Although the entire Christmas season is generally a magical time, there is something spectacular about Christmas Eve.
When I was growing up, I had many favorite Christmas traditions: baking, decorating and delivering Christmas cookies to some of the elderly members of our church; listening to Chrsitmas music; watching Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Lifeor Bing Crosby in White Christmas (and, for some strange reason, The Sound of Music ) all of which came on the TV as this was before the time of VCRs and DVD players. Singing Christmas carols at church all through December; pulling decorations out of the box and hearing my mother recount where she had gotten them; caroling around the tiny village with my church; sipping hot chocolate in the glow of the Christmas lights. These were a few of my favorite things.
But there was one special thing about Christmas in my family that seemed to make the holiday extra exciting. My mother is a Christmas Eve baby.
I was always slightly jealous of my mother’s Christmas Eve birthday. How wonderful it seemed to me to be able to share a birthday with the baby Jesus! The lights, the decorations, the foods, the carols, the parties and gifts … why all of those wonderful activities and traditions must make a Christmas birthday seem to last forever! And who wouldn’t want to extend their birthday celebration out for as long as possible?
The countdown to my September birthday began as soon as school started in mid-August. I was prone to making construction paper chains, snipping one strip off each day as a way of marking the time. I remember always hoping to receive lots of birthday gifts, delighting in the fact that inevitably I would be the center of attention on the day of my birthday.
But my mother never expected anyone to remember or make a fuss over her birthday. She didn’t seem to care if she only got one gift labeled for both birthday and Christmas among all the wrapped presents under the tree, and seemed to actually prefer to think about what good things she could do for others instead of thinking about how people might pay attention to her. And perhaps most of all, she seemed to insist that her three children put our Christmas focus on the Christmas Child in the manger and the reason for His Holy birth.
I suppose a part of me figured she did those things because she was all grown up and grown ups aren’t supposed to love their own birthdays quite as much as little children do. And yet I don’t think that was the case at all. My mother, it seems, was always gracious about her birthday and not prone to expecting a big to-do over it. I know this because …
Tucked away in her wedding album was a letter, written in my grandmother’s beautiful cursive, the paper yellowed and dated December 24th of the year my mom turned 4 years old. Most Christmases, I pulled it out and read it to myself, wondering about the little girl who had grown up to be my mother. I would looked longingly at the old photos of her childhood, thinking how her white-blonde hair, bright blue eyes and sweet smile gave her the appearance of a tiny angel without wings.
The long letter basically recounted my mother’s 4th birthday party, an event in which all the neighborhood children came because Santa was going to be there. When it came my mother’s turn to sit on Santa’s knee, she asked him to bring a doll to a little girl who didn’t have one to play with … my grandmother recorded her as saying, “I already have a lot of dolls and toys.” Even my grandmother seemed to marvel at her oldest daughter’s generosity.
As a child, I believed that my mother got to share her birthday with Jesus because she was so very lovely and good … and I wished I could be that lovely, too.
I know my mom will read this and later on tell me that she doesn’t know where I get my ideas from, but I know deep down how wonderfully special my mom truly is. She has a generous spirit, full of concern and love for others. She is gentle, selfless, kind, and unassuming. Her outlook on life is positive and full of hope for the future.
And yet, as wonderful as my mother is, her Christmas Eve birthday is NOT the reason for the celebration. It’s another birthday that must always take center-stage … the birthday of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us.
There is a common Christmas saying:
Jesus is the reason for the season.
The only thing is that Jesus can’t be just the reason for the season. He needs to be the reason for our every action, every day of the year.
And tonight, as I think about my mother (of whose birth it is said was so late on Christmas Eve that she was nearly a Christmas Day baby), I feel so very grateful that she taught me the importance of loving and worshipping the Holy Baby in the manger every day of the year.
May you celebrate the birth of Christ today, tomorrow and every day to come … Merry Christmas and joy to the world!
Forty-two years ago today, I was born with a head full of black hair that stuck straight up and a head that, at least according to my father, was shaped exactly like a football (thanks to the forceps used to pull me into this world).
Every birthday, my dad jokingly reminded me of my oddly-shaped newborn head. He recounted how as he gazed at me he prayed and told the Lord that he would always love me, even if my head was shaped like a football.
For forty-two years exactly, he did just that.
My father left this world this morning. I wasn’t prepared for him to go. It happened unexpectedly. But even though my heart is heavy and this is the worst birthday I can imagine, I’m grateful that I spoke to him last night and told him again I loved him … just like I always did whenever we talked on the phone, which was usually three or four times a week.
I can’t think of much else to write in this moment of the man I loved first. He was a wonderful man who loved the Lord first, my mother second, and his children and grandchildren third. (If he were here right now, he would be correcting me and stating his grandchildren and then his children! I never knew a more devoted grandfather.)
I wish my daddy didn’t have to die, and I wished he didn’t have to die today … but there is peace knowing that he is worshipping Jesus face-to-face.
Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. ~Psalms 116:15
(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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For my 40th birthday (which wasn’t all that long ago), God Himself gave me a very special gift … a life verse.
The term life verse is taken directly from the “Dictionary of Christian~ese.” Okay, not really. However, if you don’t frequent churches or are perhaps new to the faith, then it is quite possible that you aren’t familiar with this terminology. Life verse basically refers to a scripture that is deeply personal, and perhaps when you read it you feel as though God is leaning down and whispering directly into your ear. Life verses tend to address a theme that appears over and over again in your life, telling of how God has worked in you or through you. It’s like the mission statement of your life.
So back to my 40th birthday and my gift from God, which was, as I said previously, my life verse. The back story is that I had always wanted a life verse. I can’t tell you the number of times I had prayed and asked God for a wonderful life verse. Over the years, I had scriptures that I loved and held particularly close to my heart, but I knew that none of them were my life verse. In fact, I had finally reached the conclusion that I probably was one of those people who just didn’t have a life verse. On top of that, I was turning 40, which was turning out not to be all that fun. I suppose I felt old and useless as I approached what was likely the second half of my life.
Anyway, a sweet friend of mine, who was keenly aware of my emotional struggles (at least the part about turning 40) gave me a birthday sunshine box … a box filled with a week’s worth of small tokens and treasures, one to open each day. Each small gift was wrapped and on the outside was a scripture that gave a clue as to what was inside. Each morning I allowed the children to pick a gift so that we could all guess as to what might be inside.
As the morning of my birthday dawned, I have to admit that did not feel like it was in any way a happy day. My husband was working out of town. And frankly, I just wanted to pull the sheets over my head and sleep the day away. But before the sun was very high in the sky, those five lively kids of mine were singing the birthday song and pulling the next gift out of my sunshine birthday box. And the gift they placed in my hand that morning was wrapped up and tied with a ribbon that was attached to a card containing the following words that changed my life.
My heart is moved by a noble theme as I recite my verses to the king; my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer. ~Psalm 45:1 (HCSB)
The instant I read those words, I knew it was my life verse. I’ve always loved to write. It’s how I express myself. It’s how I find myself. Moreover, it’s how I find God. In my youth and young adulthood, I wrote for me. But in my 30’s, I had found joy in learning to write for God … to please Him and to share His love through words. Truthfully, I longed to do more with my writing, but I had no idea what or how. So for God Himself to reveal to me a plan for my future that included writing … well, for once, words fail me.
Since that September morning, I’ve been praying in a knock, seek, ask sort of way. I’m daring to dream and believing that God has plans to use me by allowing me to write for Him. It’s the start of something new … not because I’m new to writing, but rather I’m new to believing that my writing is useful to God and to His purposes. I’m new to dreaming that He will take my writing places I never dreamed it might go. And I’m new to expecting God to use my writing to encourage others, especially ordinary women just like me, to know Him more.