Spending the Night with Ma

I was 7 years old the first time I stayed overnight with my great-grandmother, Ma.

Ma didn’t live alone, but that night it was just the two of us in the big, rambling house that she shared with my grandparents. Mammie and Papaw were away on an overnight trip. I suppose they were concerned about leaving my great-grandmother alone while they were away, although I am still unclear on what exactly they thought I could do should something unforeseen happen.

Yet there I was … Ma’s protector.

It turned out that from that night right up until the fall I left for college, whenever my grandparents left town, it was my job to stay overnight with Ma.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ 

Typically, one of my parents would drive me up to the big house on the hill, where they would drop me off.

I always tried to arrange things so that I would arrive sometime relatively in the early evening, yet late enough to have already eaten supper. Otherwise, all I might expect Ma to offer me would be a piece of dry toast or maybe some cornbread crumbled up in a small glass of milk.  I knew that whatever my mother might be cooking that night would be immensely more appetizing than either of those choices.

Still, I didn’t like walking in and going straight to bed. I needed time to get settled and maybe watch something on TV … hopefully, while my father visited with Ma for a bit.  Ma was a worrier, and I liked for her to get all her worrying out with my dad so that I didn’t have to worry with her after he left.

Besides, Ma firmly believed in that “early to bed, early to rise” business. I knew she was going to start turning off lights and shutting down the house about 8:30 pm. Bedtime in the big house came quickly.  Being something of a night owl, I needed time to prepare myself for an early night.

Most nights with Ma went pretty much the same way.  My dad would visit with her for half an hour or so. Then he would get up and say, “Well, ladies … I guess I will leave y’all to it.”  (Exactly what he thought he was leaving us to, I still don’t know. Your guess is probably as good as mine.)

My father would go and there we would sit.

Just the two of us, together in an oversized living room …alone in that big, dark house, sitting high on a hill.

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

Those first few moments with my great-grandmother were always slightly awkward. We would look at each other and exchange small smiles, unsure of what to do next.

Usually, at this point, Ma would ask me if I would like to eat an orange or an apple before bed. Most of the time, I did.

She would heave herself up from the chair, and march off to the kitchen to fetch me a piece of fruit. A few minutes later, she would return with the fruit, a knife and napkins. Once she had settled back into her chair, Ma would carefully peel my fruit for me.

Now, I could have certainly gone to get my own piece of fruit, and I could have even peeled it for myself. Nevertheless, I always allowed her to do these things for me … perhaps because whether she got me an apple or an orange, Ma’s method for peeling fruit fascinated me.

With oranges, she peel off the thick skin so exactly that not a single speck of the white pith remained stuck to the juicy fruit. Oh, but watching her peel an apple was my favorite! Somehow she could cut one long, unbroken strand of peel away from the apple’s flesh, until it finally fell into a heap on the napkin in her lap. Many a night I sat transfixed, holding my breath, until she had made the final cut and the peel came away in a giant curl.

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

As I ate my snack, Ma would talk.

She had only two topics of conversation:

  1. anything related to God or the Bible
  2. anything related to sickness or death, particularly her own sickness or death

I personally preferred topic #1, which is why I learned very quickly that I could steer the conversation this direction if I asked her about that week’s Sunday school lesson.

Ma loved to study her Sunday school lesson each week, and diligently read the scriptures to prepare for the class discussion. My favorite nights were when she would direct me to read the week’s passage to her from her large-print Bible because generally she would allow me to read aloud for as long as I wanted. In this way, I found I could easily keep the conversation from drifting to more unsettling topics … like death and hell.

Death was probably Ma’s favorite topic, and she talked about it a lot. She talked about people who had died recently, or people she thought might be about to die. She talked about tragic deaths, not-so-tragic deaths, and her own death.

The last one was her most favorite topic. However, as you probably imagine, I did not share her opinion.

I’m sad to report that this distressing topic of conversation seemed to arise with regularity, generally right about the time we began to prepare to go to bed.  It was nearly always a one-sided conversation, which went something like this:

Now, Paige, you know there’s a good chance I could die in the night. It happens to people my age all the time. They go to bed and do not wake up in the morning. You should know that I am not afraid to die, but I worry you might be afraid to wake up and find me dead. So, if that happens, I want you to know there is no need to worry. Just call Malcolm. He will know exactly what to do.

Malcolm, of course, was my father. I can assure you that if I had ever woken up to find Ma lying in her bed dead, I would have screamed so loudly there would have been no need to pick up the phone and call anyone, Malcolm or otherwise.

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

Every time I every stayed overnight, Ma wanted me to share the bed with her.

I always felt rather conflicted about this arrangement.

There were quite a number of reasons I wasn’t sure I wanted to be in the same bed as her, the main one being the very concerning issue of her dying in the night. I wasn’t too keen on sleeping next to a dead person for any length of time.

Secondly, my great-grandmother was definitely NOT used to sharing a bed. She hogged the covers, and made all sorts of strange noises.

Finally, when Ma took out her dentures just before bed, it gave her face a strange sunken look  … which, I hate to say, reminded me of what I thought a dead person might look like. Truthfully, I hadn’t seen many dead people at that time in my life, so I didn’t really know what to expect a corpse to look like. Sunken cheeks definitely could be something one might see on a dead body, so therefore it was another good reason to find another place to sleep besides my great-grandmother’s bed.

However, the thought of sleeping in a bed all alone wasn’t exactly a comforting thought either. My grandparent’s house was rambling old home, with floors that creaked and doors that squeaked. Who knew what was lurking behind all those shadows or what creatures might be making those strange nighttime noises?

Then there were large paintings of my aunts and uncles which hung on some of the walls. I had seen enough Scooby Doo episodes to know that large portraits sometimes have shifty eyes that actually hid some sort of terrible swamp monster.

scoobydoo
Scooby-Doo and Shaggy

 

Yes, the more I thought about it, if something bad were to actually happen (like monsters appearing from behind portraits or burglars sneaking in to steal the stale cornbread from the kitchen counter), then it might be comforting to have another person in close proximity … even if that person made strange noises and had sunken cheeks and claimed she might die before the sun rose in the morning.

Clearly, I had an overactive imagination. The truth is that the decision of whether or not I should sleep next to Ma was probably the hardest part of staying overnight with her.

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

For the first few years, I generally slept next to her. After all, it seemed the safest choice. But by the time I was 10 or 11, I felt embarrassed about this sleeping arrangement. Yet deep inside, I was still very much a scaredy cat. I really didn’t want to sleep alone in a bedroom all by myself. I often resolved this problem by inviting  a friend over to stay the night with me.

But sometimes, I couldn’t find a friend to stay … and then I was left to work out whether or not I was brave enough to sleep alone.

Once, when I was about 12 years old, I thought it would be nice to bring my younger sister Brooke along.  Brooke is 4 years younger than me, and at that time we didn’t have a lot in common. But I knew she would stay up to watch TV as long as I wanted and I figured she wouldn’t complain about sleeping next to me in a bed.

It seemed like the perfect solution to my sleeping dilemma!

My father was the one to drop the two of us off that night. I recall him sitting next to Ma for a short visit.

On this particular night, Ma immediately started complaining about every ailment she had or thought she might have. At one point, she started telling my father about how she was likely to die soon, perhaps even that very night. My father simply patted her hand and told her not to worry.

Now Malcolm, you know I am not worried one bit about dying.  I just want to be sure you know what to do in case these girls here wake up in the morning and find me gone. Now, I expect pretty quickly they will call you, so you will be the first to know.  Then you should go ahead and call Ken and Greg. It doesn’t matter which of them you call first, but let them both know before you tell anyone else. Then one of you boys can call Herbert … but tell him not to rush home. I don’t want to ruin his trip, and besides there is nothing he can do here anyway. I guess you might want to call the preacher after that.

My dad laughed. “Ma, I don’t think you are going to die tonight. You still have too much fight in you. But I promise that if you do, I’ll take care of everything.” 

And then, he quickly changed the subject. Probably to the topic of her Sunday school lesson.

Half an hour later, my dad got up to leave. He kissed my cheek and called for my sister to come give him a hug. But Brooke didn’t respond.

We both called. After several minutes, I finally got up to go look, but in that big rambling house, I couldn’t find her. Eventually, my father said he must go on home, and for me to tell her he said goodnight.

I waved as he stepped through the kitchen door.

But just half a minute later, Dad walked back in … grinning from ear to ear.

I have found your sister. She’s sitting in the car with her overnight bag on her lap. She says that if Ma is dying tonight, she will not stay here for it. I’m afraid you are on your own.

Ditched by my sister. Too late to invite a friend. I really was stuck in the big house alone with my great-grandmother … who seemed bound and determined to die on my watch.

As I recall, I hardly slept a wink that night.

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

Ma didn’t die that night… or for a good many years to come. In fact, she didn’t die at all on “my watch.”

The last time I saw Ma, she was lying in a hospital bed. Even though she was 91 years old, I didn’t think she was really going to die. After all, she was mentally sharp as a tack and every bit as feisty as I had ever seen her.

Later, she drifted into a coma, and the next day she passed away. No drama. Nothing traumatic or tragic. Just a peaceful and quiet transition from earth over into heaven.

What she longed for most of all, finally had come to pass.

Image-2

It’s been nearly 25 years now since the day she died, yet not a day goes by when I don’t think of her in some way or another.

I miss the way she would pat my hand when she talked to me, or shake her finger in my face whenever she imparted some important truth. I can still see her face clearly: the big smile, the sly grin, the fiery look that made me want to hide.

She gave the best hugs, and the worst baths! (If she ever caught hold of you in a bathtub, look out! That woman knew how to use a wash rag, and chances were excellent that you were going to emerge from that bath missing an entire layer of skin! Every Terry child old enough to remember Ma knows the truth about this.)

Oh … and her chicken pie! How I miss her chicken pie!

When I finally get to heaven, I hope there’s an empty seat next to her at that great banquet table … because if there is, then the first thing I am going to do is walk straight over, sit down next to her, hold her hand, and tell her how grateful I am for all those nights the two of us got to spend alone together up in the big house on the hill.

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

Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believe Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be judged, but has crossed over from death to life.  ~John 5:24

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. ~John 14: 2-3

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A Golden Anniversary

December 20, 1968

KayMalcomWedding1968

Fifty years ago today, my parents were married.

My mother carried a red poinsettia.  

During that era, all brides carried a bouquet of white flowers.  My mother wanted to have a white poinsettia, and had one ordered to be flown in from some far away location. On the morning of the wedding, the florist contacted my grandmother to say the white poinsettia had not come in and she wondered if  a bouquet of white carnations be okay.

No. My mother insisted it would not be okay. To begin with, she didn’t like carnations. And secondly, she wanted a Christmas wedding. Therefore, she would carry her Christmas poinsettia … and if there wasn’t a white one to be had, then a red one must do instead.

When my grandmother relayed the message, the florist got extremely distressed. She fretted and fumed and retorted that it was not appropriate for a bride to carry any color but white. It would, she said, be sacrilegious for a bride to carry a red flower against a white dress.  Yet, no amount of pleading could change my mother’s mind. So on this cold December night, the bride wore white and carried red flowers because as naturally sweet as my mother is, she can also be surprisingly stubborn at times, and on her wedding day she put her foot down over the issue of the bridal bouquet.

Speaking of feet …

My mother wore pink slippers beneath her white wedding gown.

My grandmother was quite the seamstress. She insisted upon saving money by sewing her daughter’s wedding gown. One weekend, my mother put on the wedding dress for another fitting, and my grandmother mentioned that it was past time to pick out her wedding shoes so the hem could be sewn at the right length.

My mother, who was wearing a pair of pink ballet-style bedroom slippers, said wistfully, “These are so comfortable! I wish I could find something similar to wear on my wedding day.”

My grandmother laughed and said, “Well, the dress is floor-length. I guess no one will see what’s on your feet. If you like these slippers, then wear them.”

And that’s exactly what my mother did.

In her pink slippers with a red poinsettia in her hand, my beautiful mother walked down the aisle on her father’s arm to O’ Come All Ye Faithful. Half an hour later, maybe less, she walked out on my father’s arm to Joy to the World. In between, the organist softly played Christmas carols in the background. It was, according to my grandmother, a beautiful Christmas wedding.

As a child, I used to look at the photos in my mother’s wedding album and wish I could have been there that precious night.  

I would stare for hours at the pictures of my aunts and uncles, all dressed up and looking like much younger versions of themselves. It was neat to see photos of both sets of my grandparents standing next to each other, obviously delighted in the marriage of their oldest children. And of course, I marveled at how my dad’s father looked more like my daddy than the grandfather I loved. And I hardly recognized the happy wedding couple, who were destined to become my parents.

Yet, there they were … pledging their love and their lives to each other forever. But I didn’t need the photos to prove it. I witness them loving, serving and caring for each other, day in and day out.

They loved each other well. And because of their commitment to God and to each other, I was blessed with grow up in a happy, loving home.

KayMalcolm2013

So tonight, this post is written with much love for my mother (who is still the sweetest, most stubborn lady I know) … and with such precious memories of my dad (who adored my mother until the day he died and is still missed by us all).

Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate. ~Mark 10:9

 

Putting on the Ritz

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

Ritz
Ritz Crackers

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

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

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

Because there’s really nothing like a Ritz cracker …

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

Yesterday was 4-H Fall Fest.

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

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

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

 

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

Oh my!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ritz Cracker Tin
1970’s vintage Ritz cracker tin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sapphires for September

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

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

And yet, I did it anyway.

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

The top middle one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I adored her.

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe this was the most beautiful ring in the world.

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

Christmas 1988 … give or take a year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All of my attempts failed.

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

A year went by and then two …

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

But I couldn’t forget that ring.

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

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

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

My necklace!

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

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

I wasn’t sure.

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

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

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

I was not willing to take the risk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life Lessons from a Toothbrush

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

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

 

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

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

Saturday morning, everything fell apart … sort of.

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

At least, I thought I hadn’t.

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately, Jon couldn’t either.

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

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

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

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

Item #1 on Saturday’s to-do list:

Buy new toothbrushes!

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

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

Give me a moment to take a rabbit trail here…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was the start of the color system.

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

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

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

And it certainly solved the problem of the communal toothbrush!

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

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

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

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

Isn’t parenting odd like that?

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

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

“Plastic dishes are not oven-safe.”

“Quit brushing your hair with your toothbrush!”

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

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

~Proverbs 22:6

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My oldest biological child is turning 18 tomorrow. 

Eighteen.

My word.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never share your toothbrush.

 

Shine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why were my parents always giving each other green stars?

How come I never got a green star?

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

And as a child, this drove me absolutely crazy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark my favorite recipes in every cookbook I own?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What had my father done to earn it?

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

Within minutes, my mom replied:

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

I read her words slowly.

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

 

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

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

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The star had tarnished green.

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

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

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

Nobody gets a star for mediocre work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julia and the Cadaver

One week ago today, Julia had knee surgery. 

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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.”

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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!

 

 

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.

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

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