Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Lessons from Luna

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

I had heard all the stories from Jill. She told how Luna would jump out of the water, nipping at fingers as she literally bit the hands of those who fed her. Other times Jill recounted how Luna had eaten all of Big Daddy and his mate's wee ones. Of course, I always imagined such a beautiful fish could not possibly be so cruel. "Surely Jill exaggerates," I thought, but I soon learned for myself that Luna was just as much of a lunatic as Jill had ever implied.

Our family had the privilege of fish-sitting for Jill over the late winter and spring. At first my family of seven was completely enamored with the fish, finding much enjoyment in simply watching their gracefully motions and discussing the details of all we saw occurring in the large tank. Our only prior fish experiences had been with solitary bettas. By comparison, we found the personalities and interactions of these fish captivating, bringing the tank to life in a way I had never anticipated.

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

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

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

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

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

Luna died yesterday, after spending three months in her new, private tank. In life she wasn't much loved; in death she wasn't much mourned. And all I can think is that despite being one of the more beautiful fish I've ever know, Luna's beauty was definitely all on the outside.

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

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

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

Today as I look at our empty fish tank and think about Luna, I am reminded of these words from 1 Peter 3: 3-4

"Your beauty should not consist of outward things ... instead it should consist of what is inside the heart with the inperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very valuable in God's eyes."

The lesson I learned from the life of Luna is simply the reminder to work hard each day at being beautiful ... beautiful from the inside out.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

New Beginnings for a New Year

I hadn't much thought that a new year would bring about many changes. And I suppose in most ways the first two weeks of the year have met my expectations thoroughly.

Except that I wasn't expecting my email to be hacked.

And I certainly wasn't expecting my list of more than 500 contacts to be permanently deleted.

I can't say that I believe anyone enjoys their email to be hacked or to lose all sorts of information that would be hard to replace. I wasn't overjoyed at first either. Until I realized that this would give me a fresh start. Somehow, the idea of a new beginning gave me a lot of peace and perhaps even a bit of excitement about starting over. And quite honestly, I'm hoping that this fresh start will give me something else ... a cure for writer's block.

It was almost a year ago that the Lord gave me a writing ministry. Well, I like to think of it as a ministry. Mainly, the Lord just allows me to write down the thoughts He gives me while I go about my ordinary, everyday life ... which involves nothing terribly exciting at all. Somehow though, the Lord likes to speak to me through the mundane things of this world. Dirty laundry and piles of unmated socks often teach me more about the Lord than a month of Sunday sermons. Don't ask me how helping my daughter choose her pet beta fish gave me insight into how God sees me. And just when I think I'm going to scream if one more child asks me for food to eat, God sends a hungry boy my way and teaches me a lesson about giving away food that fills more than just an empty stomach.

I suppose that I don't really understand it myself... why God shows up in the middle of my mundane little life. I'm an ordinary woman living a very ordinary life. There is nothing spectacular at all about me or about my family or our home. Yet I am privileged enough to have this amazing relationship with a very EXTRA-ordinary God.

If having a relationship with God isn't the most spectacular thing ever, then I can't imagine anything that would be spectacular. I get to hang out with the Creator of all I see (and all I don't see). I mean, He is right there in the laundry room with me, as I sort out the socks. All I have to do is tune myself to Him, reach out and talk to Him, ask Him to talk to me ... it doesn't matter what I am doing or where I am at. God's with me and I find that a rather incredible way to live my life.

And humbling ... because sometimes He lets me share the stories that make up my ordinary life.

Only sometimes I get scared that I don't have anything worth saying. Actually, it's most of the time. Lately, it has been all of the time.

For the past eight weeks or so, it has been the same way each time I sit down to write ... my hands poised over the keys of my laptop, anxious to type away, only to find that all those words I was thinking in my head are now gone like the wind.

Failure breeds fear. Fear breeds more failure. I've been in a writing rut and I only seemed to be digger myself deeper and deeper into a hole of my own making.

Until my email got hacked and I lost all of my contacts. Over the past 36 hours, God's been teaching me a lot through this not-so-fun circumstance. But the best part has been a new vision.

I've got a new email set up just for my writing contacts. And I'm going to be managing my newsletters through a free subscription service: MailChimp. Below you'll find a subscription form to sign up to receive The Paige Turner. I don't write according to a schedule, but about every 3-6 weeks I write a newsletter. Obviously 8-12 newsletters a year won't cause anyone's inbox to overflow! And it is still free. You can't beat free ... well, unless it is free and also encouraging. :)

If you've enjoyed getting my random newsletters in the past, please fill out a form and sign up! And don't hesitate to share this with a friend who might enjoy being encouraged as well. After all, I think that all ordinary women should be well-aquainted with a very EXTRA-ordinary God!


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Monday, December 24, 2012

An Extravagant Christmas

It's Christmas eve, and I am overwhelmed. I am not overwhelmed with too much left to do before Christmas morning. I am not overwhelmed with sorrows or anxieties or negative emotions that so often accompany the season. I am not even overwhelmed with too much good food.

Simply, I am overwhelmed by God.

This Christmas was supposed to be a lean Christmas. Financially things are too tight for extravagances. In the past year, my family given up a lot of our wants ... no more cable TV, no more membership to the gym, no more weekly dinners out or coffee dates at the corner coffee shop, no more piano lessons for Nathan.

Financially we were strapped for Christmas as well. I had about $60 to spend on my five children. That's $60 total ... $12 per child. At first I was overwhelmed simply thinking about how I could even begin to manage to put together Christmas with such a tiny amount of money. However, I always liked a good challenge and bargain-shopping can be fun.

In the end, I was amazed at how God blessed my efforts. I got one of my girls a brand new name-brand purse for absolutely free. I found most of my items on sale, in clearance bins, or at bargain/thrift shops. And as I wrapped up the last of the gifts, I knew my prayers had been answered.

And yet ... only $12 per child. I knew deep-down that as amazing as it was that God had provided small gifts for the children to open, it wasn't going to look like much, especially when compared to what our children's other parents would give to them. And I admit to fighting back those worries of how our meager Christmas might compare.

Tonight at about 9:30, Jon and I finished praying with our kids, tucking them under covers and kissing their foreheads. Lights were dimmed and the house was quiet. And in that stillness, our doorbell rang.

Jon went to answer it, but instead of finding a person he discovered a pile of presents. Gifts upon gifts ... more than one for each child, several for our family, even something wrapped up for Jon and for me. There was a bag of fun snack foods, the kinds that I never buy anymore on our tight budget, the very sort that make it feel like Christmas.

I am overwhelmed. This was supposed to be a lean Christmas. I didn't have any hope of putting extravagance under our tree this year.

A little over 2000 years ago, the first Christmas looked sort of bleak as well. No room in the inn. A girl and her husband ... no relatives to help them welcome their baby into the world. Instead, God showed the entire world His extravagance ... for lying in that manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes, filling the night with sweet baby cries was His perfect gift. Angels from heaven came unannounced to the shepherds, proclaiming His birth and inviting them to come see the baby and worship. The shepherds found the baby, worshipped and then left, retelling the story of how extravagance came to Bethlehem and to all the world that night. And later the magnificent star led magi from the East to visit, bringing gifts fit only for the King of Kings.

Tonight there is extravagance under our tree for God sent someone to our home unannounced (like the angels came to the shepherds), bearing gifts (like the magi). And I'm overwhelmed by the extravagance of Christmas all over again.

Monday, December 17, 2012