Restoration

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I had never really seen the likes of it … dog feces smeared over the wood floors, evidence of roaches littering the bottoms of every kitchen cabinet and drawer, holes in the walls, mold in the bathroom, thick layers of dirt and grime and dust coated everything with a surface.

My husband and children had just spent the weekend helping me clean up my North Louisiana rent home. We carted out piles upon piles of trash, raked up two years worth of leaves, swept and mopped and scoured every surface we could easily reach. And still at the end of those two days of hard work, there was still so very much more to do.

The bathroom leak had been fixed, but now came the work of ripping out all of the molded sheetrock and putting up new. There were several broken ceiling fans and light fixtures which needed to be replaced. One room had several large holes in the walls, which meant I needed to get new paneling. Throughout the remainder of the house, the walls and trim desperately need new paint. And then there was the question of the roof.  Did it leak as my former tenant indicated, even though I couldn’t see physical evidence of the leaks? If so, could it be patched, or was I looking at the expense of a brand-new roof?

As I stood and looked around my, I saw the fragmented beauty of what once was. But the charming old home that I had bought for myself just five years earlier was no long charming or beautiful.  My brother, who had come by to help for a couple of hours, shook his head in disbelief and said, “Well, Paige … this definitely isn’t the home you left 4 years ago, is it?”  Sadly, all I could do was nod my head in agreement.

Hours later, I stood on the front lawn with Jon next to me, holding my hand. I sighed, but he leaned in and said,  “Maybe, with a little hard work, together we can get this old home back to its former glory. I know it will be time and money … but I think if we just take it one step at a time, we will be able to take care of each thing that needs to be done.”

I smiled at him, for the first time feeling that all wasn’t lost. Even through the discouragement, I knew deep down that the old home could become like new again.

This house could be restored.

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It’s been almost a month since they left us. I still miss their sweet little smiles, their precious hugs and kisses, the way their chubby hands felt in mine. I miss rocking and singing and reading books.

I knew from the beginning that being a foster parent would require me to love children as my own and then be willing to give them back to their parents. After all, that is (at least initially)  the ultimate goal for every foster child.

But knowing isn’t quite the same thing as experiencing.

I didn’t know how it would feel to buckle their car seats for the last time knowing this was our goodbye. How could I have prepared myself for the tears  that streamed down my cheeks as I washed the last of the baby bottles, sobbing because that sweet little girl who wouldn’t be snuggling with me at night any more? For two weeks after they left, I kept coming across stray baby socks, chunky legos and matchbox cars, evidence that two small people who used to live with us don’t live here anymore. Every time it made me cry.

It’s been hard on my heart, and yet if I am fully truthful then I must also say that there is lots of  joy and hope in my heart for those two precious children. They are back with their mama. Isn’t that where every child wants to be? Held in their mother’s arms? Loved by the parent who brought them into this world?

God called me and my family out, asked us to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We learned to love children who weren’t ours as if they were our very own, and then in the end we had to give them back with nothing left but the memories. But oh, what a privilege to be witness what came as a result!

A family has been restored.

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Me and my dad, Easter 1973

Not quite six months ago, my father died. Unexpectedly. On my birthday. I’ve not nearly gotten over it yet. Most days, I wonder if I ever will.

It’s been a surreal sort of experience, learning to go throughout my days without talking to my dad. I used to pick up the phone without thinking. I wanted to talk to him, tell him something funny one of the kids said or ask for some advice. I would be halfway through dialing before I would remember that he no longer was around to answer phone calls.

Other times the phone would ring, and I would answer expecting to hear his voice on the other end of the line. Of course, it always turned out to be someone else and I would spend about half of that conversation trying not to cry because I wasn’t talking with my father.

Once I was at my home church and thought I saw my father walking at the other end of the hallway, his back to me. I raced ahead without thinking, only to feel surprised when it turned out to be my uncle. While I was glad to give him a hug, I wished it had been my dad instead.

I celebrate my first birthday while Papaw celebrates his 50th ... the first of many birthdays we have celebrated together.
I celebrate my first birthday while Papaw celebrates his 50th … the first of many birthdays we  celebrated together.

Just last week, my grandfather passed away. Now not only is my father gone, but my father’s father as well. Though it wasn’t nearly the shock of my father’s passing as my grandfather was ninety-one and had been ill for most of the last six weeks of his life, his death has left a what feels like a large raw, ragged hole in my heart.

Two patriarchs gone in less than six months. The two deaths feel so entangled, I am not sure I even know how to process through the grief.

At my grandfather’s funeral, it felt all too familiar. Weren’t we just here, reading the cards attached to the flower arrangements, accepting casseroles and cakes from well-meaning church members, and receiving condolences from a long line of friends at the church?  Now we must do this again?

Tears ran down my cheeks as I watched the photo slide show during the visitation for my grandfather, yet I wasn’t sure who the tears were for … Daddy or Papaw.

Maybe the tears were mostly for me.

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And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. ~1 Peter 5:10

Until the last six months, I never thought about Heaven much at all.

If I am truthful, I must admit that actually going to Heaven is something I have never really anticipated.  I’ve always expected that some day in the future I will go there and see it for myself, mainly because it is what God promises will happen when I die as a result of putting my faith in Him. But I haven’t really ever spent time looking forward to that day.

Furthermore, lately I’ve realized that for most of my life my thoughts about Heaven have frequently conflicted with Biblical teachings.

I’ve always imagined Heaven as this great white expanse, trimmed in a rich gold. Pristine, quiet, and ethereal. Everyone there wears a white robe and a completely serene expression upon their face. As Heaven knows no anger, no tears, no worry, no sickness, it is a place of complete peace. But I also came to realize that I also never imagined heaven being a place of joy or laughter or even of love. Just eternal rest from this current earthly life.

No wonder I wasn’t eager to think about it or to anticipate going there myself! If dying means never laughing or feeling excitement again, then why would I care about Heaven?

Of course, since Dad’s death, I’ve thought quite a bit more about Heaven. I’ve never doubted that my father (and now grandfather) is now experiencing Heaven, but I have wondered if the things I miss most about them are still a part of them. Oh, I hope so! I miss their laughter, story-telling, and curious minds. How I would love, just one more time, to hear my father and grandfather engaged in one of their friendly Biblical debates, as they happily studied their Sunday school lesson together. I can’t tell you how many Sunday lunches I spent listening to them discuss exactly who Melchizedek was and the mysteries surrounding his priesthood. Are these parts of them buried in the grave?

And what of other things about this earthly life that I enjoy now. I know this planet is a flawed place to live, so far from perfection, but there is still so much to love about the world God created. Beautiful sunsets. Stars against a dark night sky.  Cool breezes. The kiss of warm sunshine against my skin on a spring day. Brilliant fall leaves. Laughing with a friend. Hugs from my family. Chocolate. So many things I cherish about life … When this life is over, must these end as well?

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But, as it is written,“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”  ~1 Corinthians 2:9

Not long ago, Jon had a dream about the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. In his dream, he was this large banquet hall where huge tables, covered in white clothes, were filled with large platters of delicious food. The smell was intoxicating. As Jon sat down to eat, he noticed a group of dancers enter the hall, performing an intricate dance to this amazing music. Jon said he started to dance along.  Next there were singers. Again, Jon knew the words to all the songs and enjoyed clapping and dancing and singing.  Then later on, he noticed several groups of people, each one seemed to be captivated by an engaging story-teller. Jon said it was the most wonderful party he had ever attended, and that when he woke up he was actually sad that it had to end.

Heaven? A party that never ends? 

Now that sounds like something to get excited about!

I’ve been reading Randy Alcorn’s book, Heaven, which is perhaps the most definitive book about the subject (after the Bible, of course). In his book, Alcorn writes,

“Satan need not convince us that Heaven doesn’t exist. He need only convince us that Heaven is a boring, unearthly existence.”

This particular quote resonated deeply with me, obviously because it was so true of my own beliefs regarding Heaven. My imaginings of Heaven aren’t accurate at all, for it is far from being a place of mundane existence.

Earth is just a prelude to heaven. So magnificent sunsets, majestic mountains, delicious meals in the company of friends, the joy of laughter … all of these things are just a delightful preview of what is to come.

God declared His original creation as “good.” His plan all along has been to redeem and restore it.

Religion professor Albert Wolters writes, “God hangs on to his fallen original creation and salvages it. He refuses to abandon the work of His hands—in fact, He sacrifices His own Son to save His original project. Humankind, which has botched its original mandate and the whole creation along with it, is given another chance in Christ; we are reinstated as God’s managers on earth. The original good creation is to be restored.”

Restoration.

It’s not just for old houses or dysfunctional families or broken relationships.

It’s for all of Creation. For me. For you.

All it takes is trusting Jesus Christ to redeem us from our sinful selves. And when we do, we can anticipate the day we die, knowing we will be restored to all we were originally created to be, perfect in every way. We will not be sent to some place of eternal rest, but rather will be reinstated on a new earth, as real and as physical as the first, but without all the sin and shame and sorrow and sickness.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away …  And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”   ~from Revelation 21

Pushing All the Wrong Buttons

Last week my husband Jon became a grandfather … sort of.   He’s not exactly a grandfather, but yet in a round about way he could be considered one. It’s rather complicated but here goes.

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In Jon’s previous marriage, he had a stepson. Ethan.

Jon first met Ethan when he was a tiny toddler, and married his mother when Ethan was around two. For the next twelve years, Jon raised Ethan as his own son.

Jon taught him how to throw a football, ride a bike, and drive a car.

He was there for boy scout camp-outs and the time Ethan was taken to the ER to have a cast put on his broken arm.

Cheering. Disciplining. Worrying. Praying. Jon did the same sorts of things for Ethan that all good dads do for their sons.

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I’m sure you see what’s coming. It’s fairly obvious. Since I’m now married to Jon (and I’m not Ethan’s mother) it is rather clear at some point Jon’s marriage to Ethan’s mother failed.

In the spring 2008, Ethan’s mom had to leave her marriage to Jon (for reasons I will not get into on this blog). As with any divorce, Ethan and his two younger half-sisters went through some difficult experiences during this time. In the end, a judge decided both girls would live full-time with Jon, while Ethan, who was 14 years old, would be allowed to live with his mother.

By the time Jon and I had begun dating in the late fall of 2009, Ethan’s visits to Jon’s home had become sporadic at best.  It wasn’t long before Ethan’s visits ceased altogether.  Eventually Ethan did not want to see Jon at all, which hurt Jon deeply though he did his best to hide it.   It became clear Ethan was angry with Jon for some unknown reason. All of Jon’s attempts to reach out to Ethan seemed to have little affect.

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For the past four years, Jon has had very limited contact with Ethan. On rare occasions, Jon might see Ethan briefly when he dropped off his daughters to see their mom. But even in those short moments of contact, Ethan greeted Jon with an awkward reception.

Jon, not wanting to push Ethan further away, tried to give him space and time to work through his emotions. He ached to do more than send  birthday and Christmas gifts. He longed to do more than pray for the boy he loved like a son. And yet, how do you show love to someone who doesn’t want your love?

And as for Ethan … well, after a year or so, he no longer appeared to be angry, but more unsure of how to make amends.

The longer the rift was there, the harder it seemed to build a bridge to cross over the gulf separating the two from each other.

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Last fall we heard the news second-hand.

Ethan, now a high school senior, had gotten his girlfriend Marlee pregnant.  Jon and I  were thankful to learn Ethan and his girlfriend were planning to have their baby, and that Ethan immediately began to assume responsibilities for taking care of his girlfriend and their baby.

Last Thursday, Ethan’s girlfriend gave birth to their baby, a sweet boy they named Noah.

Of course, Jon’s two girls were over the moon with excitement. As soon as they heard the news, there began to be a flurry of excitement, as they were eager for their mother to come get them so they could go to the hospital and hold their new nephew.

As they rushed to get ready, Jon glumly ate his lunch. He made a comment about not knowing why he felt so out-of-sorts, to which I responded, “Well, I think I do. You do realize if things had gone another way, today you would be at the hospital too, celebrating the arrival of your first grandson, right? But you aren’t there, and a part of you is grieving for what isn’t.”  

Squeezing my hand, Jon’s eyes lit with recognition.  With an air of certainty, he said, “I’ve got to text him. Maybe he will let me come see the him and Marlee and the baby at the hospital.”  I could tell Jon was only barely hopeful at this thought, as if he anticipated he might be denied the privilege.

Soon a text message was sent, and fortunately the reply was quick. Ethan agreed to a hospital visit the following day.  A look of relief washed over Jon’s face. I don’t know if I have ever seen a happier father than Jon in that moment.

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From the start, Jon was smitten. I knew he would be. After all, a baby is a baby, and there is nothing more precious than newborn just hours old.

We met Ethan by chance in the hallway, where we spent a few moments just catching up.  While their reunion cannot exactly be described as joyful or warm, it wasn’t completely awkward either. As he had hoped, Jon found a way to express some key thoughts to Ethan without becoming overly sappy or emotional … how proud he was of Ethan for choosing to do the right thing in a difficult situation, how he loved him, and how he would always be there if Ethan ever needed anything.

Moments later, we walked into the small hospital room, meeting the young mother for the first time. I’ll never forget Marlee’s sweet smile as she asked Jon if he would like to hold the baby. And boy, did he!  He scooped that tiny 8 lb bundle of joy into his arms. Jon looked down at the baby with the same expression I’ve seen on many a proud grandfather’s face.

Jon and I left the hospital encouraged. Ethan was open to us being there, even accepting our invitation to celebrate his birthday (hopefully with mother and baby too) at a restaurant at the end of the month. We have hope the relationship between Jon and Ethan will be restored.

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Press-Button

Perhaps you are wondering why this post is titled Pushing All The Wrong Buttons.  Well, give me a minute … I’m getting there.

You see, when Jon and I were leaving the hospital, I had trouble figuring out how to get out. To leave the mother/baby ward, you had to push a button to open the doors. I kept pushing the button on the wall next to the door. It was clearly marked PUSH TO OPEN. Yet each time I pushed it, nothing happened. Finally a nurse on the other side of the door indicated that I should actually be pushing a different button, one that was unmarked as well as farther away from the door we were trying to exit. Once I pushed the right button, we were able to walk through open doors with ease.

Moments later, we stepped onto the elevator. I pushed the button I thought was marked with a 1 for the first floor. Nothing happened. I pushed it again. Still no movement. It wasn’t until I went to push it the third time that Jon noticed the button I had been pushing all along didn’t really have a 1 on it after all. Again, once I finally pushed the correct button, the elevator immediately began to move.

All I wanted to was to be able to leave the hospital. But none of the buttons I pushed would let me out. That is … not until someone showed me the right buttons to push.

All Jon has wanted is to restore his relationship with Ethan. No matter how hard he tried, nothing seemed to work.

That is … nothing worked until God showed Jon the right way to begin to restore the relationship with Ethan.

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Have you ever been in a situation where you felt like you lost something you treasured?  Perhaps it was a relationship or a particular circumstance in life. Maybe you’ve lost financial security, health, or even a combination of things.

When my first husband unexpectedly walked out of our 14 year marriage, I lost more than just a husband. I lost financial security, the ability to homeschool my children, the privilege of staying at home to focus on being a mom.

For a period of time, I “pushed buttons” in an effort to not lose these things in addition to my marriage and my husband. I didn’t understand why God allowed me to lose them. I had no idea of how to get them back. All I knew is whatever I tried didn’t work.

locusts

One of my favorite aspects of God’s character is how He loves to bless His children, to give us the desires of our heart.  (Psalm 34:4)  God is also a God of restoration.  In Joel 2:25, we read the promise of God to the Israelites:

I will restore to you the years that the locust has eaten.

I think God still likes to do this for His children now. He loves to give us back what we have lost. It might not look the quite the same, but so often we find at some point in our future the thing we feared was gone forever has been returned to us.

After my divorce, my children had to go to public school and later a private school. Three years later, I married Jon, and to my delight the Lord blessed again me again with the privilege of homeschooling my children.

It is because of this essence of God’s character that I have hope for Jon to find that his relationship with Ethan will one day be fully restored. Ethan may never again call him “Dad” and perhaps Noah will never quite look to him as a grandfather … but because God is always actively working and moving in the lives of His children, I continue to believe in the hope of restoration.

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What has God restored to you?

How has He been faithful to you in the giving you back the years eaten away by the locusts?