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

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Here's a copy of my latest encouraging newsletter ... The Paige Turner!

The Paige Turner July '12

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Pridefully Fearful

It's been a while since my last blog post. I can think of a million and one explanations. However, I must admit none of my reasons can sum up the main cause, one which I can barely whisper ... I am afraid.

I am afraid of sitting down to write only to find there is nothing left to say.
I am afraid I will never write anything else touching or compelling.
I am afraid God will ask me to write something hard.
I am afraid people I love with disagree with me or not like my writing.
I am afraid my words will go unread for no one will find reason to enjoy what I've written.
I am afraid others will like what I've written and expect me to write more.
I am afraid of future success.

Fear is a terrible thing. One thing I know is fear is not of God. Long ago, someone told me the words "do not be afraid" or "do not fear" appear 365 times in the Bible, or once for each day of the year. If it is important enough for God to mention 365 times, then I suppose it is a truth He wants me to embrace.

And yet I still find myself needing frequent reminders to let go of my fear for it is a huge stumbling block, sneaking in when I least expect it. Usually I bump into fear while I am still on my mountaintops, tripping and then falling to the valley of despair far below.

Three weeks ago, I spent a lovely weekend at a writer's retreat. It was a God-ordained trip from beginning to end. Fingerprints of God's orchestration were over each piece. I came home encouraged, with a plan to write and an eagerness to match. Within 48 hours of returning, I had written a devotional newsletter which I emailed to over 300 friends. The response was overwhelming. Emails upon emails of encouraging words. For a few days, I was high on cloud nine, beaming from the brightness of success and ready to see where God would take me.

As the intense joy of first success floated away and the hard work of moving forward crept in, a dark cloud of fear swept in over me. Now I am afraid.

What if I cannot reproduce another devotional, especially now that I've committed to writing one each month?
What if I manage to write the next one but no one enjoys it?
What if this grows to be a thing that is too big for me to handle?
What if I am not ready to write for the purpose of sharing God's love with others?
What if I don't know what I am talking about and I lead people the wrong way?
What if ... what if ... what if...

There is only one source for all that fear and for each of those questions: Satan. He sneaks in to steal joy, to sow seeds of fear, to uproot God-given desires, to rob us of the pleasure of doing what we love for the glory of our Savior.

Tonight I pondered being afraid. I considered my fear of success as well as my fear of failure. This much I know is true ... I'd rather succeed at failing by giving it my best shot than fail at succeeding because I wouldn't even try.

The best way I know to succeed is to seek the Lord, for in Him resides my only hope. In 2 Chronicles 26:5, it is said of King Uzziah, "He sought God during the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God. As long as he sought the LORD, God gave him success." Later on, Uzziah becomes prideful, believing his success is due to his own great abilities. It is said in the Proverbs, "Pride goes before a fall." Pride brings Uzziah to his downfall as king, and pride is what prevents me from writing.

My fear of not being able to write anymore is not based on facts nor do they have any validity. It is simply the direct result of my own personal pride. I think that I've done a great job writing and I give all the accolades to myself, therefore I now worry I will not again produce something of a similar quality.

The truth is that I can't reproduce another devotional. In fact, I can't do much of anything on my own, except for mess up. But praise God I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)

Tonight I am on my knees, praying for forgiveness of giving into fear, allowing it grow in my heart. I am giving the act of writing words (which I love so much) back to God. He gave the gift of writing to me and allows me to enjoy putting words on paper. Like Hannah who gave her longed-for baby boy back to God, I will give all of that which was given to me back to the One who is known as the Giver of All Good Gifts.

This is my prayer: Whatever measure of success that I have through writing, whether is is big or small, whether it is published or never even makes it to my personal blog, may each word that comes from me be for the glory of God. To God be the glory for great things He has done.

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Morning Dilemma

It was a dark and stormy morning ...

At the writer's retreat I recently attended, I learned that this is not a good way to start off a best selling novel. It's probably not the best way to start off this blog post either, however, it is true.

It's dark, thanks to a combination of heavy cloud cover and daylight savings time. It's storming, complete with heavy rain, bright flashes of lightening, rumbling thunder and gusts of wind. Perfect laying in the bed and sleeping in weather.

And I have someplace to go ... with all five kids ... all the way across town.

It's a dark and stormy morning, and I just feel like staying in the bed. I won't. I'm going to be responsible and get my attitude together and do what a good mom should do, but for right now I'm wishing I could just crawl back under the blankets and sleep to the sound of rain falling.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Free At Last

Yesterday was a comedy of errors ... well, at least the afternoon and evening turned out to be that way. I suppose it was because we had too many important things to do in a very short time, and somehow when a day like that shows up on the calendar, Murphy's Law kicks in and time actually begins to work against you.

At 3:15 pm, all seven of us, along with the kid's luggage, piled into the van and headed out. We should have enough time to take care of all our business and still easily make it to meet my children's father at 6 pm. But even the best laid plans don't always work out like we anticipate.

Traffic was insane.
The process to turn in 4-H record books was not nearly as speedy as anticipated..
Jon's ex was later than expected to pick up the girls.
We had to turn around and go back home.
Traffic was insane.
Jon's work called ... three times.
We needed gas.
Traffic was insane.

When it first became apparent at 4:30 that we wouldn't be at our meeting spot by 6 pm, I sent Matt a text to alert him of our delay. I called him at 5 pm and gave him an update on our situation, offered to feed the children supper (which he refused), and gave him our expected time of arrival, which was 6:45 pm.

When we pulled into the parking lot to safely deliver the children to their father, the clock in the car read 6:47 pm and I could immediately tell that Matt was peeved. Actually, he was more than peeved. He was angry with me, put out by my delay in his schedule. As I opened the door, he didn't greet me or respond to my pleasantries. In fact, during the entire 2 minute exchange of children, he refused to talk to me or make eye contact, even though I needed to show him a medication that one of the kids needed to take. More than just a cold shoulder, I was being punished with the dreaded iceberg shoulder.

I have to say that this behavior was much more effective when I was married to him. In those years, this sort of response (which was a weekly, and often daily, occurrence) would have made my blood run cold. I feared this punishment. I crave communication and as a people pleaser I have this deep-seated need to know that people are okay with me. As the years of our marriage passed, I learned that there was no way to ever predict when something would set him off. By the end of our marriage, I constantly walked around on egg shells in fear of doing or saying something that would result in my punishment.

After our divorce, I went to counseling. It wasn't easy, but somehow I learned not to walk on egg shells in fear of Matt, to not tremble in his presence, to accept that my behaviors may not please him and yet that didn't mean I was necessarily misbehaving. Yet still that reaction of his would still make my blood run cold. Try as I might, whenever I did or said something that set him off, it still caused me to second guess myself and my own intentions. I desperately wanted to learn to let go of the fear of his reactions, but I never got to the point of being able to fully be in that frame of mind. The closest I came was learning to quickly let go of that initial feeling of fear so that his reaction didn't control me anymore, and learning that lesson was terrifically hard.

So last night, it took me by surprise when I felt absolutely no fear of this rather childish man and his very immature reaction to a situation that was mostly out of my control. It seemed so juvenile and petty, similar to something a moody teen would do to a parent. He looked so pouty standing there with his bottom lip stuck out that I wanted to laugh. Somehow, I held it inside until I was back in the van with Jon ... and then I couldn't hold that laugh inside me any longer.

All the way through dinner and even on the ride back home, I randomly burst out into giggles. I was practically giddy with myself, chuckling not so much at Matt's response but rather with my own personal growth.

No longer am I training myself to push past those first gripping thoughts of "Oh, no! He's upset!"

No longer am I breathing deeply and reminding myself that I didn't misbehave to cause him emotional distress.

No longer am I fearful of what he might say (or not say).

No longer.

Wow! What a feeling! The chains that bound me for so long are gone. I couldn't help but think of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., words from an old spiritual song that he shared in his famous speech:

Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, I'm free at last!

“I sought the LORD, and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears.” Psalm 34:4

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

King Cakes, Parades and Beads ... Oh, My!

Today is Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, my first one in the heart of Louisiana's Cajun country. I can honestly say that I've never seen anything quite like this before in my life.

The past month the carnival-type atmosphere has been ever so slowly building to this huge peak of crazed excitement. Newspapers are filled with pictures of grown women decked out in gaudy garments ... feathers and sequins galore. They give themselves titles ... queen, lady-in-waiting, ambassador and the like. They claim to hail from foreign, often mystical, lands and bring with them bizarre gifts. They band together in Krewes, hosting magnificent parties on a scale like none I've ever known before.

Everyone eats King cake, a scrumptious cinnamon-roll type dessert which can be filled with an astounding number of puddings, creams, fruits and other such fillings. We ate them in north Louisiana, but not in the same manner as our southern Louisiana brothers and sisters. All I can say is that these people are serious about their King cake.

Sweet Meg wanted to buy us all King cake for Mardi Gras. Her precious little arms flung around me in a giant hug and she said, "GiGi, how can we have Mardi Gras without a King cake?" I didn't bother to tell her that we don't celebrate Mardi Gras. Instead, we took her $15 and headed out to fight the holiday traffic. Meche's Donut King is the local bakery that is the home of Lafayette's best King cake. As we neared the shop, we could see that the business was crowded. Cars crawled in and out of the street to get into the minuscule parking lot which was teeming like a knocked-down anthill with people making a steady stream in and out of the store.

(Forgive me, but I must make a quick side note. Why is it that popular, local places must always have tiny parking areas and be located in the most out of the way places? For business success, I would suggest that one find a small, dark, hole-in-the-wall sort of building with no parking area to speak of and set up shop there!)

Back at Meche's Donut King, the kids and I had no problem finding the section of King cakes. In fact, there was absolutely no missing the gigantic tower of boxes. There must have been 50 varieties. Customers grabbed 3 and 4 boxes at a time, one of this flavor and another of that. They offered helps to each other ..."I've got a Bavarian creme over here!" and "Has anyone seen a blueberry cream cheese? That's my son's favorite and I promised him I'd bring one of those home." As we stood in the middle of that scene in a dazed sort of awe, Joel whispered in a shocked tone, "Look at the way these people are snatching up King cakes ... I guess they take the name Fat Tuesday literally!"

In the chaos, I searched in vain for a sign telling how much King cakes cost. Finally, I had no choice but to get into the long checkout line at the counter and talk to one of the clerks, who were checking out King cakes so fast that it made my head whirl. After several long minutes, I got my chance to ask ... $22 for one small King cake. Meg looked so sad, but we all quickly reassured her that just she couldn't afford the king of King cakes didn't mean that we couldn't find a more affordable option. True to our word, we somehow managed to find a cheaper version of this highly prized dessert. Perhaps it wasn't the king of King Cakes, but we all enjoyed the fact that at the Target bakery we could afford to bring home two different varieties and still have money to spare.

King cake by itself doesn't do a true Mardi Gras celebration justice. Parades are another huge part of the culture, and there has been no shortage of parades during the past week. Most days there are two or three parades, blocking off streets and piling up traffic for hours. Jon and I took the kids to the Queen's parade, which is supposed to be one of the biggest and nicest parades. Floats rolled by, filled with children and adults in elaborate costumes. Beads and cups flung everyone as people yelled, "Throw me something!"

As the kids rushed around madly collecting the loot, Jon leaned over and whispered, "This is a great place to come get cups! It's all free, and now we won't have to go out and buy any!" That's certainly a man's perspective. I wouldn't exactly call plastic Mardi Gras cups the sort of thing I want to store in my kitchen cabinets and pull out for our dinner guests to use.

The kids enjoyed the parade, but as we walked back they all lamented that their necks hurt from the weight of the beads. Joel, the only one who chose not to wear his beads and instead lugged them in a bulging plastic grocery sack, commented, "You get so many beads at these Mardi Gras parades that it practically makes you a hoarder!"

I couldn't help but sort of agree with him, not about the beads so much but about the over-the-top opulence and the excessive grandeur. I can't see how any of this makes my relationship with Christ stronger. In fact, it seems so directly opposed to the things that Christ commands us to do ... give to the needy and help those in need. I imagine that the amount of money spent on meaningless things (float decorations, beads and plastic cups, costumes laden with sequins and feathers) was staggering. This doesn't even include the money spent by families on carnival rides, cotton candy, purple and green and gold t-shirts or hats or wigs. I am quite certain that the amount of money spent in Lafayette alone would have fully funded the adoption of several of the special needs orphans (like these at Reese's Rainbow). That money could have feed the hungry, clothed the poor, purchased Bibles for those without.

Beginning tomorrow with Ash Wednesday, there will be much sacrifice for the 40 days of Lent and while I understand the importance of learning to fast (from food or entertainment or other pleasures) for a period of time in order to seek a deeper relationship with God. Certainly, I do not doubt the sincerity of those who give up something for Lent. I am sure it can be a meaningful part of preparing one's heart for the glory of Easter Sunday. And yet I struggle to find the meaning in the extravagant celebrations before the season of sacrifice.

On the way home last night, I felt sort of sick at my stomach, wondering how something that was probably in the beginning intended for spiritual good turned into something so lacking in the things of Christ. I'm still not sure how I feel about it all, but this is where I live and so I expect that I'll be learning to live with the feverish celebration of Mardi Gras for quite some time. I can't help but recall the words of King Solomon in Proverbs 21:3 ... "to do what is right and just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice."

But last night God spoke in His ever quiet voice ... "Paige, remember that I am a Master at taking something and creating it new again, for beads can be redeemed and turned into something far better." My children and I will be collecting Mardi Gras beads for charity, giving back something meaningless that was thrown away in hopes that it can be turned jewels that we can thrown down before my Savior's feet.

...fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying:

“You are worthy, O Lord,
To receive glory and honor and power;
For You created all things,
And by Your will they exist and were created.”
(Revelation 4:10-11)

Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 21:5)

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Unstoppable

I can't say that I ever wanted to be here. I wasn't exactly opposed to coming, but I couldn't find a reason to come. Of course, I never really asked God what He thought about it. I just sort of assumed He felt the same way I did ... going would be more of a hassle than a blessing.

Writing it down in black and white this way makes it glaringly negative. At the time, I just saw it as the way I felt. Even so, it was a negative attitude then and now I can see that.

I had my reasons, at least I thought of them as reasons. Truly, it was just a pile of excuses.

It cost too much money and I'd have to figure out a way to wiggle it into our already tight budget. There really isn't much room to wiggle there as it is!

Who would homeschool the five children?

What if Jon would have to be on a business trip during that time?

I don't sleep well away from home and so "camping" in a room with other ladies didn't sound like much of a restorative retreat to me. To me, retreat means I'll come home refreshed, not with bags under my eyes!

On and on and on the list of "reasons" grew. I never asked God what He thought about those reasons. I just assumed that all of my reasons were His reasons too.

Have you ever noticed that when God wants something to be it just sort of happens? It's like trying to stop a train steaming straight ahead and full speed. Nothing gets in His way. God is unstoppable. No one can control Him. We might as well not even try.

I tried hard not to come to this retreat. I ignored the announcements at church. When my husband mentioned it, I quickly told him that I wasn't going. When my pastor's wife encouraged me to come, I spouted off one of my many compelling reasons. I wouldn't even consider the idea.

Obviously, God felt differently. I am here now. One by one by one all of my reasons fell by the wayside. A friend paid for me to come and ensured I'd have a room to myself in order to truly rest. My husband promised to take off work and homeschool the five children.

Suddenly, without even trying, I was signed up to go. I wondered how it happened until I remembered that God is unstoppable and try as I might I could not stop what He had ordained. I resigned myself to going on the retreat with about as much enthusiasm as a 3 year old marching off to naptime.

The week of the retreat Satan tried hard to worm his way into the plans. I guess he forgot that part about God being unstoppable. My attitude was less than stellar. Hormones raging in me ... I felt like staying in bed instead of packing my bags. Joel had a nasty spider bite and I took him to the doctor who told me that he must be watched carefully because it was already infected and if it got worse he would have to be treated with IV antibiotics. Surely Jon couldn't monitor the health of Joel as well as I could ... I mean, don't you think God would rather me stay home and tend to my children? Jon reassured me that he had it all under control and I should just go on as planned.

Now I am here ... in the woods, alone with God. And God was right. I needed this retreat. Why am I surprised about this? Not only is God unstoppable, He also knows Every little thing. Not one minute detail escapes Him.

Later on, I hope to share something of what I've learned. But for now, it has been enough for me to remember that my plans are not God's plans. And when God has a plan for me (which He says He has good plans for me in Jeremiah 29:11), I cannot do anything to stop Him ... no matter how hard I might try.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Finding Beauty

Every morning I do the same routine, following the same little rituals in order to feel ready to start the day. Except for on mornings when I need a bit more self-confidence. One those mornings I tend to add an extra step ... I talk to myself.

I tell myself how lovely my hair looks or how my eyeshadow brings out the blue in my eyes. I comment on my sweet smelling perfume or my perfectly coordinating jewelry. It doesn't seem to matter that I'm the one doling out the compliments. I somehow respond internally to these words of affirmation and feel infinitely more beautiful.

This extra ritual works so well that I have often wondered why I don't do it every morning. What I've come to believe is that I am afraid it will stop working and then I will be lacking confidence when I need it most.

I cannot remember a morning when I've woken up feeling beautiful. In fact, I cannot say that I recall very many times in which I felt like I was pretty. I know that there are so many women who struggle with body image as well, but my body image has always been especially low.

As a relatively young girl of 9 or 10, I remember looking into the mirror and thinking that if someone saw a photo of just my eyes that they might think I was actually a beautiful girl. I also thought that if you then showed my entire face, that same person might not believe that such an unattractive girl could have such pretty blue eyes. As if to only pound in that idea, in high school there was a competition to find the girl with the most beautiful eyes. My classmates elected me to be one of the representatives of our class, and a photo was take of just my eyes and placed on a bulletin board along with all of the other girls in the competition. I quickly realized that I was perhaps the most unpopular girl in the contest and yet I came in 2nd place in the competition. I remember thinking afterwards that no one would have voted for my eye photo if they had realized that the rest of the face belonged to me.

Now I look at that sort of self-talk and see how crazy it is that I was incredibly vain about my eyes while being overly critical of the rest of my facial features. It was as if I couldn't find reassurance about my beauty even when I was given small successes and chances to feel attractive. Self-doubt and self-critism were dominate over my ability to accept who I was and feel confident of my own self-worth.

As a young woman, I was diagnosed with PCOS. It's an incurable, hormonal syndrome that affects many body systems. It wrecks a body and robs a woman of the very things that make her feminine as it slowly chips away at the self-esteem. Thinning scalp hair; unwanted body hair on the face, arms and back; weight gain; inability to lose weight despite diet and exercise; infertility; acne, skin tags, dark patches of skin on face ... the list goes on and on.

Over the past two decades, I've struggled to accept who I am as a woman, shedding floods of tears and weeping agonizing prayers to God asking Him to take it away. In the process, I take two or three steps forward only to take those same two or three steps back. It's the dance of my life as I battle my own body image and learn to love myself for who God created me to be.

We are six weeks into 2012, and I've been on an emotional roller coaster for most of that time. I'll be celebrating my 40th birthday in September and I'm struggling with that particular milestone. On top of that, I'm dealing with recovering from the severe anxiety and panic attacks of 2011. Somewhere in all of that, I began to battle with self-esteem and body image again. It's the same old song sung to the same old tune, just a different verse.

Two nights ago I was up at 3 am, praying as silent tears rolled down my cheeks. I typed words, begging God again to help me lay the burden of PCOS down before His throne, to find beauty in who I was not because of me but because of Him. As the rain fell outside and the clock on the wall ticked the night away, I wrote the words that follow:

Father God, I want to feel fully woman, to be able to lose weight, to not be ashamed or self conscious of my appearance. I want to have a body that works normally in honor of your temple, instead of feeling like my body is run down and junky. I want to live a healthy life so that I am honoring where you reside ... in me!

Yet I am ashamed of the way I look.
I am ashamed of my thinning hair.
I am ashamed of the hair on my body in places where it should not be.

Father, help me.

There is the silence of the quiet night house, I heard God’s response to me: I was born in a barn, among the animal stalls. A manger is not clean nor is it beautiful ... and yet, Paige, what more beautiful place could there have been? Do not forget. I bring beauty to all places, and I bring beauty to all people who trust in Me. Beauty is defined in Me.

Peace ... peace from the inner struggle, peace from the doubt, peace from the fear, peace for the night.

I still don't wake up feeling beautiful, but today I'm not so consumed with my own perceived lack of beauty. And I'm learning again to embrace the words of Psalm 45:11 ...
The King is enthralled by your beauty; honor Him, for He is your Lord.

For My Valentine

The picture was sweet ... an elderly couple holding hands and beaming at each other. The newspaper article said that they had been married for 71 years. Imagine that. Seven decades of love. Some might shake their heads and ponder that sort of commitment. Not me.

When Jon asked me to be his bride, I told him what he already knew. I wouldn't settle for less than a lifetime of love. And then I surprised him by saying that I expected him to live to be 101 years and 2 days old, just so we could celebrate our 60th anniversary. Jon laughed. I think he thought I was joking, but I wasn't. In fact, I remind him of my expectations often.

My marriage is young yet, just 13 1/2 months old. I suppose to some who have been married for decades it seems like such an incredibly short time. We still get comments about how the honeymoon must not have ended yet. I always respond with a smile and say that I hope it never does!

And yet ... there's this lingering fear that it might. After all, don't all marriages go through bad times, seasons where the love isn't as strong and the romance has faded and the honeymoon is obviously over? Jon expressed this thought to our pastor during lunch this past Sunday, and we were both surprised by his reply. He basically said that he didn't buy that idea that love in a marriage fades. He said that he had been married nearly 30 years and that he could honestly say that his marriage hasn't gone through periods like that. He admitted that romance looked differently now than it did in the beginning and that their love had matured as the years had passed. He also commented that the Bible gives us the tools to keeping the love alive in our marriages, such as not letting the sun go down on our anger.

Maturing love ... I like that. Furthermore, I want that in my marriage. I want a love that grows deeper and stronger, instead of one that wilts and fades like the dozen roses given to a valentine.

Our love may not be a mature love now, but I am committed to growing in that love for a lifetime.

Audrey Assad - Ought To Be (Lyric Slideshow) from emimusic on

Monday, February 13, 2012

Lost in Translation

This past week my friend asked me to help her translate the Bible verse God is Love into sign language. That sounds incredibly easy ... just three small words. Yet, there is a problem, and a rather significant problem at that.

In ASL (American Sign Language) there are no "be" verbs. For example, instead of signing "I am going to the store," you would sign "I going to store." In most situations, this method works out fine and the intended meaning can be easily understood.

Somehow though, God love didn't quite fulfill the message shared in that simple Bible verse. And Love God gave a totally different meaning to the scripture, even if it was no less important. My friend discussed the possibility of using the word equal in place of is, but we questioned if the phrase God equal love fully convey the message of the scripture? It was debatable, but in the end it was the best we came up with for signing that verse.

Fortunately, for my friend and I, this isn't an extremely serious communication problem. We are both hearing people teaching a class full of hearing pupils. Our sign language class is part of a homeschool co-op and is being taught to 3rd-6th graders who want to know more about how to sign. These children can hear us say the words God is love and understand the meaning. The meaning of our words won't be lost in translation.

When we translate words, we put them in another language, or if possibly restating in the same language using different words so that the message is better explained. Either way, the point of translation is to find another way of getting the meaning across to the listener or reader. If I want to translate my words into Spanish or French or German or sign language, I might have to settle for words that just closely mean what I'm saying. There will be nuances of subtle differences. And for the most part, I'm okay with that.

Still, for the past few days, I've been pondering about this idea of translation. Obviously the act of translating words from one language into another isn't an exact science and meaning can get changed or lost as a result. How does translating work when the stakes are higher? What if the group of children weren't hearing kids just learning a few signs but rather it was a group of deaf children in a Sunday School class? I would want to make sure that my translation of God is love was as accurate as possible so that I was conveying the full meaning with them.

I wondered how missionaries manage to explain God to someone who speaks a different language, especially to those in populations and people groups who have never heard of Christ and there is no Bible in their native tongue. How can you begin to explain God and who He is to those people?

Which brings me to another thing I've thought about many times, and that is the translation of the many versions of the English Bible? My Bible certainly isn't in its original Greek and Hebrew. Am I losing ideas or understandings about God which I cannot get from reading my Bible because of the process of translation?

The Bible is a different sort of book. It was written over the span of thousands of years. Many men from a wide variety of backgrounds helped to author the book, though in actuality the book has but one author ... God Himself. The Bible is part historical, part prophecy, part poetry and part law. Most importantly, the Bible was divinely-inspired by God and its words are like none other for they are living words.

Living words ... For the word of God is alive and active. Hebrews 4:12

Living words that reveal God to us ... He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Luke 24:45

Living words that imparts the truths of God to us and makes us wiser, teaches us how to live, ... All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Living words that do not change with time and last forever ... The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever. Isaiah 40:8

Living words that change our hearts of stone ... Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. James 1:21

Living words that heal our hurts ... This is my comfort in my affliction, for Your word has given me life. Psalm 119:50

Living words that encourage us to keep the faith ... Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4

Living words that remind us that we have a future in Christ ... They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed. But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy." 1 Peter 2:7-10

When I think about all of those truths, I truly believe that the words of the Bible cannot get lost, no matter how many languages into which it might be translated. However just for the sake of argument, I will ask that looming question ... What if? What if the meaning of the Bible was not accurately portrayed and something was lost over the past 2000 years?

Even then, we are without excuse for knowing God.

From the creation of the world His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse. Romans 1:20

Everything declares the majesty and glory of God. That's why God can never be lost in translation, as long as we are willing to just listen to His still, small voice.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Revelation 3:22

Friday, February 3, 2012

A Year and a Day

They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-tree grows ...

~Edward Lear, from his poem The Owl and the Pussycat

It's been a year and a day. Exactly 366 days have come and gone since my husband Jon underwent open heart surgery and had a mechanical mitral valve put into his heart. The story of how he came to need a second open heart surgery just 18 months after the first one and of how he came to receive a rather miraculous healing that brought him back from the brink of death two times is one we've told over and over in the past year that I wonder if it will ever cease to amaze me.

So many times during that long period of medical mayhem I thought we had come to the end. I would anticipate healing and health, which was my hope on the morning of February 2nd as we waited for Jon's surgery to begin. I anticipated that within a short period of time he would be feeling better. I had no idea that sickness would continue to last through the spring. Jon was so sick that there were many days when I feared we were coming to an end, the final earthly ending. There were nights of endless tears, days of endless prayers, moments when I felt as if my very body were being ripped apart with the pain of losing this man who had become my other half. I grasped for shreds of hope as I pleaded heart and soul for a happy ending to our story.

One particular conversation with Jon's doctor stuck out in my head, and I clung tightly to his words, hoping they were prophetic, yet fearing they would never come to pass.

"This healing will be slow, but I believe that in the fall Jon will be like a new man ... full of health and energy. And by this time next year this will all be just a bad memory."

In the fall ... healing.
In a year ... a bad memory.

I repeated them to myself like a mantra on the worst days:

In the fall ... healing.
In a year ... a bad memory.

I pondered them quietly on Jon's better days:

In the fall ... healing.
In a year ... a bad memory.

As it turns out, Jon's doctor was mostly right. In the fall, we noticed that Jon was practically a new man. He was gaining weight and feeling energetic. His coloring was good. It came to pass that in the fall there was healing.

And now we've come to the second marker for a year has passed. But this is where Jon's doctor was wrong. There is nothing left to this story but a memory, only it's not a bad memory as was suggested. Rather the memory of those dark days are bittersweet. I certainly don't want to go back and relive that time. I'm glad that they have come to an ending, and a happy ending at that. But the memories of how God blessed us, worked through others to love us, showed Himself near to us, and bonded us together in a way I never dreamed possible ... well, all I can say is that the memories of those days are so very precious to my heart that I would never wish that we had not gone through that time.

Last night as I realized we were at this unusual anniversary, the thought came to me that this is the place where the Bong-tree grows ... a place of contentment, of peace. The journey on the unknown sea has ended, at least for now, and there is this island moment of rest and reprieve. Because of the journey I cherish these days, for Jon and I are together.

"Hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon, the moon, the moon.
They danced by the light of the moon."

~Edward Lear, from the poem The Owl and the Pussycat

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Tea Tree Oil Miracle

The first time I saw it I nearly fainted. It was larger than a dime and stuck up at least half of an inch off of his big toe. This was one monster-sized wart.

As I gazed at my preteen boy's foot, I had to wonder exactly how long this ugly, black plantar wart had been there, and why he never thought to show it to me. I also had a sickening feeling that no amount of wart remover was going to make this thing go away.

Sure enough ... a week of OTC treatments had only yielded blistered healthy skin while the wart seemed to loom bigger than ever. I was resigned to the fact that this wart was going to have to be frozen off. When I mentioned something about scheduling an appointment to Joel, he promptly began to freak out in a feverish fit of anxiety. This is the boy who doesn't like to have his hair cut or his back scratched. Truly, he was anxious enough about me applying wart remover twice a day. How on earth would I ever get him to sit still while some doctor poked at the wart and then attempted to remove it with liquid nitrogen.

That's when Jon said, "Darling, have you tried the tea tree oil? Maybe it cures warts too ..."

Honestly, I hadn't even thought to try it, but now that Jon mentioned it I figured it couldn't hurt. After all, it had gotten rid of a nasty case of head lice when nothing else seemed to work and it had made a toe nail fungus disappear. Besides, just the thought of having to hold down my thrashing son while some doctor tried to grab hold of his foot was making me sweat. So as I put a drop of tea tree oil on the wart and covered it with a bandaid, I told my son that this was our last resort before we saw a doctor and breathed a prayer that somehow the tea tree oil would work its magic once again.

The next morning the wart didn't look nearly as menacing to me. I figured it was just my wishful hopes but applied more tea tree oil to the wart and prayed again for some sort of miraculous wart healing.

That very night, Jon looked at the wart and said, "Wow! That thing is definitely smaller." I felt more hopeful, but not ready to believe that it would really work. Yet, 2 days later that there was no doubt that the tea tree oil was doing something to that wart.

Until 6 or 7 years ago, I had never even heard of tea tree oil. I really didn't know much about it other than it was some sort of natural remedy. I figured I really didn't have any need for it.

Last winter, Jon and I were married and I moved my children into his home. Three days later after the mover's dropped off my furniture and belongings, Jon's daughter Maddie was sent home from school with head lice. It was her third time that school year. Jon had already spent a small fortune on head lice shampoo, but we hit the pharmacy and bought the strongest stuff we could find. With unpacked boxes piled up around me, I began the painfully slow process of picking nits from her head and washing every stitch of bedding.

Five kids, five heads, five sets of sheets and pillows, untold numbers of stuffed animals ... the battle of the lice seemed rather overwhelming to say the least. We never found a single louse or nit on any other head. And yet, for weeks on end we continued to find nits in Maddie's hair. We got prescriptions from the pediatrician and used every brand of lice shampoo available. We slathered her head in olive oil in a vain attempt to smother the lice. Nothing worked.

Nothing, that is, until a friend suggested we use tea tree oil. Miraculously, within 3 days, we were lice-free, nit-free. After the lice had been gone for a full month, I breathed a prayer of thanks to God and put the tea tree oil up in the medicine box, hoping never to use it again, but relieved to know it was there if we ever had a child come home with head lice again.

Several months later, Jon had an accident in which his toe nail was horrifically ripped off his toe. It was a toenail that had been infected with a fungus that nothing had been able to cure for many years. As the toe nail began to regrow, Jon decided to apply tea tree oil to it. Religiously each morning he applied a drop of tea tree oil to the nail. Lo and behold, the once discolored nail grew back in healthy and strong. Again we were amazed at the wonders of the healing powers of tea tree oil.

The painless shrinking of Joel's wart into oblivion was the third time tea tree oil had surprised us by doing what nothing else seemed to be capable of doing, especially expensive medications and ointments and cremes. I wondered what else tea tree oil might be able to do, and the list I found was quite impressive.

Tea tree oil is a natural essential oil that is antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal. It is an effective first aid treatments for skin infections, cuts, scrapes, burns, insect bites and even fading skin spots. You can use it to effectively treat nail fungus, ringworm, athlete's foot, dandruff, acne, lice, mites, and scabies. Tea tree oil soothes and disinfects, yet it is also capable of penetrating into the lower skin layers. It is an expectorant,s o it can be used to treat infections of the respiratory tract. Tea tree oil should never be ingested, but even so it is a powerful, all-natural treatment. (You can find out more about tea tree oil by visiting this website: )

Tea tree oil is amazing on its own, but even more so when compared with more modern OTC or even prescription treatments which don't heal as effectively and often have other unwanted side effects. However, in all honestly, this really shouldn't be all that surprising because tea tree oil was created by an amazing God.

Now that I've discovered tea tree oil, my medicine box is growing much, much smaller. Perhaps yours will too ...

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The White Rat's Tale

Large,white body.
Pointy pink nose with long whiskers.
Small, beady, black eyes.
Long, furless, pink tail.

It was a rat alright. A rather large, white rat. So what was it doing sitting on the bottom of a shopping cart outside the Dollar General store? And why was it so oddly calm in the presence of humans?

When I first spotted it, the rat was scaling up the cart. It met my eyes and paused. We looked at each other for several long moments, no more than two feet separating us. Normally, I am not a rodent person, but somehow I got the distinct impression that this rat was not your normal run-of-the-mill rat.

The store clerk said that the rat had been inspecting the shopping carts for over an hour. Before that, it had investigated several other empty store fronts along the mostly empty strip mall. "Why," I wondered aloud, "has this rat chosen to hang out by the one door where humans made a steady stream in and out?"

I pondered this strange white rat for the rest of the afternoon, wondering how he came to be outside the Dollar General. Was this someone's pet? Perhaps it was an escapee from a local pet store ...

The more I thought about the rat's unlikely situation, the more it occurred to me that I should be like that rat. I should resemble one who is out of place.

You see, I don't particularly notice the pigeons outside the Dollar General. Nor do I pay close attention to all the dogs being walked on leashes in our neighborhood park. These are natural in those environments. They fit right in and there is nothing odd or striking about them. I see them, but they do not make me pause and wonder.

The rat, on the other had, was strangely out of place. I noticed it and I couldn't seem to help myself from thinking further about it. In fact, it consumed a larger portion of my afternoon than I truly care to admit.

As a Christ-follower, this world is not my home. Christ calls us to be in the world but not of the world ... to be as a traveler far from home. I'm not supposed to fit in or blend in. There are days when I feel discouraged because it seems I'm trying to fit into a place I don't belong, like the proverbial square peg trying to fit into the round hole. In reality, because of my faith in Christ, I'm suppose to be different, to not fit, to cause others to ponder what exactly it is that makes me different. My job is not to make Christ more palatable to the rest of the world, but rather to be strange enough to cause others to stop and think and ponder what it is that makes me so different.

I'm sure I'll never know why that unafraid white rat was hanging out by the Dollar General earlier this week, and how it got to be in such an out-of-place state, but I do know why I feel like a stranger in this world just longing to go to the place I truly belong.

Don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Autobiographical Poetry

Today we wrote poems ... autobiographical poems. You should have heard the laughing at the table and the obvious pleasure they had when reading their personal poems out loud for the rest of us to hear. This was definitely the highlight of our school time today.

The kids all gave me permission to share with my handful of readers. Enjoy!

Magical, happy, creative, brown-eyed
Daughter of Jon Hamilton
Lover of animals, sweets, writing
Who feels joyful, gleeful, excited
Who needs tender love and care
Who fears roaches, sharks, sudden death
Who gives compassion, kindness, and love
Who would like to see Hawaii, The Nutcracker, and Japan
Resident of Lafayette, Louisiana

Organized, realistic, kind, dutiful
Sister of 3 sisters and 3 brothers
Lover of food, God, music
Who feels happy, loved by my family, young
Who needs a family, God, love
Who fears God, sharks, hiking at night alone
Who gives joy, love, gifts
Who would like to see Florida, California, heaven
Resident of Lafayette, LA

Creative, joyful, affectionate, adventurous
Sister of Maddie
Lover of pet fish, cupcakes, and World Vision
Who feels happy, joyful, playful
Who needs Sushi*, sweets, family
Who fears God, balloons popping, atomic toilets**
Who gives cheefulness, kindness, gladness
Who would like to see Paris, God, Hawaii,
Resident of Lafayette, Louisiana

*Sushi is the name of Julia's pet betta fish
**I have no idea what she is talking about, but this part of her poem did cause the entire table of children to break out in raucus laughter that lasted at least 5 minutes

Athletic, Pasta-lover, gotta keep track of me, tall
Brother of Nacho*
Lover of pasta, Reese's peanut butter cups, football
Who feels like tackling Nacho in football games, like eating Reese's
Who needs serious help, something good and mutant poptarts
Who gives love, peace, and mutant poptarts (since I hate them)
Who would like to see all 50 states (even though that means I went over by 47)**
Resident of Lafayette, LA

*Nacho is Joel's nickname for Nathan
**The template for this poem said to list 3 things you want to see

Humble*, great, jovial, special
Son of Matt
Lover of ice cream, legos, pasta
Who feels humble, happy, like a piece of cake
Who needs air, water, food
Who fears God, Joel tackling me, and Patrick Willis**
Who gives money, love, and probably something else
Who would like to see the SuperBowl, Mt. Rushmore, the Great Wall of China
Resident of Lafayette, LA

*Nate loves to talk about how "humble" he is and how he is a "Humbologist"
**Patrick Willis is a linebacker for the San Francisco 49'ers, just in case there is anyone else out there who (like some other unnamed person) asks the obviously dumb question: "Who is Patrick Willis?"

Intelligent, creative, blue-eyed, beautiful (or so I'm learning to believe)
Wife of one, mother of five
Lover of Christ, Jon, books, and sushi*
Who feels joyful, peaceful, full of love in Christ
Who needs hugs, kisses, and lots of chocolate
Who fears heights and snakes, but not any evil
Who gives books on birthdays, help and hugs on hard days, prayers and smiles everyday
Who would like to see Scotland, New England in the fall ... and grandchildren someday
Current resident of earth but future citizen of heaven

*And I'm talking about the food, not Julia's betta fish!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Age Old Battles

Beautiful Maddie ... so innocent, so imaginative, so youthful, so creative, so cheerfully playful. She's a little girl in a woman's body. Her clothes and her shoes are found in the women's section of the department store, but she still plays with toys and enjoys the thrills of childhood. While she looks very much like a young adult, she isn't an adult at all.

Looks can be deceiving. The young try to look older. The old try to look younger. It's an age old battle.

Sometime ago my Maddie-girl confessed a hushed secret to me, whispered in the dark as we snuggled on the sofa, "GiGi, I don't want to grow up ... ever. Being grown up is hard and I'm not sure I'm ready for that yet. I'm not sure I will ever be ready."

Growing up can be hard. I remember 13 and I'm glad to be passed those difficult years of puberty. It's an age old battle, fought by the millions, transitioning from the carefree days of childhood into the realm of adulthood responsibilities.

And yet, I have a confession to make as well ... You see, I'm fighting this age old battle, too. And I'm not sure I'm ready ... ready for 40 in just 9 more months. Furthermore, I'm not even sure that I want to be ready ... ready for middle age years and teenagers and the responsibility or changes that will come with this new season in life.

It's only January 14th and yet already 2012 has felt emotionally turbulent as this storm of resistance against aging wells up within me.

Perhaps it is simply in the knowing that this is the year I turn 40 that makes it an emotional battle. Or maybe it is in the watching my children turning from young children into preteens, putting aside the babyish toys and developing a need for deodorant, that suddenly makes me feel older. Is it finding that I am often one of the "older" moms in my homeschool groups? Somehow there is a soul shock in realizing that I am no longer the sleep-deprived mom seeking someone to give me hope, but rather I am the giver of encouragement to the mom of preschoolers and toddlers.

Whether it was just one of these things or a combination of them all, the emotions inside me are like a torrent. I want time to stand still, to stay right here and not journey on any farther. Why can't I just be a 30-something mom forever? I'm not exactly sure I will like the adventure of being 40'ish and raising teens.

Oh, I know ... It's futile to fight growing older for life doesn't work that way. Aging continues with each second that passes, with each breath of air we take into our bodies, with each morning we welcome and each night we kiss goodbye.

Why did I never notice before that the growing pains don't stop just because our bodies stop growing physically? Instead, it seems to me, that the older we get the more the growing pains hurt in the soul, in the heart, in the places you can't gently rub in the night to make the aching go away. Growing in spirit is much harder than growing in body.

And why it is that growing pains must always be so painfully hard? I suppose the simple answer is that if they weren't painful they wouldn't be called growing pains. The more complete answer might be that growing pains indicate a new phase in life, entering a new season, the coming into a new place. Change, while often a very good thing, is usually not easy, at least it has rarely been easy in my life.

Right now I'm in the trenches, battling the very idea of 40 and of growing into someone I do not yet know, a woman who is more experienced and therefore able to be an encourager and mentor to those who walk behind me in the journey of life.

But I am not alone, for this is a battle of the ages.

It's an age old battle, fought by a myriad of people and in a variety of ways. There are those who want to "grow old gracefully" and those who refuse to "grow old without a fight." I wonder how I will be, if age will suit me or if I will always feel as out of sorts as I do right now.

It's an age old battle. And whether I like it or not ...whether I'm ready or not ...whether I want it or not ...whether it's painful or not ... This is where I am in life. I'm growing up and that's a good thing.

I just didn't expect to still feel growing pains at 39.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Racing to Ten

Yesterday was my nephew Micah's birthday. He and my daughter Julia were born the same year, are in the same grade, and have always been big buddies whenever they are together.

So yesterday around lunch I told Julia that we needed to remember to call Micah and wish him a happy birthday once he got home from school. Julia agreed to help me remember and then said, "Momma, exactly how old is Micah now?"

I said, "Micah and you were both born the same year, sweetie. So today Micah turns 9 years old, just like you will be 9 years old this summer."

Julia clenched her fist, stomped her foot and said in a very annoyed voice, "Oooo ... This is so frustrating! He beat me to it again! Next year I am definitely beating him to ten!"

It's a couple of years old now, but I've always loved this picture of Micah and Julia together.

A Little Mud Slinging

This is Nathan. He is working hard at trying to repair a rather large hole that he dug this afternoon. He was digging this hole so that he could bury a time capsule that would be discovered many years from now by future generations.

Notice the red box off to the side of the photo? That's the time capsule. In a former life, the box was simple a cardboard container for some odd and random item. Nathan filled it with an assortment of treasures ... silly bands, an old DVD too scratched for us to watch, a penny, a pencil, couple of matchbox cars, a football trading card or two. He taped a note to the front (written in pencil on an index card) and prepared to bury it for people who lived far, far in the future to discover. I'm honestly not sure what these future people might have thought should his cardboard container even have survived into the future.

The hole was impressive. It was deep enough for Julia's legs to nearly be concealed when she stood inside it. The only reason I know this is because that's where the obvious mud line stops on her pants ... the new ones that she got for Christmas that have only been worn 2 times. Also because at some point Nathan proudly stated, "Well, at least I know that I can dig a hole that is nearly to Julia's waist!"

I was unaware of the hole digging going on in the yard for quite sometime, or the hole wouldn't have been nearly so deep. I've got a sinus infection and laid down for a rest. It wasn't until a frantic Megan came to me and said, "Oh, GiGi! It's just terrible! Nathan is out of control!" that I woke up. What I found was a boy that looked more like a mud monster, happily slinging mud all over the yard. The rest of his siblings were joyously encouraging him ... Maddie slinging mud back, Julia teasing him by flitting around and around and yet never close enough to hit, and Joel by filming the entire thing on his brand-new digital camera (also a Christmas gift). Meg, who hates dirt and disorder, became so distraught that she came to get me to intervene, but only because she was afraid that the mud slinging might get on the area where she was playing school with her Barbies.

In the beginning, I was too ticked (and too groggy) to take a picture of the mud monsters. Now that I have calmed down, I wish that I had. He was covered from his blond hair to his feet. His face was streaked in dried mud, his fingers caked in the thick ooze. Not an inch of his body was dirt free except that which was covered by clothing, and even then most of it was wet and dirty as well. It would have made a fine picture for future parental embarrassing.

I'm debating on how I should feel about this episode now that the initial reaction has passed. I could continue to focus on my anger over the resulting muddy mess, both inside and out. But messes can be cleaned and holes refilled so that seems a little pointless in the long run.

Perhaps I should feel proud of the fine ditch-digging son I've got. He's obviously skilled in this area. Many a fine man has dug roadside ditches and sewer lines and foundations for houses in order to provide for his family. However, I must admit with as smart as this boy is and with all of the talents given to him by his Creator, I was hoping he would aspire to something else.

I could choose to remember that this kind of activity is the very stuff boys are made of ... digging, dirt, mud, wild ideas, spur of the moment plans, larger than life projects. These very qualities that seem so childish now are the qualities that will (hopefully) mature as he ages and with a little wisdom have the potential to turn my wild little boy into a man who lives with a passion for life.

One thing is crystal clear to me right now ... my reaction will be of my own choosing. So with that in mind, I'm choosing right now to look beyond the mud and the mess to see hopefully into the heart of the boy and the future already planned out for him by God.

I'm choosing to thank God once again for this son, while I pray that someday Nathan will use all of this energy and enthusiasm for the glory of the very One who has made him this way.

And I'm choosing to spend the rest of this fine afternoon teaching a certain ten year old boy how to clean up muddy footprints with a mop and a bucket of water!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Change, Change and More Change

I've been changing and rearranging here on Paige's Pages.

Actually, changing and rearranging seems to be a theme in my life right now. Last week, I painted and redecorated Meg and Julia's room ... we made new curtains and a throw pillow for each girl's bed, painted the dresser and put new handles on the drawers, painted the metal bunk bed, painted the walls bright and happy colors. The room looks completely different now.

Today, I rearranged the living room in our home. We had taken down the Christmas tree and suddenly I wanted to do something different with the space. It wasn't major changes, but just enough to make the room feel fresh and new.

I suppose my recent fondness for changing spilled over onto changing up the blog. Truly, it needed to be revamped. I found a new template. I love the new blue look of my blog. Next, I learned how to add pages, and created this bar at the top of the blog. In all of my reading so that I could figure out how to change things up, I discovered some fun gadgets to add to my sidebar. My favorite of all the changes is a new button at the very bottom of my blog that looks like this:

The button was a "freebie" from a woman named Melanie with a beautiful heart for God. Her word of the year is "giving" and so she was giving of her talents in graphics and web design by making a word of the year button to anyone who asked. I'm glad she did ... it gives me another way to share what God is doing in my heart as I focus on the laundry in 2012. For more about Melanie, check out her blog: Only a Breath.

I guess that my new blog changes are really no different that rearranging the living room, or painting the bedroom a new color and buying new bedding to match. It's like a breath of fresh air. Suddenly I've got a new enthusiasm for blogging again. Certainly, change can be a very good thing. And thankfully, changing up a blog is not nearly as expensive as redecorating a room!

As I've thought about change, a couple of scriptures came to my mind. I love what James 1:17 has to say about God and change: Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. And then there is this scripture from Numbers 23: 19: God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?

Today, on this 4th day of a brand-new year, I'm glad for the ability to make personal changes ... big ones, small ones, significant ones or even small blog changes that really don't amount to a hill of beans. But I'm ever so grateful that I serve a God who never changes!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Let Them Eat Cake

How on earth will I ever explain this to Jon?

He will know the minute he walks into the house for the warm and welcoming scent that greets him will surely give away the secret that I've been baking. And so here I sit, not ten minutes after pulling it out of the oven, staring at the cake on my counter-top, trying to figure whatever possessed me to bake the darned thing in the first place and what possible plausible reason there might be to explain my actions.

Perhaps it was the already opened bag of chocolate chips in the pantry ...

Maybe it was the fact that I had a can of chocolate frosting leftover from Christmas goodie baking ...

It might have been just to give myself something to do for being in the kitchen and cooking up good things for my family brings me a lot of joy ...

And yet, none of these quite explains my sudden desire to bake a cake. No, the only real explanation for the cake is my own sinful nature. I want to be healthy, and yet I find myself doing things that don't result in healthy bodies. I want to keep my promise to my husband to help him be a physically healthy man, and still I struggle with a desire to bake him lots of sweets and treats. I want to help the kids grow into healthy adults who eat appropriate kinds and amounts of food, and yet I find myself giving them unhealthy food options on a regular basis.

Sigh ... That which I want to do I do not do. That which I hate, I find myself doing. It's on days like today that I simply despise having a sin nature, which is why it is good to recall that the Apostle Paul also struggled in this area:

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[c] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

~Romans 7: 14-25

Now that the cake has had time to cool, I think I'm going to slice it up and let the girls deliver it to some of our neighbors. It's okay to bake as long as someone else eats the cake!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Fish Food for Thought

On Christmas morning, as Julia rummaged in her stuffed stocking, she pulled out a small card with a fish drawn on it and the words, "What will you name me?" At first there was a confused look and then she grinned and gave an excited squeal. "Really? A fish? My very own pet?!"

Julia, our resident animal lover, was quite delighted at the prospect of becoming an official pet owner in 2012. But to her disappointment, Julia had to wait until after she returned from visiting with her father before she could go pick out her fish. She returned yesterday evening and today she could not settle down until we got her new fish.

After lunch we finally went to the store to pick out Julia's fish, and there were so many to choose from! In fact, the choices were a bit overwhelming for there was bowl after bowl after bowl of beta fish.

Julia stood on a little stool, given to her by the store manager, so that she could carefully inspect the fish. She solemnly peered into each glass container, as she silently stroked the sides of the bowls.

There were brilliant red ones, shocking blue ones, soft purples, iridescent greens, and even a shimmery gold one with bright orange and black flecks so that it resembled a leopard print.

There was a soft baby blue one with tiny black stripes. It had these short, spikey fins that somehow gave it the look of a beautiful bird feather. Maddie and I were immediately drawn to its unusual look. Julia was not impressed.

Megan pointed out this especially fancy looking fish ... a extremely vivid red one with long, fluttery fins that whipped and whorled around it in the water. The manager said, "Oh that's a Half Moon Beta. It's very pretty, but also more expensive. It costs $20."

I was preparing to tell my little girl that we were not going to buy the $20 beta fish, but then I realized that Julia wasn't interested in that one either. She was already enchanted with another fish.

I took a quick glance at the bowl only to realize that the one that she was gazing at so lovingly was absolutely the most unremarkable in a group of amazingly beautiful fish. It was a dull pale pink. The fins, which weren't overly long or especially wispy, swished and swirled as the fish darted back and forth in the water.

Julia caught my eyes and exclaimed, "Momma ... look how it follows my finger! This is the fish for me!"

So that's how it came to pass that we took home the plainest beta fish in the store. I think Maddie and Megan and I felt a little disappointed in her choice, but Julia beamed all the way home as if she knew she had found a rare treasure among all the gems.

Isn't that how it is with God too?

Hasn't He turn the scared and uncertain stutterer into a man who lead an entire nation out of slavery as they crossed over the Red Sea on dry ground?

Didn't He use the very smallest of the underdogs to overcome the impossible giant?

Remember how He found the man hiding in the threshing barn and used him to lead a tiny ragtag army into battle, only to have them defeat their unbeatable enemy in the most remarkable of ways?

And this God chose the young virgin maiden barely old enough to leave her parents as the one to bring forth His salvation.

This is our Father who long ago called to the weary fishermen, with their torn and empty nets, to bring His gospel to the far corners of the earth.

And sometimes, He even uses a plain little beta fish to remind me that His ways are not my way and that His truths stand forever for He is not a God of change. He is still calling the weary, using the small and the weak, the scared, the underdog, the wounded ... if only we are willing to be used for His glory.

Make it so in my life, Lord! Make it so!

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1: 26-31

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Tales from the Laundry Room

New Year’s resolutions depress me. It’s goal-setting at its worst ... or at least that’s the way it always seems to work out for me. Never fails that two weeks into the new year and I’m already struggling with my resolutions. Then I start feeling like a failure and beating myself up for my inability to become a better person.

I’m not against goal setting. In fact, I think it is a necessary part of life ... at least it is necessary for those who want to continue to grow and change. Goal setting itself isn’t bad. It’s just somehow combining a new year with a list of resolutions dooms me to failure.

So for the past several years, I’ve done something different. I’ve forgone the resolutions for the new year in favor of a word of the year. It works like this ... I begin to pray and ask God what he would like for me to focus on in the coming year. Over the next few days (or even weeks) a word will be impressed upon my heart. This is my word of the year and whenever I look back I can always see how I grew or changed or learned lessons relating to that word. I never know exactly how it will all come together because I am not setting the goal for myself. Rather I am yielding myself to what God wants to show me and teach me in a particular area of my life.

When I started thinking about my word for 2012, I knew that there were so very many qualities I needed to work on adding in my life: consistency, serving, training, finding joy, etc. And when I asked God which word I should focus on for the next year (in a half-hearted sort of way because for some reason I really didn't expect an answer right then and there), He immediately responded with LAUNDRY.

I am ashamed to admit this but chances are pretty good that I probably rolled my eyes at the Good Lord's suggestion. You see, I hate to do laundry. It is my personal nemesis. I dislike washing the clothes, drying the clothes, folding the clothes, putting the clothes away ... I even dislike buying laundry detergent because it is so expensive.

Over the years, I have come to realize that I dislike laundry because there is no end to this chore. If I clean the bathroom, it will remain clean for a few hours at the very least. If I mop the floor, generally it looks mopped for the next day or so. Even washing dishes is a chore that can be finished. My counters will stay mostly cleared between meals. These are jobs that I can complete.

Not so with laundry ... Just as soon as you think you have emptied the basket at long last, then it is time for bed and the basket is full again. And with 5 kids in our home, trust me ... the basket is always full, and there is always another load that needs to be washed, dried, folded and put away.

So when God immediately told me that I was going to be focusing on laundry in the coming year, my response was something like this:

"Really, God? My word for 2012 has to be LAUNDRY? Surely you must be kidding me!"

He wasn’t ... for then, in that soft and gentle way of the Holy Spirit, I began to see more than just a basket full of dirty underwear and smelly socks. In focusing on the laundry I discovered so much more:

*staying consistent in taking care of this dreaded chore
*training my children to help me share this daily burden
*joyfully serving my family by caring for them even in the most mundane of ways
*finding pleasure even in something I don't care to do
*accepting help from my husband without being critical of the way he does the laundry or feeling guilty that he is choosing to help me empty the basket

God knows I need all those qualities above. He (and I) also know that if I had a long list of New Year’s resolutions relating to all of these traits I'd either begin to feel overwhelmed, dooming myself to fail before I’d ever gotten started. And in the same way, if I made consistency, training, joyfully serving, accepting help, etc as my words for the year, I'd likely forget which words I was focusing on and not make any headway at all in my personal growth. God knows that I won't forget the word LAUNDRY. In fact, laundry is something I must do each and every day. And now that God has gotten my attention regarding laundry duty in 2012, chance are that I will not forget what God has promised to teach me through something as mundane and despised as laundry duty.

Now that I understand what I can learn and the possibilities of what God can show me, I'm a bit more eager to go wash a load of clothes. Hopefully my enthusiasm doesn't wane before Valentine’s Day!