A Baptist Girl Celebrates Lent

Today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent.

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image from Clipart Library

I grew up in north Louisiana, where most people are either Baptist or Pentecostal. My family was Baptist.

Baptists don’t do Lent. Pentecostals don’t do Lent either, for that matter.

To say that Lent was not a big deal in my early life would be the understatement of the year. In fact, I was in high school the first time I heard about Lent, and I was well into adulthood before I even began to understand what it was all about.

Then about 8 years ago, I moved to the very heart of Cajun country, where the people are mostly Catholic.

Catholics do Lent. And it’s a VERY big deal.

So … what’s a Baptist girl, who lives among the Cajuns, supposed to do during Lent?

Well, over time this Baptist girl has learned that Lent can be a very special time that draws a person into a closer relationship with God.  I recognize that many of the practices of observing Lent are actually Biblical truths:

  • fasting
  • making personal sacrifices to honor God
  • being intentional about growing in one’s faith.

 

Lent can certainly be a season of intentionality about faith.

Yet, the Baptist in me would say it shouldn’t be the only time we fast or sacrifice or focus intentionally on our relationship with the Lord.

Kind of similar to Valentine’s Day …

Most people participate in celebrating Valentine’s Day, especially those of us with significant others. But there are those people who outright refuse to participate.

You might hear them say:

“Valentine’s Day is just a commercialize holiday. I can send flowers any day of the year, and it would be far more romantic than doing it on a specific day just because everyone else is sending flowers on that day too.”

This is true.

However, I always want to ask Valentine’s Day protestors:

Do you actually send flowers other days? And exactly how often during the rest of the year do you intentionally romance your spouse?  

Yet, I also know that if Valentine’s Day is the ONLY time a married couple romances each other during the year, that marriage isn’t likely a healthy or happy one.

Romance is important in a marriage. Whether it’s on Valentine’s Day or another day, you gotta have some romantic overtures. Right? Which is why there is nothing wrong with specifically and intentionally making romantic gestures on Valentine’s Day. In fact, in my own experience, I have found that by observing Valentine’s Day, I am reminded to practice being romantic more often in my marriage.

I find the practice of Lent to be quite similar. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with observing Lent. In fact, these practices can be an incredibly worthwhile practice of faith.

But if Lent is the only time you focus on your faith, something is not quite right.

Several years ago, I began to observe Lent in my own special way.

Most people I know choose to give up something for Lent: caffeine, social media, sugar, TV, etc.

I rarely do Lent that way. I suppose it feels too much like a punishment, which seems like the wrong approach. After all, the goal of Lent isn’t to punish myself. The goal is to grow in my faith and relationship with God.

That’s why instead of giving up something for Lent, I choose to make my sacrifice through positive changes. Each Lent I try to pick one new thing to do that I feel like will draw me into a closer relationship with God.

In the past, I have attempted to memorized a lengthy scripture (or one shorter Bible verse each week) or maybe volunteer my free time with a local ministry. But the best thing I ever did for Lent was to read my Bible.

Bible
Image from Clipart Library

Up until a few years ago, I had been hit or miss with daily Bible reading. Truthfully, I was more miss.

I might do really well for a couple of weeks, and then not read the Bible at all (outside of church) for the next month. I could not seem to get into the habit of reading the Bible each day.

As a result, I often felt weak in my faith, as well as guilty for not having a time set aside each day to connect with God personally. I knew I should be reading God’s word, but I just wasn’t disciplined enough to make it happen.

Therefore, that particular Lent I decided my focus was going to be simply reading God’s word each day.

I did not rely on using a devotional book. I didn’t search out any Bible study to help me decide what to read,  or listen to Bible teachers who would give me insights into what I read.

It was just God, me, and my Bible for 15-20 minutes. 

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Image from Clipart Library

Reading the Bible every day has been a faith game changer for me.

You cannot know God if you don’t have interactions with Him. In Christian circles, we talk about how we connect to God, and often the main answer is through prayer.  Prayer is definitely an essential part of the Christian faith. It is when we talk to God.

Bible reading is more about God talking to us. It’s not the only way He speaks into our lives. The Holy Spirit can move us through a myriad of ways, but Bible reading is one of the biggest ways God reveals Himself.

Here are just a few Scriptures that tell us why the Word of God is so important for Christians to know.

Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path. ~ Psalms 119:105

All Scripture is inspired by God, and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. ~ 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Imprint these words of mine on your hearts and mind … Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down, and when you get up. ~ Deuteronomy 11:18-19

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Image from Clipart Library

If knowing God’s Word is important, then we need to be diligent about studying it. 

Back when I was a college student, I spent quite a bit of time studying my textbooks.  I read every assignment diligently, highlighting the important sections and copying facts directly from the text into my notebook. I did this because I wanted to understand the material and make a good grade in my class.

If the Bible is the definitive book on God and Christian living (and it is), then we should diligently study it.

This means actually reading the Bible for ourselves.

All of it. Not just the New Testament. The whole thing. Not skipping over the parts we don’t like or have trouble understanding.

We also shouldn’t replace opening our Bible with the reading of devotionals. There is nothing wrong with reading books specifically about the Christian faith these books cannot begin to compare to actually reading the Bible for ourselves.

The reason for this is that we do not need any other human to interpret the Bible for us. The Holy Spirit is able and willing to impart wisdom to us through the words of the Bible. All we have to do is ask for His wisdom.

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit — the Father will send Him in My name — will teach you all things, and remind you of everything I have told you.  ~ John 14:26

And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. ~ 1Corinthians 2:13

The words of the Bible are unlike any other book. 

The more you read it, the more you will want to read it. The more you begin to understand, the more you realize how much more you still have to learn.

Hebrews 4:12 says this:  For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart.

Simply put: Bible reading is powerful.

Perhaps you are looking for a way to grow in your faith. Maybe you are pondering what you should give up for Lent.

Then allow me to suggest that if you aren’t already in the habit of doing so, a great option would be to make Bible reading a daily habit.

It won’t cost you anything but a few minutes of your time. Simply open your Bible and begin reading.

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Image from Clipart Library

If you don’t know where to start, then I suggest that you begin with the book of John. It is an encouraging book that focuses on who Jesus is, the events of His earthly ministry, and how we can receive the gift of salvation.

Additionally, there are 21 chapters in John, none of which are extremely long. Scientists tell us that it takes about 21 days of consistently doing something new in order to make it a habit. If you read a chapter in John each day, then at the end of the book of John you will have created a new habit of reading the Bible.

Bible reading is perhaps the most powerful thing you can do to grow in faith. 

If you haven’t started this life-changing habit yet, this Lent is a great time to begin! 

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Several years ago, I wrote about my first experiences with Ash Wednesday. It’s by far the most read post on this blog. If you haven’t read it before, or if you would like to reread it, here’s the link:  A Baptist Girl’s Ash Wednesday

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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.

 

In Memoriam of Poppa: A Guest Post by Joel

Joel, age 15
Joel, age 15

This is Joel. He’s my oldest biological child, and the oldest son in our home. A few days ago, I shared this open letter to Joel, writing about how proud I am of him and what a joy it has been to be his mom. It probably describes him better than anything else I could say.

Joel is my high achiever with the big life dreams. He is my hard and diligent worker, who gives everything he does 110%. He is either utterly serious or the biggest clown you’ll ever meet. Tall, lanky, and tenderly sweet … he’s the boy that made me a mom, and I treasure the gift that he is to me.

Today I am proud to share Joel’s essay about his memories of his grandfather. He is my fourth of my five children to guest post for me during the month of April. Next week, I’ll share Megan’s story. But until then, please enjoy …

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In Memoriam of Poppa

Wednesday, September 17, 2014. 7:30 am. My mother’s 42nd birthday. Typically my siblings and I would have woken her up, but today I was the one being shaken awake. Bleary-eyed and fuzzy-headed, I tried to comprehend her words. “Joel, your grandfather has passed away.”

Poppa? Dead? How could that even be possible? Just last night I had talked to him on the phone. Lying back down, I pulled the covers over my head. Maybe it was just a nightmare.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t a bad dream. My family spent the morning, throwing clothes into bags and boarding our two dogs at a local kennel. My mother, who was close to her father, seemed strangely calm as she double-checked our suitcases. She wanted to be sure everyone had packed dress shoes, and that my brother and I had both packed a tie to wear to the funeral. Shortly after 12 pm, everyone piled into the mini-van to drive the two and a half hours up to my grandparents’ home in north Louisiana.

Soon the flat swamp lands of southern Louisiana turned into rolling hills covered with pine trees. As the car sped along the highway, I began to recall the many road trips I had taken with Poppa. I enjoyed nothing more than traveling with him in his white Ford F-150. It didn’t matter to me where we went for I just enjoyed being on the road. Poppa and I both shared a love for just taking a long drive, no particular destination or schedule in mind.

I watched the trees pass by in a blur, and thought about the previous Christmas holiday. As it turned out, I had the opportunity to spend the week prior to Christmas with my grandparents. None of my cousins were there, so I got completely spoiled by my grandmother’s amazing cooking. During the day, Poppa and I drove around the back roads of Catahoula Parish together, making Christmas deliveries of jars of cane syrup to friends. . Sometimes we would go in for a short visit. Other times I would just jump out to leave the jar of cane syrup next to the door. Now I felt sad, knowing it was Poppa’s last Christmas, and yet at the same time glad because I had gotten to spend so much of it with him.

Before I knew it, we were pulling up the hill to my grandparents’ home. Cars were parked everywhere. Inside, there was a small crowd, talking in hushed whispers. Yet, even with all those people, the house felt empty and lonely. Poppa wasn’t there, and suddenly the house I always loved to visit didn’t feel comforting or familiar.

The following day we went to the church for the time of visitation. Slowly, I walked up to the open casket and stared at my grandfather’s body. I realized, as I stood there gazing at the man laid out in the casket, that a part of me still held on to the hope that perhaps everyone was just wrong. My grandfather was still alive and we weren’t about to bury him in the ground after all. Now, that hope was gone. I had seen for myself and I knew it was true. Poppa was dead.

I sat down in one of the empty pews, watching as the pictures of my grandfather’s life scroll by slowly across the screen. Photos of his boyhood, college years, and of the years when my mother was just a child. I didn’t recognize this younger man, though I could see the resemblance he had to the Poppa I knew and loved. Same twinkling eyes. Same happy smile.

Then there were photos of Poppa I clearly remembered, like the one of us standing outside in the yard with the white house on the riverbank behind us in the background. Poppa and Kaytee, my grandmother, had lived there for 15 years. My mother and my siblings and I had lived there with them for two years, after my parents were divorced. I learned to ride a bike down that old gravel drive, Poppa and Mama cheering me on as I pedaled faster and faster. One spring, Kaytee and Poppa planted a garden. I can still remember the feeling of the warm sun on my back as we planted the seeds. And I don’t know who was more excited, Poppa or me, when we started finding ripe tomatoes and cucumbers ready to be picked.

Another photo showed my grandfather at his retirement party, just four years earlier. Poppa had been a high school principal. I used to love to go visit him at “his school.” I really did think he owned it, too. Many afternoons, my mother would bring my brother and sister and me to visit him at his office. We would walk in, and Poppa would beam with delight. The first thing he wanted to do was walk us around the school, proudly showing off his grandchildren to his staff of teachers and to the students. If the gym were not being used for a P.E. class, Poppa would take us there so that we could run up and down the court. Later, before we left, Poppa would walk us to the candy machines. He would pull a key from his pocket and open up the door to reveal all the candy hidden within. “Choose whatever you like,” he would say. I always got the green bag of Skittles. My brother Nathan used to believe that we could have all the candy we wanted for free, but I knew better. I knew because I saw that before Poppa shut the door to the machine, he slipped a five-dollar bill into the coin box, payment for our snack and then some.

That night, we returned to my grandfather’s house. We were quiet and somber, everyone lost in thoughts and memories. How odd it seemed that a person could be so full of life one day and then dead the next! I had been hearing people around me talk. “Why just last Sunday, Malcolm was elected to be the chairman of the deacons at church!” Another mentioned how he was president of the town civic club, and was present at the club’s Monday night meeting. One lady shared how she had carried on a long conversation with my grandfather at the post office on Tuesday morning. I thought about all of this, and pondered proudly that my grandfather had lived right up until he died.

Lying in my bed, I thought of all the things Poppa had taught me: how to shoot a gun; to bait a hook and catch a fish; to drive a truck. Mostly though, he taught me by example how to live for God. Early in the mornings I would get up to see him sitting with his Bible in front of him, reading God’s word. He was a man of prayer, too. No doubt I am a Christian because of my grandfather’s prayers for my salvation. I feel asleep comforted by these thoughts.

The funeral the next day was crowded, the sanctuary of the Baptist church where my grandfather served as a deacon filled to overflowing. I felt honored that he was loved by so many. As I sat there during the funeral, in my heart I came to an understanding that to this day has helped me process my grandfather’s death.

While Poppa may have not lived as long as I would have liked, he left behind memories that I will never forget, a legacy for me to cherish, and a love that I will carry with me until the day that I die. Death may be able separate me from my grandfather, but the one thing it cannot do is put an end to the truths of who he was in Christ or the love that I hold dear for him in my heart.

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On my grandfather’s tombstone are engraved the following words: “The righteous will be remembered forever. ~Psalm 112:6”

Truer words have never been written.

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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.

 

Death Cubed

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

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

Yesterday, in my story Cats, I shared how my husband Jon nearly died from a heart infection caused by the Bartonella bacteria, or Cat Scatch Fever. But today I want to share how Jon was not just spared from death only once, but actually three separate times during those early months of our marriage.

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The First Near-Death Experience

Three months before I started dating Jon, he had open-heart surgery to repair a leaky mitral valve. His recovery seemed slow from the start, and by the following summer (a year after that first surgery), Jon was experiencing a long list of strange symptoms. He was severely fatigued and pale. He constantly ran low-grade fevers, would wake up multiple times a night either soaking in sweat or shaking with severe chills. His muscle and joints ached, his spleen was swollen and tender, and he often felt so nauseous he couldn’t eat.  Jon’s weight plummeted, dropping from 250 lbs prior to the surgery to less than 200 lbs during the fall of 2010.

By the time of his official diagnosis on December 22, 2010, Jon was already in the process of dying.  His kidneys, liver and bone marrow were in the initial stages of beginning to shut down. Thankfully, a team of doctors and nurses were able to reverse that from continuing to happen, though several of his medical caregivers admitted to me in hushed tones that we got him there just in the nick of time.

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

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

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

Nine days later, Jon and I stood before a small crowd of our family and friends, vowing to love each other in sickness and in health. I had high hopes that the sickness part was behind us.

I’ve written a much more detailed and longer post about the miracle of getting Jon’s diagnosis, so if you are interested in that part of the story, you can read it here.

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The Second Near Death Experience

Unfortunately, Jon’s medical story didn’t end with that first hospitalization. A month after our wedding, Jon ended up getting a second open-heart surgery because the heart infection wouldn’t clear up with antibiotics alone. His infected mitral valve was removed and he got a brand-new teflon version that clicks rhythmically with each beat of his heart.

After another three and a half weeks in the hospital, Jon came home. However, it was clear that other areas of his body besides his heart were not functioning correctly. One main area of concern was his kidneys. Doctors couldn’t be sure if his severely weakened kidney function was a side effect of the heart infection or if the kidneys themselves had become infected too. Therefore, it was determined that Jon needed to have a kidney biopsy.

The afternoon following the procedure, Jon looked tired. He said he felt like he needed to rest. Half an hour later, I heard Jon moaning and went to check on him. About the time I entered the bedroom, I saw him stagger from the bed and stumbled toward the bathroom, where he fell to the floor, vomiting. His color was a strange grey; his entire body was covered in a cold sweat. Immediately, I knew something was seriously wrong.

Looking back, I should have called for an ambulance. I didn’t. Instead, I opted to cart Jon to the Emergency Room myself. Several times on the way, I thought Jon was going to pass out. When the triage nurse took his blood pressure, it was something ridiculously low, like 60/40. She immediately put Jon on a gurney stationed in the hospital hallway, as all the rooms in the ER were already filled with patients. Within seconds, doctors and nurses were crowded around Jon, starting IV’s and doing who knows what else. I stood to the side and prayed.

Soon it was established that Jon was experiencing a massive kidney bleed. He lost enough blood to create a blood clot the size of a brick in his back. He needed six units of blood and spent four days in ICU waiting on the kidney to stop bleeding.  After another week in the hospital, Jon was finally able to return home.

Days later, we learned the good news that Jon’s kidneys were not infected.  As happy as I was, I couldn’t believe my husband had nearly died having a medical test just so we could find out nothing was wrong with his kidneys after all.

Surely now, I thought, Jon must be back on the road to good health.

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The Third Near Death Experience

It wasn’t even a month later before the third nearly fatal health crisis came to pass.

Jon had been encouraged to take daily walks in order to build back up his heart stamina. One afternoon during his walk, Jon experienced stabbing chest pains that radiated down his left arm. Once again, we found ourselves rushing off to the Emergency Room.

At the hospital, Jon’s cardiologist ordered an echocardiogram of his heart just to be sure things looked okay. And that’s when the technician doing the test noticed something in Jon’s heart that shouldn’t have been there.

“It looked like squid flapping around in my ventricle,” Jon told me afterward.

“Great,” I replied. “That’s all we need. Squid in your heart.”

Jon’s doctor was baffled by this new development. In the end, he decided to give Jon some antibiotics and do a repeat test 48 hours later. Instead of improvement, the mysterious thing floating in Jon’s heart appeared to have grown significantly.

I stood in the hallway, several of Jon’s doctors and nurses huddled around me, each of them wiping away their own tears. “I don’t know what to do,” his cardiologist confessed. “It appears to me that Jon has a fungal infection in his heart. I’ve never seen anything like this, and I feel it is beyond me to be able to continue to treat Jon. My best suggestion is to find another hospital with a fantastic cardiology department to take him.”

Twenty-four house later, Jon was headed Oscher’s in New Orleans.

That night, Jon and I were greeted by the resident doctor on call. “Mr. Hamilton,” he said. “You do not look like the man described in your charts. I would expected you to appear to be sicker. However, this isn’t unusual. Older people tend to make a slow and steady decline, while younger people do not appear to be succumbing to their illness. They just suddenly die.”

Jon and I stared wide-eyed at this doctor, astounded both by the words and by his terrible bedside manner. This was not the encouraging news I was hoping to hear. I already knew, even without bothering to google fungal heart infections, that the prognosis was not good. Now this intern had just confirmed my suspicions and took away all the hope in my heart. For the first time in this long health crisis, I felt completely defeated. I felt so alone, scared I was about to lose the man I loved.

Jon, despite the fact that his very life was again on the line, seemed to be filled with a courage and a peace that could only come from God. After the doctor left us alone, Jon held my hand and prayed, telling the Lord that no matter what happened, we would continue to believe that  His plans for us were good and that we would choose to trust Him to care for us.

The next day, we met the team of doctors who would be trying to treat the medical mystery Jon had become. Test after test was performed … and it turned out that the biggest mystery of all was that there was no infection of any sort in Jon’s heart.

In fact, the doctors could find nothing but a healthy heart with a mechanical valve ticking away perfectly. The only thing they could see in Jon’s ventricles was the tissues of the cords that used to open and close his mitral valve. The surgeon had forgotten to trim them back during the open heart surgery.

But surely his cardiologist would not confuse these tiny heart tissues for a fungal infection. So where had the infection gone? To this day, that’s the only part of the mystery that remains.

But to me it is no mystery. It is evidence that God once again miraculously healed my husband.

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It’s been four years since my husband fought for his life and nearly lost three times. But in the end God spared him each time.

If you saw Jon today, you would never believe he had ever been so desperately ill. Other than the double scar running the length of his chest and the fact that he can no longer digest gluten or dairy (a lasting result of months of treatments from high-powered antibiotics) he looks, acts and is completely healthy.

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I love to share Jon’s story and how God intervened. It’s testimony to the love and power of God.

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

However, there’s another death that many will spend recalling this weekend … the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. But more than His death, it is His victory over death that provides a way for us to have life everlasting.

Happy Resurrection Weekend! 

Why are you looking for the living among the dead? He is not here, but He has been resurrected! ~ Luke 24: 5-6

Restoration

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I had never really seen the likes of it … dog feces smeared over the wood floors, evidence of roaches littering the bottoms of every kitchen cabinet and drawer, holes in the walls, mold in the bathroom, thick layers of dirt and grime and dust coated everything with a surface.

My husband and children had just spent the weekend helping me clean up my North Louisiana rent home. We carted out piles upon piles of trash, raked up two years worth of leaves, swept and mopped and scoured every surface we could easily reach. And still at the end of those two days of hard work, there was still so very much more to do.

The bathroom leak had been fixed, but now came the work of ripping out all of the molded sheetrock and putting up new. There were several broken ceiling fans and light fixtures which needed to be replaced. One room had several large holes in the walls, which meant I needed to get new paneling. Throughout the remainder of the house, the walls and trim desperately need new paint. And then there was the question of the roof.  Did it leak as my former tenant indicated, even though I couldn’t see physical evidence of the leaks? If so, could it be patched, or was I looking at the expense of a brand-new roof?

As I stood and looked around my, I saw the fragmented beauty of what once was. But the charming old home that I had bought for myself just five years earlier was no long charming or beautiful.  My brother, who had come by to help for a couple of hours, shook his head in disbelief and said, “Well, Paige … this definitely isn’t the home you left 4 years ago, is it?”  Sadly, all I could do was nod my head in agreement.

Hours later, I stood on the front lawn with Jon next to me, holding my hand. I sighed, but he leaned in and said,  “Maybe, with a little hard work, together we can get this old home back to its former glory. I know it will be time and money … but I think if we just take it one step at a time, we will be able to take care of each thing that needs to be done.”

I smiled at him, for the first time feeling that all wasn’t lost. Even through the discouragement, I knew deep down that the old home could become like new again.

This house could be restored.

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It’s been almost a month since they left us. I still miss their sweet little smiles, their precious hugs and kisses, the way their chubby hands felt in mine. I miss rocking and singing and reading books.

I knew from the beginning that being a foster parent would require me to love children as my own and then be willing to give them back to their parents. After all, that is (at least initially)  the ultimate goal for every foster child.

But knowing isn’t quite the same thing as experiencing.

I didn’t know how it would feel to buckle their car seats for the last time knowing this was our goodbye. How could I have prepared myself for the tears  that streamed down my cheeks as I washed the last of the baby bottles, sobbing because that sweet little girl who wouldn’t be snuggling with me at night any more? For two weeks after they left, I kept coming across stray baby socks, chunky legos and matchbox cars, evidence that two small people who used to live with us don’t live here anymore. Every time it made me cry.

It’s been hard on my heart, and yet if I am fully truthful then I must also say that there is lots of  joy and hope in my heart for those two precious children. They are back with their mama. Isn’t that where every child wants to be? Held in their mother’s arms? Loved by the parent who brought them into this world?

God called me and my family out, asked us to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We learned to love children who weren’t ours as if they were our very own, and then in the end we had to give them back with nothing left but the memories. But oh, what a privilege to be witness what came as a result!

A family has been restored.

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Scan
Me and my dad, Easter 1973

Not quite six months ago, my father died. Unexpectedly. On my birthday. I’ve not nearly gotten over it yet. Most days, I wonder if I ever will.

It’s been a surreal sort of experience, learning to go throughout my days without talking to my dad. I used to pick up the phone without thinking. I wanted to talk to him, tell him something funny one of the kids said or ask for some advice. I would be halfway through dialing before I would remember that he no longer was around to answer phone calls.

Other times the phone would ring, and I would answer expecting to hear his voice on the other end of the line. Of course, it always turned out to be someone else and I would spend about half of that conversation trying not to cry because I wasn’t talking with my father.

Once I was at my home church and thought I saw my father walking at the other end of the hallway, his back to me. I raced ahead without thinking, only to feel surprised when it turned out to be my uncle. While I was glad to give him a hug, I wished it had been my dad instead.

I celebrate my first birthday while Papaw celebrates his 50th ... the first of many birthdays we have celebrated together.
I celebrate my first birthday while Papaw celebrates his 50th … the first of many birthdays we  celebrated together.

Just last week, my grandfather passed away. Now not only is my father gone, but my father’s father as well. Though it wasn’t nearly the shock of my father’s passing as my grandfather was ninety-one and had been ill for most of the last six weeks of his life, his death has left a what feels like a large raw, ragged hole in my heart.

Two patriarchs gone in less than six months. The two deaths feel so entangled, I am not sure I even know how to process through the grief.

At my grandfather’s funeral, it felt all too familiar. Weren’t we just here, reading the cards attached to the flower arrangements, accepting casseroles and cakes from well-meaning church members, and receiving condolences from a long line of friends at the church?  Now we must do this again?

Tears ran down my cheeks as I watched the photo slide show during the visitation for my grandfather, yet I wasn’t sure who the tears were for … Daddy or Papaw.

Maybe the tears were mostly for me.

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And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. ~1 Peter 5:10

Until the last six months, I never thought about Heaven much at all.

If I am truthful, I must admit that actually going to Heaven is something I have never really anticipated.  I’ve always expected that some day in the future I will go there and see it for myself, mainly because it is what God promises will happen when I die as a result of putting my faith in Him. But I haven’t really ever spent time looking forward to that day.

Furthermore, lately I’ve realized that for most of my life my thoughts about Heaven have frequently conflicted with Biblical teachings.

I’ve always imagined Heaven as this great white expanse, trimmed in a rich gold. Pristine, quiet, and ethereal. Everyone there wears a white robe and a completely serene expression upon their face. As Heaven knows no anger, no tears, no worry, no sickness, it is a place of complete peace. But I also came to realize that I also never imagined heaven being a place of joy or laughter or even of love. Just eternal rest from this current earthly life.

No wonder I wasn’t eager to think about it or to anticipate going there myself! If dying means never laughing or feeling excitement again, then why would I care about Heaven?

Of course, since Dad’s death, I’ve thought quite a bit more about Heaven. I’ve never doubted that my father (and now grandfather) is now experiencing Heaven, but I have wondered if the things I miss most about them are still a part of them. Oh, I hope so! I miss their laughter, story-telling, and curious minds. How I would love, just one more time, to hear my father and grandfather engaged in one of their friendly Biblical debates, as they happily studied their Sunday school lesson together. I can’t tell you how many Sunday lunches I spent listening to them discuss exactly who Melchizedek was and the mysteries surrounding his priesthood. Are these parts of them buried in the grave?

And what of other things about this earthly life that I enjoy now. I know this planet is a flawed place to live, so far from perfection, but there is still so much to love about the world God created. Beautiful sunsets. Stars against a dark night sky.  Cool breezes. The kiss of warm sunshine against my skin on a spring day. Brilliant fall leaves. Laughing with a friend. Hugs from my family. Chocolate. So many things I cherish about life … When this life is over, must these end as well?

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But, as it is written,“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”  ~1 Corinthians 2:9

Not long ago, Jon had a dream about the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. In his dream, he was this large banquet hall where huge tables, covered in white clothes, were filled with large platters of delicious food. The smell was intoxicating. As Jon sat down to eat, he noticed a group of dancers enter the hall, performing an intricate dance to this amazing music. Jon said he started to dance along.  Next there were singers. Again, Jon knew the words to all the songs and enjoyed clapping and dancing and singing.  Then later on, he noticed several groups of people, each one seemed to be captivated by an engaging story-teller. Jon said it was the most wonderful party he had ever attended, and that when he woke up he was actually sad that it had to end.

Heaven? A party that never ends? 

Now that sounds like something to get excited about!

I’ve been reading Randy Alcorn’s book, Heaven, which is perhaps the most definitive book about the subject (after the Bible, of course). In his book, Alcorn writes,

“Satan need not convince us that Heaven doesn’t exist. He need only convince us that Heaven is a boring, unearthly existence.”

This particular quote resonated deeply with me, obviously because it was so true of my own beliefs regarding Heaven. My imaginings of Heaven aren’t accurate at all, for it is far from being a place of mundane existence.

Earth is just a prelude to heaven. So magnificent sunsets, majestic mountains, delicious meals in the company of friends, the joy of laughter … all of these things are just a delightful preview of what is to come.

God declared His original creation as “good.” His plan all along has been to redeem and restore it.

Religion professor Albert Wolters writes, “God hangs on to his fallen original creation and salvages it. He refuses to abandon the work of His hands—in fact, He sacrifices His own Son to save His original project. Humankind, which has botched its original mandate and the whole creation along with it, is given another chance in Christ; we are reinstated as God’s managers on earth. The original good creation is to be restored.”

Restoration.

It’s not just for old houses or dysfunctional families or broken relationships.

It’s for all of Creation. For me. For you.

All it takes is trusting Jesus Christ to redeem us from our sinful selves. And when we do, we can anticipate the day we die, knowing we will be restored to all we were originally created to be, perfect in every way. We will not be sent to some place of eternal rest, but rather will be reinstated on a new earth, as real and as physical as the first, but without all the sin and shame and sorrow and sickness.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away …  And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”   ~from Revelation 21

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

Better than February

januaryblues

I woke up this morning feeling discouraged. It all started when I happened to remember that today is January 27th.  Much to my dismay, there are still four more days to go in this month. As I shuffled to the kitchen to start my morning coffee, there was but one thought in my weary brain:

Will January ever end? 

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Honestly, I don’t know why this particular month has seemed to drag by so very slowly. But it has, with one long day following another.

The two toddlers have been snotty-nosed, cranky and into everything that’s not tied down.  And if I’m not dealing with toddler tantrums, then it’s teenager angst. I can’t tell you which one is worse. Honestly, they are both bad.

January just also happens to be the month for our recertification as foster parents. It’s only slightly less harrowing than getting certified the first go around.  Together, Jon and I had to complete 15 hours of online training. Excuse me, but I’m so busy chasing our duel tornadoes (aka the foster babies) that I hardly have time to do anything else. Finding 15 hours to complete training is like asking me to find a needle in a haystack. Fortunately, I somehow managed to find them, so that particular stressor is finally behind me.

I haven’t been to church in 3 long weeks. Sickish toddlers kept me away two Sundays. The other Sunday I was out thanks to a two year old boy’s first science experiment involving a bottle of Zantac (that he somehow managed to open in spite of the child safety cap) and some kitchen cleaner. Concerned that he may have ingested some of the concoction, I stayed home and kept in close contact with a kind lady from the Poison Control Center.  Thankfully, no symptoms other than hyperactivity were noticed and calamity was once again avoided.

Then there is my house, the one which is once again for rent or for sale.  I could probably write an entire  blog post about that, but I won’t. It’s suffice to say that my current situation is nothing short of baffling. Changing renters should be simple enough. One renter moves out. Another one moves in. And yet this time around it has been anything but simple. I have never before had anyone threaten me to never contact them again, much less a person who was living on my property. <SIGH> Well, I have now. It happened this January.  And I didn’t even realize there was a problem between me and my former renter.

All month long it has been one thing after another. To me, it seems that …

January has become my prison. 

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Last Friday, my sister had her baby. Sweet little Mallory Piper was born via C-section at about 8 am on January 23rd, weighing in at 7 lbs 15 oz.  She is perfectly healthy with the most adorable chubby cheeks.  And I can hardly wait until I get to meet her in person.

In a way, it seems unreal that Mallory is already here.

Perhaps you can remember when we were picking names and debating on genders right here on my blog late last summer? It really wasn’t all that long ago, and yet it almost feels like a lifetime has happened between then and now.

One thing about grief is you never know what will blindside you. For example, I never anticipated my niece’s birth to bring up an entire host of intense emotions. But then again, I never anticipated my father wouldn’t be around to see the birth of this granddaughter.

I remember his delight as he announced to me what my sister had already told me, that he would be getting a new grandchild. While I cannot remember if he predicted this baby would be a boy or a girl, I do know he was tickled pink when Brooke announced she was expecting another daughter. And I certainly recall how he adamantly insisted that no grandchild of his would ever be named Hazel because a long time ago he had a mean teacher name Hazel and he had never liked the name since.

Now Mallory is with us, but my dad isn’t … and that leaves me with a strange lump in my throat that mingles with the joy and excitement of being an aunt again. As much as I already adore and love that sweet baby girl, her arrival makes me miss my father’s presence a little more. I definitely wasn’t prepared to experience these feelings along with my niece’s birth.

But truthfully, I wasn’t prepared at all for January 2015.

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Ask my children and they will tell you that I am often reminding them not to wish their lives away.

Enjoy being thirteen,” I tell my middle girl. “I know there are so many things you want to do … drive a car, go on a date,  You will be Sweet Sixteen you know it. But thirteen will never come around again.”  (Of course, I don’t tell her that very few are the number of adults who would actually voluntarily live through being 13 again.  She’ll discover that soon enough on her own.)

I know Geometry is a pain in the rear, but instead of wishing you could go back to elementary school, focus on the good things about being in the 10th grade.”  (Of course, the high school sophomore doesn’t want to heed that advice. It’s much easier to moan and complain.)

But lately, I haven’t been able to take my own advice either.

I’m stuck in the middle of January, and I can’t get out.

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Paige, Lately God has put you on my heart, and I’ve been praying for you.  What I’d really like to do is something that would help and encourage you. Can I take the two little ones one day this week? My girls and I would enjoy spending time with them and giving you a bit of a break.

I thought I was surely hearing things.

It was Sunday afternoon. Just that morning, while the rest of my family worshipped at church, I sat at home with two small children and prayed, “God, I just need a break. I’m weary and worn and I can’t go on much longer.

Now my friend had called me out of the blue, with an offer so sweet it felt as welcome as drops of water on parched, dry lips.

All month long I’ve felt alone in the trenches, forgotten in the battle, desperate for some piece of encouragement. Day after day I get up, put on a brave face and continue to soldier forward into the fray that has become my daily life … aching for February, and hoping that with it will come a blessed relief to my soul.

But here was my relief.  And it came while it was still January.

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The God of the Bible has many names, and one of my favorites has always been El Roi, which is translated as “God Who Sees.”

I might have felt alone, but God always saw me. He didn’t forget about me, and my little life currently filled with so much stress.

And while I desperately desired nothing more than a new month on the calendar as a hope of getting some peace restored, God sent someone to minister to me right in the middle of the longest, driest month of my life.

When my January wouldn’t end, God gave me something better than February.

He gave me a friend.

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Yes, it’s still January and all my troubles are still here. But I have been reminded that I am not alone … and today, my friend ministered to my heart, bringing to me a taste of God’s peace and love right in the middle of winter in my soul.

I am thankful for friends who do such nice things in the middle of January. I am grateful to be loved by a God who sees me and loves me and cares about my heart.

And both of these things are better than anything February might bring.

Two are better than one … For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion.  ~ Ecclesiastes 4: 9-10

Thank you, Lauren … you’ll never know how very much today was needed. I’m grateful for a friend like you.

House for Sale

 The first time I saw it, I knew I was home.

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Don’t ask me how I knew … I just knew.

I felt it the moment I saw it in the realtor’s big binder of available houses. I felt it the moment I pulled my car into the driveway. I felt it the instant I walked through the front door to take a look around. And by the time I had peered into every closet and looked inside each cabinet, I knew this house was home.

I really think this is the one,” I told my realtor. “but I’m … well, I’m just not sure I’m ready to buy a house.

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As a single mom, I never set out to buy a home. I certainly didn’t feel financially ready for such a big purchase. Yet my hands were tied. If I didn’t do something quickly, my three children and I were going to be homeless.

The home that I had been renting from my parents had been sold, and I needed a new place to live before June 1st. Initially, I hoped to find another rental home, but the rural area where I was living had nothing to offer. I had been checking every listing every day for close to two months, as well as calling anyone I could think of who might have a lead on a home for rent. Nothing.

It was now early April. Time was running out. I needed to make a move … soon. But I had no idea of where to look. I was fresh out of ideas. The only option that seemed to be available was moving to a larger city, away from my job and the security of living near my parents. And I desperately didn’t want to do that.

And then my brother suggested buying a house. The very thought scared me, but with his encouragement I cautiously went to see his realtor. The realtor was friendly and warm, and took the time to share with me how even with my one-income budget I could afford to be a home owner.

Nervously, I finally said, “Well, there is no harm in looking around, is there? So let’s go see some houses.”

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Carefully, I chose three houses to go look at with the realtor … but there never was any other choice. One look at the photo of the little white house in her binder and I was in love.

Built in the early 1930’s, this home was full of character and charm, and I instantly felt at home from the very first moment I put my foot inside the door. The floors were hardwood. The ceilings were 10 feet tall, with original transoms over the doorways. The kitchen was outfitted with a Butler’s pantry. All over the house were pocket doors. In addition to the three large bedrooms, there was an office that had floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and a glassed-in sun porch.

I knew I wanted to buy the house, but I was nervous about making the final decision to go through with it.

Take your time. Think about it; pray about it. And when you are ready, give me a call.” The realtor gave me a warm smile as she shook my hand and we parted ways.

That was on Tuesday evening. Two days later, I brought my dad and mom by to see the house and get their opinion. After getting a brief tour, we stood in the yard under one of the large shade trees watching the children as they played nearby. My mom was the first to comment. “It’s really lovely, Paige. I can’t think of a reason why you shouldn’t buy it, but it needs to be your decision.

My father agreed. “After all,” he said, “You will be the one paying the mortgage.”

Part of me had hoped they would tell me what to do. Part of me was glad they didn’t. Even though decision-making has never been my strong suit (just choosing a restaurant can at times be a difficult task for me), this decision was still mine to make. And even I knew that I needed to make the final decision for myself.

Six weeks later, I was unpacking boxes.

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My  kids and I only lived there for a year and a half … but we did a lot of living in that time.

There were six birthday parties and two Christmases and a couple of rare Louisiana “sneaux” days.

Julia turns 7 years old!
Julia turns 7 years old!
Christmas 2009
Christmas 2009

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I bought a drill of my own, and learned to hang my own curtains.  Always before, someone had hung curtains for me, but in this home I proudly hung the curtains for myself.

(Some day, maybe tomorrow, I’ll share the story of how God told me I was not allowed to complain about my feelings of being unsettled when I wasn’t settled enough to even hang up a few curtains.)

Julia's girly butterfly room with the bright happy hideaway in the corner. I hung that in addition to the pink curtains ... there were 8 windows in her bedroom!
Julia’s girly butterfly room with the bright yellow hideaway in the corner. I hung that in addition to the pink curtains … there were 8 windows in her bedroom!

My new drill and I got along so well that I hung up a few hooks for backpacks …

The backpack nook ... about as organized as I ever got!
The backpack nook … about as organized as I ever got!

and added a shelf above my washer and dryer.

My new laundry area. Of all the places I've ever washed clothes, this one was my favorite.
My little laundry area. Of all the places I’ve ever washed clothes, this one was my favorite.

And then there are my two special memories from my little white house on the big corner lot.

The first one was the day I discovered the blueberry bushes. Oh, finding those blueberry bushes was like this enormous hug from God because I’ve always wanted to have a house with blueberry bushes in the back. When I bought the little white house, I didn’t pay any attention to three big bushes on the side of the house … but about two weeks after I moved in, I discovered them. Huge, enormous bushes, covered in the most delicious blueberries I’ve ever tasted. No doubt, it was God’s way of telling me He loved me. (Perhaps one day I will blog about my special love for blueberries, but that probably won’t happen tomorrow.)

Julia fills a bowl with blueberries from one our special blueberry bushes.
Julia fills a bowl with blueberries from one our special blueberry bushes.

And the second memory I love is how Jon and I shared our both our first kiss and our second first kiss in the living room of this house. (Now this is one story I’ve blogged about before. If you haven’t read it, you can get all the details here … but sorry, there is no photograph to go with that one.)

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I married Jon on the last day of 2010. Two weeks later a moving truck took all my belongings out of my little white home, and a renter took my place.

For four years, I’ve been renting my house. Mostly I’ve hated being a landlord, and that’s not at all because of the renters. Mostly God has granted me good ones. No, I hate renting out my house because I’m ultimately still the one responsible for the property.

My dad used to help us with the management of my house, serving as my property manager if you will. But after his death 3 months ago, Jon and I have had to take all of those tasks. And it quickly became clear to us that the house was like a millstone hanging around our necks. Instead of a pleasure to me, my sweet little house on the big corner lot has become a burden. It simply too much of a struggle for Jon and I to manage the upkeep of that property.

We discussed whether or not we should put the house on the market, but I didn’t want to run off my renter and end up trying to cover two mortgages. It was hard to know what to do, and honestly I felt stuck between a rock and a hard place.

This morning my current renter called. “I’m giving you my 30 days notice,” she said. “I’m moving somewhere else. I’ve loved it here, but it is time for me to move on.”

And I’m wondering if it is time for me to move on as well and let go of the house I love.  As much as I knew the first time I saw it that this house was meant to be my home, deep down I know that I’ll never live there again.

I’m ready … ready for whatever God wants, whether it is bringing me a buyer or finding me another renter. He knows and I can trust He has this under control.

But just in case you wonder which way I’m hoping God choosing to work in this situation, there is a nice white house on a big corner lot for sale in rural north Louisiana.

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If you’re interested, I’ll be happy to make you a great deal!

Christmas Lights

He had been in our home less than half an hour when our new little foster son began to request for us to turn lights on.  His chubby toddler hands would point up to the fixture, while in a sweet but insistent voice he would say, “Light? On?”

Before bedtime on that very first night, Jon was in the dining room changing out a burned out bulb in order to please the 22 month old boy who loved lights.

Even now, three months into this foster parenting gig, our family’s favorite two year old is still fascinated with light.

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Christmas is a season of light. It seems that everywhere you look, trees and houses are lit up with hundreds upon hundreds of tiny, twinkling lights. Trees glittering through window panes. Colored lights outlining rooftops while white lights make the bushes sparkle.

At Christmas, there is nothing more lovely than a tree lit up with lots of lights. Normally, I relish in decorating our family’s Christmas tree. I love to cover it in lots and lots of lights, and then fill it from top to bottom with hundreds of ornaments. Finally, I wrap the entire tree is sparkly gold ribbon before adding our star to the very top.

Yet, as much as I love the process and result of tree decorating, this year I decided NOT to decorate a tree. It wasn’t easy to come to such a conclusion, but after a two hour attempt to keep our two toddlers from completely destroying my mother’s Christmas tree, … well, I realized it would not be a fun Christmas season if I had to spend every waking moment trying to keep myself between the tree and the toddlers.

At first, I tried to come up with a solution that would still enable me to have my cake and eat it too … or, rather in this case,  have my tree and decorate it too. Someone suggested surrounding the tree with baby gates. I considered it, but then realized it would cost me a small fortune for something I really didn’t want to have after Christmas.

I also contemplated putting the tree up in a more out of the way location in our house. However, our home has a relatively open floor plan. The only out of the way locations available were bedrooms, bathrooms and Jon’s home office. None of those options felt like a good place to put the family Christmas tree.

In the end, it seemed as if there were only two options. Put up a Christmas tree and then spend the entire season constantly guarding it from an attack launched by two small children. Or forego the Christmas tree this year and find other ways to decorate our home.

But if I thought I was disappointed about having a year with no Christmas tree, I should realized the magnitude of the reaction I was about to get from my five teens and tweens.  When I first broke the news, a few took the news rather well, but there were a couple that stared at me in stunned silence before beginning to beg and plead with me to change my mind. When I wouldn’t, I received several glares that could kill had there be any super powers involved. Fortunately for me,  I am raising humans and not super heroes.

My kids are fortunate too, for I am not a mean old Grinch … though they might occasionally beg to differ with me on that point. Still, I never intended NOT to decorate our home for the Christmas season. I just determined that a typical Christmas tree should not be part of this year’s holiday decor.

So instead of focusing on my tree, I decorated the doorways with garlands and decked out the walls.

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My banner that drapes across the kitchen. It says “Joyeux Noel.” I figure consider I that I live in the heart of Louisiana’s Cajun Country, I at least ought to include a little French in our Christmas decor.

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I set up displays of  nativity sets on every solid surface out of reach of little fat fingers.

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The stockings were even hung. Not over a chimney, which we don’t have anyway, or in their usual place along the living room shelves. Rather, the stockings found a place to hang over the living room windows. I liked the way they looked, nine stockings hanging in a row.

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In the end, there was tree to decorate after all. Last weekend, I found a mini-tree on sale for less than $10, so I got it to put on the ledge above the kitchen sink. It just so happens that it can be seen from the living room as well, which makes this small tree the perfect place to display each person’s new ornament for 2014.

Look and see if you can spot the:

(1) Eiffel Tower for Julia who has been collecting them since her summer trip to Paris;  (2) A plane for Joel to remind him of his first trip overseas;  (3)  A Rubik’s cub for Nate who figured out the key to solving them; (4) A sparkly owl for Meg;   (5) A glittery snow fox for Maddie; (6) Two reindeer with the initials K and C  for the foster babies;  (7) a turquoise and brown cross for Jon;  (8) and a cow bell which represents my wedding anniversary to Jon … it was tied to the back of our getaway car at our wedding which will be 4 years ago on Dec. 31st.

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But my favorite ornament on this year’s tiny tree is the one I bought just for me!

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While I take all the credit for decorating the inside of our home, Jon always takes care of making the outside look merry and bright. This year Megan helped decorate the front yard, stringing lights all around and placing a simple reindeer on the front lawn. As always, they did a fantastic job!

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But even though I loved the welcoming look, what I really wished was that we had a little extra money to buy a wreath to hang on the front door. (True fact: When you have seven kids, there is never any extra money.) Imagine my surprise when the very next day my sweet friend Korin gave me a beautiful fresh wreath that she made just for me to hang on my front door.

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The perfect finishing touch!

We may not have a tree this year, but the signs of Christmas are all around the house, and I am praying daily for signs of Christmas growing in our hearts as well …  the Christmas spirit of generosity and of love and of humble worship.

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Three months ago a tiny little boy and his baby sister came to live with us. And from the very beginning, the lights in our home fascinated him.

This Christmas, we have a blessed opportunity to share the wonders of the season with two innocent children. It may be the only chance we have to share Christmas with them. So we will drive that sweet boy up and down the streets after dark, showing him the city all lit up for Christmas. We will bake cookies and open gifts and bask in the glow of Christmas excitement.  And through it all, I will hold out hope that on some future day these precious kids will see the pictures and know how much fun our family had sharing this Christmas with them.

But more than anything else, I pray for our little ones’ hearts to be captivated by the Light of this World, the Holy Infant of Bethlehem who came to save us from our sins. We may not have a big Christmas tree and the presents we open may be relatively few, but oh how I hope even at their tender ages they will see the light of His love living in us, and because of that they will long to know Him more.

Because really … that’s what Christmas is all about.

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Behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” ~Matthew 2:2

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  ~John 8:12