Friday, July 31, 2009

Turning My Misery into Joy

I just got home from a week at 4-H camp.

One of my friends jokingly called it my "week in paradise." Let me assure you that it is anything but that. Another friend teasingly wished me a wonderful week at "Club Mud" because of the rainy weather we had ... Club Mud is definitely a much closer description than Club Med! I honestly don't think there can possibly be any comparison between Camp Grant Walker and a spa resort vacation.

Yes, it rained every single day at Camp Grant Walker this past week. Some days it rained all morning or all afternoon or both. It was the miserable kind of rain, where there is just no way to keep from getting soaked to the bone. Naturally, this being a camp and all, many of the activities are outside activities. Unless the weather is truly severe (lots of loud thunder and lightening), the kids are kept to their normal camp activities (minus the pool and canoeing). This week the rainy weather was often the kind that was sans thunder and lightening. Therefore, I spent a great portion of my time this past week standing around outside looking for all the world like a losing contestant in a water balloon fight or a professional car washer or something along those lines. Being wet can be fun at first, and can sort of help bond everyone together, which is a rather good thing at camp. However, it really doesn't take very long before the novelty and the fun is over. You really just want to put on some dry clothes ... or at least that's the way I felt about it.

Thanks to all that rain, the sandy campgrounds turned to a nasty, gritty kind of mud that just got everywhere. All day long, I'd walk around the campgrounds and the sand would work its way between my toes. I'd go to the cabin only to find that there was wet, dirty sand all over the floors. The bathhouse was even worse ... wet sand covered everything from the floors to the shower stalls. I couldn't seem to get all of the sand off of my body, and so it got in my bed ... not to mention the 22 very sandy little girls who liked to come sit next to me on my bed and chat about all of their adventures at camp. I don't have to say it, but I will ... my bed got covered in sand. There isn't much way to get wet sand out of a bed, and attempting to sleep in wet and sandy sheets is a rather miserable task.

This past week was in many ways a miserable week. This summer has been in many ways a miserable sort of summer. Lots of unpleasant circumstances ... things that wear me down and make me feel utterly miserable. And yet, I have to say that God's been teaching me a lot though my personal circumstances this summer.

The first thing I'm learning is that I'm suppose to give thanks in everything ... not just for those things that bring me joy, but EVERYTHING. That means being thankful even when I've got sand between my toes and sand in my bed and an a/c that doesn't work for over a month in the hottest part of the summer. Those things can be miserable ... in fact, more than miserable. These are certainly not things that I feel like thanking God for at all. I'd rather complain about them. I'd rather ask God to remove them from my life as soon as possible.

Truly, it doesn't even normally cross my mind to thank Him when I'm miserable. And yet, this is His very clear instruction to us ... in all things give thanks. I looked up verses about being thankful in the Bible and there are quite a few. Here's just a short sampling of what the Bible had to say about the importance of thanking God.

Oh, Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever. Ps.30:12

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Romans 1:21

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Philippians 4:6

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17

Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:18

It doesn't seem to me that being unthankful is really an option ... that is, if I'm taking God and His word to me in a serious sort of manner. And I don't think that God necessarily expects us to feel thankful. He simply wants us to intentionally choose to be thankful ... no matter what.

Secondly, I'm learning that God expects me to live in a state of joy despite the discomforts of this world. Being miserable and suffering is not an excuse for me to spend my time complaining and venting and spreading my misery ... even if there is a lot of sand between my toes and sand in my bed and no a/c in my office for over a month during the hottest part of the summer. Instead, I'm suppose to allow Christ to be in me so much that there is a depth of joy that even the most unimaginable miseries of this earth cannot destroy.

Quite frankly, the lack of a/c at work or the sand invading my bed and my shoes really is not the sort of misery that is unimaginable. I just finished reading the book "The Hiding Place" by Corrie ten Boom. Speaking of unimaginable miseries, this fine Christian lady went through some truly unimaginable horrors during the holocaust. Her story is inspiring, for through it she tells how she is thankful for fleas in her bed, ants as her only companions for 4 months, and many other unspeakable cruelties at the hands of the Nazis. She tells how she and her sister Betsy sought to bring comfort and peace from God to those suffering with them, and even the very German soldiers who were bringing the misery to their lives. She tells how God gave her joy even those dark days ... days that we know as one of the darkest times in the entire history of the world.

I read that book at camp during the first two days I was there, and afterwards found it hard to complain about walking through the wet, sandy muck for 4 1/2 days. I knew that I'd be going back to the comforts of home in just a few days. Corrie ten Boom had no idea when the horrific life she lived while at the mercy of the Nazi soldiers would end. What the ten Boom sisters lived through was not just a short-lived miserable situation, like the wet, sandy conditions at camp or the heat of my office without a/c in July. I will likely have forgotten much about sand in my bed at camp before the end of August, but the horrors and effects of the holocaust still haunt our world today. Corrie and her sister Betsy lived a joyful life, despite the horrors all around them. They found that depth of joy in their relationship with Christ and never stopped being a light for Him. I felt both inspired and convicted as I read their testimony about the joy of walking with Jesus.

I've found a few verses on joy in the Lord as well. In fact, the Bible verses on joy were abundant. This is truly just a few of them:

Then I would still have this consolation— my joy in unrelenting pain— that I had not denied the words of the Holy One.
Job 6:10

He will yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy. Job 8:21

But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. Psalm 5:11

You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. Psalm 16:11

Sing joyfully to the LORD, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him. Psalm 33:1

When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul. Psalm 94:19

A cheerful look brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones. Proverbs 15:30

It really seems that a joyful attitude is another thing God expects from His children. Not just joy when things are going our way, but a joy that is so deep that the little daily miseries or the big, horrible miseries cannot take away the joy that is in our heart.

Earlier this summer, God started off showing me about the importance of being thankful. That was why I mentioned it first. Learning about joy came next, but almost as an addition to what I was learning about being thankful and not as a separate thing. So imagine how thrilled I was to find this verse as I was looking up references for my thanksgiving and joyful verses that I wanted to share:

The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.
Psalm 19:8

If God commands us to be thankful in all circumstances, then we are promised that when we do offer our thanks to Him, He will give us joy in our hearts. How amazingly simple: A joyful heart is the fruit of a thankful heart! So very simple and yet it bears repeating: If I want to be joyful then I've got to be thankful!

I've been learning these lessons all summer, and I'm still learning even in the midst of writing this little note on what God has already shown to me. Even as I sit here pondering all these thoughts that are racing around my head, I am not at all sure that God is close to being through with showing me how important it is to be thankful and joyful in all of life's circumstances. I readily admit that I can be a slow learner at times, often taking 2 baby steps forward only to turn around and take 3 giant steps back. I may not be a quick study, but tonight I'm hoping and praying that I'll be an eager learner who diligently and intentionally tries to put what I'm being taught into practice each and every day.

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Roman 12:12

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Rule Breakers

I'm not a mom of many rules. I have a few basic ones ... the kind that cover many of the typical crimes commented by children. My main rules are:

Do unto to others as you would have them do unto you.
Obey your mother ... the first time you are told to do something.
If you wouldn't want Jesus to be with you, then don't do it.

Those 3 rules cover most everything ...

And yet, sometimes it doesn't. So I do have about 3 or 4 more specific rules, such as no food or drinks in the living room and inside toys stay inside while outside toys stay outside. Nothing major or hard to recall. Only, sometimes apparently, even that can be difficult.

Take for example, today's incident with Julia locking the boys out of the house and Joel busting through a window in his frantic attempts to get back inside. This business of locking each other out of the house started off innocently enough. It was a joke and everyone of them thought it was funny. It was a strange game they played Friday afternoon and evening, with lots of laughing.

By Saturday morning, the locking game was bringing frustration ... mostly to me because I found myself continually going to rescue some child who was locked outside and resorted to ringing the doorbell to be let back inside. Before lunch, I'd had enough. I told them all that this new game was OVER. No more locking people out of the house. Each of them nodded their heads and said "Yes, ma'am" to indicate that they understood fully this new rule.

Obviously not.

This morning, as I tried to clean up broken glass, Julia sat on her little chair and cried loudly because she had lost some privileges when she just "forgot" that I'd had said no more locking each other outside. My hard-hearted response was "Tough luck, sweetheart."

At least, with the door locking business, I knew who the guilty party actually was. Take my rule about no food or drinks in the living room as another example. This afternoon, I discovered 12 blueberries by my recliner, the remnants of a chocolate pop tart crumbled on the floor near the TV, a wrapper for a cheese stick on the couch and 4 glasses in various locations around the living room. It looked like my kids enjoyed a picnic in the living room while I enjoyed my Sunday afternoon nap. None of them was willing to fess up, either ... not that I'm surprised. However, you'd think that the guilty parties could have at the very least removed the evidence of their crime.

This evening, I was feeling rather put out with my 3 little rule breakers. I was tired of this part of parenting ... going over the same stuff over and over and over. Why is it that they can't keep up with 5 or 6 simple little rules? I was complaining to myself about this ... and that's when God reminded me of something.

God has just 10 simple rules for living. They aren't hard to remember. If I were given a test, I could probably remember them all. And yet, I break them all the time. I like to think that I don't ... but when I really start to examine my life, I'm pathetic about keeping those commandments. No other gods before me? I struggle with that one. I mean, is God really number one to me? Or do I allow other things, such as my computer time or hobbies, to consume all of my thoughts and energy ... giving to God just a measly 10 or 15 minutes at the end of my day?

Jealousy? Ohhh ... let's not talk about that. I see someone who has a new car or a new kitchen make-over or gets an exotic vacation and suddenly I'm turning green with envy.

I like to push these "little" sins to the back of my mind. I'm not such a bad person. I don't murder or sleep around. Or do I? The Bible says that if I look upon someone with anger in my heart it is just as if I have murdered them. Same thing with looking at a man with lust ... I might as well have hopped into bed with him for all that it matters. I don't particularly like those verses. It hits far too close to home for me!

Oh, yeah ... I'm just as bad about breaking rules as my children. I'm nothing but a low-down sinner, who can't even manage to follow ten simple rules without breaking one for an entire day.

Thankfully, there is a lot of hope for us rule-breakers. God is famous for his forgiving spirit. All I have to do is confess and asked for forgiveness. How easy is that?! God even helps me to repent and turn from my sin, but even when I "forget" and break the same old rule again and again, He is willing to forgive me each and every time. Amazing!

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

20 Ways to Stay Cool in July When the A/C Goes Out at Work

I'm becoming quite the expert on beating the heat in Louisiana's hot and humid July weather. I've been stuck up on the 3rd floor of an old dilapidated courthouse with no a/c for going on a month now. And not only am I surviving, I'm also learning a lot about keeping cool and keeping my focus on what it should be.

Here's how I'm staying cool this summer:

1. Dress lightly. Modesty is obviously important, but thin materials are a blessing. And let me just say that skirts are an amazing invention! I've never been much of a skirt gal until recently, but I'm loving my skirts this summer.

2. Place fans strategically in open windows, and remember the secrets of cross-ventilation.

3. If necessary, rearrange office so that desk is in a better position to feel cool breezes from open windows.

4. Drink plenty of ice water.

5. Stay still. Don't move unless you absolutely have to move ... especially if there isn't a breeze.

6. Keep a cool, damp washcloth handy. It feels amazing on the neck or forehead when you think you just might pass out from the heat.

7. Drink more ice water. It's important to stay well hydrated.

8. Place a ziplock back of ice in front of fan that is on desk.

9. Pray for cool breezes ... and don't forget to thank the Lord for them when they blow.

10. Go barefoot in office. For some reason, this really does help ... not matter how silly it looks. Besides, it is a great excuse for weekly pedicures. I now have a real need to keep my toes looking beautiful.

11. Don't wear jewelry. Again, I don't know exactly why, but it helps. I'm not nearly as hot when I forego jewelry as when I've got some on.

12. Drink a little more ice water.

13. Put snowy photos as screen saver.

14. Play Christmas music, make Christmas gift lists and dream of vacationing at a ski resort.

15. Buy plenty of snowcones from the kids who have set up a snowcone stand across the street from courthouse. Not only are you supporting the business efforts of those industrious children, but you are staying cool and hydrated. Really, I'd forgotten just how tasty a snowcone can be on a hot summer day.

16. Plan a "Beat the Heat" workshop for 4-H'ers in the parish. Plan to make healthy smoothies together.

17. Stock work freezer with popsicles.

18. Don't let certain people who like to call and ask for the temperature in the office (DAD) get you frustrated. Remember to stay pleasant and happy, knowing that the Lord will deal with them for you.

19. Find interesting and unique ways to keep laughing ... like imagining all of your coworkers coming to the office in their swimsuits. A cheerful heart feels so much better than a grumpy spirit ... even if it is a hot cheerful heart.

And last but certainly not least:

20. Perhaps the biggest thing I'm being reminded of as I sweat through this long summer is that this life isn't all about Paige ... it is all about Paige becoming more like Christ. In other words, the point of living isn't for me to discover my happy place. The point of living is for me to discover how to be more holy.

Still ... I'm going to be real happy when I can practice being holy while also being cool.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Giving It All Away

I love to write. I always have loved writing. For as long as I can remember, I've loved to write letters and notes. I actually enjoyed writing thank you notes after high school graduation and wedding or baby showers. I know, I know ... that's just weird, but then I guess I'm probably a weird person at times. In fact, I'm sure I'm more than just a bit quirky because not only do I love to write, but words and writing words actually fascinate me.

I think a lot about writing. It's true. Sometimes, as I'm going through my day, I'll find that I'm thinking about how I'd like to write down exactly what I'm experiencing. The next thing I know, I'm writing and editing an entire essay in my head ... wishing I had paper and pen (or my laptop) handy to write the words down for posterity. I wonder how many people drive down the road writing long notes in their head, praying all the while that they can remember the beauty of the words they are thinking so that they can write it all down as soon as paper and pencil are handy. I think a time or two I've even pulled over to the side of the road, frantically digging through my purse for some tiny scrap of paper and a pen so that I can write down some wonderful phrase that's rolling around in my head before I forget it.

My writing often helps me get through bad days. When I get upset, I rarely lose my temper and go off on someone verbally. But I usually can't wait to get alone and write everything that I'm feeling and thinking down. Over the years, I've learned that as I write I can begin to sort out my emotionss and understand better what I'm feeling and why. And while I've never managed to keep a traditional journal, recently I've discovered prayer journaling and my prayer life has started to change in ways I never imagined. It's opened me up to my Heavenly Father in a way I'd never opened up before. Suddenly my prayers went beyond "bless so and so" to sharing much deeper thoughts and concerns with God.

Recently I had a conversation with my new friend Jon ... he was talking about giving his musical ambitions to God. He talked about how it was hard at first. After all, his music was something that he sort of considered "his" and it was so deeply personal. To give it to someone else, even to God who had given it to him in the first place, was just hard. But he chose to do that and he went on to talk about how God has blessed that offering. I could tell it was something that Jon didn't regret doing ... rather he seemed so at peace with God being in control of his musical talents. It was an inspiring conversation for me ... somewhat of a turning point.

Over the years, I've had people tell me from time to time that I should try to write a book, but I never had any serious writing ambitions. I think it was partly because I figured there wasn't much that I had much to say that was book worthy. Besides, I just liked to write, and writing a book or writing for a job just seemed like too much work.

When I was in high school, I briefly thought that maybe I'd like to write for a newspaper ... but then I thought how I'd hate having to be objective as a reporter and I figured I wouldn't get an editorial position straight out of college. There have been times when I thought that maybe I'd like to be a freelance writing, but that seems like such a hard job. What if no one liked what I wrote?

No, I decided long ago that writing for a job wasn't for me. I'd just keep my writing for myself ... I'd write to please Paige. All of my life, my writing has been all about me. I write when I want and about what I want ... and I liked it that way, thank you very much.

But lately I've been getting those sorts of comments more and more ... comments about how my writing is a blessing. It seems that every time I turn around, someone is suggesting that I write a book. It's no longer just my mother encouraging me in this path. It makes me wonder if there maybe I've missed my calling in life somewhere along the way ...

So about a week ago I decided to try to just give my writing to God. Honestly, I don't know what this is even supposed to look like. I mean, do I now write in a different way? I was so worried about doing something wrong that the first thing I wrote after that decision took me 3 days to write. I was scared that the words were mine and not God's, and I wanted it to be perfect.

In the past week, my head has seemed so full of things to write. I'm struggling to keep up with all that is in my mind and heart. This has actually always been one of my concerns with the idea of writing a book or getting published. What if I ran out of ideas? What if I woke up one morning with nothing else left to say? Deep down I know that I really don't have anything worthy of saying in the first place. I don't necessarily see things in new and fresh ways. What could I possibly share with anyone that haven't heard before? This past week, as I've had so much I wanted to say and not enough time to write it all down, I've realized that there is a certain amount of freedom in giving my writing to God. I no longer have to fret that I'll run out of things to write about because now I'm trusting God to give me words to write.

And as far as my writing being something that's worthy of reading ... well that doesn't have to be a concern for me either, as long as I'm trusting God for the message. This has actually been something God's already been teaching me over the past couple of years. During one of the darkest times of my life, I felt like I had so much to say about a particular situation and yet I had no words. A very casual acquaintance of mine called me up late one night, literally out of the blue. In fact, I didn't even know she knew my cell phone number! She didn't waste any time with chit-chat ... she got straight to the point and said she felt like she needed to remind me of what my name meant. Sheila said, "Your name is Angela Paige. It literally means 'heavenly messenger.' God wants you to have the courage to speak His truth, Paige ... be His messenger."

Later on, my sweet friend Josephine echoed those thoughts in a slightly different way as she prayed for me during a phone conversation that I would not have a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of courage to speak God's truth as I dealt with that horrible situation.

I've thought about that a lot. I've always been afraid to speak my mind, but I'm not afraid to write my mind. Furthermore, on my own I may not see things in a new or fresh way. But then again, it isn't my thoughts that God is particularly interested in sharing with the rest of the world. It is HIS thoughts that need to be shared with the rest of the world. So while I don't have much to say that is book worthy, God has plenty to say. And He uses people like me every day as His messengers.

I don't know what God has in store for me or for my writing. It may mean a book someday in the future, or a job that includes writing in some way. Or it may just mean continuing to blog and post notes on facebook, write long encouraging emails to my friends and the like. But whatever it is meant to be, I'm giving it fully to Him now. I'm no longer writing to please Paige or fretting over whether or not my thoughts are worthy of writing down. I'm simply writing for God, and in the process I'm learning that God is going to share more of Himself with me as He gives me ideas and thoughts and words to share, and that in and of itself is rather amazing. This past week I've learned that I have to give up more of me in order to gain more of Christ.

What an amazing thing that God would even want my writing for Himself! What a precious gift to me!

With This Ring

Not long ago I made a decision to wear a particular ring on my left ring finger. It also happens to be the only ring I wear most days. The particular ring I'm talking about is a cross ring ... very simple and plain. An understated sort of ring.

It's not a sentimental piece of jewelry. it didn't belong to my grandmother or some benevolent great-aunt. I just happened to notice it and I liked it. And since the price was right, I bought it to wear. Thankfully, it hasn't turned my finger green yet, for truly there isn't even any monetary value to this ring. I think I paid all of $5 for it at a Cato store back around Christmas.

But none of that matters. This ring is right now my favorite ring because of what it signifies and stands for ... for what it reminds me of daily. And that is that I belong to Someone ... the ultimate Lover of my soul.

Being single is hard. In fact, it is a rather lonely place to be at times. Not all the time. But some of the times. Especially at night once the kids are asleep. My mind is full of thoughts from the day. I'd like someone who wants to talk them over. Someone who cares about what is on my mind. Someone who might want to share what is on his mind.

Being single is hard. It can be an emotionally desolate place sometimes. No one is there to ask you why you are crying or to laugh with you over something you find incredibly funny. Your hand never gets held. Your head never gets stroked. And hugs are few and far between.

Being single is hard. Many times you are the odd man (or woman) out. There are days when it seems like every activity revolves around being part of a couple. Holidays are harder. No one is around to help you make decisions, big or little.

Because a single life is so hard, it is tempting to try to focus on finding a mate. I've been very guilty of doing that at times. I'm a woman. My heart yearns to be loved and adored.

But the longer I'm single, the more I'm becoming convinced that God wants to write my love story. That He wants me to trust Him so completely that I can relinquish this area of my life to Him ... to allow Him to be the author of my romance. And if I do this, then I can know several things:

1. I don't have to try to manipulate or work out situations. God is so great and amazing and capable of anything that I could really go live on the moon all by myself and He could orchestrate a way for me to meet the man He has already chosen for me. Not that I'm really planning on testing God in this way, but I can rest assured knowing that all I have to do is live my life for God and He will work out all the details for me.

2. I don't have to attempt to be cuter or funnier or something else that I'm not to attract any man's attention. If I focus on becoming the Paige that God created me to be ... If I focus on loving God more every day ... then nothing that I do or don't do is going to make me any more attractive. That doesn't meant that I'll stop trying to lose weight or brushing my hair cut every morning or suddenly begin to wear ratty, dirty clothes. I think I should definitely take care of myself and try to have a neat, attractive appearance. But I don't have to fret over it as I've done in the past. If God's love, peace and joy radiates through me, then I'm going to be attractive because of the One who is in me.

3. God may or may not want me to remarry. I hope He does. I have conversations with Him about this all the time. Sometimes, they are very much one-sided conversations, but I'm learning to listen to God in this situation, too. And so far, He's not revealing if I'm going to get a second chance at marriage or who that man might be or even how long of a wait I might have. Despite the lack of this pertinent information from God, this much I can trust and know ... God knows my heart and my desires in a much deeper way than even I know them. And He has promised that His plans for me are for my good. He wants to give me the desires of my heart and His plans for my future should give me hope. So whether I get remarried in 2 years time or 10 years time or never, I can look forward to the future with hope, knowing that God has my best interests at heart.

So I wear my cross ring on my left ring finger to remind me of those truths. I look down and see it and I remember, with a heart of thankfulness, that there is One who loves me more than any man on this earth is capable of loving me. And that when God is writing the romance of your life, it is a story worth waiting for.

Someday I'd like to exchange this simple cross ring for a wedding band. Maybe that will happen. Maybe it won't. But until that day should come to pass, I'm going to attempt to faithfully and patiently wait for the Author of the incredible story of the world to write the love story of my life.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

God's Singing

Perhaps my favorite thing about having a baby in the house was rocking that sweet little one to sleep. I loved holding my babies, especially when I was putting them to sleep. It was such a pleasant time to me.

I suppose I liked it so much because it was comforting to me, and I knew it was comforting to my babies. The room was dark. Just the two of us ... my arms filled with the tiny body of my child. And I'd sing ... mostly hymns, but I found that it really didn't matter what words came out of my mouth. Almost any song would do, especially if I sang it slow. And maybe the best part about that was that it really didn't even matter what my voice sounded like or if I was singing in tune. My baby was lulled to sleep by my soft singing, simply comforted by my presence and my voice. Sometimes, I really miss those days.

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Zephaniah 3:17. It says this: "The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing."

Isn't that the most amazing verse? God sings over me! Just like I comforted my babies with songs, so God comforts me! I love it ... the image brings me such peace. Sometimes, when I am all stressed at work or I come home and I'm so tired I'm not sure if I have enough energy to last until bedtime, I just imagine God holding me in His arms, stroking my head and singing over me.

Even though I love that verse, Zephaniah isn't the most popular book of the Bible. Sometimes when I share that verse with a friend, they will say that they weren't even aware there was such a book. So imagine my surprise when I saw this entire display of items decorated with that verse in the Christian bookstore yesterday afternoon. I picked up a tiny metal sign that was $4 and bought it to hang in my office.

The clerk who checked me out was this older black lady. We spent several minutes chatting about some books I was buying and a movie she had just seen. And then she picks up the sign to scan ... and she reads the verse and she says, "Is this really in the Bible?" And I said, "Oh, yes mam! It's one of my very favorite verses. Just think ... God sings over us just like we sang over our babies when they were small. Isn't that the most comforting thought ever?!"

She stood there a minute and then she whispered, "Wow. My amazing God sings over me." Looking up, she grabbed the other clerk by the arm, and said, "Hey, Linda! Get this ... God sings over us! Just like we sang over our babies when we rocked them ... God sings over us, too!" The next thing I know, this little black lady and I are over at the display looking over all the items with this verse on them, and talking to each other about this verse and how wonderful it is. Before I left, she had written down the verse to look up in her Bible when she got home and thanked me at least a hundred times for sharing it with her.

As I was walking out of the store, she called after me, "Thank you! You've been a blessing to me!" But she didn't know how much she blessed me too ... for you see, as much as I love that verse and that image, it's been a while since I felt awed by it. And really, I don't want to ever lose my sense of amazement over this:

Almighty God, who created the Grand Canyon and Mount Everest and Saturn's beautiful rings, also sings over me.

Wow ... how amazing is that?!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Eating Worms

My brother Reid has this cool video blog. I'm linking you to his blog because in order for this note to make much sense you'll need to go and check out his latest video entitled "Eating Worms." (Please check it out: )

I'm now assuming you've gone to view Reid's video ...

Tonight Reid and I were discussing his video. I asked him if it was meant to be just funny or if there was supposed to be a point to it. And Reid says, "Oh, there is a hidden biblical meaning. Let me explain ..."

He goes on to tell me how recently my nephew Micah had refused to eat dinner. Reid said that Heather had a made a great dinner: roast, rice and gravy, corn on the cob, salad, etc. But Micah wouldn't touch any of it. He cried and carried on, but Reid and Heather said that he could either eat the meal or go hungry. Micah decided to go hungry.

Later on, Micah went outside to play, and eventually he found a worm. Reid just happened upon Micah about that time and this was the discussion that followed:

Reid: Micah, what are you doing?

Micah: I'm about to eat this worm, Daddy.

Reid: Why one earth are you about to eat a worm?

Micah: I'm going to eat this worm because I am so hungry!

Reid: Well, why didn't you eat the awesome dinner that your mom prepared for you? Now you are out here about to eat a nasty worm instead ... wouldn't you rather eat real food?

Then Reid goes on to tell me that all of us are like that at times ... we refuse the wonderful table that God has spread before us and instead chose cheap and dirty imitations that will never satisfy. In other words, we trade what is good and right for a bunch of worms.

I've been thinking about that some tonight, and how there is a lot of truth to that. In my life, I've had plenty of times that I've seen the kind of table the Lord prepares for us. All the good and wonderful things that He gives to me, none of which I deserve. And so often, I will turn my nose up at it and walk away in search of something better. And every time, I discover that nothing I find on my own will ever satisfy me.

The fall of 2007 was a terrible time in my life. My marriage was falling apart and I felt like my world was ending. There were days when I really thought I might die. I couldn't see anything good in this world. I remember one very precious conversation from those dark days. It was with my sweet (and very wise) friend Josephine. I'll never forget how we sat on a park bench in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, as the October sun shone on us ...

She said to me, "Paige, God has told you that He will prepare a table for you in the midst of your enemies. And just look at the table He has prepared for you: you have friends who are upholding you in prayer, you have a place to live and such loving parents who are caring for you and your children, and even a great job has fallen into your lap. It's an amazing table, Paige. I know that things seem so very bad right now, but let's you and I try to focus on all that is good in your life. We always have reason to praise God ... always. Don't step away from the table. Just sit down and thank God for all these wonderful blessings. I know you don't feel like it right now, but you won't regret doing it either."

In the nearly two years since that conversation, I've tried not to forget that truth. That no matter how bad things seem, God has provided a table filled with goodness for me. And I can choose to complain and walk away and go find worms to eat ... or I can sit at the table which the Lord has prepared just for me and thank Him for His goodness in my life.

I have to admit that Reid later on confessed that he really just made up that story about Micah. His video was just purely fun and MIcah never had a meltdown over dinner that resulted in him trying to eat worms. Never-the-less, there is truth in Reid's story ... and Psalms 23:5 confirms this very thought. It was part challenge and part encouragement for me tonight. No doubt a message that God wanted me to hear once again.

By the way, if you enjoyed Reid's video, please leave him a comment. He's a funny guy, and I'm glad he's my brother ... well, nearly all of the time anyway.

Thoughts on Being Thankful ... even when I'm not

I'm hot. Really, really hot. Honestly, I can't ever remember when I felt hotter. What's more ... I'm tired of being hot. There. I said it. And truthfully, it really doesn't make me feel any better. In fact, wallowing in the mud of my miserable situation only makes me feel more ... well, more miserable.

We are going on two weeks since the a/c went out in this courthouse. The latest word is that it will be at least two more weeks before it is repaired. Considering that the elevator has been out since before Christmas and the word ever since has been that it will be fixed "sometime next week" ... well, I guess I'd have to say that things aren't looking good for the a/c or the elevator to be repaired anytime soon.

I could complain about my working conditions. And honestly, I think about complaining a lot. The fact is ... I'm miserable where I work. I hate climbing up the stairs every morning, feeling the temperature rise with each flight I go up. I sit in my office, not moving at all and still the sweat rolls off my back and down my face. I can't think clearly. It's hard to do any work because my mind and my body feel sluggish from the heat. Sometimes I think I just might die because I'm so unbearably hot. I guess what I'm trying to say is that it is hard to be positive about this situation.

And yet ... I don't think that God wants me to complain. His word tells is to be thankful in all situations and to constantly rejoice in the Lord. That doesn't sound like God wants me to sit around with a complaining, ungrateful attitude. Rather, it sounds like He wants me to constantly live in a state of gratitude, even when it is hard.

I can't tell you how many times the past couple of weeks I've asked, "You want me to be thankful and rejoice even in this miserable heat, God?"

And every time He whispers back, "Yes ... even in the miserable heat. Especially in the miserable heat. Especially when life isn't going the way you thought or dreamed or planned that it would. For that's when your attitude becomes a form of worship to me."

Then if that's what it is, Lord, then please, please change my heart!

The LORD will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the LORD. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing. Isaiah 51:3

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Giving to God Our First Fruits

I'm really enjoying my blueberry bushes. In fact, it is pretty safe to say that I love my blueberry bushes. They were a special gift to me from God. I've no doubt about that. The man across the street tells me they have been there for years and years and years. But I know that those bushes are my special gift from God ... that even as God prompted some other person to plant those bushes, He was thinking of just how much He loved me. So to say that those bushes bring me a lot of joy doesn't even begin to describe what I feel each time I step outside with my colander to collect blueberries.

The bushes are loaded with berries ... plump and juicy and sweet to the taste. I love blueberries. I adore eating them. I simply cannot get my fill. But even the chore of picking them is a blessing to me. You see, every time I step outside to pick blueberries, it seems like I am mostly alone. There is a quietness as I hang out there in my side yard ... nestling myself in the branches as I reach and stretch to select the ripest berries. My mind and my heart usually turn to God. Sometimes I pray. Sometimes I just enjoy the silence ... the simple acting of being .... of allowing my soul to simply be in the presence of almighty God.

It seems that one particular thought keeps coming to my mind over and over while I'm at the blueberry bushes ... this idea of "first fruits." It's not something that we talk about a lot in regular conversation. In fact, I don't know that I've ever even heard someone use the words "first fruits" unless it was a preacher in the pulpit or a new mom telling all about her baby's fascinating new eating habits ... and yet, God has this to say about first fruits:

Bring the best of the first fruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God. Exodus 23:19

Wow. I don't know if I ever paid attention to that verse ... or truly even realized it was there in the Bible. And yet this particular verse keeps coming to my mind as I pick my blueberries. I've been trying to allow God to speak to me on this, so what I'm about to write hasn't been checked or researched. It's mostly what I've been observing on my blueberry bushes and what I think God is trying to show me. As Joel would say, "This isn't fact. It's just what I think I might know."

It seems to me that the first fruits off my blueberry bushes were just naturally plumper and juicier and sweeter. As the season has gone on, the berries have become a little smaller, a little harder and a littler more tart. I've also noticed that when I pick the ripe berries, the ones on the same stem that haven't ripened yet are then able to grow to a larger size ... compared to when I don't pick the ripe berries immediately, the ones that aren't ripe yet tend to ripen more slowly and never grow as big.

I've wondered this ... could it be true that in our lives the first fruits of any labor get more of our energy, more of our excitement and more of our efforts so that the first portion is truly the best of the best? If that's the case, I want to give God that portion. He deserves my best efforts, my best in everything. His portion should come first simply because it is a way I can show Him my adoration. Giving God my first fruits is then a form of worship.

Additionally, I noticed the verse said to bring the best of your first fruits. What I've noticed with my own blueberry bushes is that at the beginning of the season, there really was a larger selection to choose from. Even though my bushes are loaded now, the selection isn't quite as good as it was 2 weeks ago. At the beginning, I could choose the best of the best, a high quality. I want to give God my very best, so I should give him my first fruits so that He really does receive the highest quality I've got to give.

Finally, it seems to me that in picking the "first fruits" it allows the rest of the fruits to grow into plumper, juicier, sweeter fruits. I'm not a scientist, but here is my thought: When I pick the ripe blueberry, it allows the energy in the leaves to then be used on the other berries that aren't ripe yet. However, if the ripe blueberries aren't picked, then the leaves still have to send some of their energy to those berries, which means that there isn't as much energy to send to those unripened berries ... meaning they can't grow and develop and grow as large. I take that to mean that in my life when I choose to give my first fruits to the Lord, what remains behind will be blessed in a bigger way.

I'm trying to give my first fruits to God ... the first portion of my day, the first portion of my money, the first portion of my "free time", etc. It's hard. I'm sometimes selfish. I sometimes don't want to give up what I all too often see as rightfully mine. But I'm trying to see things God's way. More importantly, I'm trying to do things God's way.

(picture of my special blueberries)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Little Things

Tonight I'm feeling very thankful for lots of little things ...

... like a washer and dryer in the house. I had to have someone come out and make new washer/dryer hookups in the house, so we've been nearly a month without a washer and dryer in our home. I'm actually looking forward to doing laundry, which might be a first.

Here are some other things that I'm feeling especially grateful for tonight:

* a new skirt that is 2 sizes smaller and fits ... yes, it feels good to be healthier

* wireless internet ... just lovin' that I can be anywhere in my house with my laptop and check my email. Hey, it's new to me, even if the rest of the world has been enjoying wi-fi for quite sometime!

* about 10 pairs of cute flip-flops to choose from and a long summer season to enjoy wearing them all

* My sweet and dear friend Josephine is coming to visit in a week!!! I'm so excited about this that I don't know how I'll survive the next week.

And these are blessings in addition to some really big ones like a good job, a nice house, enough money to pay my bills, a love extended family ... and the 3 best children on the planet.

I'm not having Christmas in July ... I'm having Thanksgiving in July!

Give thanks to the God of heaven ... His love endures forever! ~ Psalm 136:26