My Father’s Voice

Father’s Day is Sunday.

It’s my second without having my dad to celebrate. I miss him terribly, but feel so blessed to have had him as my father. Perhaps I am biased, but there wasn’t a better Daddy in the world.

So in his honor (and in honor of good dads everywhere), I’m sharing one of my favorite stories about my father.

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Me and my wonderful Daddy, Easter Sunday 1973

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.

Whenever our lambs went for one of their strolls, my father always insisted we immediately  go track down those sheep, and return them as soon as possible to the safety of the pen in our backyard. It didn’t matter if it was day or night. As luck would have it, our  lambs were infamous for taking moonlit walks, the deeper into the night the better … or so it seemed.

I could tell many tales about these sheep-chasing escapades, but one time 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 being forced to go on a midnight  goose (er … sheep) hunt for a bunch of wayward lambs.

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. In order to reach the safety of my father I had to cross the bridge to get to the other side. But there was a loud voice in my head that screamed for me to turn around and high-tail it back home instead of crossing over that deep, dark bridge.

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 I stopped. I had the distinct feeling 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 our 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.

Obviously still tickled over my confusion, my dad gave me a hug and said, “Yes, Paige.  I hate to disappoint you, but voice you heard was mine …  not the voice of God. But I’m glad you brought the truck anyway. Now, help us load these sheep.”

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Me (in pink) showing my 4-H sheep at the Louisiana State Fair, October 1982

It’s been nearly 27 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 worship services, and by 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.

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Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.  ~Psalm 103:13

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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 Great Birthday Date … Part 1

Yesterday I told Part 2 of  The Great Birthday Date.  If you didn’t read that one, you might want to take a few minutes to read it first.

(I know. I know. Generally readers expect Part 1 to come before Part 2. But I switched things up and told it backwards. That is a special technique known as “Writer’s Privilege” … and lucky you getting to see such a wonderful writing tool at work right here on my blog! Actually, knowing Part 2 first will not really  make a huge difference in understanding the story. I just happen to like Part 1 a tad bit better than Part 2,  and since the order didn’t make a difference, I decided to tell the story in reverse.)

Anyway, here’s Part 1 of my personal Great Date story. Enjoy!

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My first marriage unexpectedly fell apart the summer before my 35th birthday. To be honest, I don’t remember much about being 35, or 36 for that matter. Those years are lost to the blur of emotions and trying to pick up the pieces of my shattered life.  But as I drew closer and closer to my 37th birthday, it was as if my soul had begun to awaken again.

The summer I was 36  marked two years since I had first gone into receiving Christian counseling. Generally, we talked about how to function as a single parent, learning to forgive, letting go of what I couldn’t control, giving my fears to God, among other things. However, now that I reached the two year mark of single parenting and the divorce was officially over and done, my counselor began to suggest that I might soon be interested in dating.

Initially, I was put off by the very idea. Already rejected once, I couldn’t envision putting myself and my children through something like that again. However, my counselor encouraged me to think and process about whether or not I might truly want to live the next 50 years alone … and at 36 years old, the possibility of living another 50 years wouldn’t be all that unusual.

It didn’t take much thinking for me to realize deep down I wanted to have a special relationship with one man, a relationship in which we loved and cared for each other while living life together. It’s a normal desire for any person to have. Despite my experience with my previous marriage and divorce, my longings hadn’t really changed.

And yet, even as I admitted that I had the desire, I was scared of the very idea. I felt anything but lovable. I felt used and discarded, like the old clothes at the Goodwill Stores. Sometimes there are treasures for the taking in those places, but you gotta look through a lot of junk in order to find them. And deep down, my own sense of self-worth was beat up. I felt like I was just another piece of tossed trashed, not a rejected treasure waiting for someone else to realize my true worth.

Who on earth would want to love a woman like me? 

I remember during that summer before my 37th birthday doing a lot of soul-searching, praying and asking God to teach me about how to be a woman of worth, to be satisfied with His love whether or not any man ever loved me again, and to grow in my own self-respect so that I could reflect His great love.

Along with these hard prayers, I read a lot of books by a Christian author by the name of Angela Thomas. (If you are a Christian woman who is also a single parent, you simply must read her book My Single Mom Life. I promise you it is the most encouraging book out there for a woman trying to parent after divorce.)

Between my counselor, the books and the prayers, I was approaching this cautious place in the very depths of my soul in which I wanted to be loved, and believed I was worth loving … and yet I was still fearful the second part wasn’t true. This was the state of my emotions in the month prior to my 37th birthday, which brings me to the actual “date” that was so wonderfully great.

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My 37th birthday started off with my three wonderful children decorating my cake. They had already asked me if they could do the decorating, so the night before I baked a cake. Now that it was cooled, they got up extra early so that they would have time to add the icing and decorations before school.

Just look at those sweet babies of mine! Early morning hair, sticking up everywhere. Joel is all wrapped up in a quilt, still sleepy. To this day, I get all mushy inside whenever I think about those wonderful children wanting to make me a special birthday cake.

Joel, age 9
Joel, age 9
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Nathan, age 7
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Julia, age 6
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My fantastic birthday cake!

The cake was really enough to remind me that I was indeed a loved woman. But there was that question of worth. Was a I woman any man would ever again find worthy? I can’t say that was on the forefront of my mind on that morning, and yet it was the burning question in my mind for which I was seeking an answer from God.

He didn’t fail to respond.

That morning, I got to work and before I hardly sat down at my desk with my cup of coffee in hand, a delivery of a large bouquet of flowers arrived for me.  I opened the card to discover they were from my sister.

I was still gushing over the flowers when there was a short knock on the office door. There was my dad, standing in the hallway with a box of chocolates in his hands. “Chocolates for the birthday girl!” he grinned.

I figured the birthday surprises were over, but in fact the day had only gotten started.

My co-workers had unknowingly gotten together and each brought dishes to work so that we had a birthday lunch right there at the office … complete with cake and ice cream!  I can’t remember what we ate, but I do remember laughing and enjoying the time with those wonderful ladies.

Flowers and candy
Flowers and candy

On the way home, I was thinking about my gifts.  I laughed as I shared my delight with my Creator.  “Today I received every typical gift a beau gives to his girl … flowers, a box of chocolate, a wonderful meal.  The only thing missing, Lord, was jewelry!”

Arriving at home, I opened up my mail to find a package from a friend of mine who lived several states away. As I ripped into the box, I found a beautiful pair of silver drop earrings with a sapphire stone. As I fingered the earrings, I heard a whisper in my heart:

Forget? Did you actually think I would forget the jewelry? You are worth much more than any of these gifts to me! There is more, much more to come.

I looked over at the pile of mail. There were six or seven birthday cards and not a single bill or piece of junk mail to throw away. Everything that had arrived that day had been just for me. With tears already flooding my eyes, I began to open up each card and letter.

Each card made me smile or laugh. Tucked away in a few were small bills of money. Others contained notes of love. But the last envelop I opened took my breath away. As I pulled out the card inside and opened it up, I saw a familiar handwriting and signature.

Happy birthday! I love you – “Mammie” (Juanita Terry)

My grandmother. The card was from my grandmother. But she had died nearly 3 years earlier. How on earth?

Glancing to the left side of the card, I saw another handwritten note, but I had to wipe away the tears in order to read it.

“Dear Paige, Recently I found this card your grandmother sent to me several years ago. I thought you might like to have it and so I’ve been saving it to give back to you ever since. Wishing you a happy birthday! Love Jean E. Mitchell”

Mrs. Jean E.  …  My 4th grade teacher and friend. I had known her all my life and looked forward to her birthday cards since I was a tiny girl because most of the time there was a piece of gum included inside the card. There wasn’t any gum in this card, but that didn’t seem to matter because I had already received more than I ever imagined possible … right down to the birthday wish from my grandmother in heaven.

In my heart again there was a whisper:

I Am …  the Lover of your soul. I created you, knit you together to be the exact person you are. My love for you is undying. I will never reject or leave you. I am with you always, looking out for you even when you don’t know it or understand My ways. And you are worth it.

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For as long as I live, my 37th birthday will remain my favorite. It was the year the Lord took me out on an amazing date, treating me to everything a woman’s heart could possibly desire.

Within a month, Jon Hamilton would ask me to be his girl. I’m glad I decided to dare to love again because it worth the risk.

But more than that, I’m glad I learned that God wants me to be His girl first. And that His love for me is more perfect and wonderful than any other love a girl could ever want.

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Do you have a Great Date Story to share? If so, you could win a copy of the book $10 Great Dates as well as a crisp $10 bill to use on a new great date adventure. Contest rules are easy: just share your favorite great date story, either in the comments section of my blog or on your on blog (please ping back to me).

Hurry! The last day to enter is August 31st!

 

M is for …

M is for Moving.

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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.

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

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.

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

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.”

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

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.

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

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?

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

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!

 

A is for …

Perhaps on another day, the writer’s link with a blogging challenge for the month of April would not have caught my attention, but on that particular morning it did. With nothing more than a quick glance at the rules of the game, I registered.

Fast forward two months, and what seemed like a great idea back in February has me feeling a bit like an April fool today.

Still, I’m already in, linked up, and set to go. Besides, whenever I’m in, I’m all in.

My mission for the month:  Blog through all 26 letters of the alphabet.

Just in case you’ve forgotten a certain little poem often taught in elementary school, April is only a 30-day month. Even the slowest of math pupils would understand that 26/30 means a lot of posting in April!

Quite frankly, my track record for blogging is not that good. I’ve had this blog for about a year now, and have managed only 16 posts or so during that time. Statistically, I’m not even blogging twice a month.

Generally, I try not to feel guilty about my lack of consistency in keeping up with my blog. After all, as the mother of five, all teens or tweens, it’s not as if I’m sitting around, twiddling my thumbs, and eating bonbons all day.

Which leaves me with one burning question:

 Why did I ever think I could manage publishing 26 times on my blog during a one month period?

Looking back, I know much of my eagerness to participate had to do with a desire to improve my writing skills, develop better blogging consistency, find new writing inspiration, and build my readership. I recall thinking, “What better way to possibly improve in several of these areas than by taking a part in this challenge?”

Yet, as the weeks went by and I thought about the actual process, I began to feel nervous about exactly how this challenge would play itself out.  Many writers taking the challenge blog through the alphabet with a theme in mind, which seemed like a great idea to me.  Several times I tried to come up with a theme: homeschooling ideas, Bible verses, godly thoughts, favorite books to read with children, etc.  Each time I would get excited about the theme possibilities …  and then panic would set in.

Oh, no! What will I write about for Q or X? What if I run out of ideas?

With the focus of succeeding in this challenge centered on me and my abilities, I knew I was setting myself up for failure. Something had to change. Or rather, there was something that I didn’t need to change. I needed to stay true to who I am as a writer.

The one big thing that is consistently true about my writing is that I write for God. He’s the boss and I work for Him.  In our writing relationship, He always gets to pick the topic. My job is to pretty much just write whatever He tells me to write.  And since He mostly gives me insights about Himself through the ordinary (and sometimes not-so-ordinary) experiences in my life, I try not to complain.  It’s actually a really great deal, and I love my job … though it might be nice if there started be an occasional payday involved.

I have come around to understanding that there won’t be a theme for my blog during in the A to Z Challenge. At least, that is, there won’t be a theme chosen by me. And so far, if God has picked a theme, He hasn’t let me in on it yet.

He did, however, stay faithful to His part of the bargain, and give me the idea as well as the words to write in this initial post.

letterA

That’s why A is for Aspiring to blog through the Alphabet in April

Stay tuned for B.  At this point, even I have no idea what God might want me to blog about tomorrow.

 

My heart is moved by a noble theme, 
as I recite my verses to the King; 
my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer. ~Psalm 45:1

My Father’s Voice

I might be 40 years old, but my daddy is still my hero.  Go ahead … roll your eyes, but in my eyes my father is one incredible man.  He is just short of being able to part the waters and calm the seas.  In fact, 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 our 4-H project.  Several times each year, the sheep would find a way to escape the small pen in our backyard, and it seemed we would only find out whenever some neighbor telephoned to let us know our wooly pets were out wandering along the roadsides. Our lovely 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 summer I was 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.  It’s dark, so bring a flashlight.  Even so, you’ll likely hear the sheep before you see us.”

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 felt very alone. 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!”

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. Christians, go through life without ever really learning how to listen for God’s voice.  I was fortunate.  My earthly dad taught me to listen for God’s voice by placing a great importance on studying the scriptures, attending worship 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.

I’m grateful that my Daddy loved me and through his parenting taught me about a loving God who was always with me, protecting me during the dark nights of life, and guiding me with His voice.  And I continue to be amazed that the One who created life from nothing desires for me to call Him “Father.”

Happy Father’s Day to my dad … and to all the wonderful fathers in this world!

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My Daddy and me … Easter Sunday 1973