What you are about to read is my family’s actual Christmas letter from 2008. I’ve written about it many times before, but never before on this blog. Many of my readers might well remember “The Great Christmas Card Fiasco of 2008” and perhaps even followed my woeful tale on Facebook. If you have heard or read this story before, then I hope you won’t mind rereading it again. Maybe it will even bring a smile to your face as you relive a Christmas past along with me. However if you’ve never heard this me tell this tale, then may it bless your heart as much as God has used it to bless mine over the past 6 years. And if you laugh, don’t feel bad. It’s one of those memories I love to laugh about now, even though at the time it certainly wasn’t very funny.
Dear Family and Friends,
Have you ever felt like things were going wrong at every turn, and that no matter how hard you tried things just didn’t go according to your plan? Perhaps you can relate … but if not, please bear with me while I tell my story.
Earlier this month I ordered Christmas photo cards. From the start, it all seemed to go wrong. I placed my order online, and discovered soon afterward that the company I used was brand-new. They were overwhelmed with many more orders than they expected, and so were unable to process my order in a timely manner. Once my order finally got shipped, winter weather kept delaying the cards as they slowly made their way to my doorstep. Originally I was supposed to have received my cards by December 10th, which would have given me plenty of time to address and mail out the cards in a timely manner. However, as my luck would have it, the cards didn’t show up in my mailbox until the afternoon of December 22nd.
I was already somewhat upset about the lengthy delay, so imagine my shock when I opened my package and saw the the Christmas photo cards I ordered had arrived minus the photo! Who ever heard of a Christmas photo card without the photo?!? I was livid! In that moment, all of my Christmas joy seemed to have been zapped away.
The more I thought about it, the more the situation seemed dire and bleak. It was too late in the day to call the company; too late in the season to order new Christmas cards. I felt as if the entire world was working against me mailing out a few Christmas cards. My heart was filled with a hopeless dismay.
Well, after the hot angry tears were all wiped away and a good night’s sleep had given me a new perspective, the thought occurred to me that maybe Joseph felt like the world was working against him on that very first Christmas. I wondered what thoughts and emotions went through is head as he tried and tried to find a safe place for Mary. And when he could find no room in the inn and had to take refuge in a barn, did he question himself as to why this was the best he could manage to do for his wife and the newborn Son of God? It seems unlikely that Joseph had first-hand knowledge that it was God’s intention for the King of Kings to be born in a lowly stable. Maybe he did, but I have a feeling that Joseph felt a lot of dismay and frustration with the situation.
Obviously my situation didn’t have nearly the same level of urgency as what Joseph must have experienced. After all, as awful as it seemed in the moment, “The Great Christmas Card Fiasco of 2008” is far from being the worst thing that has ever happened in the history of mankind. In fact, it’s not even close to being the worst thing that has ever happened to me.
Truthfully, I can’t even really say it was bad because in the end the company apologized for their terrible mistake and gave me a full refund on the cards, which is honestly the best thing they could do under the circumstances. And even though this is definitely not the card I had intended to send to all of my loved ones, my sweet children were very eager to help me make lemonade from the lemons thrown our way by drawing pictures of themselves into the blank photo spot so that the cards weren’t a total waste. Free Christmas cards can’t be all that bad!
So maybe this won’t be the best or most beautiful Christmas card you receive this season, but I imagine it will be the most unforgettable card. I’m hoping to send out real photo cards sometime this spring, but until then the kids and I hope you will enjoy this original creation from our house.
May your home be filled with peace and joy … and may your hearts stay merry and bright throughout 2009!
Forty-two years ago today, I was born with a head full of black hair that stuck straight up and a head that, at least according to my father, was shaped exactly like a football (thanks to the forceps used to pull me into this world).
Every birthday, my dad jokingly reminded me of my oddly-shaped newborn head. He recounted how as he gazed at me he prayed and told the Lord that he would always love me, even if my head was shaped like a football.
For forty-two years exactly, he did just that.
My father left this world this morning. I wasn’t prepared for him to go. It happened unexpectedly. But even though my heart is heavy and this is the worst birthday I can imagine, I’m grateful that I spoke to him last night and told him again I loved him … just like I always did whenever we talked on the phone, which was usually three or four times a week.
I can’t think of much else to write in this moment of the man I loved first. He was a wonderful man who loved the Lord first, my mother second, and his children and grandchildren third. (If he were here right now, he would be correcting me and stating his grandchildren and then his children! I never knew a more devoted grandfather.)
I wish my daddy didn’t have to die, and I wished he didn’t have to die today … but there is peace knowing that he is worshipping Jesus face-to-face.
Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. ~Psalms 116:15
It’s been a little over 24 hours since two precious babies were dropped off at my home … our first placement as a foster family.
I can’t give out names or identifying details about the children left in our charge, but I can say that we are loving on a set of siblings. A little boy with blond hair and big brown eyes who is not quite two years old and his baby sister (age nine months) with the most adorable round face, big blue eyes and a smile to melt your heart. For the purposes of my blog, I’ll refer to them as “Lil’ Man” and “Cutie-Pie.”
As cute as these two are (and they are oh-so cute), it’s been a wild, chaotic, stressful night and day around here.
I had forgotten all about babies! I know I’ve mothered three from infancy on, but I have apparently grown rusty on all things baby. Jon and I realized that our schedule just hasn’t been thrown a curve ball … our schedule has been thrown out the window! We are now marching to the beat of two tiny people, who eat and sleep and even take baths on a schedule.
Cutie Pie arrived with a nasty cold and cough. Is there anything worse than a baby with a rattly chest?! My momma’s heart wants to just rush her off to the doctor, but we don’t even have a pediatrician yet. And she’s since is fever-free and mostly content to play, I figure our over-the-counter medications can keep things under control until Monday morning.
Lil’ Man is busy, fascinated by everything electronic or highly breakable, and extremely LOUD. He’s definitely a normal almost two-year old. His speech is very garbled, but we can hear him mimicking us from time to time. So far the only time he is quiet is when he is sleeping or watching Barney … Good old Barney is still entertaining to toddlers and irritating adults all these years later!
The five big kids in the house are delighted to help. Tonight there was actually a small bru-ha-ha over who would get to bath the babies. These two are not in need of loving hands to hold them, play with them, feed, them, rock them, or sing “The Itsty-Bitsy Spider” for the 50th time in a row.
So if you are wondering how we are doing … well, it’s just like any other house with two babies under two.
Thanks for the prayers and words of encouragement. We are completely dependent on prayer right now, and trusting that God will continue to help us find our footing in this exciting time.
Now, I’m off to start another load of laundry! It’s amazing how much laundry two little people can create!
Yesterday afternoon about 1:30 the phone call finally came.
Our paperwork is complete. Jon and I are officially logged into the foster care system and available to take a child into our home.
Whew! For a while, I wasn’t sure it was ever going to happen. Those first few weeks, everything flew into place. I couldn’t seem to get it to all slow down.
And then everything came to a sudden halt.
Not only did things not move forward. It even seemed we were taking steps back. I found myself questioning our motives and wondering if we were up to the challenge. A minor family crisis involving one of our five children almost made us decide to close the door on this ministry.
But we decided to wait on God and let Him either close or open the door.
We waited and watched … and very slowly the last few steps were accomplished in an orderly manner.
And with that one phone call, I sat back and breathed a big sigh, “It’s finished!”
I only thought it was finished yesterday. What was finished was nothing more than the beginning.
Today the phone rang again. Almost at the same exact time.
Again, it was our foster care worker with news … two kids on their way to our home.
And suddenly, just as quickly, all the relief of yesterday vanished. My heart is turning in a million directions. I’m overwhelmed with nerves and heartache, while at the same time eager to do what God has asked me and my family to do.
Any time a child is placed into foster care, there has been a tragedy. An awful thing has happened. And yet to have the chance to love on these two precious babies is an opportunity I want to embrace.
I’ve got just an hour to get ready. I’ve got just a few minutes to get things together. There are a million things to do, or so it seems. Put the crib together. Straighten in the nursery and make sure there is nothing a toddler shouldn’t have laid about. Baby proof the living room. Start supper because I imagine cooking once they arrive will be hard to accomplish. And yet I sit here writing …
Because my heart is breaking… Two babies ripped out of their home … so even though they are coming to me where I will keep them safe and fed and hopefully happy, these two precious ones have already been through something terrible to bring them to my door.
Because my heart is anxious… Will I have enough energy for this? Can my family take the stress and strain of caring for two small children? Are we going to regret this decision or will it be the best thing we’ve ever done?
Because my heart is filled with excitement… God has asked me and my family to dare to love and we’ve said yes. It’s always thrilling to see how God will use us and there is a part of me expecting great and wonderful things.
Yesterday, when I thought those words, “it is finished,” I recalled how those were the final words Jesus uttered on the cross. We call that day Good Friday, not because His suffering was good but because through it all humanity gained salvation.
Today is a good Friday in my home and in my life. Not that it begins to compare to the Good Friday of Easter, but rather because it signifies that we are following God in faith, dependent upon Him to meet our every need in this endeavor.
It’s good because God will meet us where we are and will give us all we need. This much I know to be true.
Still … if you think of the two babies heading to my home and of my family as we welcome them with love, I would love knowing you are praying with us and for us.
Because we’ve not finished anything. We’ve only just begun.
The first thing I remember about Nathan was thinking he was definitely louder than his brother Joel. The very next thing I recall is a nurse gushing loudly over his piercing cries, “Oh, would you just look at those dimples!” Sure enough, there on his right cheek was a deep double-dimple. And, to my surprise, he was born knowing how to use them!
Of all my children, Nathan smiled the quickest. By 3 1/2 weeks of age, he was giving big full-on grins, putting that dimple to work. He was born with bright blue eyes and a head of thick black hair that stuck straight up, giving him the appearance that he had something mischievous going on in his little head. Everyone (and I mean everyone) said all that black hair would fall out, but it never did. In fact, by the time he was three months old, the roots were growing in blond. Poor Nathan! He looked like he had been given a bad dye job! One day I trimmed away the black tips as he slept in my arms. Now he had head full of blond hair to match the blue eyes and big dimple.
Did I mention Nathan was born in Monterey, California?
I’ve got my very own California Beach Boy.
Nathan was less than two months old the first time it happened. I woke up to his loud shrieks at some ungodly hour in the middle of the night. This cry was not the wail of a baby needing to be fed or changed into a dry diaper. This was the cry of a sick infant, one who was in pain.
No fever. No wound. In my sleep-deprived state, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong him. Nothing I did stopped his cries. At some point, I took him to an ER, where my baby was diagnosed with a raging double-ear infection.
That night marked the beginning of Nate’s ear troubles.
He got his first set of ear tubes at 8 months, after he had already been treated for a dozen ear infections.
Now you must understand, from my personal experience of living in Monterey, California for nearly a year and a half, the doctors there were leery to do anything. They wanted to take the “wait and see” approach. But Nathan’s little ears were constantly infected. Homeopathic remedies didn’t work. Antibiotics seemed to work, only to have the infection come back with full force just as soon as the medication was stopped. Finally, out of desperation, an ENT said, “Well, he is awfully little for this but let’s put in some ear tubes and see if it will help.”
I never will forget after that first procedure the ENT sitting me down, looking me in the eyes and saying:
Let me be honest with you … I don’t know when I have ever seen so much pus and debris in the middle ear, especially on a child this young. It was like wallpaper paste, clinging to everything! No amount of antibiotic would have ever cleared up that mess. We definitely did the right thing by putting in tubes.
Like a song stuck on repeat, one ear infection followed another, and one set of ear tubes after the next.
The first time Nathan had a tympanoplasty, he was about five years old.
We checked in at the surgical hospital that morning expecting Nathan was just going to be receiving another set of ear tubes. If you have ever had a child who has gotten ear tubes, you know it is a relatively simple procedure that takes about ten to fifteen minutes for the doctor to perform. Literally you spend more time waiting for your turn than you do waiting for your child’s ear tubes to be inserted.
That particular day Nathan was wheeled back to have the tubes inserted, but he didn’t come back quickly. Forty-five minutes passed. I finally managed to flag down a nurse, who didn’t have any information but promised to find out what was going on for me. Several minutes later, she returned.
“The doctor ran into some trouble. Apparently his ear drums were in not in good enough condition to hold a tube in place, so he had to perform a tympanoplasty first.” Seing my confused look, she quickly explained, “That means the doctor repaired the ear drums with a small graft of skin. He should be finishing up within another fifteen or twenty minutes. It’s alright, Mama … your boy is in good hands.“
Sure enough, it wasn’t long before Nathan was wheeled back out, his little hand strapped to a stabilizing board to help hold his IV in place. Nathan’s ears were covered with bandages. After all of the experiences with getting sets of ear tubes, I wasn’t prepared for him to look so injured and ill.
As I reached over to stroke his sweet head, Nathan gave me a glare, “I cannot move my hand. No one will take this out!” He waved his hand and forearm about wildly.
About that time, the same kind nurse peeked her head into the room. “How are we doing in here?” she asked, flashing a bright smile at us.
Before I could answer, Nathan ranted, “Not well! I do not feel so good right now.“
“I’m sorry. What can I do to make you feel better?”
“I want this thing off of my arm.” Nathan pointed to the arm taped to the board.
The nurse smiled. “I am definitely going to take your IV out … just as soon as you eat, drink and go to the potty for me. Deal?”
“No. It is not a deal. I am not hungry. I am not thirsty. And I don’t have to go to the potty.” Nathan was not in a deal-making mood. Knowing my son was as stubborn as he was charming, I feared we were in a for long stay in the recovery area.
But that sweet nurse didn’t seem at all fazed by Nathan’s grumpiness. Ten minutes later she was back with graham crackers and apple juice. She set it all up on the little tray and offered to turn on the TV so that he could eat his snack while watching a cartoon.
“Humph.” Nathan gave the nurse a grumpy glare. “Watching TV will not make me feel better. What will make me feel better is for you to take this thing out of my arm.“
The nurse did not fall for Nathan’s act. “I’ve already told you that I will take it out just as soon as you eat, drink and go to the potty.”
“And I’ve already told you that I do not want to eat or drink or go to the potty.” Nathan tried to cross his arms on his chest, but between all the IV tubes taped to his arm which was fastened to the board he couldn’t manage to get everything in position.
“Well, seeing as this is my hospital, you are going to have to follow my rules. I’ll leave you alone for a while. Maybe in a few minutes you will feel hungry or thirsty.”
As the nurse walked away, Nathan pushed away the tray with the apple juice. “What sort of hospital is this?” he grumbled. “Everyone knows the healthiest thing to drink is water. Instead, I got apple juice. She’s probably a terrible nurse because if she knew how bad I felt she would bring me a cup of water.“
Seeing an opportunity to perhaps bring about an end to the stalemate, I cautiously asked, “If the nurse brought you some water, would you drink it?”
Fifteen minutes later, Nathan had guzzled down a couple of large cups of water, eaten three packets of graham crackers, gone to the bathroom, and had the hated IV removed. After handing me the discharge papers, the nurse turned to Nathan and offered to give him a ride to our car in a wheelchair. His five-year old eyes glittered with excitement. Flashing the nurse his most charming dimple grin, Nathan asked, “Can you take me the long way so I can have a really good ride?” The nurse, who had up to now been so firm, couldn’t seem to refuse this final request. She even gave him a wheelie on a quiet stretch of the hospital hallway.
As she dropped us off at the front of the hospital, Nathan gave her a big high five. “The next time I need ear tubes, I am definitely coming back here, ” he declared.
Just last month Nathan got had an ear infection which rapidly turned into mastoiditis. It took three trips to visit our ENT, two trips to the pediatrician, and a visit to the emergency room to get him well. He got a CT scan, two bags of antibiotics by IV, a shot in the rear with another antibiotic, 14 days of antibiotics by mouth, along with an ear drop antibiotic, and it still was more than three weeks before his ear was pain-free.
“Maybe this will be the last one,” I thought. “Maybe after this time his ears won’t hurt him any more.”
Two nights ago, I found myself sitting in yet another urgent-care clinic watching another doctor look into my boy’s ears and state with shock, “Goodness! That’s an infected ear!”
Inside, I moaned, “Oh, Lord … are we ever going to get past this? It seems like we have been around and around and around on this same merry-go-round. I feel so hopeless about this!”
As I stopped by the pharmacy to get the antibiotic filled, the verse that kept racing through my mind was this:
There is nothing new under the sun.
Ear tubes. Ruptured ear drums. Tympanoplasties. So many ear infections, I’ve long lost count.
For years, doctors have told me my son would outgrow ear infections. He will celebrate his 13th birthday on Thanksgiving Day. After all these years of ear aches, it feels as if Nathan and I have tried everything there possibly is to try.
Isn’t that the way we humans feel? It seems like we fight the same old battles over and over. Some of us battle with the bulge, diet after diet, hoping that one of these days the weight will fall off and stay off. Others find themselves warring with addictions: smoking, drinking, pornography. We go round and round, wrestling with our demons, desperate for the solution, fearful one doesn’t exist, wondering if our prayers are bouncing off heaven. Our battles feel old and our souls feel weary.
I read something interesting this week. According to Ravi Zacharius, the phrase “There is nothing new under the sun” which King Solomon uses approximately twenty times in the book of Ecclesiastes, is actually an old Hebrew idiom meaning “a life without God.”
It took me a moment to wrap my head around this thought. Maybe you are quicker than me … even so, give me a moment to explain what I eventually realized.
In this life, there is nothing new. If it has happened once, it is just as likely to happen again. Wars, disasters, addictions, diseases. We hear the stories again and again. There really is nothing new under the sun.
But when you have a life with God, everything changes. Suddenly, the impossible becomes possible. The unimaginable happens. The terrible becomes glorious. And that’s because God makes all things new. And because God has that sort of power, we have hope in whatever battle we are facing.
David killed Goliath because, even though there is nothing new under the sun, God makes all things new and possible.
The same thing goes for Moses parting the waters, Gideon defeating the Midionites, and the marching Israelites bringing down the walls of Jericho. Time and time again, we read in the Bible of how the impossible came to be all because of God’s intervention.
There is always hope because even though there is nothing new under the sun, God has given us His Son and through Him all things are made new.
It’s taken me a week to write this post. Not only has Nathan been ill with an ear infection, but so has the rest of this house. This morning, four out of five kids are hanging out in pajamas, sniffling and coughing and sneezing. Yesterday, I was down and out myself. A bad case of the sniffles is not such a terrible thing in this world filled with problems. Life could be a whole lot worse than just needing to hang onto a box of kleenex.
But even so, I hang onto hope this morning … because while there is nothing new under the son, everything is new with the Son of God.
Then the One seated on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new.” He also said, “Write, because these words are faithful and true.” ~Revelation 21:5
(I know. I know. Generally readers expect Part 1 to come before Part 2. But I switched things up and told it backwards. That is a special technique known as “Writer’s Privilege” … and lucky you getting to see such a wonderful writing tool at work right here on my blog! Actually, knowing Part 2 first will not really make a huge difference in understanding the story. I just happen to like Part 1 a tad bit better than Part 2, and since the order didn’t make a difference, I decided to tell the story in reverse.)
Anyway, here’s Part 1 of my personal Great Date story. Enjoy!
My first marriage unexpectedly fell apart the summer before my 35th birthday. To be honest, I don’t remember much about being 35, or 36 for that matter. Those years are lost to the blur of emotions and trying to pick up the pieces of my shattered life. But as I drew closer and closer to my 37th birthday, it was as if my soul had begun to awaken again.
The summer I was 36 marked two years since I had first gone into receiving Christian counseling. Generally, we talked about how to function as a single parent, learning to forgive, letting go of what I couldn’t control, giving my fears to God, among other things. However, now that I reached the two year mark of single parenting and the divorce was officially over and done, my counselor began to suggest that I might soon be interested in dating.
Initially, I was put off by the very idea. Already rejected once, I couldn’t envision putting myself and my children through something like that again. However, my counselor encouraged me to think and process about whether or not I might truly want to live the next 50 years alone … and at 36 years old, the possibility of living another 50 years wouldn’t be all that unusual.
It didn’t take much thinking for me to realize deep down I wanted to have a special relationship with one man, a relationship in which we loved and cared for each other while living life together. It’s a normal desire for any person to have. Despite my experience with my previous marriage and divorce, my longings hadn’t really changed.
And yet, even as I admitted that I had the desire, I was scared of the very idea. I felt anything but lovable. I felt used and discarded, like the old clothes at the Goodwill Stores. Sometimes there are treasures for the taking in those places, but you gotta look through a lot of junk in order to find them. And deep down, my own sense of self-worth was beat up. I felt like I was just another piece of tossed trashed, not a rejected treasure waiting for someone else to realize my true worth.
Who on earth would want to love a woman like me?
I remember during that summer before my 37th birthday doing a lot of soul-searching, praying and asking God to teach me about how to be a woman of worth, to be satisfied with His love whether or not any man ever loved me again, and to grow in my own self-respect so that I could reflect His great love.
Along with these hard prayers, I read a lot of books by a Christian author by the name of Angela Thomas. (If you are a Christian woman who is also a single parent, you simply must read her book My Single Mom Life. I promise you it is the most encouraging book out there for a woman trying to parent after divorce.)
Between my counselor, the books and the prayers, I was approaching this cautious place in the very depths of my soul in which I wanted to be loved, and believed I was worth loving … and yet I was still fearful the second part wasn’t true. This was the state of my emotions in the month prior to my 37th birthday, which brings me to the actual “date” that was so wonderfully great.
My 37th birthday started off with my three wonderful children decorating my cake. They had already asked me if they could do the decorating, so the night before I baked a cake. Now that it was cooled, they got up extra early so that they would have time to add the icing and decorations before school.
Just look at those sweet babies of mine! Early morning hair, sticking up everywhere. Joel is all wrapped up in a quilt, still sleepy. To this day, I get all mushy inside whenever I think about those wonderful children wanting to make me a special birthday cake.
The cake was really enough to remind me that I was indeed a loved woman. But there was that question of worth. Was a I woman any man would ever again find worthy? I can’t say that was on the forefront of my mind on that morning, and yet it was the burning question in my mind for which I was seeking an answer from God.
He didn’t fail to respond.
That morning, I got to work and before I hardly sat down at my desk with my cup of coffee in hand, a delivery of a large bouquet of flowers arrived for me. I opened the card to discover they were from my sister.
I was still gushing over the flowers when there was a short knock on the office door. There was my dad, standing in the hallway with a box of chocolates in his hands. “Chocolates for the birthday girl!” he grinned.
I figured the birthday surprises were over, but in fact the day had only gotten started.
My co-workers had unknowingly gotten together and each brought dishes to work so that we had a birthday lunch right there at the office … complete with cake and ice cream! I can’t remember what we ate, but I do remember laughing and enjoying the time with those wonderful ladies.
On the way home, I was thinking about my gifts. I laughed as I shared my delight with my Creator. “Today I received every typical gift a beau gives to his girl … flowers, a box of chocolate, a wonderful meal. The only thing missing, Lord, was jewelry!”
Arriving at home, I opened up my mail to find a package from a friend of mine who lived several states away. As I ripped into the box, I found a beautiful pair of silver drop earrings with a sapphire stone. As I fingered the earrings, I heard a whisper in my heart:
Forget? Did you actually think I would forget the jewelry? You are worth much more than any of these gifts to me! There is more, much more to come.
I looked over at the pile of mail. There were six or seven birthday cards and not a single bill or piece of junk mail to throw away. Everything that had arrived that day had been just for me. With tears already flooding my eyes, I began to open up each card and letter.
Each card made me smile or laugh. Tucked away in a few were small bills of money. Others contained notes of love. But the last envelop I opened took my breath away. As I pulled out the card inside and opened it up, I saw a familiar handwriting and signature.
Happy birthday! I love you – “Mammie” (Juanita Terry)
My grandmother. The card was from my grandmother. But she had died nearly 3 years earlier. How on earth?
Glancing to the left side of the card, I saw another handwritten note, but I had to wipe away the tears in order to read it.
“Dear Paige, Recently I found this card your grandmother sent to me several years ago. I thought you might like to have it and so I’ve been saving it to give back to you ever since. Wishing you a happy birthday! Love Jean E. Mitchell”
Mrs. Jean E. … My 4th grade teacher and friend. I had known her all my life and looked forward to her birthday cards since I was a tiny girl because most of the time there was a piece of gum included inside the card. There wasn’t any gum in this card, but that didn’t seem to matter because I had already received more than I ever imagined possible … right down to the birthday wish from my grandmother in heaven.
In my heart again there was a whisper:
I Am … the Lover of your soul. I created you, knit you together to be the exact person you are. My love for you is undying. I will never reject or leave you. I am with you always, looking out for you even when you don’t know it or understand My ways. And you are worth it.
For as long as I live, my 37th birthday will remain my favorite. It was the year the Lord took me out on an amazing date, treating me to everything a woman’s heart could possibly desire.
Within a month, Jon Hamilton would ask me to be his girl. I’m glad I decided to dare to love again because it worth the risk.
But more than that, I’m glad I learned that God wants me to be His girl first. And that His love for me is more perfect and wonderful than any other love a girl could ever want.
Do you have a Great Date Story to share? If so, you could win a copy of the book $10 Great Dates as well as a crisp $10 bill to use on a new great date adventure. Contest rules are easy: just share your favorite great date story, either in the comments section of my blog or on your on blog (please ping back to me).
Today is my step-daughter’s (Maddie) Sweet 16 birthday. She’s a wonderful young lady … beautiful (inside and out, which is the very best kind of beautiful), talented (acts, sings, draws, writes), witty (will keep you laughing), clever (that girl has got a mind of her own), and the gentlest soul you will ever know (but she once stood up to a gang of bullies who were taunting a special needs child at her school). I love celebrating her today!
Because it’s a birthday morning, I had to get up early to go buy the traditional birthday donuts from Meche’s Donut King. (Y’all, if you are ever in Lafayette, Louisiana, this is the place to go for donuts and King cake … and they are literally right around the corner from my house so the temptation to go get a donut for breakfast once or twice a week is practically overwhelming. So overwhelming I had to make a rule that we can only have donuts for birthdays. Thank goodness there are seven of us!)
Anyway, getting back on track … like I said, I was up early to go buy donuts for the birthday breakfast, which had me obviously thinking about birthdays. And because I was up early, I also thought it would be nice to blog since I didn’t get around to that yesterday. And since I am having a blog contest on great dates, I thought perhaps I could share about one of my personal great dates.
And that’s when the idea popped into my head: I could share about The Great Birthday Date. Actually, I need to tell this story in two parts because “The Great Birthday Date” actually took place over two birthdays, back-to-back years. But I need to tell part two before I can tell part one … or at least that’s the order I want to tell it to you.
So here it is … The Great Birthday Date, Part Two. (Tomorrow, you can read part one … promise!)
Jon and I had been dating nearly a year when my 38th birthday rolled around.
Now for those of you who don’t know, Jon and I met online (yes, we are one of “those” couples) and had a long-distance dating relationship prior to getting married. We lived a little over two hours apart. So for my birthday, I was going to drive down to Lafayette for the weekend.
Initially, everything worked out perfectly. Our five kids were all going to be off visiting with their other parents. I took that Friday off work so that I could go get a pedicure and relax at home before heading off for a weekend of celebrating in the early afternoon.
But then, all of my great plans began to fall apart. First of all, a sweet friend called me, in the midst of a personal crisis. I knew that God would rather me spend time with her instead of having my feet pampered. So, instead of soaking my feet in a soothing bath, I found myself sitting in her kitchen, listening as she wept. Before I knew what I was doing, I gave her my time slot at the salon for the pedicure appointment. I even went to sit with her while she got her feet soaked and massaged and pampered.
Right about the time my friend’s pedicure was wrapping up, my cell phone rang. It was the school, calling to inform me that one of my children fell down in the mud on the playground and needed a fresh change of clothes. I dashed home to grab a clean school uniform, and then raced back to the school before returning back home to put the muddy clothes on to wash.
By this time, my day was getting away from me. So much for relaxing at home after a nice pedicure! I had to pack bags and get things ready to leave so that I could head out of town just as soon as I picked up the children from school. Of course, this was the moment that my ex-husband texted me to say he couldn’t get the kids at the appointed time and would be about an hour and a half late.
Eventually, the kids were picked up by their dad and I finally embarked … only to hit traffic at every turn. I had hoped to have time to rest and slowly dress for dinner once I got to my hotel, but now I was going to be much later than I planned. Tired and frustrated, I was a big ball of emotions as I drove away for what I had hoped would be an enjoyable weekend of birthday celebrations.
I hadn’t yet gotten to Lafayette when my cell phone rang. It was Jon, calling to check in and see if I was ready.
“I’m not even in town yet, much less at my hotel,” I grumbled.
“Oh, that’s okay. Just come by the house first and you can check in later tonight.”
“No,” I sighed. “I really don’t want to do that. I want to change clothes and freshen up at the hotel first.”
“Okay, I understand.” Jon really did seem sympathetic but I could tell he also wanted to get to the restaurant before it got too crowded. “Why don’t you go check in and change quickly? If you give me your ETA, I will add about 15 minutes to that time. I can swing by and you can just run out to the car and hop in.”
“Jon! I don’t want to be standing outside some hotel waiting for you… That’s the last thing I want!”
There was a moment of silence. Then Jon asked, “Well, what do you want?”
“All I know is that I don’t want to be made to stand outside waiting for you to drive up as if I am just any old friend you might be getting before going out for a Friday night. Could you just park the car and come to the door for me? I’d like to feel like I am worth at least that much effort.”
“Oh, Paige … I wasn’t trying to make you feel like you aren’t worth the effort. I just figured it’s late, we are hungry and we could save time. But I can tell that was a bad idea. Tell you what. After you check in, text me your room number at the hotel and I will come to your door and pick you up. What time should I arrive?”
We agreed that Jon would give me half an hour from the time I texted him with my room number.
Now so far, this doesn’t seem like a very great date … and it wasn’t! But truthfully, the date hadn’t even started yet. The good news is that once the dated finally got started, everything went better. Much better. In fact, it turned out to be quite enjoyable and very memorable … definitely one of my favorites.
When I got to the hotel to check-in, the room I had originally reserved wasn’t available. Somehow my reservations had gotten screwed up, but thankfully the hotel manager fixed the problem. Instead of getting a standard hotel room, I was upgraded to a King Suite, at no extra charge.
As I opened the door to my suite, I was welcomed by this beautiful room, filled with flowers and a scent so wonderful I thought I must have walked into heaven. (To this day I have never been a place that smelled quite so lovely! I realize that seems like a strange thing to say, but to me the scent seemed almost God-given … like a sweet reminder that “every good and perfect gift comes from above.” James 1:17) There was chocolate on the bed and a big jacuzzi tub in the over-sized bathroom. As I stood and looked around me, I suddenly felt pampered and spoiled in a way no pedicure had ever made me feel before.
Half an hour later, there was a knock on the door. I opened it to find my handsome beau waiting there, flowers in hand. Jon took me to eat at a nice restaurant, where we dined on shrimp étouffée and had pecan pie for dessert. Afterwards, we enjoyed strolling hand-in-hand and chatting before Jon dropped me back off at my hotel.
The next morning, Jon took me to eat breakfast. As we were finishing up, he said, “I thought maybe wandering through antique stores together would be a nice way to spend your birthday … and while we are out, I want to buy you a special teacup. So when you see a teacup that you love, just let me know and it is yours.” (I have a collection of several dozen teacups, most of which aren’t worth much of anything except something of sentimental value.)
In the very first shop, I spotted an emerald green teacup with gold trim. It’s unique shape gave it something of a look of a flower with long petals unfurling. I was attracted to the bright, beautiful colors and gently scalloped edges. But when I picked it up, I noticed the beautiful cup had a chip. I hardly thought it was worth spending $15 on a chipped teacup.
I must have looked at another hundred or so teacups that morning. Jon and I wandered through seven or eight little antique shops, each of which had many teacups lining the shelves. Nothing compared in color or style to that little green teacup with the chip.
I paused to pick up a fancy teacup, feeling tired of looking for something as beautiful as the teacup I had seen earlier in the morning, yet didn’t have a chip or a crack.
“I liked that emerald green teacup a lot, too.” Jon’s words echoed my thoughts.
“I know … but it was chipped. I just hate to spend the money on a cup that’s probably not worth it, even if I do like it.” I sighed, as I fingered the handle on the delicate white teacup before me, a perfect piece without a single blemish, yet not nearly as enchanting as the chipped cup back at the first antique shop.
Jon cleared his throat. “Sometimes, it is the imperfect things of this world that are worth the most. Besides, last night you told me you wanted to feel like you were worth the extra effort … and you are, Paige. You are worth it, and I know it with all my heart. I’d like to buy you the chipped cup to remind you of that.”
So we went back to the store where we started, and Jon paid $15 for a stunning emerald teacup with gold trim and a chipped place on the rim. To this day, that teacup has a place of honor in my collection, always on display because it reminds me that despite all my flaws Christ esteemed me worthy enough to die on the cross that I might gain everlasting life with Him.
As promised, tomorrow I will share Part One of The Great Birthday Date.
This is “Judge’s Contribution” to my Great Dates Contest/Give-Away. It will not be included among the entries, but will hopefully inspire my blog readers to continue submitting their own great dates stories as well as provide me with more blogging material. Besides, who doesn’t love to hear a great date story?!
Want to enter the contest? Just leave me a comment about one of your great dates … or better yet, post a great date story on your blog (be sure to ping back to me!). It’s all you have to do! Just be sure to enter before the end of August.
This blog post is based on two different assignments from the Blogging University Writing 101 Course. I’m combining Assignments 14 and 15.
The first assignment was to open the nearest book to page 29, pick a word that jumps out at you and write a letter to someone regarding the thoughts or ideas that you got from the word. I chose the word horses from page 29 of These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
The second assignment was to imagine that an event which shaped my life and worldview was being cancelled forever, and write about how it made me feel. I chose to write about Spring Ridge Sunday. Part family reunion and part church homecoming service, Spring Ridge Sunday is a real even held the first Sunday of each May in the rural hills of Catahoula Parish, Louisiana. Though the tiny one room church doesn’t have regular services any more (and hasn’t since the 1940’s), the ancestors of those original members still come and fill the pews to sing, pray and gather in worship on that one Sunday each spring. Every year I look forward to attending as a way to connect my daily faith to the legacy of God’s faithfulness throughout the generations. (Psalm 119:90) I cannot imagine my little world without Spring Ridge Sunday.
I suppose you’ve heard the news by now.
Can you imagine beginning the month of May without Spring Ridge Sunday? How can that possibly be?
I suppose I can count on one hand the years I’ve spent the first Sunday of May some place other than Spring Ridge Baptist Church. It’s simply always been a part of my life.
Do you remember the spring we all had the chickenpox? Mother wouldn’t let us go that year. Who could blame her? All of us were still covered in spots which were in various stages of healing. You and I were as mad as the proverbial wet hen. We begged and pleaded, but Mama stood her ground. It was one of the few years we stayed home from the annual Spring Ridge church services.
Hard wood benches. Humid Louisiana springs. Swatting at flies and fanning with the old cardboard fans provided. What was it that made us love Spring Ridge Sunday so much?
Fascination with the old outhouse? Maybe at some point. For a few years I felt sort of like Laura Ingalls Wilder, as though I had stepped back in time. The lack of indoor plumbing was … well, it gave me an appreciation for more modern conveniences. Thankfully, the charm soon lost all appeal.
Ma’s chicken and dumplings? Oh, definitely! You could only get that particular delicacy three times a year. Spring Ridge Sunday, Papaw’s birthday and Harvest Day Homecoming Service. I can still taste the deliciousness of those dumplings. I guess it was more than just the chicken pie though. Seeing all that food spread out on the make-shift tables, piling plates high with food, sitting on lawn chairs, visiting with people who I wouldn’t see for another year. Dinner-on-the-grounds was certainly a Spring Ridge Sunday highlight, but not the real reason behind the event.
The sermons? Some years the sermons were encouraging. Other years … well, not so much. I still laugh every time I think about that poor preacher who couldn’t find his text. He flipped all over his Bible, and never did land on the verse he promised to read aloud. Part of the fun each year was guessing what sort of preacher might show up to share God’s word with us. But that certainly wasn’t the reason I wanted to attend those once-a-year church services.
The history behind the service? Well, certainly there are some interesting stories to come out of that small church in the middle of the piney woods. Do you recall how Ma used to tell of the horses neighing whenever they heard the congregation begin to sing the words to the parting hymn, God Be With Us ‘Til We Meet Again? Still, just history itself isn’t reason to go back to Spring Ridge again and again, year after year.
The people? Oh, I love so many people who came to Spring Ridge. It was as much a family reunion as it was homecoming church service. But there were just as many unfamiliar faces in the crowds, people I didn’t know and never found the time to meet personally. The ones I really cared about I could always find other ways of keeping in touch rather than continuing to drive 20 miles into the rural hillside of north Louisiana on a particular Sunday in May.
So what is it that made Spring Ridge Sunday so special? Why continue to travel the dirt roads to the old one-room church house, year after year? Why does it feel so wrong to know Spring Ridge has been cancelled forever?
To the best of my reasoning, it has to do with my favorite part of Spring Ridge Sundays … the recognition of the original families who attended the old church. It’s the same each year. As the old church roll is called, those who have returned stand up when they hear the names of those who came before them. Some names are called and no one stands. But not for Jim McGuffee and Minnie Belle Allbritton. The wooden floorboards shake as half the crowd rustles to their feet, paying homage to the faith of two simple people, husband and wife, who raised their children to love the Lord.
The Bible is clear. You can’t get to heaven on the coat tails of your parents or grandparents. And yet God is promises to show love for a thousand generations to those who love Him and His ways (Exodus 20:6).
This is the reason I love Spring Ridge Sunday. It’s a reminder of God’s promises. It’s a reminder of where my family has come, that I am who I am because someone who lived long before me decided to love God … and because of that decision, I have come to know a personal Lord and Savior as well.
Oh, I know. The cancellation of Spring Ridge Sunday won’t change any of those things. It certainly won’t change my relationship with Jesus Christ or my personal faith in God.
Still, I know every first Sunday in May, I’ll pause and give thanks to the generations before mine who loved the Lord. My our generation do the same for those who will follow us.
This is part of the Writing 101 Series. I am combing two days of assignments: Day 4 assignment which is to write about something lost but never found, and Day 13 assignment which is to write about something found. Enjoy.
Normally I love having five children.
Not so during Christmas shopping season. If there is one thing our family sacrifices by having a large number of children and only one working parent it is a typical American materialistic Christmas.
Fortunately, I am not a materialistic person in general, or else I might truly struggle with this far more than just during the holidays. I suppose the vast majority of lower middle class families must shop on a budget, but our regular budget is stretched even thinner during Christmas. And while in my heart I know there is far, far more to Christmas than presents under the tree, a part of me still struggles with not being able to give my children the same sorts of gifts their friends are receiving.
Jon and I were both relatively frugal prior to our marriage, including the way we approached Christmas and birthday gifts for our children. My children were used to the 3-present rule … if three gifts were enough for the Baby Jesus, then three presents are more then enough for you. Additionally, I’m a bargain shopper, on the hunt year-round, stockpiling gifts to go under our tree. Our kids have never gone without gifts, even if they aren’t expensive iPhones or iPads or other fancy high-end gadgets.
Still, imagine my delight last fall when Jon and I realized we had accrued enough points through our bank to receive two Amazon gift cards worth $100 each. My mind raced with happy delight over all I could purchase my children. Divide $200 by five and it was still only $40 per kid, but still it was $40 more than I would normally have spent. And when added to the rest of the money I had saved it nearly doubled my tiny Christmas budget.
For a couple of weeks, I carried those cards protectively in my purse. Late at night, when all the kids were in bed, I worked diligently to fill my Amazon cart with the perfect gifts, bargain shopping online. By early November, I was nearly ready to make the final purchase.
That’s when I realized the cards were gone.
Carefully, I looked through my purse a second time. No cards.
I dumped the entire thing out on my bed. Still no cards.
I sorted through papers on my desk and around my bedside table. Nothing.
I ripped open bags of trash, picking my way through dirty napkins, banana peels and empty milk cartons. The only thing of interest that I found was incomplete piece of homework a sneaky child decided to throw away. Definitely no gift cards accidentally tossed out with the garbage.
I asked the kids if they had seen my Amazon gift cards. They gave me long blank stares, slowly blinking their eyes at me as if I were speaking a foreign language. No one claimed to know anything about my lost cards. Using my mothering powers of detecting deceitful children, I concluded no one was lying. These children were without a doubt innocent, at least of the crime of stealing or misplacing my Amazon gift cards.
After a harrowing 48 hours, I came to the disappointing realization that a significant portion of my Christmas budget was completely missing. Gone. Vanished into thin air.
With trepidation, I approached Jon to confess that I had lost our Amazon gift cards. Jon is easy-going, as gentle as any man I’ve ever known, but to tell him how I had lost those cards felt like admitting to a federal crime. True to his nature, Jon listened, gave me a hug and offered to help look again for the cards. I felt intense relief that he wasn’t frustrated or angry over my careless mistake. I felt sure that together we would find the hidden cards.
But even with Jon’s help, the gift cards didn’t magically surface. A week’s worth of deep searching left us still empty-handed.
As a measure of last resort, I took a chance and called my bank to see if unspent, lost cards could be replaced. The unfortunate answer was no.
It was then I realized those Amazon gift cards were not going to be found or replaced, at least not in time for Christmas shopping to be done. They were gone … and with it $200 worth of Christmas surprises for my children.
I’ve lost a lot of things in my nearly 42 years on this planet. While some of my lost treasures are gone for eternity, I’m glad that most of them are eventually found again.
During my high school years, I lost close to $500 I had collected for a school fundraiser. Thankfully I found every last penny of that money, hidden in an manila envelope which was stashed inside a shoebox at the top of my closet. I had obviously taken precautions to keep the money safe. But the trauma of the desperate search was too much, and is the reason that to this day you will never ever find me volunteering to be the treasurer for any organization.
Another time I lost an important piece of jewelry. I searched high and low, emptied trash cans, moved furniture, cried and prayed. The beautiful ring was lost for nearly 6 months before it surfaced again, well-hidden between a large desk and a wall.
Sometimes I even lose things and I’m not aware of it. When these lost treasures surface, it always brings a delighted smile to my face.
For example, I recall the long overdue library book found years later stuffed back in a box of old purses and shoes. How it got there I will never know. Furthermore, why I never realized I lost it still remains a mystery. But I was glad to have found it, and still recall how thrilling it was to be able to return it to the small library I frequented as a child. (To add to my delight, all the years of accrued fines were forgiven! Certainly, this was a win-win situation all around!)
Another time I found a $5 bill stuck between the pages of a college textbook I was about to resell at the end of the semester. I couldn’t even recall where the money had come from or when I had placed it there. But to this day I remember being excited enough to grab a friend to celebrate my discovery with me. As I recall, we relished chocolate ice cream cones as we lounged in the warm spring sun and talked about the special sort of happiness that comes with an unexpected surprise such as finding money you never knew had been misplaced.
No matter what I’ve lost, once it has been found there is reason to celebrate. Sometimes with a high five or a fist bump or a jubilant shout for joy . Other times with a chocolate ice cream cone or an excited phone call to share the news with someone who will listen to my lost and found tale.
Almost always, finding what was lost ends with a prayer of thanks to the Lord.
Perhaps you are familiar with the parable Jesus told about the woman who lost a coin. It’s found in Luke chapter 15, verses 8-10.
“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it?And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
As a child, I always imagined the woman to have lost a penny or nickel or a dime. These coins weren’t worth much to me, and so I couldn’t understand why this lady was so distraught over a little lost coin. Later on, I learned the coins were worth an entire day’s wages. Suddenly I understood why finding the coin was a really big deal. No wonder she wanted to celebrate with her friends!
What is the most valuable thing in the world? Is it money? Health? Family?
None of those. The most valuable thing each of us has is our life, the very fact that we exist.
It’s often said that there are only two certainties on this earth … taxes and death. I may not be able to do anything about having to pay taxes, but I don’t have to fear death. I don’t just have to hope there is something good on the other side, or pray I’ve done enough good during my time on earth to assure me a place in heaven.
Because of the love of Jesus Christ and the sacrifice of His perfect life in payment for all my sins, I have a deep, unshakable hope and a very real assurance of heaven, knowing that when I close my eyes in death I will open them in the glory of God’s presence. And the day I submitted to the authority of Christ over me and sought a relationship with the Creator of the world, the angels celebrated around the Throne of God … because what was lost had been found.
I may never find those lost Amazon gift cards. But if I do, rest assured there will be much celebrating in my home.
But even that will not compare to the celebration in heaven over a single lost life found again through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
It’s the best word to describe my feelings upon hearing “Worthy of Worship” the first time. I felt a strong desire to draw myself fully into the act of praising my Savior.
I had recently moved to a new town. To paraphrase Dickens, this particular season of my life could be described as both the best of times and the worst of times. The reality of divorce and single “mommy hood” was quite overwhelming, and yet I never felt God’s presence more. Finding God in that hard place made me want to praise Him more. I desired to learn to live my life as an act of worship.
With the move, everything about life became unfamiliar. Constructing new routines is hard, and even things I normally love and look forward to doing (like church attendance) became more of a challenge. While I loved my new church, often I felt alone in the congregation, not quite at home or comfortable.
Sunday after Sunday, my children and I sat towards the back of the sanctuary. And most weeks, I just asked God to give me the strength to get back to church the following Sunday morning. I wanted to be there, and yet nothing was harder than going to a place where I didn’t completely fit in, at least not yet.
One Sunday morning towards the beginning of the service, the pianist began to play familiar intro to “Worthy of Worship.” Everyone in the congregation was seated. The music minister did not ask us to stand as we began to sing. Along with everyone else, I sang, enjoying the beauty of the music and the sound of the words. I certainly felt like I was worshiping God … until the lady on the pew directly in front of me suddenly stood up.
“Why on earth is she standing?” I thought.
I looked around. Everyone else was still seated. No one seemed to be concerned about the lone lady standing. But I certainly was.
While I’m not exactly shy by nature, I do not like to attract attention to myself, especially attention for doing something which might be considered unorthodox or strange or even out of the box. If the truth be told, deep inside I felt ashamed for this lady, who stood when everyone else was seated. I even felt like she was drawing attention to me. I just wanted her to sit back down, so that I could go on worshipping God.
“You can continue to sit here and sing, or you can stand and worship.”
The words were audible, as if the person on the pew behind me had leaned forward and whispered them into my ear. Yet even as I heard them I realized no one near me had spoken. No one else around me heard them either. I knew instantly this was the sound of God’s voice. Though I had heard Him speak to me many times before, I was still surprised to hear His voice again.
My stomach did flips. I felt a little dizzy. For the briefest of moments, I was paralyzed. The Holy Spirit had just given me a choice: continue to sit and sing, or stand in worship.
Suddenly I found myself standing. Immediately tears began to flow down my cheeks. I don’t recall if I even sang the words, or if I simply stood … but what I realized as the song came to an end is what I assumed was worshipping God wasn’t even close.
Each time I hear the song Worthy of Worship, I am reminded of the moment I first tasted true worship of my Savior, completely surrendered in my heart, my mind and my soul to Him.
And I am reminded of the wonderful someday when I will get to stand before His throne (or fall face down) and worship at His feet.
This writing 101 prompt was to write about the three most important songs in your life. However, as I am already behind on the daily assignments (by two days), I figured I would just write about the one song. There are so many others which have personal meaning to me. Maybe I will save those for future posts.
What about you? What song (or songs) have been important in your life?
Is there a particular song God has used to teach you how to worship?