A Trio of New Year’s Eves

New Year’s Eve 2008.

It wasn’t the first time I had ever had a fore-telling conversation with God, but it certainly was one of the most memorable.

 

I’ll never forget it. I was alone. My three kids gone to be with their father. I had been to visit friends in VA and had returned home earlier that day to a quiet, still house. Only the cat was there to greet me … and he seemed mostly perturbed that I interrupted his nap.

I felt bone-cold in the chilly house as I waited for the heater to make my house warm. But mostly, I just felt lonely.

It was my second New Year’s Eve as a single mother. The year before I was still shell-shocked from the events that had rocked my world. I barely noticed an old year passed away and a new one started.

Now, as I scrummaged through the cabinets looking for something quick and easy to fix for my dinner, I thought about how I was ending the year in a better place than I started it. Initially, 2008 found me a broken woman, but now after months of personal counseling and learning to live life again as a single mom, I felt more confident … not in myself so much, but in the Lord and in His promises to use all things for my good.

As I ate my supper, and counted down the hours left in 2008, I sensed that 2009 would be the beginning of something new. I realized I had new goals for the coming year. New hopes and dreams for my life.

And in those quiet hours, I came to a realization. I didn’t want to be single forever.

In the days after my first husband left me, I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to love another man. But now, in these quiet moments, I realized what I really wanted was a person to share my life with … and I wondered if that would ever happen.

As it happens so often in situations like this, I started to talk internally to God about my thoughts and ideas and wishes. Not so much a typical prayer as much a chatter in my head. Jumbled thoughts poured out in a rapid, random fashion, some sort of strange cross between monologue and unwritten journal entry.

As I rambled to God about my future, whether or not it would include another marriage, I felt a strange peace wash over me. And then it came … as a small whisper, so soft I wasn’t even sure if I heard what I thought I heard.

You will marry again, Paige … and it will be a New Year’s Eve wedding.

I shook my head in a sort of disbelief. To begin with, New Year’s Eve was not really a holiday I had ever enjoyed. Fear of the future had been a personal, life-long struggle for me, and though since my divorce I had been focused on learning to overcome that fear, I still couldn’t imagine wanting to celebrate a wedding on a holiday all about celebrating the unknown year ahead.

Yet the more I thought about it, the more I saw how New Year’s Eve was the perfect day to marry. After all, it’s a day focused on endings and beginnings. A marriage is the end of a period of singleness and the beginning of a new life together as husband and wife.

It was then I knew I wouldn’t be single forever.

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New Year’s Eve, 2009

 

I had met Jon in April. We started dating in October. Here we were at the holiday season, and we still hadn’t even held hands or shared our first kiss.  Despite the slow pace at which our relationship progressed, I already knew this was the man God had chosen.

When Jon learned  I didn’t have any plans for New Year’s Eve, he was appalled. “No one should be alone on New Year’s Eve!

Well, my kids are off visiting their dad. I haven’t been invited to anyone else’s home. My church isn’t doing an activity that night. I’ll probably just watch a few movies or maybe work on a sewing project.

The next morning, Jon called me back.  “I’ve been talking to my girls, and we’d like to invite you to join us today. We aren’t going to do anything special. We’ll just hang around the house. But the girls would love to have you come visit … well, that is, as long as we promise to keep them included. Megan is very concerned about that.

How about if I bring a few activities for us to do with them … some crafts, perhaps?

And so, it was agreed. I made the long two hour drive to Jon’s house to spend, bringing along with me a big box of craft supplies. The girls and I crafted the afternoon away, while Jon dozed on his sofa and watched a little football. I made a couple of snacks for us to enjoy. Quiet, laid-back and completely natural.

Later that evening, we ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant. As Jon paid for our meal, the waitress made a comment about his beautiful family. Not quite knowing how to respond, both of us smiled and wished her a happy new year.

But I already knew. This was the man I was going to marry.

Driving along the dark roads back to my house, I watched the flickering of fireworks light the sky … and wondered how many more New Year’s Eves there would be until Jon and I were married.

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New Year’s Eve, 2010

Jon asked me to marry him in October. I said yes.

But Jon was deathly ill. Even as we planned for our wedding ceremony, honeymoon and marriage, I watched the man I love slowly grow sicker and sicker. As a dear friend told me, “Paige, I’m afraid you’ll either have a New Year’s Eve wedding or funeral.

The diagnosis came on December 22nd. A severe heart infection nearly took his life. But thankfully, God allowed him to live. Two days before our wedding, Jon came home from the hospital, a PICC line still in his arm.

The next 48 hours, we raced to get everything ready for the wedding we weren’t sure would ever happen. Somehow, the reception room at the church was decorated, a friend made us a beautiful red velvet cake, and one by one the details fell into place.

165079_165677986810846_100001059362771_370100_3972675_n
December 31, 2010

December 31st was sticky and humid.

Jon was weak from his ongoing healthy issues. Rumor had it he slept on the sofa in the pastor’s office until time for the ceremony.

Guests started to arrive.

And then … the music started and our beautiful girls made their way down the aisle.

I felt no nerves. Only the most amazing sense of joy that I have ever known.

We said our vows, and our guests laughed with us as we pledged to love in sickness and in health.

The pastor asked those in the audience to come surround us and offer up prayers on our behalf. My dad, an uncle, a family friend … each of them offered up a prayer and my soul swelled with indescribable peace.

As we walked out of the sanctuary, somehow an unplanned receiving line formed so that Jon and I were hugged and blessed over and over as our guests walked to the small reception.

And that night, as we drove to our New Orleans honeymoon, fireworks lit the night sky … and I thanked the good Lord for a trio of New Year’s Eves that had brought me to a new life He had planned for me before I ever took my first breath.

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New Year’s Eve … a time to celebrate what is ending and what is yet to be. Every year I’m grateful to God for what He has done in my past and what He has planned for my future. No more fear because (as cliche’ as it might be), I know I may not know exactly what my future holds, but I certainly know the One who does know and who holds my future.

“Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.  Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced…”  ~ 1 Chronicles 16:11-12

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  ~ Jeremiah 29:11

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You can read more about our wedding story and Jon’s illness at the following link:

The Wedding that Almost Didn’t Happen

 

 

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Death Cubed

Jon says his vows to me ... second later, I promised to love him in sickness and health. The guests laughed with us, for we were all filled with joy over a wedding we thought might not ever happen.

True story: On the very last day of 2010, I married a half-dead man.

Yesterday, in my story Cats, I shared how my husband Jon nearly died from a heart infection caused by the Bartonella bacteria, or Cat Scatch Fever. But today I want to share how Jon was not just spared from death only once, but actually three separate times during those early months of our marriage.

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The First Near-Death Experience

Three months before I started dating Jon, he had open-heart surgery to repair a leaky mitral valve. His recovery seemed slow from the start, and by the following summer (a year after that first surgery), Jon was experiencing a long list of strange symptoms. He was severely fatigued and pale. He constantly ran low-grade fevers, would wake up multiple times a night either soaking in sweat or shaking with severe chills. His muscle and joints ached, his spleen was swollen and tender, and he often felt so nauseous he couldn’t eat.  Jon’s weight plummeted, dropping from 250 lbs prior to the surgery to less than 200 lbs during the fall of 2010.

By the time of his official diagnosis on December 22, 2010, Jon was already in the process of dying.  His kidneys, liver and bone marrow were in the initial stages of beginning to shut down. Thankfully, a team of doctors and nurses were able to reverse that from continuing to happen, though several of his medical caregivers admitted to me in hushed tones that we got him there just in the nick of time.

“A few more hours and we may not have been able to stop the process from happening,” whispered one of our favorite nurses. Deep down, I knew she was being truthful with me. Jon truly was almost too far gone when we arrived at the hospital.

A medical test showed a vegetation of infection on his mitral valve that was approximately the size of my pinky finger. It flapped every time his mitral valve opened and closed, flinging bits and pieces of infection out into his blood stream. If the infection hadn’t managed to kill him, a stroke was literally just a heartbeat away from taking his life.

Later that evening, Jon’s cardiologist, sat down to chat with me. “Twenty-four to forty-eight hours … tops. Probably less, but for sure that’s all I would have given him to live had you not brought him in when you did. You really did get him here at the last minute.  Much later and we probably couldn’t have saved his life. In fact, even now, I can’t promise you he will survive this. Jon is one incredibly sick man.”

Nine days later, Jon and I stood before a small crowd of our family and friends, vowing to love each other in sickness and in health. I had high hopes that the sickness part was behind us.

I’ve written a much more detailed and longer post about the miracle of getting Jon’s diagnosis, so if you are interested in that part of the story, you can read it here.

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The Second Near Death Experience

Unfortunately, Jon’s medical story didn’t end with that first hospitalization. A month after our wedding, Jon ended up getting a second open-heart surgery because the heart infection wouldn’t clear up with antibiotics alone. His infected mitral valve was removed and he got a brand-new teflon version that clicks rhythmically with each beat of his heart.

After another three and a half weeks in the hospital, Jon came home. However, it was clear that other areas of his body besides his heart were not functioning correctly. One main area of concern was his kidneys. Doctors couldn’t be sure if his severely weakened kidney function was a side effect of the heart infection or if the kidneys themselves had become infected too. Therefore, it was determined that Jon needed to have a kidney biopsy.

The afternoon following the procedure, Jon looked tired. He said he felt like he needed to rest. Half an hour later, I heard Jon moaning and went to check on him. About the time I entered the bedroom, I saw him stagger from the bed and stumbled toward the bathroom, where he fell to the floor, vomiting. His color was a strange grey; his entire body was covered in a cold sweat. Immediately, I knew something was seriously wrong.

Looking back, I should have called for an ambulance. I didn’t. Instead, I opted to cart Jon to the Emergency Room myself. Several times on the way, I thought Jon was going to pass out. When the triage nurse took his blood pressure, it was something ridiculously low, like 60/40. She immediately put Jon on a gurney stationed in the hospital hallway, as all the rooms in the ER were already filled with patients. Within seconds, doctors and nurses were crowded around Jon, starting IV’s and doing who knows what else. I stood to the side and prayed.

Soon it was established that Jon was experiencing a massive kidney bleed. He lost enough blood to create a blood clot the size of a brick in his back. He needed six units of blood and spent four days in ICU waiting on the kidney to stop bleeding.  After another week in the hospital, Jon was finally able to return home.

Days later, we learned the good news that Jon’s kidneys were not infected.  As happy as I was, I couldn’t believe my husband had nearly died having a medical test just so we could find out nothing was wrong with his kidneys after all.

Surely now, I thought, Jon must be back on the road to good health.

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The Third Near Death Experience

It wasn’t even a month later before the third nearly fatal health crisis came to pass.

Jon had been encouraged to take daily walks in order to build back up his heart stamina. One afternoon during his walk, Jon experienced stabbing chest pains that radiated down his left arm. Once again, we found ourselves rushing off to the Emergency Room.

At the hospital, Jon’s cardiologist ordered an echocardiogram of his heart just to be sure things looked okay. And that’s when the technician doing the test noticed something in Jon’s heart that shouldn’t have been there.

“It looked like squid flapping around in my ventricle,” Jon told me afterward.

“Great,” I replied. “That’s all we need. Squid in your heart.”

Jon’s doctor was baffled by this new development. In the end, he decided to give Jon some antibiotics and do a repeat test 48 hours later. Instead of improvement, the mysterious thing floating in Jon’s heart appeared to have grown significantly.

I stood in the hallway, several of Jon’s doctors and nurses huddled around me, each of them wiping away their own tears. “I don’t know what to do,” his cardiologist confessed. “It appears to me that Jon has a fungal infection in his heart. I’ve never seen anything like this, and I feel it is beyond me to be able to continue to treat Jon. My best suggestion is to find another hospital with a fantastic cardiology department to take him.”

Twenty-four house later, Jon was headed Oscher’s in New Orleans.

That night, Jon and I were greeted by the resident doctor on call. “Mr. Hamilton,” he said. “You do not look like the man described in your charts. I would expected you to appear to be sicker. However, this isn’t unusual. Older people tend to make a slow and steady decline, while younger people do not appear to be succumbing to their illness. They just suddenly die.”

Jon and I stared wide-eyed at this doctor, astounded both by the words and by his terrible bedside manner. This was not the encouraging news I was hoping to hear. I already knew, even without bothering to google fungal heart infections, that the prognosis was not good. Now this intern had just confirmed my suspicions and took away all the hope in my heart. For the first time in this long health crisis, I felt completely defeated. I felt so alone, scared I was about to lose the man I loved.

Jon, despite the fact that his very life was again on the line, seemed to be filled with a courage and a peace that could only come from God. After the doctor left us alone, Jon held my hand and prayed, telling the Lord that no matter what happened, we would continue to believe that  His plans for us were good and that we would choose to trust Him to care for us.

The next day, we met the team of doctors who would be trying to treat the medical mystery Jon had become. Test after test was performed … and it turned out that the biggest mystery of all was that there was no infection of any sort in Jon’s heart.

In fact, the doctors could find nothing but a healthy heart with a mechanical valve ticking away perfectly. The only thing they could see in Jon’s ventricles was the tissues of the cords that used to open and close his mitral valve. The surgeon had forgotten to trim them back during the open heart surgery.

But surely his cardiologist would not confuse these tiny heart tissues for a fungal infection. So where had the infection gone? To this day, that’s the only part of the mystery that remains.

But to me it is no mystery. It is evidence that God once again miraculously healed my husband.

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It’s been four years since my husband fought for his life and nearly lost three times. But in the end God spared him each time.

If you saw Jon today, you would never believe he had ever been so desperately ill. Other than the double scar running the length of his chest and the fact that he can no longer digest gluten or dairy (a lasting result of months of treatments from high-powered antibiotics) he looks, acts and is completely healthy.

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I love to share Jon’s story and how God intervened. It’s testimony to the love and power of God.

The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad. ~Psalm 126:3

However, there’s another death that many will spend recalling this weekend … the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. But more than His death, it is His victory over death that provides a way for us to have life everlasting.

Happy Resurrection Weekend! 

Why are you looking for the living among the dead? He is not here, but He has been resurrected! ~ Luke 24: 5-6

And The Winner Is …

It’s September 1st … and that means The Great Date Contest (and my first blog give-away) has come to a close. It is time to announce the lucky winner who will receive their very on copy of the book $10 Great Dates: Connecting Love, Marriage, and Fun on a Budget,  as well as a crisp $10 bill to use on a great date of their own.

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

But before I announce the winner, I would like to say I am so thankful for everyone who took the time to write an entry. Your great date stories were entertaining, cute, sweet, romantic and even encouraging. My family read through the stories together, enjoying each great date tale. We wished each writer could have been with us and told us the story in greater detail.

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The way we chose the winner was quite complicated. (No, not really …. but it was sort of arbitrary.)  Basically, I read all the stories out loud and we gave each date a name. There was The New Orleans Bike Taxi Date, The Date That Never Happened, and a Hard-To-Catch Date.  There were dates named after countries like Italy and China. There was even a Stay-At-Home Date.

Once each date had been read through and given a name, the four judges wrote down a score for each date. Our scoring system basically meant assigning each date a number of points between 1 and 10, with 10 points going to the best date imaginable and 1 point for a terrible, no good, very bad date.  Some judges were looking for romance, while other judges were looking for adventurous or funny moments. Regardless of how they did it, every judge scored every date.

There were four judges:  My husband Jon, my sixteen year old daughter Maddie, my fourteen year old son Joel and my nearly thirteen year old son Nathan. (My daughters, Megan and Julia, were at a slumber party and not available for the judging.) That meant each date had four scores. The individual judges’ scores for each date were tallied and the date with the highest marks was declared the winner.

The winning date turned out to be the one we titles “Passing The Test.”  It was submitted by Korin Taddei. (Yay, Korin!  Congratulations! You will receive a copy of the book and the $10 bill! I hope you and your husband Danny will enjoy the book and many more great dates together. Seeing as we see each other relatively often, I will get your prize to you soon  … as long as I remember to put it in my car.) For my other readers: You can read Korin’s great date story in the comments section of this previous blog post.

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Now that I’ve named the 1st prize winner, I am going to award another prize … one I didn’t plant to award but last night at the end of the judging decided there needed to be an additional award given. Here’s the story as to why my family and I decided a prize for the Most Creative Romantic Date should be given.

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When I was through tallying the scores and announced the winner, Maddie groaned, “Oh … I was really hoping the Italy date would win!  It was so romantic!”

“I know! I expected that date to win as well, but it came in second. In fact, it was only one point under the winning date.”

Jon piped up, “That was a really creative date! It sounds like a lot of fun as well as very romantic. I can see why both of you thought it should win.”

Meanwhile, the younger male judges were   making fake gagging sounds  looking about perplexed. I was holding the score cards in my hands and could easily recognize the hand-writing. (This is a good thing about having a small group of judges and also being the mother of the majority of the judges as well.) Flipping through the cards, I noticed some of the judges one of the male judges had scored the Italy date relatively low in comparison to Maddie who had given that date a perfect 10.

Maddie moaned, “If only Megan and Julia had been here to judge! Then the Italy date would have won!”

“Now, we don’t know that for certain, Maddie. However, I think it goes to show that romance is important to women, and romance doesn’t haven’t to be boring.” Jon paused.  Then he continued, “As a guy, I think the winning date was clever and creative too. Guys often prefer to think practically … but it is important for us to remember that romance is a necessary part, too.”

Nathan interrupted, “I thought this was supposed to be about cheap dates … after all the prize is a book on how to just spend $10 on a date. The winning date was certainly cheap! And it even had romance. You gotta admit walking by the ocean at night is pretty romantic.”

“Yes, you are right, ” I said. “It was cheap, though cheap wasn’t part of my rules. I just wanted to read about great dates in general. And you are right in that there was an element of romance … as well as motorcycles and old cars. It was a clever date. I can see why you boys thought it was great!”  I laughed.  “I think what attracted Maddie and I to the Italy date is that it was all about what the woman desired. The guy was creatively giving her what she wanted, even though he really couldn’t give her a trip to Italy. And someday I hope you meet a young lady that gives you a desire to romance her heart.”

“Maybe you should have two winners,” Jon suggested.

I completely agree!  So to my friend John Mark and his wife Janelle … I’d love to send you a copy of $10 Great Dates as well! (John Mark, please contact me, using the “Contact Paige” tab,  with your mailing address and I’ll be delighted to send a copy of this book to you and your lovely wife.)

For my readers, please take the time to read how John Mark took Janelle to “Italy” on their first official date. (The rest of John Mark’s blog, The Artistic Christian, is pretty awesome as well. It’s one of my very favorite blogs to read each day.)

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Thank you again to every person who shared a great date story. I laughed and cried (happy tears) and wished so much that each person could have told me their story face-to-face. I am grateful you allowed me to have a peak into these special moments.

The thing that amazed me the most is that all of the dates were shared by married couples, several who had been married longer than 20 years and one from a writer married for 50+ years. I am once again in awe as I remember how God created marriage as a picture of His perfect love for us, His bride, the church.

Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. ~Song of Solomon 8:7

Time is Running Out! Enter Today!

Time is running out on my first blog contest and give-away …

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

In case you aren’t aware, I’m host in a Great Dates Contest. One lucky winner will receive a copy of the book $10 Great Dates as well as a crisp ten dollar bill to use on a great date of your own.

You can read all about this fantastic resource for married couples, as well as the “official” rules here. But the basics are to tell me all about a great date you had, either in the comments or on your own blog (being sure to ping back to me).  Entries are due by August 31st and the winner will be announced on Monday, September 1st.

Go ahead … don’t be shy! Enter today!

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.