Life Lessons from a Toothbrush

Saturday morning there was a big dilemma in my bathroom, but I suppose it really started on Friday night.

You see, that’s when I found the toothbrush on the bathroom counter next to the sink.

 

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It looked like my toothbrush, but I thought I had put mine away already. However, now that I am in my mid-40’s, my kids constantly point out that my old memory isn’t as sharp as their young brains. Therefore, I figured I must have only thought I put my toothbrush away.  So, I picked it up, threw it in the toothbrush drawer on my toiletry organizer, and went to bed.

That was Friday night, when all was still well with the world.

Saturday morning, everything fell apart … sort of.

Jon couldn’t find his toothbrush. He looked high and low, but to no avail. His toothbrush could not be found. Several minutes into his desperate search, he asked me if I had seen his toothbrush. I hadn’t.

At least, I thought I hadn’t.

Then it hit me. Maybe that toothbrush by the sink wasn’t actually my toothbrush after all. What if it really belonged to Jon?

Sure enough, when I opened up my toothbrush drawer, there was one tube of toothpaste and two nearly identical toothbrushes.

Identical brands. Identical styles. Even the colors were oddly close. One was a sort of lime green and the other was a slightly darker, more tealish green.

Did I have lime green toothbrush? Or maybe mine was the teal blue one? I couldn’t remember.

Unfortunately, Jon couldn’t either.

He tried laying each toothbrush in his toiletries to see which one looked right. He couldn’t see any difference between the two.

I tried picking each one up and looking in the mirror to see if one appeared more correct than the other as I held it in my hand. I couldn’t tell. In fact, that little experiment only made me more confused about which toothbrush actually belonged to me.

It was no use trying to figure it out. Our toothbrushes were hopelessly mixed up.

But perhaps the biggest shocker for me was the realization that even after seven years of marriage … sharing drinks, tasting each other’s food (using the same utensil),  and kissing on a daily basis … there was no way on God’s green earth that I would even consider for a brief moment sharing a toothbrush with this man. Not even for one morning. That would definitely be taking germ-swapping too far!

Item #1 on Saturday’s to-do list:

Buy new toothbrushes!

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Oddly enough, this is not the first time I’ve had issues with toothbrush sharing. In fact, one of my mother favorite stories to tell involves me, my siblings, and a red toothbrush.

To really understand the story, you must first know that my mother staggered our bedtimes.

Give me a moment to take a rabbit trail here…

Why on earth would you stagger bedtimes? This just lengthens the amount of time it takes you to get everyone into bed. I used to think this was the way it had to be done, like it was some unwritten parenting rule. And then I had five children. Staggered bedtimes? Putting one child down every half hour? That lasted about two nights, and then everyone got the same bedtime. 

Anyway, back to my mother’s version of the toothbrush story …

One night she happened to be in the bathroom when my little sister brushed her teeth with a red toothbrush. Half an hour later, she noticed my brother brushing his teeth, also using the same red toothbrush. (You can guess where this is going, right?) Yep, half an hour later, I brushed my teeth … with a red toothbrush.

Apparently, we all liked red, so we all claimed the red toothbrush.

To hear my mother tell this tale, you would think we were quite old when this happened. But, I’m thinking it’s more likely to have happened when we were all rather young. Perhaps I was six years old, which would make Reid about four and Brooke around two. I guess I could have been as old as seven or eight. I realize that six years old is plenty big enough to know better than to share a toothbrush. But I am guessing that I didn’t know I was sharing a toothbrush with my siblings. After all, we had staggered bedtimes, w which meant staggered teeth brushing times as well.  Therefore, it’s safe to assume I had no idea which toothbrush my brother and my sister were using.  At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

(A little side note:  This is yet another good reason to send all children to bed at the same time. By doing so, you will ensure that your children will not be able to use the same toothbrush … or if they do, a fight will break out. Generally, children do not willingly share anything, including toothbrushes. Now, back to the story … )

Obviously, my mother was extremely appalled to discover her children were into toothbrush sharing. Being a good and conscientious mom, she couldn’t let this horrid habit continue. The next morning my mother went straight to the pharmacy and bought three brand-new toothbrushes. A blue one for Brooke. A red one for Reid. A purple one for me (Paige).

This was the start of the color system.

Eventually, the color system grew to include many areas of our life, from plastic drinking cups to school supplies. If my mother had to buy three of any item, and there was even the slightest chance we would fight over which item belonged to which person, she color-coded. Brooke always got blue. Reid always had red. Usually I had purple … but sometimes I ended up with pink, which caused me great grief because pink was about the last color I wanted associated with my name.  (Even back then, I was grateful I wasn’t a boy named Patrick.)

(Here’s a Parenting Tip: The color system only works if you name your children so that it is easy to match them with a color. I actually tried to implement it with my five children, but there aren’t any colors that match up with names starting with J, M, or N.  Still I was determined to use this idea, so I randomly assigned colors. Naturally, I forgot which child I assigned which color, and they fought over who got the “cooler” colors. Then there was a period of time when all of them wanted orange to be their color, and they fought over orange items daily. Oddly enough, no one’s name starts with O!  So while I might not see the brilliance of staggered bedtimes, my mother had a distinct advantage over me with her implementation of the color system.)

The color system worked wonderfully, and I am sure it simplified my mom’s life in many ways. Now if a blue cup was left on the kitchen counter, my mother instantly knew who forgot to put it in the dishwasher. Blue = Brooke. If there was a purple folder of schoolwork strewn across the dining table, she hollered my name because she knew Purple = Paige.

And it certainly solved the problem of the communal toothbrush!

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On Saturday, I went to the store and bought myself a new toothbrush. I decided ahead of time to purchase purple. It was safer to go with a color I could remember belonged to me.

As I stood there in the store, looking at all the toothbrushes, I felt a twinge of jealously. There are no colors starting with the letter J, which means Jon has far more color options than me.  Lime green. Teal blue. Bright red. Flashy orange. Why, I suppose he could pick a new color every single time he needs a new toothbrush!

Meanwhile, I’ve been using purple (or sometimes pink) toothbrushes most of my life. I would like a little variety from time to time. But experience has taught me the hard way, and right there on the toothbrush aisle of Walmart I realized the importance of sticking  with a system that actually works. So purple it is … because Purple = Paige.

As I reached out to pick out a purple toothbrush from the rack, I was struck with the thought that I have my mom to thank for teaching me this life lesson. She’s a wise woman who taught me many, many things  … but I bet that she never thought she would have to teach her children how to keep up with which toothbrush belonged to them!

Isn’t parenting odd like that?

You find yourself saying things to your children that you never imagined you would have to say out loud to another person.

“Of course, if you stick rocks up your nose you won’t be able to breath.”

“Plastic dishes are not oven-safe.”

“Quit brushing your hair with your toothbrush!”

As parents, we are constantly teaching our children. We train them in a myriad of ways, giving them daily lessons on a wide variety of topics, from the obviously big ones (how to manage money) to the insanely ridiculous ones (don’t share your toothbrush). We hope when our children leave us, they don’t forget the important lessons we’ve taught them over the years. It’s why I am so grateful for the assurance God gives us in the proverbs:

Train up a child in the way he should go;
Even when he is old he will not depart from it.

~Proverbs 22:6

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My oldest biological child is turning 18 tomorrow. 

Eighteen.

My word.

He’s not nearly old enough to be eighteen. Yet somehow he is … and that boggles my mind!

Anyway, I’ve been doing a lot of contemplating lately:  Have I taught my son everything he needs to know to be prepared for life? What did I forget to tell him that he absolutely has to know before he leaves for college in the fall? Does he know how to jump his car, change a flat tire, cook a fried egg, or sew on a button? Is he prepared for adulthood?

I’ve been seeing a lot on social media lately about how the millennial generation doesn’t have many of the basic life skills that previous generations had. “Adulting” classes are actually gaining popularity. It’s rather sad to me that this is a needed thing, and at the same time it causes me to stop and ponder how well I’ve done at teaching my son the skills he will need to live a successful life.

Deep down, I know the biggest life lessons I need to have taught my son are simple:

  1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind.
  2. Seek first the kingdom of God.
  3. Let the Lord direct your paths.

When he was born, I started teaching him about the Lord, and over the years I have prayed daily for him to know these truths.  I know that if he has these lessons down, if his focus is on the right things, if his faith is intact … well, then everything will turn okay, even if he doesn’t know how to sew on a button.

Although, now that I think of it, maybe I would add just one more lesson to that list:

Never share your toothbrush.

 

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Maya and Misty: A Tale of Two Friends

The summer of her 9th birthday, my daughter Julia met Maya.

It was, according to Julia, “friendship at first sight.”

The birthday party where Julia met her best friend Maya.
The birthday party where Julia met her best friend Maya. Julia is in the brown dress on the far right (hand at her chin). Maya is the young lady in the middle of the back row, wearing a floppy hat (without the black bow). 

Julia and Maya were introduced to each other at the birthday party of a mutual friend. It was a dress-up tea party, and the birthday girl’s mom had asked me to stay and help her with party games. I was pleased to help, and enjoyed gazing about the room filled with giddy girls, each one dressed in her fanciest clothes, some wearing high heels, big baubles, long gloves, or floppy hats.

Throughout the party, I noticed Julia and Maya, talking and laughing together just as if they had been friends forever. “That’s odd,” I thought. But I shrugged it off as Julia has always been a rather extroverted child who never meets a stranger.

Once, during the middle of the party, Julia came over and whispered in my ear, “Momma, you won’t believe it! I have just met my best friend in the whole world!”  Looking over at the cute girl with the adorable curls and infectious laugh, I thought it was sweet that Julia felt such an instant kinship to Maya, but then I also figured my daughter was likely being her normally over-dramatic self.

However, when it was time for us to leave the party, Julia hugged Maya goodbye while Maya said woefully, “Oh, Julia! I really hope we can see each other again soon!”

“Maybe it’s not just Julia …,” I thought.

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Maya with her mother, Misty
Maya with her mother, Misty

For the next several months, Julia talked non-stop about her new friend. Almost daily, she asked me when Maya could come over to play. “She’s my best friend in the world, Momma!” Julia would say in her most pleading voice. “How can you continue to keep us apart?”

The problem was that I didn’t know Maya’s mother at all. I felt uncomfortable picking up the phone and calling up a complete stranger to ask if our daughters, who were supposedly best friends, could get together and play.

Questions raced through my mind. “What if Maya has forgotten all about Julia? Maybe her mother will be freaked out by a stranger calling to see if her child can come over to play?” Not wanting to put myself into an awkward situation, I typically just brushed Julia off, hoping that eventually she would forget all about Maya and find another best friend.

But Julia didn’t forget Maya. In fact, whenever the subject of friends came up, Julia would say, “My best friend is Maya, but I never get to see her.”

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Six months later, my daughter Megan wanted to have a sewing party. The plan was to make pillowcase dresses to send to an organization called Little Dresses for Africa.

Since it was Megan’s party, most of the girls invited to come were her friends. However, Julia asked (rather insistently) if she could invite a friend as well … and, as I’m quite sure you’ve already guessed, Julia wanted to invited her best friend in the entire world, Maya.

Finally, I could relent! Calling up a mother with a party invitation for a child is so much easier than calling up for no reason.To my great relief, Maya’s mom, Misty, was not only friendly and easy to chat with, but also pleased to accept the invitation for her daughter.

“That was easy,” I thought, as I hung up the phone. “I really should have called Misty sooner.” But at least now I could rest easier knowing that I had finally worked it out for Julia to see her “best friend” again. I just hoped with all of my heart that Maya still felt the same way about Julia. I hated to think that Julia’s heart might be broken.

Thankfully, on party day, Julia and Maya seemed to pick up right where they left off six months earlier. Even I had to admit these two girls had something special.

The sewing party attendees ... Julia and Maya are together in the center.
The sewing party attendees … Julia and Maya are together in the center.

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Since the sewing party, hardly a week has gone by without Julia and Maya seeing each other. They are in the same 4-H club, on the same swim team, and beg for sleepovers constantly. In fact, earlier this month, Julia and Maya went to Teen Pact. The only way either one of them would consent to go was if the other one was going too. These two girls are a matched set, like salt and pepper, ham and cheese, peanut butter and jelly. Wherever you see Julia, you are going to see Maya too.

Julia and Maya, all dressed up for Teen Pact.
Julia and Maya, all dressed up for Teen Pact.

Julia’s friendship with Maya is definitely something rare and special. Sort of like love at first sight, their friendship was instantaneous … like two souls able to instantly see something in each other that bound them together. There is no doubt in my mind that these two girls will always share a relationship throughout their lives, no matter where their journeys might take them. (I do, however, doubt they will grow up and share an apartment and have 30 cats, as they both currently insist. At least, I hope that’s not what their future holds.)

But what surprises me even more than seeing how Julia and Maya met and became instant friends, was discovering God had a friendship for me in this as well.

When I moved to Cajun Country four years ago, I left behind friends and came to a place where I knew just a handful of people. For a long time, life in Lafayette was lonely. I was grateful for my husband, who really is my best friend, but sometimes I just wanted another woman to talk with and relate to … a friend in this new town I was learning to call home.

To my unexpected delight, Misty has turned out to be one of several answers to that prayer. She’s the sort of friend who can walk right into my home unannounced, wipe up my dirty countertops, and make a pot of coffee without ever thinking twice about asking. Misty has more than once talked to my daughter just as if she was her own child, calling her out on rotten attitudes or bad thinking. She’s the kind of friend who I can call if I have a problem or need some prayers.

I never dreamed when Julia met Maya, that God had planned all along to give me a good friend too.

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A good friend is a blessing from God.

The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. ~ 1 Samuel 18:1

Late and Lost: Lousy Words for Today

My husband Jon woke up late this morning. He needed to leave the house by 6 am to get to work on time, but for some reason it was 5:50 am before either of us woke up. Waking up late is never a good way to start the day.

Maddie works on Tuesdays and Thursdays at a local church’s Mother’s Day Out program. She doesn’t have to leave for work until 7:30 am, but in order for her to get ready in time she has to be woken at 6 am. I felt thankful that I wasn’t late for waking up Maddie … but I might as well have been.

You see, Maddie quickly realized that she lost her work shirt. She searched high and low. Jon, who I mentioned earlier was already running late, stepped in to help Maddie search for the missing garment. It was all to no avail. The work shirt was very much lost. Losing something as important as a work shirt is also not a good way to start the day.

As I poured myself a cup of coffee, I realized it was raining outside … again. It’s been raining since last Friday. Another day of no sunshine. Another day of being stuck inside the house.

“What a lousy day this is turning out to be!” I thought. 

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Some days are just lousy, even if you aren’t running late or losing important items.  We’ve all been there. Everyone has experienced a day (or two …  or three) when from the start it all goes wrong.

In the past, whenever I have fretted about one thing or another not going quite right, my mother would remind me, “Paige, one thing you can count on is that in this world you will have trouble. But think of it this way …  it is the problems and troubles we face that cause us to long for the perfection of heaven.”

She’s right. Today there might be trouble (thankfully just in the form of running late and losing important items and more rain that I’d like), but there is coming a day when I will leave behind this world full of lousy days. Then I will live forever in the presence of holy perfection, which is found only in Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”  ~John 16:33

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BaptistGirlConfession

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

 

Fifteen: An Open Letter to my Oldest Son on His Birthday

Dear Joel,

Fifteen?! Seriously, kid … you have got to stop doing this. Enough is enough. It seems like every time I turn around, you are back at it again, blowing out candles and getting people to bring you gifts. If you would just look at this from my perspective, I think you would see how all these birthdays are not only making you grow up quicker than I’d like, but it’s aging me as well. Really, it will be okay if you would just lay off the birthdays for a year or two.

Okay, okay … I’m just kidding around. I really don’t want you to stop growing up. I just wish you wouldn’t grow up so quickly.

But now that I’ve gotten your attention, I’d like to  take this opportunity to tell you how proud I am of you, and what a joy it has been to be your mom for the past fifteen years.

You know, there was a long time when I wasn’t sure I’d get to be anyone’s mother. I want nothing more than a baby of my own, but for close to three years it seemed like that chance may never come for me.

April 4, 2000
Joel and me on the day he was born …     April 4, 2000

And then, rather unexpectedly, God gave me you.

Before I became a mother, people told me all sorts of things about parenthood. Much of it was true, but none of it prepared me for loving you.

From the very beginning, my experiences with motherhood have showed me one thing:  Expect the unexpected. Things rarely work out the way I anticipate. But, I’m glad to say that most of the surprises have been good things.

Right from the start, my plans for being a mother went on a completely different path than I ever had worked out in my head. You see, I figured I would have a houseful of girls, all pink and perfectly frilly. But when I found out that you were a boy … well, I was overjoyed.

Before I knew it, my home was filled with boy toys, boy activities and boy noises. Wrestling with your brother, throwing balls in the house, burping contests … these are things I never had to teach you. While I must admit that I really don’t understand what it means to be a male and sometimes boy behavior annoys me, I’m so very glad God saw fit to give me the son I didn’t even realize I wanted.

Sumo wrestling with your brother
Sumo wrestling with your brother

Of course, the unexpected joys didn’t stop after I found out I was expecting a baby boy. You see, I thought I knew what it would be like to care for a baby, but you turned everything I thought I knew upside down, and mostly in a delightful sort of way.

For example, one of my earliest unexpected delights was bringing you home from the hospital as a newborn and discovering that you were practically sleeping through the night. I could feed you at 11 pm and you slept peacefully until around 4 am. I marveled at how most parents of newborns complained of being up several times a night with babies who constantly want to eat or who seemed to have their days and nights mixed up, while my baby slept like a champ from the very beginning. There was no doubt in my mind that I had one special kid to call my own.

Age 4 ... reading a map at the zoo.
Age 4 … reading a map at the zoo.

Several years later, I found myself driving you and your siblings halfway across the nation to see your father. In that era of life without a smart photo or GPS to direct me, I found myself unable to drive and read the map at the same time. Afraid of getting us hopelessly lost, I prayed, asking God to help me stay on the right roads. I hadn’t gone another 10 or so miles when I realized that you were sitting in the backseat, following our path on the map in your lap. You were only seven and yet somehow you navigated me from north Louisiana to remote cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, once again amazing me by doing the unexpected.

Sometimes I say I don’t like surprises, but because of you, I’ve learned to treasure those unforeseen moments.

At your request, we celebrated President John Adam's 271st birthday ... complete with cake and ice cream.  Only for you, Joel. Only for you.
At your request, we celebrated President John Adam’s 271st birthday … complete with cake and candles. Only for you, Joel. Only for you.

One of the best things about being your mom is that you have a way of making me laugh. Perhaps it is because you do so many unexpected things. Perhaps it is because you are just a funny sort of guy.  Whatever the reason, being your mom is a hoot!

Your quirky sense of humor; your crazy antics. I enjoy the playful banter we often share with each other. You’ve kept me laughing for the past fifteen years. And you know what the Bible teaches us about laughter … it’s like good medicine for the soul (Proverbs 17:22).

But sometimes life isn’t all fun and games. You’ve taught me a lot about how to get through tough situations instead of being stuck in a place of anxiety or worry. Because of you, I’ve discovered that bravery comes in all sorts of forms.

You must have been about six years old when I realizes what a brave boy you really were. At that time, you were terrified of water being on your face, especially water anywhere near your eyes. I never quite understood that fear, but I could tell it was rather deep-seated. One afternoon, all of the cousins were playing together outside. I noticed you watching all of the kids drinking water from the hose … and I could tell you were torn between not wanting to be left out and the fear of doing getting your face water. It was pure agony watching you wrestling with yourself that way.

Drinking from the water hose never killed anyone ...
Drinking from the water hose never killed anyone …

Yet just a few minutes later, I watched in wonder as you squeezed your eyes tightly, leaned forward, and took a sip of water, boldly braving the splashes to your face. Another unexpected moment from you…

 

Then again, I shouldn’t have been surprised. You’ve always been an overcomer.

Taking a ride down the zip line
Taking a ride down the zip line

Do you remember the time we spent the weekend with another family for a big homeschooling get-together?  There were lots of kids, big and small and in-between sizes. Some of the bigger kids were taking turns riding a zip line. Oh, how you wanted to go down that zip line! It was one of those times when I couldn’t do anything to help you … all I could do was watch and wonder if you would gather up the nerve to give it a try.  And just when I thought you had given up on the idea of attempting that daring feat, I heard the sound of kids clapping and cheering. I turned around just in time to see you finish your first ride on the zip line. As your feet touched the ground, a smile broke out on your face that was a bright as a thousand beaming lights.

Joel, there is nothing shameful about experiencing feelings of fear, for it is just part of being a human. However, it is what we do with that fear that builds our character.  Watching you that afternoon, I learned a lesson about facing our fears head on. I was reminded of how often the words “Don’t fear” or “Do not be afraid” appear in the Bible. I pray you never forget God is with you even in your biggest fears.

As a parent, it’s been one of my biggest joys and responsibilities to teach you about the character of God. Just as He doesn’t want us to fear, God also loves a cheerful giver.

The pile of gifts you bought for children in Iraq.
The pile of gifts you bought for children in Iraq.

Over the last fifteen years I have been inspired by your selfless generosity. I’ve always been especially proud of your requests for your 7th birthday when you asked your friends to give you money to buy schools supplies and clothes for the soldier’s in your father’s Army unit to give to the children in the Iraqi villages near where they were stationed. That you would do such a big thing at a young age is still so very amazing to me.

Parish-Wide Math Bee Champion ... Again!
Parish-Wide Math Bee Champion … Again!

Joel, you are an intelligent and bright young man. I knew it when you were a tiny boy, but every so often I am reminded of it again … such as when you taught yourself to read before your fourth birthday or when you won the parish-wide math bee two years in a row.

When you were in the first grade, you wanted to know which Dr. Seuss book was most-loved. You decided to take a poll and asked the local library if you could conduct a survey. To my delight, you  got lots of participants and created a fun graph to display with the results. It wasn’t just the activity that impressed me, but also the sheer joy you obviously had while doing it.

You with you Dr. Seuss poll results, which were on display at the public library
You with you Dr. Seuss poll results, which were on display at the public library

I love that you are an eager and passionate learner. This has been a character trait of yours since you were a very young boy.

I’ll never forget the day you first learned about Abraham Lincoln. Not quite four, you were fascinated by the tall man with the tall hat who lived long ago. Within just a few weeks, you were taken with everything presidents, a passion that lasted for the next several years and included you writing personal letters to every living President and First Lady.

Dressed as Abe Lincoln
Dressed as Abe Lincoln

Among the items I’ve saved for you are handwritten letters that you received from Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, and Lady Bird Johnson.

Later on, your fascination turned into an interest in politics. Seeing you participate in activities like Teen Pact, Camp Joshua, and serve on the state 4-H Citizenship Board are just further reminders that this is a God-given passion and He gave it to you for a purpose.

And you have other gifts too, like your talent for public speaking. It comes so naturally to you. I’m always so proud to see you serve as that Master of Ceremonies for our homeschool praise night, or go compete in another 4-H speaking contest. You just do it so very well that it gives me a certain parental joy to see you succeeding.

Touring a local news radio station
Touring a local news radio station

This past winter, you and I took a tour of a local news radio station. I could see the light in your eyes, as you took everything in and asked so many questions. You’ve mentioned before that you might like to be a radio broadcaster, especially for a sports or news station. And I can see you doing those things …

You may not be familiar with Eric Liddell, but he was an Olympic runner and a missionary to China. He credited as once having said, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure. “*

Joel, when I see you working with numbers and talking statistics, reading about and discussing today’s big political issues, or speaking to a group of people, I feel God’s pleasure reflected in you. I hope you do too, for each of these are God-given gifts.

Sometimes I wonder if you ever will run for a political office or if you will be be a DJ on a news radio station or perhaps be a statistician for a politician … maybe you will do something else, completely unexpected. But, whatever it is that you decide to do with your life,  I know you will stay true to the honest principals by which you have been taught to live.

Age 4 ... writing "incredible" on the driveway in chalk
Age 4 … writing “incredible” on the driveway in chalk

Joel, you are an incredible young man, the God-given answer to one of my deepest prayers.  I know He has a purpose for your life, good things He has called you to do throughout your years on this earth.

 

 

 

 

Even though I realize that this means you’ll be celebrating more birthdays and you’ll grow up into a man sooner than I really want, I’m also eager to see what God has planned for you.

Joel and me ... Nov. 9, 2014
Joel and me … Nov. 9, 2014

I couldn’t be any prouder or love you any deeper.

~Momma

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For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. ~Ephesians 2:10

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BaptistGirlConfession

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

 

*While this quote is often attributed to Eric Liddell, it was actually written by Colin Welland for the script to the movie Chariots of Fire.

A Yankee Drummer for Dinner

BANG! BANG! BANG!

BANG! BANG! BANG!

The steady beating rang out across the rural countryside.

The year was 1863. My great-great-great-great grandparents lived deep in the heart of the Confederacy, somewhere in the piney hills of Catahoula Parish in northern Louisiana. They were dirt poor, just simple farmers trying to work hard just to get by, certainly not wealthy land and slave owners.

The man of the house, George Washington Allbritton, had gone off to fight in the Civil War. He left his wife, Sarah, behind to care for their 12 children.

Early on this cold December morning, Sarah awoke to a noise.

BANG! BANG! BANG!

Over and over, the sound continued, steady as a heartbeat. And the one thought racing in Sarah’s mind was that this must surely be the sound of Yankee drums.

Sarah quickly woke the children.

Hurry with your chores! Milk the cow and gather the eggs, and come right back inside!

Sarah tried not to panic, but the drumming continued as she cooked their biscuits and bacon for breakfast. As they bowed their heads over the meal, Sarah silently added an additional prayer that the Yankees wouldn’t come by their house today.

By mid-morning the drumming sounded louder. Sarah instructed her children to hide their meager possessions.

Wrap the family Bible in the quilt made by my mother, Maggie. Then you take it and bury it in the garden, Tom. Take all our corn meal, flour and dried salt pork, and hide it in the barn underneath the wagon and cover it with some hay, Ben. Hurry children! We don’t want the Yankees to take our things!

BANG! BANG! BANG!

Shortly after noon, Sarah was feeling frazzled from the constant pounding of the drums. Hardly a minute passed without hearing the beat reverberating throughout the hills surrounding their home. She sent the older boys to turn the old milk cow and the chickens loose.

We will not give the Yankees any of our hens for their supper tonight!

Later in the afternoon the sounds of a wagon could be heard, coming over the road. Swiftly, Sarah rushed all the children, from the youngest to the oldest indoors. She stood just inside the doorway of their small log home. Finally, after an eternity, a horse and wagon came into view.

What a relief! It was just her brother Martin. Perhaps he was already on his way over to warn her and ensure that she and the children were safe from a Yankee raid. Sarah ran outside and flagged him down.

“Martin! Do you have any news of the Yankees?”

But to Sarah’s astonishment, Martin was unaware of any Yankees marching in the area. In fact, he hadn’t heard any drumming noises all day, though he could certainly hear the steady beat now!

BANG! BANG! BANG!

Martin listened closely for several long minutes. Finally he said, “Sarah, has that drumming sounded just like this all day?”

“Why, yes, it has. There might be an occasional small pause, but mostly it’s been steady since early this morning.”

“Well, it’s not getting any closer. I don’t think you need to worry about Yankees, but we do need to find the source.”

So Sarah and Martin took a walk around the farm, and there behind the barn they found an overturned barrel. Trapped underneath was Sarah’s Yankee drummer … a chicken trying to peck it’s way out.

As the sun sank low, Sarah sighed a sigh of relief as she stood in front of the stove to cook their supper. She sent the girls up to the garden to retrieve the family Bible, wrapped in her mother’s quilt, and the boys went out to find the old milk cow.

And later that evening, they bowed their heads and with thankful hearts said grace … before they ate their Yankee drummer for dinner!

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The above story is a mostly true account of a family story from my great-great-great grandparents, George Washington Allbritton and his wife Sarah Cassells Allbritton.

Photo of George Washington Allbritton and his wife Sarah during their later years of life.
Photo of George Washington Allbritton and his wife Sarah during their later years of life.

This version of the story was written by my son Joel, who wrote it to be used as a narrative speech in a class he was taking last fall. He did use some writer’s liberties and changed a few of the details.

For example, when George Washington Allbritton left his wife Sarah to go fight in the war, only 2 of their children had been born. The remaining 10 were born after the Civil War had ended.

George Washington Allbritton and his wife Sarah with 11 of their 12 children.
George Washington Allbritton and his wife Sarah with 11 of their 12 children. We descend from their daughter Minnie, who is the last woman on the right on the back row.

Additionally, we don’t know if Sarah’s brother Martin came by to help her figure out it was a chicken under a barrel instead of a regiment of Yankee soldiers … but we do know that she did have a brother named Martin Van Buren Cassells.

Other than those two details, the story is true. Sarah did hear a steady beating and hid much of their treasured items, before realizing the sound she heard was just a chicken beneath an overturned wooden barrel.

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

 

 

Christmas Lights

He had been in our home less than half an hour when our new little foster son began to request for us to turn lights on.  His chubby toddler hands would point up to the fixture, while in a sweet but insistent voice he would say, “Light? On?”

Before bedtime on that very first night, Jon was in the dining room changing out a burned out bulb in order to please the 22 month old boy who loved lights.

Even now, three months into this foster parenting gig, our family’s favorite two year old is still fascinated with light.

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Christmas is a season of light. It seems that everywhere you look, trees and houses are lit up with hundreds upon hundreds of tiny, twinkling lights. Trees glittering through window panes. Colored lights outlining rooftops while white lights make the bushes sparkle.

At Christmas, there is nothing more lovely than a tree lit up with lots of lights. Normally, I relish in decorating our family’s Christmas tree. I love to cover it in lots and lots of lights, and then fill it from top to bottom with hundreds of ornaments. Finally, I wrap the entire tree is sparkly gold ribbon before adding our star to the very top.

Yet, as much as I love the process and result of tree decorating, this year I decided NOT to decorate a tree. It wasn’t easy to come to such a conclusion, but after a two hour attempt to keep our two toddlers from completely destroying my mother’s Christmas tree, … well, I realized it would not be a fun Christmas season if I had to spend every waking moment trying to keep myself between the tree and the toddlers.

At first, I tried to come up with a solution that would still enable me to have my cake and eat it too … or, rather in this case,  have my tree and decorate it too. Someone suggested surrounding the tree with baby gates. I considered it, but then realized it would cost me a small fortune for something I really didn’t want to have after Christmas.

I also contemplated putting the tree up in a more out of the way location in our house. However, our home has a relatively open floor plan. The only out of the way locations available were bedrooms, bathrooms and Jon’s home office. None of those options felt like a good place to put the family Christmas tree.

In the end, it seemed as if there were only two options. Put up a Christmas tree and then spend the entire season constantly guarding it from an attack launched by two small children. Or forego the Christmas tree this year and find other ways to decorate our home.

But if I thought I was disappointed about having a year with no Christmas tree, I should realized the magnitude of the reaction I was about to get from my five teens and tweens.  When I first broke the news, a few took the news rather well, but there were a couple that stared at me in stunned silence before beginning to beg and plead with me to change my mind. When I wouldn’t, I received several glares that could kill had there be any super powers involved. Fortunately for me,  I am raising humans and not super heroes.

My kids are fortunate too, for I am not a mean old Grinch … though they might occasionally beg to differ with me on that point. Still, I never intended NOT to decorate our home for the Christmas season. I just determined that a typical Christmas tree should not be part of this year’s holiday decor.

So instead of focusing on my tree, I decorated the doorways with garlands and decked out the walls.

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My banner that drapes across the kitchen. It says “Joyeux Noel.” I figure consider I that I live in the heart of Louisiana’s Cajun Country, I at least ought to include a little French in our Christmas decor.

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I set up displays of  nativity sets on every solid surface out of reach of little fat fingers.

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The stockings were even hung. Not over a chimney, which we don’t have anyway, or in their usual place along the living room shelves. Rather, the stockings found a place to hang over the living room windows. I liked the way they looked, nine stockings hanging in a row.

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In the end, there was tree to decorate after all. Last weekend, I found a mini-tree on sale for less than $10, so I got it to put on the ledge above the kitchen sink. It just so happens that it can be seen from the living room as well, which makes this small tree the perfect place to display each person’s new ornament for 2014.

Look and see if you can spot the:

(1) Eiffel Tower for Julia who has been collecting them since her summer trip to Paris;  (2) A plane for Joel to remind him of his first trip overseas;  (3)  A Rubik’s cub for Nate who figured out the key to solving them; (4) A sparkly owl for Meg;   (5) A glittery snow fox for Maddie; (6) Two reindeer with the initials K and C  for the foster babies;  (7) a turquoise and brown cross for Jon;  (8) and a cow bell which represents my wedding anniversary to Jon … it was tied to the back of our getaway car at our wedding which will be 4 years ago on Dec. 31st.

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But my favorite ornament on this year’s tiny tree is the one I bought just for me!

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While I take all the credit for decorating the inside of our home, Jon always takes care of making the outside look merry and bright. This year Megan helped decorate the front yard, stringing lights all around and placing a simple reindeer on the front lawn. As always, they did a fantastic job!

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But even though I loved the welcoming look, what I really wished was that we had a little extra money to buy a wreath to hang on the front door. (True fact: When you have seven kids, there is never any extra money.) Imagine my surprise when the very next day my sweet friend Korin gave me a beautiful fresh wreath that she made just for me to hang on my front door.

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The perfect finishing touch!

We may not have a tree this year, but the signs of Christmas are all around the house, and I am praying daily for signs of Christmas growing in our hearts as well …  the Christmas spirit of generosity and of love and of humble worship.

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Three months ago a tiny little boy and his baby sister came to live with us. And from the very beginning, the lights in our home fascinated him.

This Christmas, we have a blessed opportunity to share the wonders of the season with two innocent children. It may be the only chance we have to share Christmas with them. So we will drive that sweet boy up and down the streets after dark, showing him the city all lit up for Christmas. We will bake cookies and open gifts and bask in the glow of Christmas excitement.  And through it all, I will hold out hope that on some future day these precious kids will see the pictures and know how much fun our family had sharing this Christmas with them.

But more than anything else, I pray for our little ones’ hearts to be captivated by the Light of this World, the Holy Infant of Bethlehem who came to save us from our sins. We may not have a big Christmas tree and the presents we open may be relatively few, but oh how I hope even at their tender ages they will see the light of His love living in us, and because of that they will long to know Him more.

Because really … that’s what Christmas is all about.

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Behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” ~Matthew 2:2

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  ~John 8:12

Phone Calls to Heaven

Dad: Hello…

Me: Hey, Dad! Whatcha doin’ ?

Dad: Just talking to you on the phone.

Me: Seems like you were doing that the last time I called, too.

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This was the way 90% of the phone calls I made to my dad began.  It was our ritual and it played out often because I called my dad a lot.

I guess we must have averaged four or five phone calls a week, most of which lasted a good half-hour.  Perhaps you are wondering why I called home so much. Well, it wasn’t because I had so much important information to share with my father. Really, my life as a stay-at-home mom to five kids and two fosters isn’t that exciting. It’s really only rather mundane sort of stuff that goes on around here. (Obviously, if you read my blog often, you realize this is why I call it Tales From the Laundry Room. My life truly does revolved around a bunch of dirty laundry and hungry kids.)

Really, I just called home because I wanted to keep in touch with my parents … to find out what was going on with them and to chat about things going on in my home.

Regardless of the fact that I rarely had important or exciting news to share, my dad always had time to stop and listen. In fact, he seemed quite interested in hearing me ramble on about how my two teen boys eat me out of house and home, the ins and outs of trying to make my youngest memorize her multiplication tables, or how some days I feel like a taxi driver as I run my horde of kids hither, there and yon.

Sometimes Dad gave me advice. Other times he just empathized. But each and every time I talked to my father, I felt heard, understood, and encouraged.

I never felt like a bother. I never felt like a distraction or disturbance. It actually seemed as if he had nothing better to do than listen to me. In my heart, I know my Daddy enjoyed talking to me as much as I enjoyed talking to him.

And I miss it. I miss the crazy way we started off those chats. I miss knowing someone had the time to sit and listen. I miss hearing his rich laugh when I related some funny kid story or his gentle wisdom when I told about a small trial I faced in parenting.

Today marked a week since his passing, and all day long I’ve been trying to write this blog post. Of course, managing the activities of seven kids has kept me far from my computer much of the day, but when I did sit down at several points to write, I didn’t even know how to begin to say all that I feel or have felt in the past week. Such as:

~I’m proud to have been Malcolm Terry’s daughter. I couldn’t have asked for a better father. I’m grateful for the knowledge that he lives on eternally with God and for the hope of heaven during times like this.

~I’m overwhelmed at the outpouring of love from people in my hometown. Harrisonburg is a wonderful small community with a giant heart. I’m glad it’s where my dad chose to raise his family.

~I’m sad because my dad isn’t here on earth anymore and I’ll never hear his voice or laugh again. My children, all of them, have lost the only grandfather who was actively involved in their lives … and because my grandfather still lives, I feel a very deep sorrow knowing that they have lost this precious relationship at such young ages.

~I feel a little lost because for the first time in my life I have only one parent. Recently, someone shared with me that a parent is a lot like a life-line. When death cuts the tether, we feel as if we are drifting aimlessly. And yet, God is our anchor. He is our rock. In Him, life is stable  and sure and safe … even when the winds around us howl and the waves pound against us.

Somewhere in the middle of thinking about all those phone calls I made to my father over the years, and how I knew my Dad really did love those as much as me and wanted me to call to check in as often as I could, it came to me.  You see, God’s like that too.

God loves it when I check in with Him often throughout the day, just to talk about the big or little or relatively mundane parts of my life. He loves to listen, and always has time for me. Even a world crisis doesn’t keep Him from bending His ear my direction, or offering comforting words or providing me with wisdom, insight and gentle direction. Spending time praying to God isn’t a waste of my time any more than my frequent phone calls to my dad were a waste of time. In fact, I’m better off the more time I spend connecting with God!

I’m finding comfort tonight in remembering that while I may not be able to talk to my earthly father again on this side of heaven, my Heavenly Father is still available at any time, day or night … and that’s more than I can say for my dad.

He wasn’t at all fond of phone calls after bedtime.

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Seek the LORD and his strength, seek his face continually. ~1 Chronicles 16:11 

The First 24 … and then some

It’s been a little over 24 hours since two precious babies were dropped off at my home … our first placement as a foster family.

I can’t give out names or identifying details about the children left in our charge, but I can say that we are loving on a set of siblings. A little boy with blond hair and big brown eyes who is not quite two years old and his baby sister (age nine months) with the most adorable round face, big blue eyes and a smile to melt your heart. For the purposes of my blog, I’ll refer to them as “Lil’ Man” and “Cutie-Pie.”

As cute as these two are (and they are oh-so cute), it’s been a wild, chaotic, stressful night and day around here.

I had forgotten all about babies!  I know I’ve mothered three from infancy on, but I have apparently grown rusty on all things baby.  Jon and I realized that our schedule just hasn’t been thrown a curve ball … our schedule has been thrown out the window! We are now marching to the beat of two tiny people, who eat and sleep and even take baths on a schedule.

Cutie Pie arrived with a nasty cold and cough. Is there anything worse than a baby with a rattly chest?! My momma’s heart wants to just rush her off to the doctor, but we don’t even have a pediatrician yet. And she’s since is fever-free and mostly content to play, I figure our over-the-counter medications can keep things under control until Monday morning.

Lil’ Man is busy, fascinated by everything electronic or highly breakable, and extremely LOUD. He’s definitely a normal almost two-year old. His speech is very garbled, but we can hear him mimicking us from time to time. So far the only time he is quiet is when he is sleeping or watching Barney … Good old Barney is still entertaining to toddlers  and irritating adults all these years later!

The five big kids in the house are delighted to help. Tonight there was actually a small bru-ha-ha over who would get to bath the babies. These two are not in need of loving hands to hold them, play with them, feed, them, rock them, or sing “The Itsty-Bitsy Spider” for the 50th time in a row.

So if you are wondering how we are doing … well, it’s just like any other house with two babies under two.

Thanks for the prayers and words of encouragement. We are completely dependent on prayer right now, and trusting that God will continue to help us find our footing in this exciting time.

Now, I’m off to start another load of laundry! It’s amazing how much laundry two little people can create!

Finished! (Never mind … I’ve Not Even Begun)

Yesterday afternoon about 1:30 the phone call finally came.

Our paperwork is complete. Jon and I are officially logged into the foster care system and available to take a child into our home.

Whew! For a while, I wasn’t sure it was ever going to happen.  Those first few weeks, everything flew into place. I couldn’t seem to get it to all slow down.

And then everything came to a sudden halt.

Not only did things not move forward. It even seemed we were taking steps back. I found myself questioning our motives and wondering if we were up to the challenge. A minor family crisis involving one of our five children almost made us decide to close the door on this ministry.

But we decided to wait on God and let Him either close or open the door.

We waited and watched … and very slowly the last few steps were accomplished in an orderly manner.

And with that one phone call, I sat back and breathed a big sigh, “It’s finished!”

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I only thought it was finished yesterday.  What was finished was nothing more than the beginning.

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Today the phone rang again. Almost at the same exact time.

Again, it was our foster care worker with news … two kids on their way to our home.

And suddenly, just as quickly, all the relief of yesterday vanished. My heart is turning in a million directions. I’m overwhelmed with nerves and heartache, while at the same time eager to do what God has asked me and my family to do.

Any time a child is placed into foster care, there has been a tragedy. An awful thing has happened. And yet to have the chance to love on these two precious babies is an opportunity I  want to embrace.

I’ve got just an hour to get ready. I’ve got just a few minutes to get things together. There are a million things to do, or so it seems. Put the crib together. Straighten in the nursery and make sure there is nothing a toddler shouldn’t have laid about. Baby proof the living room. Start supper because I imagine cooking once they arrive will be hard to accomplish. And yet I sit here writing …

Because my heart is breaking… Two babies ripped out of their home … so even though they are coming to me where I will keep them safe and fed and hopefully happy, these two precious ones have already been through something terrible to bring them to my door.

Because my heart is anxious… Will I have enough energy for this? Can my family take the stress and strain of caring for two small children? Are we going to regret this decision or will it be the best thing we’ve ever done?

Because my heart is filled with excitement… God has asked me and my family to dare to love and we’ve said yes. It’s always thrilling to see how God will use us and there is a part of me expecting great and wonderful things.

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Yesterday, when I thought those words, “it is finished,” I recalled how those were the final words Jesus uttered on the cross. We call that day Good Friday, not because His suffering was good but because through it all humanity gained salvation.

Today is a good Friday in my home and in my life. Not that it begins to compare to the Good Friday of Easter, but rather because it signifies that we are following God in faith, dependent upon Him to meet our every need in this endeavor.

It’s good because God will meet us where we are and will give us all we need. This much I know to be true.

Still … if you think of the two babies heading to my home and of my family as we welcome them with love, I would love knowing you are praying with us and for us.

Because we’ve not finished anything. We’ve only just begun.