Longer Than I Can Remember

For as long as I can remember, there have been Tia, Cindi, & Ginger.

My three childhood friends. There were more of course, but only these three are a part of my life prior to where my memories begin. For as much as my brain and heart know, these three have always been around, moving in and out and about the circles of my existence.

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I am the little girl on the far-right, first row. Ginger sits directly to my left, with a precious pouty face. Tia stands behind us, curling her long blonde hair. We were all about 3 years old.

Tia was the beautiful ballerina, an artsy and free-range child. Life at her riverbank home was as wild and unpredictable as my own home was scheduled and sedate. Tia and I dipped our toes into the murky waters of the meandering river and danced in the rain and hosted tea parties for fairies with pecan shell cups on driftwood tables. With Tia, imagination trumped everything, coloring my world with vivid hues of possibilities I never could fathom anywhere else. When she moved on the eve of our transition into Jr. high, I felt like I had lost my left arm … left because she was left-handed while I was right.

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Time for 4th grade honor roll ribbons! I’m on the front row, goofy grin and eyes closed. Tia kneels next to me. Cindi stands directly behind me, while Ginger (wearing a blue skirt) stands behind Tia.

Cindi was my Sunday School friend, the only other girl my age at church.

She was only a few months my senior, yet next to Cindi, I always felt more like the little sister. While I was the oldest of three, she was the baby of her parents’ trio. Thanks to the influence of her older sisters, Cindi was always more aware of the bigger world around us, whether it was music, fashion or which teacher rumors were true and which ones were tales blown out of proportion. There was warmth in our friendship, a certain sort of safety that wrapped around me, almost like curling up in a cozy quilt on a cold winter’s night.

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5th grade Halloween Carnival Pageant. I am contestant #2, wearing a peachy-orange dress. Tia is contestant #3 in a lovely white dress. Ginger is contestant #4. I remember feeling insanely jealous of both Tia’s and Ginger’s dresses, and feeling completely oafish as I was so much taller and larger than the other girls.

And then there was Ginger.

As much as I loved Tia and Cindi, it was Ginger who fascinated me. She was everything I wasn’t.  Tiny and petite, with dark hair and eyes while I was always chubbier and taller than all the other girls, with my dingy blonde hair. Ginger’s personality was as big as she was little. A feisty fireball ready to take on the world. Daring and full of eagerness to try everything. In comparison, I felt intimated by the world at large, unsure and uncertain about anything untested or untried.

From the time I knew her, I wished I could be more like Ginger. I wanted just a little of her spunk …

Ginger decorates a cake at my 8th birthday party. It was a favorite party with all my friends as my mother gave each girl in attendance a cake to decorate.
Ginger decorates a cake at my 8th birthday party. It was a favorite party with all my friends as my mother gave each girl in attendance a cake to decorate.

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I spent my childhood among the cotton and soybean fields of north Louisiana, in a tiny village where the population barely topped 500 human souls. At the tiny elementary school there was only one classroom for pupils in each grade. Classmates, who were often related by blood anyway, grew as close as siblings as they marched year by year through the grades together.

My class was small, even by our town’s standards, hovering most years at about 18 students, give or take a child or two. We were also light on girls, just six or seven in the entire class. Perhaps this banded us together, though the girls in the grade ahead of us were just as close if not closer. We came from a tight-knit community and one thing we all learned was how to love each other in spite of our flaws.

Our formal education came to a close in the spring of 1990. We said goodbye, young and unaware of how life would take us all in a thousand different directions. That was twenty-five years ago, though it doesn’t seem like that many years have passed us by.

In the meantime, life goes on. 

Tia moved the summer before 6th grade. I still saw her from time to time during jr. high and high school, though my adolescent insecurities caused me to feel awkward around my old friend. But thanks to our small-town roots and the glories of social media, Tia and I have rekindled our old friendship, and enjoy exchanging Christmas cards every year.  When my father passed away last fall, I looked out into the sea of faces at his funeral and saw Tia’s in the crowd. Words cannot describe a friendship like that.

Cindi and I graduated as the top two in our high school class, not a tremendously hard feat considering how few of us there actually were wearing the caps and gowns. We followed each other to college, rooming together and serving as bridesmaids in each other’s weddings. We even gave birth to our boys within a few months of each other. Though we don’t see each other face-to-face very often, we do enjoy visiting with each other anytime we both managed to get back to our small town on the same day. I spoke to her the day my dad died, knowing that she would speak words of comfort the way only a close friend can do.

And then there was Ginger.

I may have seen her half a dozen times since high school, a dozen at most. Our paths rarely crossed. The last time I saw Ginger, perhaps 4 or 5 years ago at a basketball game, she hugged me. Her smile as bright as ever. We chatted and caught up and hugged again as we parted ways. We never had been extremely close friends … and yet Ginger had always been there since before I could even remember. We were the sort of friends who had a connection with each other that would always be there no matter what happened in our lives.

Ginger died two days ago, unexpectedly and tragically. I’m reeling. She is the first of my friends to die. I might not have been as close to Ginger as I was to other friends … but I loved her. My heart hurts and feels so heavy over the death of my friend.

Not one of us has unlimited days to live. The Bible tells us that our days are numbered before we ever take our first breath. So while I wasn’t prepared to learn about Ginger’s death, God Himself was eager and ready to welcome my friend into Heaven’s gates.

I will miss sweet Ginger on this earth … but I am glad for her life, grateful for her impact on me, and thankful that she was one of three special friends I had the privilege of knowing longer than I can remember.

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.
~ Psalms 116:15

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Better than February

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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.

Coming Full Circle

Anyone who knows me, knows I am not a movie person.  It’s a rare day that I feel the urge to sit down and watch a movie completely through.  It’s even rarer for me to be able to quote movie lines.

So you can imagine my surprise when I started hearing a random movie quote in my head during the Sunday morning sermon.

If you ask them, they will come.

Okay, so it’s not an exact movie quote, but it’s pretty close. Even I knew it was very similar to what actor Kevin Costner heard in the movie Field of Dreams.

I don’t even know if I’ve ever watched Field of Dreams from start to finish. I seem to recall the main character (played by Costner) heard a mysterious voice telling him, “If you build it, he will come.”  The IT was a baseball field which Costner built in the middle of a bunch of corn (I think). I’m not really sure who HE is, but a bunch of famous ball players from days gone by show up in the middle of the field to play a game after the baseball field is completed. I guess one of them was the HE that Costner was looking for or something.

See, I really am no good when it comes to playing the movie game. My mind just doesn’t work that way. Hopefully, I’m close enough to the ballpark though with my pathetic attempt at summarization.

(Yep …. pun intended.)

While I may not be able to fully explain the Field of Dreams quote, I do know the exact meaning of what I heard at church on Sunday, as well as who said it to me.

Sunday morning I almost didn’t go to church.  A messy house and the possibility of another family coming over for lunch after the worship service on top of an aching foot had me debating whether or not I had a good reason to stay home. In the end, I decided I could wear my nicest flip-flops to church (and thus ease my foot pain), throw food into the crockpot for lunch, and enlist the help of several children to surface clean the worst spots of the house. If I had chosen to stay home, I would have missed out on a huge blessing.

Early in the service, I noticed an unfamiliar family walk into the sanctuary, and felt an immediate tugging in my heart, letting me know I needed to go meet this couple. So, during the short break between our music service and the Bible teaching, I made my way over and introduced myself to them. David and Heather Evans told me they were missionaries from New York, here for a short 3 week stay in Cajun Country. I found out they homeschool, and since I do as well, suggested that perhaps we could have a park day while they were in the area. I figured that would be that, and headed back to my seat for the sermon.

But things didn’t go as I thought, for there was the Voice in my head that started talking to me almost as soon as Pastor George began to preach.

Go back after the service, and talk to Heather and David. Invite them for lunch. If you ask them, they will come. 

Mentally, I started to resist. “I’m sure they have plans already. Besides, they don’t know me at all. What sort of folks would come over to eat with a random family? It will be embarrassing if they turn me down. And what if I don’t have enough food …”

Again, the Voice whispered:

Invite them for lunch. If you ask them, they will come.  … They will come. … Ask. They will come.

Sighing, I leaned over to Jon and whispered, “I met this couple during the greeting time. I think God wants me to ask them to come eat lunch with us. What do you think?”

Without any hesitation, Jon said, “I think you better ask them.”  A moment later, he leaned back over and said, “Good thing the Guidry’s aren’t coming to eat with us after all. At least we’ll have enough food.”   Up until that point, I had not known Brandon and Neta’s family wouldn’t be joining us.

So it was settled. Only, I still felt nervous and uneasy.  Not so much about how they would answer my invitation.  After all, I knew how it was going to end. The Holy Spirit had already told me. And yet, there was the worry and doubt. What if they didn’t like the food I had prepared? Our family has a strange diet, especially for this area. No gluten. No dairy. What would we talk about? I didn’t know anything about them, other than the information I had learned during our brief introduction. Would our kids get along? Their oldest was the age of our youngest.

Following the service, Jon and I immediately walked over.  What happened next was completely unexpected.  After I introduced Jon, he began to talk with David about their missionary work. David told us how he worked with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, particularly with the sport of ice hockey.

My first thought was one of disbelief. Ice hockey in Louisiana? Lafayette is actually home to the Ice Gators, a  minor league pro hockey team. While they have plenty of fans in the area, I don’t know a lot of kids who participate in ice hockey.  It sort of reminded me of my 90 year old grandfather, who upon joining the US Army during WWII was immediately shipped off to Colorado where he was trained as a medic in the snow ski patrol.  Here he was, a young Louisiana boy, who had never climbed a mountain or put skis on his feet, trying to save the lives of others while doing both of those things.

The very next thought to come into my brain was, “Why does ice hockey ministry sound familiar to me? Don’t I know someone else who does this too?” Then it hit me. I did know another family who shared Christ through ice hockey.  So I said, “You know, I think I know some folks who do something similar. They live in North Carolina, though.”

David said, “Really? Well, we have some ministry partners in North Carolina. Can I ask who you know?”

“The Wagners. Scott and Kristin.”

“You are kidding me!” He gasped. “You know Scott Wagner? I work with Scott! How do you know him?”

Heather and Jon stood there gawking.  I laughed.  It was almost too absurd to be true … and yet it was.

I had first met Scott and Kristin at Gum Branch Baptist Church in Hinesville, Georgia. In fact, I think Scott was the first person I met at the church.  I had only been in town for 3 days. I had my two boys, ages 3 and 1, and was seven months pregnant with Julia. My family had moved into a rental home, but our furniture hadn’t yet been delivered due to a delay with the Army movers. When the Wagners found out that our furniture wouldn’t be delivered for nearly a month, they rounded up several chairs, a small dining table, a couple of air mattresses, and even a small TV for us to use. Kristin invited me over to wash clothes, so that I wouldn’t have to drag two toddlers to a laundromat.

I could rave for hours about the Wagner Family, and how they blessed me and my family immensely during our three years of life in Georgia.  Joel loved their son Josh, who was a year or so older. In fact, for years whenever he would write a story for school, he used the pen name “Josh Terry” a combination his two favorite people on earth at that time, Josh Wagner and his Papa, my father Malcolm Terry.  And Tori Wagner, their daughter, had a special relationship with Nathan.  For most of his young childhood, Nathan expected every babysitter to be exactly like Tori, and he was always disappointed when they weren’t.  While I’ve only really kept up with the Wagners through Facebook in recent years, the memory of their Christ-like love to our family has stuck with me for the past decade.

With a smile, I said to my new friends, “Well, I was already planning to ask you to join us for lunch, but now I feel like I know you so you must come eat with us!”

Heather said, “Oh, we’d love to  … but  we kinda have a special diet.  We don’t eat gluten.”

“That’s perfect” Jon said, looking at me with a knowing grin, ” We eat gluten-free too.”

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Just like the Holy Spirit told me, David, Heather and their four beautiful kids did come to our house for lunch. We enjoyed a great visit, which lasted most of the afternoon and included sharing our favorite God stories. I felt immediately comfortable with them, just as I had with the Wagners a decade ago.

I’m grateful to the Lord, who brings us full circle, through blessings and difficulties and back to blessings.  It was Him who, on a Sunday morning in Georgia, introduced me to the Wagner Family. He was with me as I suffered through a divorce. He blessed me with a new husband, and used a medical crisis in his life to force us to follow a gluten-free diet.  And brought it all full circle on another Sunday morning ten years later, when I heard His whispers in my head, meet the Evans Family and feasted with them on the encouragement of God.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[a] for those who are called according to his purpose. ~Romans 8:28

What’s your God-story this week?

Feel free to share, because there is nothing more encouraging than recognizing God in the little and the big things of life.