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!