With Gladness

Each spring, Megan and I have the same conversation.  It goes something like this:

Megan, I need you to to start thinking about what you want to submit to the Writes of Spring writing contest at the library.

I don’t want to enter this year.

I didn’t ask you if you wanted to enter. It’s just a part of our homeschool and your education. All of my students enter.

Megan pokes out her bottom lip and whines, “Can’t I skip this year? I don’t know what to write about and I hate trying to come up with a topic. Besides, I won first place last year.  That means I should get a year off.

You tried all those excuses last year. They didn’t work then and they won’t work now.

Whhhhhyyyyyyy! It’s like torture. I hate it.

Why do you hate it so much, Megan? You’ve won first place three years running. You are a great writer.

I hate it because I have to come up with a topic that fits the categories and then I have to keep it to just 750 words. And once I”m done, then you and dad edit it and find all my mistakes. Once the mistakes are fixed, then I have to turn it in … and that is just the beginning of that long wait to find out if the judges liked it. GiGi! I can’t do it again! It’s too hard! Besides, I don’t want to be a writer. Please don’t make me!

Sorry, Megan. Even if you don’t like it, even if its hard, and even if you don’t want to be a writer, you still have to do it. It won’t kill you to enter again this year. No one ever died trying to write a 750-word essay or story. Besides, I’ll help you find a great topic. I’ll bet together we can come up with a fabulous idea.

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Megan is a good writer. She has won first place in the parish writing contest for the last four years and twice placed third in her age group at the state level. But she doesn’t want to write.

Why?

Well, she said has plenty of reasons. But mostly, it’s just not her idea. I’m forcing her to participate in an activity for school that she doesn’t want to be a part of. And if that isn’t reason enough, what I’m asking her to do isn’t an easy task. It’s hard and requires lots of work. Work she would rather not do.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about myself and how I am often the same way.

For a couple of years, Jon and I prayed diligently about a family ministry we could do together. I was thinking along the lines of serving in the kitchen of our local homeless diner once a month, or maybe taking a family”vacation” to do some sort of ministry.  We tried several avenues in our town. To my surprise, they all failed terribly.

“What is wrong?” I pondered. “Doesn’t God want us to serve Him?”

Then I thought maybe God might allow us to adopt. Orphan care has interested me since my college days. Several adoptive families are among my close friends and relatives.  So, Jon and I embarked on gathering information for what I just knew was our big ministry … but can you believe that door slammed shut as well?

“Fine,” I thought. “We’ll just wait and let God show us what He wants us to do.”

Interestingly enough, this was God started whispering and working in odd ways. Before I had time to blink, the craziest thing in the world was happening to my family. Something so illogical and spectacular that it could only be God at work. He called us into fostering.

Can I just pause right here and tell you that fostering was not anywhere close to my idea of a great family ministry? Not at all. This was not anywhere on my version of Paige’s Life Plan.

In fact, when we first started talking about it, I was so scared I could hardly believe I was even allowing myself to consider the idea.  Who wants to take in foster children? You work hard to love children who come with tons of baggage. And then just when you start to make headway, the kids go back. You don’t have anything to show for it in the end.  No thank you, Fostering is not exactly how I envisioned making a difference for God.

But God has a way of convincing you to do even those things you don’t want to do. Remember Jonah?

So Jon and I got all signed up. Before long, we were ready for our first placement. Barely two days passed by and we had a phone call, asking us to take in two foster toddlers. A boy and a girl. We took a deep breath and said yes, unsure of what to expect.

At first, getting two foster babies was exciting. It took about 3 hours for the excitement to wear off, and reality to set in. Fostering babies, as it turned out, was exactly what I was initially expecting … work.

Our foster babies came to us as neglected children with all sorts of emotional problems and delays. Screaming matches, hitting and pulling hair, biting, defiance of every sort. Day in and day out we deal with their negative behaviors, trying to teach them more about how to be loved and accept love from others and experience some of God’s love. Some days are better than others.

This morning started off as one of those other sort of days. I no more than put the two of them into the booster seats to eat their breakfast when they commenced to a screaming and screeching match against each other.  Soon, their antics included throwing food.

As I walked into the dining room to deal with the chaos, I sighed and thought, “And this is how you want me to serve you, Lord?”

“Yes. Only I want you to do it with a glad and grateful heart.”

OUCH! Not only did that small reprimand sting me, but it surprised me.  You see, I’d rather have a big writing ministry. Unlike my stepdaughter, I wish I had writing success … books to publish, a website/blog that drew thousands of readers each week, speaking opportunities, conferences to attend, etc. Seems to me that a writing ministry would be an amazing way to serve God.

Or why can’t I serve God by going on a short-term overseas mission trip? What about working with some larger ministry like a pro-life group or volunteering to feed the homeless? I have a lot of great ideas about how I think I could best serve God.

Instead, God has called me and my family to love two bad babies who desperately need to be loved unconditionally.

It’s a process, but I am learning to be grateful for my callings in this life … all of them.  Wife, mother, a homeschool teacher, writer (because I know God did call me to faithfully write for Him). Even foster mom.

Oddly enough, most of what God has asked me to do for Him won’t bring me personal fame or glory or recognition. It’s just hard work.

Even then, God wants me to do all those things with gladness. It’s not easy or fun all the time, but when I persevere and push through with a heart thankful for the chance to do anything for God, then I allow Him to get the glory and He blesses me with more opportunities to do His great works.

What has God asked you to do that you wish He hadn’t?

How have you learned to be grateful for even the hardest of God-given callings?

With a Thankful Heart-2

Another Rainy Day

It was raining yesterday when the white DCFS van pulled into the driveway. It all felt so strangely familiar as I took hold of two toddlers … only this time, instead of being met with scared, blank eyes, that sweet toddler boy saw me and a big smile lit up his face.

“GiGi!” He stretched out his arms to me, and as I pulled him close, he melted into my arms.

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It was also raining on September 12th. I remember because that was the day I first met the tiny duo that rocked my world.

I will never forget how the rain fell as if it would never stop as the white DCFS van pulled up in our my driveway. My sister-in-law held an umbrella over my head, as I reached in and pulled out a plump baby girl with big blue eyes. A social worker followed behind us, clutching her older brother tight to protect him against the rain.

For five months, those two kiddos were a part of our family. And then just as quickly as they arrived, our precious babies left.

That was three months ago.

All spring my phone has remained strangely quiet. I had only two calls from the DCFS, and neither placement worked out in our favor. Honestly, I was glad for the reprieve. My attention was needed elsewhere …  A rental property that I own (located several hours from my actual home) needed some extensive work, my grandfather passed away, and my son had major surgery.

Yet, it was also a season in which Jon and I often discussed our decision to be foster parents. Is this still what we felt called to do? Was it worth the cost to our family? We agreed that we felt called by God to do this work and that we should keep our home open to children who needed a loving home. And so we waited …

Yesterday about lunchtime the call came through. Two children in need of a home … two year old boy and his one year old sister. The same sibling set we took in last fall and loved on for five months.

Would we take them back?

Of course. How could we possibly say no?

Only this time Jon and I said yes to the call knowing the cost involved. We know the commitment will require more of us than we thing we possibly have to give, and yet somehow we always find we have enough.

We already know the bittersweetness of being foster parents. The is an immense blessing that comes from loving these tiny sweethearts, and yet the fact remains that these are someone else’s babies. The only reason we get to love them is because something horrid happened in their lives in the first place. It’s a reality we can’t escape.

Jon and I know that chances are great these babies won’t be with us forever.  It could be weeks or months, but probably we will have to give them back. And yet, until we do, we love them just as if they are our own children. To do anything less would be wrong, even though in our humanness we have a desire to cushion our own hearts from the possibility of pain associated with losing someone we love.

This time it would be different. This time we aren’t naive. This time we know exactly what saying yes means … and still it is the only answer we have.

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Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.      ~James 1:27

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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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

The First 24 … and then some

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!