O is for …

“I don’t know what to write about for the letter O,” I sighed. “It’s a hard letter. My mind is just blank. And unfortunately,  I don’t even think I have an old writing I could edit and recycle for O.”

“I don’t think it’s unfortunate at all, Paige.  You don’t need to edit something old. You need to write an original.  See, just like that I came up with an O word for you. Original. You can thank me later.”  Giving me a wink, Jon turned back to his book.

Five minutes passed in silence. Nothing but the sounds of my vigorous typing as I feverishly tried to catch up on my A to Z Challenge Blogposts. I should have been working on my blog post for the letter P (for which I already had a great topic idea), but instead I was working to get N posted, all the while worrying over what to write for the letter O.

“What, exactly, do you mean by ‘I can thank you later?’ And who said I am going to write about the word original anyway?” I realized I probably sounded annoyed. Well it was with good reason. I was annoyed. Not at Jon or his suggestion, but rather because I was behind and stressed. My week had been crazy, and my overloaded schedule left me feeling like I would never catch up.

If Jon picked up on my mood, he didn’t let it bother him at all. “Why would you not want to write an original essay about being original?” he quipped.  “God is all about originality. Think about it … out of all the billions of souls, no two throughout history have ever been the same. Talk about original! You … me … each of our kids … all of us, one of a kind. Amazing!”

I rolled my eyes in mock agitation. Truthfully, it wasn’t a bad idea. It just wasn’t my idea. And besides, at the moment, his enthusiasm rubbed me wrong, in an overwhelming sort of way.

With a sudden realization, I recognized my mood was actually rooted in several O words:  overwhelmed, overloaded and even old.  I felt tired, unable to go on. Participating in this challenge was stretching me to include writing as a daily task, and yet I wasn’t dropping any of my other responsibilities as wife, mother and homemaker. Now I found myself at the end of a busier than normal week. It seemed I had come to the end of my abilities. I had nothing more to give.

As far as I was concerned, the challenge was over, right here at the letter O.

letterO

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

Almost two thousand years ago, on another Friday, everything seemed to be over to a group of eleven scared men. Their teacher crucified. Placed in a tomb. A massive stone rolled to cover to the entrance to His grave.

The Bible describes that horrific event in great detail. We read in the Gospels of how Jesus was mocked, beaten beyond recognition, and then brutally nailed to a wooden cross.  As the Roman soldiers gambled over his clothing and gave him vinegar to cool his tongue, the Son of God, who hung in agony, chose to forgive. And then He said, “It is finished.”

But it wasn’t over, at least not like what those disciples imagined. Through his death on the cross, Jesus overcame sin and death. His work finished, not by His death, but by His willingness to take the punishment for the sins of the world. A way was made for man to be reconciled with God.

And with His Resurrection on that first Easter Sunday morning, nothing would ever be the same again. The proof is not just in the stone that was rolled away, but also in the millions of lives which have been changed by faith.  Ask any true follower of Christ, and they will testify to the  hope and power found in the Resurrected Son of God, Jesus Christ, to overcome this life of sin and sorrow in exchange for a peace and  joy like they have never known.

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

Some days it feels like everything is over, like a terrible, black Friday in my soul.  But, praise God,  it’s not over. Sunday’s on the way!

O is for Overcome …

which we can do all because of the Jesus Christ’s death on the cross,

on a blessed Good Friday nearly two thousand years ago.

And they overcame him (Satan) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony … ~Revelation 12:11

 

L is for …

Today’s an incredibly busy day for my family. Three of my five children are competing at the State 4-H Ambassador Commodity Talks (a public speaking contest). Last night, I felt pressured over preparations for the contest day as well as writing something for today’s blog post on the letter L. I had absolutely no ideas of what to write about, and figured that there wouldn’t be much time to write it even if I did have an idea. The last thing I remember before falling asleep was asking God to give me something easy for the letter L post.

And He did.  This morning I woke up and remembered a little thing I had written about a year ago about a lesson I learned Lunatic Luna. So, with much thanks to God (who has been so consistently faithful to provide me with material to meet the A to Z Blog Challenge), here’s my Letter L post … 

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

letterL

Jill called her “Lunatic Luna” and she really was a lot more than just a little bit crazy. Luna was plain nutty, a very scary sort of nutty. Still, despite her mental health issues, Luna was perhaps the most beautiful fish in Jill’s large 50 gallon tank.

I had heard all the stories from Jill. She told how Luna would jump out of the water, nipping at fingers as she literally bit the hands of those who fed her. Other times Jill recounted how Luna had eaten all of Big Daddy and his mate’s wee ones.

“Surely Jill exaggerates,” I thought. After all, how could such a beautiful fish be so cruel and heartless. But I soon learned for myself that Luna was just as much of a lunatic as Jill had ever implied.

When Jill’s family was in a moving transition, she asked me if we could keep the 50 gallon fish tank at our home for about three or four months.  Even though our only experience with fish had been the solitary betta variety, we jumped at the chance to play host family to Jill’s tank.  Initially,  my family of seven was completely enamored with the fish, finding much enjoyment in simply watching their gracefully motions and discussing the details of all we saw occurring in the large tank. We delighted in discovering the personalities of each fish, and found their interactions captivating.

Before long, each of us had a favorite. The kids loved Big Daddy, the gentle giant of a fish who preferred resting in one particular corner of the tank over doing much actual swimming. Jon seemed to especially enjoy Goldy, the tiniest fish. She was bright in color and quick as lightning, flitting from one side of the tank to another almost as quickly as it took to blink an eye. My favorites were the pair of enormous sucker fish. They often arranged themselves in symmetrical poses against the glass sides of the tank, delighting me with their synchronized sucking action.

No one really liked Luna. She was an irritable, mean fish, controlling the waters from her hiding spot in the plastic log at the bottom of the tank. The other fish swam wide circles around her, avoiding the area that was Luna’s dark hole. A nasty bite was often the reward for getting too close to Luna’s hideout.

One morning about a week into our fish sitting stint, we got up to discover one of the smaller fish in the tank had died during the night. The dead fish lay right at the entrance to Luna’s log, a large chunk missing from its side. It didn’t take a detective like Sherlock Holmes to put the pieces of the mystery together. Luna was a murderer.

Immediately, the kids voted that Luna should be kicked out of the tank, execution style. Jon, however, had more of a heart of justice mixed with mercy. He removed Luna from the large tank and put her in a plastic bowl. Later that day, we bought Luna a smaller tank of her own, handing down a sentence of permanent solitary confinement.

Beautiful Luna. She swam around her smaller tank for several days, rearranging the rocks and pushing her new, larger log into a different position. Though she didn’t exactly seem miserable to be left alone, even in her solitude she never was an enjoyable fish to watch … somehow still unhappy, irritable, and moody if it is even possible for a fish to be all of those things. We fed her and she ate. We took care of her needs. Mostly she stayed hidden in her private log, remaining about as unloveable as a porcupine is unhuggable.

After spending three months in her new, private tank, Lunatic Luna died. In life she wasn’t much loved; in death she wasn’t much mourned. Despite being one of the more beautiful fish I’ve ever known, Luna’s beauty was definitely all on the outside.

It’s almost ridiculous to think that one could learn much of anything from a beautiful fish with a bit of a bad attitude. After all, the expectations and responsibilities for Luna’s life were exceedingly low. A fish isn’t capable of learning polite behaviors or improving upon character flaws.

It is not so for me. My life is filled with the demands of being a wife and mother, a teacher in my home, a daughter and sister and friend, a writer of encouragement. Each role comes complete with its own set of pressures and stresses. Often, in the thick of my day-to-day life, I find my temper far too short and my voice much too harsh.

Most mornings, I spend a chunk of time in my bathroom making myself presentable for the day, focusing solely upon the reflection I see in the mirror. Like most females, I long to be beautiful and work hard to make myself appear so for my husband. Yet the deep truth is all the beauty products in the world will not make me a beautiful woman if my heart is not right before God.

Each time I recall Lunatic Luna, I am reminded of these words from 1 Peter 3: 3-4:

“Your beauty should not consist of outward things … instead it should consist of what is inside the heart with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very valuable
in God’s eyes.”

L is for Lunatic Luna and the Lessons I learned from her Life:

work hard each day at being beautiful … beautiful from the inside out. 

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Job 33: 28-30 (The Message)

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

What second chances have you been given?

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

J is for …

letterJ

 

J is for Jon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Jeremiah 33:3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I is for …

“Hey, Momma … can you tell me what instant means?”

I paused from putting on my make-up to look at my ten year old girl. “Julia, are you sure you don’t know what instant means?”

“I thought I did, but I got confused so I thought I’d ask,” she responded.

“Generally, people use the word instant when they are talking about something that happens very, very quickly, almost immediately.”

“That’s what I thought … but if that’s what it means, then I don’t understand this at all.” With that, she shoved the Sunday morning comics at me, pointing to the ZITS panel.

( Please humor me and click on the comic so that you can enjoy reading it in a full-sized version.  Be sure to click the back button to finish reading the rest of my story, which will now make a lot more sense.)

zits.php

 

I took the comics page, and quickly read through the strip, chuckling as I remembered my family’s polaroid camera. Seems like half of my childhood photos are polaroids. I recalled the exciting wait to see the picture develop before my watching eyes, the thrill of holding the photo just minutes after it was taken.  It certainly felt instant at the time, especially when compared to dropping off film at the local drug store and waiting a week for the photos to be returned.

“Mom … why are you laughing? What is so funny?” demanded Julia, her hands on her hips. “Really, I don’t get it.”

“Well …” I began, but then paused, trying to figure out where to start.  “Let’s see … okay, when I was a little girl, most cameras used film. You had to take all the pictures on the film first, and usually there was somewhere around 12 to 24 photos on each roll of film, though some film canisters had more.”

“Yes,” Julia sighed. “I know about film.”

“Ok, well, once the film was completely used up, then you had to take it to get it developed. Until then, you didn’t know what your photos might look like.”

“Why didn’t you just look on the back?” Julia asked.

“The back of what, dear?” I looked at her out of the corner of my eye as I tried to apply my mascara.

“You know … the camera?”  Julia sounded slightly annoyed.

I laughed again. “Sweetie, I’m not talking about digital cameras. When I was your age, there wasn’t a preview screen on cameras.”

Julia looked confused. “So …. how did you know what was going to be in the picture?”

“You had to put your eye up to the  corner. There was something like a little window. And when you looked through it,  you could see what was going to be in the photo.”

“Oh.” She paused, as if she were trying to put together the pieces of a puzzle. “Well, I guess it was a good thing you could just go  to CVS and plug up the camera to see the pictures before you got them printed out. That way you wouldn’t have to pay for any bad ones.”

“Oh, Julia,” I laughed. “You couldn’t even plug these cameras up to a computer anywhere. The person who owned the camera had to take the film out of it and then send it off to be developed. It would take several days, sometimes up to a whole week, before you would get the photos back. Most places didn’t have the one-hour developing. And even if they did, you still had to pay for the bad ones.”

Cocking her head to the side, Julia asked, “Then … why did you bother?  It seems like back in the old days, taking a picture must have been a lot of work. And it certainly was not instant.”

With that, she flounced out of the room, satisfied that her mother had indeed grown up in the stone age.

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

letterI

 

I is for Instant.

Since the crazy conversation with my daughter, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this instant era in which we are living. It’s not just the digital pictures, either.

We have instant communication through text messages, emails, Facebook, Twitter and other social media.  There’s instant banking through online services or ATM. The news is so instant I can practically read about it as it happens. And if I am bored, then I can stream a movie instantly to my computer or TV.

The result is a life of no waiting. Everything happens at warped speed.

But is this such a good thing, after all?

The Bible talks a lot about waiting on the Lord. I don’t exactly how many verses there are in the Bible on this instruction, but I can think of at least three times the Psalmist encourages us to wait on God:  Psalm 20:22, Psalm 27:14, and Psalm 37:14.

Truthfully, in my life experiences, there have been few things more agonizing or trying than waiting on the Lord to answer a prayer, especially when His answer seems to be slow in coming. Waiting means submitting myself to His authority over my life. Waiting means depending on His timing rather than my own. Waiting means I am giving God the glory and not myself. And yet, that’s exactly what God encourages us to do … wait on Him.

Today I am reminded that though I live in an instant age, it’s good to do some waiting. It helps me learn to lead a life that is more pleasing to God … and besides, a little waiting never hurt anyone.

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. ~ Isaiah 40:31

What’s God asking you to wait for in your life? How is this time increasing your faith?

H is for …

 “I’m hungry.”

This is perhaps the most common phrase you’ll hear in my home. I’m completely serious. I’ve got five children, all between the ages of 10 and 15.  Each of them loves to eat. In fact, they enjoying eating so much, that this is how a typical morning in my house might go: 6:30 am Julia:  Momma … I’m awake. Can I have some breakfast? I’m hungry. 7:00 am Joel: I’m hungry, Mom. Are you planning on feeding me breakfast anytime soon? 7:10 am Nathan: Mom, can I make myself a couple of fried eggs? Please?!? I’m soooo hungry! 8:00 am Maddie: GiGi, I’m hungry. I ate a peach for breakfast, but I need something else to fill my stomach. 8:10 am Megan: GiGi, I know we already ate breakfast, but I’m still hungry. Can I eat something else? 8:30 am Joel: Mom … I checked, and, seriously, there is nothing to eat in this house. What are you going to do cause I’m hungry?!

9:13 am Julia: Hey, mom … how much longer until lunch? I’m hungry! 9:25 am Nathan: Mom, I just realized it’s over 2 hours until lunch, but I’m hungry. Can I have a little snack to hold me off? 9:47 am Maddie: I hope lunch is soon, GiGi! All this schoolwork has made me hungry! 9:58 am Joel: mom … Mom … MoM … MOM … MOMMA … I’m hungry. When’s lunch? 10:04 am Megan: GiGi… did you hear that? My stomach is growling!! 10:28 am Maddie: GiGi … I’m so hungry I think I might faint.  10:32 am

Julia: Momma, isn’t it lunch time yet? I’m hungry. Megan’s hungry. Nathan is hungry. Everyone is hungry. 10:46 am Joel: I gotta lay down. I am so hungry that all I can think about is my stomach. Seriously, Mom … I need food. You can’t expect me to go on much longer. 10:58 am Megan: GiGi, I’ve noticed it is practically lunch time. Do you need me to help you make lunch or can you handle it by yourself? 11:03 am Nathan: Yay! Mom’s in the kitchen, everyone! It’s lunchtime! Maddie: Great! I thought I was going to starve to death! Joel: I hope it’s not peanut butter sandwiches again. I’m too hungry to just eat peanut butter again. Julia: Thank you, Momma! I was beginning to think you were never going to feed me! 11:15 am Mom: Lunch is served! 12:14 pm Megan: GiGi … what’s for afternoon snack? I’m feeling a little hungry.

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

So, perhaps that is a bit of an exaggeration … but not all that much!

There are seven people and two dogs in our home.  It takes LARGE amounts of food to keep everyone feeling full and happy. Not only do we eat a lot of food, we spend enormous amounts of time thinking about food, talking about food and shopping for food. A significant portion of my day is spent in my kitchen cooking and creating delicious meals. Even with all of the focus on food, it seems that we are never full.  We constantly are looking for the next opportunity to fill our stomachs and ease the hunger pains. But the question racing through my mind is this:

How can we possibly be hungry? And exactly what are we hungering for?

letterH

“Ma’am? Ma’am? Hey, Ma’am … can you help me?”

I turned around from my task of carefully arranging $300 worth of groceries in the back of my minivan.  A tall, lanky boy, not much older than Joel, approached me. Blond-headed, blue-eyed, burned from the summer sun, the acne on his face told a tale … this boy was far older than his years, and I knew it wasn’t in a good way. I gave him a smile. “I don’t know if I can help you, but I’ll be glad to listen and see if I can. What’s going on?” He stuck out his hand to shake mine, and said, “Thanks. I just need some money so my sister and I can catch the bus home. Maybe if you have some change or a couple of spare dollars … just enough for two bus tickets. Can you help me?” I looked him in the eye, searching for signs of dishonesty. There was no sister to be seen. And yet, something told me that this child needed real help. I just wasn’t sure of exactly what sort of help. “Well,” I said thoughtfully,  “I don’t ever carry much cash, but I probably have some change. Let me look and see what’s in my purse. While I’m looking, why don’t you tell me where your sister is at and how it came to be that you are here without enough money for a bus ride home.”

He looked me right in the eye for several seconds, as if he were deciding how much truth to share. Finally he said, “My sister … she’s in the store trying to get us some food. We came over here today to get food for our family to eat. There’s nothing at the house. I got kicked out of the store for stealing. And about the bus money … well, I guess we didn’t think much about the getting back home part.” “Oh. I see. So you are hungry.” “Yes, ma’am, I am hungry. My whole family is hungry.” “I see. Do you have parents? Do they work?” “Yes, ma’am …  I got parents. They mostly work temp jobs. Lately, there haven’t been any temp jobs. No jobs means no money. No money, no food.” He shuffled his feet on the pavement, looking uncomfortable now that he had answered my questions. Making a display of digging around in my purse for change, I silently pleaded with God for wisdom to help me figure out what I should do in this situation. “I’m sorry,” I said.  “That’s got to be very hard on your parents. Listen, I found $1.07 in change, but that seems to be all I’ve got. However, I do have a car full of groceries and I would be happy to share some of what I have with you.” “Oh, no! No, ma’am. You can’t do that. I can see them kids in your car. You got mouths to feed.  Besides, I’ve got no way to get any groceries home … you know, without it all going bad.” “I thought you said that you came here to steal groceries. Besides, I can give you a few things that don’t have to be kept cold. Let’s see …  I’ve got some granola bars and apples, things like that.”
“No ma’am. I won’t take your food.” His chin jutted out in a proud sort of manner. “Besides,” he continued,  “I done got kicked out of the store for stealing. If they see me out here in the parking lot with a bag of food, they might call the cops, thinking I stole something from a customer. Nope. I won’t take no food. But thank you, anyway.” “Well, I wish you would, but I understand your concerns.” I handed him the change.  “By the way, do you know about the shelters in town? They serve hot meals for free to the hungry. I can get you information and maybe even a ride to one of them.” “Oh, I know about ‘em. It’s just real hard to get there for meal times cause we got to take a bus … and besides that sort of thing isn’t for my family.” “Well, you know … stealing shouldn’t be for you either. In fact, I’d rather know you were going to a shelter for a meal than stealing from a store. Today you got caught and kicked out of the store. Next time you get caught,  it could be worse.” Once again, he looked down and shuffled his feet in embarrassment. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll think about that …but you know even in a jail they feed you meals.” He paused, looking up at me. Then as he turned around to walk off, he said, “Thank you again for the money, ma’am.” I watched him walk off for several seconds before I called out one last time, “No problem … I just wish I could do something more for you today.” My young friend stopped, slowly turned back to me and then said, “Maybe there is one more thing you could do … well, if you didn’t mind, that is …. I guess, what I want is … I mean, would you just give me a hug?”

The biggest grin broke out on my face. “That is one thing I’d be happy to do.” A second later, I felt him sort of melt into my arms the way my own boys do.  Deep down, I knew that this young man was hungry for something far greater than food. A meal would certainly appease his growling stomach, but the longing for love was much deeper and more intense than the hunger pains he felt. “God bless you!” I whispered in his ear. With those words, he quickly turned and jogged off, leaving me standing there to watch him depart. As I turned back to my minivan with its backend filled with bags and bags of groceries, my eyes filled up with tears and my heart overflowed with prayers.

As I started the car, the child sitting in the front seat turned to look at me and said,

“Mom, I’m hungry.”

H is for a world Hungry for more than food. 

For He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness.  ~Psalm 107:9

G is for …

eletterG

G is for Germany.

In a little less than two months, three of my children are headed there. Joel, Nathan and Julia are going over to visit their father, who has been stationed in Germany since last September. They will be spending approximately six weeks of the summer with him … from Memorial Day all the way through Independence Day.

Can I just be honest and admit I miss them already? I do. I think about it so many times each day, already dreading the very moment they will step onto the plane and fly away from me.

Encouragers in my life try to remind me of the fantastic opportunity being handed to my children. “They will learn so much in Europe! Think of all the amazing things they will see and do. What a blessing for them!”

I usually nod my head in agreement because I understand, so completely. And yet … honestly … I just wish they didn’t have to go. I’d rather them stay home with me.

Even so, I’ve been helping them prepare for the trip. I bought a book for learning German phrases. Ever so slowly,  we are working our way through the lessons, with me learning along next to my children. My dear friend Esther is German. She moved to the States 20 years ago or so, after she married an American soldier.  One day soon, Esther is coming over to give all of us some cultural lessons about German life. “Perhaps,” she said, “I will even prepare a German food.”   I’m looking forward to that. I might even try out a German phrase or two on her, just to see if I am anywhere near the correct pronunciation. Mostly though, I’ve just been surprised to discover that, despite my desire to keep my kids home, I feel incredibly grateful to be involved in this part of the trip, even if it is just the preparation before leaving.

Lately I’ve wondered if my emotional reaction to my children’s upcoming trip to Germany might be something of a delayed grief. Seven years ago, another trip to Germany was in the works. It was my trip, one which I planned to take to visit their father on his 2 weeks of R&R during a deployment to Iraq.  I read all the German travel books I could find, wrote long lists of places I hoped to see and visit, spent hours scouring the internet for places to stay, tucked away every penny I could spare to cover the costs of our European vacation.

Unfortunately, the expectation of that trip never came to pass. Instead, the unexpected happened. My marriage fell apart. He walked out on fourteen years. I have never really understood why.

Grief is an odd experience, so different for each person to process. Yet, counselors tell us every person in mourning goes through through the same stages before they reach a place of acceptance: denial, isolation, bargaining, depression, and even anger.

I am not an angry sort of person. Truthfully, I’m an emotional stuffer. It takes me a long, long time to get good and angry. Unfortunately, when I do, it takes me a long time to get over that anger.

I can clearly remember the day not too long after my ex-husband left when I woke up mad, more offended than I’d ever felt in my life. Strangely, at least initially, my impassioned outrage was focused mostly on the loss of my trip to Germany. My entire life I had wanted to travel overseas, particularly to Europe. Years of dreaming. Months of planning. Now, after plans had been made, it wasn’t going to happen. I had gotten that passport for nothing. It was a bitter pill, stuck in my throat. Nothing I seemed to do could make it go down.

Over the course of the past seven years, I’ve worked through most of the indignation resulting from my divorce. Well … at least everything except the trip to Germany. Until recently, it didn’t come up all that often. Perhaps from time to time, as I opened the firesafe box looking for a birth certificate or some other important piece of paperwork, I would notice my passport tucked away safely inside, never used. Irritation would surface, but soon enough it would subside again.  For the most part, this was a non-issue, or at least that’s what I thought.

But now, with my children’s trip to Germany clearly marked on the calendar, I realize I’m still dealing with one last emotional wound,  dating back seven years. The memory of that unused passport still haunts me.  As I help my children get ready to travel to a place I’ve never been but longed to see, I have felt God wanting to resolve the ache of that loss.  A loss I’d rather not think about or face.

Seven years ago, in the midst of the deepest sorrow of my life, I discovered the truth in the words of the psalmist:

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted.   ~Psalm 34:18

God was certainly near to me in those days. Over time, in His care, my ashes became something beautiful. And that gives me hope.  Though I may still ache a bit over the loss of my own trip to Germany, I am choosing to see it as a gain for my kids, who certainly would not have this opportunity if I not lost mine. I expect my heart will be sad while my children are away. Even so, I can trust God will be near to me in those moments, and continue to bring good out of the losses in my life.

Learning the truth of that promise has definitely been worth the cost of an unused passport.

F is for …

letterFMy eight-year-old daughter Julia peered at me, confusion etched into her round face. Amidst the chaos of Christmas morning wrapping paper and laughter, she held the contents of her gift: a small white card on which was drawn a simple fish.

“What does it say?” I asked.

Julia studied it for a moment, and then she read the words printed on the card aloud.

“What will you name me?”

Slowly, a small grin spread across her face, until she had a look of  sheer delight.  She let out a small gasp. “Really, Momma? A fish? You mean, I’m finally getting a pet …”

To say Julia was excited about owning her very first pet would have been a complete understatement. For days she could talk of nothing else. The wait until the pet store reopened after the holidays seem to be unending. Julia’s excitement mounted as she counted down the hours until she could go and pick out her already beloved fish.

Finally, the much anticipated day arrived. Julia raced into the pet store and hurriedly found the area of the store in which the fish were located. She nearly swooned from the excitement when she saw the floor-to-ceiling tanks filled with fish in every color, shape, and size imaginable. There in the corner we saw a shelf filled with small glass bowls. In each bowl swam a single betta fish.

The manager brought Julia a stool to stand on so she could carefully inspect each fish. She solemnly peered into every bowl, sometimes talking softly to the fish contained inside while other times silently stroking the glass.

As I watched my daughter go about the serious task of choosing her pet, I began to fear that this could be a torturous process. There were so many fish from which to choose that the process seemed to be overwhelming even to me. No two were alike, and each one seemed more stunning than the one in the bowl next to it. Brilliant reds, shocking blues, soft purples, iridescent greens … there was even a shimmery gold one with bright orange and black flecks resembling a leopard print.

My 13 year old daughter Maddie spotted an unusual blue betta fish with tiny black stripes. It had spiky fins which somehow gave it the look of a bird’s feather. She tried in vain to get her younger sister to choose this spectacular specimen, but Julia was not impressed.

Ten year old Megan pointed out a fancy betta fish, vivid red in color with fluttery fins that whorled around it in the water. The manager, who noticed Meg’s interest, said, “That’s a Half Moon betta. Very pretty. Quite popular. A bit more costly. It will set you back $20.” As I steeled myself for the task of telling Julia we were not going to buy the $20 betta fish, I realized that my littlest girl wasn’t interested in this one either for she was already quite enchanted with another fish.

With a quick glance, I looked to see which fish had captivated my daughter, discovering with surprise the fish at which she gazed so lovingly was truly the most unremarkable in the entire collection of dazzling fish. It was a dull, pale pink, and its fins weren’t very long, wispy, or elegant. Yet my smitten daughter watched with rapt fascination.

When Julia caught my eyes, she exclaimed, “Oh, Momma … did you see how she follows my finger! I’ve found my fish!”

So that’s how it came to pass that we took home the plainest betta fish in the store. I must admit I felt twinges of disappointment in Julia’s final choice. I had expected something more exotic, something more flashy.

Julia did not seem to notice or share my disappointment. Instead, she beamed all the way home as if she knew she had found a rare treasure among all the glittering gems.

Once home, Julia named her beloved fish Sushi, and cared for her as if she were the most amazing fish on the planet. Sushi lived in a glass bowl on the bedside table next to Julia’s bed. She never missed a meal. Her glass bowl was kept sparkling clean.  It was obvious that Sushi’s presence brightened the small bedroom.

As the weeks went by, I began to see such beauty in what I originally thought was just an unremarkably plain fish. Sushi would swim over as I entered the room. She seemed aware of my presence. And when Julia summoned me to watch Sushi perform a special trick, I had no more doubts that this plain little betta fish was indeed a unique treasure.

Unfortunately, a few months after Sushi came into our home, Julia noticed a small bump on her side, near the fin. Obviously, there was nothing we could do but watch and hope our little friend was okay. Time passed. Sushi’s bump grew larger. It effected her ability to swim. I knew she was dying, but Julia continued to hold out hope.

Then late one night, Julia came to me in a panic. She had woken to the sound of splashing water, and had discovered Sushi laying on her side, flopping around in a jerky sort of manner. Hugging Julia, I said, “Baby, I am so sorry, but I think Sushi is about to die. There’s nothing more we can do.”

Through her tears, Julia said, “Well, I’m going to pray.” And she did. I stood in awe as I watched Julia pray for a miracle for her fish. And when she stood up, she seemed convinced her small fish would live, not just through the night but for a long time yet to come.

Sure enough, in the morning, Sushi was swimming around her bowl, peppier than we had seen her in months. As Julia fed her, I watched with rapt fascination as the little miracle fish practically inhaled her food. I felt grateful our special friend had survived the night.

Sushi lived on another two months, before quietly passing away while we slept. There were tears as we said our final goodbyes because Sushi was more to us than just a beautiful, flashy fish in a bowl. She was a good pet who brought a lot of happiness to our home.

After Sushi’s death, I recalled my initial emotional response to fish Julia had chosen. I didn’t think she had made a good choice because Sushi didn’t have a beautiful outside appearance. But after the fish came home, I began to see my first impression was wrong. Suddenly, as I remembered the plain little fish, I felt God whispering in my heart, reminding me how He loves to use the unexpected and unworthy to carry out His plans.

He used an elderly man to father an entire nation of peoples, as numerous as the stars and as countless as the grains of sand upon the shore.

He turned the uncertain stutterer into a man who would confront a pharaoh, bring forth plagues, and lead an entire nation out of slavery.

He used the very youngest and smallest soldier in an army of underdogs to overcome the impossible giant.

He found the coward hiding in the threshing barn and used him to lead a tiny ragtag army into battle to defeat their unbeatable enemy.

He took the young virgin maiden barely old enough to leave her parents and brought forth from her His perfect salvation.

And that salvation … well, it turned out to be a babe born in a barn instead of King triumphant in battle glory.

It was this same God who called out to a few weary fishermen, with their torn and empty nets, asking them to follow, using them to bring His gospel message of hope and peace to the far corners of the earth, so that He might turn them into bold fishers of men.

And He even uses the insignificant, like a plain betta fish, to be a reminder to me of forgotten truths:

His ways are not our ways, for He continues looks beyond outer appearances, into the heart of each soul. 

He still calls out to the weary.

He still uses the small, the weak and the scared. 

He still defeats the enemy with the wounded sinner. 

And He promises to us that He has great plans for our lives too … if only we are willing to be used for His glory.

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

F is for the Fish who reminded me God wants to use me just as I am.

Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That’s why we have the saying, “If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God.”

~ 1 Corinthians: 26-31

E is for …

I woke up this morning wanting a little extra time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

letterE

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

Am I never satisfied with what I have? 

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

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

~ 2 Corinthians 9:8

 

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

E does not stand for needing EXTRA.

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

 

D is for …

letterD

Even though I am 41 years old, I am still a daddy’s girl. My dad is one incredible man.  In my opinion, he is just short of being able to part the waters and calm the seas.  And while my dad is truly just a man,incapable of performing miracles, there was a time when I actually confused the voice of my father with the voice of God Himself.

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

Throughout my childhood, my family kept a tiny flock of sheep in the backyard, as part of a 4-H project.  It was not uncommon for the sheep to find a way of escape from the small pen in our backyard.  It seemed we only become aware of their fugitive state whenever some neighbor telephoned to let us know our wooly pets were out wandering along the roadsides. Additionally, our  lambs were infamous for taking midnight walks, and whenever this happened there was no waiting until morning to go and fetch them home.  My father always insisted we immediately track down those sheep, no matter the hour day or night, and return them home to the safe pen in our backyard as soon as possible.

I could tell many tales about these sheep-chasing escapades, but one in particular always stands out in my memory.  It happened on a humid night the fall I turned sixteen.

The ringing of our phone roused me slightly from my deep sleep.  It was soon followed by my dad’s hard knock on the door of the bedroom I shared with my sister.   “Paige,” he said, “get up! The sheep are out along the highway, somewhere toward the high school. Your brother and I are heading out now.  You follow along just as soon as you get dressed. Meet us on the other side of the bridge.”

I heard the front door shut as they walked out of the house, and then their voices carrying softly as they walked across the front yard, headed toward the highway that stretched out in front of our brick home.  A wave of jealousy swept over me as I looked over at my younger sister, snugly tucked into dreams instead of up to go chase sheep in the night.

Five or six minutes later I was dressed and walking out of the house.  The night sky was dark.  No moon or stars lit the ground. The street light shone dimly on the other side of the highway, providing me with just enough light to dodge a puddle of water at the edge of our driveway.

Walking down the center of the highway, I suddenly felt very alone in the deep darkness. At shortly after 2 am, the roads in our rural town were quiet.  The only sounds I could hear were the sounds of tree frogs, crickets and the occasional hooting of an owl. I walked along, the fear in my throat growing thicker and sharper with each step that took me away from the safety of my home.  I quickened my pace, taking hurried steps as my shoes pounding against the dark pavement in my efforts to reach my father as soon as possible.

Soon I approached the bridge.  It was darker there. The trees overhung across the road, creating deep shadows.  The intense darkness blocked out even the reflective yellow stripes dividing the two-lane road. I hesitated before stepping onto the bridge, part of me knowing that in order to reach the safety of my father I had to get to the other side while another voice in my head screamed for me to run home.

Breathing a prayer, I put my foot forward and started across.  Toward the midpoint of the bridge, I heard a noise, a sort of rustling that didn’t sound like the leaves on the trees. I paused, but didn’t hear anything other than the pounding of my own heart.  I started walking again, but after another step stopped, feeling as if I wasn’t alone on the bridge.  Unable to see or hear anything, I shook off my fear and picked up my foot, determined to get to the other side.

At that exact moment,  a voice boomed out of the darkness:

“Paige!  Go back and get the truck!”

Immediately, I turned on my heels and began to run, faster than I had ever run in my entire life.  (Honestly, this wasn’t a huge feat. I was never a fast runner to begin with, and so it wouldn’t have taken much more than a steady jog to beat my all-time fastest run. Still, I rather like to recall this run as if I made it back home in record time.)

I ran straight for my dad’s truck, the beat-up old Ford that he drove back and forth to his job at our family hardware store.  Yanking open the door, I dove behind the steering wheel, slamming myself inside the truck. I took several deep, long breaths. My heart thumped wildly in my chest, though I wasn’t sure if it was due to the running, the fear coursing through my body or the realization that I had just heard the voice of God in the night.

The keys were in the truck’s ignition, just where I expected them to be, for in rural Louisiana during the mid-80’s, most people never bothered to take their car keys into the house. I turned the key and the truck rumbled to life. Three minutes later, I pulled over to the side of the road.  Ahead was my father and brother herding the small flock of sheep toward me.  I quickly hopped out, leaving the headlights on and the engine idling.

As my father approached, he said, “Thanks for bringing the truck! You got here just at the right time.”

I nodded.  “No problem, Dad. I’m just glad God told me to do it … and that I obeyed even though I was really scared.”

My father looked up from his task of calmly guiding the bleating lambs to give me a brief confused look … And then he started to laugh, deep and hard until it seemed as if he might never stop.  He finally caught his breath.  “Paige,” he said between chuckles, “that was me.  I told you to go back for the truck.  Didn’t you recognize my voice?!”

“That was you?  You were on the bridge with me?” It was my turn to be confused.

“Yes.  I hate to disappoint you, but you heard my voice and not the voice of God.” My father was still obviously tickled by my confusion.

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

It’s been at least 25 years since that deep, dark night when I thought I heard God in the sound of my father’s voice.  Yet each time I recall that bridge and the voice that boomed from the darkness, I reminded of two ways that my earthly father taught me important truths about my Heavenly Father.

Almost any Christian will tell you that hearing and recognizing the voice of God can be difficult. Many Christians go through life without ever really learning how to listen for God’s voice.  I was fortunate.  My dad taught me to listen for God’s voice by placing a great importance on studying the scriptures, daily prayer, attending weekly orship services, and expecting me to learn and obey the teachings of Jesus Christ. Jesus once said, “My sheep hear my voice … and they follow me.” (John 10:27)  I am grateful for my daddy who taught me how to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd.

The second truth is a reminder that in this life we will have troubles.  Jesus Himself said, “You will have suffering in this world.”  (John 16:33).  But He also said, “I am with you always.” (Matthew 28:20)  Just like my dad was with me on that dark bridge so many nights ago, my Heavenly Father is also with me whatever my circumstances.

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

D is for Dad … and I’m grateful for mine!