, and the importance of knowing my audience. I do not plan to abandon this blog at all. Rather, I hope each of my blogs will help me continue to grow as a professional author, and I’m looking forward to a long future of blogging at Tales from the Laundry Room.

Again, thanks for being a faithful reader … and thanks in advance for sharing Hormonally Speaking with your friends and family!

 

A Trio of New Year’s Eves

New Year’s Eve 2008.

It wasn’t the first time I had ever had a fore-telling conversation with God, but it certainly was one of the most memorable.

 

I’ll never forget it. I was alone. My three kids gone to be with their father. I had been to visit friends in VA and had returned home earlier that day to a quiet, still house. Only the cat was there to greet me … and he seemed mostly perturbed that I interrupted his nap.

I felt bone-cold in the chilly house as I waited for the heater to make my house warm. But mostly, I just felt lonely.

It was my second New Year’s Eve as a single mother. The year before I was still shell-shocked from the events that had rocked my world. I barely noticed an old year passed away and a new one started.

Now, as I scrummaged through the cabinets looking for something quick and easy to fix for my dinner, I thought about how I was ending the year in a better place than I started it. Initially, 2008 found me a broken woman, but now after months of personal counseling and learning to live life again as a single mom, I felt more confident … not in myself so much, but in the Lord and in His promises to use all things for my good.

As I ate my supper, and counted down the hours left in 2008, I sensed that 2009 would be the beginning of something new. I realized I had new goals for the coming year. New hopes and dreams for my life.

And in those quiet hours, I came to a realization. I didn’t want to be single forever.

In the days after my first husband left me, I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to love another man. But now, in these quiet moments, I realized what I really wanted was a person to share my life with … and I wondered if that would ever happen.

As it happens so often in situations like this, I started to talk internally to God about my thoughts and ideas and wishes. Not so much a typical prayer as much a chatter in my head. Jumbled thoughts poured out in a rapid, random fashion, some sort of strange cross between monologue and unwritten journal entry.

As I rambled to God about my future, whether or not it would include another marriage, I felt a strange peace wash over me. And then it came … as a small whisper, so soft I wasn’t even sure if I heard what I thought I heard.

You will marry again, Paige … and it will be a New Year’s Eve wedding.

I shook my head in a sort of disbelief. To begin with, New Year’s Eve was not really a holiday I had ever enjoyed. Fear of the future had been a personal, life-long struggle for me, and though since my divorce I had been focused on learning to overcome that fear, I still couldn’t imagine wanting to celebrate a wedding on a holiday all about celebrating the unknown year ahead.

Yet the more I thought about it, the more I saw how New Year’s Eve was the perfect day to marry. After all, it’s a day focused on endings and beginnings. A marriage is the end of a period of singleness and the beginning of a new life together as husband and wife.

It was then I knew I wouldn’t be single forever.

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New Year’s Eve, 2009

 

I had met Jon in April. We started dating in October. Here we were at the holiday season, and we still hadn’t even held hands or shared our first kiss.  Despite the slow pace at which our relationship progressed, I already knew this was the man God had chosen.

When Jon learned  I didn’t have any plans for New Year’s Eve, he was appalled. “No one should be alone on New Year’s Eve!

Well, my kids are off visiting their dad. I haven’t been invited to anyone else’s home. My church isn’t doing an activity that night. I’ll probably just watch a few movies or maybe work on a sewing project.

The next morning, Jon called me back.  “I’ve been talking to my girls, and we’d like to invite you to join us today. We aren’t going to do anything special. We’ll just hang around the house. But the girls would love to have you come visit … well, that is, as long as we promise to keep them included. Megan is very concerned about that.

How about if I bring a few activities for us to do with them … some crafts, perhaps?

And so, it was agreed. I made the long two hour drive to Jon’s house to spend, bringing along with me a big box of craft supplies. The girls and I crafted the afternoon away, while Jon dozed on his sofa and watched a little football. I made a couple of snacks for us to enjoy. Quiet, laid-back and completely natural.

Later that evening, we ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant. As Jon paid for our meal, the waitress made a comment about his beautiful family. Not quite knowing how to respond, both of us smiled and wished her a happy new year.

But I already knew. This was the man I was going to marry.

Driving along the dark roads back to my house, I watched the flickering of fireworks light the sky … and wondered how many more New Year’s Eves there would be until Jon and I were married.

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New Year’s Eve, 2010

Jon asked me to marry him in October. I said yes.

But Jon was deathly ill. Even as we planned for our wedding ceremony, honeymoon and marriage, I watched the man I love slowly grow sicker and sicker. As a dear friend told me, “Paige, I’m afraid you’ll either have a New Year’s Eve wedding or funeral.

The diagnosis came on December 22nd. A severe heart infection nearly took his life. But thankfully, God allowed him to live. Two days before our wedding, Jon came home from the hospital, a PICC line still in his arm.

The next 48 hours, we raced to get everything ready for the wedding we weren’t sure would ever happen. Somehow, the reception room at the church was decorated, a friend made us a beautiful red velvet cake, and one by one the details fell into place.

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December 31, 2010

December 31st was sticky and humid.

Jon was weak from his ongoing healthy issues. Rumor had it he slept on the sofa in the pastor’s office until time for the ceremony.

Guests started to arrive.

And then … the music started and our beautiful girls made their way down the aisle.

I felt no nerves. Only the most amazing sense of joy that I have ever known.

We said our vows, and our guests laughed with us as we pledged to love in sickness and in health.

The pastor asked those in the audience to come surround us and offer up prayers on our behalf. My dad, an uncle, a family friend … each of them offered up a prayer and my soul swelled with indescribable peace.

As we walked out of the sanctuary, somehow an unplanned receiving line formed so that Jon and I were hugged and blessed over and over as our guests walked to the small reception.

And that night, as we drove to our New Orleans honeymoon, fireworks lit the night sky … and I thanked the good Lord for a trio of New Year’s Eves that had brought me to a new life He had planned for me before I ever took my first breath.

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New Year’s Eve … a time to celebrate what is ending and what is yet to be. Every year I’m grateful to God for what He has done in my past and what He has planned for my future. No more fear because (as cliche’ as it might be), I know I may not know exactly what my future holds, but I certainly know the One who does know and who holds my future.

“Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.  Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced…”  ~ 1 Chronicles 16:11-12

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  ~ Jeremiah 29:11

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You can read more about our wedding story and Jon’s illness at the following link:

The Wedding that Almost Didn’t Happen

 

 

A Christmas Birthday

Reposting my Christmas Eve post from last year … because I couldn’t think of a way to say it any better this year. Happy birthday to my beautiful mother and the merriest Christmas wishes to my family, friends, and blog followers! May your celebrations be focused on the One who brought us the greatest gift of all!

Tales from the Laundry Room

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Although the entire Christmas season is generally a magical time, there is something spectacular about Christmas Eve.

When I was growing up, I had many favorite Christmas traditions: baking, decorating and delivering Christmas cookies to some of the elderly members of our church; listening to Chrsitmas music; watching Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Lifeor Bing Crosby in White Christmas (and, for some strange reason, The Sound of Music ) all of which came on the TV as this was before the time of VCRs and DVD players.  Singing Christmas carols at church all through December; pulling decorations out of the box and hearing my mother recount where she had gotten them; caroling around the tiny village with my church; sipping hot chocolate in the glow of the Christmas lights. These were a few of my favorite things.

But there was one special thing about Christmas in my family that…

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