A “REEL” Star Wars Adventure

Science fiction and fantasy are not my favorite genres when it comes to books or movies. But there is one special memory I have regarding Stars Wars.

As part of The Artistic Christian’s Star Wars Give-Away, I’m sharing that memory today … and if by some odd chance, my name is pulled from the hat on this prize drawing, I’m going to have to pass along my award to one of the other members of my household who actually enjoys Star Wars. (The photo below proves that this won’t be such a hard problem.)

Our dog Jackson dressed up as Yoda. He loves his costume about as much as I love the Star Wars movies.
Our dog Jackson dressed up as Yoda. My children made him this cloak to wear. At one point, it even had a light saber to go along with it, but that has unfortunately been misplaced. Jackson loves his Star Wars costume about as much as I love the Star Wars movies.

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A long time ago, 

In a galaxy far, far away…

Okay, so it might have been a long time ago, but it wasn’t in a galaxy far, far way. It was in the tiny public library in the rural north Louisiana town where I spent my childhood.

One of the things I looked forward to every year during summer break was the Library’s Summer Reading Program. Every Wednesday during the months of June and July, my mom would drive my brother and sister and I to the library, where we would spend an hour or so listening to stories, making crafts and checking out books to read for the next week. It all culminated in a final big activity on the last week, where prizes were given to the kids who read the most books.

Most years, the big event was just a special story time with a cookies or cake at the end. However, the summer before my tenth birthday, the librarians promised an extra-special treat to anyone who read more than twenty books during the summer months. All June and July I looked forward to this secret prize, reading voraciously to ensure that I was able to participate in this mystery event.

Finally, the big event arrived and the library was packed with kids who had diligently read all summer long. Soon, the librarian gathered all the kids around, giving a short speech to us before allowing us to go inside the meeting room for our special treat.

Congratulations! Because of your hard-work and effort at reading this summer, you have all earned a very special treat. Today we are pleased to show you a movie!

The group made a collective gasp.

Of course, I’m not going to tell you which movie until everyone goes in and gets settled. We’ll be passing out popcorn and cups of sprite as you enter the room. Please going in quietly and find a seat. As soon as everyone is settled, we’ll announce the movie and get started.

I entered the room, almost reverently, noticing the big reel-to-reel projector already set up at the back. A projection screen on a tripod stand stood somewhat precariously at the front. I found a seat toward the back of the room and eagerly waited to find out what exciting movies we might get to see.

I anticipated the movie we were about to see would be something Disney. Perhaps it would be the Apple Dumpling Gang, starring Tim Conway. But it might not be Disney. In that case, maybe it would be Popeye, starring Robin Williams. I had seen both of those movies the previous summer while visiting with my grandmother in Texas. Her church had shown several movies suitable for families and those were among the ones I had seen. Mostly, as I sat there waiting and wondering, I hoped it wasn’t going to be a cartoon.

Soon, the room was filled to capacity with excited kids, everyone talking in hushed whispers. It felt absolutely thrilling to be in this room!

A small group of librarians bustled around the projector. Finally, after a short eternity, one of the ladies walked to the front.

Alright, children. We are about to begin our movie. Are you ready to find out which movie we will be watching today?

The room was filled with a loud chorus of “YES!

Great! Today, the library is excited to announce that you are about to see a special showing of the movie “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

The room went wild with applause. Boys were high-riving and girls were squealing. Everyone, it seemed, was elated. Everyone, that is, except for me.

I sat there on the back wall, feeling dejected, wondering why the librarians had chosen Star Wars of all things. “For crying out loud, an old Herbie movie would have been better than this!” I thought.

For the next 2+ hours, I sat in the dark room, listening to the clicking and clacking of the moving reels, bored to tears. To this day, I can’t tell you much of anything about Star Wars, except that then ( as well as now) I thought Princess Lea had perhaps the most ridiculous hairstyle ever invented.

Watching Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back via a reel-to-reel projection may not be much of a memory … but perhaps what makes it stand out most in my mind were the feelings I had of excitement leading up to the even followed by the utter dismay when I learned what my prize actually was going to be. But looking back, I realized I learned a great lesson that day about the importance of keeping my hopes high while not having over-blown expectations. It’s a fine balance to keep, but one that helps me not become overly emotional when life hands me lemons.

After all, no matter my emotional state, God is there to give me comfort, hope and joy that cannot be taken away … even in the midst of disappointment.

When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer. ~Psalm 94:19

Additionally, even though I didn’t realize it until much later, this would be the last time I ever watched a reel-to-reel movie. Within a few short months, my family owned a VCR and a video rental store opened. We could watch movies (old or new) almost any time we wanted.

Looking back, those were years which saw new technology advancing forward at a quick pace, taking American society into a completely new era in entertainment. My children cannot begin to relate to the changes I’ve seen in my 42 years of life regarding all forms of entertainment … which somehow reminds me of when I used to talk with my great-grandmother. Born in rural Louisiana in February of 1903, exactly ten months to the day before the first airplane flight, my great-grandmother never saw a car until she was nearly 13 years old. Yet long before her death at the age of 91, she lived in a  world of space ships and world-wide travel.

The world may change at a quick and frightening pace, but I take comfort in knowing this:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. ~Hebrews 13:8

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The $12 Christmas to Remember

This is another Christmas Memory, inspired by The Artistic Christian’s Christmas Memory Giveaway. It’s a completely true story of what happened to my family just two Christmases ago in 2012. 

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The chiming of the doorbell broke the silence of the night.

Jon and I looked at each other in surprised alarm, and then our eyes instantly went toward the clock on the wall. It was nearly 10 pm.

“Who could that be at this time of night?” Jon mused . “And on Christmas Eve.”

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Until the doorbell interrupted us, Jon and I had been talking as we in the soft glowing light of the decorated Christmas tree. The kids already been in bed for more than an hour, but preparing for Christmas morning hadn’t taken us any time at all. There were no toys to put together. No mountains of presents to bring out of hiding and place beneath the tree. No items to be sorted and carefully stuffed into stockings.

It had been a hard year for us financially. As always, God had provided for every need, but now at the end of the year there was very little left in our savings.  Jon and I were determined not to use credit as we were working diligently to become debt-free, but that meant a lean Christmas budget. In fact, all total, we had just $60 to spend on our kids. Divided equally among the five kids, it meant I had just $12 per child with which to buy gifts and fill stockings. 

At first, such a tight budget had left me feeling discouraged.  How I could begin to make Christmas seem bright for our children?  It definitely felt like a monumental task. But then the words of a familiar Christmas tale echoed in my head:  

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How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss

 

As a Christian, I already knew this truth, and yet how easy it was to get caught up in all the hoopla of  wanting to give my children the typical materialistic American Christmas. To add more fuel to the fire of my worried state, I knew that our five children would receive several gifts from their other parents that were bigger and better than anything I could have afforded if I had spent $60 per child instead of just the $12 I had in my extra-small budget. So I asked the Lord to help me use that $60 to give my family a real Christmas to remember and not to feel jealous when faced with the financial bounty I would see all around me during the season.

Almost immediately, an amazing plan began to fall into place, creative and simple and focused completely on Christ instead of presents. Instead of dreading Christmas morning and fearing looks of disappointment on my children’s faces, now I was excited and eager to watch them experience the Christmas that God was planning for us.

One idea came from my good friend Christie, who makes Sonshine Boxes to cheer up friends. She wraps small trinkets and labels them with Bible verse clues. So I did the same thing. I found some fun treats at the dollar store, and spent hours looking for the perfect verse to be the clue for each item. On Christmas morning, the kids would play a guessing game, reading aloud the verses and and trying to guess what was inside each gift before opening it. The gifts might be small, but I knew my children would have such fun trying to figure out the prizes.

Another idea that came to me had to do with Christmas picture books, in particular a book called Oranges for Frankie (by Patricia Polacco) and The Candymaker’s Gift (by Helen and David Haidle). In the first book, a boy name Frankie loses his Christmas orange and what his siblings do next is simply touching. The second book explains how various traits of candy canes can remind us of Jesus and the Christmas story. We already owned copies of both books, but as a special surprise I bought a chocolate orange and seven nice, fat candy canes. On Christmas morning,  I would read the books aloud to the family while we all enjoyed the candy treats.

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Finally, instead of filling our stockings to the brim with chocolate kisses and other small trinkets, a terrific idea came to my mind. The week before Christmas, I gave each person in our family several sheets of paper on which I had written:  “If I could, I would buy you something good!”  I asked each one to think of a special gift they would buy for every other member of the family. On the paper, they could draw a picture, write a note, or paste a magazine clipping there to communicate what they would get for the other person.  

All through December, I prepared for our simple Christmas with an excitement in my heart. I just knew that God was going to bless our hearts in a big way, and I was eager to share it with my family.

Soon it was the night before Christmas. After a simple supper, we read the Christmas story from the Bible and sang a few of our favorite carols. By 8:30, all of the children were tucked into bed. All there was for me to do was fill the stockings with the paper notes, set out the two picture books and the basket of candy canes, and set the small trinket gifts which I had already wrapped and labeled with the Bible verses under the tree. 

Now, all the Christmas morning preparations were complete. Suddenly, the old fears of not providing a typical Christmas for my children began to flood my mind.  As I sat next to my husband in the stillness of the Christmas Eve night, I felt lost in the glow of the lights on the tree and the growing apprehension in my heart about how my children would receive the meager Christmas Jon and I had to offer them.  

And then the doorbell rang … 

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Jon carefully peered out the window, but in the darkness he couldn’t see anyone at all. Cautiously he opened the front door. There was no one there. 

“Perhaps they went to the side door, Jon,” I suggested.

Quickly we walked toward the other door. Again, Jon peered out, but again there appeared to be nothing but darkness. Opening the door wider, he stepped out onto the carport concrete … and that’s when he noticed it.

Several extra large gift bags overflowing with presents. 

Once again, my husband and I looked at each other bug-eyed. What on earth was this?

Jogging to the end of the driveway, Jon looked around the yard, and up and down the street … but after a minute or so, he turned back. Shrugging, he said, “I didn’t see anything … not even so much as the tail lights of a car.”

“Do you think perhaps someone delivered these gifts to the wrong house? I asked.

Jon laughed. “Well, normally I would say Santa doesn’t make mistakes, but I suppose there is always that possibility.”

Together we brought the bags of gifts inside. We began to spread out the loot, noticing that the gifts were all labeled with names of each member of our family. “I think these are definitely for us!” Jon grinned. “I don’t know why, but someone decided to bless us with some gifts.”

Quickly, Jon and I sorted the gifts into piles. There were a couple of gifts labeled as family gifts, along with a present for Jon and another for me. Each child had a stack of five gifts … well, for every child except for Nathan. He didn’t have anything.

“Do you think our secret Santa forgot about Nathan?” I felt panicky. 

“Don’t worry,” Jon said calmly. “There are enough gifts here to spread out the love. Nathan will not be left out. We can unwrap the gifts, reassign them to the kids making sure that Nathan receives an equal amount. Of course, we’ll have to rewrap everything … Do you think we have enough wrapping paper?”

And then the doorbell rang again.

This time, Jon made a mad dash for the door, hoping to catch our family’s secret Santa … but again there was nothing. Nothing, that is, but a large bag filled with exactly five gifts, all labeled for Nathan. 

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It was early the next morning when the kids woke us up, eager to see what Christmas surprises lay in store. As we led them into the living room, a gigantic pile of gifts sat in the middle of the room.

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A collective gasp rose from the kids. 

“But I thought you said we weren’t going to get a lot of gifts this year!” Julia protested.

“I did. And truthfully, I didn’t think you were. But God had other plans.” I smiled. “Sit down and let me tell you about what happened after you went to bed on Christmas Eve.”

Jon and I retold the story. Then before we dove into the unexpected gifts, we went through our Christmas morning plan … playing the guessing game with the small gifts and Bible verses, reading the picture books and enjoying the candy, and oohing over the stockings filled with sweet notes from our family. 

Already our hearts were full, and yet we knew that through a friend God had provided even more for us to enjoy on the blessed Christmas morning. As we opened our unexpected gifts, each one seemed to be perfectly chosen for the recipient. 

To this day, we have no idea of who brought us the Christmas Eve gifts … but we remember how loved we felt by our special friend and by our Heavenly Father, who indeed answered my prayers and gave us a $12 Christmas to remember.

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 Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!  ~2 Corinthians 9:15

The Great Christmas Card Fiasco of 2008: A Christmas Memory

What you are about to read is my family’s actual Christmas letter from 2008.  I’ve written about it many times before, but never before on this blog.  Many of my readers might well remember “The Great Christmas Card Fiasco of 2008” and perhaps even followed my woeful tale on Facebook. If you have heard or read this story before, then I hope you won’t mind rereading it again. Maybe it will even bring a smile to your face as you relive a Christmas past along with me. However if you’ve never heard this me tell this tale, then may it bless your heart as much as God has used it to bless mine over the past 6 years. And if you laugh, don’t feel bad. It’s one of those memories I love to laugh about now, even though at the time it certainly wasn’t very funny. 

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December 24, 2008

Dear Family and Friends,
Have you ever felt like things were going wrong at every turn, and that no matter how hard you tried things just didn’t go according to your plan? Perhaps you can relate … but if not, please bear with me while I tell my story.

Earlier this month I ordered Christmas photo cards. From the start, it all seemed to go wrong. I placed my order online, and discovered soon afterward that the company I used was brand-new. They were overwhelmed with many more orders than they expected, and so were unable to process my order in a timely manner. Once my order finally got shipped, winter weather kept delaying the cards as they slowly made their way to my doorstep. Originally I was supposed to have received my cards by December 10th, which would have given me plenty of time to address and mail out the cards in a timely manner. However, as my luck would have it,  the cards didn’t show up in my mailbox until the afternoon of December 22nd.

I was already somewhat upset about the lengthy delay, so imagine my shock when I opened my package and saw the the Christmas photo cards I ordered had arrived minus the photo! Who ever heard of a Christmas photo card without the photo?!?  I was livid! In that moment, all of my Christmas joy seemed to have been zapped away.

The more I thought about it, the more the situation seemed dire and bleak. It was too late in the day to call the company; too late in the season to order new Christmas cards.  I felt as if the entire world was working against me mailing out a few Christmas cards. My  heart was filled with a hopeless dismay.

My Photo-less Photo Card from Christmas 2008
My Photo-less Photo Card from Christmas 2008

Well, after the hot angry tears were all wiped away and a good night’s sleep had given me a new perspective, the thought occurred to me that maybe Joseph felt like the world was working against him on that very first Christmas. I wondered what thoughts and emotions went through is head as he tried and tried to find a safe place for Mary. And when he could find no room in the inn and had to take refuge in a barn, did he question himself as to why this was the best he could manage to do for his wife and the newborn Son of God? It seems unlikely that Joseph had first-hand knowledge that it was God’s intention for the King of Kings to be born in a lowly stable. Maybe he did, but I have a feeling that Joseph felt a lot of dismay and frustration with the situation.

Obviously my situation didn’t have nearly the same level of urgency as what Joseph must have experienced. After all, as awful as it seemed in the moment, “The Great Christmas Card Fiasco of 2008” is far from being the worst thing that has ever happened in the history of mankind. In fact, it’s not even close to being the worst thing that has ever happened to me.

Truthfully, I can’t even really say it was bad because in the end the company apologized for their terrible mistake and gave me a full refund on the cards, which is honestly the best thing they could do under the circumstances. And even though this is definitely not the card I had intended to send to all of my loved ones, my sweet children were very eager to help me make lemonade from the lemons thrown our way by drawing pictures of themselves into the blank photo spot so that the cards weren’t a total waste. Free Christmas cards can’t be all that bad!

One of the photo cards ... this one artistically drawn by Julia, who was 5 years old that Christmas
One of the photo cards … this one artistically drawn by Julia, who was 5 years old that Christmas

So maybe this won’t be the best or most beautiful Christmas card you receive this season, but I imagine it will be the most unforgettable card. I’m hoping to send out real photo cards sometime this spring, but until then the kids and I hope you will enjoy this original creation from our house.

May your home be filled with peace and joy … and may your hearts stay merry and bright throughout 2009!

with love,
Paige and the kids

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This post was written as an entry for the Christmas Memory Giveaway

sponsored by The Artistic Christian blog. 

And The Winner Is …

It’s September 1st … and that means The Great Date Contest (and my first blog give-away) has come to a close. It is time to announce the lucky winner who will receive their very on copy of the book $10 Great Dates: Connecting Love, Marriage, and Fun on a Budget,  as well as a crisp $10 bill to use on a great date of their own.

Photo Credit: Baker Publishing Group
Photo Credit: Baker Publishing Group

But before I announce the winner, I would like to say I am so thankful for everyone who took the time to write an entry. Your great date stories were entertaining, cute, sweet, romantic and even encouraging. My family read through the stories together, enjoying each great date tale. We wished each writer could have been with us and told us the story in greater detail.

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The way we chose the winner was quite complicated. (No, not really …. but it was sort of arbitrary.)  Basically, I read all the stories out loud and we gave each date a name. There was The New Orleans Bike Taxi Date, The Date That Never Happened, and a Hard-To-Catch Date.  There were dates named after countries like Italy and China. There was even a Stay-At-Home Date.

Once each date had been read through and given a name, the four judges wrote down a score for each date. Our scoring system basically meant assigning each date a number of points between 1 and 10, with 10 points going to the best date imaginable and 1 point for a terrible, no good, very bad date.  Some judges were looking for romance, while other judges were looking for adventurous or funny moments. Regardless of how they did it, every judge scored every date.

There were four judges:  My husband Jon, my sixteen year old daughter Maddie, my fourteen year old son Joel and my nearly thirteen year old son Nathan. (My daughters, Megan and Julia, were at a slumber party and not available for the judging.) That meant each date had four scores. The individual judges’ scores for each date were tallied and the date with the highest marks was declared the winner.

The winning date turned out to be the one we titles “Passing The Test.”  It was submitted by Korin Taddei. (Yay, Korin!  Congratulations! You will receive a copy of the book and the $10 bill! I hope you and your husband Danny will enjoy the book and many more great dates together. Seeing as we see each other relatively often, I will get your prize to you soon  … as long as I remember to put it in my car.) For my other readers: You can read Korin’s great date story in the comments section of this previous blog post.

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Now that I’ve named the 1st prize winner, I am going to award another prize … one I didn’t plant to award but last night at the end of the judging decided there needed to be an additional award given. Here’s the story as to why my family and I decided a prize for the Most Creative Romantic Date should be given.

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When I was through tallying the scores and announced the winner, Maddie groaned, “Oh … I was really hoping the Italy date would win!  It was so romantic!”

“I know! I expected that date to win as well, but it came in second. In fact, it was only one point under the winning date.”

Jon piped up, “That was a really creative date! It sounds like a lot of fun as well as very romantic. I can see why both of you thought it should win.”

Meanwhile, the younger male judges were   making fake gagging sounds  looking about perplexed. I was holding the score cards in my hands and could easily recognize the hand-writing. (This is a good thing about having a small group of judges and also being the mother of the majority of the judges as well.) Flipping through the cards, I noticed some of the judges one of the male judges had scored the Italy date relatively low in comparison to Maddie who had given that date a perfect 10.

Maddie moaned, “If only Megan and Julia had been here to judge! Then the Italy date would have won!”

“Now, we don’t know that for certain, Maddie. However, I think it goes to show that romance is important to women, and romance doesn’t haven’t to be boring.” Jon paused.  Then he continued, “As a guy, I think the winning date was clever and creative too. Guys often prefer to think practically … but it is important for us to remember that romance is a necessary part, too.”

Nathan interrupted, “I thought this was supposed to be about cheap dates … after all the prize is a book on how to just spend $10 on a date. The winning date was certainly cheap! And it even had romance. You gotta admit walking by the ocean at night is pretty romantic.”

“Yes, you are right, ” I said. “It was cheap, though cheap wasn’t part of my rules. I just wanted to read about great dates in general. And you are right in that there was an element of romance … as well as motorcycles and old cars. It was a clever date. I can see why you boys thought it was great!”  I laughed.  “I think what attracted Maddie and I to the Italy date is that it was all about what the woman desired. The guy was creatively giving her what she wanted, even though he really couldn’t give her a trip to Italy. And someday I hope you meet a young lady that gives you a desire to romance her heart.”

“Maybe you should have two winners,” Jon suggested.

I completely agree!  So to my friend John Mark and his wife Janelle … I’d love to send you a copy of $10 Great Dates as well! (John Mark, please contact me, using the “Contact Paige” tab,  with your mailing address and I’ll be delighted to send a copy of this book to you and your lovely wife.)

For my readers, please take the time to read how John Mark took Janelle to “Italy” on their first official date. (The rest of John Mark’s blog, The Artistic Christian, is pretty awesome as well. It’s one of my very favorite blogs to read each day.)

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Thank you again to every person who shared a great date story. I laughed and cried (happy tears) and wished so much that each person could have told me their story face-to-face. I am grateful you allowed me to have a peak into these special moments.

The thing that amazed me the most is that all of the dates were shared by married couples, several who had been married longer than 20 years and one from a writer married for 50+ years. I am once again in awe as I remember how God created marriage as a picture of His perfect love for us, His bride, the church.

Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. ~Song of Solomon 8:7

Time is Running Out! Enter Today!

Time is running out on my first blog contest and give-away …

Photo Credit: Baker Publishing Group
Photo Credit: Baker Publishing Group

In case you aren’t aware, I’m host in a Great Dates Contest. One lucky winner will receive a copy of the book $10 Great Dates as well as a crisp ten dollar bill to use on a great date of your own.

You can read all about this fantastic resource for married couples, as well as the “official” rules here. But the basics are to tell me all about a great date you had, either in the comments or on your own blog (being sure to ping back to me).  Entries are due by August 31st and the winner will be announced on Monday, September 1st.

Go ahead … don’t be shy! Enter today!

The Great Birthday Date … Part 1

Yesterday I told Part 2 of  The Great Birthday Date.  If you didn’t read that one, you might want to take a few minutes to read it first.

(I know. I know. Generally readers expect Part 1 to come before Part 2. But I switched things up and told it backwards. That is a special technique known as “Writer’s Privilege” … and lucky you getting to see such a wonderful writing tool at work right here on my blog! Actually, knowing Part 2 first will not really  make a huge difference in understanding the story. I just happen to like Part 1 a tad bit better than Part 2,  and since the order didn’t make a difference, I decided to tell the story in reverse.)

Anyway, here’s Part 1 of my personal Great Date story. Enjoy!

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My first marriage unexpectedly fell apart the summer before my 35th birthday. To be honest, I don’t remember much about being 35, or 36 for that matter. Those years are lost to the blur of emotions and trying to pick up the pieces of my shattered life.  But as I drew closer and closer to my 37th birthday, it was as if my soul had begun to awaken again.

The summer I was 36  marked two years since I had first gone into receiving Christian counseling. Generally, we talked about how to function as a single parent, learning to forgive, letting go of what I couldn’t control, giving my fears to God, among other things. However, now that I reached the two year mark of single parenting and the divorce was officially over and done, my counselor began to suggest that I might soon be interested in dating.

Initially, I was put off by the very idea. Already rejected once, I couldn’t envision putting myself and my children through something like that again. However, my counselor encouraged me to think and process about whether or not I might truly want to live the next 50 years alone … and at 36 years old, the possibility of living another 50 years wouldn’t be all that unusual.

It didn’t take much thinking for me to realize deep down I wanted to have a special relationship with one man, a relationship in which we loved and cared for each other while living life together. It’s a normal desire for any person to have. Despite my experience with my previous marriage and divorce, my longings hadn’t really changed.

And yet, even as I admitted that I had the desire, I was scared of the very idea. I felt anything but lovable. I felt used and discarded, like the old clothes at the Goodwill Stores. Sometimes there are treasures for the taking in those places, but you gotta look through a lot of junk in order to find them. And deep down, my own sense of self-worth was beat up. I felt like I was just another piece of tossed trashed, not a rejected treasure waiting for someone else to realize my true worth.

Who on earth would want to love a woman like me? 

I remember during that summer before my 37th birthday doing a lot of soul-searching, praying and asking God to teach me about how to be a woman of worth, to be satisfied with His love whether or not any man ever loved me again, and to grow in my own self-respect so that I could reflect His great love.

Along with these hard prayers, I read a lot of books by a Christian author by the name of Angela Thomas. (If you are a Christian woman who is also a single parent, you simply must read her book My Single Mom Life. I promise you it is the most encouraging book out there for a woman trying to parent after divorce.)

Between my counselor, the books and the prayers, I was approaching this cautious place in the very depths of my soul in which I wanted to be loved, and believed I was worth loving … and yet I was still fearful the second part wasn’t true. This was the state of my emotions in the month prior to my 37th birthday, which brings me to the actual “date” that was so wonderfully great.

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My 37th birthday started off with my three wonderful children decorating my cake. They had already asked me if they could do the decorating, so the night before I baked a cake. Now that it was cooled, they got up extra early so that they would have time to add the icing and decorations before school.

Just look at those sweet babies of mine! Early morning hair, sticking up everywhere. Joel is all wrapped up in a quilt, still sleepy. To this day, I get all mushy inside whenever I think about those wonderful children wanting to make me a special birthday cake.

Joel, age 9
Joel, age 9
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Nathan, age 7
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Julia, age 6
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My fantastic birthday cake!

The cake was really enough to remind me that I was indeed a loved woman. But there was that question of worth. Was a I woman any man would ever again find worthy? I can’t say that was on the forefront of my mind on that morning, and yet it was the burning question in my mind for which I was seeking an answer from God.

He didn’t fail to respond.

That morning, I got to work and before I hardly sat down at my desk with my cup of coffee in hand, a delivery of a large bouquet of flowers arrived for me.  I opened the card to discover they were from my sister.

I was still gushing over the flowers when there was a short knock on the office door. There was my dad, standing in the hallway with a box of chocolates in his hands. “Chocolates for the birthday girl!” he grinned.

I figured the birthday surprises were over, but in fact the day had only gotten started.

My co-workers had unknowingly gotten together and each brought dishes to work so that we had a birthday lunch right there at the office … complete with cake and ice cream!  I can’t remember what we ate, but I do remember laughing and enjoying the time with those wonderful ladies.

Flowers and candy
Flowers and candy

On the way home, I was thinking about my gifts.  I laughed as I shared my delight with my Creator.  “Today I received every typical gift a beau gives to his girl … flowers, a box of chocolate, a wonderful meal.  The only thing missing, Lord, was jewelry!”

Arriving at home, I opened up my mail to find a package from a friend of mine who lived several states away. As I ripped into the box, I found a beautiful pair of silver drop earrings with a sapphire stone. As I fingered the earrings, I heard a whisper in my heart:

Forget? Did you actually think I would forget the jewelry? You are worth much more than any of these gifts to me! There is more, much more to come.

I looked over at the pile of mail. There were six or seven birthday cards and not a single bill or piece of junk mail to throw away. Everything that had arrived that day had been just for me. With tears already flooding my eyes, I began to open up each card and letter.

Each card made me smile or laugh. Tucked away in a few were small bills of money. Others contained notes of love. But the last envelop I opened took my breath away. As I pulled out the card inside and opened it up, I saw a familiar handwriting and signature.

Happy birthday! I love you – “Mammie” (Juanita Terry)

My grandmother. The card was from my grandmother. But she had died nearly 3 years earlier. How on earth?

Glancing to the left side of the card, I saw another handwritten note, but I had to wipe away the tears in order to read it.

“Dear Paige, Recently I found this card your grandmother sent to me several years ago. I thought you might like to have it and so I’ve been saving it to give back to you ever since. Wishing you a happy birthday! Love Jean E. Mitchell”

Mrs. Jean E.  …  My 4th grade teacher and friend. I had known her all my life and looked forward to her birthday cards since I was a tiny girl because most of the time there was a piece of gum included inside the card. There wasn’t any gum in this card, but that didn’t seem to matter because I had already received more than I ever imagined possible … right down to the birthday wish from my grandmother in heaven.

In my heart again there was a whisper:

I Am …  the Lover of your soul. I created you, knit you together to be the exact person you are. My love for you is undying. I will never reject or leave you. I am with you always, looking out for you even when you don’t know it or understand My ways. And you are worth it.

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For as long as I live, my 37th birthday will remain my favorite. It was the year the Lord took me out on an amazing date, treating me to everything a woman’s heart could possibly desire.

Within a month, Jon Hamilton would ask me to be his girl. I’m glad I decided to dare to love again because it worth the risk.

But more than that, I’m glad I learned that God wants me to be His girl first. And that His love for me is more perfect and wonderful than any other love a girl could ever want.

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Do you have a Great Date Story to share? If so, you could win a copy of the book $10 Great Dates as well as a crisp $10 bill to use on a new great date adventure. Contest rules are easy: just share your favorite great date story, either in the comments section of my blog or on your on blog (please ping back to me).

Hurry! The last day to enter is August 31st!

 

The Great Birthday Date (Part 2 … because Part 1 comes tomorrow)

Today is my step-daughter’s (Maddie) Sweet 16 birthday. She’s a wonderful young lady … beautiful (inside and out, which is the very best kind of beautiful), talented (acts, sings, draws, writes), witty (will keep you laughing), clever (that girl has got a mind of her own), and the gentlest soul you will ever know (but she once stood up to a gang of bullies who were taunting a special needs child at her school). I love celebrating her today!

Because it’s a birthday morning, I had to get up early to go buy the traditional birthday donuts from Meche’s Donut King.  (Y’all, if you are ever in Lafayette, Louisiana, this is the place to go for donuts and King cake … and they are literally right around the corner from my house so the temptation to go get a donut for breakfast once or twice a week is practically overwhelming.  So overwhelming I had to make a rule that we can only have donuts for birthdays. Thank goodness there are seven of us!)

Anyway, getting back on track … like I said, I was up early to go buy donuts for the birthday breakfast, which had me obviously thinking about birthdays. And because I was up early, I also thought it would be nice to blog since I didn’t get around to that yesterday. And since I am having a blog contest on great dates, I thought perhaps I could share about one of my personal great dates.

And that’s when the idea popped into my head: I could share about The Great Birthday Date.  Actually, I need to tell this story in two parts because “The Great Birthday Date” actually took place over two birthdays, back-to-back years. But I need to tell part two before I can tell part one … or at least that’s the order I want to tell it to you.

So here it is … The Great Birthday Date, Part Two. (Tomorrow, you can read part one … promise!)

Photo Credit: Baker Publishing Group
Photo Credit: Baker Publishing Group

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 Jon and I had been dating nearly a year when my 38th birthday rolled around.

Now for those of you who don’t know, Jon and I met online (yes, we are one of “those” couples) and had a long-distance dating relationship prior to getting married. We lived a little over two hours apart. So for my birthday, I was going to drive down to Lafayette for the weekend.

Initially, everything worked out perfectly. Our five kids were all going to be off visiting with their other parents. I took that Friday off work so that I could go get a pedicure and relax at home before heading off for a weekend of celebrating in the early afternoon.

But then, all of my great plans began to fall apart. First of all, a sweet friend called me, in the midst of a personal crisis. I knew that God would rather me spend time with her instead of having my feet pampered. So, instead of soaking my feet in a soothing bath, I found myself sitting in her kitchen, listening as she wept. Before I knew what I was doing, I gave her my time slot at the salon for the pedicure appointment. I even went to sit with her while she got her feet soaked and massaged and pampered.

Right about the time my friend’s pedicure was wrapping up, my cell phone rang. It was the school, calling to inform me that one of my children fell down in the mud on the playground and needed a fresh change of clothes. I dashed home to grab a clean school uniform, and then raced back to the school before returning back home to put the muddy clothes on to wash.

By this time, my day was getting away from me. So much for relaxing at home after a nice pedicure! I had to pack bags and get things ready to leave so that I could head out of town just as soon as I picked up the children from school. Of course, this was the moment that my ex-husband texted me to say he couldn’t get the kids at the appointed time and would be about an hour and a half late.

Eventually, the kids were picked up by their dad and I finally embarked … only to hit traffic at every turn.  I had hoped to have time to rest and slowly dress for dinner once I got to my hotel, but now I was going to be much later than I planned.  Tired and frustrated, I was a big ball of emotions as I drove away for what I had hoped would be an enjoyable weekend of birthday celebrations.

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

I hadn’t yet gotten to Lafayette when my cell phone rang. It was Jon, calling to check in and see if I was ready.

“I’m not even in town yet, much less at my hotel,” I grumbled.

“Oh, that’s okay. Just come by the house first and you can check in later tonight.”

“No,” I sighed.  “I really don’t want to do that. I want to change clothes and freshen up at the hotel first.”

“Okay, I understand.”  Jon really did seem sympathetic but I could tell he also wanted to get to the restaurant before it got too crowded.  “Why don’t you go check in and change quickly? If you give me your ETA, I will add about 15 minutes to that time. I can swing by and you can just run out to the car and hop in.”

“Jon! I don’t want to be standing outside some hotel waiting for you… That’s the last thing I want!”

There was a moment of silence. Then Jon asked, “Well, what do you want?”

“All I  know is that I don’t want to be made to stand outside waiting for you to drive up as if I am just any old friend you might be getting before going out for a Friday night. Could you just park the car and come to the door for me? I’d like to feel like I am worth at least that much effort.”

“Oh, Paige … I wasn’t trying to make you feel like you aren’t worth the effort. I just figured it’s late, we are hungry and we could save time. But I can tell that was a bad idea.  Tell you what. After you check in, text me your room number at the hotel and I will come to your door and pick you up. What time should I arrive?”

We agreed that Jon would give me half an hour from the time I texted him with my room number.

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Now so far, this doesn’t seem like a very great date … and it wasn’t! But truthfully, the date hadn’t even started yet. The good news is that once the dated finally got started, everything went better. Much better. In fact, it turned out to be quite enjoyable and very memorable … definitely one of my favorites. 

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When I got to the hotel to check-in, the room I had originally reserved wasn’t available. Somehow my reservations had gotten screwed up, but thankfully the hotel manager fixed the problem.  Instead of getting a standard hotel room, I was upgraded to a King Suite, at no extra charge.

As I opened the door to my suite, I was welcomed by this beautiful room, filled with flowers and a scent so wonderful I thought I must have walked into heaven. (To this day I have never been a place that smelled quite so lovely! I realize that seems like a strange thing to say, but to me the scent seemed almost God-given … like a sweet reminder that “every good and perfect gift comes from above.”  James 1:17)  There was chocolate on the bed and a big jacuzzi tub in the over-sized bathroom. As I stood and looked around me, I suddenly felt pampered and spoiled in a way no pedicure had ever made me feel before.

Half an hour later, there was a knock on the door. I opened it to find my handsome beau waiting there, flowers in hand.  Jon took me to eat at a nice restaurant, where we dined on shrimp étouffée and had pecan pie for dessert.  Afterwards, we enjoyed strolling hand-in-hand and chatting before Jon dropped me back off at my hotel.

The next morning, Jon took me to eat breakfast. As we were finishing up, he said, “I thought maybe wandering through antique stores together would be a nice way to spend your birthday … and while we are out, I want to buy you a special teacup. So when you see a teacup that you love, just let me know and it is yours.”  (I have a collection of several dozen teacups, most of which aren’t worth much of anything except something of sentimental value.)

In the very first shop, I spotted an emerald green teacup with gold trim. It’s unique shape gave it something of a look of a flower with long petals unfurling. I was attracted to the bright, beautiful colors and gently scalloped edges. But when I picked it up, I noticed the beautiful cup had a chip. I hardly thought it was worth spending $15 on a chipped teacup.

P1020583
Look carefully on the left side of the rim and you can see the chipped place.

I must have looked at another hundred or so teacups that morning. Jon and I wandered through seven or eight little antique shops, each of which had many teacups lining the shelves. Nothing compared in color or style to that little green teacup with the chip.

I paused to pick up a fancy teacup, feeling tired of looking for something as beautiful as the teacup I had seen earlier in the morning, yet didn’t have a chip or a crack.

“I liked that emerald green teacup a lot, too.”  Jon’s words echoed my thoughts.

“I know … but it was chipped. I just hate to spend the money on a cup that’s probably not worth it, even if I do like it.” I sighed, as I fingered the handle on the delicate white teacup before me, a perfect piece without a single blemish, yet not nearly as enchanting as the chipped cup back at the first antique shop.

Jon cleared his throat. “Sometimes, it is the imperfect things of this world that are worth the most. Besides, last night you told me you wanted to feel like you were worth the extra effort … and you are, Paige. You are worth it, and I know it with all my heart. I’d like to buy you the chipped cup to remind you of that.”

So we went back to the store where we started, and Jon paid $15 for a stunning emerald teacup with gold trim and a chipped place on the rim. To this day, that teacup has a place of honor in my collection, always on display because it reminds me that despite all my flaws Christ esteemed me worthy enough to die on the cross that I might gain everlasting life with Him.

As promised, tomorrow I will share Part One of The Great Birthday Date.

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This is “Judge’s Contribution” to my Great Dates Contest/Give-Away. It will not be included among the entries, but will hopefully inspire my blog readers to continue submitting their own great dates stories as well as provide me with more blogging material. Besides, who doesn’t love to hear a great date story?!

Want to enter the contest? Just leave me a comment about one of your great dates … or better yet, post a great date story on your blog (be sure to ping back to me!).  It’s all you have to do! Just be sure to enter before the end of August.

A “Great Dates” Review … along with My Very First Give Away!

Walmart is not exactly high on the list of places to go for a great date.

Yet, believe it or not, Jon and I spent part of our very first date at Walmart picking up a few items one of us needed … perhaps school supplies for a child’s project or maybe it was to replace necessary household gadget or gizmo. I can no longer recall the exact purpose. All I remember was wandering through Walmart thinking how natural it felt to shop with this man and how strangely odd it was for a first date.

Even stranger is that our second date included a trip to the grocery store. And please don’t think it got more exciting from there because on our third date we spent time together searching for Christmas gifts for our children. (At the time, we didn’t know much more about each other’s kids than their names and ages. We actually learned quite a lot on that date … not that we had any idea at the time that someday these would be our future step-children!)

During the 14 months Jon and I dated, we did a lot of “errand dating” as we tried to make the most of our time. As single parents, we both understood it was infinitely easier to take care of business without our children in tow. While it may have created some rather strange and mundane “dates,” in the end I believe it was those every day sort of activities that really helped us get to know each other in a more realistic way than if we had just gone out for fancy dinners or to the movies.

photo credit: artemisinthecity.com
photo credit: artemisinthecity.com

To this day, “The Errand Date” is still the most frequent type of outing Jon and I share without the kids. It’s a quick way to get in time alone without spending a lot of money.  Often we will end by grabbing a cup of coffee or a smoothie, which makes it feel a little more like an official date while still keeping to our tight budget. But still, for the most part, we just take care of business in our time alone.

While I must admit that I love running errands with my husband and much prefer that than doing those same errands alone, I sometimes wish we had more money to spend on date nights. Between the cost of childcare, dinner out and any other activities we plan to enjoy, one night out can easily cost over $100. That’s a lot of money for most couples with children!

The bitter truth is dating your spouse on a budget is hard.

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Recently, Bethany House Publishers gave me a free copy of the book “$10 Great Dates: Connecting Love, Marriage and Fun on a Budget”  (written by two couples, Peter & Heather Larson and David & Claudia Arp) in exchange for my honest review.   While I was excited about the opportunity to review a book on my blog, I had very low expectations about the book itself. I figured this would be another book filled with the same old tired suggestions for dates on a small budget.

I am happy to report that what I expected was not at all what I got when reading this book.

Photo Credit: Baker Publishing Group
Photo Credit: Baker Publishing Group

In fact, I was so delightfully surprised at the ingenuity and creativity of this book that I couldn’t wait to share it with my husband. Together, we spent several hours reading through the 188-pages which were filled with interesting ideas for dates and practical ways to grow closer to each other and God through marriage.

Writing especially for married couples, the Larsons and the Arps share 52 fun date ideas, giving you and your significant other a year’s worth of weekly dates.  The great date suggestions are creative and flexible, taking into account that certain activities may not be readily available in all areas. The various ideas really do take into account the $10 budget. The authors also included a section at the back of the book with fresh ideas and timely suggestions for ways to find inexpensive or free childcare.

The book is divided into eight categories of dates, such as adventure dates, at-home dates, romantic dates and even seasonal dates. Many of the date ideas are simple enough to plan and enjoy on the same evening, but others will require prep work which is why there are lists of things to do before going on the date to help with planning. There is also a list of things to keep in mind while enjoying your date, as well as ideas to further spice up the activity should you have more than a $10 budget.

Some of my favorite dates were:

~The Workshop Date: Find a free workshop on a topic that interests one of both of you.

~Parade of Homes Date: Go check out local homes for sale by attending an open house showing or even a larger parade of homes.

~Gifts on a Budget Date: Go together to a department store. Separate and shop for a set amount of time. Each person has $5 total (including tax) to use to buy a gift for the other. At the end of the date, find a special location or time to give your gifts.

However, my favorite part of this book was not the date suggestions.

Wait … don’t get me wrong! The date ideas were fabulous. In fact, there are so many great suggestions, I honestly don’t know where to start! Yet this book is much more than a list of ideas.

The Larsons and the Arps put together a complete resource to help couples strengthen both their marriage and their faith in God. For each date, there is a list of suggested talking points to help couples delve into a deeper relationship as well as to extend the date. These questions and discussion topics may be enjoyed during the date or at some point afterwards. Furthermore, each date suggestion ends with a “Great Date Takeaway” in which the authors share a truth from God’s word or an application for improving your marriage relationship that could be learned from the date.

This book is priced exactly right  … just $10!  Perhaps your first “great date” could be reading through the ideas with your spouse and deciding upon which date to try first. You can purchase this book at a number of online stores such as Amazon, Christian Book Distributers, and Mardel, among others. You can also order it directly from Baker Publishing Group.

With 52 great dates to choose from, there is something for every couple in this fantastic resource!

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Now for the fun part … my very first give away!

One lucky reader will receive a copy of $10 Great Dates (by Larson & Arp), along with a crisp $10 bill  which will cover the cost of a great date for you and your spouse.

All you have to do to enter is write about your favorite date. It can be your first date, a special date, a funny date, or a really bad date that somehow brings back fond memories. Share your date story on your blog.  Please be sure to ping back to me or put a link in my comments so that I can read your story on your blog.

(I know, I know … some of you are saying, “But I don’t have a blog!”  That’s okay. You can share your favorite date by writing about it in my comments section. Do this and I’ll enter you into the contest as well.  See … I am looking out for you non-bloggers too!)

Feel free to share my book review and contest with others you know who may need some fun, creative ideas for dating on a budget. (Yes, this is a shameless ploy to attract more readers to my blog, but I am offering the chance to win a great book so in reality it’s a win-win for all of us.)

Please note: This is not a random drawing type of give-away.  My husband, children and I will enjoy reading about all the great dates and then will vote on the winner.  Therefore, please only share family friendly versions of dates.

Entries are due by August 31st. Winner will be announced Sept. 1st.

Good luck!!!