“J” Names

Every so often, I think about how odd it is that so very many people I love have names starting with the letter J.

There is my husband Jon, and two of my children (Joel and Julia). My paternal grandmother’s name was Juanita, and one of my especially dear friends is Josephine.  My dad and his father both had the first name James, though neither of them used it, preferring to be called by their middle names instead. My sister-in-law is Julie and her husband’s name is Jeff. My cousin has a son named Jude, and another cousin has a boy named Jack.

There are more …

Mrs. Jeane taught me 4th grade, but she was always more like an aunt to me. I  have two friends named Jill, and a college pal named Justine. Every week at church kind Mr. Johnny sits in front of me, and sometimes Jose’ sits behind me. I have several acquaintances with the names Jennifer, Jessica or some variation thereof. I know a few Joshuas, a couple of Jeremys and there are at least three people I know with the name JJ.

And should I run out of people with names start with the letter J, there is always my husband’s dog, Jackson.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It really does seem like a lot of people have J names.

One year I had a classroom full of 3rd graders, in which 15 of my 23 students had names beginning with the letter J.

Jordan, Jordon, and Jordyn, as well as Jacob and Jakob. Jeremy and Jerome. Jocelyn, Jacqueline, and Jasmine. Joshua. Jarod. Jacee. Jamie. Jade.

Whew!

Of the remaining eight students, five had names beginning with the letter K or a C which made the hard “kuh” sound. (Oh yes … the insanity is true. I couldn’t make this stuff up. Poor Damien. He probably got called on to answer questions far more than he should have.)

Naturally, that was the school year I thought I might go crazy. Never in my life have I stuttered quite so much. I vowed then and there to never name a single one of my children any name starting with the letter J, but you see how well that worked out for me.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When I was a child, my church often sang an old hymn that goes like this:

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. Sweetest name I know.

Jesus. It really is the sweetest, most wonderful name. It’s also the most important name I know, for it is the name above all other names.

at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow—
of those who are in heaven and on earth
and under the earth—
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord

~Philippians 2:10-11

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.

 

 

Advertisements

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.

smartphone-431230_1280

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. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.

Airplane: a simple story that changed my life

Credit: printablecolouringpages.co.uk
Credit: printablecolouringpages.co.uk

 

One of the interesting problems of growing up in a devoutly Christian home is that I am unable to remember a time in my life when I didn’t know about Jesus and who He was. You might not think this is a bad problem to have, and I suppose in the grand scheme of things it really isn’t … but somehow it did end up causing me years of worry. In the end it was a simple story about an airplane that helped me figure things out and make sense of my relationship with Jesus.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

From a very young I knew all the Bible stories, from Daniel in the lions’ den and David fighting Goliath to Jesus being born in a stable and dying on the cross. Once my mother told me that my paternal grandmother enjoyed asking me show her friends how I could sing Jesus Loves Me. I wasn’t even two years old at the time.

Knowing who Jesus was and all about His life was not a problem.

But for a long time, I didn’t know if I was really saved from my sins.

And I knew enough to know this was a huge problem.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

You see, I could go back in my childhood and remember a couple of specific events that led to my salvation experience.

When I was six or seven, an elderly lady who lived across the street passed away in her sleep. I remember feeling greatly concerned over her death for she had seemed well enough when she rode to church with us on the previous Sunday. I was further shocked when my parents remarked about dying in one’s sleep was such a peaceful way to go to be with the Lord. After this, I began to have trouble sleeping because I feared I might not wake up. Although deep down I wanted to go to be with Jesus, I was afraid of dying. 

Several months later, I remember talking to my parents about what it meant to be “saved” and getting baptized. Later my father took me to the preacher’s house for another conversation. I was a little bit scared of that pastor. I recall sitting on a chair, nervously swinging my legs back and forth. I remember reciting John 3:16 for him. Afterwards, I remember feeling as though I had passed some sort of test, though what sort of test I couldn’t exactly tell you.

What I cannot recall is a particular conversation I had with my mother the summer before my 8th birthday. According to my mom, one afternoon in our little garden the two of us had a conversation which ended with me praying to receive Christ as my Savior.

As much as I’ve tried over the past 30-something years, I cannot remember as single detail about that afternoon. My mother is not a habitual liar. I truly believe her recollections of that day.

I just wish I could remember for myself.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

By the time I was 13 years old, my lack of memory over my own salvation experience became a huge problem for me.

I had heard preachers say that those who were truly saved would remember the very day and hour that they accepted Christ. I heard other pastors talk of being able to tell of a person’s salvation by the evidence of a completely turned around life.

What did that say about me? I couldn’t remember anything about that afternoon in the garden. And how had my life changed after Jesus? I felt pretty much the same way I always had felt since childhood … a love for Him and His people, a desire to please Him and walk in His truths. I had never been addicted to anything or prone to big and terrible sins.

So I worried silently about my own salvation, ashamed to let anyone know that I was uncertain about the one thing I should know beyond a shadow of a doubt. And as the years went by, the fears grew to plague me more and more.

Until I heard the airplane story.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Fall 2003, Gum Branch Baptist Church near Hinesville, GA.

My family had moved there the previous spring as my husband had been stationed at Ft. Stewart. Over the summer, I had given birth to a baby girl, making me the mother of three children ages three and under. It’s a wonder I ever went to church. But I did, and quite faithfully. Always hoping that I would find some sort of peace with my regarding my relationship with God.

That fall, I signed up for a Sunday night Bible study. I remember thinking that I must be crazy to try to get out at night with three tiny children and go to church. And yet I felt compelled to be a part.

That very first night the small group that had gathered in the sanctuary watched a video of Dr. Adrien Rogers, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention. His topic: How to be Certain of Your Salvation.

 I don’t remember much of that particular sermon except for the airplane story … which goes like this:

Suppose you and I are both in Orlando, FL, and we are going to Atlanta, GA. You drive to Atlanta and I fly. I ask you to meet me in Atlanta and to pick me up at the airport. When you drive, you will know when you crossed the state line. It will be obvious because there will be a sign that says, Welcome to Georgia.  When I fly, I will cross the same state line, but I will not be aware of it. But I will land in Atlanta. We meet in the Atlanta airport, and we are both there. I came in an airplane and you came in an automobile. You give your testimony and say, “I remember exactly when I crossed the state line.” I give my testimony and say, “I don’t remember when I crossed the state line, but I know I did because I am in the Atlanta airport. The important thing is since I am in the Atlanta airport, I know I must be in Georgia and did cross that line.”

If you are trusting in Jesus, you did trust in Jesus. The real test is not whether you remember the time or the place, but that you are this moment putting your confidence in the Lord Jesus Christ.*

After the video ended, the pastor asked several people around the room if they would share their personal testimonies of salvation. Two or three people shared, and then the pastor said, “We have time for one more person. Paige … why don’t you share with us?”

With tears in my eyes and not a single doubt in my mind, I answered, “Pastor, I got there by airplane.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. ~1 John 5:11-13

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.

*excerpt taken from What Every Christian Ought to Know: Essential Truths for Growing in Your Faith by Dr. Adrian Rogers

A Christmas Birthday

christmas-eve-SLIDER

Although the entire Christmas season is generally a magical time, there is something spectacular about Christmas Eve.

When I was growing up, I had many favorite Christmas traditions: baking, decorating and delivering Christmas cookies to some of the elderly members of our church; listening to Chrsitmas music; watching Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life or Bing Crosby in White Christmas (and, for some strange reason, The Sound of Music ) all of which came on the TV as this was before the time of VCRs and DVD players.  Singing Christmas carols at church all through December; pulling decorations out of the box and hearing my mother recount where she had gotten them; caroling around the tiny village with my church; sipping hot chocolate in the glow of the Christmas lights. These were a few of my favorite things.

But there was one special thing about Christmas in my family that seemed to make the holiday extra exciting.  My mother is a Christmas Eve baby.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I was always slightly jealous of my mother’s Christmas Eve birthday. How wonderful it seemed to me to be able to share a birthday with the baby Jesus! The lights, the decorations, the foods, the carols, the parties and gifts  … why all of those wonderful activities and traditions must make a Christmas birthday seem to last forever! And who wouldn’t want to extend their birthday celebration out for as long as possible?

The countdown to my September birthday began as soon as school started in mid-August. I was prone to making construction paper chains, snipping one strip off each day as a way of marking the time. I remember always hoping to receive lots of birthday gifts, delighting in the fact that inevitably I would be the center of attention on the day of my birthday.

But my mother never expected anyone to remember or make a fuss over her birthday. She didn’t seem to care if she only got one gift labeled for both birthday and Christmas among all the wrapped presents under the tree, and seemed to actually prefer to think about what good things she could do for others instead of thinking about how people might pay attention to her. And perhaps most of all, she seemed to insist that her three children put our Christmas focus on the Christmas Child in the manger and the reason for His Holy birth.

I suppose a part of me figured she did those things because she was all grown up and grown ups aren’t supposed to love their own birthdays quite as much as little children do. And yet I don’t think that was the case at all. My mother, it seems, was always gracious about her birthday and not prone to expecting a big to-do over it. I know this because …

My mom as a toddler ... pictured with her father.
My mom as a toddler … pictured with her father.

Tucked away in her wedding album was a letter, written in my grandmother’s beautiful cursive, the paper yellowed and dated December 24th of the year my mom turned 4 years old.  Most Christmases, I pulled it out and read it to myself, wondering about the little girl who had grown up to be my mother. I would looked longingly at the old photos of her childhood, thinking how her white-blonde hair, bright blue eyes and sweet smile gave her the appearance of a tiny angel without wings.

The long letter basically recounted my mother’s 4th birthday party, an event in which all the neighborhood children came because Santa was going to be there. When it came my mother’s turn to sit on Santa’s knee, she asked him to bring a doll to a little girl who didn’t have one to play with … my grandmother recorded her as saying, “I already have a lot of dolls and toys.” Even my grandmother seemed to marvel at her oldest daughter’s generosity.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As a child, I believed that my mother got to share her birthday with Jesus because she was so very lovely and good … and I wished I could be that lovely, too.

I know my mom will read this and later on tell me that she doesn’t know where I get my ideas from, but I know deep down how wonderfully special my mom truly is. She has a generous spirit, full of concern and love for others. She is gentle, selfless, kind, and unassuming. Her outlook on life is positive and full of hope for the future.

And yet, as wonderful as my mother is, her Christmas Eve birthday is NOT the reason for the celebration. It’s another birthday that must always take center-stage … the birthday of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us.

There is a common Christmas saying:

Jesus is the reason for the season.

The only thing is that Jesus can’t be just the reason for the season. He needs to be the reason for our every action, every day of the year.

And tonight, as I think about my mother (of whose birth it is said was so late on Christmas Eve that she was nearly a Christmas Day baby), I feel so very grateful that she taught me the importance of loving and worshipping the Holy Baby in the manger every day of the year.

May you celebrate the birth of Christ today, tomorrow and every day to come … Merry Christmas and joy to the world!

Can You Lose Your Faith?

Once a homeless meth addict … now the chaplain at an inner-city mission.

An overweight couch potato … now runs 5K’s.

A high school drop-out … now has a college degree and working toward a Masters.

People with the guts, motivation and inner character to make a complete 180 in their life are inspirational. I want to hear their stories for in them I find motivation for my own life struggles.

But a charismatic preacher turned atheist who now leads other atheists? 

That’s not inspiring. Perhaps baffling or intriguing, but definitely not a story which would influence or encourage me to become someone better.  In fact, after reading the NY Times online article about just such a pastor (who oddly enough used to be an acquaintance of one of my former college friends), I was left with far more questions than anything else.

What could possibly cause a pastor to leave his church and so completely abandon his faith in God that he becomes an atheist? Why would this atheist now want to start conducting meetings similar to church services for atheists? And why on earth would an atheist want to attend anything remotely like a church service anyway?

The article did spark some lively lunchtime conversation though. Jon and I bantered around ideas about what sorts of things might happen in an atheist “church.”  Somehow Jon, Joel and Nathan began to make up songs which might be sung, such as “I’m a god, you’re a god, wouldn’t you like to be a god too” to the old Dr. Pepper commercial tune.

Later, once the joking stopped, our questions and thoughts turned more serious. Abandoning faith is not a pleasant thought for any Christian. It’s like divorce, only from God and not from another human.  And trust me on this because I’ve been there … no matter how bad the relationship or what Biblical reason you might have, divorce from a human you once professed to love is hard on the heart and soul. I can’t imagine how much worse it would be to divorce one’s self from God Almighty, especially if your life was once devoted to sharing His love with others.

As we continued to talk more in depth about the idea of losing one’s faith, Jon brought up Job, the man from Uz who was blessed immensely by God and then lost everything he had in the span of a single day.  All of his children, all of his wealth … gone in an instant. Yet his faith didn’t waiver.  In fact, it is recorded in Job 1:20 that he “fell to the ground in worship.”  Not long after this, Job lost his health as well. When his wife suggested he should “curse God and die,”  Job responded, “Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?” (Job 2:9-10)

As we talked, I shared how the story of how the old hymn It Is Well With My Soul came to be written. Horatio and Anna Spafford were happy. Life had treated them well: five children, Horatio’s thriving law practices, lots of investments in real estate around the Chicago area, wealthy even by American standards. But in 1870, the Spafford’s charmed life fell apart. Their only son died of scarlett fever at the age of four.  In 1871, Horatio lost much of his real estate investments in the Great Chicago Fire. But he didn’t lose faith in his Savior. In fact, the Spaffords made plans to join the great evangelist Dwight L. Moody on a revival tour in Europe. When it came time to set sail for Europe, Horatio sent his wife and four girls ahead, planning to follow on a different ship a few days later after attending to some business that could not be neglected.  Unfortunately, the ship carrying his family across the Atlantic was struck by a British steamer and sank in just 12 short minutes. All four of his daughters drowned. His wife was one of the few passengers to survive the ordeal.  A few weeks later, Horatio made his way across the Atlantic to join his grief-stricken wife. As his ship crossed over the location of the tragic sinking, Horatio retired to his cabin and penned the words:

When peace like a river, attendeth my way; When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say: It is well, it is well with my soul.

We sat in silence for a few moments, pondering the faith of men like Job and Horatio Spafford, who had it all, lost it all, and never truly lost faith in God. And then, Jon asked:

“Do you think there is anything you could lose that would make you lose all faith in God?” 

Nathan (who is 11 yrs old)  immediately replied, “Well, maybe something like losing my mind … if that happened, I’d probably lose my faith because I just wouldn’t remember anymore.”

I didn’t quite know how to respond to his comment, but I knew I didn’t like it. The very idea of being able to lose my faith for any reason is unsettling, but especially for a reason that I can’t control such as losing my mind … well, it is almost more than I can stand to think about.  My thoughts went to my grandmother, whose life of faith has a strong influence upon my life. She suffered from Alzheimer’s for 10 years, ever so slowly slipping away, her mind gone long before her body.

Just last week, I visited with my grandfather, the two of us spending some time remembering my grandmother and her particular love of singing hymns of praise, not just at church but as she went about her daily activities as well. I told Papaw how that even now, seven years after her death, whenever I think of the words to a hymn or play the notes to an old church song on my piano, I hear the sound of my grandmother’s rich alto voice singing the words in my head. “I supposed it will always be that way,” I commented.

Papaw nodded, looking out the window for a moment or two. Then, he spoke, sharing with me how in the last couple of years of her life, when my grandmother no longer recognized him and rarely spoke audibly at all, she never forgot the words to the hymns she had love to sing in worship. He said, with a wistful smile, “Every Sunday afternoon I would take your grandmother down to the church service in the nursing home, and I never once knew her not to sing along to the hymns … and she always knew the words. That was something she never forgot.”

 She never forgot.

 I pondered those words, remembering my grandmother, her strong faith before the Alzheimer’s took away her mind, her voice singing hymns even when she couldn’t remember my grandfather. She never forgot because she never lost her faith in God. She never lost her faith because it was real in her heart.

 So why did the pastor turn his back on his church, abandon his faith in God, and become an atheist … the very antithesis of the man he used to be? What caused him to lose his faith?

Well, I can’t say what life events might have occurred to spark such a change of heart, but I do know what the Bible has to say situations like this:

Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they heart it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. Luke 8:13

No, Nathan … nothing — not even losing your mind — will cause you to lose your faith in God, if your faith is real and rooted in Christ.

 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, no any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 8:38-39