Ripples

 

My maternal grandmother died yesterday.

The old adage goes, “There’s no place like home.” That’s probably true, though I might make one small change:

There’s no place like home … except Grandma’s house.

I remember driving up to my grandparents’ home at 407 Kelly Street in Woodville, Texas. My brother and sister and I could hardly wait for my mom to park the car before we jumped out and raced through the kitchen door, each of us trying to be first!

My grandmother would look up, and say in a delighted voice, “Look here … it’s those Terry children! I was just telling Daddy Red that you would be getting here just about any minute now, and here you are! I am so glad to see you!”

Baby Paige with Red and Thelma
My first visit to my grandmother’s home in Woodville, TX.

I spent many summer days at my grandmother’s home. She loved to host a “cousins’ week” for all her grandkids. No parents allowed. Just our grandparents and our great-grandmother and all seven of us grandchildren.

Boy, did we have some fun adventures!

We went set up tents and camped out in the backyard … at least until humidity melted us and the mosquitos got us and the night noises spooked us. Then one-by-one we snuck back inside to the a/c.

We swam in the backyard pool until we were too tired to enjoy our popsicles. We walked around the block and down the street to the old cemetery. We picked berries, played loud games of dominos (Chicken Foot was our favorite, but we liked Mexican Train too), and watched old Jimmy Stewart movies in the heat of the afternoon.

Breakfast never arrived without watching cartoons in bed with my grandmother and large mugs of coffee milk served by my grandfather. Lunch was never served without a big plate of sliced tomatoes, and there was always rice with brown gravy for dinner. Bedtime never came without big bowls of Blue Bell ice cream. (If we picked enough berries, rather than eating them all straight off the bushes until our bellies ached, our great-grandmother would bring over a big berry cobbler for us to eat with that ice cream.)

Galveston trip 1982
Riding the ferry to Galveston Island, circa 1981

Those summers with our grandparents weren’t complete without a short trip.  Sometimes they took us to Galveston Island, where the best part of the whole day was crossing over to the island on the ferry and feeding the seagulls bread that we tossed into the air. Other times we went fishing at nearby Dam B (later renamed Martin Dies, Jr. State Park) near Jasper, TX.  On other occasions they would take us to visit my grandfather’s family in Lufkin.

My grandmother was a talented seamstress. She always had multiple sewing projects going on at the same time, as evidenced by the pile of bright fabrics by the sewing machine and the perpetually set-up ironing board next to it.

My cousins and I often wore matching holiday dresses. I was the oldest so I wore my dress only one season. My poor baby sister had to wear her dress, then my cousin Steffi’s dress, and later on my dress. If you look at old family photos, it seems that my sister Brooke only ever owned about 2 dresses for her entire childhood.

Thelma Paige Steffi
My cousin Steffi and I wear our matching dresses, circa 1975.

My grandmother loved to host “hot water tea parties” with her granddaughters.

She would cover a large cardboard box or coffee table with an old sheet. Next, my grandmother had us set the table. We would pick a small bouquet of flowers from around the yard and set it in a vase on the center. Then we took the tiny tea set from her china cabinet and set out the cups and saucers, the sugar bowl with tiny sugar cubes, the milk in the pitcher. Meanwhile, my grandmother added some hot water (or rarely a weak tea) to the teapot. She put a plate of pink sugar wafer cookies on a pretty plate and set that on the table too.

Now we were all ready to enjoy our tea party.  My grandmother acted as hostess. You had to wait for the hostess to serve the food before you could eat, and no one could slurp their tea. Sometimes we brought our baby dolls, and practiced introducing our “children” to our friends.

Later on, when I was about 10 years old, my grandmother gave me about five old teacups. I kept them on a shelf in my room, and in high school I decided I liked them so much that I started collecting teacups. Each time I look at my teacups, I am reminded of my grandmother and her hot water tea parties.

My grandmother also introduced me to England’s royal family.

Okay, she didn’t actually introduced me … but she is the one who turned me into an Anglophile, or lover of all things English.

During my teen years, my grandmother and I often discusses Princess Diana and Fergie. Years later, when I watched the movie The King’s Speech, I recall how my grandmother had shared this story with me during my childhood.  If I ever get to travel to England, which I hope I actually get to do, I know I’ll wish I could return home to share all about my English adventures with my grandmother.

There is so much more that I could tell about my grandmother …  for example, she was an avid traveler who visited 49 of the 50 states in this great nation, but loved Texas best of all. And while all of those things are special to me and the rest of us who loved her, there is truly only one important thing about her life.

Thelma Kay Easter 1948
With my mother, her oldest daughter, on Easter Sunday 1948, perhaps a year after her salvation . 

One a stormy night in 1947, as she rocked my infant mother in her arms, my grandmother decided that she was going to follow God. The next morning, she told my grandfather that she intended to join the church and be baptized the following Sunday. According to her, he didn’t say a word and the subject never came up again during the next few days. She assumed that he wasn’t going to try to dissuade her from joining the church, but he wasn’t going to join her either.

On Sunday morning, as the music for the invitation began, my grandmother moved to step out into the aisle. My grandfather stepped out of the pew, she thought to simply allow her to get out … but then he took her hand in his and together they walked forward to join the church. They were both baptized and spent the rest of their lives dedicated to their faith in Jesus Christ and in Christian service.

From leading GA’s (Girls in Action missions) when her daughters were young to traveling the nation building churches with the Volunteer Christian Builders during retirement to knitting prayer blankets when she was homebound, my grandmother loved sharing her faith in her Savior and using it to bless others.

Her one decision, made as a young mother,  has rippled through my family through the generations, paving the way for the salvation of her husband, her daughters, her seven grandchildren and her 29 great-grandchildren.

Her’s is a legacy worth leaving. Her’s is a life well-lived.

Thelma Kay Wedding Corsage
All grandmothers are made of gold … but mine sparkles! ~Unknown

And sparkle, she did!

She was a beautiful, vibrant woman with a bright mind, big heart, and a bold personality.

Yesterday, she left this earthly home for her heavenly one.

I sort of imagine her hearing her Savior say as she walked through the pearly gates and onto the streets of gold, “Look here … It’s Thelma McGee! I was just telling the Father that you would be arriving any minute now, and here you are! I am so glad to see you!”

I will miss her.

young Thelma
Thelma Stinson McGee, November 12, 1926 – July 8, 2019

 

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Spending the Night with Ma

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

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

Yet there I was … Ma’s protector.

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

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ 

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

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

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

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

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

My father would go and there we would sit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As I ate my snack, Ma would talk.

She had only two topics of conversation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I always felt rather conflicted about this arrangement.

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

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

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

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

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

scoobydoo
Scooby-Doo and Shaggy

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

It seemed like the perfect solution to my sleeping dilemma!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I waved as he stepped through the kitchen door.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image-2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julia and the Cadaver

One week ago today, Julia had knee surgery. 

knee-clipart-1208889-Clipart-Of-A-Vintage-Black-And-White-Bandaged-Knee-Royalty-Free-Vector-Illustration

Unfortunately, this wasn’t her first.

Julia had her first knee surgery at the tender age of 12, thanks to bad genetics and a knee injury that resulted from running in the house.  (There is a reason mothers tell their children not to run inside the house.)

Two years later, my daughter has gone through months of physical therapy, as well as acquired an extensive collection of knee braces. Some are full-leg braces; some simply support only the knee area. She has two different hinge braces that allow a range of motions. Her current brace has a steel rod in the back to completely immobilize the knee. (If you know of someone who needs a knee brace, give me a call. We probably have one in stock that will work!)

Julia and I have been through quite a bit with her right knee.

Still, being told she needed a second knee surgery wasn’t something I felt prepared for. I felt even less prepared when the doctor informed me that during this surgery, he would be giving my girl new tendons. Repairing an injured knee is totally different than reconstructing a knee.  Somehow it all felt so much more invasive.

Actually, the point I began to grow truly concerned happened at the very moment Julia’s orthopedic surgeon mentioned that the new tendons would come from a donor. Specifically a cadaver donor. At the word cadaver,  I stiffened (pun intended!) … not so much because the idea of using tendons from a cadaver bothered me, but rather because I feared what my teenage daughter’s reaction might be.

Julia either didn’t notice or didn’t care or just didn’t know what the word cadaver meant. She had no response or reaction whatsoever. Rather than try to figure out the reason behind her non-chalant attitude, I decided right then and there that I wasn’t going to risk drawing attention to it by asking her questions. And so for the next two months, no one said anything at all about the use of cadaver tendons in regards to Julia’s upcoming knee reconstruction.

In fact, nothing else was said about tendons at all until the very morning of the surgery when the doctor came by to see Julia right about the time she was getting ready to have her initial dose of “happy” meds.

“Looks like you are nearly ready to do this thing.  We’ll get those new tendons grafted on in no time, and…”

Wait!” Julia interrupted.  “What do you mean ‘graft on new tendons?’ Where are you getting them?”

The doctor paused and looked at Julia for several long seconds before answering, “Well, we have these tendon grafts that we will put in your knee. They will soon attach to the other muscles and ligaments and bones, so that your knee will be properly supported.  It’s really pretty simple and before long you’ll have a brand-new knee.”

“But where are you getting these grafts?”  Julia persisted.

“I ordered them from a medical supply company,”  he answered with a smile. And with that, Julia’s wise doctor quickly moved on to discussing her care after surgery.

I thought that would be the end of the discussion.

It wasn’t.

Within two hours of coming out of surgery, Julia was not only awake, but also asking questions. “Mom, where are my old tendons? Did he take them out of my body? And I still don’t know where the new ones came from.” Thankfully, she was still in a rather groggy state, so it was easy to distract her.

But soon the anesthesia wore off. As Julia’s mind grew more alert, she continued to pepper me with questions about her tendons, both the new ones and the old ones.  The more time passed by, the more intense her questioning became. My tactic of being vague wasn’t working as well, and yet I couldn’t imagine telling Julia the entire truth either.

After we got home from the hospital, I told Jon my fears of her reaction if she ever discovered exactly where those new tendons came from. “She might well cry for hours once she finds out! ” I fretted.

Jon reassured me. “Eventually, she will stop asking questions and life will move on. Until then, it’s okay to give her vague answers. I don’t think you should tell her lies, but you shouldn’t feel pressured to lay out the full truth about exactly where those tendons came from until you think she is ready to handle that information.”

I felt only slightly comforted at my husband’s words. The pressure continue to build. I knew my daughter well enough to know that as soon as she could, she would ask me about her new tendons again … and again and again.

Not very many hours passed until my prediction came true. As the rest of the family left for church and other Wednesday night activities, Julia was left alone with me. The door had barely shut behind the last person when the questions started.

“So mom … did I trade tendons with someone?”

I smiled (sort of a weak smile) and said, “You are really curious about your new tendons.”

“I guess. I just want to know about them.”

“Well, Julia … trading with someone wasn’t an option. The doctor said your tendons were in bad shape. They were stretched out and floppy. He even described them as being frayed. No one can use a tendon like that.”

“Yeah … I see your point. I figured that wasn’t right. But where did they come from? Tell me … please … come on.  I mean, they had to come from somewhere. You just can’t make a tendon out of plastic.”

“You are right about that. Tendons aren’t made from plastic.”

“So, did the doctor take my tendons out of someone’s leg who had an amputation?”

There was a long pause as I waited, unsure of what to say next.

Then, almost as if talking to herself, Julia continued. “No, that wouldn’t make sense. If their leg was amputated, then probably their tendons would be in bad shape too … maybe even in worse shape than my leg.”

Again, there was another long pause. I looked down, unable to watch Julia’s face for fear of giving something away. I could tell her mind was racing and whirring with ideas. Part of me was fearful she would figure out the answer, and yet I was fascinated to see how she worked through various ideas logically.

“Or maybe they took my new tendons out of a dead person … WAIT … that’s it, isn’t it? I must have dead person tendons! Oh, my gosh! I think I have figured it out! Mom, tell me! Am I right? Do I really have dead person tendons?”

I glanced up, still not able to really speak. But that’s all it took for Julia to know with 100% certainty that she had stumbled upon the truth.

“Oh, I am right! I figured it out all by myself!  Just think … I have dead body parts inside of me. That means … oh … oh … wait, this is almost too weird to think about, but you know what that means, Mom? It means I am both dead and alive at the same time! Now that’s crazy!” 

I watched as her shock turned to giggles and finally to full-blown laughter. This child wasn’t upset about having cadaver tendons; she was delighted about it!

It wasn’t long before her siblings came home, and Julia wasted no time letting them in on her amazing news.

“Nathan! Come here! I gotta tell you something you will never guess! Get this … I am DEAD on the inside! No … really, it’s true. The surgeon put dead person tendon’s in my legs, so while I am alive on the outside, part of me is dead too!  Isn’t that the coolest thing ever?!  It’s the weirdest thing to think that I have some random dead person’s tendons!”

Actually, that wasn’t the weirdest thing.  

The weirdest thing was the next question my daughter asked … 

“Hey mom … do you think you can find out the name of the dead person who gave me my tendons? I mean, if we found out, then I could go to their grave to say thank you. It’s the least I can do.”

~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~   ~~~

Julia isn’t the only one who is dead, and yet also alive.

You see, I am also dead in my sins, yet my spirit is alive in Christ.  Let me explain …

Over in the New Testament of the Bible, there is a verse that says the wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23)

But actually, you can find that lesson right at the very beginning of the Bible … smack in the middle of the Garden of Eden, right about the time when Adam and Eve first sinned and brought forth a world filled with all sorts of woes.

Before sin, Eden was perfect. Not only was it a beautiful paradise, but there was no death, no animosity between creatures, no heartaches or sorrows or sickness. Life was perfect for Adam and Eve.

Perhaps best of all, there was but just one rule for them to keep:

And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden,  but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” ~Genesis 2:16-17 (ESV)

But read Genesis chapter 3 and you discover that Adam and Eve didn’t obey God’s one simple rule. They allowed themselves to be tempted by the snake. The snake asked Eve, “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden’?”  

Eve, who knew the truth, answered back that they indeed could eat freely from any tree in the Garden except for one. And she added, “God said, ‘You must not eat it or touch it or you will die.'”

And the snake … oh that cunning snake … he replied, “No! You will not die. In fact, God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Pride. It’s the downfall of nearly every human on this planet. We think that we know as much or better than God Himself. We get ourselves into all sorts of trouble because we refuse to do what God has shown us is right, believing our own way to be better than His.

So Eve, wanting to be like God, ate the fruit. And death entered the world.

Or did it?

When I was a child, I used to think, “But Adam and Eve didn’t die! They just got kicked out of the Garden of Eden, and God made them some clothes to wear. The snake was right. They didn’t die!”

But they did die … eventually. And that’s the thing my childish brain didn’t grasp. The truth is that had Adam and Eve never sinned, then they would have never ever died physically. They would have lived right there in that garden paradise forever.

But they did sin, and death entered the world on that awful day.

In fact, even though the physical death didn’t come in that moment to Adam and Eve, the world’s first death actually did happen on that day.  God Himself killed animals in order to make clothes for Adam and Eve. In this way, the very first death was also an act of love.

Yet all of it happened because of the sin of human pride and willful disobedience.

The root of all sin is found in the very words of the serpent.  “You will be like God!” And right there is the core of it all … we humans think we should be like God.

The Bible tells us this can never be. We are unable to be like God.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.  “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55: 8-9)

God is God and we are not. How simple it sounds! Yet it is incredibly hard to lay down our arrogance and pride. We want more than anything to do things our way, to believe that our finite minds comprehend things better than God.

But the truth is, we have very little ability to keep ourselves from sinning, no matter how hard we might try. Have you tried not telling a lie? Not judging someone else? Not listening to gossip? Just as Adam and Eve managed to sin when there was only just one rule, we are prone to sinning too.

Unfortunately, all sin comes with a cost … death.

Remember Romans 8:10? For the wages of sin is death.

One sin. Not multiple sins repeated over and over. Not a lifetime of sinning. Not when your sins outweigh the good things you did during your life.

No, the Bible is clear. Sin (singular) brings about death. And not just physical death, but also a spiritual death.

God, who is holy and righteous and perfect, cannot be in the presence of sin. So, if you are a sinner (raise your hand here), then you are doomed to be separated from God eternally.

But God is not only a God of justice. He is also full of mercy.

Think back on Genesis and the Garden of Eden. Imagine those moments just after Adam and Eve ate the fruit. Emotions they didn’t know immediately flood their souls … recognition of their nakedness, shame, fear of God finding out, trying to find a way out of their current situation, the sting of failure.  None of these emotions had ever been felt in the perfect world of Eden before sin.

The Bible tells us that God finds Adam and Eve hiding in the bushes. He talks to them and they confess what they have done. God would have been completely right had he killed them on the spot. After all, He told them that eating the fruit would cause them to die.

Instead God clothes them. 

Love. Mercy. Compassion. It’s all there in that one moment.

The Bible tells us something else about God. He never changes. Ever.  (Don’t believe me? Read Numbers 23:19, Hebrews 13:8, and James 1:17.)  If God never changes, then just as He had love, mercy, and compassion for Adam and Eve, so He does for us.

Adam and Eve still had many consequences as a result of their sinful disobedience. There was a price to pay, as well as an eventual physical death that they should have never had to experience. But they also got to experience God’s mercy.

The good news is that there is still mercy for us today.

God doesn’t want any of us to die and be separated from Him and His love for eternity. So He sent His son Jesus to live a perfect life (in an imperfect world) without sinning a single time. And then Jesus took the punishment for our sins … and though he died on the cross, Jesus was not defeated by death. He conquered it by rising from the dead.  And because of that, all we have to do is surrender our pride and our hearts to Him. To admit our sin and our need for a perfect God. To lay down doing things our way (because we think our way is better), and live instead doing things God’s way.

And then, even though we all will eventually die physically, our souls will spend eternity in the presence of God. In other words, even though our bodies are dying day by day, our soul is full of the life found in the Holy Spirit of God.

So just like Julia said … I might be dead in my sins, but I am alive in Christ Jesus!

But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. ~Romans 8:10 (ESV)

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My daughter Julia had some really bad knees, but thankfully she was able to get a new set of tendons that came from a cadaver donor. At the end of her recovery, she’ll have knees that work better than ever. That’s a wonderful gift, and we are so grateful!

I don’t need new tendons in my knees. Chances are, you don’t either. But every single one of us is dead on the inside, trapped in our sins, desperately in need of the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ. The good news is that God is waiting to give you this amazing gift … and trust me,

It’s the best gift you could ever receive!

 

 

Late and Lost: Lousy Words for Today

My husband Jon woke up late this morning. He needed to leave the house by 6 am to get to work on time, but for some reason it was 5:50 am before either of us woke up. Waking up late is never a good way to start the day.

Maddie works on Tuesdays and Thursdays at a local church’s Mother’s Day Out program. She doesn’t have to leave for work until 7:30 am, but in order for her to get ready in time she has to be woken at 6 am. I felt thankful that I wasn’t late for waking up Maddie … but I might as well have been.

You see, Maddie quickly realized that she lost her work shirt. She searched high and low. Jon, who I mentioned earlier was already running late, stepped in to help Maddie search for the missing garment. It was all to no avail. The work shirt was very much lost. Losing something as important as a work shirt is also not a good way to start the day.

As I poured myself a cup of coffee, I realized it was raining outside … again. It’s been raining since last Friday. Another day of no sunshine. Another day of being stuck inside the house.

“What a lousy day this is turning out to be!” I thought. 

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Some days are just lousy, even if you aren’t running late or losing important items.  We’ve all been there. Everyone has experienced a day (or two …  or three) when from the start it all goes wrong.

In the past, whenever I have fretted about one thing or another not going quite right, my mother would remind me, “Paige, one thing you can count on is that in this world you will have trouble. But think of it this way …  it is the problems and troubles we face that cause us to long for the perfection of heaven.”

She’s right. Today there might be trouble (thankfully just in the form of running late and losing important items and more rain that I’d like), but there is coming a day when I will leave behind this world full of lousy days. Then I will live forever in the presence of holy perfection, which is found only in Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”  ~John 16:33

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BaptistGirlConfession

This post is part of the 2015 A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. If you are visiting due to that, thanks so much for popping in to read today’s post. I hope you will leave me a comment so that I can return the visit to your blog. I love to connect with other bloggers and readers. If you are a regular reader, I hope you’ll stick with me during April when I blog about the stories of my faith.

 

All That Really Matters

This morning, at about 4 am, my grandfather left this earth and entered the gates of heaven.

I’m sad. He is my father’s father, so in a way the grief from my father’s death feels fresh all over again. And yet, there is also peace and even joy. My grandfather knew the Lord personally and the comfort of that is a precious gift in the middle of the pain of losing our family patriarch.

In memory of my grandfather, I am sharing an essay written nearly two years ago by my daughter Maddie. It was a school assignment to interview someone and then write up the interview. I’ve always cherished that she chose my grandfather and the words she wrote about him.

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All That Really Matters

written by Maddie Hamilton

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

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

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

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

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

Papaw recalls everyone had a vegetable garden, mended their clothes, and learned how to “make do” with whatever they already had on hand. “Every little thing was used,” Papaw told me. To illustrate the point, Papaw told me the story of how he once asked his mother for pet dog. “What will we feed it?” she asked him. Papaw told her that the dog could eat the table scraps. His mother said, “No, Herbert. We use the scraps to make a pudding.” And Papaw said that’s exactly what she did — leftover rice became rice pudding, leftover bread became bread pudding and leftover corn became a corn pudding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Papaw

James Herbert Terry

September 19, 1923 – March 6, 2015

A Baptist Girl’s Ash Wednesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I had only one Catholic friend growing up.

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

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

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

the-sound-of-music-17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Jon wasn’t sympathetic to my desires.

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

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

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The next day was Ash Wednesday. Instead of being greeted by giddy nurses wearing beads, this morning everyone who walked into the hospital room seemed much more somber. The lively spirit from the day before was completely gone.

I questioned Jon about it.

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

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

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

And when we got up to leave, we both had an ash cross marked upon our foreheads.

photo credit: wikipedia.org
photo credit: wikipedia.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  ~ John 4:16

Pushing All the Wrong Buttons

Last week my husband Jon became a grandfather … sort of.   He’s not exactly a grandfather, but yet in a round about way he could be considered one. It’s rather complicated but here goes.

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In Jon’s previous marriage, he had a stepson. Ethan.

Jon first met Ethan when he was a tiny toddler, and married his mother when Ethan was around two. For the next twelve years, Jon raised Ethan as his own son.

Jon taught him how to throw a football, ride a bike, and drive a car.

He was there for boy scout camp-outs and the time Ethan was taken to the ER to have a cast put on his broken arm.

Cheering. Disciplining. Worrying. Praying. Jon did the same sorts of things for Ethan that all good dads do for their sons.

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I’m sure you see what’s coming. It’s fairly obvious. Since I’m now married to Jon (and I’m not Ethan’s mother) it is rather clear at some point Jon’s marriage to Ethan’s mother failed.

In the spring 2008, Ethan’s mom had to leave her marriage to Jon (for reasons I will not get into on this blog). As with any divorce, Ethan and his two younger half-sisters went through some difficult experiences during this time. In the end, a judge decided both girls would live full-time with Jon, while Ethan, who was 14 years old, would be allowed to live with his mother.

By the time Jon and I had begun dating in the late fall of 2009, Ethan’s visits to Jon’s home had become sporadic at best.  It wasn’t long before Ethan’s visits ceased altogether.  Eventually Ethan did not want to see Jon at all, which hurt Jon deeply though he did his best to hide it.   It became clear Ethan was angry with Jon for some unknown reason. All of Jon’s attempts to reach out to Ethan seemed to have little affect.

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For the past four years, Jon has had very limited contact with Ethan. On rare occasions, Jon might see Ethan briefly when he dropped off his daughters to see their mom. But even in those short moments of contact, Ethan greeted Jon with an awkward reception.

Jon, not wanting to push Ethan further away, tried to give him space and time to work through his emotions. He ached to do more than send  birthday and Christmas gifts. He longed to do more than pray for the boy he loved like a son. And yet, how do you show love to someone who doesn’t want your love?

And as for Ethan … well, after a year or so, he no longer appeared to be angry, but more unsure of how to make amends.

The longer the rift was there, the harder it seemed to build a bridge to cross over the gulf separating the two from each other.

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Last fall we heard the news second-hand.

Ethan, now a high school senior, had gotten his girlfriend Marlee pregnant.  Jon and I  were thankful to learn Ethan and his girlfriend were planning to have their baby, and that Ethan immediately began to assume responsibilities for taking care of his girlfriend and their baby.

Last Thursday, Ethan’s girlfriend gave birth to their baby, a sweet boy they named Noah.

Of course, Jon’s two girls were over the moon with excitement. As soon as they heard the news, there began to be a flurry of excitement, as they were eager for their mother to come get them so they could go to the hospital and hold their new nephew.

As they rushed to get ready, Jon glumly ate his lunch. He made a comment about not knowing why he felt so out-of-sorts, to which I responded, “Well, I think I do. You do realize if things had gone another way, today you would be at the hospital too, celebrating the arrival of your first grandson, right? But you aren’t there, and a part of you is grieving for what isn’t.”  

Squeezing my hand, Jon’s eyes lit with recognition.  With an air of certainty, he said, “I’ve got to text him. Maybe he will let me come see the him and Marlee and the baby at the hospital.”  I could tell Jon was only barely hopeful at this thought, as if he anticipated he might be denied the privilege.

Soon a text message was sent, and fortunately the reply was quick. Ethan agreed to a hospital visit the following day.  A look of relief washed over Jon’s face. I don’t know if I have ever seen a happier father than Jon in that moment.

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From the start, Jon was smitten. I knew he would be. After all, a baby is a baby, and there is nothing more precious than newborn just hours old.

We met Ethan by chance in the hallway, where we spent a few moments just catching up.  While their reunion cannot exactly be described as joyful or warm, it wasn’t completely awkward either. As he had hoped, Jon found a way to express some key thoughts to Ethan without becoming overly sappy or emotional … how proud he was of Ethan for choosing to do the right thing in a difficult situation, how he loved him, and how he would always be there if Ethan ever needed anything.

Moments later, we walked into the small hospital room, meeting the young mother for the first time. I’ll never forget Marlee’s sweet smile as she asked Jon if he would like to hold the baby. And boy, did he!  He scooped that tiny 8 lb bundle of joy into his arms. Jon looked down at the baby with the same expression I’ve seen on many a proud grandfather’s face.

Jon and I left the hospital encouraged. Ethan was open to us being there, even accepting our invitation to celebrate his birthday (hopefully with mother and baby too) at a restaurant at the end of the month. We have hope the relationship between Jon and Ethan will be restored.

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Press-Button

Perhaps you are wondering why this post is titled Pushing All The Wrong Buttons.  Well, give me a minute … I’m getting there.

You see, when Jon and I were leaving the hospital, I had trouble figuring out how to get out. To leave the mother/baby ward, you had to push a button to open the doors. I kept pushing the button on the wall next to the door. It was clearly marked PUSH TO OPEN. Yet each time I pushed it, nothing happened. Finally a nurse on the other side of the door indicated that I should actually be pushing a different button, one that was unmarked as well as farther away from the door we were trying to exit. Once I pushed the right button, we were able to walk through open doors with ease.

Moments later, we stepped onto the elevator. I pushed the button I thought was marked with a 1 for the first floor. Nothing happened. I pushed it again. Still no movement. It wasn’t until I went to push it the third time that Jon noticed the button I had been pushing all along didn’t really have a 1 on it after all. Again, once I finally pushed the correct button, the elevator immediately began to move.

All I wanted to was to be able to leave the hospital. But none of the buttons I pushed would let me out. That is … not until someone showed me the right buttons to push.

All Jon has wanted is to restore his relationship with Ethan. No matter how hard he tried, nothing seemed to work.

That is … nothing worked until God showed Jon the right way to begin to restore the relationship with Ethan.

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Have you ever been in a situation where you felt like you lost something you treasured?  Perhaps it was a relationship or a particular circumstance in life. Maybe you’ve lost financial security, health, or even a combination of things.

When my first husband unexpectedly walked out of our 14 year marriage, I lost more than just a husband. I lost financial security, the ability to homeschool my children, the privilege of staying at home to focus on being a mom.

For a period of time, I “pushed buttons” in an effort to not lose these things in addition to my marriage and my husband. I didn’t understand why God allowed me to lose them. I had no idea of how to get them back. All I knew is whatever I tried didn’t work.

locusts

One of my favorite aspects of God’s character is how He loves to bless His children, to give us the desires of our heart.  (Psalm 34:4)  God is also a God of restoration.  In Joel 2:25, we read the promise of God to the Israelites:

I will restore to you the years that the locust has eaten.

I think God still likes to do this for His children now. He loves to give us back what we have lost. It might not look the quite the same, but so often we find at some point in our future the thing we feared was gone forever has been returned to us.

After my divorce, my children had to go to public school and later a private school. Three years later, I married Jon, and to my delight the Lord blessed again me again with the privilege of homeschooling my children.

It is because of this essence of God’s character that I have hope for Jon to find that his relationship with Ethan will one day be fully restored. Ethan may never again call him “Dad” and perhaps Noah will never quite look to him as a grandfather … but because God is always actively working and moving in the lives of His children, I continue to believe in the hope of restoration.

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What has God restored to you?

How has He been faithful to you in the giving you back the years eaten away by the locusts? 

Leaving on a Jet Plane … Soon and Very Soon

“It’s 10 am, Mom.  You know what that means … it’s officially just a week left! Dad said he would pick us up at 10 am next Friday, and then we are off  on our trip! Do you think I should start packing today?”

germany

 

Three of my children are preparing to leave. In just 168 hours (according to Nathan’s latest update), they will walk out the door, suitcases in hand, to board a jet plane headed for Germany where they will spend the first half of the summer visiting their dad.

Eager. Enthusiastic. Wired with excitement. These words describe the mood of my three first-time world travelers.

Each day now is spent with an attitude of preparation and expectation for this highly anticipated trip. My kids are impatient for their father’s return, even though he will be taking them to a place they have never seen. None of them doubt their dad will do as he said, and come for them.  Moreover, they are eager for his return, filled with anticipation for the journey ahead, and trust implicitly everything will be just as their father has told them it will be.

And as sad as I am to see them go away for six long weeks, I can’t blame them. If I were in their shoes, I would also be excited to embark on the adventure of a lifetime! I just wish I had plane tickets to join them. I wish I could pack my bags and experience the excitement of going to a new country for the very first time.

Unfortunately, I’m not invited. All I can do is prepare myself to say goodbye, and pray they bring me back some German chocolate as a souvenir.

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As a Christian, I too am preparing for a trip. I also have a Father who has promised to return for me, to take me to a place I’ve never seen.

In John chapter 14, Jesus said these words:

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”  

~John 14:1-3

As I watch my children excitedly prepare for their earthly father’s anticipated arrival, I wonder if the way I live my life here on this earth reflects that one day (possibly soon) my Heavenly Father will come for me, and take me to a new place,  a home which I have never seen.

The difference is my children know the exact time their trip will begin. So they are able to count down the days, hours and even minutes. They have also seen pictures of Germany. The list of sites they hope to see grows longer each day, as they peruse the internet and scour travel guides from the library. The Ann Frank House, Neuschwanstein Castle, a hike in the Alps, a visit to Europa Park (a large amusement park in Germany) … so many interesting places to go and new things to experience! And even though they haven’t yet embarked on their travels, this trip feels as real as a trip to the grocery store.

Yet, the reality of heaven quite often feels to me like a dream or a made-up fantasy. Perhaps if I had a specific date or a few  photos to view, the journey would seem more of a certainty.  But I don’t have a date to circle on the calendar.  And other than the Bible, there are no travel books to tell me more about heaven’s glory. I can’t look at pictures or talk to someone who has visited there.

But I do know heaven is just as real as any place on earth, more wonderful and perfect than I can begin to imagine, and my Jesus will come to take me there Himself. I don’t need expensive tickets, just faith and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ are all I need to be invited to travel there.

I’m eager to go check out heaven … just as soon as Jesus comes to take me home!

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What about you? Do you believe heaven is real? Are you ready to travel when the Savior returns? 

If not, I hope you will ask me how you can get your “free ticket” today.

No sandals, no flip-flops … no business!

The conversation that follows was one overheard yesterday while running afternoon errands:

Joel (age 14):  Sometimes you see stores with signs that say “No shirt, no shoes, no service.”  I’ve never really seen people walking around without their shirts on, but a lot of people don’t wear appropriate shoes. If I ever own a business, I am not serving people who don’t wear shoes, and that includes flip-flops. If you come to my business and want me to serve you, you’ve got to wear footwear that covers your complete foot, toes and all.” 

Nathan (age 12): What about sandals? A lot of people like to wear sandals.

Joel:  Sandals don’t count because the foot practically hangs out. Sandals and flip-flops are essentially the same thing as going barefoot. 

Nathan:  So I guess you aren’t going to run a Christian business. That’s sad, Joel.

Joel:  I didn’t say that. Of course, my business will be Christian. I’m just not going to serve people who don’t wear real shoes. 

Nathan:  Well, you said you weren’t serving people who wore sandals. Jesus wore sandals. So based on what you’ve said, if Jesus came to your business you would turn Him away. 

Joel:  Jesus was different. Besides, Nathan, I seriously doubt Jesus is going to come walking in my business … and if He were to do so, I’d definitely serve Him. But He’s the only exception to the rule.

Nathan:  That’s hypocritical! You’ll serve Jesus, but not those who imitate Him?  The Bible says we are to imitate Christ.  I think you need to rethink your business plan.

Joel: I am not hypocritical. I just don’t like sandals and flip-flops. I don’t think they are real shoes. Put some real shoes on your feet if you want to do business with me. Trust me, most people who wear sandals are not imitating Jesus!

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One of my favorite parts of parenting is the crazy conversations my children have on a near daily basis. I love hearing their “half-baked” thoughts and ideas, their interpretations of the world around them, and getting a peek into how God is developing their personalities.  Yesterday was no different.

Well … mostly no different.  I have to admit that yesterday’s conversation left my feelings got a bit bruised because I’m a flip-flop lover. Actually, a more accurate statement would be, I’m a foot lover.  But not just anyone’s feet. My feet.  I’m all about pedicures and pretty painted toenails, and cute shoes to show off my lovely toes.

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I don’t know about you, but I tend spend my life rather caught up in myself. My activities. My hobbies. My time. My interests. I don’t spend my time focused on intentionally living for Christ.  After all, in my self-focused world, I’m wearing sandals because I love them, not because I’m seeking to imitate Jesus!

Jesus wasn’t focused on His own feet.  Instead, Scripture depicts Him washing the feet of others.  His feet never rested, for He walked miles over desert roads in ministry to others. Those who recognized who He was, worshipped at His feet, breaking vessels of expensive perfumes over His perfect feet, which would be pierced for my transgressions against a Holy God.

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Don’t get me wrong. I’m not writing this to begin a movement which would push sandals as the “go-to shoe” for Christians because Jesus wore them as He traveled the dusty Israeli roads 2000 years ago.

However, all because of one crazy conversation between my boys, this morning as I put on my favorite pair of comfy sandals, I was reminded to spend my day truly focused on being an imitator of Jesus.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. ~Ephesians 5:1-2

A Prayer for America

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As a Christian, I believe in the power of prayer. As an American, I believe my nation is founded on the greatest principles, and though we have strayed so far from what our founding fathers envisioned, America still offers freedoms which I cherish. Today is the National Day of Prayer, and I’m joining thousands of other Christians in prayer for my country.

Today I am praying the following:

~forgiveness for Christians who are unwilling to stand up for what is right in the eyes of God, who are quick to compromise, and who are blissfully unaware of how our American culture is drifting ever farther from God’s truths

~forgiveness for our national greed, our skyrocketing debt, and our attitude of materialism

~a revival among Christians, with hearts returning to God with a love for His word and His truth

~guidance for our national and state leaders

~and mostly importantly, heal our nation … may God build His kingdom here, beginning in my heart and in my home, on my street, in my city, in my state and my nation.

I am praying. I hope you will pray for America today, too.

 

If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. ~2 Chronicles 7:14