The Greatest Gift

It was raining the day they came to live with us.  

 I hadn’t been given much time to prepare for their arrival, perhaps an hour’s notice at most. I suppose that in the end it didn’t matter all that much, as I didn’t have a clue how to prepare to welcome them to my home in the first place.

When the white government mini-van pulled up in our driveway, my sister-in-law, who had unexpectedly dropped by and gotten caught up in the afternoon’s drama, held an umbrella over my head as I reached into the vehicle to pull out a chubby nine-month old baby girl. As I carried that sweet little one into my home, her big blue eyes gazed up at me with what I can only describe as a rather dull expression. No fear. No curiosity. No spark. Only a blank stare.

Days, maybe weeks, later, I noticed she had a dimple, so tiny and sweet, that flashed across her left cheek with every baby giggle.

But that day, there wasn’t any laughter.

Her big brother, if you could call him that for he was as tiny as she was chubby, walked into our home and immediately found the small collection of toys arranged on the living room rug. He busied himself with the cars, not seeming to notice there was anyone else in the house.

As I signed the stack of paperwork, accepting the responsibility of caring for these two children, I wondered what would happen when the social workers left our home.  Soon enough, I discovered the answer to that question. Nothing. No crying. No fretting. No indications of concern.  In fact, these little ones didn’t seem to realize they had been left alone with strangers.

I don’t know exactly what I was expecting to happen in those first hours. Certainly not smiles or laughter, but definitely not this uneasy calm either. But then I had never been around neglected children, which explains why …

This was also a day without tears.

The days turned into weeks, and slowly our two foster babies began to meld into our family. We read for hours on end, The Little Engine that CouldChicka-Chicka-Boom-Boom, and Goodnight Moon. We sang all the songs toddlers love: If You’re Happy and You Know ItThe Itsty-Bitsy Spider, and Jesus Loves Me. We even taught them which little piggy says, “wee, wee, wee” all the way home.

As the weeks turned into months, we celebrated their birthdays, applauded first steps, and marveled over first words. When the oldest began to recognize colors, we proudly bragged to our friends about how smart and intelligent our foster son was. There were harder lessons to be learned, such as the importance of using a spoon, how to pet a dog without pulling on its ears, and that during the clean-up song everyone must pick up the toys. At mealtime, we taught them how to fold their small hands and say grace over their food; at bedtime, we tucked them into their cribs with kisses and prayers.

As the months went by, the two babies began to change.  A sparkle came to their eyes. Curiosity returned. They began to act like children who mattered, because they did.

No longer neglected, now they were loved.

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But some days, maybe most days, I didn’t feel like loving them.

These babies weren’t like other babies who had been lavished with love and attention and nurturing since birth. Instead, they came to our home, bringing with them an emotional baggage for which I was not prepared. My days consisted of dealing with their bad behaviors. Throwing food. Screaming matches. Biting. Pulling hair. Clawing skin.

Initially, I had wanted to foster needy children so that I could share the love of Jesus with children who might not ever taste of love. My fostering dreams were nothing more than a golden haze of envisioning how I would be God’s light in the darkness.

I didn’t realize the darkness could be so dark.

The bitter truth quickly became clear. I really didn’t know how to love these babies who struggled to accept and respond to my efforts. The more I struggled, the more I fell to my knees, begging God for help and mercy.

Being a foster mom was mostly a humbling lesson in learning to truly love others. I suppose I had expected I would learn a lot about love through the process of being a foster mother, but I was banking on more of the familiar warm, fuzzy, feel-good sort of love.

Instead, God showed me a love that hurts and stings. And while He taught me more about love than I ever knew before, what I learned was that true love has very little to do with how I feel and everything to do with how I treat the other person.

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Last Friday, our foster babies left us.

Once again, I didn’t have much notice. Less than 24 hours to get ready for them to leave my home.  Just like I didn’t know how to plan for their arrival, I had no idea how to prepare for their departure.

I put all of their tiny clothes into suitcases, along with the four toys they were each allotted to carry on to their next destination. I dressed them in their nicest outfits, so that they would look all clean and shiny for their momma.

While we waited for the social worker to arrive, we sat together in the big rocker, reading board books and singing songs. I wiggled their smallest piggies, and together we laughed as we chanted, “Wee, wee, wee … all the way home!”

This was a day of giggles and laughter.

As the white government van pulled into my driveway, drops of rain began to sprinkle over the lawn. The time had come, and though I thought my heart might burst apart, I gently buckled them into car seats for the last time and kissed their tiny faces. The chubby baby girl, now almost 15 months old, reached out for me and cried.

It was also a day for tears.

And though I still grieve the loss, I already know that if I am given another chance, I’ll choose to do it all again … for love, as much as it sometimes hurts, is the greatest gift we can ever choose to give.

But the greatest of these is love. ~1 Corinthians 13:13

 

 

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The Great Birthday Date (Part 2 … because Part 1 comes tomorrow)

Today is my step-daughter’s (Maddie) Sweet 16 birthday. She’s a wonderful young lady … beautiful (inside and out, which is the very best kind of beautiful), talented (acts, sings, draws, writes), witty (will keep you laughing), clever (that girl has got a mind of her own), and the gentlest soul you will ever know (but she once stood up to a gang of bullies who were taunting a special needs child at her school). I love celebrating her today!

Because it’s a birthday morning, I had to get up early to go buy the traditional birthday donuts from Meche’s Donut King.  (Y’all, if you are ever in Lafayette, Louisiana, this is the place to go for donuts and King cake … and they are literally right around the corner from my house so the temptation to go get a donut for breakfast once or twice a week is practically overwhelming.  So overwhelming I had to make a rule that we can only have donuts for birthdays. Thank goodness there are seven of us!)

Anyway, getting back on track … like I said, I was up early to go buy donuts for the birthday breakfast, which had me obviously thinking about birthdays. And because I was up early, I also thought it would be nice to blog since I didn’t get around to that yesterday. And since I am having a blog contest on great dates, I thought perhaps I could share about one of my personal great dates.

And that’s when the idea popped into my head: I could share about The Great Birthday Date.  Actually, I need to tell this story in two parts because “The Great Birthday Date” actually took place over two birthdays, back-to-back years. But I need to tell part two before I can tell part one … or at least that’s the order I want to tell it to you.

So here it is … The Great Birthday Date, Part Two. (Tomorrow, you can read part one … promise!)

Photo Credit: Baker Publishing Group
Photo Credit: Baker Publishing Group

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 Jon and I had been dating nearly a year when my 38th birthday rolled around.

Now for those of you who don’t know, Jon and I met online (yes, we are one of “those” couples) and had a long-distance dating relationship prior to getting married. We lived a little over two hours apart. So for my birthday, I was going to drive down to Lafayette for the weekend.

Initially, everything worked out perfectly. Our five kids were all going to be off visiting with their other parents. I took that Friday off work so that I could go get a pedicure and relax at home before heading off for a weekend of celebrating in the early afternoon.

But then, all of my great plans began to fall apart. First of all, a sweet friend called me, in the midst of a personal crisis. I knew that God would rather me spend time with her instead of having my feet pampered. So, instead of soaking my feet in a soothing bath, I found myself sitting in her kitchen, listening as she wept. Before I knew what I was doing, I gave her my time slot at the salon for the pedicure appointment. I even went to sit with her while she got her feet soaked and massaged and pampered.

Right about the time my friend’s pedicure was wrapping up, my cell phone rang. It was the school, calling to inform me that one of my children fell down in the mud on the playground and needed a fresh change of clothes. I dashed home to grab a clean school uniform, and then raced back to the school before returning back home to put the muddy clothes on to wash.

By this time, my day was getting away from me. So much for relaxing at home after a nice pedicure! I had to pack bags and get things ready to leave so that I could head out of town just as soon as I picked up the children from school. Of course, this was the moment that my ex-husband texted me to say he couldn’t get the kids at the appointed time and would be about an hour and a half late.

Eventually, the kids were picked up by their dad and I finally embarked … only to hit traffic at every turn.  I had hoped to have time to rest and slowly dress for dinner once I got to my hotel, but now I was going to be much later than I planned.  Tired and frustrated, I was a big ball of emotions as I drove away for what I had hoped would be an enjoyable weekend of birthday celebrations.

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

I hadn’t yet gotten to Lafayette when my cell phone rang. It was Jon, calling to check in and see if I was ready.

“I’m not even in town yet, much less at my hotel,” I grumbled.

“Oh, that’s okay. Just come by the house first and you can check in later tonight.”

“No,” I sighed.  “I really don’t want to do that. I want to change clothes and freshen up at the hotel first.”

“Okay, I understand.”  Jon really did seem sympathetic but I could tell he also wanted to get to the restaurant before it got too crowded.  “Why don’t you go check in and change quickly? If you give me your ETA, I will add about 15 minutes to that time. I can swing by and you can just run out to the car and hop in.”

“Jon! I don’t want to be standing outside some hotel waiting for you… That’s the last thing I want!”

There was a moment of silence. Then Jon asked, “Well, what do you want?”

“All I  know is that I don’t want to be made to stand outside waiting for you to drive up as if I am just any old friend you might be getting before going out for a Friday night. Could you just park the car and come to the door for me? I’d like to feel like I am worth at least that much effort.”

“Oh, Paige … I wasn’t trying to make you feel like you aren’t worth the effort. I just figured it’s late, we are hungry and we could save time. But I can tell that was a bad idea.  Tell you what. After you check in, text me your room number at the hotel and I will come to your door and pick you up. What time should I arrive?”

We agreed that Jon would give me half an hour from the time I texted him with my room number.

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Now so far, this doesn’t seem like a very great date … and it wasn’t! But truthfully, the date hadn’t even started yet. The good news is that once the dated finally got started, everything went better. Much better. In fact, it turned out to be quite enjoyable and very memorable … definitely one of my favorites. 

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When I got to the hotel to check-in, the room I had originally reserved wasn’t available. Somehow my reservations had gotten screwed up, but thankfully the hotel manager fixed the problem.  Instead of getting a standard hotel room, I was upgraded to a King Suite, at no extra charge.

As I opened the door to my suite, I was welcomed by this beautiful room, filled with flowers and a scent so wonderful I thought I must have walked into heaven. (To this day I have never been a place that smelled quite so lovely! I realize that seems like a strange thing to say, but to me the scent seemed almost God-given … like a sweet reminder that “every good and perfect gift comes from above.”  James 1:17)  There was chocolate on the bed and a big jacuzzi tub in the over-sized bathroom. As I stood and looked around me, I suddenly felt pampered and spoiled in a way no pedicure had ever made me feel before.

Half an hour later, there was a knock on the door. I opened it to find my handsome beau waiting there, flowers in hand.  Jon took me to eat at a nice restaurant, where we dined on shrimp étouffée and had pecan pie for dessert.  Afterwards, we enjoyed strolling hand-in-hand and chatting before Jon dropped me back off at my hotel.

The next morning, Jon took me to eat breakfast. As we were finishing up, he said, “I thought maybe wandering through antique stores together would be a nice way to spend your birthday … and while we are out, I want to buy you a special teacup. So when you see a teacup that you love, just let me know and it is yours.”  (I have a collection of several dozen teacups, most of which aren’t worth much of anything except something of sentimental value.)

In the very first shop, I spotted an emerald green teacup with gold trim. It’s unique shape gave it something of a look of a flower with long petals unfurling. I was attracted to the bright, beautiful colors and gently scalloped edges. But when I picked it up, I noticed the beautiful cup had a chip. I hardly thought it was worth spending $15 on a chipped teacup.

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Look carefully on the left side of the rim and you can see the chipped place.

I must have looked at another hundred or so teacups that morning. Jon and I wandered through seven or eight little antique shops, each of which had many teacups lining the shelves. Nothing compared in color or style to that little green teacup with the chip.

I paused to pick up a fancy teacup, feeling tired of looking for something as beautiful as the teacup I had seen earlier in the morning, yet didn’t have a chip or a crack.

“I liked that emerald green teacup a lot, too.”  Jon’s words echoed my thoughts.

“I know … but it was chipped. I just hate to spend the money on a cup that’s probably not worth it, even if I do like it.” I sighed, as I fingered the handle on the delicate white teacup before me, a perfect piece without a single blemish, yet not nearly as enchanting as the chipped cup back at the first antique shop.

Jon cleared his throat. “Sometimes, it is the imperfect things of this world that are worth the most. Besides, last night you told me you wanted to feel like you were worth the extra effort … and you are, Paige. You are worth it, and I know it with all my heart. I’d like to buy you the chipped cup to remind you of that.”

So we went back to the store where we started, and Jon paid $15 for a stunning emerald teacup with gold trim and a chipped place on the rim. To this day, that teacup has a place of honor in my collection, always on display because it reminds me that despite all my flaws Christ esteemed me worthy enough to die on the cross that I might gain everlasting life with Him.

As promised, tomorrow I will share Part One of The Great Birthday Date.

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This is “Judge’s Contribution” to my Great Dates Contest/Give-Away. It will not be included among the entries, but will hopefully inspire my blog readers to continue submitting their own great dates stories as well as provide me with more blogging material. Besides, who doesn’t love to hear a great date story?!

Want to enter the contest? Just leave me a comment about one of your great dates … or better yet, post a great date story on your blog (be sure to ping back to me!).  It’s all you have to do! Just be sure to enter before the end of August.

A Memorial Day Memory

Fourteen years ago, I spent another Memorial Day saying goodbye to my grandfather.

V. E. “Red” McGee died May 27, 2000 from cancer.  It always seemed rather fitting to our family that my grandfather was buried on Memorial Day that year. He was a WW II veteran, having enlisted in the Navy with his parents’ permission shortly before his 16th birthday so that he could be stationed with his older brother.

Red McGee (left) with a Navy pal during WWII
Red McGee (left) with a Navy pal during WWII

Daddy Red, as my siblings and cousins and I called him, was a quiet man with a deep faith and a great sense of humor.  But whenever I recall him, the thing I remember about him was his love. He had:

~a love for God … for reading the Bible, prayer, dedication to the body of believers to which he belonged, and serving others

~a love for his wife … I still recall how he brought her coffee in bed most mornings, kept her car filled with gas, and showered her with affection in a hundred little ways

~a love for his family and friends …  children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, siblings … my grandfather loved spending time with those he loved

~a love for America and our freedoms … he was proud of his service to his country

~a love of nature and God’s creation  … whether it was hiking or hunting, or just taking the scenic route

~a love travel … my grandfather drove his RV to 49 states, Canada and Mexico, often stopping to help build churches  (with the Volunteer Christian Builders) along the way

~a love for ice cream … particularly Blue Bell ice cream. (I loved visiting my TX grandparents because Daddy Red believed in ending each day with a big bowl of ice cream, and the freezer was always stocked with more flavors than I ever knew existed.)

~and a love of laughter  … often when I remember the days I spent at his house as a child, I recall the gentle sound of his laugh, followed by a hearty “Boy Howdy!”

My grandfather would have likely laughed at his own funeral service. As a veteran and member of the local VFW, he had a flag draped over his coffin. Toward the end of the service, several veterans came forward to fold the flag and present it to my grandmother. They solemnly removed the flag and began to fold it, but halfway through realized it wasn’t going to end the way it should look. The veterans unfolded the flag and began to fold it again, only to discover they had the same results. I’m not sure how many times they folded and unfolded and folded that flag, but it seemed to go on forever. Somehow, those men finally got around to getting the flag folded. And each time I remember the scene, I giggle a little and somehow feel it was fitting for my grandfather who loved a good laugh while he lived.

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Today is Memorial Day. It’s a day of remembering, especially those who served in our military and honoring those who gave their life.

Like so many days throughout the year, I think about my grandfather on Memorial Day.  He was veteran, a proud American. a family man, a hard worker who lived a full life. More importantly,  he was a man of faith and I’m blessed to have been his granddaughter.

The memory of the righteous will be a blessing. ~Proverbs 10:7

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Who are  you remembering today? How is their memory a blessing to you?

R is for …

 

image credit: Valerie Drake Lesiak (picture-book-studio.com)
image credit: Valerie Drake Lesiak (picture-book-studio.com)

 

“We need to talk. Our relationship is not sustainable as it is.”

As Jon said those words, an immediate lump formed in my throat. I figured he must be about to dump me. I was not expecting those words to be the opening lines of his marriage proposal.

Getting engaged to Jon could be described in many ways. However, romantic is not one of them, not by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it was more like closing an important business deal than a traditional marriage proposal.

But I still said, “Yes!”  I accepted because I knew Jon’s heart. His love for me was true and strong. Besides, there had been plenty of evidence while we were dating which lead me to believe Jon definitely knew how to be romantic. Bouquets of flowers, hand-written poems, surprise gifts of jewelry, sweet compliments; romance wasn’t missing in our relationship. And while Jon’s marriage proposal certainly lacked a touch of romance that most women are expecting, he more than made up for it on our wedding day when he sang a love song he wrote just for me.

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I’ve heard a lot of engagement stories during my life. Some are romantic. Some are funny. But none are as sweet as Robert’s second proposal to Kim.

Robert’s not new to our church, as he often attended services with his wife Kim. However, Robert is a new believer in Jesus Christ. After several years of praying alongside his wife Kim for his salvation, our church was elated when Robert finally accepted Christ as his Savior late last year. In a short time, the transformation of Robert’s life has become evident. He’s a new man. Not even six weeks ago, Robert followed his decision with baptism at the first service in our new church building. As a church, we are becoming somewhat used to Robert creating a stir of excitement among us.

Still, we were not expecting Robert’s surprise at our Easter Morning service. With permission from our pastor, Robert stood to address our congregation. He talked about how grateful he was for the clean slate he had in Christ, and yet there were so many things he wished he could go back and do over. Robert continued by stating he desired to go back and start over in his marriage, to become a better husband to his wife Kim, loving her as Christ loved the church.

And then, in front of a packed sanctuary, Robert knelt on one knee as he tearfully asked Kim if she would marry him all over again.

Of course, she said yes … and an hour later, following the sermon, our church was privileged to witness Robert and Kim renew their marriage vows. If the proposal and vow renewal wasn’t enough to convince us of Robert’s love for Kim, he had taken the time to see to several special details, like a beautiful bouquet for his bride, a photographer to take a few pictures, and a small cake and punch reception to celebrate. Sweet. Sincere. Romantic. Robert lovingly wooed his bride, and those of us who witnessed it were blessed.

But even Robert’s second proposal to Kim cannot begin to compare with the greatest love story of all. It is the ultimate romance story. I am talking about the romance between the Lord of All Creation and His bride.

copyright Jane Sullivan
copyright Jane Sullivan

 

Humans as a whole are pretty rotten creatures. Think about it. You don’t have to teach a young child to be bad. As cute as they are, young children figure out things like lying, disobeying parents, and selfish attitudes fairly quickly and without assistance from anyone. From a very young age, all people learn to use our free will to our own advantage.

It’s important we humans have a free will. If we didn’t, then we couldn’t make choices. One of those choices would be the decision to love God. Any love that is forced or demanded is not a meaningful love. So God gave humans a privilege not given to other parts of His creation … the privilege of being made in His image. That privilege includes being about to choose for ourselves whether or not we will obey and love the Lord.

So long ago in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve ushered in the fall of man. They chose to disobey the one rule God had given to them. (Don’t think that you and I would have done any better! If we can’t follow speed limits or keep from telling little white lies, we would have certainly broken His rule about eating from the Tree of Life as well.)

Sin came in and broke the relationship between God and man. We were helpless to repair it. In order to be restored back into a right relationship, we had to be perfect and blameless, just as God is perfect and blameless,  for we are made in His image. And yet, by ourselves, we are destined to break every good law God has given us. The only way was for someone with no sin to take our punishment for us.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

~John 3:16-17

The most romantic love story is this: God Almighty loves you so much that He chose to take the punishments for every wrong thing you ever did … every lie, every curse, every ugly judgmental thought. And He did it because He does not want you to live apart from Him.

Now that’s an incredible love!

R is for the Romance of God, who woos me to Himself and loves me like no other ever has or ever will.

What is the most romantic story you know? Have you felt God romancing your heart? If not, then I urge you to ask Him (with an open heart) to woo you with His perfect love.

K is for …

Yesterday, I shared the story of how God introduced me to Jon before Jon ever introduced himself to me. I related how our friendship turned to love, and God, who had provided me with details several months in advance, orchestrated everything perfectly … well, at least perfectly as long as Jon and I didn’t get in the way. Today’s entry for the letter K is a continuation of our love story.

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K is for “The Kiss.”

After six months of just being friends, Jon finally got around to asking me to date him in late October 2009. We were in agreement to proceed slowly in this new phase of our relationship, regarding all areas but especially with demonstrations of physical affection. As Christians, we felt it was important to practice purity before marriage. Furthermore, as single parents of children who had already suffered through one divorce, the last thing we wanted to do was rush headlong into another relationship, bringing further unnecessary emotional turmoil to our kids.

Jon was always the perfect gentleman, bringing me gifts of flowers and holding open doors. For several months, that was the extent of any romance. By late January, I was beginning to wonder if Jon would ever reach for my hand, put his arm around my shoulder, or ask me for that first kiss.

Valentine’s Day came and went. Soon a beautiful Louisiana spring had returned, heralded by flowers in full bloom … and on a beautiful sunny afternoon, Jon finally took my hand in his.  After nearly six months of dating, it was sweet and perfect.  It also left me wanting more for time had continued to show me that God’s list (which was written in my journal a full year earlier) was fulfilled in Jon. I found it hard not to fall head over heels for him as I waited anxiously for Jon to do the next thing God had told me to expect:  him to ask for my permission before giving me our first kiss. 

One evening in early April 2010, Jon called me out of the blue. He was driving up to north Louisiana on a work-related trip. His route was taking him within 20 miles of my house.  “You should take a short detour, and have a cup of coffee with me,” I suggested. To my surprise, an hour later Jon was standing on my doorstep.

I can’t remember what we talked about that night. Jon and I have always been like two chattering birds, conversation flowing easily between us. I recall he did stay long past the half hour or so he intended to visit. I also remember several times during the evening feeling as though Jon would likely kiss me before he left. Sure enough, he did … a gentle, sweet, absolutely perfect kiss.

Well, it would have been perfect except for one thing. Jon didn’t ask for my permission.  

At first, I was elated … love’s first kiss. It put me on cloud nine.

Then, as I recalled the God-given words written in my journal, I fell right down off that cloud with a hard thump. God had given me a list of  indicators I could trust to lead me to the man I should marry. One of the most specific ones related that he would ask permission to kiss me for the first time. So was this some sort of test? Up until now, Jon matched up perfectly with the man God had shown me. Maybe he wasn’t the one after all? If that were the case, then why did God allow me to fall in love with him? I wanted to feel happy because the man I loved had kissed me, but mostly I felt confused and hurt.

Meanwhile, unknown to me, after Jon left my home he began to feel anxious and uneasy about kissing me. In fact, he later told me that he had the most severe case of panic he had ever known, likening it to extreme cold feet about his own ability to have a healthy relationship with a woman based on his previous marriage. That made two of us feeling confused, all over a simple kiss. What a mess!

A couple of days later, Jon returned from his work trip, and gave me a telephone call. The moment I heard his voice, I could tell something was wrong.  I had spent the past two days debating with uncertainty whether or not I should talk about my feelings regarding the kiss, especially considering Jon knew nothing of my list. In the end, my own indecision didn’t matter, as Jon almost immediately began to talk about his emotions.

(JON)  I want you to know how much I enjoy spending time with you, Paige. But after I kissed you … well, now I just don’t know if I am really ready to move forward after all. I hope you understand because this is difficult for me to even talk about.

(PAIGE)  Can you explain more? What exactly are you trying to tell me? Are you saying you want us to break up?

No. No, that’s not what I am saying … but if that is what you want, then I understand.

Jon, I really don’t want to break up with you, but I guess I am feeling really confused. I’m not even sure what happened, but it seems we are both feeling uneasy and upset by the kiss.

I know. What I am trying to explain, though, is that I do want to continue to date you … but I don’t want to hold hands or kiss … or at least for right now. But the truth is, I don’t know if I ever will want to do those things.

Oh.

Wow … That sounded terrible, Paige. I’m sorry it came out like that. Trust me, I don’t want to hurt you because it isn’t about you at all. This has everything to do with me. I’m just terrified of messing up again. I don’t want to hurt you or our children. I understand this is a lot to ask, but if you are willing to go back to us simply seeing each other for dates and talking on the phone and praying with each other then that’s what I’d like for us to do for the time being. But if you can’t go back, then I will try to understand that too, because right now I can’t make any promises to you about when I might be emotionally ready to move forward.

 

Without a doubt, that conversation was one of the most difficult of my entire life. Jon’s honesty was incredibly hard to hear, yet at the same time I could tell he had no desire to hurt me. Even as we talked, I had a sense this conversation represented a turning point for each of us personally, as well as for our relationship.

I also recognized the whisperings of God, deep in my heart, low and gentle and peaceful, telling me it was okay. Taking a deep breath, I decided to trust God. And with that, I let Jon know I agreed to go back to the way things were before the kiss, to give our relationship another chance, with the understanding that in the end he may never want anything more than friendship after all.

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Obviously, Jon and I are now married. Any good guesser would assume giving Jon a second chance must have worked out to my advantage. It did. But the way it all came to pass is a story only God Himself could author.

After our difficult conversation, I wasn’t sure what to expect, wondering if there would be awkwardness or tension. But Jon was true to his word, continuing to ask me on regular date nights and calling me almost nightly. There were no feelings of uncomfortableness between us at all. In fact, there seemed to be an increase in the the trust level between us, just from  the willingness to talk candidly with each other over a difficult topic.

Three weeks passed.  One weekend,  I invited Jon to my house for dinner. He arrived, flowers in hand. Together we cooked our supper, white chicken enchiladas and a green salad. After the meal was over, we washed the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen, chatting and laughing. To this day,  I recall standing in my kitchen, thinking about how natural it felt to do even mundane chores with Jon.

As I prepared a pot of coffee and plates with dessert, Jon excused himself to go to the restroom.  A few moments later, I walked into the living room to clear off a spot for us to set our cups. It was then that Jon came into the room. Walking directly over to me, he took my hands in his, smiled and asked, “Paige, would it be okay with you if I gave you a kiss?

I thought I might faint! Out of the blue came the question I’d been aching to hear for so long. All I was able to do was nod my head yes … and then he kissed me. It was the most simple kiss, and yet as soon as his lips touched mine, the room began to swirl as fireworks went off in my head and the air around me instantly dropped a full ten degrees.  (Okay, so maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it was the most perfect kiss ever.)

Jon gazed at me and said, “You don’t know how much I’ve wanted to kiss you these last three weeks! Practically from the moment I said I wanted to go back to the way we were before, it’s all I could think about. But I was nervous about trying it again, too. So just now, when I stepped out of the room, I prayed. I told God how much I wanted to kiss you but that I was afraid it would go wrong like it did the last time. The crazy thing is God answered me. He said, ‘Jon, the last time you kissed Paige, you didn’t come to me for advise.  If you want to kiss her right, then all you have to do is ask her. She’ll say yes and everything will be fine.’  So that’s what I did.  You know, I think it worked out so well, I’d like to try it again.”

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

To this day, Jon and I tease each other about our second first kiss. What I especially love about this story (besides the fact that it is part of my personal love story)  is the reminder of how God delights in giving second chances … and not just second chances, but third, fourth and fifth chances as well.

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

Or, you may fall on your knees and pray—to God’s delight!
    You’ll see God’s smile and celebrate,
    finding yourself set right with God.
You’ll sing God’s praises to everyone you meet,
    testifying, ‘I messed up my life—
    and let me tell you, it wasn’t worth it.
But God stepped in and saved me from certain death.
    I’m alive again! Once more I see the light!’

This is the way God works.
    Over and over again
He pulls our souls back from certain destruction
    so we’ll see the light—and live in the light!

~ Job 33: 28-30 (The Message)

K is for the second first kiss, which reminds me of God who is generous in second chances.

What second chances have you been given?

More importantly, have you accepted the greatest second chance offer of all … the chance of a second, spiritual birth through Jesus Christ?

J is for …

letterJ

 

J is for Jon.

My husband Jon and I met online in April 2009 … but I knew Jon before our first introduction ever happened. I knew him because God disclosed to me information about my future husband, giving me plenty of interesting details about the man I would one day marry. The only detail He never gave away was his name.

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

Life as a divorced mom in rural Louisiana was hard. I felt out of place at church and community functions. At home, I just felt lonely. I deeply longed for companionship.  I had spent nearly two years working to heal and recover from my divorce. Even so, I wasn’t sure I was really ready to face the dating world again. Besides, I lived in rural Louisiana. The only available single men at my church were a few widowers, most of them old enough to be my father. The options seemed limited.

Then, at the beginning of 2009, my personal counselor asked me a question. “Paige, have you ever considered online dating? There are Christian websites. If you are willing to use a lot of discernment, it might be a way for you to discover if you are ready and interested in having a relationship again.”

Online dating? Wasn’t that for losers who couldn’t find dates in person?  And wouldn’t it feel rather impersonal, sort of like shopping online, only for a husband instead of a dress?   I had concerns online dating would work for me, and yet my curiosity had been piqued.  After nearly a month of toying with the idea, I finally decided to give it a try.

If I had any expectations for what might happen, those were soon dashed by a steady stream of men who told half-truths.

First I met Shawn. After an exchange of three short emails, he admitted he was a married man looking for an online affair. (Ewww!)

Next came Eric, who claimed to love children. Hardly a week of communication passed between us before I figured out he was nothing more than a deadbeat dad who had left his own six kids and kept up no regular communication with them. (No, thanks. My kids don’t need that kind of love in their life.)

Gary seemed interesting … until I found out he was unemployed and educated and healthy.  Gary wrote that he was “content to sit at home, waiting for his ship to come in,” which he believed would be soon. (Well, Gary, I guess this is not a good match after all. I am not looking for a dreamer. I need someone with a tad more motivation.)  

Then there was Steve, who talked of nothing but his involvement in a particular prison ministry.  Trying to get to know him more, I asked why prison ministry meant so much to him. His reply message said, “I first became involved during my own twelve-year incarceration. I’ve been out now about 6 months. Now that I’ve told you, will it make a difference?” (Um … yes. It does. Especially since you weren’t clear about the fact you were a convicted felon initially.)

Turned off, as well as confused, I was ready to give up. In fact, I did.  Writing in my prayer journal, I gave my desire for a godly marriage and a husband to God. I asked Him to pick for me.  And then I wrote,

“I trust you to choose, but I don’t trust me to see … so can you show me how to recognize that man who loves You better than he will ever love me?”

Truthfully,I don’t know what I was expecting to happen after that prayer, but I can tell you that what did happen was definitely not what I was expecting. Over the period of about a week, God began answer me, revealing qualities I should look for when I considered whether or not a man worth dating and eventually marrying.

Honestly, I don’t know why I get surprised when God answers my questions. He loves to do that sort of thing:

Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.

~Jeremiah 33:3

At any rate, I was surprised when God started to respond to my concern. Some things God told me to look for were relative no-brainers for any woman seeking to find a Christian husband.  He should be a Bible reading, church going, prayer warrior kind of guy. A generous giver.  Involved in a ministry, either through his church or some other Christian organization.

More specifically, God divulged He had picked a man who was more than two years older than me. He would also be tall, standing well over six feet, with dark hair and hazel green eyes.  My future husband would be musically inclined and have a voice that was pleasant to my ears.

Then came the last two details, so specific it both baffled and excited me a the same time. God told me the man I would one day marry would ask to pray with me regularly from the very beginning of our dating relationship. Last, but not least, he was going to be such a gentleman that he would ask permission before he kissed me the first time.

Before the end of the week, there were three pages were of details written in my journal. God shared over 35 different character traits, leaving me to feel as if I were searching for a needle in a haystack. And truthfully, I didn’t believe such a man possibly existed.

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

My God-given list is originally dated for April 8, 2009.  Before a month had passed by, Jon introduced himself to me via the online dating community. Oddly enough, I had already decided to no longer continue my membership to that website, but still had another few weeks before my subscription would expire. I had quit going to the website with any regularity because of my previous experiences as well as my decision to let God introduce me to my future husband.  For that to happen, I figured God would have to move me to the moon before I would meet the man who possessed all the qualifications on my list. Still, when I saw the email notification, I took the time to log in on the website and read it.

It wasn’t love at first site … or first read. But I found the email to be chatty and somewhat witty, so I replied. He replied back to me. I replied again. Initially, we mostly talked about God and our relationship with Him. I could tell Jon was a man who knew God quite well, and I found that to be a trait I really liked.

One night, as I was replying to his latest email, he sent me an instant message. Talking in “real time” turned out to be just as fun. He was quick, intelligent, well-spoken (err … written, I should say). Soon, we were exchanging emails 3-4 times a week and chatting through instant message every few days as well.  When my membership to the online dating community ended, Jon and I decided to keep in touch via Facebook.

Spring turned into summer; summer turned into fall.  By mid-September, we were communicating on a near daily basis, though emails, instant messages, and phone conversations. Our friendship was definitely growing, but there were still no hints of romance kindling. We were just two people who loved to talk, mostly about God, but other things as well.

In fact, it wasn’t until my counselor again brought up the topic of dating, asking me if I thought Jon might soon ask me on a date,  that I even thought of the possibility of something more than a friendship. Suddenly, I felt unsure and awkward. Why did Jon talk to me so much?  Was this only a friendship, or was there something more?

I pulled out my journal and flipped back to those pages. As I read down the list, it was as if I could place check marks beside more than half of the qualities. Jon was 6’3″, with dark brown hair and hazel-green eyes. He played guitar, led worship at his small church, and participated in many church ministries. So far he was matching up pretty well to the standard God had given me, but I couldn’t really tell. After all, some of the items in my long list were things I didn’t yet know. So I did all I knew to do … pray and ask God to show me!

It wasn’t long afterward when Jon telephoned me. He seemed to be not his normal self, as if perhaps he had something on his mind.  Soon enough, it all came tumbling out.

“Paige,” he said, “I really enjoy spending time talking with you. I like our friendship a lot. But I wonder if perhaps there might be more than just a friendship. It’s a risk because there might not be. Going forward will probably mean we can never go backward if things don’t work out.  But, if you are willing, then I’d like for us to date each other and see … and before we do anything else,  the first thing we should do is pray together, because if we  put God in the middle, then we can trust He will lead us the right way.

I was stunned. In that moment I knew deep in my heart …  Jon was God’s man for me.

What I didn’t know was there would still quite a bit of journey left before I would become Mrs. Jon Hamilton … but before the I Do’s were said, nearly everything on the list of things God revealed to me came to pass.

J is for Jon … my husband, who God personally picked out for me.

Next up is the letter K, which stands for the kiss … the first kiss that never was and the second chance that made it right.

E is for …

I woke up this morning wanting a little extra time.

This past week I’ve had too many irons in the fire. Saturday has arrived, but my “to-do” list has a list of chores a mile long.

With my head still on my pillow, I began to mentally consider all I needed to do before the day’s end. I quickly realized I had more items to complete on my list than I had hours in the day. I wished, not for the first time, that there was a way to get an extra 3 or 4 hours added to my daily allowance of time.

With a few more hours, I would have time to be responsible by tending to necessary housework, piddle around with my own activities (read, write, garden, and sew … and, of course, I want to do them all … today, please), while still fitting in that 2 hour afternoon nap. Oh, I can’t forget I’ve got people to feed. Naturally, in order to do that, I’ll need to grocery shop.

I hadn’t even gotten out of the bed, and already I felt worn out!

“Why,” I wondered (for possibly the millionth time this year), “does it always seem like I run out of time?”

Truth be told, I could use a few lessons in time management. Occasionally, during the course of our marriage, Jon has indicated there might be a need in my life for some prioritizing skills. And while I don’t really suffer from an inability to organize myself, doing so consistently has proven to be another lacking area in my life.

 

letterE

E could easily be for EXTRA.  In this life, I am always needing a little extra something … extra time, extra money, extra love, an extra set of hands.  I have to wonder:

Am I never satisfied with what I have? 

The truth is that on my own, I will never have enough. Thankfully, I don’t have to depend upon myself to supply all of my needs.

God has the power to provide you with more than enough of every kind of grace. That way, you will have everything you need always and in everything to provide more than enough for every kind of good work.

~ 2 Corinthians 9:8

 

It’s one of my favorite God promises. And today, I’m glad I can rely on the the truth of the letter E:

E does not stand for needing EXTRA.

Rather E is for ENOUGH, which is what I will always have when I put my trust in God.

 

Something More than a Half-Hearted Love

I’ve got a weird feeling in my heart. It’s a lump of grief without tears, an uncomfortable tickle urging me to cough, a thick feeling I”d like to swallow away and yet when I try I find it lingers on in the back of my throat. All over my Facebook feed, I’ve been reading about World Vision’s decision to begin employing homosexuals in an effort to unify the church. Jon and I sponsor 3 children through World Vision.

Sigh.  Now what?

This question has been floating around my head since I first learned the news of World Vision’s change of policy. Do we continue giving to World Vision? Does their policy on homosexuality truly matter in the long run as we aren’t basing our family’s theology off of World Vision? What happens if I stop sending our financial gifts to World Vision? Will those 3 beautiful girls in the photos stop receiving services? I pondered about what I should do in response to this new information.  Surely, by partnering with World Vision and giving financially to their programs, I am loving the “least of these” … Right?

Figuring it was too early in the morning for such deep thoughts and wanting to ease my stress, I decided to check my email.  But doing so only made my heart ache worse, for in one of the emails I read about Wesley and his story.                                                      ( http://mad.ly/4bca94 )

Wesley ... wanting a family; waiting in China.
Wesley … wanting a family; waiting in China.

Wesley isn’t an orphan exactly. He’s an abandoned child. Left at the gate of an orphanage by his family at age six … no note, no explanation given.  Just a boy, alone.  He will turn 14 in August … at which point he will age out of the system, no longer able to be adopted, destined to live his life without a family.

After reading about this boy “whom no one cared for,”my instant thought was to pray for some other person to come love him. And then, like a small shockwave to my soul, I heard a whisper in my heart, saying, “What about you? How will you love my sheep? Are you willing to do more than give a little bit of half-hearted love?”

Quite honestly, my involvement with World Vision has been just that … half-hearted. Oh, a couple of times a week I pause to pray for Samanise, Manahel and Julian by name, if I don’t forget. Each month the money flows out of my bank account, never really missed.

Somehow it feels empty, this giving without engagement. There’s no cost to me really.  Even though I do pay out $100 or so a month, it’s rather easy come, easy go money.  I don’t even know the exact amount. I rarely think of it. I just pay and go about my own business.

How is this loving someone else in the name of Christ?

Please. Don’t misunderstand me or my heart this morning. Giving is wonderful. God expects us to give, even give sacrificially. I am grateful for those people who have poured into my life, often financially or materially, when I needed it. I believe whole-heartedly that God loves a cheerful giver. There is nothing wrong with financially supporting ministries and it is something my family is blessed to be able to do regularly.

Yet deep down I know that for me the act of giving money to World Vision is no more loving than giving away my old, discarded clothes to Goodwill is an act of love.

So why do I bother? Perhaps to feel better about myself? Maybe to convince myself and others that I really do care?

The Bible says that Christians will be known by their love. (John 13:35)  So why is it that most days I don’t feel loving? I feel a lot of things: stress over money, worry about raising my kids right, concern for the direction my nation is heading. But it saddens me to think I don’t really feel loving towards others, especially people who aren’t in my little world, which revolves mostly around me and my activities.

This year, my family has been working to memorize the love chapter of the Bible.  I’ve always enjoyed the flow of this passage of scripture. Normally, the rhythm of the words lilt along, leaving pleasant sorts of thoughts in my mind.

1 Corinthians 13: 1, 3

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. … If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Not this morning. Today the words stung, prickling my heart, mostly because I know what love looks like:

Reid & Eli, Dec. 2013
Reid & Eli, Dec. 2013

It looks like my brother Reid and his wife Heather, who put money, time and tears into adopting Eli.  Now, our entire family is richer for this blessing in ways I cannot even begin to describe.

Uncle Curt in Uganda
Uncle Curt in Uganda

It looks like my Uncle Curt and Aunt DeDe, who picked up and moved to Africa to serve as missionaries. They left behind aging parents, beautiful grandchildren, and a comfortable life, simply because they know Christ and wanted to share His love with those who didn’t.

It looks like my friend Marcia, who I’ve never met face-to-face, but if I did I’d immediately hug her neck and tell her what an inspiration she is to me. Instead of just talking big about being pro-life on social media, Marcia and her husband are actually stepping out in faith by helping one young pregnant woman choose life by adopting her baby. (Here’s the link to her story:  http://marcia-underhiswings.blogspot.com/2014/03/happy-anniversary-were-having-baby.html )

Love isn’t half-hearted, and it isn’t empty either. It is action. It is involved. It is compassion and truth mixed together. While love isn’t all about fuzzy, feel-good moments, it fills the giver and the receiver up and makes a mark on the soul.

Because I know what love looks like, I am challenged to do more than give a little half-hearted love. I ask for your prayers as I seek for God to reveal to me how I can love others with His love.

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’