September 17th: the Good, the Bad and All that is Important

I was born September 17, 1972.

I have always liked being a September baby.

Well, for the most part I liked it.

Both of my siblings had summer birthdays. They never had to think about going to school, taking a test, or doing homework on their birthdays. I have to admit that sometimes I would feel a slight twinge of jealousy about this.

However, the truth is I generally didn’t mind going to school on my birthday. My elementary classmates sang The Birthday Song to me most years. Sometimes my friends brought me a gift to open on the playground. Other years, my mom would allow me to have a friend come home after school, especially if my birthday fell on a Friday.

There was another reason I loved having a September birthday. It just so happened that both of my grandfathers had September birthdays too. My birthday happen to fall between their respective celebrations.

Whether we were with my mom’s dad on September 5th or my with my father’s father on September 19th, I always got to be included in the birthday celebration. Everyone sang to me, and I got a set of candles to blow out.  And since I was the only cousin (on both sides) with a September birthday, I always felt extra special. Looking back, it seems like nearly every year of my childhood I got to share a birthday party with one or the other of my grandfathers, and some years I was lucky enough to get two extra parties out of the deal!

However, as much as I loved my birthday, the childhood version of me always wished for a September 16th or 18th birthday instead.

The reason behind this longing is really kind of silly. Somehow in my childish way of thinking, 16 and 18 were more desirable numbers than 17. But obviously you are born on the day you are born, so there is no changing it afterwards. I am forevermore stuck with a September 17th birthday.

Good thing that over the years I’ve learned to embrace it … mostly.

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Do you love reading the “On This Date in History” posts you see on social media? Or looking back at the headlines from the year you were born?

I do!

September 17th has a fairly interesting history, at least I think it does for a date that seems sort of random.  For example, all of the following events happened on September 17th:

  • The city of Boston was founded in 1630
  • In 1683, Dutch scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (known as the “Father of Microbiology”) first described what he called “animalcules”, or microscopic organisms that we now know as  protozoa
  • The Constitution of the United States was signed in 1787
  • Harriet Tubman escaped from slavery in 1849
  • In 1976, the first Space Shuttle (Enterprise) was unveiled by NASA
  • Vanessa Williams was crowned the first black Miss America in 1983

Lots of good things have occurred historically on September 17th.

Unfortunately, there have been plenty of bad things that happened on this date as well. Such as:

  • In 1862 the American Civil War Battle of Antietam was fought, which to this day remains the single bloodiest day in the entirety of American military history
  • Also in 1862, the Allegheny Arsenal Explosion, single largest civil disaster of the Civil War
  • The first airplane fatality occurred in 1908 when Orville Wright crashed his plane during a show, killing his passenger
  • And in 1928 the Okeechobee Hurricane struck Florida and killed more than 2,500 people

and, depending upon how you feel about it, there is also this:

  • Lord of the Flies was first published in 1954.

Personally, I really disliked Lord of the Flies, which is why I included it on the list of bad September 17th events as opposed to the good list. It’s extremely hard for me to imagine that anyone could possible like this book. However, if by some strange chance you consider yourself a fan of Lord of the Flies, and if you feel inclined to correct my lists, then by all means feel free to comment below. I promise not to judge your sanity based on you love for this strange and disturbing novel.

Back to my ramblings on the fascinating history of September 17th.

There are lots of supposedly important people who happen to share my birthday.

You know, like Charles the Simple, who was a Frankish King who ruled West Francia from 898-922. He was the third son of King Louis the Stammerer and a cousin of Emperor Charles the Fat.

You remember King Charles the Simple, right?

Yeah, me neither. There really isn’t much to say about Charles, other than the fact that he was apparently simple … although exactly how or why he was described as simple seems to be lost to history. Some historians actually prefer to call him Charles the Straightforward. No explanation for that either. No matter which name you prefer, old King Charles is relatively unheard of today … well, unless you are really into Frankish royalty.

No worries if you didn’t recognize my birthday buddy Charles, though. There are plenty of other September 17th babies of notable fame, including:

  • Two Chief Justices of the United States Supreme Court: John Rutledge (#2, 1739) and Warren Burger (#15, 1907) … and they are the only two Supreme Court Chief Justices in the entire history of the Supreme Court to share a birthdate
  • American outlaw, Billy the Kid (1859)
  • Country singer, Hank Williams (1923)
  • Author of Ella Enchanted, Gail Carson Levine (1947)
  • Actor John Ritter (1948), who starred in the late 1970’s TV comedy Three’s Company
  • Video game designer, Yuki Naka (1965) who created “Sonic the Hedgehog”

Sometimes famous people have died on September 17th:

  • Dred Scott, an American slave who sued for his freedom and his case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, died in 1858
  • U.S. Vice-President Spiro Agnew passed away in 1996
  • One of my favorite comedians, Red Skelton, died in 1997

And my daddy. He died on September 17th, too.

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The death of a parent is a grief like no other. It’s a bit like being untethered. Like a newborn baby screams as it is forced to breath air for the first time, so our souls desperately cry when our parents leave this world. Like the final cut in the cord that has connected you in this world for as long as you have drawn breath is suddenly gone. How will we go on without them? It doesn’t matter if you are young or old. This is your parent. You’ve never known life without them, and now that they are gone everything you have known about this world seems to be unstable.

The unexpected death of my father coincided perfectly with my 42nd birthday.  I’ve spent the last 4 years trying to make sense of that.

I don’t want it to matter, but it does … at least for now.

Perhaps not as much as it mattered last year, and not nearly the same as it did on the two years prior. Yet the pain is still present. How do you celebrate on the same day that you lost a person you loved so deeply since before you were really even you? How do you embrace joy yet mix it with solemn remembrance when the sting of griefs rolls around each year?

I haven’t figured it out yet. Right now, September 17th is still a hard day for me. Grief anniversaries are real; my heart is just often sad around this time of year. And yet, his is my birthday. I want to celebrate … and, perhaps more importantly, people I love want to celebrate with me.

For now, in regards to September 17th, I work really hard on doing two things:

  • Finding ways to acknowledge my sadness, because the anniversary of my daddy’s death is still a sad day for me. I am grateful that I know he waits for me in heaven. I rejoice over his eternal reward. I look forward to seeing him again. And yet, I miss him being here and I still sometimes grieve because he is gone.
  • And then I am intentional about being creative as I plan ways to celebrate my birthday with my family and friends. This year, that included a trip to my favorite weekend Farmer’s Market, a little Saturday afternoon antiquing, and a small impromptu party.  My favorite person in the whole world is taking me to lunch today after I spend the morning training as a volunteer counselor at our local pro-life pregnancy center (something I’ve wanted to do for a long, long time).

I can honestly say it’s been a happy birthday so far. And I also know (thanks to God’s loving kindness and mercy) that whatever else today may hold, whether it is good or bad, I can trust that He will walk with me through it.

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With every year that rolls around, there is a September 17th. Some years good things have happened. Other years, it’s been a bad day.

Life is like that.

Some days are good. Some days are bad. Occasionally, you get a day where the good and the bad are mingled together.

And that’s okay.

Because as wise King Solomon once wrote: “On a good day, enjoy yourself; On a bad day, examine your conscience. God arranges for both kinds of days …”  (Ecclesiastes 7:14, The Message Bible)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5

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What Matters Most

Today is my birthday. Happy 44th to me.

Sort of.

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Photo Credit: http://www.specialevents.com

You see, today also marks two years since my father passed away …  rather unexpectedly.  On that Wednesday morning, I had only been awake for about 20 minutes or so when the phone rang, my brother calling to tell me that my dad had died. He just didn’t wake up that morning.

I don’t want it to matter that my father died on my birthday.

Honestly, I don’t.

Even on the dreadful day he died, I didn’t want it to matter that he passed away on my birthday. After all, my father would have never wanted me to experience any sort of emotional pain over him being called to his eternal home. Getting to meet Jesus face-to-face is a good thing … right?

But even good things hurt sometimes.

My dad used to tell me that after the first week of basketball practice back when I was in junior high.

He was right. A lot of good things hurt … having a baby, getting shots when you are sick, sore muscles after working out, going through physical therapy to recover from an injury, and so on and so forth.

Saying goodbye can be painful too. Especially if it is someone you love. Even if that person gets to go somewhere great. It still hurts the heart.

This gets me right back to where I started: Not wanting it to matter that my dad died on my birthday.

Only right now …  today … on this birthday … it still matters.

Jon and I talked a lot this past week about how I feel regarding my birthday. After the second or third such conversation, Jon said, in his matter-of-fact way, “Paige, it is clear to me that you just aren’t done grieving yet. That’s okay. Grief takes time, especially if you love someone. I suggest you should be as gracious to yourself as you would to someone else in your situation.”

Be gracious to myself.

In my grief.

With my hurting heart.

On this birthday when it still matters so very much.

I pondered that Jon’s suggestion and wondered what that would look like.

Last night, Jon and I were  talking about my birthday, making details and plans for the day. I have carefully orchestrated my day to ensure I won’t have much time to sit around and dwell on missing my father. Who wants to play the pity party game on their birthday?! Not me!

So we have planned a day trip to visit with my mom and sister in a nearby city. We’ll grab some lunch at a Mexican restaurant (because I am craving guacamole) and then do some shopping (mostly the window variety). I’ve got a little birthday cash, so I am thinking of looking for a new purse … or I might save it so that I can buy the pendant and earrings to match the opal ring Jon bought me for my birthday this year.

I think it’s going to be a good day.

Yet, like I told Jon, I am still struggling inside. I have hard questions that my human heart can’t answer.

Why did my dad have to die so relatively young?

Why didn’t God allow him to see his grandchildren graduate high school, get married and have children?

Why did God let him die on my birthday?

And then I confessed this other thought that has persisted in the back of my mind all week long:

What if something else terrible happens on my birthday?

Allow me a moment to push pause right here and said that I married a great guy. One of the many things I love about Jon is that he doesn’t get upset when I share my thoughts. He just listens and lets me talk through all the emotion. That’s exactly what he did last night.

But when I asked that last question out loud, Jon said, “Sure. You can ask that question, but it is an awful way to think. And it will certainly  make you miserable.”

He was quiet for a moment, allowing the heaviness of what he said and the weight of my own emotions to sink in deep.

“Paige, let’s remember what the Bible says about our thinking and how important it is to our own well-being.

What does God want us to think about? Well, He tells us. He said whatever is pure, honorable , just, pure, lovely, commendable, or excellent, we should think on these things.

And why is our thinking so important? Because it is through our thinking that we have our minds renewed. And the renewing of our minds enables us to more fully experience God, to know His will, to see more of His heart.

So, if you change your thinking and quit asking questions that you will never find the answers to, eventually there will be a renewing of your mind and it won’t matter so much anymore. Maybe not this birthday. Perhaps not even the next birthday or two. But trust me, one year it won’t matter nearly as much. Instead, you’ll be able to think about the things that really did matter regarding your father.”

Think on these things.

Experience the renewing of my mind.

Ask what really matters most.

Jon didn’t realize it last night (or maybe he did), but he gave me a place to start, a way to climb out of the hole of self-pity, a little bit of hope that maybe not all my future birthdays will feel so hard.

This is a gift that is better than any opal ring.

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So what is it that mattered most about my dad?

Well, he honored and cherished my mother. He adored his children and grandchildren. My dad placed high importance on maintaining good relationships with people. He had a strong work ethic. My father loved to laugh. He enjoyed life and lived right up until the day he died. My dad was my friend as much as he was my father.

All of these things mattered far more than the day he died.

Yet there is one more thing that mattered most of all:

My father loved and knew Jesus Christ.

In the end, this is why I know I can grieve with hope. Because my dad had a relationship with God, the day of his death on earth was also his birthday into heaven. I know that for him, the end was really just the beginning.

So does it really matter that my dad died on my birthday?

Well, sure it matters … but it’s definitely not what matters most.

And today, I am especially grateful for that.

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If you like, you can watch this YouTube video I made of some memories of my father.

The music is the Theme from Rudy (The O’Neill Brothers). My dad was a sucker for sentimental movies, and Rudy was one of his favorites.

My Grandmother’s Dishes

When my Aunt DeDe’s number came up on my caller ID, I was happily surprised.

Not only is she one of my favorite people in the world, but I hadn’t spoken with her personally since my dad died a year ago. Phone calls to Africa, where she was serving as a Southern Baptist missionary, weren’t something I made or received. My only contact with her for two and a half long years had been a blog and Facebook updates.

Late in the summer, Aunt DeDe had returned to the states. It seemed that everyone in the family had gotten to see her except for me.  And now she was calling me … and was about to make me an offer that would be just as pleasantly surprising as the phone call itself.

Paige, I don’t know if you were aware that when I moved back, I got Mama’s dishes. I’ve been unpacking them in my new house … and well, there are just too many of them for me and Curt. I just don’t need 16 place settings of china!” Aunt DeDe laughed, and for a moment she sounded just exactly like my grandmother. “Anyway, when I was thinking about what to do, you came to my mind. I wonder if you might like to have a portion of the dishes. I know it would have pleased Mama so to know that you had gotten some of them.

Tears sprang to my eyes. From the time I was a little girl, I had thought my grandmother’s Blue Danube china was the most beautiful set of dishes I had ever seen.

Blue Danube ... my grandmother's china pattern
Blue Danube … my grandmother’s china pattern

For as long as I could remember, my grandmother, whom I called Mammie, kept her china in a massive antique display cabinet that had once been part of an old drugstore. Back at the turn of the twentieth century, the old cabinet with sliding glass doors had neatly displayed ladies’ gloves and men’s handkerchiefs; now it overflowed with my grandmother’s trinkets and treasures … and all of that beautiful blue and white china.

There were dinner plates, salad plates, coffee cups and saucers. Each year, my grandfather bought her some new piece of her beloved china, accessories like platters of various sizes, vegetable bowls and covered casserole dishes. Perhaps most intriguing to me was the large soup tureen, with a matching china ladle. Though I never remember her using it, I always hoped someday she would. I suppose there were just far too many of us in the family to make it practical to serve soup out of that soup tureen.

Mammie didn’t use her china on a daily basis. Rather, it was reserved for special occasions and holidays … Christmas mainly. Oh, how I loved her Christmas table! Each seat had a perfectly arranged place setting directly in front of it.  One year, perhaps when I was 8 or 9, my grandmother invited me to come up and help her lay out the table a few days before Christmas. I remember the enormous weight of responsibility I felt as I gingerly carried the delicate dishes from the large cabinet to the long dining table. The last thing I wanted to do was break one of those beautiful plates!

One year, maybe when I was in high school or college, some of my aunts decided that it was too much work to pull out the china for our Christmas dinner. They claimed it was nothing more than a hassle to set the table only to have all those dishes to wash afterwards, and really no one wanted to be stuck in the kitchen, carefully hand washing all those china plates and cups, when they could be out enjoying the holiday with the rest of the family. I certainly understood the reasoning behind the decision to forego using the fancy china in favor of the large oval Chinet paper plates. Yet, after that, Christmas never felt quite as magical as it did when the table was so beautifully set with my grandmother’s best dishes.

Now, as I talked with my beloved aunt, flashes of all those moments popped into my head.  “What I have boxed up does not contain a full place setting of everything, Paige. I think you’ll have nearly eight pieces of almost everything, but not coffee cups and saucers. I can give you a few of the extra pieces to make up for that … and maybe you could buy a few replacement pieces if you wanted.”

I assured her that whatever she gave me would be more than fine.  After all, I never expected to have even the first piece of that china.

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That was early August. It wasn’t until the Saturday before Labor Day that I managed to go visit Aunt DeDe and pick up the boxes. And another week passed before I had a chance to unpack and sort through the contents. Seven china plates, eight salad plates, three coffee cups with saucers, one medium-sized platter, a vegetable bowl and a small casserole dish with a lid. Most surprising of all, the large soup tureen with the matching china ladle.

Where will you put it all?” Jon asked incredulously. This wasn’t the first time he had asked me where I intended to store all of my grandmother’s dishes.

“I don’t know.” The kitchen looked like it had exploded plastic shopping bags, the packing material my aunt had liberally used to cushion the dishes. Countertops were covered with dishes. My kitchen cabinets were already full, and I didn’t own a china cabinet.

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As I pulled the final pieces from the boxes, it occurred to me that I had space in the large floor-to-ceiling storage cabinets that were in our back entry way, next to our second refrigerator.

I’ll put them in there,” I finally said, answering my husband’s question. Then I added, “I probably won’t use these often …”

Just for special occasions and Christmas.

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This week marks a year since my father’s unexpected death. 

The last few weeks, my emotions have been all over the map. I probably have cried more in the past month than I did in the first month following his passing. In many ways, the pain feels heavier now than it did initially.

Part of me is surprised by that.

But, perhaps what startles me most about these delayed emotions is how much I find myself missing my grandmother, as well as my father.

Up until a day or two ago, I didn’t even realize how much I had been missing my grandmother. She’s been gone eight years now, nearly nine now … though Alzheimer’s took her long before that. I know it’s been longer than a dozen years since I heard her laugh. Perhaps it’s even been 15 years. I can no longer remember when she slipped away. All I know is that Alzheimer’s is the great stealer, taking a person away long before their death. By the time my grandmother actually stepped through the gates of splendor, all my tears had long been cried.

At least I thought there were no more tears left.

But this past weekend, as I put the last of her blue and white dishes in my hallway cabinet, I found myself wiping away tears.  Later, in the shower, I cried hot tears of grief … a grief so intense I wasn’t quite sure where it was coming from. Was I crying because I missed my dad? My grandmother? I couldn’t tell anymore. All I knew was the deep ache in my heart from a longing to see these people I had loved so dearly.

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When someone you love dies, people will tell you to give yourself a year. “The first year is the hardest. Once you get through all the firsts without your loved one, things will begin to get easier,” they say in hushed tones, as if somehow this is a comforting thought.

Maybe that’s true. I can’t exactly argue the point. But personally, I am more inclined to think that grief is much more unpredictable.

In my experience, waves of grief come and go, like tides moving in and out along the ocean’s shore. It doesn’t ever stop, though at times the tides of sorrow are lower and calmer while other days it feels like a wild hurricane threatening to drown everything in its path.

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Thursday marks one year since my father passed away.

I suppose, it makes sense that this week would be one of intense emotions. In fact, I’ve been anticipating the tide would shift and the waves of grief would begin to roll in higher as the year of firsts without my father drew to a close. And it’s proven to be true, as dreams of my father have been more frequent and tears have fallen from my eyes more freely during these last few weeks.

Thursday is also my 43rd birthday.

Last year, at my father’s funeral, someone commented to me, “My heart hurts for you especially, Paige. Not only did you lose your father, but now you will never again have another happy birthday!” Those words stung, like a slap in the face.  It’s wasn’t just the thought have living with such lifelong sadness , but also knowing that my father would have never wanted me to grieve over him like that either. After all, he is now more alive with the Lord in heaven than he ever was when he walked upon the earth.

Still in those first days and weeks following my dad’s death, as I mulled over how I would handle my future birthdays without succumbing to overwhelming feelings of sadness, the Holy Spirit gave me an answer that I never expect. And idea to solve my predicament that I certainly could never have come up with on my own.

From now on, my father and I will share a birthday …

My birthday on earth and his birthday into heaven. 

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In the past year, time and again God has proven the words of the psalmist are true:

The Lord is near to the broken-hearted. ~Psalm 34:18

From tangible blessings, like my grandmother’s dishes and a birthday vacation to Virginia to visit old friends, to comforting thoughts like sharing birthdays on earth with a loved one’s birthday in heave, my precious Jesus meets me in my grief and is my strong anchor whether the tides of emotion are high or low.

The reminder of this truth has been my greatest blessing during this past year.

Father’s Day … without a Dad

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This past week, I made a trip up to my mother’s home. From the highway, before the I turned onto the driveway and pulled up the hillside, I saw my father’s white truck. It was parked up past the house, near the gate that leads into the pasture. He often parked his white Ford F150 there.

Before I know what was happening, I felt my heart skipped a beat, as a half-formed thought bounced around in my head.

Oh, good! Dad’s here …

And then, like a deflating balloon, I remembered. Dad’s not here. My father is gone. I won’t see him on this side of heaven again.

I suppose the tears have been building all month. June is the month for celebrating fathers. This year, I don’t have a dad to celebrate. I’m thankful we aren’t a TV watching family. I didn’t need any sentimental commercials to add to the emotions I’m already feeling.

The past few days I’ve had these traces of conversations in my head, as I imagined the two of us chatting in the living room of his home. There is so much to tell him, it would take several cups of coffee to catch him up on all that has happened in the past nine months!

Let’s see … I’d have to share about how Joel had major surgery and shocked us all with his miraculously quick recovery. Of course, there’s all the adventures of life with our foster kids (who we only had for five days when Dad passed away). I would also have to share the saga of the renter leaving my house in such a terrible state, and then how we managed to fix it all up. Of course, Dad would never believe how much Nathan has grown in a short period of time … going from a 140 lb, 5’4″ to 185 lbs, 5’8″.  The amount of clothes I’ve had to buy for him is ridiculous.

I’d talk to him about how parenting teens is harder than I ever imagined and apologize for every time I ever rolled my eyes at him. He would agree that teens are hard people to love, and that I indeed deserve ever eye roll or exasperated huff I get from my five teens.

I’d have to tell him what an amazing dad he truly was … how I loved having him for my father. He wasn’t perfect, but he had so very many things right. He loved God, my mother and his children in the right order. He lived his faith at home and work, not just at church on Sunday mornings.

My dad was so funny. I liked to send him puns and tell him silly jokes, just because I wanted to hear his laugh. He really did have a great laugh. If I had an hour to sit and talk with him, I’d want to tell him at least one joke just so I could hear him laugh again.

I could go on and on. Actually, for several days, I have had these running conversations with Dad going on in the back of my brain. (I’m sure admitting that makes me seem as if I have some sort of mental issue. Hopefully though, I don’t … at least not yet.)

Eventually, I came to the end of my chatter. To my surprise, I found I didn’t have anything left to say. But I didn’t want the conversation (as one-sided as it was) to come to an end. And there, in the quiet, my brain asked a question I wasn’t expecting:

So, Dad … what about you? Tell me everything from the past nine months.

That’s when it hit me like a ton of bricks. My dad’s been face-to-face with Jesus, worshipping at the feet of the King of Kings. What would he have to tell me???  Oh, I can only imagine!

What would he say? I’ve thought about that a little bit as well. I don’t know, but maybe he would tell me not to worry or to be afraid. After all, he knows I have a tendency to feel both worried and afraid quite a bit. Anxiety is definitely my typical mode of operation.

Perhaps he would remind me to be fully surrendered to the love and care of God, who watches over sparrows and clothes the lilies of the field. God has got whatever is going on in my life. All I need to do is simply trust that His plans for me are good.

And I know that my dad would tell me that I should hang onto my faith because in the end it’s all going to be worth it. Forever with God is amazing.

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It’s my first Father’s Day without my Dad. I’m missing him terribly … but I’m grateful that I am not fatherless. Not only was I given the blessing of being raised by an amazing earthly father, I am also a part of God’s family. I have a Heavenly Father who watches over me, guides me and is ever leading me closer to Him.

And someday, I’ll celebrate with my Daddy around the throne of the Heavenly Father. What a Father’s Day that will be!

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.   ~ 1 John 3:1

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.

PaigeHalloweenCarnivalPageant
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

In Memoriam of Poppa: A Guest Post by Joel

Joel, age 15
Joel, age 15

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

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

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

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In Memoriam of Poppa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Truer words have never been written.

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BaptistGirlConfession

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

 

Birthday: A Final Conversation

September 16, 2014; 7:15 pm

Nathan: Mom, can I call Poppa? I want to tell him how we discovered I am allergic to dirt.

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It sounds crazy, but Nathan was speaking the truth. Earlier that day he had gone through some extensive allergy testing. One of the things the allergist reported was that my almost thirteen year old son was allergic to nearly all grasses and weeds. “Just to be safe, he should probably stay out of the dirt as well,” she said, winking at me and my son.

Now I looked up from my seat in the rocker, where I sat feeding the last bottle of the day to our new foster baby. I smiled at Nathan. “Yes, you can give him a call. I’m sure Poppa would love to hear all about your allergy testing. But here … use my cell phone instead of the house phone to make the call.”

Minutes later, I heard Nathan giggling into the phone as he relayed the funny results of his allergy tests to his grandfather.

It wasn’t long before Nathan came walking out, my cell phone in hand. “Mama, Poppa says he wants to talk to you now.”

I took the phone and said, “Hi, Dad! What’s going on with you tonight?”

“Not much. Just talking to you on the phone.” His reply was something of a familiar routine Dad and I went through at the beginning of our near daily phone calls. It might seem like nothing more than a silly little tradition, but there was something comforting to me about our habitual custom.

I smiled. “Same here, Dad. Same here.”

“Look, Paige … I told Nathan I wanted to talk to you mainly because I wanted to go ahead and wish you a happy birthday tonight. I know your birthday isn’t until tomorrow, but I think I might be too busy to call you then. I figured you wouldn’t mind me saying it a day early.”

I laughed. “Not at all! Just spreads the birthday celebration out a little longer. Besides, it always better to be early with birthday wishes instead of late because you forgot.”

Now it was my dad’s turn to laugh. “No, I didn’t forget. I remember all about the day you were born. Now, remind me … how long has that been? Forty-two years?”

“Alright, Dad,” I huffed, pretending to be put out with him. “I don’t see any need for us to establish exactly how many years ago I was born. Let’s just say I turned another year older and leave it at that.”

“Okay,” he agreed, the teasing tone still there. “Just as long as you know that you probably won’t get another birthday phone call from me. I’ll be thinking about you tomorrow though. By the way, I assume y’all are still coming up for your grandfather’s birthday celebration this weekend. He’s turning 91 and you are turning … oh, wait,  I forgot. We aren’t talking about how old you are.”

“Yes, we are still coming. But I’m sure I will talk to you before then.”

“Probably so,” Dad replied. “Just not tomorrow. I’ll be too busy.”

“Okay,” I replied. “You’ve convinced me. I won’t expect you to call tomorrow. But I’ll touch base with you before Friday. Love you, Dad.”

“I love you, too, Paige. Good night.”

As I hung up the phone, I had no idea that would be the last conversation I would have with my father.

At 7:15 am the following morning, I received another phone call. This time it was my brother, who was not calling to wish me a happy birthday, but rather to let me know that our father had quietly passed away in his sleep.

My father was right when he suggested he wouldn’t be able to call and wish me a happy birthday.  He was, in fact, too busy.

He was busy meeting Jesus face-to-face. 

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I’ve done a lot of grieving these past six months. Some days I think all the tears have been cried, only to find out the very next day there buckets more still to fall from my eyes.

But as deep as my sorrow goes, there is an unexpected peace I’ve discovered here in this shadowy valley of grief. I have learned the words of the psalmist are true.

Jesus is near to the broken-hearted. ~Psalm 34:18

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

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

Laughing and Crying … and Missing My Dad

This morning, I slept in later than usual.

I don’t really know why. I didn’t go to bed especially late.

Perhaps it was because Jon wasn’t home, so the alarm that wakes him up for work didn’t alert me that it was the start of a new day.

Or it could have been because I felt so warm in my bed on this rather chilly morning. I hate to say it but Jon is a blanket hog. He likes to roll up in the covers, leaving me on a sliver of blanket to keep me warm. In spite of this, I love the man. I’d rather have him home stealing my blankets than anywhere else.  And yet, I can’t help but admit that being toasty encouraged me to stay put in my bed this morning.

Maybe it was the fact that I don’t have to get up to take care of babies anymore. The foster babies always woke up around 6:30 am. They did not believe in sleeping in late, and always demanded in that baby sort of way that I get up and feed them breakfast straight away. Now that they are no longer living with us, the five tweens and teens certainly don’t rush to get out of bed unless, of course, I roust them out.

So, I slept in.

In fact, I stayed in bed so long that eventually I couldn’t sleep anymore. I was completely awake and yet I didn’t really feel like getting out of bed either. It felt so good to be snuggled under all the covers, toasty and warm. The dog was nestled against me, perfectly content to continue to sleep next to my side. I hated the thought of disturbing him.

And so I picked up my cell phone. I played a little Trivia Crack, read a couple of emails, but mostly I cruised along my Facebook newsfeed.

It wasn’t long before I came across a video of snippets from the Carol Burnett Show.  Tim Conway, Carol Burnett, Vicki Lawrence, Harvey Korman.  I couldn’t help but press the play button. Soon I had tears streaming down my cheeks from laughing so hard.

And, by the time the video had ended, I had tears of grief mingled in as well. Tears because I missed my dad and in that moment all I wanted was to share this video with him and hear his wonderful laugh.

Grief is an odd thing to experience. As the months go by, the ache in my heart seems to grow stronger. Some days I just miss the sound of his voice on the other end of the phone. Other days I miss knowing he is in Harrisonburg and that if I needed him, he would come to me within a couple of hours.

Today, I am missing Dad’s laugh. As I watched the antics of Tim and Harvey, Carol and Vicki, it was as if I could nearly hear him laughing along with me, tears streaming down his cheeks too.

So, in honor of my dad, here’s a laugh for you today.

 

A joyful heart is good medicine.  ~Proverbs 17:22

The Day I Became a Writer


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January 28, 1986.

Millions of Americans watch horror as the Space Shuttle Challenger explodes 1 minute and 13 seconds after lift-off.

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It was the winter of my 8th grade year. I was more concerned with my jr. high life of school, homework and which girl liked which boy than I was with anything else. I listened to Whitney Houston and watched Family Ties or The Cosby Show, and only barely paid attention to what the nightly news reported about President Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev and other leaders might be doing around the world.

But all of that changed on the day the Challenger exploded.

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I recall coming home from school and feeling mildly annoyed that nothing was on TV except breaking news reports. I never sat down to listen to what the latest world tragedy might be. I just dashed off to my bedroom to start my homework.

It wasn’t long before a friend called me.

Paige, have you heard? A space shuttle exploded! It killed all the astronauts, including the one that was a teacher!

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Overwhelmed with feelings of guilt, I could barely concentrate on what my friend was telling me. Moments later I hung up the phone, switched the TV back on and watched the images replay again and again. The group of seven astronauts smiling and waving to the small group of family and friends as they walked toward the shuttle. The giant white shuttle, pointed heavenward. The gradual lifting of the shuttle leaving behind a white trail of smoke against the brilliant blue winter sky. The explosion causing one trail to turn into two.

I felt sick to my stomach, yet I was unable to turn my face away from the TV. All I wanted was for the story to be false, for it all to be a big mistake, for the astronauts to have somehow survived the explosion.

But it was true. The shuttle exploded, leaving nothing behind but the shock and grief.  The entire nation mourned.

I was 13 years old …  and it was the first time I can ever recall being emotionally affected by a national tragedy.

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January 29, 1986

Class, today’s writing assignment is to write about yesterday’s tragedy with the Space Shuttle Challenger. You can record the event or write down your reaction.

My 8th grade English teacher gave out the assignment, and for a long time nothing could be heard but pencils scratching across loose leaf paper. I don’t recall whether or not these essays were turned in that day or if we spent several days editing those first drafts. I don’t recall if it was intended as a bigger graded assignment, or if it was just counted as a daily activity and checked for completion.

But I do remember the time I spent writing that day, and how I wrote about being able to see a bit of every American on board that shuttle … whites, blacks, Asians, men, women and even a teacher. I wrote about the sorrow of the tragedy, and how as Americans we all lost something on that awful morning.

Up until then, I never knew writing could be cathartic to the soul.

A week or so later, Mrs. Swayze announced that a small number of the essays written about the Challenger tragedy would be published in our tiny school’s newspaper. Mine was one of the essays chosen. It was the first time when something I wrote was published and read by others. I recall the comments I received from friends and even other teachers at the school, telling me how they felt comforted by the words I had written.

Up until then, I never knew how gratifying it was to have readers who found a measure of enjoyment or got some sort of pleasure from reading my thoughts.

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Somewhere, among all the boxes where I’ve packed up the scraps and pieces of my childhood, there remains a copy of that old school newspaper. Every five or six years, I will happen across it as I search for something else I know must be tossed in with the boxes of school yearbooks and 4-H ribbons and other items that tell the story of who I was before I grew into an adult.

Whenever I do, I always take a moment to pause and reread that essay. Tears well up in my eyes as I am transported back to that January so long ago, remembering the hours I sat watching the tragedy replayed on the TV screen and the scribbling of my pencil as I tried to write about that deep, sorrowful pain and what it meant to me and to my nation.

January 28, 1986 was a day of national tragedy and sorrow. It was a day when I grew up just a little bit more, realizing for the first time that world events affected me as an individual and as an American citizen.

It also happened to be the day before the day when I became a writer.

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And He who sits on the Throne said … “Write, for these words are faithful and true.”     ~Revelation 21:5