The Curtain Conversation

A couple of days ago, my renter moved out of my house.

Well, she sort of moved out. She left behind a couple of recliners inside the house, along with a lot of old laminate flooring and cardboard boxes. There is also a car (which doesn’t run) left in the garage. I’m not sure if she planning to come back for it at some later time, or if she is giving it to me.

Regardless of whether or not she is coming back for these last few items or if I’m going to be left to dispose of the old recliners and the car myself, this is a chapter that is swiftly coming to a close and a new one is about to begin with another renter.

During this time of transition, I’m having to busy myself with taking care of a few repairs on the house. There turned out to be much more repairing than I was aware of, and due to the fact that I live over two hours away makes it difficult to be sure things are getting taken care of in a timely manner.

It’s a stressful situation… and since I was a little girl, the way I normally deal with a rising stress level is to write. Therefore, for today’s stress relief, I’ve decided to write about one of my favorite stories from when I actually lived in that sweet little white house.

I’m going to write about a conversation I had with God.

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Perhaps you don’t believe that God actually converses with people.  After all, it doesn’t make much sense for the Creator of the Universe, the same One who thought up Saturn and the stately Sequoia tree and the enormous Blue Whale, to care about having a conversation with me. Who am I, among all things created, that God would care to hear my thoughts and respond in a personal way?

All I can say is that He does.

It’s not audible voice booming out of nowhere. (Though one time I did, in fact, think I actually heard God’s voice. You can read that story here.) Rather something more like an insistent whisper in the back of my head, a constant nudging urging me to pause and listen.

And when I do listen to that still, small voice, I know without a doubt I am not just having a conversation with myself.

I know because I would never ever say the things that God says to me!

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Summer 2010.

I’d been single for three years and lived in my “new home” for about a year.  While there were many things I loved about my life, I had an negative, unsettled sort of spirit deep down, as if I were just waiting for life to get better instead of enjoying life where I was at currently.

I didn’t like the fact that I lived in one town and worked in another. I felt pulled between the two communities. I struggled to keep good after-school care for my three children. As a former military spouse, I missed my friends who were scattered all over the nation (and world), and felt like my search for more local kindred spirits was hopeless. All in all, I just felt desperately unsettled in my life. And I couldn’t figure out how to shake it.

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So one Saturday morning, I complained to God about the unsettled feeling I have about living in my pretty new home. I lay in my bed, relating to the Lord about how I had expected my life to be different than it was, especially once I got situated into the beautiful house He had provided for me and my children. Much like a petulant child, I whined and moaned about my lot, and then demanded to know why God moved me only to let me go through such a lonely season.

The response I got was not what I hoped for or even expected. In fact, God did not seem sympathetic to my plight in the least.

 I do not think people who have yet to hang up curtains should complain about feeling unsettled in their new home.

I lay there, quietly for a moment. No doubt about it, this was the voice of God whispering in my head. After all, I would never tell myself that I had no right to complain!

Several more seconds went by as I pondered what God had clearly said. I wasn’t sure I knew exactly what He meant and so I decided to ask for clarification.

“I don’t understand, Lord. What do curtains have to do with me feeling unsettled?”

To my shock, there was a quick and definite reply.

“You’ve lived in your home well over a year now.  You haven’t hung up any curtains.  Generally, when people plan to stay somewhere, they hang up curtains. Are you planning to stay”

The comment and the question unnerved me. Again, it was not at all what I was expecting to hear.  I fumbled around for a moment before muttering,  “Well … I’m not planning to go anywhere else.”

 “That’s not what I asked. I asked if you were planning to stay.”

Now, I not only felt stunned by this back and forth conversation I was having with God, but I felt utterly rebuked. I decided perhaps it was best at this point just come clean with God.

“Okay, Lord … if you want to know how I really feel, then I will spell it out for you. You moved me to this beautiful house, but my job is 30 miles away. I can’t seem to get a more local job, no matter how hard I try. On top of that, after-school child care for the kids has been sporadic and undependable the entire time I have lived here … AND I don’t have a single real friend who lives close by.  I thought you wanted me to live here. I keep pushing on doors, but none of them open. And as a result, I don’t feel settled.  I might live here, but it does not really feel like home.  This morning I’ve come to You with all these problems that I want You to help me solve and instead You want to talk about the fact that I haven’t hung  up curtains. What does that have to do with anything anyway?”

“The truth is, Paige, that all of these details are insignificant to the fact that I asked you to come here and live.  So live here, Paige. Make yourself at home. In the meantime, go hang a few curtains.”

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For a long while that morning I stayed in bed, pondering curtains and why I hadn’t yet hung any.  I had some good excuses.  I silently listed each one to see if there was any real value to any of my reasons for the lack of curtains over the windows.

To begin with, I had never hung curtains before and I wasn’t really sure I knew how.  I mean,  I knew that it couldn’t be that hard, but there was this nagging worry in the back of my head that I might hang them wrong. What if I messed up and didn’t hang them straight?  People might come over to my house and laughed at my crooked curtains. How embarrassing!

Secondly, I didn’t even own a drill.  How could I hang up curtains without a drill?

And finally, curtains aren’t cheap. What if I bought curtains and then hated the way they looked once I got them hung over the windows? That would be a lot of money down the drain!  I certainly didn’t have a lot of money.

Over the course of time, it became easier for me to have bare windows than to risk failure on any of these levels. I suddenly felt ashamed of my curtain-less house, and my unwillingness to try something new out of fear of failure.

But the real break-through happened later that morning when I began to understand that my conversation with God wasn’t really about the lack of curtains over my windows. It was more about me actively choosing to live my life right where God has me today, instead of simply choosing to bide my time as I waited for my circumstances to change.

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As a Christian, I know two things:

(1) God has not promised us a life without problems and troubles.  Jesus told His followers, “You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.”  (John 16:33)

If I am waiting for my life to become perfect before I actually live, I will be waiting for a long, long time. In the meantime, life will pass me by, as none of us are guaranteed tomorrow.

Which brings me to the second thing I know.

(2) This world is not my home.  My final destination is heaven.

But our citizenship is in heaven. ~Philippians 3:20

Further more, my days on earth are numbered, as the span of my life was determined long before I ever was born.

A man’s days are numbered. You know the number of his months. He cannot live longer than the time You have set. ~Job 14:5

All my days were written in Your book and planned before a single one of them began. ~Psalm 139:16

 

While I long for heaven and the perfect life that is to come in eternity with my Saviour, I can’t just sit around waiting for God to take me home to live with Him in paradise. In fact, Jesus warned His followers about that very thing in the parable about the talents, which is found in Matthew 25.  When Christ comes back, He wants to find that we have been busy working for His kingdom, instead of just sitting around waiting His return.

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By the way,  that Saturday morning conversation five years ago did, in fact, end with me hanging a few curtains. Almost instantly I felt better about my home, more settled because in my heart I was determined to actually live where God had placed me, and not just stay still while I hoped for my circumstances to change.

And in the process, I learned an important lesson about intentionally living my life instead of waiting around for something better.

Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. ~Colossians 1:10

The Trouble with Ears

The first thing I remember about Nathan was thinking he was definitely louder than his brother Joel. The very next thing I recall is a nurse gushing loudly over his piercing cries, “Oh, would you just look at those dimples!”  Sure enough, there on his right cheek was a deep double-dimple. And, to my surprise, he was born knowing how to use them!

Of all my children, Nathan smiled the quickest. By 3 1/2 weeks of age, he was giving big full-on grins, putting that dimple to work. He was born with bright blue eyes and a head of thick black hair that stuck straight up, giving him the appearance that he had something mischievous going on in his little head. Everyone (and I mean everyone) said all that black hair would fall out, but it never did. In fact, by the time he was three months old, the roots were growing in blond. Poor Nathan! He looked like he had been given a bad dye job!  One day I trimmed away the black tips as he slept in my arms. Now he had head full of blond hair to match the blue eyes and big dimple.

Did I mention Nathan was born in Monterey, California?

That’s right.

I’ve got my very own California Beach Boy.

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Nathan was less than two months old the first time it happened. I woke up to his loud shrieks at some ungodly hour in the middle of the night. This cry was not the wail of a baby needing to be fed or changed into a dry diaper. This was the cry of a sick infant, one who was in pain.

No fever. No wound. In my sleep-deprived state, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong him. Nothing I did stopped his cries. At some point, I took him to an ER, where my baby was diagnosed with a raging double-ear infection.

That night marked the beginning of Nate’s ear troubles.

Nathan, center, at 7 months. Three hours after this photo was taken, he was in the ER being treated for another ear infection. A month later, he got his first set of tubes.
Nathan, center, at 7 months. Three hours after this photo was taken, he was in the ER being treated for another ear infection. A month later, he got his first set of tubes.

He got his first set of ear tubes at 8 months, after he had already been treated for a dozen ear infections.

Now you must understand, from my personal experience of living in Monterey, California for nearly a year and a half, the doctors there were leery to do anything. They wanted to take the “wait and see” approach. But Nathan’s little ears were constantly infected. Homeopathic remedies didn’t work. Antibiotics seemed to work, only to have the infection come back with full force just as soon as the medication was stopped. Finally, out of desperation, an ENT said, “Well, he is awfully little for this but let’s put in some ear tubes and see if it will help.”

I never will forget after that first procedure the ENT sitting me down, looking me in the eyes and saying:

Let me be honest with you … I don’t know when I have ever seen so much pus and debris in the middle ear, especially on a child this young. It was like wallpaper paste, clinging to everything! No amount of antibiotic would have ever cleared up that mess. We definitely did the right thing by putting in tubes.

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Like a song stuck on repeat, one ear infection followed another, and one set of ear tubes after the next.

The first time Nathan had a tympanoplasty, he was about five years old.

We checked in at the surgical hospital that morning expecting Nathan was just going to be receiving another set of ear tubes. If you have ever had a child who has gotten ear tubes, you know it is a relatively simple procedure that takes about ten to fifteen minutes for the doctor to perform. Literally you spend more time waiting for your turn than you do waiting for your child’s ear tubes to be inserted.

Nathan at age 4 ... all smiles!
Nathan at age 4 … all smiles!

That particular day Nathan was wheeled back to have the tubes inserted, but he didn’t come back quickly. Forty-five minutes passed. I finally managed to flag down a nurse, who didn’t have any information but promised to find out what was going on for me. Several minutes later, she returned.

The doctor ran into some trouble. Apparently his ear drums were in not in good enough condition to hold a tube in place, so he had to perform a tympanoplasty first.”  Seing my confused look, she quickly explained, “That means the doctor repaired the ear drums with a small graft of skin. He should be finishing up within another fifteen or twenty minutes. It’s alright, Mama … your boy is in good hands.

Sure enough, it wasn’t long before Nathan was wheeled back out, his little hand strapped to a stabilizing board to help hold his IV in place. Nathan’s ears were covered with bandages. After all of the experiences with getting sets of ear tubes, I wasn’t prepared for him to look so injured and ill.

As I reached over to stroke his sweet head, Nathan gave me a glare, “I cannot move my hand. No one will take this out!” He waved his hand and forearm about wildly.

About that time, the same kind nurse peeked her head into the room. “How are we doing in here?” she asked, flashing a bright smile at us.

Before I could answer, Nathan ranted, “Not well! I do not feel so good right now.

“I’m sorry. What can I do to make you feel better?”

I want this thing off of my arm.” Nathan pointed to the arm taped to the board.

The nurse smiled. “I am definitely going to take your IV out … just as soon as you eat, drink and go to the potty for me. Deal?”

No. It is not a deal. I am not hungry. I am not thirsty. And I don’t have to go to the potty.” Nathan was not in a deal-making mood. Knowing my son was as stubborn as he was charming, I feared we were in a for long stay in the recovery area.

But that sweet nurse didn’t seem at all fazed by Nathan’s grumpiness. Ten minutes later she was back with graham crackers and apple juice.  She set it all up on the little tray and offered to turn on the TV so that he could eat his snack while watching a cartoon.

Humph.” Nathan gave the nurse a grumpy glare. “Watching TV will not make me feel better. What will make me feel better is for you to take this thing out of my arm.

The nurse did not fall for Nathan’s act.  “I’ve already told you that I will take it out just as soon as you eat, drink and go to the potty.”

And I’ve already told you that I do not want to eat or drink or go to the potty.”  Nathan tried to cross his arms on his chest, but between all the IV tubes taped to his arm which was fastened to the board he couldn’t manage to get everything in position.

“Well, seeing as this is my hospital, you are going to have to follow my rules. I’ll leave you alone for a while. Maybe in a few minutes you will feel hungry or thirsty.”

As the nurse walked away, Nathan pushed away the tray with the apple juice. “What sort of hospital is this?” he grumbled.  “Everyone knows the healthiest thing to drink is water. Instead, I got apple juice. She’s probably a terrible nurse because if she knew how bad I felt she would bring me a cup of water.

Seeing an opportunity to perhaps bring about an end to the stalemate, I cautiously asked, “If the nurse brought you some water, would you drink it?”

Fifteen minutes later, Nathan had guzzled down a couple of large cups of water, eaten three packets of graham crackers, gone to the bathroom, and had the hated IV removed. After handing me the discharge papers, the nurse turned to Nathan and offered to give him a ride to our car in a wheelchair. His five-year old eyes glittered with excitement.  Flashing the nurse his most charming dimple grin, Nathan asked, “Can you take me the long way so I can have a really good ride?” The nurse, who had up to now been so firm, couldn’t seem to refuse this final request. She even gave him a wheelie on a quiet stretch of the hospital hallway.

As she dropped us off at the front of the hospital, Nathan gave her a big high five. “The next time I need ear tubes, I am definitely coming back here, ” he declared.

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Just last month Nathan got had an ear infection which rapidly turned into mastoiditis. It took three trips to visit our ENT, two trips to the pediatrician, and a visit to the emergency room to get him well.  He got a CT scan, two bags of antibiotics by IV, a shot in the rear with another antibiotic, 14 days of antibiotics by mouth, along with an ear drop antibiotic, and it still was more than three weeks before his ear was pain-free.

“Maybe this will be the last one,” I thought. “Maybe after this time his ears won’t hurt him any more.”

Two nights ago, I found myself sitting in yet another urgent-care clinic watching another doctor look into my boy’s ears and state with shock, “Goodness! That’s an infected ear!”

Inside, I moaned, “Oh, Lord … are we ever going to get past this? It seems like we have been around and around and around on this same merry-go-round. I feel so hopeless about this!”

As I stopped by the pharmacy to get the antibiotic filled, the verse that kept racing through my mind was this:

There is nothing new under the sun.

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Ear tubes. Ruptured ear drums. Tympanoplasties. So many ear infections, I’ve long lost count.

For years, doctors have told me my son would outgrow ear infections. He will celebrate his 13th birthday on Thanksgiving Day. After all these years of ear aches, it feels as if Nathan and I have tried everything there possibly is to try.

Isn’t that the way we humans feel? It seems like we fight the same old battles over and over.  Some of us battle with the bulge, diet after diet, hoping that one of these days the weight will fall off and stay off. Others find themselves warring with addictions: smoking, drinking, pornography.  We go round and round, wrestling with our demons, desperate for the solution, fearful one doesn’t exist, wondering if our prayers are bouncing off heaven. Our battles feel old and our souls feel weary.

I read something interesting this week. According to Ravi Zacharius, the phrase “There is nothing new under the sun” which King Solomon uses approximately twenty times in the book of Ecclesiastes, is actually an old Hebrew idiom meaning “a life without God.”

It took me a moment to wrap my head around this thought. Maybe you are quicker than me … even so, give me a moment to explain what I eventually realized.

In this life, there is nothing new. If it has happened once, it is just as likely to happen again. Wars, disasters, addictions, diseases. We hear the stories again and again. There really is nothing new under the sun.

But when you have a life with God, everything changes. Suddenly, the impossible becomes possible. The unimaginable happens. The terrible becomes glorious. And that’s because God makes all things new. And because God has that sort of power, we have hope in whatever battle we are facing.

David killed Goliath because, even though there is nothing new under the sun, God makes all things new and possible.

The same thing goes for Moses parting the waters, Gideon defeating the Midionites, and the marching Israelites bringing down the walls of Jericho. Time and time again, we read in the Bible of how the impossible came to be all because of God’s intervention.

There is always hope because even though there is nothing new under the sun, God has given us His Son and through Him all things are made new.

suninclouds

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It’s taken me a week to write this post. Not only has Nathan been ill with an ear infection, but so has the rest of this house. This morning, four out of five kids are hanging out in pajamas, sniffling and coughing and sneezing. Yesterday, I was down and out myself. A bad case of the sniffles is not such a terrible thing in this world filled with problems. Life could be a whole lot worse than just needing to hang onto a box of kleenex.

But even so, I hang onto hope this morning … because while there is nothing new under the son, everything is new with the Son of God.

Then the One seated on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new.” He also said, “Write, because these words are faithful and true.”  ~Revelation 21:5

M is for …

M is for Moving.

LetterM

When I married Jon Hamilton, I loved everything about him. Everything, that is, with the exception of his house. And that, I hated.  

So hate might be a strong word, but the truth is I had no pleasant feelings about this home other than for the man who owned it.  A white brick, ranch style home in an older subdivision, it was small and run-down. Jon had bought it with his ex-wife, chosen mainly for its location and school district.  It needed lots of minor repairs, but we lacked the funds and skills to pour into these projects.

The worst of it was the way all seven of us were packed into the small space, like sardines in a can. Two of the children slept in the formal living room, which we converted into a bedroom. The master bathroom was so small that you could turn on the faucet for the sink while standing in the shower. The kitchen was nothing more than a ridiculously tiny box, unable to hold more than one person at a time. I felt like I was performing a huge feat of engineering each time I entered to cook for our family of seven, which was at least three times a day nearly every day of the week.

I wanted to move, but Jon didn’t believe it was possible.  “Paige, we cannot sell this house. It’s got too many cosmetic flaws,” Jon would tell me anytime I asked about the possibility. Then he would launch into his list of 3,492 reasons why selling our home was practically impossible.

However, his pessimism didn’t stop me from praying about it. And frankly, I prayed about that house a lot. Sometimes, I even did more than pray … I would look at local houses on the web, wishing I could find a deal so amazing that even Jon could not refuse. Mostly, though, I just prayed.

One afternoon, I got a strange phone call from a realtor in the area. He admitted to me that his company had captured my information from their website, and he was just calling to see if I was perhaps looking to buy or sell a home. I answered that I wasn’t in the market to do either at this time, but he was a typical realtor and didn’t take no for an answer. After a brief conversation, the realtor asked if he could come talk with me in person.

“No,” I said. “you can’t come speak to me about seeing this house. Truthfully, it belongs to my husband, so you’ll need to speak with him. I will tell him you called and give him this number. If he is interested in pursuing the idea of selling further, then he will call you back. Otherwise, you can assume he isn’t interested at this time.”

When Jon came home that evening, I told him about my phone conversation, trying to give an air of disinterest. Jon didn’t buy my act for a second, and immediately began to work his way down the long list of reasons why we couldn’t sell our home. At some point, my eyes began to glaze over … at least until I noticed Jon was picking up his cell phone. The next thing I knew Jon was setting up an appointment for the realtor to come take a look at our home.

The following day, I watched in wonder as the realtor put up a For Sale sign in the front yard. “Don’t get in a rush,” he warned. “Older homes are harder to sell. I expect you’ve got at least 6 months, maybe longer, to wait.”

Less than 48 hours later, we were under a contract for a cash sell on our home.

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When God’s ready to move you, get ready to move …

unless He’s not ready to move you and in that case get ready to wait.

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All along I had figured selling our home would be the hard part. Finding a new one was sure to be easy. I was wrong.

For two months we house hunted. We must have looked at 25 homes, maybe more. Nothing in our price range seemed to fit our needs. And when we finally found a home that did, we rushed to put a contract on it only to discover that we didn’t qualify for the rural development loan as we had been assured.  

As we neared the closing date for selling our home, the only solution seemed to be accept an offer to rent our old home from it’s new owner.  Of course,  the rent was going to be nearly $200 higher than our mortgage. If I thought I hated that house before I sold it, now I really hated the idea of renting that house for a bigger cost. I felt bummed at the situation and irritated with God as I tried to figure out what He was up to doing in my life.

It wasn’t long before a friend called me insisting that Jon and I needed to check out a particular home. “Paige, every time I go visit my friends, the Bellards, I just see your family living in this home. It’s not on the market, but I know they are wanting to sell soon. Would you mind if I told my friend Renee about you and gave her your number?”  Still feeling defeated about house hunting, I agreed she could pass along our contact information.

A few days later, Jon and I found ourselves walking through the door of the Bellards home. It was a stone’s throw from our old home, situated in the exact part of town where we wanted to stay. There were four big bedrooms, two full baths and two half baths, and a nice-sized home office located away from the center of the house. The kitchen was spacious and open to the living areas. And the backyard was completely fenced in, with enough space for our dogs and kids to play. Despite being centrally located, the neighborhood was quiet. This house had everything we were hoping for … everything, that is, except the price.

Jon and I knew it would take an act of God for us to purchase this home. Yet, somehow we felt encouraged to consider it carefully as an option. We spent quite a bit of time looking at the house, and talking with the owners. As we were getting ready to leave, Renee pulled us aside and said, “I just wanted to pray with you before you left. Let’s both ask God for wisdom about whether or not we should proceed. If He’s in the deal, it will be the right outcome, but if He’s not in the deal it will go wrong from the start.

It’s the first and only time I’ve ever been involved in buying anything that the seller asked me to pray with me before I decided whether or not to make the purchase.

A day or so later, Renee contacted me and said that she and her husband had decided to reduce the price of the home by $15,000. Now the price of the Bellard’s home was sitting squarely within our price range. But there was another problem. There was no money for a down payment. We had been hoping for a rural development loan, but had discovered earlier we didn’t qualify because I owned another piece of property.

Once again, a mountain stood in our way. A mountain only God Himself could move. After several days of praying and talking, there seemed to be no solution but to call the Bellards and tell them about our predicament. “Perhaps,” Jon said, “they will give us a year to come up with the $7,000 we need for the down payment, seeing as they hadn’t even listed their house on the market yet.  Maybe we could try to sell your house in north Louisiana. Or we could save my annual bonus and combine it with next year’s tax refund to come up with the money. If they aren’t willing to wait,  we will just have to tell them we can’t buy the home.”

There was a rock at the bottom of my stomach. I did not want to talk with Renee about this issue and yet I knew it was what needed to be done. As I pulled out my cell phone to call Renee, I heard my own ringtone. It was Renee calling me!  I answered, “Renee! I was just about to give you a call.”

“Paige, whatever you have to tell me can wait. I need to tell you something first.”

“Okay. I’m listening,” I said.

“Well, we’ve been praying all weekend. Kerry and I are in agreement on this. We feel very strongly that God wants us to give you $7,000.”

How did she know? Jon and I had never told them the down payment was a problem or that it would be exactly $7,000 we would need in cash? I was stunned.

A month later, we moved into our new home … the home God Himself chose for our family.

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The God-story doesn’t end there. 

It wasn’t just a blessing for my family, it was a blessing for another family too …

actually two families that lived in Wisconsin.

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Exactly one week after moving, I left behind all the unpacked boxes to attend the Speak Up conference for Christian speakers, writers, and leaders. While there, I kept feeling a nudge from the Holy Spirit to talk to a particular lady.  I didn’t know her and had never met her, and yet over and over God pressed upon me to go speak to her. Mentally I bantered back and forth with God, arguing that I didn’t know what to talk about. I spent most of the weekend working to stay far enough away from this lady so as to give myself a convenient excuse for my disobedience.

Then on the last day of the conference, I saw her, sitting alone at a table, drinking a cup of coffee. Once again, I felt God urging me to go over and talk with her. After another short internal argument with the Lord, I decided the best thing for me to do would be to obey.  As I approached her and began to chit- chat about the conference, I could tell she didn’t really want to converse with me.

“See, God,” I said in my heart, “I told you this woman does not want to talk to me.”

“Ask her if you can sit down at the table.”

“What?”

“You heard me. Ask her if you can sit down.”

Grudgingly, I did … and to my surprise, she smiled and said she would love some company. As I pulled up my chair, I realized I didn’t have a clue of what I should say. I had already gone through all the polite conversation starters …weather, where she was from, children, etc.  This lady was not a big talker, and the last thing I wanted was a long, awkward silence.

And then I heard it, a loud whisper in my soul. “Tell her about your house.”

“Oh, come on! Really, Lord? You want me to tell a complete stranger about my house? I can promise you she does not want to hear about it.”

“Yes, she does.. Go on… tell her about how you got your house.”

“I really don’t want to. It’s obvious this woman has nothing to talk about with me, and I’m going to end up looking like a fool.”

“I’d rather you go ahead and obey Me, even if you do think you’ll look like a fool.”

“Okay … okay. I’ll do it.”

The next thing I knew,  my mouth opened and out began to pour the story of how Jon and I bought our new home. As I retold all the events of how my family was blessed with our new home, my new friend sat listening with rapt attention. Before I was done, she had begun to weep, tears streaming down her cheeks. I sat there silently, watching her cry, wondering what on earth was going on.

Looking up, she whispered, “You couldn’t have possibly known. Only God … He sent you to me. You see, I’m in the exact situation, only I’m the seller. I have a big old home, but my children are grown and gone. I’ve got my eye on this beautiful little log cabin. Really, it’s my dream home. I was wanting to sell quickly so that I could purchase it.  Last week my husband and I were approached by a young family  we know from church.  They have seven children, and live in a tiny house not too far from us. When they found out we were wanting to sell our home and downsize, they asked if we might consider selling to them.  However, they don’t have the down payment. They offered to pay half now and the other half in six months, if we are willing to wait on them to raise the money. To be honest, I didn’t want to wait, because doing so means I probably won’t be able to buy the log cabin I love so much. And yet, making that decision felt horrible. All weekend I’ve been conflicted as I’ve struggled to decide what to do, knowing when I go home tomorrow I would need to call and tell them what I had decided. Now I know … God wants me to bless them, just as your friends blessed you.”

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I’ve moved more than 15 times as an adult. While I don’t hate moving, it’s not exactly enjoyable either. Packing and unpacking, boxes piled upon boxes. I have to admit there is a part of me that never wants to move again. But if I do, I hope the Lord gives me another moving experience like this last one … one that has His fingerprints all over it, from beginning to end.

My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest.

~ Isaiah 32:18

 

K is for …

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

letterK

K is for “The Kiss.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Job 33: 28-30 (The Message)

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

What second chances have you been given?

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

Defeating Defeat

For as long as I can remember, I have loved words. The sounds of words, like serendipity and fricasee. The meanings of words, like blessed  (Oh, how happy) and  Hallelujah (to boast in God). The process of stringing words together, creating alliterations and metaphors. I even think in words, not pictures. My dreams often consist of visual  words, like closed captioning in my sleep.

I don’t remember when I first began to write, for  I never really kept a journal or a diary with any sort of regularity. By adulthood, I wrote almost daily, and for a variety of reasons.  To remember … all the adorable things my children did and said, as if putting it down on paper would ensure that I would never forget a single moment. To clarify and organize my thoughts, especially when feelings didn’t match beliefs and I searched for the right perspective. My marriage felt apart, and I found writing helped me to grieve.  Somehow I realized through writing, I found myself … perhaps more importantly, I found God.

Along the way, through all this writing, God called me. He called me to write for His purposes instead of my own, for His glory instead of mine. I marveled at this plan for my life. I laughed with joy when, on my 40th birthday, God Himself gave me a verse, confirming what I already knew in my heart that in this next season of my life I would write for Him:  “My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the King; my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer.” Psalm 45:1

And then I very promptly got the worst case of writer’s block ever.  Eight months of nothing … I couldn’t not write a single sentence, not even prayers in my journal.  At first, I felt annoyed. Soon, I was concerned, then anxious and finally devastated.

God had called me to write. I knew it as sure as I knew my name. Then why was I unable to pen words? Over and over I tried, I cried and I prayed.  Nothing changed. I felt completely defeated. One morning, out of my complete misery,  I wrote in my prayer journal, “Lord, I feel defeated. Why? And how can I find victory again?”

To my surprise, God’s response was instantaneous.  From the tips of my fingers came words, written in the form of an acrostic. Since I’m sure that I’m not the only one who experiences feelings of defeat, I’ll share what God showed me.

I will feel defeated when…

D: I am in DENIAL of the truth.

It goes without saying that what I believe and what is the truth are often completely different things. Satan is constantly whispering things in my ear, lies that he wants me to believe. But Jesus said, “The truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) When I am willing to listen to God and embrace His truths, I discover that I am free from feelings of defeat.

E: I hang onto my  EXPECTATIONS (which are often unrealistic).

Expectations are a problem for me. Often I realize that I’ve got assumed, but unspoken, expectations of myself and others (including God). Furthermore, it seems, more often than not,  my expectations are unrealistic. When I have an expectation that is unfulfilled, blocked, uncertain, lost or even fails, it opens the door for me to experience feelings of anger, anxiety, sadness, and perhaps shame. Rarely are these emotions founded in the truths of God. Rather, most often, I’m listening again to the lies of Satan.

God has been showing me how to let go of my expectations for this life, and embrace His plans for me.  I love the words of Jeremiah 29:11.  ” ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for your welfare, not your destruction,  to give you a future and a hope.’ “

F: I  FOCUS  on my  FAILURES.

Just like I listen to lies and have unrealistic expectations, quite often I spend the majority of my time pondering my failures … failures which often exist only in my own mind, failures which often are only measured by the world’s successes.  I’ve been learning that I should focus instead on two wonderful truths.

The first is this:  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.  (Romans 12:2). God’s plans for my life will look a lot different than the world’s idea of success, therefore I cannot use worldly standards to measure my success.

And the second truth:  I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13)  If God has called me to do it, then He will give me the strength needed to succeed.  All I need to be is willing to follow Him.

E: I  EXTEND  myself in areas that God has not called me.

God has specific callings for my life. I am a wife, mother and writer.  These are my three most important roles. Too often, I allow other activities to get in the way of my responsibilities in these areas, and when I do that I am going to feel strained and stress.  Quite often I know when I am over-extending myself because I will begin to feel weary and worn down.  It’s a sign that something is out of balance.

Jesus told His followers, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mattthew 11:28-30)  I have to be careful to put up guard rails and protectors in order to keep myself centered in the path God has laid out for my life. When I am careful to do this, my life isn’t marked by feelings of defeat.

A: I  AVOID  dealing with my sin.

But sometimes I just do not want to give up whatever it is that is making me miserable.  I don’t know why sin works that way, but I’ve found this to be true time and time again. I get caught up in some sin, and even though it makes me moan and groan and whine about the state of my life, I refuse to confess it to God. I just don’t want to give it up.

Wise King Solomon wrote, “Whoever conceals his sin will not prosper, but he who confesses and renounces them will find mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13)  If I want peace in my life, I’ve got to continually confess my sins and turn back to choosing to live God’s way.

T: I am unTEACHable.

Quite often, when I am stuck in a rut of defeat, I know that God is trying to teach me a new way of doing things.  He wants me to grow and mature so that I am living a faith-filled life.  I don’t know about you, but I can be ridiculously unteachable.  I just flat refuse to listen and learn.

In 1 Peter 2:2, it says, “Like newborn infants, desire the pure spiritual milk, so you may grow by it.”  There are many things I desire in this world:  a strong marriage, children who love the Lord, financial stability, my daily chocolate . More than these, my heart should desire God and His truth in my life.

It’s been more than two months since God shared with me the reasons behind my feelings of defeat.  It didn’t cure me instantly of my writer’s block.  However, God also shared with me how to find victory in my life, and as I began to implement those truths I found my ability to write returned more and more in the days and weeks that followed.

Isn’t it comforting to know deep within the soul that God does not want me (or you) to live in perpetual defeat?

How have you overcome feelings of defeat through Christ? I hope you’ll share your success stories with me!

Stay tuned for part 2, when I share how God showed me how to make a VICTORY PLAN for living my life according to His perfect will for me.

When Mountains Don’t Move

He (Jesus) told them, “For I assure you: If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will tell this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”  (Matt. 17:20)

But what if we pray, and the mountains don’t move.

          One of my children cannot swallow pills. We’ve tried every trick in the book, bought several cool gadgets and throat sprays, and have even spoken with a variety of doctors and pharmacists while seeking for a solution to this exasperating problem. Nothing works.  The pills will not go down. Perhaps it is only psychological, but it is creating big challenges for my young teen.

I cannot lose weight. No matter what I do, the number on the scale doesn’t budge. From diet programs like Weight Watchers to medically-supervised diets like Medifast to diligently watching carbs and sugar while incorporating 20+ minutes of exercise a day … I’ve tried it all and nothing works to take the weight off my body. Hormonal imbalances caused by a medical condition and genetics are both partly to blame.  As much as I hate to admit it, I’m sure that age must play a factor as well. (In this particular way, forty is definitely not the new thirty!)

This past week, my child and I have both felt overwhelmed by our problems. We are hopeless things will ever change, and so we react to our situations from that deep, dark place of defeat.  It’s as if we are standing at the foot of a looming mountain, trying to figure out a way to get to the other side. And from our vantage point, it feels like trying to scale up a vertical cliff without a harness, rope or anchor to help make the climb.

Image

Image courtesy of dan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

      Mountains are an expected part of this journey called life, and truthfully mountains aren’t necessarily a bad thing. When looked at from a distance, mountains create a lovely and picturesque landscape. Traveling a path that goes nearer a mountain still adds a certain scenic quality to the journey. And though climbing up a well-laid mountain path might be hard, everyone knows the journey is worth it. Standing at the very top, the weary traveler can look out with confidence, knowing the mountain challenge was conquered. Hard won victories give extra meaning to the traveling, and at some future date the traveler will have a tale to tell with those he meets along the journey.

But there are times when a mountain is right in the middle of the road you must take. There seems to be no path around it. There seems to be no path that leads over it.  All a traveler can do is work to forge a road that will get them to the other side.  It’s at times like this that believers begin to pray for the mountain to move.

My faith tells me that even with just the tiniest bit of faith, the mountains that block my path will move.  With all my heart I believe this is true. I’ve known mountains in my life that have miraculously moved out of the way with a single prayer. I can testify time and again how a little faith  in God, combined with prayer, have made the impossible happen.

But what about when the mountain doesn’t move? What does that mean? Is it because I lack faith?  Perhaps I’ve sinned?  My typical response is to fret and fume while trying to figure out why my prayers seem to just bounce off the ceiling.  As defeat sets in, anxiety and depression begin to control my thoughts and actions. A sense of hopelessness takes over and soon I no longer believe my mountain can be conquered.  Thankfully, God is teaching me a better way.

~I need to trust the heart of God more than the hand of God.~

     My faith is too often based on the evidence of God working in my life.  But what sort of faith is that? After all, the Apostle Paul reminded us to “walk by faith and not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7)  A believing faith has to be more than a seeing faith.

~I need to remember that I am not ever alone.~

     When I pray and nothing happens, I begin to fear that God has abandoned me right there at the foot of the mountain.  Instead, I need to remember what Moses said to Joshua as he prepared to take the Israelites into the Promised Land,  “The Lord is the One who will go before you. He will be with you; He will not leave you or forsake you. Do not be afraid or discouraged.”  (Deuteronomy 31:8)  Not only does God not leave me at the foot of the mountain alone, He promises to go before me!

~I need to believe God’s plans for my life are good.~

     God is showing me that in spite of the problematic mountains I encounter in my life, He still has great plans for me. My husband’s favorite scripture is Jeremiah 29:11, a testament to that fact.  “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.”   A mountain I can’t cross yet does not mean God is through with me.

~I need to remember the power and the purpose in praying without ceasing.~

     My mountains definitely keep me praying, and this is a good thing.  One of my biggest tendencies is to neglect talking with God on a regular basis whenever my life is humming along without problems. However, in 1 Thessalonians 5:7, the Apostle Paul reminds believers to “pray constantly.” I believe if nothing else my problems serve a great purpose just by keeping me on my knees, talking to God and laying my burdens down at His feet.

     And this brings me right back to the beginning:  Sometimes mountains don’t move out of my way, no matter how much I pray. But when the mountain doesn’t move, this simply means there is an opportunity for me to move closer to God.