Putting on the Ritz

I cannot remember a time when I didn’t love Ritz crackers.

Ritz
Ritz Crackers

My first Ritz memories are of eating them with peanut butter. I’m sure my mother made this delicacy for us, but I really recall enjoying peanut butter Ritz with my dad. In fact, when my mom was gone and my father was in charge of feeding the hungry horde of people left at home, you could count on peanut butter and Ritz crackers being on the menu.

My father’s mother enjoyed experimenting with making treats dipped in chocolate. Her kitchen as filled with all sorts of sweets covered in chocolate. But her best creation might have been Ritz cracker peanut butter sandwiches which were dipped entirely in chocolate. Those were amazing!

But really, if you ask me, a Ritz cracker can be topped with with nearly anything, and still be tasty:  cream cheese, pimento cheese, spinach and artichoke spread. The list goes on and on.

Because there’s really nothing like a Ritz cracker …

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

Yesterday was 4-H Fall Fest.

Fall Fest is a big deal in our house. It’s a fun day of 4-H competitions, including lots of cookery contests. Each year, we start several weeks before Fall Fest looking for great recipes to enter into the various food categories.

This year, Nathan and I found what we thought would be a winner:  Creole Cheesecake Spread.

Creole-Shrimp-Cheesecake
Creole Cheesecake (photo from Taste of Home magazine)

 

This wasn’t your typical cheesecake dessert. This was more like a savory dip that was baked in a springform pan. It contained shrimp, crawfish tails, some Cajun seasonings and a whole lot of cream cheese. And all of this was baked on a Ritz cracker crust.

Oh my!

When that baby came out of the oven, Nathan and I immediately spread some on top of a Ritz cracker. It was so amazingly delicious that we thought we had gone to heaven!

Next, Nathan and I packed some of this Creole Cheesecake over to our neighbor, who is about as Cajun as they come and known all over Lafayette for his cooking skills. We asked his opinion. After he took a sample taste, he asked us for the recipe! WooHoo … we felt good about our chances at a blue ribbon.

Would you believe Creole Cheesecake Spread didn’t even place? How is it possible for a Ritz cracker not to win? I am still not sure. However, my entire family enjoyed the rest of the Creole Cheesecake Spread while we watched the Saints games against the Bengals.

I am happy to report that the Saints won … and the Creole Cheesecake was a winner with everyone too!

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

This weekend I enjoyed a lot of Ritz crackers. I don’t keep them in my house very often, because if I do, I will eat them one long sleeve after another. I don’t have this problem with chips or cookies, but give me one Ritz and I’ll eat a dozen!

I remembered a story my dad used to tell quite often about his days in Vietnam. Apparently, after he had been in Vietnam for quite some time, he went to the PX and discovered they had just received a shipment of new items to sell in the store. Among the new merchandise, my dad found a large tin of Ritz crackers.

Ritz Cracker Tin
1970’s vintage Ritz cracker tin

Even though it cost over $5, he bought it! He also got some peanut butter. My dad said it was worth every penny because it tasted like home.

I always loved that story.  Probably because I understood that particular story more than any of the other things he would share with us about his time in Vietnam.

Anyway, between my dad’s birthday on Nov. 9th, Fall Fest on Nov. 10th and Veteran’s Day on Nov. 11th, I’ve been eating Ritz crackers and thinking quite a bit about my Daddy.

Both have brought me a lot of happiness … though I enjoyed the memories of my father far, far more than the Ritz crackers. .

Tomorrow, the leftover Ritz crackers will go into the trash. I’ll no longer be indulging in one of my favorite unhealthy foods. As much as I love them, Ritz crackers aren’t good for me.

However, I’ll still continue to enjoy thinking about my dad. Not a day goes by when I don’t remember him in some fashion. And I plan on keeping it that way because generally whenever I think about my dad, it makes me smile.

So in this Thanksgiving season, I’m grateful for my dad and the wonderful man that he was. And I’m glad that God thought up giving us brains that are able to remember and recall the past so that it can bring us joy.

And every so often, I’m thankful for the enjoyment of a simple Ritz cracker … especially if it’s topped with a bit of peanut butter.

 

Advertisements

The Great Nate Debate

This past weekend my oldest son competed in his second collegiate debate tournament, and made it all the way to the quarterfinals before getting eliminated.

I am so stinkin’ proud!

JoelDebate
My son Joel with his teammate Trinity. Both of these novice debaters made it to the quarterfinal round.

You might be thinking to yourself:

“Quarterfinals?! It’s not like he actually won or anything … he just made it to the top eight.  I don’t understand why are you so excited.”

Well, let me tell you…

That boy of mine has been giving speeches since he was quite young. But he had never debated at all until last spring. Now, six months later, he is competing with the college debate team at Louisiana College. I can’t help but think that’s pretty impressive.

However, I have to admit that just having the ability to debate impresses me.

To begin with, debating is a skill. One must learn how to logically present a case, while being able to strategically point out the flaws and fallacies of their opponent’s position. This takes lots of practice to hone and develop.  I suppose I could learn debating techniques and tactics, but the truth is that I don’t want to learn. You see, debating stresses me out.

Debate feels a lot like arguing, which is not something I enjoy at all.  Maybe if I had more experience, I would begin to feel comfortable engaging in friendly debates. But for the most part, I try to keep my life free of debates, whether it’s with strangers on social media,  my friends in real life, or with my family and loved ones.

Let’s just say, I avoid debates at all cost.

Although there was that one time I purposefully debated Nate the Great.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

This is my younger son Nathan. 

NateEight

We sometimes call him Nate.

Nate rhymes with debate. I should have thought about this when I was naming him. I regret to say that I didn’t even consider it. Not even once. Never even crossed my mind.

You see, he may look like an easy-going California Beach Boy with his blonde hair and blue eyes , but this kid loves to engage others in what can only be described as informal debates. He is so skilled at debating, that unsuspecting people (like me) don’t even realize a debate has started until you are already talking in a voice that’s a bit too loud and a tad too high.

In fact, the greatest debate I ever participated in was against Nate the Great. Yes, the same cute kid pictured above. Hard to believe, but it is 100% true. I’ll gladly tell you the tale, but allow me to begin by sharing the moral of my story:

Don’t ever let a cute boy with dimples woo you into a debate!

Chances are, it won’t end well. 

Back when I was a single mom, I often entertained my children on long car rides with music. We loved to sing along to lots of oldies, and some of our favorite songs were from the 60’s.

On one such trip, Joel (who was about 9 years old), and Julia (who was approximately 6 years old) were singing loudly with me to one of our favorites songs: When I’m 64 by The Beatles.

Nathan (age 8) was not singing.

As the song ended, Nathan said in a very cranky voice, “That song made no sense.”

“Sure it does,” I said. “But even if it didn’t make sense, it is still a fun sing along song.”

“Momma … Have you ever really listened to the words?”

Let me step out of my story for just a moment. If you aren’t familiar with this particular Beatles song, you might want to take a listen by clicking on the photo below. It isn’t necessary to enjoy the rest of the story, but it might be helpful. Besides, it’s a fun song to know. You can listen if you like … takes about 2 1/2 minutes. My story will be ready to continue below once you return.  

the-beatles-1__140613232022
Photo by deadline.com

I started singing (off-key):  “Will you still need me? Will you still feed me, when I’m 64?”

Nathan glared. “You see? That’s ridiculous! Of course, she will still need him. But he might as well face it. She will NOT be feeding him anymore by then.”

“I guess I don’t understand, Nate. Why can’t she feed him anymore?”

Nathan gave me a look of disbelief. “Well, mom,” he sighed.  “She will be very old by then and most old people have shaky hands. I bet she would drop food everywhere if she tried feed him! Besides, he just said he was 64.  Most people who are 64 can definitely feed themselves. He should at least be able to make a sandwich or something!” 

I chuckled. “Nathan, it’s not talking about spoon-feeding, like you would a baby. It’s just talking about cooking meals and eating together at the table. I’m positive a wife will continue to do those things for her husband, even when he is 64.”

“His wife?!” Nathan sounded incredulous. “He’s not singing about his wife! This song is definitely about his mother.”

Now it was my turn to feel stunned. I stared at Nathan briefly, before turning my eyes back to the road and my driving. Trying to focus on the task at hand and keep up my end of the debate was harder than I expected.  “Um … no. You are wrong, Nathan. It’s about a girlfriend or a wife. The man is wondering if they will still be together many years from now, when they are both old and gray. He wants to know if they will get married and live their lives together, which is why he is singing, ‘Will you still need me, when I’m 64?’.”

I thought the argument would end there, but Nathan was not about to give up.

He shook his head vigorously and said, “Nah… Girls think about getting married, but guys try NOT to think about weddings! That’s how come I know for sure he is singing to his mother. He is asking his mom if she will still love him and want him to be home even when he is all grown up. That’s the kind of thing boys think about!”

I felt like I was in a quandary. To continue talking to this child would be nothing more than participating in a silly argument. Perhaps I should just drop it. But that would almost as if I were admitting to my son that he was right. And I definitely didn’t want to do that!

My mind whirred. What if I engaged him further in this debate by logically proving to him that he was wrong? Yes, that was the ticket! If I could get Nathan to see the fallacy of his own thinking, then he would have to admit that I was right.

“Nate,”  I ventured cautiously.  “How about instead of us arguing, we listen to the song again … only this time we will both pay close attention to the words. I can pause the CD every few lines so that we can talk about the words together. I bet in the end we will both be able to agree on exactly who this man is singing to. Are you willing to listen one more time?”

Nathan paused for a moment, considering my proposition. “Okay, I will listen with you,” he finally said.  Then he took a deep breath and finished his thoughts.  “But I already know he is singing to his mother.”

For a moment, I considered just letting the kid win the debate … but then I changed my mind and said, “Just try to listen with an open mind … okay, Nathan?”

I restarted the song and the bouncy tune began:

When I get older, losing my hair

Many years from now.

Will you still be sending me a Valentine,

Birthday greetings, bottle of wine?

 

I paused the cd. “See, Nathan … right there, the singer says he wants to know if she will still be sending him a valentine. That definitely something that a girlfriend or wife would do, and not a mother. Valentines are exchanged by people who are in love, not between mothers and sons.”

“Well … YOU gave Me a valentine this year.” Nathan pointed at me first, and then at himself for added emphasis.

“Yes, well that’s different. You aren’t old enough to have a girlfriend or a wife. Lots of mothers and fathers give their children small gifts on Valentine’s Day, but once their kids are all grown they don’t usually do that anymore. For example, this past year I only got a gift from Mr. Jon. He’s my boyfriend. We are dating. My parents didn’t give me a Valentine’s gift. That’s because I am all grown up now. Understand?

“Yes, I do. And that’s exactly how come I know this singer is asking his mom about Valentine’s gifts. He doesn’t want to ever get married, but he still wants to get Valentine candy. So he is just making sure he understands what to expect. If his mother stops sending him Valentine gifts, then he will have to buy that stuff for himself.” There was a small pause, and then Nathan continued, “By the way, I’m not getting married either, so I hope you will keep on getting me Valentine gifts too.”

I sighed and restarted the cd.

Will you still need me, Will you still feed me

When I’m sixty-four?

You’ll be older too.

And if you say the word,

I could stay with you.

I stopped the cd again.

“Did you hear that, Nathan? He is telling his girlfriend that he will stay with her if she would like for him to stay. It’s another way of telling her he would like to get married.”

“That’s not what I heard,” Nate said, with a grunt.

I sighed. “Okay, Nathan. Tell me what you heard.”

“He said that when he is 64, his mother will be even older. Everyone knows really old people need someone to stay with them. So he is offering to stay with his mother when she is old. All she has to do is ask. I think that’s a great thing for a son to do for his mother!”

I had to laugh. “I agree with you on that one point, Nathan. It would be a great thing for a son to do for his mom. However, I’m still thinking he is singing to his girlfriend.”

I could be handy, mending a fuse 

When your lights have gone.

You could knit a sweater by the fireside

Sunday mornings go for a ride.

Doing the garden, digging the weeds,

Who could ask for more?

Will you still need me, will you still feed me,

When I’m sixty-four?

I reached out and paused the cd again.

“Sounds like two people who are married to me! Mending things around the house, gardening, hanging out together, going for long drives … “

“Sounds like boring stuff to me! That’s definitely not the kind of thing married people do together!”

Stifling a laugh, I said, “So Nathan, what exactly do you think married people do together?”

“Not that sort of thing! No man is going to want to go for a long car ride with their wife. If I were married and wanted to take a car ride, I’d go by myself so that I wouldn’t have to talk. I could listen to my own music and drive really fast without anyone telling me to slow down.”

I couldn’t tell for sure but I thought I saw him give his big blue eyes a slight roll.

“I’m not sure you have a good concept of marriage yet, Nathan. You are still a bit young to really understand it. You see, it’s not about doing exciting things together all the time. It’s really just about sharing life and being with each other … even when you are just doing boring things. Besides, a son really isn’t going to want to do things like sit next to his mother while she knits a sweater.”

Nathan harrumphed. “I probably know more than you think. For one thing, his mother is old now. She can’t get up on ladders to change light bulbs. Her son is 64 and that’s pretty old, but he can still climb a ladder. He wants to be there to help his mother. That’s why he told her he would do things for her, like plant her a garden.” He stopped for a minute, as if collecting his thought. Then he continued, “Of course, it could be that he likes vegetables and he knows if he plants them his mother will cook them for him to eat. I think he’s just a really nice son who wants to take care of his mother.” Nathan sat for a second in thoughtful silence. Then he said, almost in a whisper, “I just don’t understand why he is so worried about whether or not she will feed him …”

Grandchildren on your knee

Vera, Chuck, and Dave

“There! There! You see, Nathan … grandchildren! The singer is saying he wants to get married to his girlfriend, and then someday they will have grandchildren together!” I felt sure that this point would win the debate!

However, one glance over at Nate told me he wasn’t accepting this as the final answer either. Sure enough, Nathan spoke up, “He’s talking about his children … which are also his mother’s grandchildren.” 

“But I thought you said he wasn’t getting married.”

“I didn’t say that. I said he didn’t want to get married. Sometimes guys don’t want to get married, but then it happens anyway because some girl tricks him into falling in love. He just knows that if he ends up getting married, then he will probably have children, too.”

I sighed loudly and started the cd once again.

Send me a postcard

Drop me a line

Nathan suddenly reached out and stopped the cd. “Postcards!” he said triumphantly. “Only moms send postcards. Girlfriends write love letters.”

“My mother has never sent me a postcard.”

Without skipping a beat, Nathan retorted, “My mother hasn’t either.”

Give me your answer, fill in the form

Mine forevermore!

Will you still need me, will you still feed me

When I’m sixty-four?

With that, I reached out and fast-forwarded to the next song on the cd.

“Why did you do that?” Nathan asked. “That song wasn’t even over yet … and I thought you really liked it.”

“Suddenly, Nathan, I don’t like it nearly as much.”

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

No doubt about it. I lost my debate with Nate. 

But it wasn’t all bad. I learned an important lesson about intentionally starting a debate with a naturally argumentative person over a very minor issue:  Basically, don’t do it!

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.  ~Titus 3:9

Yet the Bible doesn’t say never enter into a debate. In fact, it says the exact opposite. We should always be prepared for a debate regarding our faith!

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.  ~1 Peter 3: 15-16

It just matters how we go about the debate. When we focus on listening to the other person, on responding to their thoughts instead of trying to “win” the argument, and when we remain humble and speak from a place of love … well, that’s what debate is all about.

I’m not like Nathan. I don’t think debate is fun, and I probably never will. But I can follow my son Joel’s lead and learn how to debate. Because while debating isn’t pleasurable, it’s not evil either. And who knows where it might lead …

You will even be brought before governors and kings because of me, to bear witness to them and to the Gentiles. ~Matthew 10:18

In my case, the Great Nate Debate didn’t take me to any wonderful places. But it did give me one of my favorite parenting stories to tell. And truthfully, I can’t wait until the day Nathan’s children come to visit me and I can tell them all about the time their Daddy debated me over the meaning of a silly Beatles song.

Sapphires for September

I knew the rule about snooping through my parents’ room. I wasn’t supposed to do it.

My mother said it was rude to go through other people’s things without their permission. I agreed with her reasoning. After all, I knew I would be livid if someone was poking around in my room, rummaging through the stashes of treasures stuffed back in various places.

And yet, I did it anyway.

Let me clarify. I didn’t pilfer through everything in my parents’ bedroom. I was mostly interested in their large chest of drawers. And truthfully, it wasn’t all of the drawers. Who cared about the ones crammed with socks?  I was only interested in one drawer.

The top middle one.

The one that held all sorts of odds and ends that were clues about who my parents were before I existed, like my dad’s old tin box filled with tarnished 4-H pins and tie tacks that had no backs.

There were other treasures too, like a seashell necklace my mom got when she met my dad in Hawaii during his R&R from his year serving in Vietnam. I suppose a seashell necklace might sound rather gaudy, but it really was a dainty necklace.  The shells were tiny, all the same size, and a beautiful golden color. I longed to see my mother put the seashells around her neck, even though it was hard to imagine my mother wearing such a necklace. As far as I knew, the only jewelry she ever wore besides her plain silver wedding band were a couple of pretty brooches on the lapels of her Sunday dresses. Sometimes I would look at the photos of my parents enjoying Hawaii together and think about the necklace and wonder about the person she was before she became my mother.

But the thing that drew me back to that forbidden drawer again and again was the sapphire ring.

sapphire ring 1
This ring is similar to the one in my mother’s jewelry drawer, the major difference being my mom’s ring had small diamonds interspersed among the sapphires. The photo is used with permission from the owner of Bejeweled Emporium Vintage Jewelry shop on Etsy.

Truly, this was the most impressive ring I had ever seen in my short life. To begin with, it seemed absolutely enormous. The ring spiraled into a tall cone of sapphires, which were the deepest, loveliest blue imaginable.  Their color reminded me of the blue that ringed the irises of my mother’s eyes. Interspersed among the sapphires were small diamonds, which glittered in the light.

I remember that once my mother told me about the sapphire ring, stating that my dad brought it back to her from Vietnam. “Jewelry was cheaper there,” she said matter-of-factly.

Once when I asked my mother why she never wore the ring, she responded, “Paige, this is a cocktail ring. It’s meant to be worn on fancy occasions, such as a formal dinner party when a lady might wear an evening gown. I don’t go to parties like that so there is never an occasion for me to wear this ring.”

I was disappointed by her answer. Not because I didn’t understand her reasoning exactly, but rather because I wanted her to love the ring as much as I did. I wanted her to wear it anyway, even if there wasn’t a fancy party or grand occasion. Yet that was not my mother’s way, and so the beautiful sapphire and diamond ring was hidden away in the drawer.

Throughout the years of my childhood, I continued to regularly dig around in my parent’s top middle drawer. The contents rarely changed, but that wasn’t the reason I went snooping around. The truth is I was drawn to that ring like a moth to the light. Each time I eased open that drawer, I would immediately pull out the ring, and put it on my finger. Often, I would go over to the piano and play a song or two, envisioning I was a grand concert pianist performing before a large crowd of people. Other times, I stood in front of the mirror pretending to be a model or a superstar posing for photographs.

I might have been young, but I was certain of two things:

  1. This was the most beautiful ring in the entire world.
  2. Someday this ring would be mine to keep.

Neither turned out to be true … at least not in the way I envisioned.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

My great-grandmother, whom I called “Ma,” was a formidable figure in my life. She was a rather feisty woman, known for speaking her mind. She had an immense, intense, somehow fierce sort of love for her family.

And I adored her.

I was probably around 11 or 12 when I started sitting next to Ma in church. I didn’t want to sit with my parents anymore, but I knew they weren’t going to allow me to sit just anywhere. So I decided to sit next to Ma … at least initially because I knew she kept a stash of peppermints in her purse. At that time in my life, peppermints made just about any sermon better.

This might sound strange, but at some point I realized that I continued to sit next to Ma because I loved to hold my great-grandmother’s soft, wrinkled hands and admire the rings on her long fingers. She always had on a thin gold band along with an amethyst ring in the shape of a flower.

amethyst flower ring
This amethyst flower ring is sold at Zales. It is very similar to the one my great-grandmother wore, only I recall that her ring had a gold setting and did not have a diamond center.

Purple has long been my favorite color. As much as I loved my September birthday, I truly wished my birthstone might be the lovely amethyst rather than the sapphire.  Sunday after Sunday, I sat next to my great-grandmother and admired her purple flower ring.

Once my great-grandmother allowed me to try her ring on for size. As I stared at the ring on my own finger, I was captivated by its beautiful simplicity. When compared to my mother’s gloriously ornate sapphire and diamond ring, the amethyst flower on my great-grandmother’s hand seemed somewhat plain. Yet, I found it to be just as lovely.

Maybe this was the most beautiful ring in the world.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

Christmas 1988 … give or take a year.

My parents gave me a beautiful sapphire necklace. I was thrilled!

While I preferred  purple amethysts, sapphires were also among my favorite gems as it was my birthstone.  My younger sister received an identical necklace, even though she wasn’t a September baby. It felt special for the two of us to have matching necklaces.

sapphire necklace
This is the sapphire necklace my sister received that Christmas. My necklace was identical.

Later I learned the sapphires came from my mother’s ring, the one tucked away and never worn. Deep inside me, perhaps because of the little girl who used to sneak peaks at that enormous ring, there was a twinge of disappointment.  I owned half of the sapphires, but …

What I once though to be the most beautiful ring in the world was no more.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

When my dad died 4 years ago, I found myself looking for ways to connect with him. I know it sounds strange … and maybe its just a way of grieving. You see, I knew he was no longer here with me, and I didn’t have any belief that he could hear me talking to him from the other side. As a Christian, I believe that because of my father’s faith in Jesus Christ when he died he went on to heaven to be with his Savior. And I don’t believe that he is up there looking down on me, or currently serving as some guardian angel in my life.

And yet … I just wanted to connect to my dad.

So I pulled out the sapphire necklace made from the sapphires he had brought to my mother from Vietnam before I was born. I thought perhaps wearing that around my neck would be a sweet reminder of my much-loved daddy.

But when I pulled the necklace out of my jewelry chest, I immediately saw the chain was hopelessly knotted. I remembered instantly why I hadn’t worn it in several years.  The super find gold chain had knotted like that in one of my many moves. Even though I had tried many times before, I wrestled again and again with the knots, attempting to make the necklace wearable once more.

All of my attempts failed.

For a long time, the necklace lay on the top of my dresser, near where I put my wedding rings every night. I noticed it nearly every day, and thought about taking it to a jeweler to have the fine gold chain repaired. But I never did.

A year went by and then two …

One day, as I had my wedding rings cleaned in the jewelry store, I noticed a beautiful sapphire and diamond ring in the shape of a delicate flower. I pointed it out to Jon. “My next anniversary gift,” I teased him.  “Probably not this year,” he responded lightheartedly.

But I couldn’t forget that ring.

Six months later, I went back to have my wedding rings cleaned again. I looked, and to my delight, the sapphire flower ring was still in the glass case. Jon wasn’t with me, so I asked the sales clerk if I could try it on. It slipped perfectly on my finger.

I did not want to take it off … but I did, somewhat reluctantly.

That was in April.  All through the spring and into the summer, I thought and thought about that ring. It cost about $500, a bit out of the price range for our lower middle class income to spend on birthday, Christmas or anniversary gifts. The more I thought about the ring, the more I wished I could figure out a way to afford it. I loved the sweet flower setting as it reminded me so much of my great-grandmother and her lovely amethyst ring. And the sapphires  … well, they nearly perfectly matched the sapphires on my necklace.

My necklace!

That was it! Instead of having the chain repaired, perhaps I could have those sapphires reset into a flower ring.

I tentatively brought the idea up to Jon. “I don’t know,” he said. “It might cost just as much to have the sapphires reset as it would to buy the ring you admire. Besides, are you sure you want to mess with the necklace your daddy gave you?”

I wasn’t sure.

So I thought about it some more. Once, I went back to the jewelry store to look at the lovely flower ring. My favorite sales lady said, “You really love this sapphire ring! When are you going to convince Jon to buy it for you?”

I laughed … and then told her about my sapphire necklace at home. “How much would it cost to have those sapphires reset into a similar setting?” I asked.

“Well … I am not sure. We could send it off to our jeweler, but he resides in another state, He will let us know what options you have regarding reseting the stones. I couldn’t tell you a price until we heard back from him. If that’s something you would like to do, then you would have to be willing to sign paperwork stating you understand we are not responsible if the sapphires you give us are lost or damaged while in our care.”

I was not willing to take the risk.

But when I told Jon what I had been told, he suggested we visit another jewelry store that had an in-house jeweler to get a few estimates.  So, one September Saturday, about a week before my birthday, Jon and I set out to talk with a jeweler.

We went into one jewelry store and the quoted price was more than the purchase price of pretty ring that had started it all. “I was afraid of that,” Jon said. “Do you want to keep looking?”

I didn’t have to think long or hard about it. I immediately responded, “Yes … I do want to keep looking. Because I know that what I really want is not just any sapphire ring. I want to use my daddy’s sapphires to make a ring, and I want them in a flower setting.”

Jon looked at me and said, “I can’t promise you I can make that happen for this birthday or even your next birthday. It may not be for several years, depending on the cost. But if that’s what you want, then let’s find out the best way we can begin to work toward making that happen.”

Later that afternoon, Jon and I walked into a jeweler’s for what we thought would be just another estimate. But this time, after the jeweler heard me describe what I wanted, she said, “Actually, I don’t think we need to reset these sapphires at all. They are currently set in a diamond shape now, comprised of five rows of sapphires.  You can see how there is one sapphire at each end of the diamond shape, with two sapphires on the second and fourth rows, and three sapphires set on the middle row. Now watch me … If I lay the charm on its side so that it makes a wide diamond-shape instead of a tall one, it’s easier to see that if we were to simply clip off each of the end sapphires, a flower shape would be what remained. That “sapphire flower” could then be mounted on a ring. It would save you quite a lot of money if we didn’t have to reset those tiny sapphires.” 

Suddenly I saw it too. The flower had been there all along!

The new price was less than half of every other quoted cost, making it fall within the budget Jon had given me. I happily left my sapphire necklace with the jeweler and ten days later I picked up my beautiful new sapphire flower ring.

sapphire ring
My sapphire … to me, it’s definitely the most beautiful ring in the world.

Even thought it really is a simple ring, I think it is the most beautiful ring I’ve ever laid eyes on.

The sapphires are a deep blue. The ones my dad brought home to my mom from Vietnam.

The flower setting reminds me of my great-grandmother, and all those times I sat holding her soft and wrinkled hands.

Now every time I look at my right hand, I think about my daddy and my great-grandmother … and I am reminded that love between people doesn’t end with death.

I also think about my husband who works hard to provide so well for our family, and yet didn’t freak out because I kept thinking about what must have seemed like a very frivolous thing. He could have shut me down. Instead, he was willingly to help me find a way to make it happen.

And I’m reminded of how I desired something so much I was willing to search for it … and in the end, I discovered it had been with me all along.

I suppose there is something profound in all of that. Or maybe it’s just a story that means something to me.  I just know that the sapphire flower on my right hand is far more than a birthstone ring.

It’s a visual connection to people I love  … and a beautiful reminder that sometimes the things I desire the most are much closer than I ever realized.

But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul. ~Deuteronomy 4:29 (NKJV)

September 17th: the Good, the Bad and All that is Important

I was born September 17, 1972.

I have always liked being a September baby.

Well, for the most part I liked it.

Both of my siblings had summer birthdays. They never had to think about going to school, taking a test, or doing homework on their birthdays. I have to admit that sometimes I would feel a slight twinge of jealousy about this.

However, the truth is I generally didn’t mind going to school on my birthday. My elementary classmates sang The Birthday Song to me most years. Sometimes my friends brought me a gift to open on the playground. Other years, my mom would allow me to have a friend come home after school, especially if my birthday fell on a Friday.

There was another reason I loved having a September birthday. It just so happened that both of my grandfathers had September birthdays too. My birthday happen to fall between their respective celebrations.

Whether we were with my mom’s dad on September 5th or my with my father’s father on September 19th, I always got to be included in the birthday celebration. Everyone sang to me, and I got a set of candles to blow out.  And since I was the only cousin (on both sides) with a September birthday, I always felt extra special. Looking back, it seems like nearly every year of my childhood I got to share a birthday party with one or the other of my grandfathers, and some years I was lucky enough to get two extra parties out of the deal!

However, as much as I loved my birthday, the childhood version of me always wished for a September 16th or 18th birthday instead.

The reason behind this longing is really kind of silly. Somehow in my childish way of thinking, 16 and 18 were more desirable numbers than 17. But obviously you are born on the day you are born, so there is no changing it afterwards. I am forevermore stuck with a September 17th birthday.

Good thing that over the years I’ve learned to embrace it … mostly.

~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~

Do you love reading the “On This Date in History” posts you see on social media? Or looking back at the headlines from the year you were born?

I do!

September 17th has a fairly interesting history, at least I think it does for a date that seems sort of random.  For example, all of the following events happened on September 17th:

  • The city of Boston was founded in 1630
  • In 1683, Dutch scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (known as the “Father of Microbiology”) first described what he called “animalcules”, or microscopic organisms that we now know as  protozoa
  • The Constitution of the United States was signed in 1787
  • Harriet Tubman escaped from slavery in 1849
  • In 1976, the first Space Shuttle (Enterprise) was unveiled by NASA
  • Vanessa Williams was crowned the first black Miss America in 1983

Lots of good things have occurred historically on September 17th.

Unfortunately, there have been plenty of bad things that happened on this date as well. Such as:

  • In 1862 the American Civil War Battle of Antietam was fought, which to this day remains the single bloodiest day in the entirety of American military history
  • Also in 1862, the Allegheny Arsenal Explosion, single largest civil disaster of the Civil War
  • The first airplane fatality occurred in 1908 when Orville Wright crashed his plane during a show, killing his passenger
  • And in 1928 the Okeechobee Hurricane struck Florida and killed more than 2,500 people

and, depending upon how you feel about it, there is also this:

  • Lord of the Flies was first published in 1954.

Personally, I really disliked Lord of the Flies, which is why I included it on the list of bad September 17th events as opposed to the good list. It’s extremely hard for me to imagine that anyone could possible like this book. However, if by some strange chance you consider yourself a fan of Lord of the Flies, and if you feel inclined to correct my lists, then by all means feel free to comment below. I promise not to judge your sanity based on you love for this strange and disturbing novel.

Back to my ramblings on the fascinating history of September 17th.

There are lots of supposedly important people who happen to share my birthday.

You know, like Charles the Simple, who was a Frankish King who ruled West Francia from 898-922. He was the third son of King Louis the Stammerer and a cousin of Emperor Charles the Fat.

You remember King Charles the Simple, right?

Yeah, me neither. There really isn’t much to say about Charles, other than the fact that he was apparently simple … although exactly how or why he was described as simple seems to be lost to history. Some historians actually prefer to call him Charles the Straightforward. No explanation for that either. No matter which name you prefer, old King Charles is relatively unheard of today … well, unless you are really into Frankish royalty.

No worries if you didn’t recognize my birthday buddy Charles, though. There are plenty of other September 17th babies of notable fame, including:

  • Two Chief Justices of the United States Supreme Court: John Rutledge (#2, 1739) and Warren Burger (#15, 1907) … and they are the only two Supreme Court Chief Justices in the entire history of the Supreme Court to share a birthdate
  • American outlaw, Billy the Kid (1859)
  • Country singer, Hank Williams (1923)
  • Author of Ella Enchanted, Gail Carson Levine (1947)
  • Actor John Ritter (1948), who starred in the late 1970’s TV comedy Three’s Company
  • Video game designer, Yuki Naka (1965) who created “Sonic the Hedgehog”

Sometimes famous people have died on September 17th:

  • Dred Scott, an American slave who sued for his freedom and his case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, died in 1858
  • U.S. Vice-President Spiro Agnew passed away in 1996
  • One of my favorite comedians, Red Skelton, died in 1997

And my daddy. He died on September 17th, too.

~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~

The death of a parent is a grief like no other. It’s a bit like being untethered. Like a newborn baby screams as it is forced to breath air for the first time, so our souls desperately cry when our parents leave this world. Like the final cut in the cord that has connected you in this world for as long as you have drawn breath is suddenly gone. How will we go on without them? It doesn’t matter if you are young or old. This is your parent. You’ve never known life without them, and now that they are gone everything you have known about this world seems to be unstable.

The unexpected death of my father coincided perfectly with my 42nd birthday.  I’ve spent the last 4 years trying to make sense of that.

I don’t want it to matter, but it does … at least for now.

Perhaps not as much as it mattered last year, and not nearly the same as it did on the two years prior. Yet the pain is still present. How do you celebrate on the same day that you lost a person you loved so deeply since before you were really even you? How do you embrace joy yet mix it with solemn remembrance when the sting of griefs rolls around each year?

I haven’t figured it out yet. Right now, September 17th is still a hard day for me. Grief anniversaries are real; my heart is just often sad around this time of year. And yet, his is my birthday. I want to celebrate … and, perhaps more importantly, people I love want to celebrate with me.

For now, in regards to September 17th, I work really hard on doing two things:

  • Finding ways to acknowledge my sadness, because the anniversary of my daddy’s death is still a sad day for me. I am grateful that I know he waits for me in heaven. I rejoice over his eternal reward. I look forward to seeing him again. And yet, I miss him being here and I still sometimes grieve because he is gone.
  • And then I am intentional about being creative as I plan ways to celebrate my birthday with my family and friends. This year, that included a trip to my favorite weekend Farmer’s Market, a little Saturday afternoon antiquing, and a small impromptu party.  My favorite person in the whole world is taking me to lunch today after I spend the morning training as a volunteer counselor at our local pro-life pregnancy center (something I’ve wanted to do for a long, long time).

I can honestly say it’s been a happy birthday so far. And I also know (thanks to God’s loving kindness and mercy) that whatever else today may hold, whether it is good or bad, I can trust that He will walk with me through it.

~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~

With every year that rolls around, there is a September 17th. Some years good things have happened. Other years, it’s been a bad day.

Life is like that.

Some days are good. Some days are bad. Occasionally, you get a day where the good and the bad are mingled together.

And that’s okay.

Because as wise King Solomon once wrote: “On a good day, enjoy yourself; On a bad day, examine your conscience. God arranges for both kinds of days …”  (Ecclesiastes 7:14, The Message Bible)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5

Life Lessons from a Toothbrush

Saturday morning there was a big dilemma in my bathroom, but I suppose it really started on Friday night.

You see, that’s when I found the toothbrush on the bathroom counter next to the sink.

 

966378a1e702c0e5d29cf8670a645d6c

It looked like my toothbrush, but I thought I had put mine away already. However, now that I am in my mid-40’s, my kids constantly point out that my old memory isn’t as sharp as their young brains. Therefore, I figured I must have only thought I put my toothbrush away.  So, I picked it up, threw it in the toothbrush drawer on my toiletry organizer, and went to bed.

That was Friday night, when all was still well with the world.

Saturday morning, everything fell apart … sort of.

Jon couldn’t find his toothbrush. He looked high and low, but to no avail. His toothbrush could not be found. Several minutes into his desperate search, he asked me if I had seen his toothbrush. I hadn’t.

At least, I thought I hadn’t.

Then it hit me. Maybe that toothbrush by the sink wasn’t actually my toothbrush after all. What if it really belonged to Jon?

Sure enough, when I opened up my toothbrush drawer, there was one tube of toothpaste and two nearly identical toothbrushes.

Identical brands. Identical styles. Even the colors were oddly close. One was a sort of lime green and the other was a slightly darker, more tealish green.

Did I have lime green toothbrush? Or maybe mine was the teal blue one? I couldn’t remember.

Unfortunately, Jon couldn’t either.

He tried laying each toothbrush in his toiletries to see which one looked right. He couldn’t see any difference between the two.

I tried picking each one up and looking in the mirror to see if one appeared more correct than the other as I held it in my hand. I couldn’t tell. In fact, that little experiment only made me more confused about which toothbrush actually belonged to me.

It was no use trying to figure it out. Our toothbrushes were hopelessly mixed up.

But perhaps the biggest shocker for me was the realization that even after seven years of marriage … sharing drinks, tasting each other’s food (using the same utensil),  and kissing on a daily basis … there was no way on God’s green earth that I would even consider for a brief moment sharing a toothbrush with this man. Not even for one morning. That would definitely be taking germ-swapping too far!

Item #1 on Saturday’s to-do list:

Buy new toothbrushes!

~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~  ~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~  ~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~  ~~~

Oddly enough, this is not the first time I’ve had issues with toothbrush sharing. In fact, one of my mother favorite stories to tell involves me, my siblings, and a red toothbrush.

To really understand the story, you must first know that my mother staggered our bedtimes.

Give me a moment to take a rabbit trail here…

Why on earth would you stagger bedtimes? This just lengthens the amount of time it takes you to get everyone into bed. I used to think this was the way it had to be done, like it was some unwritten parenting rule. And then I had five children. Staggered bedtimes? Putting one child down every half hour? That lasted about two nights, and then everyone got the same bedtime. 

Anyway, back to my mother’s version of the toothbrush story …

One night she happened to be in the bathroom when my little sister brushed her teeth with a red toothbrush. Half an hour later, she noticed my brother brushing his teeth, also using the same red toothbrush. (You can guess where this is going, right?) Yep, half an hour later, I brushed my teeth … with a red toothbrush.

Apparently, we all liked red, so we all claimed the red toothbrush.

To hear my mother tell this tale, you would think we were quite old when this happened. But, I’m thinking it’s more likely to have happened when we were all rather young. Perhaps I was six years old, which would make Reid about four and Brooke around two. I guess I could have been as old as seven or eight. I realize that six years old is plenty big enough to know better than to share a toothbrush. But I am guessing that I didn’t know I was sharing a toothbrush with my siblings. After all, we had staggered bedtimes, w which meant staggered teeth brushing times as well.  Therefore, it’s safe to assume I had no idea which toothbrush my brother and my sister were using.  At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

(A little side note:  This is yet another good reason to send all children to bed at the same time. By doing so, you will ensure that your children will not be able to use the same toothbrush … or if they do, a fight will break out. Generally, children do not willingly share anything, including toothbrushes. Now, back to the story … )

Obviously, my mother was extremely appalled to discover her children were into toothbrush sharing. Being a good and conscientious mom, she couldn’t let this horrid habit continue. The next morning my mother went straight to the pharmacy and bought three brand-new toothbrushes. A blue one for Brooke. A red one for Reid. A purple one for me (Paige).

This was the start of the color system.

Eventually, the color system grew to include many areas of our life, from plastic drinking cups to school supplies. If my mother had to buy three of any item, and there was even the slightest chance we would fight over which item belonged to which person, she color-coded. Brooke always got blue. Reid always had red. Usually I had purple … but sometimes I ended up with pink, which caused me great grief because pink was about the last color I wanted associated with my name.  (Even back then, I was grateful I wasn’t a boy named Patrick.)

(Here’s a Parenting Tip: The color system only works if you name your children so that it is easy to match them with a color. I actually tried to implement it with my five children, but there aren’t any colors that match up with names starting with J, M, or N.  Still I was determined to use this idea, so I randomly assigned colors. Naturally, I forgot which child I assigned which color, and they fought over who got the “cooler” colors. Then there was a period of time when all of them wanted orange to be their color, and they fought over orange items daily. Oddly enough, no one’s name starts with O!  So while I might not see the brilliance of staggered bedtimes, my mother had a distinct advantage over me with her implementation of the color system.)

The color system worked wonderfully, and I am sure it simplified my mom’s life in many ways. Now if a blue cup was left on the kitchen counter, my mother instantly knew who forgot to put it in the dishwasher. Blue = Brooke. If there was a purple folder of schoolwork strewn across the dining table, she hollered my name because she knew Purple = Paige.

And it certainly solved the problem of the communal toothbrush!

~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~  ~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~  ~~~

On Saturday, I went to the store and bought myself a new toothbrush. I decided ahead of time to purchase purple. It was safer to go with a color I could remember belonged to me.

As I stood there in the store, looking at all the toothbrushes, I felt a twinge of jealously. There are no colors starting with the letter J, which means Jon has far more color options than me.  Lime green. Teal blue. Bright red. Flashy orange. Why, I suppose he could pick a new color every single time he needs a new toothbrush!

Meanwhile, I’ve been using purple (or sometimes pink) toothbrushes most of my life. I would like a little variety from time to time. But experience has taught me the hard way, and right there on the toothbrush aisle of Walmart I realized the importance of sticking  with a system that actually works. So purple it is … because Purple = Paige.

As I reached out to pick out a purple toothbrush from the rack, I was struck with the thought that I have my mom to thank for teaching me this life lesson. She’s a wise woman who taught me many, many things  … but I bet that she never thought she would have to teach her children how to keep up with which toothbrush belonged to them!

Isn’t parenting odd like that?

You find yourself saying things to your children that you never imagined you would have to say out loud to another person.

“Of course, if you stick rocks up your nose you won’t be able to breath.”

“Plastic dishes are not oven-safe.”

“Quit brushing your hair with your toothbrush!”

As parents, we are constantly teaching our children. We train them in a myriad of ways, giving them daily lessons on a wide variety of topics, from the obviously big ones (how to manage money) to the insanely ridiculous ones (don’t share your toothbrush). We hope when our children leave us, they don’t forget the important lessons we’ve taught them over the years. It’s why I am so grateful for the assurance God gives us in the proverbs:

Train up a child in the way he should go;
Even when he is old he will not depart from it.

~Proverbs 22:6

~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~  ~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~  ~~~

My oldest biological child is turning 18 tomorrow. 

Eighteen.

My word.

He’s not nearly old enough to be eighteen. Yet somehow he is … and that boggles my mind!

Anyway, I’ve been doing a lot of contemplating lately:  Have I taught my son everything he needs to know to be prepared for life? What did I forget to tell him that he absolutely has to know before he leaves for college in the fall? Does he know how to jump his car, change a flat tire, cook a fried egg, or sew on a button? Is he prepared for adulthood?

I’ve been seeing a lot on social media lately about how the millennial generation doesn’t have many of the basic life skills that previous generations had. “Adulting” classes are actually gaining popularity. It’s rather sad to me that this is a needed thing, and at the same time it causes me to stop and ponder how well I’ve done at teaching my son the skills he will need to live a successful life.

Deep down, I know the biggest life lessons I need to have taught my son are simple:

  1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind.
  2. Seek first the kingdom of God.
  3. Let the Lord direct your paths.

When he was born, I started teaching him about the Lord, and over the years I have prayed daily for him to know these truths.  I know that if he has these lessons down, if his focus is on the right things, if his faith is intact … well, then everything will turn okay, even if he doesn’t know how to sew on a button.

Although, now that I think of it, maybe I would add just one more lesson to that list:

Never share your toothbrush.

 

Shine

green-star-md

Perhaps the biggest mystery of my childhood revolved around green stars.

Green stars meant something special to my parents. The mystery was that I never could figure out exactly what it meant.

Occasionally,  one of them would mention a green star in a passing comment. “Thanks for taking care of the dishes tonight! You deserve a green star,” my mother might say to my father.

Every so often, I’d find a green foil star stuck to a note. Maybe the author of the letter would have written something like “Here’s a green star, just for you! Have a good day!”

Once, my mother colored several small wooden stars with a green marker and put them on my father’s dresser. I asked her why she was doing it. She smiled and said simply, “Your father will understand.”

I guess he did, for several years later, I came across one in a box of my father’s old things … tie tacks with missing backs, lapel pins, random keys that had nothing to open, and that old wooded star now a rather faded shade of green.

As random and rare as seeing a shooting star in the sky, green stars wove in and out of my parents’ relationship.

Why were my parents always giving each other green stars?

How come I never got a green star?

All I really knew about the green star mystery is that it meant something good. 

And as a child, this drove me absolutely crazy.

~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~

Do you remember the gummed foil stars teachers used to stick to schoolwork?

vintage-dennison-gummed-star-stickers_1_2405814905caea5860aed0fa95a2d76f

I don’t think teachers give those out much anymore, but when I was in grade school every teacher had a box of star stickers in her desk drawer. The old kind you used to have to lick in order to stick.

I loved those stars. I really liked getting gold ones. You had to do something really good to get a gold star … make a perfect score, have the neatest handwriting, not have a single spelling mistake.

However, if I am honest, it wasn’t just the gold stickers I loved. Any color star stuck to the top of my paper made my type-A heart happy.

Sometimes today when I see packages of star stickers in an office supply store, I have an urge to buy myself some. They aren’t gummed anymore. No licking’ and sticking’ these days. You just plop ’em down like any old ordinary sticker. I don’t think that would be nearly as much fun. Furthermore, even if I bought myself some star stickers, I don’t know what I would do with them.

Stick them on top of the bills I paid each month?

Mark my favorite recipes in every cookbook I own?

Print out copies of my blog posts and give myself a star rating?

I’m not sure star stickers have a place in my life anymore … but I wish they did.

~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~

Last weekend, my mom handed me my father’s Bronze Star.

IMG_1250

I had gone up to help her for the day. We spent most of our time together,  unpacking boxes in the dining room of her new house, placing her wedding china into the new china cabinet she purchased and organizing some serving dishes into the matching hutch.

In the middle of all that unpacking, my father’s army medals came to light.

How the Bronze Star came to be packed with the wedding china, I don’t know. Yet there it was, along with a few other army medals and a tin box filled with 4-H pins and a few other random items.

In her nonchalant sort of way, my mother asked if I would like to take Dad’s old army medals for my boys. Naturally, I did. The truth is that I wanted them more for myself than I did for my boys.

Somehow, standing in that room where my father never stood, touching those old army medals and 4-H pins … well, in that moment, it gave some sort of significance to my father’s life. Three years after his death, I still struggle with feeling as if he will fade away from me. I am often aware that I am grasping for the bits and pieces of what he left behind, as if it can bring him back or make him more real. Grief is strange like that.

Anyway, it wasn’t until I got back to my home that I realized I didn’t know why my father received a Bronze Star. I knew enough from my days as a military wife to recall that Bronze Stars are a significant award not given to every soldier.

What had my father done to earn it?

All I could do was ask my mother. Maybe she would remember. So I sent her a text message, asking for any information she could share with me about my father’s Bronze Star.

Within minutes, my mom replied:

Yes, I know why your father got the Bronze Star. He distinguished himself during the war. He was never in trouble. He always did his job, going beyond the call of duty. He was diligent in doing his part to win the war. He got it for his meritous service in a foreign conflict.

I read her words slowly.

Two times. Three times. Over and over and over. So many times I actually lost count.

 

As I stood there that night, thinking about my dad, I remembered how proud he was of his military service. But I couldn’t remember ever actually seeing his Bronze Star medal.

Slowly I opened the worn black box containing the medal. And there it was, pinned to a piece of yellowed velvet.

IMG_1251

The star had tarnished green.

~~~  ~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~

My dad got a Bronze Star because he was a good soldier who strove for excellence. His hard work and diligent efforts were noticed. He stood out from the rest of the troops.  And because of his good work, he was rewarded with a star.

Just like I got those foil stickers pasted to the tops of my best schoolwork … the ones I worked the hardest on and gave my best efforts. Lots of gold stars added up to being on the Honor Roll.

Even as a young child, I knew stars were a very good reward. Stars, whether the gummed sort given out by teachers or the bronze ones handed out by military generals, are reserved for those who excel.

Nobody gets a star for mediocre work.

In the Bible, the Apostle Paul encourages us to strive to do our best. He writes: “I urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received.” (Ephesians 4:1)

When our time on earth is done, God will welcome us home with, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  (Matthew 25:21)  These are the words every Christ-follower longs to hear.

More than that, we are promised a crown. “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” (1 Peter 5:4)  Crowns we will cast at the Savior’s feet.

Some days I think of my father in heaven… glorified body, worshipping the Savior, bowing before the throne.

Maybe it’s silly, but I almost hope his crown was embellished with a big green star.

It doesn’t matter though. My dad’s not wearing it.

He’s already laid it at the Savior’s feet.

Julia and the Cadaver

One week ago today, Julia had knee surgery. 

knee-clipart-1208889-Clipart-Of-A-Vintage-Black-And-White-Bandaged-Knee-Royalty-Free-Vector-Illustration

Unfortunately, this wasn’t her first.

Julia had her first knee surgery at the tender age of 12, thanks to bad genetics and a knee injury that resulted from running in the house.  (There is a reason mothers tell their children not to run inside the house.)

Two years later, my daughter has gone through months of physical therapy, as well as acquired an extensive collection of knee braces. Some are full-leg braces; some simply support only the knee area. She has two different hinge braces that allow a range of motions. Her current brace has a steel rod in the back to completely immobilize the knee. (If you know of someone who needs a knee brace, give me a call. We probably have one in stock that will work!)

Julia and I have been through quite a bit with her right knee.

Still, being told she needed a second knee surgery wasn’t something I felt prepared for. I felt even less prepared when the doctor informed me that during this surgery, he would be giving my girl new tendons. Repairing an injured knee is totally different than reconstructing a knee.  Somehow it all felt so much more invasive …

Actually, the point I began to grow truly concerned happened at the very moment Julia’s orthopedic surgeon mentioned that the new tendons would come from a donor. Specifically a cadaver donor. At the word cadaver,  I stiffened … not so much because the idea of using tendons from a cadaver bothered me, but rather because I feared what my teenage daughter’s reaction might be.

Julia either didn’t notice or didn’t care or just didn’t know what the word cadaver meant. She had no response or reaction whatsoever. Rather than try to figure out the reason behind her non-chalant attitude, I decided right then and there that I wasn’t going to risk drawing attention to it by asking her questions. And so for the next two months, no one said anything at all about the use of cadaver tendons in regards to Julia’s upcoming knee reconstruction.

In fact, nothing else was said about tendons at all until the very morning of the surgery when the doctor came by to see Julia right about the time she was getting ready to have her initial dose of “happy” meds.

“Looks like you are nearly ready to do this thing.  We’ll get those new tendons grafted on in no time, and…”

Wait!” Julia interrupted.  “What do you mean ‘graft on new tendons?’ Where are you getting them?”

The doctor paused and looked at Julia for several long seconds before answering, “Well, we have these tendon grafts that we will put in your knee. They will soon attach to the other muscles and ligaments and bones, so that your knee will be properly supported.  It’s really pretty simple and before long you’ll have a brand-new knee.”

“But where are you getting these grafts?”  Julia persisted.

“I ordered them from a medical supply company,”  he answered with a smile. And with that, Julia’s wise doctor quickly moved on to discussing her care after surgery.

I thought that would be the end of the discussion.

It wasn’t.

Within two hours of coming out of surgery, Julia was not only awake, but also asking questions. “Mom, where are my old tendons? Did he take them out of my body? And I still don’t know where the new ones came from.” Thankfully, she was still in a rather groggy state, so it was easy to distract her.

But soon the anesthesia wore off. As Julia’s mind grew more alert, she continued to pepper me with questions about her tendons, both the new ones and the old ones.  The more time passed by, the more intense her questioning became. My tactic of being vague wasn’t working as well, and yet I couldn’t imagine telling Julia the entire truth either.

After we got home from the hospital, I told Jon my fears of her reaction if she ever discovered exactly where those new tendons came from. “She might well cry for hours once she finds out! ” I fretted.

Jon reassured me. “Eventually, she will stop asking questions and life will move on. Until then, it’s okay to give her vague answers. I don’t think you should tell her lies, but you shouldn’t feel pressured to lay out the full truth about exactly where those tendons came from until you think she is ready to handle that information.”

I felt only slightly comforted at my husband’s words. The pressure continue to build. I knew my daughter well enough to know that as soon as she could, she would ask me about her new tendons again … and again and again.

Not very many hours passed until my prediction came true. As the rest of the family left for church and other Wednesday night activities, Julia was left alone with me. The door had barely shut behind the last person when the questions started.

“So mom … did I trade tendons with someone?”

I smiled (sort of a weak smile) and said, “You are really curious about your new tendons.”

“I guess. I just want to know about them.”

“Well, Julia … trading with someone wasn’t an option. The doctor said your tendons were in bad shape. They were stretched out and floppy. He even described them as being frayed. No one can use a tendon like that.”

“Yeah … I see your point. I figured that wasn’t right. But where did they come from? Tell me … please … come on.  I mean, they had to come from somewhere. You just can’t make a tendon out of plastic.”

“You are right about that. Tendons aren’t made from plastic.”

“So, did the doctor take my tendons out of someone’s leg who had an amputation?”

There was a long pause as I waited, unsure of what to say next.

Then, almost as if talking to herself, Julia continued. “No, that wouldn’t make sense. If their leg was amputated, then probably their tendons would be in bad shape too … maybe even in worse shape than my leg.”

Again, there was another long pause. I looked down, unable to watch Julia’s face for fear of giving something away. I could tell her mind was racing and whirring with ideas. Part of me was fearful she would figure out the answer, and yet I was fascinated to see how she worked through various ideas logically.

“Or maybe they took my new tendons out of a dead person … WAIT … that’s it, isn’t it? I must have dead person tendons! Oh, my gosh! I think I have figured it out! Mom, tell me! Am I right? Do I really have dead person tendons?”

I glanced up, still not able to really speak. But that’s all it took for Julia to know with 100% certainty that she had stumbled upon the truth.

“Oh, I am right! I figured it out all by myself!  Just think … I have dead body parts inside of me. That means … oh … oh … wait, this is almost too weird to think about, but you know what that means, Mom? It means I am both dead and alive at the same time! Now that’s crazy!” 

I watched as her shock turned to giggles and finally to full-blown laughter. This child wasn’t upset about having cadaver tendons; she was delighted about it!

It wasn’t long before her siblings came home, and Julia wasted no time letting them in on her amazing news.

“Nathan! Come here! I gotta tell you something you will never guess! Get this … I am DEAD on the inside! No … really, it’s true. The surgeon put dead person tendon’s in my legs, so while I am alive on the outside, part of me is dead too!  Isn’t that the coolest thing ever?!  It’s the weirdest thing to think that I have some random dead person’s tendons!”

Actually, that wasn’t the weirdest thing.  

The weirdest thing was the next question my daughter asked … 

“Hey mom … do you think you can find out the name of the dead person who gave me my tendons? I mean, if we found out, then I could go to their grave to say thank you. It’s the least I can do.”

~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~

Julia isn’t the only one who is dead, and yet also alive.

You see, I am also dead in my sins, yet my spirit is alive in Christ.  Let me explain …

Over in the New Testament of the Bible, there is a verse that says the wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23)

But actually, you can find that lesson right at the very beginning of the Bible … smack in the middle of the Garden of Eden, right about the time when Adam and Eve first sinned and brought forth a world filled with all sorts of woes.

Before sin, Eden was perfect. Not only was it a beautiful paradise, but there was no death, no animosity between creatures, no heartaches or sorrows or sickness. Life was perfect for Adam and Eve.

Perhaps best of all, there was but just one rule for them to keep:

And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden,  but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” ~Genesis 2:16-17 (ESV)

But read Genesis chapter 3 and you discover that Adam and Eve didn’t obey God’s one simple rule. They allowed themselves to be tempted by the snake. The snake asked Eve, “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden’?”  

Eve, who knew the truth, answered back that they indeed could eat freely from any tree in the Garden except for one. And she added, “God said, ‘You must not eat it or touch it or you will die.'”

And the snake … oh that cunning snake … he replied, “No! You will not die. In fact, God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Pride. It’s the downfall of nearly every human on this planet. We think that we know as much or better than God Himself. We get ourselves into all sorts of trouble because we refuse to do what God has shown us is right, believing our own way to be better than His.

So Eve, wanting to be like God, ate the fruit. And death entered the world.

Or did it?

When I was a child, I used to think, “But Adam and Eve didn’t die! They just got kicked out of the Garden of Eden, and God made them some clothes to wear. The snake was right. They didn’t die!”

But they did die … eventually. And that’s the thing my childish brain didn’t grasp. The truth is that had Adam and Eve never sinned, then they would have never ever died physically. They would have lived right there in that garden paradise forever.

But they did sin, and death entered the world on that awful day.

In fact, even though the physical death didn’t come in that moment to Adam and Eve, the world’s first death actually did happen on that day.  God Himself killed animals in order to make clothes for Adam and Eve. In this way, the very first death was also an act of love.

Yet all of it happened because of the sin of human pride and willful disobedience.

The root of all sin is found in the very words of the serpent.  “You will be like God!” And right there is the core of it all … we humans think we should be like God.

The Bible tells us this can never be. We are unable to be like God.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.  “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55: 8-9)

God is God and we are not. How simple it sounds! Yet it is incredibly hard to lay down our arrogance and pride. We want more than anything to do things our way, to believe that our finite minds comprehend things better than God.

But the truth is, we have very little ability to keep ourselves from sinning, no matter how hard we might try. Have you tried not telling a lie? Not judging someone else? Not listening to gossip? Just as Adam and Eve managed to sin when there was only just one rule, we are prone to sinning too.

Unfortunately, all sin comes with a cost … death.

Remember Romans 8:10? For the wages of sin is death.

One sin. Not multiple sins repeated over and over. Not a lifetime of sinning. Not when your sins outweigh the good things you did during your life.

No, the Bible is clear. Sin (singular) brings about death. And not just physical death, but also a spiritual death.

God, who is holy and righteous and perfect, cannot be in the presence of sin. So, if you are a sinner (raise your hand here), then you are doomed to be separated from God eternally.

But God is not only a God of justice. He is also full of mercy.

Think back on Genesis and the Garden of Eden. Imagine those moments just after Adam and Eve ate the fruit. Emotions they didn’t know immediately flood their souls … recognition of their nakedness, shame, fear of God finding out, trying to find a way out of their current situation, the sting of failure.  None of these emotions had ever been felt in the perfect world of Eden before sin.

The Bible tells us that God finds Adam and Eve hiding in the bushes. He talks to them and they confess what they have done. God would have been completely right had he killed them on the spot. After all, He told them that eating the fruit would cause them to die.

Instead God clothes them. 

Love. Mercy. Compassion. It’s all there in that one moment.

The Bible tells us something else about God. He never changes. Ever.  (Don’t believe me? Read Numbers 23:19, Hebrews 13:8, and James 1:17.)  If God never changes, then just as He had love, mercy, and compassion for Adam and Eve, so He does for us.

Adam and Eve still had many consequences as a result of their sinful disobedience. There was a price to pay, as well as an eventual physical death that they should have never had to experience. But they also got to experience God’s mercy.

The good news is that there is still mercy for us today.

God doesn’t want any of us to die and be separated from Him and His love for eternity. So He sent His son Jesus to live a perfect life (in an imperfect world) without sinning a single time. And then Jesus took the punishment for our sins … and though he died on the cross, Jesus was not defeated by death. He conquered it by rising from the dead.  And because of that, all we have to do is surrender our pride and our hearts to Him. To admit our sin and our need for a perfect God. To lay down doing things our way (because we think our way is better), and live instead doing things God’s way.

And then, even though we all will eventually die physically, our souls will spend eternity in the presence of God. In other words, even though our bodies are dying day by day, our soul is full of the life found in the Holy Spirit of God.

So just like Julia said … I might be dead in my sins, but I am alive in Christ Jesus!

But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. ~Romans 8:10 (ESV)

~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~

My daughter Julia had some really bad knees, but thankfully she was able to get a new set of tendons that came from a cadaver donor. At the end of her recovery, she’ll have knees that work better than ever. That’s a wonderful gift, and we are so grateful!

I don’t need new tendons in my knees. Chances are, you don’t either. But every single one of us is dead on the inside, trapped in our sins, desperately in need of the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ. The good news is that God is waiting to give you this amazing gift … and trust me,

It’s the best gift you could ever receive!

 

 

Sleepless in Louisiana

insomnia

This is me. 

Not sleeping when I should be…

Thanks to an ear worm.

Now before you get all grossed out and think I have some parasite living in the depths of my inner ears, allow me to reassure you that an ear worm is actually not a living creature at all. In fact, it isn’t even a thing you can see or touch.

And actually chances are pretty good that you have had an ear worm or two yourself.

An ear worm is simply the term used for when you get a song stuck in your head. Most people have this problem from time to time. It can be extremely aggravating to live with while it is happening, but the good news is that typically the ear worm will go away within a few hours (perhaps a day at most) and life returns to normal.

At least, that is most people’s experience.

Unfortunately, it’s not been mine.

As luck would have it, I am one of those rare people who is especially sensitive to getting ear worms. Not only that, my ear worms like to stick around for long periods of time, sometimes for several days or a week. At night, the ear worms keep me awake because I can’t turn off the radio that’s constantly playing inside my head long enough to fall asleep.  And when I do drift off, the ear worm will often wake me up in the wee hours of the morning, as if what I wanted most in the world was to attend a personal and private concert at 3 am.

Over the years, I’ve been given all sorts of advice:

Why don’t you just change the station in your head,” some clever friends have commented.

You could mentally turn down the volume,” others have said.

Try singing the song out loud.

Listen to the song all the way through.

Trick your brain by doing something else like counting backwards from 100.

Just stop listening to music. 

I’ll admit that I’ve tried most of these. Some of them multiple times. Although I have to admit that I didn’t stop listening to music altogether. Not only do I enjoy listening to music, but the are far more songs that haven’t given me an ear worm when compared to those that have.  It seems silly to ban all songs when such a small percentage are causing the problem. Besides, even if I wanted to stop listening to music, I’m not sure how one could possibly go about such a thing in today’s society. Music is everywhere!

Regardless, none of these tricks and tips managed to kick the ear worm out of my brain. In fact, the harder I try to make it go away, , the worse my ear worm actually becomes.

frustratedwoman

This is me.

Expressing how I feel about ear worms.

And about being up all night listening to songs I don’t enjoy.

Because generally it is the songs that I don’t particularly enjoy that get stuck in my head. But that’s not always the case.  Occasionally a song I like gets stuck in my head, too.  (Well, at least I liked it before the ear worm started, and I was forced to listen to it ten thousand times without stopping.)

You might be wondering exactly what sort of songs get stuck in my head. So here is a sampling of recent ear worms I’ve dealt with:

One of the most frustrating ones was the song Fix My Eyes by For King and Country.  A couple of years ago, it received a lot of playtime on our favorite car radio station, KLOVE.  That particular ear worm was so incredibly bad (keeping me awake for nights on end) that for about 2 months, I wouldn’t turn on KLOVE at all simply for fear of hearing it and risking the ear worm starting back up. To this day, I still refuse to listen to this song.

Not long ago, I got just two lines from the Bryan Adams’ song Everything I Do stuck in my brain. Jon laughed when I told him that the worst part was I couldn’t even get my brain to play the rest of the song for me! This happened to be one of those songs that I don’t mind hearing. However, I prefer to listen to the entire song, and not just two lines repetitively.

It’s not just the radio music either. The theme songs from TV shows or even advertisement jingles can get stuck in my head too. Jon and I love to watch Father Brown on Netflix, but Jon has to mute the intro or I find myself unable to get the theme music out of my head.

And then there is this little gem  … The Alef Bet Song by Debbie Freedman. Now you might be wondering how this song even got into my head in the first place. The answer is that I am currently taking Hebrew lessons, and the teacher insists upon playing this song during every single class. The class meets one evening a week. I leave each class with my personal radio brain playing The Alef Bet Song on repeat. By the time I finally get that annoying song out of my head, it’s time to go back to class … where the song will once again be played, and my ear worm will be reactivated. At this rate, I may not sleep again until after Hebrew class ends sometime around the last week of April.

The truth is, I don’t even have to hear music for my ear worm to activate. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to simply mention the song, Within second, my ear worm starts up, and right then I know for the next few days I’ll be sleepless in Louisiana. A prime example is the theme music to The Andy Griffith Show. I swear all it takes is for someone to mention Barney Fife, and the whistling begins in my head.

Once it wasn’t even a song that got my ear worm to going. It was a silly board game we played as a family.  Afterwards, I was awake all night long mentally playing Ticket To Ride, mapping train routes all over Europe and trying to draw the right cards to complete the routes in my imagination. Thankfully, this ear worm only lasted for one night.

worried woman

Obviously, I have a serious ear worm problem. While it might be a relatively common source of frustration, it seems as though I struggle with this to an extreme level. I wondered if this might be indicative something …  like, say,  a sign of superior intelligence. Wouldn’t that be nice?

After doing a bit of research, I am sad to say that the answer to this questions is no.  Ear worms are not a sign that I am smarter than you, or possess any special brain powers.

But, according to several internet sites, it can actually be a sign of an anxious brain.

Lovely. Yet another thing for me to worry about.

confusedpeople

Perhaps this is you.

Maybe you are thinking, “Gosh, Paige! That ear worm thing is terrible! But why are you writing a blog post on ear worms? Surely after such a long hiatus from blogging, this isn’t the best idea you had.  Isn’t there a better topic?”

Yes, I agree with you. There are probably many far more interesting and worthwhile topics to write about, especially after one takes a year long break from blogging. In fact, I’d say this probably is a really poor choice of topics for a come-back post.

But the truth is that I haven’t felt like writing much over the last year or so. Often times, I feel guilty about that. Lately, I’ve been praying for the desire to write again. Today the urge hit, so I decided to go with it.

The strange thing is that not only did I have the urge to sit down and write, but I knew exactly what I wanted to write about …  Ear worms.

You see, writing has always been a catharsis for me. Whenever I write, I am generally working my way through an issue in my life, although usually it is something far more significant than ear worms. Perhaps this will sound strange, but quite often God speaks to me through the words that He gives me to write. It’s as if I look back and wonder where the words came from because I know I wouldn’t have thought those things on my own.

So ear worms are a HUGE issue in my life right now. I would love a solution. I suppose that part of me is hoping that God will provide insight into my problem as I write. But that’s not the only reason I chose to write about ear worms.

Humor just so happens to be a great way to battle against frustration. Last night I was a captive audience while my brain played The Alef Bet Song on repeat for more than 4 hours straight.  As you might imagine, today I am feeling deeply frustrated with my ear worm problem. So this afternoon, when I suddenly found myself wanting to write about ear worms, I realized I could probably do it with a bit of humor. In the end, my sleep-deprived brain got several chuckles from the words that flowed out of my fingertips and onto the computer screen.  Hopefully , it wasn’t just funny to me and you have found this post somewhat humorous too.

But if not, then perhaps you at least are experiencing a feeling of relief that you don’t suffer from a massive ear worm that randomly takes over your brain for days on end. That’s something to be thankful for, right? And if I can help other people live a more grateful life by writing about ear worms … well, all I can think is, “How amazing is that?!”

But there is one more reason I wrote this blog post.

It’s deeply personal and quite selfish in nature. I am almost afraid to write it, but as I have already bared my soul this much, I’ll take a deep breath and type the words with all the brave hope I can muster.

I wrote this post hoping that if you are ever with me, and I happen to politely ask if we can please turn off the radio or mute the TV,  you will understand I am not trying to be rude or controlling. I’m only asking because an ear worm lives inside my brain.

And trust me …

earworm

If that nasty feller gets fed, I don’t sleep.

Maybe not for nights upon nights.  

And sleep, my friends, is never over-rated.

 

** all images in this post were downloaded from Clipart-library.com

Memorial Day Memories

I realize this isn’t exactly a news flash for most people, but …

Today is Memorial Day.

memorial-dat

It’s a day for being off work, flying the flag, celebrating the official start of summer with a BBQ or a day on the water (whether it’s a lake or enjoying the first swim of the season). And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with spending Memorial Day having fun.

But, it’s also about pausing to reflect upon the price it costs to living in the land of the free. It’s a day for our nation to remember those who have served and the price they paid because …

Service to nation is never free.

memorial-day2

Today is Memorial Day.

Seventeen years ago, on another Memorial Day, we buried my grandfather.

He was a great man of godly character. My grandfather loved his Lord, his family, his friends and his nation. He was proud to be an American and truly embraced the freedoms we have here.

When my grandfather passed away on Memorial Weekend, it seemed sort of fitting to bury him on Memorial Day. He had a plain wooden coffin that was draped in an American flag.

At the end of the service, some men from the local VFW came forward to fold the flag and present it to my grandmother, as is the tradition to honor our nation’s veterans.  But what should have been a beautiful and simple ceremony to conclude the service quickly turned into a Keystone Cops sort of fiasco.

Three elderly gentlemen, who were also veterans themselves, stepped forward to solemnly remove the flag, They started the process of folding up the stars and stripes into a neat triangle, however,  as they came close to finishing the men realized that they had folded the flag all wrong.  Carefully, the men walked backwards and unfolded the flag.

The entire process started over … only as they reached the end of the flag, they again realized it had not been folded correctly. Once more they unfolded the flag and attempted to fold it again. I’m not sure exactly how many times these men folded, unfolded and refolded the flag, or even if they ever got it folded correctly.  All I know was at some point during the ordeal I realized I was shaking with silent laughter. I was afraid to look at anyone in the eyes for fear that the dam would break and loud shrieks of laughing would burst forth.

Fortunately, I didn’t embarrass myself and eventually my grandmother was handed the folded flag in honor of my grandfather’s service.Afterwards, my entire family agreed that my grandfather would have gotten immense amusement out of the flag-folding episode at his funeral.  The memory of my grandfather’s patriotism and the hilarity of the VFW attempting to fold the flag in his honor continues to be a Memorial Day memory I cherish year after year.

RedMcGeeMilitaryPhoto
My grandfather, V. E. “Red” McGee, in his sailor’s uniform during World War II.

Today is Memorial  Day.

For seven years, I was the spouse of a soldier. My ex-husband and I moved four times during those seven years. I gave birth to one baby on the west coast (my California Beach Boy) and another on the east coast (my Sweet Georgia Peach).  Additionally, we spent time calling Virginia and Texas home.

I’m grateful for all that those seven years of service gave me and taught me. From sea to shining sea, I got to spend time exploring our beautiful nation. Living in military housing afforded me the opportunity to meet a wide-variety of people from all walks of life. Their stories have stuck with me. Their friendships have blessed me. Today, as I scroll through my Facebook newsfeed, I am amazed at how many of my nearly 1000 friends came from those seven years of military life. I wouldn’t trade that time and those experiences for the world!

And yet, there was a price to pay.  While I’d never blame military service completely on the failure of my first marriage, I do believe that frequent deployments and the stress of separation played a major part in the death of that relationship.

Unfortunately, the high stakes cost isn’t over yet. Nearly eight years later, my children, who will always suffer to some extent as they deal with the effects of growing up in a broken family, still pay the price on a daily basis. They don’t have the pleasure of regular visits with their father, Currently, their dad is temporarily deployed to Europe, and with the volatile world climate my kids worry about their dad, fearful of what might happen to him while he does his job.

Protecting their hearts gets harder and harder as they grow older.

Service to nation is not free.

memorial day 5. jpeg

Today is Memorial Day.

It’s always been an honor to say that my dad was a veteran.

My dad joined the army shortly after he and my mother were married. I recall him telling me that he knew he would soon be drafted, so rather than wait for the letter to arrive in the mail, he went to the recruiters himself. By doing so, my dad was able to finish college before leaving for basic training.

I used to love to listen to my dad’s tales about the Army. One of my favorites was how he used too tell about how once he was put in charge of an entire barracks of soldiers. He was responsible for the condition of the barracks (neatness and cleanliness) as well as knowing the whereabouts of all the soldiers assigned to that barracks. He had to report any that were not in by curfew and each morning at formation account for everyone.

Dad would always elaborate on how the other barracks were in such a disarray, with soldiers always out past curfew or not up in time to stand in formation. He would go into great detail about how the other barracks were full of fighting, drunken soldiers.

But not his barracks. Dad would proudly say that his group of soldiers were always on time. Their beds were made properly, uniforms sharply pressed,  the floors were mopped and the bathrooms kept sparkling clean. He said not one soldier ever missed a curfew and each morning they were all standing outside, perfectly in formation with their boots shining in the morning sun. In fact, for three or four months in a row, my dad received the award for the best barracks, earning the right to eat a private lunch with the Lt. Col., and honor that still thrilled my dad years later.

Of course, it wasn’t until after my father thought he had duly impressed us all with his amazing leadership abilities that he would let you in on the secret to his success.  You see,  the barracks under his leadership was entirely made up of a group of Mormons. (Later, during my years as a military spouse, I began to understand just exactly how patriotic and honorable Mormons as a whole are.)

My dad was so proud of his military service. One Christmas, my siblings and I gathered all my dad’s military patches and medals, and put them into a special display case. I wish I could say it was my idea. It wasn’t. It is my brother who deserves the credit.  I’m just grateful he included my sister and I, allowing us to share a part in giving the gift to my dad.  I don’t know that I’ve ever had more pleasure in watching someone open a gift than I had that Christmas when my dad opened up the display case with all of his military regalia. I thought my dad’s smile was going to burst the seams on his face!  For as long as I live, I will never forget that moment.

Yet as proud as my dad was …

Service to nation isn’t free.

Dad receiving a commendation in Vietnam
Dad receiving a medal and commendation in Vietnam

Today is Memorial Day.

My dad was once a soldier who served his nation during a time of conflict and war.  Though he returned home, my father long remembered the names of those he knew who gave their lives in protection of our nation’s freedoms.

When I was in high school, a touring replica of the Vietnam Wall memorial came to our area. My dad insisted we go view it. I could tell it was a solemn event for him, far more than a simple wall or just a group of names. He knew each one represented a real man who never came home. He understood the price these soldiers had paid.

My father didn’t die in Vietnam. Rather the war took nearly 45 years to kill him. 

You see, during his one year in Vietnam, my dad was exposed to Agent Orange. If you look up the effects of Agent Orange exposition, the list is long.  Everything from cancer and other debilitating diseases like Parkinson’s to high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.  My dad experienced the last three, his first heart attack occurring in his mid-40’s. I think he had 3 more over the next 20 years. In the last year or two of his life, my dad’s heart functioned at just barely over 20% of full pumping capacity, yet he continued to wake up each day and live a full life.

Several years ago, my father began to receive a full veteran’s disability from the U. S. government as a result of his exposure to Agent Orange. While he was open and honest about the fact that he had suffered from effects of the exposure and was receiving compensation, my dad never once complained to me (or to anyone else that I am aware of) about those resulting consequences. Instead, he was proud of his military service, and counted it as one of the better things he did in his life.

I am proud of him too.

memorial-day3

Today is Memorial Day.

Today, while I enjoy a long weekend with my family, I am also remembering.

I am remembering that while there are those who paid the ultimate price for my freedoms, each and every one of our military men and women who spent time serving our nation has sacrificed something because …

Service to nation is never free.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”     ~John 15:13

A Confession, a Conversation, and a Christmas Ornament

let-us-run

The Confession.

I hate to sweat.

It’s just not my thing. I would rather do almost anything than do something that makes me sweat.

In fact, because of my aversion to sweating, I decided early on that I was not a fan of any type of sports.

Beginning when I was about 5 years old until I entered Jr. High, my parents made me play t-ball or softball during the summer months. I could not imagine a worse form of torture than standing out on a field  in the heat (with absolutely no shade to speak of), and try to watch a tiny ball flying through the air so that I could run catch it. Not my idea of a fun time.

Or worse than that was standing next to home plate while someone threw a ball at me, so that I could hit it with a bat. No thanks!

My brother, who felt like it wasn’t his birthday or Christmas if he didn’t get a new ball of some sort, loved those summer days spent at the ballpark.  Meanwhile, I looked forward to out-growing summer Little League and to the day when I was no longer forced to sweat on a baseball field.

Much to my dismay, when I entered 6th grade, my parents decided that I should tryout to play on the jr. high basketball team. My school was small. No one was ever cut during tryouts. That didn’t stop me from praying that somehow I would be cut from the team!

Unfortunately, my prayers weren’t answered. I made the team.

If I thought playing softball was torture, the agony of basketball was a thousand times worse. Balls still flew through the air, only this time I didn’t have a glove to protect my face from getting hit. Our coach loved to torment the team by making us run up and down the bleachers, as well as punishing us with something known as suicide drills.  The old gym wasn’t air conditioned, so at the end of every practice I was hot, miserable, sore … and sweaty.

At age 11, everything I knew about sports could be summed up in three words.

Balls. Sweat. Blah!

I probably first became enchanted with ice skating when I was maybe 8 or 9 years old. It was so beautiful to watch, especially when compared to the only other sports I knew … football, basketball and baseball.

But ice skating … now that was something I thought I could get into. Pretty music. Fancy costumes. Graceful movements.  And with all that ice, surely there was no chance of sweating!

One evening I confessed to my dad that what I really wanted was to take ice skating lessons. How he managed not to laugh at the absurdity of my request, I’ll never know. After all, it was early 1980’s in rural Louisiana. At that time, the closest ice skating rink was in Dallas, at least 6 or 7 hours away. And with my pudgy body, I didn’t exactly look like ice skater material.

But, being the wise man that he was, instead of laughing he listened to me. I recall that he agreed that skating was indeed a beautiful sport, and he didn’t utter a single negative word  when I smugly told him that I’d probably be fantastic at it. However, as the conversation drew to a close, my father said, “You know, skaters need to be in great shape.  I suggest you start with running. If you get to where you can run 5 miles, come talk to me then and we’ll see what we can do about ice skating lessons.”

Running?!

Of all the hair-brained ideas in the world, this must certainly be the most hair-brained of them all!  Surely my dad wasn’t serious.

He was.

I tried to convince running was not a good way to get in shape. For starters, you need a reason to run … something like chasing a ball, running away from something, or trying to beat another runner in a race.

But running just for the sake of running? How boring is that?!

Running just to run is pretty much a solitary activity. Even if you run with a partner, you can’t exactly carry on a conversation. Besides, most runners tend to run and listen to music … back then with their Walkman. And if I wanted to listen to music, I’d rather do so from the comfort of my bedroom, mostly so that I wouldn’t have to worry about the possibility of sweating.

But in the end, I listen to my father’s suggestion … or, at least, I tried.

For several days in a row, I attempted to go for a run down the gravel road that wound past our house. I don’t know how far I got. Honestly, I never kept track. But I can tell you that it wasn’t very far because once I started sweating I always decided to go back home.

And that was the end of my running  (and ice skating) career … or so I thought.

The Conversation.

Last February, I decided to join a women’s only fitness center that’s not too far from my house.

Considering my strong dislike of anything involving sweat, I don’t know what possessed me to join other than I had been trying to lose weight. I had quickly dropped 30 lbs, but then I found myself stuck in a long stall. Determined to break my plateau, I assumed that if I started exercising that maybe I would once again lose weight.  And, thinking logically, I made another assumption. If I was going to exercise, a gym membership would be the way to go since it would probably require less sweating if I did something inside rather than trying to do something outside … you know, like maybe running.

My very first class was with Elena. I liked her a lot … well, that is I liked her until she made me get on an elliptical machine and run. Then I thought about changing my mind about her, but she kept smiling and saying encouraging things. It made it hard not to like her, at least just a little bit.

“Run fast … like someone is chasing you!” she said, encouraging the ladies in the class to work harder.

The woman on the elliptical next to me quipped, “But what if I want to get caught?”

I was too winded to puff out any words, but these were my sentiments exactly.

I left the gym that day sweaty and sore. Back at home, I crawled onto my bed and thought about never going back. But I am frugal, and Jon had paid a lot of money for me to have a one-year gym membership. So I kept going … week after week after week. Truthfully, I didn’t lose much weight, but I gained a lot of muscle. With muscle came confidence, and soon enough I was enjoying going to the gym for the most part.

Well, except for the sweating. I didn’t enjoy that at all.

Early last month, I was at another one of Elena’s classes. It was a Friday and only two of us showed up to workout. Elena pushed us hard, giving us quite a bit of running time on the treadmill … running on an incline, running backwards and even running sideways. It was a challenging workout, and I remember thinking how glad I was that we didn’t run  all that often during my exercise classes.

Somehow, at the end of class, Elena and the other girl began talking about running. I don’t really remember what they said or how I got involved in the conversation. But at some point I made comment about how I had always thought my oldest son might make a good long-distance track runner. To which someone suggested signing him up to run 5K and 10K races locally.

I shook my head and laughed. “No … he wouldn’t want to do that alone, and besides I haven’t the foggiest idea of how to help him train.”

That’s when Elena flashed her brightest smile at me.

“Paige, that’s a fantastic idea!  Challenge your son  … all your kids … to do a 5K or a 10K with you.  Then you could join the running clinic here at the gym. It will surprise your kids when you can finish the race. Maybe you’ll even beat them!  What a fun experience that would be!”

I felt stunned by her words. Me? Run?  Um … no. Not going to happen. I do not run. I don’t like to sweat.

End of story.

Or so I thought.

The Christmas Ornament.

I think it was late October when Jon and I went Christmas ornament shopping on one of our date nights.

After our salads at Jason’s Deli, we stopped by Hobby Lobby because I wanted to buy a cute fall dress I had seen for the baby … a sweet little tutu dress with a pumpkin appliqué and the words “CUTEST PUMPKIN IN THE PATCH” embroidered across the front.

I quickly found the dress and put it in our  cart, but I wanted to continuing looking around. It’s not all that often I get to spend time in Hobby Lobby. Fortunately, I have a good husband, and Jon was happy to let me window shop … at least as long as the baby remained in a good mood.

Eventually, we made our way to the Christmas section. Oddly enough, that area of the store was empty. It seemed like a great time to choose our annual ornaments for each member of our family.

Normally, I try to find an ornament that represents something special for the person receiving it, such as an important life event or maybe a hobby.  Sometimes it is a particular like or interest. Whatever I chose, I want it to be an ornament that is unique to the recipient.

The first ornament I found was a car for Joel who had gotten his driver’s license this past year. Nathan’s ornament was a strip of bacon, to represent his winning 10th at the National Meat ID Contest. I found an ornament that looked like a bottle of nail polish, perfect for Megan who keeps her nails neatly manicured and is kind enough to give me a personal pedicure at least once a month. Julia loves cupcakes and Maddie loves foxes, so I picked out ornaments for them based on those preferences. Jon found a guitar ornament that he liked.

That left just me, and I knew that I wanted an ornament to represent my continued healthy lifestyle pursuits. Particularly I had in mind something to represent exercise since I had joined the gym earlier in the year.  The only problem was that I couldn’t find anything general enough. All the ornaments for exercise were sport specific … basketball, baseball, football, swimming or even running. Nothing that seemed to be quite right.

Then Jon found it … a running shoe.

img_6236

I wasn’t certain about buying it as it wasn’t really what I had in mind. But Jon was convinced.

“It’s perfect, Paige! You wear shoes like this to workout in at the gym. I think you should get this one. This is your best option.”

So I bought it, but once I got home I discovered something terrible about the ornament.

img_6237

“Look at this, Jon! ” I fumed. “It says runner across the bottom!”

He looked at the ornament and then at me. “So?” he responded nonchalantly. “What’s that got to do with anything?”

“What’s that got to do with anything? ! Well, to start with,  I am not a runner. It is stupid to have a running ornament when I do not run.”

Jon shook his head in dismay. “Paige, I really don’t see why you are so upset about this. Who cares if it says runner across the bottom. No one will  even see that once it is hanging on the tree.”

“Hmph… well, I will. I will know it is there. No, this ornament will never do. I am definitely going to take it back.”

Only I didn’t ever get around to taking the ornament back to the store. Life got busy. Who has time to go return an ornament when you have to care for five teens and a baby? Occasionally, I thought about it … and whenever I did, I just figured I would buy myself another ornament that I liked, nothing to do with exercise whatsoever. Then, I would give the running shoe ornament to the gym’s owner Dawn, since she was in the middle of training for the Boston Marathon.

But I never found another ornament that I liked.

And then the conversation with Elena happened … and suddenly, I couldn’t get running out of my head.

Everywhere I turned, there was something to remind me of running. For three days straight my entire Facebook  newsfeed had something to do with running. Seriously, I have 800+ friends and all of them are talking about running?

Even at the doctor’s office I couldn’t escape running.  I sat in the waiting room and perused through a magazine, but the first ad on the very first page was for running shoes. I flipped the page to find an entire article on how to get started with running. Frustrated, I checked the front cover, half expecting that I had somehow picked up a running magazine.

I hadn’t. Yet the idea of running seemed to pursue me.

Jon was working out of town, so instead of continuing to torture myself with thoughts of running, I decided to send him an email and confess that I was entertaining the idea of running. Sure he would remind me that I was far too old and much to fat to attempt anything as silly as running.  Besides, I knew I had to try something to get the idea out of my head!

Jon’s reply was quick and to the point:  “Go for it!”

I read his email and my eyes bugged out.

What?  Am I reading this correctly? Is my husband actually supportive of this insanity? Didn’t this man promise to love and protect me?  How is pushing me to do the very thing I don’t want to do either loving or protective?

Desperate to find a way out of this mess, I decided to contact one of the gym’s trainers to get more information about the running clinic.

I figured it would cost too much.  (It didn’t.)

I assumed she would tell me that I was too old (Nope!), too fat (No way!), too new to working out to train for a half-marathon (You got this, girl!).

Out of excuses, I did the only thing I could do … I signed up for the running clinic.

Today makes it official. I have started training for a half-marathon (or maybe a 10K relay).  Either way, come March 12th, I’ll be running in the Zydeco here in Lafayette.

No one will be chasing me. I’ll just be running for me.

I still really don’t know exactly how I got to this place or why I’ve decided to do this, other than I am strangely compelled to run.

I admit. I’m scared. I’m nervous. I feel like I’ve stepped not just out of my comfort zone, but out of the zone completely. I’m in unfamiliar territory.

This morning, as the rain poured down from the dreary sky, I looked at Day 1 on the running clinic agenda. I realized that not only do I have no idea what to expect over the next 14 weeks, but I don’t even know how to start.

And then God showed me these words written by the prophet Isaiah.

Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old. (Is. 43:18)

I’m going to start by forgetting that I don’t like to sweat.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

She will run and not grow weary; she will walk and not faint. (Is. 40:31)

*I know … I changed the pronoun.  Maybe Isaiah won’t mind me personalizing his words.*