The Wedding That Almost Didn’t Happen

True story: On the very last day of 2010, I married a half-dead man.

Barely out of the hospital for 48 hours, my beloved groom, Jon Hamilton, was hiding the PICC-line remaining in his arm underneath his wedding suit. He was so very ill that he laid down on the sofa in the minister’s office until time for the ceremony to begin.  After sitting through 90% of the reception that followed our wedding, Jon needed to take a 2-hour nap before he had enough strength to leave for our French Quarter honeymoon. Even so, I still had to drive us most of the way to New Orleans.

No, the man I married was not well. In fact, he hadn’t been well for a very long time. He was so close to death that a friend and I wondered together if there would be a wedding or a funeral.

I know it’s rather obvious to say this but truly I’m so very happy that I can say we got our wedding!  And four years later, I’m glad for the blessing to love him in sickness and in health … it’s a vow I plan to keep as long as the Lord allows.

Initially, I had no idea what that promise would mean, how close we would come to not getting married, how near to death Jon would come.

But the good news is that my guy survived the heart infection that almost took his life. And despite the fact that he should have died several times over, if you were to meet him today, you would never know he had once been so desperately ill. The only signs that remain are the nasty scar running down the length of his chest and an inability to digest gluten or dairy (which is a result of so many months of strong levels of antibiotics).

What follows is our story … our wedding tale, if you will. I just gave the short-version. Now I will share the longer-version, with all the God-ordained moments and miracles He poured out over us during those last days of 2010, shortly before we said “I do.”

A photo from our wedding ... fortunately for us, it did happen!
A photo from our wedding … fortunately for us, it did happen!

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Three months before I started dating Jon, he had open-heart surgery to repair a leaky mitral valve.

He was already a special friend, and so I remember praying for his recovery. But from the start, he seemed to being healing very slow. Within just a few days of returning home from the hospital, Jon began to experience night sweats and the fatigue which plagued him prior to the surgery only worsened in the weeks that followed.

By the following summer, a year after the surgery, Jon was experiencing a long list of strange symptoms in addition to the fatigue and night sweats. He was pale, constantly ran low-grade fevers, would shake with several chills every nights, and his muscle and joints ached. Jon’s spleen was swollen and tender; he felt nauseous often.  Even though he wasn’t trying to diet, his weight plummeted, going from 250 lbs prior to the surgery to hovering right around 200 lbs during the fall of 2010.

Jon saw his cardiologist regularly throughout that year, though that doctor didn’t seem to think there was a problem with the heart. However, Jon’s  family doctor was concerned enough to begin a  battery of tests to try to determine the source of the illness. With a clean bill of health regarding his heart, Jon’s GP doctor began to look for other sources as the cause for the illness. Blood work. X-rays. CAT scans and MRI’s.

Soon Jon’s medical team grew to include a hematologist, urologist and gastroenterologist. Test after test was performed; all came back negative. No leukemia. No colon cancer. While we were thankful those terrible fates were not Jon’s, our worried continued to mount for nothing seemed to be the cause of Jon’s mysterious symptoms. Although everyone seemed to agree that Jon was suffering from a serious illness, not one single doctor out of the many Jon saw for his medical care could figure out what was making him so very, very ill.

But I knew … I knew only because God showed me.

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“Jon, it’s your heart!” I said time and again.

“No. It can’t be. My cardiologist says everything looks fine.”

“But I know you’ve got a heart infection. If you would just google the symptoms and you will see,” I persisted. “I know it sounds silly, but I’m convinced God has shown me the source of your illness.”

“Paige, I am not interested in playing internet doctor. Let’s just trust the medical doctors to figure this out. God can show them, too.”

Initially, I wondered myself if what I thought I knew was actually coming from God or if I was just as crazy as I felt. Then came the day when I received an out of the blue email from a lady who went to church with Jon.

I only knew Catherine casually, but that day she reached out and asked me if Jon’s heart might be the cause of his illness. Old enough to be my own mother, Catherine’s friendship and concern was like a breath of fresh air in that scary place. Years before, she had lost her only son after he had surgery to correct a heart defect, so her understanding of heart-related illnesses and symptoms was great. Her deep faith in God was matched with her quick intellect and warm spirit. Soon Catherine and I were praying together for Jon’s health, and chatting regularly as we teamed together to try to figure out a way to get Jon to a doctor who could help cure him.  Most of all, Catherine served as an encourager to me, a bouncing board for all the multitude of emotions I experienced, for it was during that fall Jon proposed married and we set a wedding date for December 31, 2010.

By early November, Jon seemed to be languishing. The fevers were stronger. He was napping more and more. My sweetheart seemed to be surviving on massive doses of Tylenol and Ibuprofen. One day, I noticed some tiny red spots at the ends of his fingers. Petechiae. Blood spots.  Another symptom of a serious heart infections. A sign of tiny bits of infection vegetations were being dislodged into the blood stream. If a large enough piece broke away, it could trigger a stroke.

“He could die, Catherine!” I moaned. “The man could have a stroke and die if a doctor doesn’t figure this thing out soon!”

Agreeing with me, Catherine solemnly said, “Paige, I’m so afraid it will be a wedding or a funeral. Jon doesn’t have much time left. He is a very sick man, and unless we can get a doctor to treat his heart infection, he will die soon.”

But even Jon was still skeptical, siding with the doctors, refusing to consider that his heart might be the source of his illness. I begged him to get a second opinion from a new cardiologist, but Jon could not be convinced.

And then, without warning, something happened in early December that caused the tide to finally begin to turn.

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“Did I tell you my index finger has a painful knot at the end of it? I’ve decided it must be ‘mouse finger’ … you know, because it’s probably just sore from using the mouse to my computer too much.”  Jon laughed at his confession.

Slowly Jon’s words begin to sink into my brain, as if for the first few seconds I couldn’t understand the words and what they meant. But then it all came together, so quickly that I gasped with a sudden realization.

“Jon! You don’t have mouse finger … you have an Osler’s node!”   This was it, the final symptom on the long list of symptoms for endocarditis. Now I knew with all certainty that Jon truly did have a heart infection. Mentally I made a list of all his known symptoms, and I felt like I was reading a page straight out of some medical text-book! If I only I could get him to see that I had been given this God-inspired information, then maybe he would seek out a second opinion. I breathed a quick prayer asking God to open Jon’s eyes.

Jon’s voice broke through my racing thoughts.  “Osler’s nodes? What are you talking about, Paige?” Jon was obviously confused and baffled by my reaction.

“Jon …listen to me, please. Osler’s nodes is another symptom of endocarditis. What I’m trying to get you to understand is that you really do have endocarditis. Your heart is infected! The finger thing proves it. Go ahead. Google endocarditis. Read through the symptoms. Check off the ones you have. Up until now, you had every symptom except for one … Osler’s nodes. Now you have them all. Every last one. Please … go look it up. Tell me I’m wrong.”

A few minutes later, it was Jon’s turn to gasp. “Oh, Paige … You are right. I do have Osler’s nodes  … and every other symptom there. I guess the question is this:  Now what do I do?”

With my encouragement, Jon arranged another appointment with his cardiologist, this time being sure to point blank ask him about the possibility of endocarditis as the cause all of his baffling symptoms.

“Mr. Hamilton,” replied the doctor gruffly, “you don’t want to have endocarditis.”

“I certainly agree with you. I don’t want to have endocarditis. However, I am concerned about the possibility that I do considering my symptoms,” Jon replied. “Could we do some tests to rule it out?”

“I see no reason to believe that you have endocarditis. Everything regarding your heart still looks fine to me.” With that, the doctor left the room. The examination was over.

Now Jon knew … he needed a second opinion, and he needed it quick.

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“Call Beth Dooley.”

Catherine didn’t just know hearts. She knew everybody there was to know, as well as everything about them. “Beth is a nurse for a cardiologist. She will be able to get Jon that second opinion. Jon should have her number. It’s in the church directory.”

I didn’t know Beth Dooley, but I told Jon about Catherine’s suggestion. “Oh, yes! Beth. I should have thought about that. I’ll talk to her the next time I see her.” As sick as he was, Jon didn’t seem to be in a hurry.

“Jon, can’t you call her now? I’m worried about you.”  Every time I saw Jon’s glassy-looking eyes or gray-tinged skin, I knew his time was quickly running out. It was already mid-December, and more than ever I was wondering if Catherine was right.

Would we have our New Year’s Eve wedding or would it be a funeral for my beloved instead?

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Thankfully, Jon and I saw Beth the very next day at a church Christmas breakfast. When she heard Jon’s story, she immediately said, “Here’s my work number. Call me first thing on Monday morning and I’ll make sure you get into see Dr. Coureville.”  Pulling me aside, she added, “I could tell by his appearance that something was terribly wrong with Jon, but I had no idea there was the possibility of it being related to his heart … I feel bad because I could have helped him sooner. But don’t worry. Dr. Coureville will know exactly what to do to help Jon.”

Jon and I, the day before he saw Dr. Coureville for the first time.
Jon and I, the day before he saw Dr. Coureville for the first time.

Sure enough, the following week, Jon saw the new cardiologist, who agreed with me that Jon was suffering from endocarditis. “We’ll schedule a TEE at the hospital for tomorrow morning so that I can get a good look at your heart and see the extent of the infection.”

When Jon called me with the update from his appointment, I immediately made plans to leave my north Louisiana home and head south. Despite Jon’s protests, I was going to be there for the procedure … to hear the results, to ask questions, to be informed about his treatment and recovery. After all, our wedding day was less than two weeks away.

That night, I walked into Jon’s home. He looked worse than I had ever seen him.  All evening, he popped pills, four Tylenol followed an hour and a half later by four Ibuprofen. Seeing this cycle happen twice, I questioned him about taking that much medication. But Jon replied, “Don’t worry about me. I’m doing fine.”

Yet, his fever persisted, his skin had a look of death, and he could barely find the strength to move off the sofa when a group of church carolers came by to sing for Jon.  Jon’s pastor walked up from the crowd and embraced Jon, tears streaming down his face. He hugged me next, whispering in my ear, “Oh, Paige … I am so, so sorry. You have my prayers.”

My heart sank again. It wasn’t just me. Others saw the reality of Jon’s illness too. And yet, there I stood in the cold December air, continuing to hold hands with a man who was closer to death than anyone I had ever loved before.

And in that moment, I realized not a single part of me wanted to leave or run away. I was already in this, for better or for worse.

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December 22, 2010

2 am: I awaken to the sounds of moaning.

At first, I couldn’t remember where I was. I never slept at Jon’s house, normally staying in Catherine’s guest room. Slowly, I came to and remembered that I had decided to stay close to Jon that night, partly because I was so worried about his health and partly because Jon’s procedure was scheduled for 7 am the following morning.

Tiptoeing into the living room, I saw Jon stretched out on the couch. His face appeared paler than ever in the soft glow of the TV. His hand was massaging his chest. His lips were moving, as if he were praying aloud.

Jon noticed me and smiled. “I’m okay.” He said the words emphatically, as if trying to convince himself more than me.

“No, you aren’t. Your moaning woke me up. People who are feeling okay don’t moan. What’s the matter?”

He looked at me, glassy-eyed. “Oh, the medicine just wore off, but I took some more and it will kick in soon. Go on back to bed.”

“Jon. Tell me … where are you hurting?”

“In my chest. It’s burning … and radiating around to my back.” He moaned again.

I stared at him in disbelief. Why was this man trying to be so brave? He needed medical help and yet he continued to suffer silently.  Using my best stern teacher voice, I said, “That is it. I’m am tired of watching you suffer and hurt. Get up now. I’m taking you to the hospital.”

“Now Paige, there’s no need to go rushing off to a hospital. I am already scheduled to be there at 6:30 am … it’s just another 4 hours from now.  I can wait.”

“No. You can’t wait. I can’t wait either. You are suffering. Besides, I’ve counted … you have had at least 16 Tylenol and 20 Ibuprofens just since I arrived here last night. You are about to overdose on over-the-counter pain relievers,  meanwhile you are still in pain and still running a fever! This is ridiculous. You don’t have a choice anymore. I am taking you to the hospital now … or, if you want to be stubborn and refuse to go with me, I will call an ambulance to come transport you. Now which will it be?”

Thankfully, Jon got up off the couch. Together, hand-in-hand, we walked out of the house.

Jon, just hours after I got him to the hospital
Jon, just hours after I got him to the hospital

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As it turned out, Jon was already in the process of dying.  His kidneys, liver and bone marrow were in the initial stages of beginning to shut down. Thankfully, team of doctors and nurses were able to reverse that from continuing to happen, though several people on caregivers admitted in hushed tones that we got him there just in the nick of time.

“A few more hours and we may not have been able to stop the process from happening,” whispered one of our favorite nurses. Deep down, I knew she was being truthful with me. Jon really was almost too far gone when we arrived at the hospital.

The TEE showed a vegetation of infection on his mitral valve the size of my pinky finger. It flapped around each time his mitral valve opened and closed, flinging bits and pieces of infection out into his blood stream. If the infection hadn’t managed to kill him, a stroke was literally just a heartbeat away from taking his life.

Later that evening, Dr. Coureville sat down to chat with me. “Twenty-four to forty-eight hours … tops. Probably less, but for sure that’s all I would have given him. You really did get him here at the last minute.  Much later and we probably couldn’t have saved his life. In fact, even now, I can’t promise you he will survive this. He is one incredibly sick man. “

A culture was taken of Jon’s infection. A week passed by before we go the results, but when we did the news we heard was rather astounding. The infection was caused by the Bartinelli bacteria, which happens to be the same bacteria that causes cat scratch fever. (It’s not just a song, folks!) As it turns out, Jon is the only documented case of the Bartinelli virus ever infecting a heart. Jon’s infectious diseases doctor was so impressed that he announced with an air of pride, “Mr. Hamilton, you are one in a million. I will be writing a medical journal article about you.”  (Trust me, even Jon who sometimes likes to be the center of attention, admits this is not a pleasant way to get your 15-minutes of fame!)

Christmas 2010 ... spent in Heart Hospital. Jon's girls came to visit him there. It was a Christmas we would never forget.
Christmas 2010 … spent in Heart Hospital. Jon’s girls came to visit him there. It was a Christmas we would never forget.

Jon was released from the hospital on December 29th, his 41st birthday. He went home with a PICC-line inserted in his arm to deliver the antibiotics straight to his heart and the promise of a home health nurse who would be making daily visits to our home.

Two days later, we had our New Year’s Eve wedding.

It was the wedding that nearly didn’t happen. It almost was a funeral. But God intervened, at the last possible moment, and gave us a Christmas miracle we would never forget.

Jon says his vows to me ... second later, I promised to love him in sickness and health. The guests laughed with us, for we were all filled with joy over a wedding we thought might not ever happen.
Jon says his vows to me … second later, I promised to love him in sickness and health. The guests laughed with us, for we were all filled with joy over a wedding we thought might not ever happen.

Of course, our medical story doesn’t end there. Jon ended up needing to have a second open-heart surgery a month after our wedding because the infection wouldn’t clear up with antibiotics alone. His old infected mitral valve was removed and he got a brand-new teflon version that clicks rhythmically with each beat of his heart.

I love to lay in bed in the quiet of the night and hear my husband’s heart ticking softly, reminding me of all God has done for us, including the story of our wedding and how it almost didn’t happen.

And as I fall asleep listening to the tick-tick-tick of Jon’s heart, I’m so very grateful that it did.

December 31, 2010
December 31, 2010

The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad. ~Psalm 126:3

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
P1010221
Nathan, age 7
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Julia, age 6
P1010226
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!!!

Blogger’s Guilt

It’s hard not to feel guilty.

Following the A-to-Z Blog Challenge I took during the month of April, my new goal for this blog was to publish a post two or three times each week.  But I’ve failed … miserably.

Truthfully, I think about writing on my blog every single day. In fact, it’s never that far from my mind.  Writing is a cathartic hobby for me, a pleasure which never feels much like work. Because of this, I am always eager to find a few moments in which to sit down and write.

It’s actually finding those few moments that is so very hard.

Image from Pixabay
Image from Pixabay

Ten days ago, three of my five children returned home from Germany. I’ve loved having a loud, chaotic house again.  Cooking for a tribe, tackling Mt. Laundry each morning, sorting out disputes, being the chauffeur to five people who apparently have busier schedules and more places to go than myself … it’s all part of the fun and games and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Two weeks ago, the baby I keep each weekday decided to begin to use her walking skills on a regular basis. Suddenly, everything has changed! “Miss E”  is able to quickly get into a lot of things she is not supposed to get into … and I’m remembering things about toddlerhood I had long forgotten. Whew! There really is no sitting down with a toddler in the house! These little people are work, and nap times are just as much for moms as they are for the sweet child.

Most days I am trying to figure out how to fit in time to read my Bible and exercise, much less have time for personal hobbies. My daily schedule isn’t filled with vast amounts of free time. Just like everyone else on the planet, I’ve only got 24 hours a day. The hours are limited, and I’ve got to use them wisely.

It’s during seasons like this I must remember there will be days when writing, even if it is writing for God, must take a backseat on my priority list.

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Last week, I came across this lovely blog post:  Seven Reasons Bloggers Don’t Blog.

I can relate to all seven reasons given by the author of that freeing blog post.  (1) I do not want to post fluffy content on my blog. (2) My biggest desire is to  write encouraging and helpful words for my audience.  (3) Writing is tiring, and time consuming.  (4) The 40% of me that is somewhat introverted needs time to quietly process life before I can write about it publicly.  (5) I’m writing a book …  but I’m only about halfway through the first two chapters. I am discovering it is a painfully slow process to write a book.  (6) Big and wonderful things are happening in life.  My family is preparing to become a foster family. I’m excited and scared and very busy with getting my home ready to take on another child. (7) Finally the biggest reason of all … blogging is not living.

I love my blog. I love to write. But my biggest responsibility is to be the godly wife and mom God has called me to be.

I realize that according to the experts, if I am to ever have a “real” career as a writer, I need to have a platform, build an audience of 5000 or more readers,  and post three or four times a week on my blog. But I’m not there. I admit that many days I wish I was because I think I’d love nothing more than a fantastic contract with some big name Christian publishing house and a couple of books on the shelves  down at the nearest Lifeway Book Store.

Yes, God called me to write … but He simply asked me to write for Him, not for a publishing house or for a set of standards that He didn’t give to me. So that’s what I am going to do … write for God.

And He also asked me to be a wife and helpmeet to my husband Jon.  God called me to be a mother to five wonderful teens and tweens, who are growing up so quickly. They won’t be home with me for very much longer before they leave to start their own lives. God asked me and my family to open our home and share His love and our lives with children I don’t yet know through fostering.  He asked me to be a good neighbor to the lady next door who is dying, and to be a listening friend in real life, not just on the computer screen.

I’ve got just one life to live. While writing and blogging is very much a part of my life, it’s not all that I do. And so today, I’m setting down the guilt I put upon myself for not blogging on some made-up schedule. I’m laying aside the burden I’ve carried around for the past two and a half months for not keeping up with an insane blogging schedule, as well as tending to the realities of my life.

Instead, I’m asking the Lord to help me be faithful to do all He requires of me for today, and nothing more. I pray a lot of those days include writing for God.  I think they will.

But whether they do or whether they don’t, I’m done with “Blogger’s Guilt.”

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.  ~John 8:36

Irreplaceable

The phone rang at 7:30 am, but I didn’t hear it. Ten minutes later, I saw the missed called notification, indicating my husband had called but left no voicemail.

Immediately I called back, asking if he was needing me to do something for him.  “No,” he answered. “I was just calling to ask you on a date … for tonight. How about going with me to watch a movie?”

Jon and I rarely get to go to movies. Truthfully, I’m not much of a movie person. (I realize this is a strange fact, but the honest truth is I hardly ever desire to see a film.) Jon, however, loves movies and would probably like going to the theater on a regular basis. Yet, as the parents of five kids, we don’t often have the extra money in the budget to afford soaring ticket prices. Movies, for us, are a rare treat.

So when Jon asked me on a movie date, I immediately knew Jon for some reason felt this movie was important for us to see.  I had to say yes.

It turns out the movie Jon wanted to take me to see was a Focus on the Family one night event at movie theaters across the nation.  The name of the film was Irreplaceable, documentary-style  movie exploring the idea of family and why it matters in light of history, psychology, religion and today’s culture.

I was captivated from the moment the film started. Tim Sisarich, the New Zealand director and host, asked honest questions about the importance of family to society, especially in light of how the idea of family has changed in recent years and with the direction our culture is declining. Sisarich examines how the devaluing of sex led to the decline of traditional, long-lasting marriage, which further the idea that parenthood (particularly fatherhood) wasn’t a role to desire or take seriously. All of this has led to the demise of the family and ultimately the weakening of our culture.

Initially, it seemed Sisarich was going to just serve as a host, asking questions to the various experts and providing dialogue during transitions. But soon we catch a glimpse of Sisarich’s background … and as the documentary moves forward, Sisarich’s personal story unfolds as well. As a viewer, I felt even more engaged with Tim Sisarich as he walks through his personal story of a broken family.

Following the movie, Jon and I were able to talk deeply about our own past failures (both of us having been divorced and Jon also being the child of a broken home), our struggles (with step-parenting), our desires (in our marriage, as parents and step-parents and for the future of our family). For this reason alone, Irreplaceable was a film worth seeing.

My favorite part of this documentary came toward the end when Sisarich comes to the conclusion there is really no such thing as a perfect family. However, there is such a thing as a redeemed family, one which despite the brokenness of life on earth chooses to love God and love each other.

This is what Jon and I are striving for together. No perfect, but perfectly redeemed by the grace of God.

In case you missed the one night showing of Focus on the Family‘s documentary Irreplaceable, there will be an encore showing on May 15th.  The Focus on the Family blog has more information about the movie and the encore theater showing of the film. Click here to find out if there is a theater near you hosting this film.

Not sure if you would be interested in viewing Irreplaceable? Here’s the trailer.

 

R is for …

 

image credit: Valerie Drake Lesiak (picture-book-studio.com)
image credit: Valerie Drake Lesiak (picture-book-studio.com)

 

“We need to talk. Our relationship is not sustainable as it is.”

As Jon said those words, an immediate lump formed in my throat. I figured he must be about to dump me. I was not expecting those words to be the opening lines of his marriage proposal.

Getting engaged to Jon could be described in many ways. However, romantic is not one of them, not by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it was more like closing an important business deal than a traditional marriage proposal.

But I still said, “Yes!”  I accepted because I knew Jon’s heart. His love for me was true and strong. Besides, there had been plenty of evidence while we were dating which lead me to believe Jon definitely knew how to be romantic. Bouquets of flowers, hand-written poems, surprise gifts of jewelry, sweet compliments; romance wasn’t missing in our relationship. And while Jon’s marriage proposal certainly lacked a touch of romance that most women are expecting, he more than made up for it on our wedding day when he sang a love song he wrote just for me.

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I’ve heard a lot of engagement stories during my life. Some are romantic. Some are funny. But none are as sweet as Robert’s second proposal to Kim.

Robert’s not new to our church, as he often attended services with his wife Kim. However, Robert is a new believer in Jesus Christ. After several years of praying alongside his wife Kim for his salvation, our church was elated when Robert finally accepted Christ as his Savior late last year. In a short time, the transformation of Robert’s life has become evident. He’s a new man. Not even six weeks ago, Robert followed his decision with baptism at the first service in our new church building. As a church, we are becoming somewhat used to Robert creating a stir of excitement among us.

Still, we were not expecting Robert’s surprise at our Easter Morning service. With permission from our pastor, Robert stood to address our congregation. He talked about how grateful he was for the clean slate he had in Christ, and yet there were so many things he wished he could go back and do over. Robert continued by stating he desired to go back and start over in his marriage, to become a better husband to his wife Kim, loving her as Christ loved the church.

And then, in front of a packed sanctuary, Robert knelt on one knee as he tearfully asked Kim if she would marry him all over again.

Of course, she said yes … and an hour later, following the sermon, our church was privileged to witness Robert and Kim renew their marriage vows. If the proposal and vow renewal wasn’t enough to convince us of Robert’s love for Kim, he had taken the time to see to several special details, like a beautiful bouquet for his bride, a photographer to take a few pictures, and a small cake and punch reception to celebrate. Sweet. Sincere. Romantic. Robert lovingly wooed his bride, and those of us who witnessed it were blessed.

But even Robert’s second proposal to Kim cannot begin to compare with the greatest love story of all. It is the ultimate romance story. I am talking about the romance between the Lord of All Creation and His bride.

copyright Jane Sullivan
copyright Jane Sullivan

 

Humans as a whole are pretty rotten creatures. Think about it. You don’t have to teach a young child to be bad. As cute as they are, young children figure out things like lying, disobeying parents, and selfish attitudes fairly quickly and without assistance from anyone. From a very young age, all people learn to use our free will to our own advantage.

It’s important we humans have a free will. If we didn’t, then we couldn’t make choices. One of those choices would be the decision to love God. Any love that is forced or demanded is not a meaningful love. So God gave humans a privilege not given to other parts of His creation … the privilege of being made in His image. That privilege includes being about to choose for ourselves whether or not we will obey and love the Lord.

So long ago in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve ushered in the fall of man. They chose to disobey the one rule God had given to them. (Don’t think that you and I would have done any better! If we can’t follow speed limits or keep from telling little white lies, we would have certainly broken His rule about eating from the Tree of Life as well.)

Sin came in and broke the relationship between God and man. We were helpless to repair it. In order to be restored back into a right relationship, we had to be perfect and blameless, just as God is perfect and blameless,  for we are made in His image. And yet, by ourselves, we are destined to break every good law God has given us. The only way was for someone with no sin to take our punishment for us.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

~John 3:16-17

The most romantic love story is this: God Almighty loves you so much that He chose to take the punishments for every wrong thing you ever did … every lie, every curse, every ugly judgmental thought. And He did it because He does not want you to live apart from Him.

Now that’s an incredible love!

R is for the Romance of God, who woos me to Himself and loves me like no other ever has or ever will.

What is the most romantic story you know? Have you felt God romancing your heart? If not, then I urge you to ask Him (with an open heart) to woo you with His perfect love.

K is for …

Yesterday, I shared the story of how God introduced me to Jon before Jon ever introduced himself to me. I related how our friendship turned to love, and God, who had provided me with details several months in advance, orchestrated everything perfectly … well, at least perfectly as long as Jon and I didn’t get in the way. Today’s entry for the letter K is a continuation of our love story.

letterK

K is for “The Kiss.”

After six months of just being friends, Jon finally got around to asking me to date him in late October 2009. We were in agreement to proceed slowly in this new phase of our relationship, regarding all areas but especially with demonstrations of physical affection. As Christians, we felt it was important to practice purity before marriage. Furthermore, as single parents of children who had already suffered through one divorce, the last thing we wanted to do was rush headlong into another relationship, bringing further unnecessary emotional turmoil to our kids.

Jon was always the perfect gentleman, bringing me gifts of flowers and holding open doors. For several months, that was the extent of any romance. By late January, I was beginning to wonder if Jon would ever reach for my hand, put his arm around my shoulder, or ask me for that first kiss.

Valentine’s Day came and went. Soon a beautiful Louisiana spring had returned, heralded by flowers in full bloom … and on a beautiful sunny afternoon, Jon finally took my hand in his.  After nearly six months of dating, it was sweet and perfect.  It also left me wanting more for time had continued to show me that God’s list (which was written in my journal a full year earlier) was fulfilled in Jon. I found it hard not to fall head over heels for him as I waited anxiously for Jon to do the next thing God had told me to expect:  him to ask for my permission before giving me our first kiss. 

One evening in early April 2010, Jon called me out of the blue. He was driving up to north Louisiana on a work-related trip. His route was taking him within 20 miles of my house.  “You should take a short detour, and have a cup of coffee with me,” I suggested. To my surprise, an hour later Jon was standing on my doorstep.

I can’t remember what we talked about that night. Jon and I have always been like two chattering birds, conversation flowing easily between us. I recall he did stay long past the half hour or so he intended to visit. I also remember several times during the evening feeling as though Jon would likely kiss me before he left. Sure enough, he did … a gentle, sweet, absolutely perfect kiss.

Well, it would have been perfect except for one thing. Jon didn’t ask for my permission.  

At first, I was elated … love’s first kiss. It put me on cloud nine.

Then, as I recalled the God-given words written in my journal, I fell right down off that cloud with a hard thump. God had given me a list of  indicators I could trust to lead me to the man I should marry. One of the most specific ones related that he would ask permission to kiss me for the first time. So was this some sort of test? Up until now, Jon matched up perfectly with the man God had shown me. Maybe he wasn’t the one after all? If that were the case, then why did God allow me to fall in love with him? I wanted to feel happy because the man I loved had kissed me, but mostly I felt confused and hurt.

Meanwhile, unknown to me, after Jon left my home he began to feel anxious and uneasy about kissing me. In fact, he later told me that he had the most severe case of panic he had ever known, likening it to extreme cold feet about his own ability to have a healthy relationship with a woman based on his previous marriage. That made two of us feeling confused, all over a simple kiss. What a mess!

A couple of days later, Jon returned from his work trip, and gave me a telephone call. The moment I heard his voice, I could tell something was wrong.  I had spent the past two days debating with uncertainty whether or not I should talk about my feelings regarding the kiss, especially considering Jon knew nothing of my list. In the end, my own indecision didn’t matter, as Jon almost immediately began to talk about his emotions.

(JON)  I want you to know how much I enjoy spending time with you, Paige. But after I kissed you … well, now I just don’t know if I am really ready to move forward after all. I hope you understand because this is difficult for me to even talk about.

(PAIGE)  Can you explain more? What exactly are you trying to tell me? Are you saying you want us to break up?

No. No, that’s not what I am saying … but if that is what you want, then I understand.

Jon, I really don’t want to break up with you, but I guess I am feeling really confused. I’m not even sure what happened, but it seems we are both feeling uneasy and upset by the kiss.

I know. What I am trying to explain, though, is that I do want to continue to date you … but I don’t want to hold hands or kiss … or at least for right now. But the truth is, I don’t know if I ever will want to do those things.

Oh.

Wow … That sounded terrible, Paige. I’m sorry it came out like that. Trust me, I don’t want to hurt you because it isn’t about you at all. This has everything to do with me. I’m just terrified of messing up again. I don’t want to hurt you or our children. I understand this is a lot to ask, but if you are willing to go back to us simply seeing each other for dates and talking on the phone and praying with each other then that’s what I’d like for us to do for the time being. But if you can’t go back, then I will try to understand that too, because right now I can’t make any promises to you about when I might be emotionally ready to move forward.

 

Without a doubt, that conversation was one of the most difficult of my entire life. Jon’s honesty was incredibly hard to hear, yet at the same time I could tell he had no desire to hurt me. Even as we talked, I had a sense this conversation represented a turning point for each of us personally, as well as for our relationship.

I also recognized the whisperings of God, deep in my heart, low and gentle and peaceful, telling me it was okay. Taking a deep breath, I decided to trust God. And with that, I let Jon know I agreed to go back to the way things were before the kiss, to give our relationship another chance, with the understanding that in the end he may never want anything more than friendship after all.

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Obviously, Jon and I are now married. Any good guesser would assume giving Jon a second chance must have worked out to my advantage. It did. But the way it all came to pass is a story only God Himself could author.

After our difficult conversation, I wasn’t sure what to expect, wondering if there would be awkwardness or tension. But Jon was true to his word, continuing to ask me on regular date nights and calling me almost nightly. There were no feelings of uncomfortableness between us at all. In fact, there seemed to be an increase in the the trust level between us, just from  the willingness to talk candidly with each other over a difficult topic.

Three weeks passed.  One weekend,  I invited Jon to my house for dinner. He arrived, flowers in hand. Together we cooked our supper, white chicken enchiladas and a green salad. After the meal was over, we washed the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen, chatting and laughing. To this day,  I recall standing in my kitchen, thinking about how natural it felt to do even mundane chores with Jon.

As I prepared a pot of coffee and plates with dessert, Jon excused himself to go to the restroom.  A few moments later, I walked into the living room to clear off a spot for us to set our cups. It was then that Jon came into the room. Walking directly over to me, he took my hands in his, smiled and asked, “Paige, would it be okay with you if I gave you a kiss?

I thought I might faint! Out of the blue came the question I’d been aching to hear for so long. All I was able to do was nod my head yes … and then he kissed me. It was the most simple kiss, and yet as soon as his lips touched mine, the room began to swirl as fireworks went off in my head and the air around me instantly dropped a full ten degrees.  (Okay, so maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it was the most perfect kiss ever.)

Jon gazed at me and said, “You don’t know how much I’ve wanted to kiss you these last three weeks! Practically from the moment I said I wanted to go back to the way we were before, it’s all I could think about. But I was nervous about trying it again, too. So just now, when I stepped out of the room, I prayed. I told God how much I wanted to kiss you but that I was afraid it would go wrong like it did the last time. The crazy thing is God answered me. He said, ‘Jon, the last time you kissed Paige, you didn’t come to me for advise.  If you want to kiss her right, then all you have to do is ask her. She’ll say yes and everything will be fine.’  So that’s what I did.  You know, I think it worked out so well, I’d like to try it again.”

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To this day, Jon and I tease each other about our second first kiss. What I especially love about this story (besides the fact that it is part of my personal love story)  is the reminder of how God delights in giving second chances … and not just second chances, but third, fourth and fifth chances as well.

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Or, you may fall on your knees and pray—to God’s delight!
    You’ll see God’s smile and celebrate,
    finding yourself set right with God.
You’ll sing God’s praises to everyone you meet,
    testifying, ‘I messed up my life—
    and let me tell you, it wasn’t worth it.
But God stepped in and saved me from certain death.
    I’m alive again! Once more I see the light!’

This is the way God works.
    Over and over again
He pulls our souls back from certain destruction
    so we’ll see the light—and live in the light!

~ Job 33: 28-30 (The Message)

K is for the second first kiss, which reminds me of God who is generous in second chances.

What second chances have you been given?

More importantly, have you accepted the greatest second chance offer of all … the chance of a second, spiritual birth through Jesus Christ?