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!

 

 

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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.

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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.

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“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

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.*

All That Really Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He is right. It is.

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

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All That Really Matters

written by Maddie Hamilton,  September 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Papaw

James Herbert Terry

September 19, 1923 – March 6, 2015

What Matters Most

Today is my birthday. Happy 44th to me.

Sort of.

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

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

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

Honestly, I don’t.

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

Even good things hurt sometimes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be gracious to myself.

In my grief.

With my hurting heart.

On this birthday when it still matters so very much.

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

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

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

It’s going to be a good day.

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

Why did my dad have to die so relatively young?

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

Why did God let him die on my birthday?

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

What if something else terrible happens on my birthday?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think on these things.

Experience the renewing of my mind.

Ask what really matters most.

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

This gift is better than any opal ring.

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So what is it that mattered most about my dad …

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

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

But the thing that mattered the most is this:

My father loved and knew Jesus Christ.

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

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

 

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

And today, I am especially grateful for that.

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

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

On the Other Side of Divorce

“Please pray.

I think my husband is leaving me.

My heart is broken,

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

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

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

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

My Father’s Voice

Father’s Day is Sunday.

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

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

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Me and my wonderful Daddy, Easter Sunday 1973

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Paige!  Go back and get the truck!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Baptist Girl’s Ash Wednesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I had only one Catholic friend growing up.

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

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

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

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photo credit: The Sound of Music musical motion picture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Jon wasn’t sympathetic to my desires.

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

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

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

I questioned Jon about it.

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

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

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

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

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image from clipart-library.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  ~ John 14:6

Celebration Time

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

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

I’m celebrating for a much more personal reason.

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

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

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

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

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

Death Cubed

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

There is not better reason to celebrate.

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

~Psalm 77:11-12