This is a completely true story . It happened to my family Christmas Eve 2012.
The chiming of the doorbell broke the silence of the night.
Jon and I looked at each other in surprised alarm, and then our eyes instantly went toward the clock on the wall. It was nearly 10 pm.
“Who could that be at this time of night?” Jon mused . “And on Christmas Eve.”
Until the doorbell interrupted us, Jon and I had been talking as we in the soft glowing light of the decorated Christmas tree. The kids already been in bed for more than an hour, but preparing for Christmas morning hadn’t taken us any time at all. There were no toys to put together. No mountains of presents to bring out of hiding and place beneath the tree. No items to be sorted and carefully stuffed into stockings.
It had been a hard year for us financially. As always, God had provided for every need, but now at the end of the year there was very little left in our savings. Jon and I were determined not to use credit as we were working diligently to become debt-free, but that meant a lean Christmas budget. In fact, all total, we had just $60 to spend on our kids. Divided equally among the five kids, it meant I had just $12 per child with which to buy gifts and fill stockings.
At first, such a tight budget had left me feeling discouraged. How I could begin to make Christmas seem bright for our children? It definitely felt like a monumental task. As a Christian, I already knew that Christmas wasn’t really about presents galore, and yet it was easy to get caught up in all the hoopla of wanting to give my children the typical materialistic American Christmas.
To add more fuel to the fire of my worried state, I knew that our five children would receive several gifts from their other parents that were bigger and better than anything I could have afforded if I had spent $60 per child instead of just the $12 I had in my extra-small budget. So I asked the Lord to help me use that $60 to give my family a real Christmas to remember and not to feel jealous when faced with the financial bounty I would see all around me during the season.
Almost immediately, an amazing plan began to fall into place, creative and simple and focused completely on Christ instead of presents. Instead of dreading Christmas morning and fearing looks of disappointment on my children’s faces, now I was excited and eager to watch them experience the Christmas that God was planning for us.
One by one the ideas popped into my head. I found some fun treats at the dollar store and came home to wrap them up for the kids. Next I spent hours looking for the perfect Bible verse to be the clue for each item. My plan was on Christmas morning, the kids would play a guessing game, reading aloud the verses and and trying to guess what was inside each gift before opening it. The gifts might be small, but I knew my children would have such fun trying to figure out the prizes.
Another idea that came to me had to do with Christmas picture books, in particular a book called Oranges for Frankie (by Patricia Polacco) and The Candymaker’s Gift (by Helen and David Haidle). In the first book, a boy name Frankie loses his Christmas orange and what his siblings do next is simply touching. The second book explains how various traits of candy canes can remind us of Jesus and the Christmas story. We already owned copies of both books, but as a special surprise I bought a chocolate orange and seven nice, fat candy canes. On Christmas morning, I would read the books aloud to the family while we all enjoyed the candy treats.
Finally, instead of filling our stockings to the brim with chocolate kisses and other small trinkets, a terrific idea came to my mind. The week before Christmas, I gave each person in our family several sheets of paper on which I had written: “If I could, I would buy you something good!” I asked each one to think of a special gift they would buy for every other member of the family. On the paper, they could draw a picture, write a note, or paste a magazine clipping there to communicate what they would get for the other person.
All through December, I prepared for our simple Christmas with an excitement in my heart. I just knew that God was going to bless our hearts in a big way, and I was eager to share it with my family.
Soon it was the night before Christmas. After a simple supper, we read the Christmas story from the Bible and sang a few of our favorite carols. By 8:30, all of the children were tucked into bed. All there was for me to do was fill the stockings with the paper notes, set out the two picture books and the basket of candy canes, and set the small trinket gifts which I had already wrapped and labeled with the Bible verses under the tree.
But as soon as the Christmas preparations were complete, the old fears of not providing a typical Christmas for my children began to flood my mind. As I sat next to my husband in the stillness of the Christmas Eve night, I felt lost in the glow of the lights on the tree and the growing apprehension in my heart about how my children would receive the meager Christmas Jon and I had to offer them.
And then the doorbell rang …
Jon carefully peered out the window, but in the darkness he couldn’t see anyone at all. Cautiously he opened the front door. There was no one there.
“Perhaps they went to the side door, Jon,” I suggested.
Quickly we walked toward the other door. Again, Jon peered out, but again there appeared to be nothing but darkness. Opening the door wider, he stepped out onto the carport concrete … and that’s when he noticed it.
There on our doorstep were several extra large gift bags overflowing with presents.
Once again, my husband and I looked at each other bug-eyed. What on earth was this?
Jogging to the end of the driveway, Jon looked around the yard, and up and down the street … but after a minute or so, he turned back. Shrugging, he said, “I didn’t see anything … not even so much as the tail lights of a car.”
“Do you think perhaps someone delivered these gifts to the wrong house? I asked.
Jon laughed. “Well, normally I would say Santa doesn’t make mistakes, but I suppose there is always that possibility.”
Together we brought the bags of gifts inside. We began to spread out the loot, noticing that the gifts were all labeled with names of each member of our family. “I think these are definitely for us!” Jon grinned. “I don’t know why, but someone decided to bless us with some gifts.”
Quickly, Jon and I sorted the gifts into piles. There were a couple of gifts labeled as family gifts, along with a present for Jon and another for me. Each child had a stack of five gifts … well, for every child except for Nathan. He didn’t have anything.
“Do you think our secret Santa forgot about Nathan?” I felt panicky.
“Don’t worry,” Jon said calmly. “There are enough gifts here to spread out the love. Nathan will not be left out. We can unwrap the gifts, reassign them to the kids making sure that Nathan receives an equal amount. Of course, we’ll have to rewrap everything … Do you think we have enough wrapping paper?”
And then the doorbell rang again.
This time, Jon made a mad dash for the door, hoping to catch our family’s secret Santa … but again there was nothing. Nothing, that is, but a large bag filled with exactly five gifts, all labeled for Nathan.
It was early the next morning when the kids woke us up, eager to see what Christmas surprises lay in store. As we led them into the living room, a gigantic pile of gifts sat in the middle of the room.
A collective gasp rose from the kids.
“But I thought you said we weren’t going to get a lot of gifts this year!” Julia protested.
“I did. And truthfully, I didn’t think you were. But God had other plans.” I smiled. “Sit down and let me tell you about what happened after you went to bed on Christmas Eve.”
Jon and I retold the story. Then before we dove into the unexpected gifts, we went through our Christmas morning plan … playing the guessing game with the small gifts and Bible verses, reading the picture books and enjoying the candy, and oohing over the stockings filled with sweet notes from our family.
Already our hearts were full, and yet we knew that through a friend God had provided even more for us to enjoy on the blessed Christmas morning. As we opened our unexpected gifts, each one seemed to be perfectly chosen for the recipient.
To this day, we have no idea of who brought us the Christmas Eve gifts but we all remember how loved we felt by our special friend and by our Heavenly Father, who indeed answered my prayers and gave us a $12 Christmas miracle to remember.
Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift! ~2 Corinthians 9:15
When I was growing up, I had many favorite Christmas traditions: baking, decorating and delivering Christmas cookies to some of the elderly members of our church; listening to Chrsitmas music; watching Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life or Bing Crosby in White Christmas (and, for some strange reason, The Sound of Music ) all of which came on the TV as this was before the time of VCRs and DVD players. Singing Christmas carols at church all through December; pulling decorations out of the box and hearing my mother recount where she had gotten them; caroling around the tiny village with my church; sipping hot chocolate in the glow of the Christmas lights. These were a few of my favorite things.
But there was one special thing about Christmas in my family that seemed to make the holiday extra exciting. My mother is a Christmas Eve baby.
I was always slightly jealous of my mother’s Christmas Eve birthday. How wonderful it seemed to me to be able to share a birthday with the baby Jesus! The lights, the decorations, the foods, the carols, the parties and gifts … why all of those wonderful activities and traditions must make a Christmas birthday seem to last forever! And who wouldn’t want to extend their birthday celebration out for as long as possible?
The countdown to my own September birthday began as soon as school started in mid-August. I was prone to making a big deal of the countdown, especially during the last week, while dreaming of all the gifts I would open and the fancy cake my grandmother would make me. The most exciting thing about my birthday is that I would be the center of attention!
But my mother never expected anyone to remember or make a fuss over her birthday. She didn’t seem to care if she only got one gift labeled for both birthday and Christmas among all the wrapped presents under the tree, and seemed to actually prefer to think about what good things she could do for others instead of thinking about how people might pay attention to her. And perhaps most of all, she seemed to insist that her three children put our Christmas focus on the Christmas Child in the manger and the reason for His Holy birth instead of putting even an ounce of importance that it was her birthday too.
I suppose a part of me figured she did those things because she was all grown up and grown ups aren’t supposed to love their own birthdays quite as much as little children do. And yet I don’t think that was the case at all. My mother, it seems, was always gracious about her birthday and not prone to expecting a big to-do over it.
I know this to be true because tucked away in my mother’s wedding album was a letter, written in my grandmother’s beautiful cursive handwriting. The fragile paper yellowed, dated December 24th of the year my mom turned 4 years old, contained my grandmother’s recollections of my mom’s 4th birthday party, just a day or two prior. All the neighborhood children came because Santa was going to make an appearance at the party. When it came my mother’s turn to sit on Santa’s knee, she asked him to bring a doll to a little girl who didn’t have one to play with. My grandmother recorded her as saying, “I already have a lot of dolls and toys.”
Most Christmases, I pulled out that precious letter and read it to myself, wondering about the little girl who had grown up to be my mother. How could she be so good even when she was so little? Even my grandmother seemed to marvel at her oldest daughter’s generosity.
As a child, I firmly believed that my mother got to share her birthday with Jesus because she was so very lovely and good. I would looked longingly at the old photos of her childhood, thinking how her white-blonde hair, bright blue eyes and sweet smile gave her the appearance of a tiny angel without wings. I wished I could be that lovely, too.
Instead, I felt more like Maria from The Sound of Music, desiring so much to be a good girl but constantly getting sidetracked by my own character flaws and failings.
Christmas only seemed to highlight this problem. After all, Santa Claus brought gifts to good children. The big question every year was would you end up on the naughty or the nice list? I never actually knew anyone on the naughty list. Even the worst kids in school got gifts from Santa! At the same time, deep down I knew that my ability to be good wasn’t very good either. My anxious little heart worried over being good enough all year long, especially at Christmas.
The trouble is none of us are good enough. The standard has been set and we absolutely fail at hitting that mark. The sum of our sins is remarkably high. Like the United States debt marker climbing to ridiculous numbers no one can truly fathom, our individual and collective sin debt soars to insurmountable heights.
Oh, we try to make it right, don’t we? Volunteer for a charity. Give money to the needy. Show up to work on time. Be polite. Do your best. Never give up. Be good. Do better. In the end all the matters is that you do more good things that bad things. That’s how you end up on the nice list … right?
Um … Really? I mean, it sounds good but is it even possible?
I can’t even manage to do more positive actions than negative ones in just one day, much less over my lifetime. Not a day goes by when I don’t say something snarky to my husband or rant at the car ahead of me in the line at the red light while cursing the driver in the depths of my mind. I sigh when my kids ask me for a favor that’s a bit inconvenient for me. I roll my eyes when someone does something I don’t like at work. I gossip. I exaggerate the truth (because I don’t want to call it what it is … a straight up lie). And on top of all that, I’m rather prone to being stingy, ungrateful, and totally self-centered.
Ha! I know me and I know I am anything but good. The ugly truth is I cannot manage to be good for even half an hour, much less be good enough to eventually gain heaven.
I’m on the naughty list. You are too. Even my sweet little angel momma with her Christmas Eve birthday is on the naughty list. Because none of us is good enough.
That’s the bad news of Christmas.
Don’t worry … there is good Christmas news.
Remember the Christmas story? The angel visits the shepherds in the field and says,
“Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you GOOD NEWS of great joy that will be for all the people … :
Luke 2: 10 CSB
Shepherds, who were not good enough even to be considered upstanding citizens in their day, got the news first. And then, without hesitation, they raced off into he night in search of the baby born to save the world.
They found Him … just as the angels said, lying in the manger, wrapped in strips of cloth. He was the good news of Christmas, for God knew we would never be good enough to be on the nice list. Not on our own anyway. So He gave us Jesus, the baby in the manger, God in the flesh, fresh from heaven, born simply to be good enough for us all.
Perhaps the sweetest part of the story is those unworthy shepherds left the Holy Infant and went back into the night to tell everyone about the things they had seen and heard.
Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere …
And what were they telling?
That the best and greatest gift of Christmas is that we don’t have to worry about being good enough anymore for the One who is good enough for us all has been born. His name is Jesus.
This marks the 7th Father’s Day since my dad left earth for his eternal home. I miss him terribly, but feel so blessed to have had him as my father. Perhaps I am biased, but there wasn’t a better Daddy in the world. So in his honor (and in honor of good dads everywhere), I’m sharing one of my favorite stories about my father. (By the way, if you are a long-time follower of my blogs, you will likely recognize this story as I shared it several times on my previous blog Tales from the Laundry Room.)
Throughout my childhood, my family kept a tiny flock of sheep in the backyard, as part of a 4-H project. The project was pretty much all my dad’s doing, as once upon a time he had raised a flock of 4-H lambs too.
From the summer before my 9th birthday until my college days, there generally lived several sheep in a large pen in our backyard. And every day twice a day, rain or shine, my brother and sister and I trudged out to that pen to feed and water those wooly creatures.
I can’t say that at the time I loved playing shepherdess to a bunch of stinky sheep, but looking back the experience is a lot sweeter. I’ve discovered a lot of things about my childhood are that way. But I have digressed, so back to the sheep …
It was not uncommon for our sheep to find a way of escape from the small pen in our backyard. Typically, we only become aware of their fugitive state whenever some neighbor telephoned to let us know our wooly pets were out wandering along the roadsides.
Whenever our lambs went for one of their strolls, my father always insisted we immediately go track down those sheep, and return them as soon as possible to the safety of the pen in our backyard. It didn’t matter if it was day or night. As luck would have it, our lambs were infamous for taking moonlit walks, the deeper into the night the better … or so it seemed.
I could tell many tales about these sheep-chasing escapades, but one time in particular always stands out in my memory. It happened on a humid night the fall I turned sixteen.
The ringing of our phone roused me slightly from my deep sleep. It was soon followed by my dad’s hard knock on the door of the bedroom I shared with my sister. “Paige,” he said, “get up! The sheep are out along the highway, somewhere toward the high school. Your brother and I are heading out now. You follow along just as soon as you get dressed. Meet us on the other side of the bridge.”
I heard the front door shut as they walked out of the house, and then their voices carrying softly as they walked across the front yard, headed toward the highway that stretched out in front of our brick home. A wave of jealousy swept over me as I looked over at my younger sister, snugly tucked into dreams instead of being forced to go on a midnight goose (er … sheep) hunt for a bunch of wayward lambs.
Five or six minutes later I was dressed and walking out of the house. The night sky was dark. No moon or stars lit the ground. The street light shone dimly on the other side of the highway, providing me with just enough light to dodge a puddle of water at the edge of our driveway.
Walking down the center of the highway, I suddenly felt very alone in the deep darkness. At shortly after 2 am, the roads in our rural town were quiet. The only sounds I could hear were the sounds of tree frogs, crickets and the occasional hooting of an owl. I walked along, the fear in my throat growing thicker and sharper with each step that took me away from the safety of my home. I quickened my pace, taking hurried steps as my shoes pounding against the dark pavement in my efforts to reach my father as soon as possible.
Soon I approached the bridge. It was darker there. The trees overhung across the road, creating deep shadows. The intense darkness blocked out even the reflective yellow stripes dividing the two-lane road. I hesitated before stepping onto the bridge. In order to reach the safety of my father I had to cross the bridge to get to the other side. But there was a loud voice in my head that screamed for me to turn around and high-tail it back home instead of crossing over that deep, dark bridge.
Breathing a prayer, I put my foot forward and started across. Toward the midpoint of the bridge, I heard a noise, a sort of rustling that didn’t sound like the leaves on the trees. I paused, but didn’t hear anything other than the pounding of my own heart. I started walking again, but after another step I stopped. I had the distinct feeling I wasn’t alone on the bridge. Unable to see or hear anything, I shook off my fear and picked up my foot, determined to get to the other side.
At that exact moment, a voice boomed out of the darkness:
“Paige! Go back and get the truck!”
Immediately, I turned on my heels and began to run, faster than I had ever run in my entire life. (Honestly, this wasn’t a huge feat. I was never a fast runner to begin with, and so it wouldn’t have taken much more than a steady jog to beat my all-time fastest run. Still, I rather like to recall this run as if I made it back home in record time.)
I ran straight for my dad’s truck, the beat-up old Ford that he drove back and forth to his job at our family hardware store. Yanking open the door, I dove behind the steering wheel, slamming myself inside the truck. I took several deep, long breaths. My heart thumped wildly in my chest, though I wasn’t sure if it was due to the running, the fear coursing through my body or the realization that I had just heard the voice of God in the night.
The keys were in the truck’s ignition, just where I expected them to be, for in rural Louisiana during the mid-80’s, most people never bothered to take their car keys into the house. I turned the key and the truck rumbled to life. Three minutes later, I pulled over to the side of the road. Ahead was my father and brother, herding our small flock of sheep toward me. I quickly hopped out, leaving the headlights on and the engine idling.
As my father approached, he said, “Thanks for bringing the truck! You got here just at the right time.”
I nodded. “No problem, Dad. I’m just glad God told me to do it … and that I obeyed even though I was really scared.”
My father looked up from his task of calmly guiding the bleating lambs to give me a brief confused look … And then he started to laugh, deep and hard until it seemed as if he might never stop. He finally caught his breath. “Paige,” he said between chuckles, “that was me. I told you to go back for the truck. Didn’t you recognize my voice?!”
“That was you? You were on the bridge with me?” It was my turn to be confused.
Obviously still tickled over my confusion, my dad gave me a hug and said, “Yes, Paige. I hate to disappoint you, but voice you heard was mine … not the voice of God.”
It’s been three decades since that deep, dark night when I thought I heard God in the sound of my father’s voice. Yet each time I recall that bridge and the voice that boomed from the darkness, I reminded of two ways that my earthly father taught me important truths about my Heavenly Father.
Almost any Christian will tell you that hearing and recognizing the voice of God can be difficult. Many Christians go through life without ever really learning how to listen for God’s voice. I was fortunate. My dad taught me to listen for God’s voice by placing a great importance on studying the scriptures, daily prayer, attending weekly worship services, and by expecting me to learn and obey the teachings of Jesus Christ. Jesus once said, “My sheep hear my voice … and they follow me.” (John 10:27) I am grateful for my daddy who taught me how to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd.
The second truth is a reminder that in this life we will have troubles. Jesus Himself said, “You will have suffering in this world.” (John 16:33). But He also said, “I am with you always.” (Matthew 28:20) Just like my dad was with me on that dark bridge so many nights ago, my Heavenly Father is also with me whatever my circumstances.
Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. ~Psalm 103:13
I saw the disappointment in Jon’s eyes, so I rushed to try to smooth over my words with an explanation. “I mean … this is just not my sort of idea of summer fun, First of all, I’d have to wear a costume. You know how I hate to wear costumes. But then there will also be a large crowd of people, and large crowds always make me nervous. Plus the bugs and the summer heat. Honestly … I can’t think of anything I’d like to do less. Okay, well, except maybe spending a long hot day in the middle of July at a theme park full of roller coaster rides. That I would definitely hate more than this. But this is a close second!”
I knew this opportunity was a dream-come-true for him. Jon was a huge fan of The Chosen, a two season show currently ranked as the #1 crowd-funded series ever. Now he had a chance to be an extra during the filming of an episode of season three, specifically for the scene where Jesus feeds the five thousand. It was the sort of opportunity that only comes along once in a lifetime.
“Paige, out of all the people I could take, you are the one I want to go with me. I know it’s not the sort of thing you will enjoy, but the truth is I would enjoy it more if you were there with me. And so, of all the people I could ask to go with me, I still choose you. Please … just say yes.”
His words sank in. Jon could have taken several of his friends or almost any of our children. Yet all he wanted was to go with me. A dozen years ago, he chose me to be his bride. Now he was declaring I was still his favorite pick. How could I say no?
And so … I slowly nodded my head and agreed to go.
That conversation happened in mid-March. The filming of the feeding of the five thousand scene wasn’t scheduled to happen until early June.
Before long, we were receiving emails full of information from The Chosen costuming department. Everything needed to look authentically first-century, just as if we had stepped off the pages of the Bible.
Leather sandals without buckles or zippers. Check!
Tunics with sashes. Check!
Head coverings. Check!
Wooden walking stick. Check!
Long bags to carry so we would have a way to hide our modern day supplies (car keys, cells phones, etc). Check!
Once we got our costumes put together, we started thinking of things we would need to help us survive a 12+ hour day in the middle of an open Texas field.
Bug repellant. Check!
Electrolyte packs for our water. Check!
Portable, battery-operated fans. Check!
A small first aid kit. Check!
Easy to carry snacks, like beef jerky. Check!
Jon joined a Facebook group that was created just for The Chosen Extras, where he gleaned all sorts of ideas. It was so helpful, he added me to the group. Every day, we got new information — from warnings to products. We read through them all and tried to determine how to prep our bags for the big day. Someone in the group suggested packing a compact UV umbrella, so we added that to our growing collection of necessities. Another person warned against the field being full of chiggers and stickers. We threw some AfterBite and a pair of tweezers into the first aid kit.
After two months of prepping our bags, we were nearly ready … or so we thought.
As the filming day approached, I began to regret my decision to go with Jon.
The weather looked to be exceedingly hot with record-breaking temperatures upwards of 100 degrees. The Chosen Extras began to refer to the filming event as The Feeding of the Fried Thousand. It sounded cute in our little FB group, but deep down I felt nothing but dread in the days leading up to our experience.
Sitting out in a field in the middle of that kind of heat will quickly lead heat exhaustion. I knew all about the dangers of heat. I had a near heat-stroke a decade earlier, and ever since my body did not tolerate heat nearly as well. Now I was really worried about going to be a part of The Chosen filming.
“You go to the filming and I will stay back at the hotel. I can work on writing my book, “ I suggested a day or two before we were set to leave.
Jon gave me a long look out of the corner of his eye. Finally, he said, “What are you talking about? Is there something you aren’t telling me?”
I sighed. “It’s the heat. I’m scared I’ll get sick again.”
“Paige, we have prepared for heat. We have electrolytes to add to your water and a fan and a UV umbrella. Besides, I read that they will have medics on site. I know it looks like the weather will be super hot, but I think we can manage. Last time, we didn’t know how to prepare to protect you, but this time we are preparing. You’ll be okay.”
“I know … but, I can’t help but think that it won’t be enough. I get scared thinking about how terrible I felt last time and what if it happens to me again? I can’t quit worrying about it.”
Jon gave me at thoughtful look and said, “I promise you that if you start to feel bad, we will both leave … together. I really want you to come with me. It just won’t be the same without you there.” He paused and then added, “Please … let’s do this together. Are you still with me?”
I nodded and agreed to go.
The alarm went off at 5 am.
As soon as our feet hit the floor, our bodies were moving quickly as we tried to dress ourselves in first-century garments. There wasn’t any need for make-up. After brushing our teeth, the only thing left to do was hide my blonde hair underneath a head wrap.
Half an hour later, we were in the car and on our way to the football stadium in Midlothian, Texas. The big day had arrived and we were about to become part of large throng of people needed to stage The Feeding of the Five Thousand scene.
From the moment we stepped off the luxury travel bus onto the remote field, we knew we had entered into a special place. The feeling, though difficult to explain, was nearly palpable … a sort of holiness or sacredness. It was still early morning when we arrived, but the air had a coolish feel to it and the wind was blowing briskly.
The crowd was large and yet I felt right at home. Normally, I don’t do large crowds well. I feel nervous and my overactive radar is on high-alert in any sort of scenario where I am around a group of people I do not know. But on this morning, I felt right at home, almost as if no one was a stranger to me.
Our first stop was a large holding area where we would wait until it was time for our group to go to the filming site. We ate a bit of breakfast and enjoyed a concert by The Bonners. We talked about going to the gift shop, but decided to wait until after we had been to the filming area so that we wouldn’t need to lug anything extra with us. While we waited, I drank two bottles of water with added electrolytes because I wanted to stay fully hydrated for the day ahead.
Around 10:45 in the morning, it was our time to go and film.
It was a 10 minute walk over to the field where the filming was taking place. We joined the others in our filming group and began the trek.
It was exciting to crest the hilltop and see several sets. Most of them were little tents or huts, but there was a watering welling and a little cooking area, as well as a few other props.
The crew there to help usher us along gave permission to take photos as we walked, but we were not allowed to stop and pose as filming was on a “hurry up and wait” sort of schedule.
As the walk continued, we noticed a drone flying overhead. It made several trips over us as we moved toward the set. The next couple of photos are of the group walking along the path toward the filming area. I am leaving them large so that you can see the size of the crowd (guessing about 1000-1200 people in our filming group), and so you can see the drone.
Soon we were walking down into a smallish valley of sorts. There was already a huge crowd of people seated on the ground. The crew began to usher us into various areas for seating. Jon and I were guided over to a place on the far left side of the set. We settled our mats on the ground and sat down to observe our surroundings.
A large boom with a camera attached was nearby. We quickly realized we would not be able to see much of the action from Jesus or the disciples as we were situated near the camera crew. Instead, we mostly saw and heard the crew setting up the camera to capture various angles on each shot.
Soon after we sat down, the sun grew very hot. It was close to 11 am and in that little valley where we sat, the wind movement had come to a halt.
Sweat caused sunscreen to get into my eye. My left eye began to water and burn. I felt it swelling.
About half and hour into our filming, I felt like I was getting overheated. I needed more water. Jon got up to find me some and soon brought back two bottles of water. I quickly added electrolytes and drank down the first bottle. Jon added electrolytes to his water and after he took a sip, I drank the rest of his bottle too.
By the time our group was released from the filming area, I was starting to feel dizzy and lightheaded. We still had a 10 minute walk back to the main holding area. I knew Jon was worrying about me. I staggered along, thinking if I could just sit down in the shade for a bit I would be able to cool down and feel better.
Instead, we got to a tent and I started to feel worse. My left eye was nearly swollen shut. I couldn’t open it fully. My head was pounding. My heart was starting to race. I knew I was going into heat exhaustion. Jon brought me more water and I drank another bottle with more electrolytes. Meanwhile, Jon soaked a rag in water and held it to my neck in an attempt to cool my body down.
Finally, he suggested we go over to the medical tent to see about my eye. He thought there might be a way to flush it out. I agreed to go. Once we got there, though, the medics were clearly concerned about me being overheated. It wasn’t long before the head paramedic suggested to Jon that we might need to leave. Jon agreed. I tried to let them know I was willing to try to stay longer … but Jon was adamant. “It’s okay, Paige. I knew when I chose to ask you to come with me, that we may need to leave early. But I still wanted you to come and I am glad you did. Now it’s time for us to go.”
Back at the hotel, I slept close to 4 hours. When I woke up, my left eye was still significantly swollen.
It was hard not to feel sad that we had to leave The Chosen set before the end of the day. And yet, God was still in all the details. From me not feeling anxious about the crowds of people to even part of a group that filmed a scene in the morning, God worked it out of us to enjoy an entire morning on the set of The Chosen.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be chosen.
Something that is chosen is something that is wanted. When Jon asked me to go with him to be a part of the filming, he was choosing me over asking anyone else. I wasn’t his second or third choice. I was his first pick. His number one choice. I was chosen.
But what’s it like to not be chosen …
Perhaps you were the person with all the right qualifications and yet you still were not chosen for the job …
Your resume looked great. You had all the right training and education and experience. Your interview went smoothly. You wait anxiously to hear back and when the call finally comes, instead of getting a job offer, you hear the words, “We just don’t think you are a good fit for our company.” Or maybe the voice on the other end said there was someone else more qualified. Or perhaps there was just not a call back at all.
To be the one who is not chosen … wow, that stings deep down in the soul, doesn’t it?
But sometimes when we are chosen it can hurt just as much. Maybe you can relate…
Were you the kind of kid who was picked last for teams in school?
There’s nothing worse than standing there waiting for your name to get called, and when it gets down to the end you know deep down no one really wants you on their team.
Being the last pick is almost worse than being not chosen at all. The team captain picks this person and then that person … and so on and so forth until the team is complete. Still, when everybody else has been picked and I’m the last left, it’s like the leader is said, “We really don’t want you here, but if we don’t pick you it will make us look bad. So just to be nice, you can be a part of our team, but please don’t get too involved or you might cause us to lose the game. Tell you what … just stand over there and cheer.”
Or maybe you were chosen initially and then replaced … is that you too?
Once upon a time, my first husband left me for another woman. Fourteen years and three children and yet he left as if none of that ever mattered.
The heaviness of being unchosen hurts just as much as the sting of not being chosen or the bitterness of being chosen last.
Then there is God. Some of us don’t feel chosen by Him either.
God tells us that He is planning a large banquet, a wedding feast.
Invitations have gone out and literally everyone is invited to the party. Everyone. The entire world. Not one person has not received an invitation to go to the biggest and best wedding party ever given in the entire history of mankind.
How do you get to go? Basically, you just show up dressed in wedding attire.
What am I talking about?
Well … quite frankly, I’m talking about the state of your soul, both here on this earth and for all of eternity. But I am also referring to a parable Jesus told. You can find it in Matthew 22: 1-14, but here is a synopsis:
The king’s only son is getting married and he is throwing a huge feast to celebrate. He sends his servants out with invitations and instructions to invite everyone to the wedding banquet. Most people had one excuse or another for why they couldn’t attend … business trips, family matters, or just didn’t want to bother with attending.
The king sent his servants out again with invitations. This time the servants were beaten and killed by those who the king invited. The king sent out yet more servants and told them to look everyone and to bring anyone they could find for the banquet feast was ready. This time, they brought all the people they could find, some of whom were not ones you might expect to find at a royal celebration. And yet, the king wanted everyone in his kingdom to come and share in his joy, so that even those who had nothing suitable to wear were given a wedding garment.
The king walked into the banquet to see it crammed with people. He looked around and spotted a man who was not wearing to wedding robe provided for him. The king had that guest kicked out and said, “For everyone is invited, but few are chosen.”
Everyone is invited but few are chosen? What does that mean?
Maybe I should say this another way …
If you were invited to be a part of a particular team, but you refused to wear the jersey, are you choosing to be part of the team? Sure, you were invited, but by your own decision chose not to become a member simply because you wouldn’t wear the team jersey that was given to you to wear.
Jesus has invited everyone to be on His team.
Everyone. That includes all the worst of the worst people we can think of throughout history. Yep. You guessed it. Hitler, Stalin, Attila the Hun and Vlad the Impaler all got an invitation, too.
The thing is, you gotta chose to put on the team jersey. Like it or not, some people just choose not to wear their spirit shirt. Jesus isn’t going to come down here and shove it over your heard and make you wear it. Your momma might have made you wear clothes you didn’t like once upon a time, but Jesus doesn’t work that way. He isn’t your momma. No, He just holds out the team spirit shirt and says, “If you want to come to my party, you need to wear this.”
(By the way, a couple of years ago my daughter Julia decided to have a Star Trek themed birthday party. She made everyone wear black jeans and solid red, blue or yellow t-shirts. She crafted Star Trek insignias for everyone to wear on their t-shirts. It was part of accepting her party invitation. There were a couple of people who didn’t come because they didn’t want to wear the required outfit. Now I’m not much of a Trekki, but I still wore the outfit because I love my girl and I wanted to be a part of her party.)
In order to put on Jesus’ party clothes, you first have to take off the old clothes. That’s right … you will have to change your outfit. Ephesians 4:22 puts it this way: “Take off your former way of life, the old self that is corrupted by deceitful desires” It goes on to say that those who follow Jesus should put away lying, stealing, foul language, bitterness, anger, shouting, slander and malice.
Instead, we are to allow Jesus to renew our minds and give us a new self, one that is created in God’s likeness — to resemble His righteousness. The new outfit God gives us looks something like this:
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another … And above all these, put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Jon invited me to be his plus one. I had to chose to go with him. I had to agree to wear the costume.
Jesus has invited you to his eternal banquet. But in order to attend, you have to chose to go. Doing so will mean changing your life. But it will also mean you are given eternal life with Jesus.
If you aren’t sure how to do that, please reach out to me. I’d be happy to talk to you more about it.
If you haven’t watched The Chosen, I encourage you to download the free app and start watching. It’s an amazing show that truly brings the Bible to life.
Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”
Most mornings of my childhood, I woke to the sounds of my daddy singing “Rise and shine and give God the glory, glory!” His joyful (somewhat off-key) wake-up call came early, long before the sun was up.
We had a small flock of 4-H sheep to feed and water. Dad was going to see to it that we did that chore properly before he left for work, which was usually sometime around 6 am. Every morning before sunrise, my siblings and I got up to tend those sheep. Cold, hot, rainy or not, out the door we walked to the sheep pen to dole out food and fresh water to a bleating bunch of wooly lambs.
I am sad to say that, despite my father’s cheerful encouragement, I did not rise or shine very well. My attitude was if the sun wasn’t out yet, there was no point for me to be up trying to shine either.
For most of my life, I thought my dad’s ability to rise and shine was just because he was a morning person. I am not a morning person. My mother has often described me as a “bear” in the mornings. Grumpy. Grouchy. Slow to wake up. Getting myself moving in a positive direction first thing in the morning has never been a personal strength.
My dad, however, was a morning kind of guy. His natural alarm clock went off sometime around 4:30 am. He got out of bed, made coffee, and spent some time reading the Bible and talking to Jesus. By the time he walked down the hallway to wake up his sleeping children, my dad was a walking sunbeam.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
It’s ironic that I somehow equate my dad’s morning attitude as that of a sunbeam because according to my grandmother, once upon a time my four-year-old father loved a little song all about sunbeams. He learned it in church, and it went like this:
Jesus wants me for a sunbeam
To shine for Him each day.
A sunbeam, a sunbeam
Jesus wants me for a sunbeam.
A sunbeam, a sunbeam
I’ll be a sunbeam for Him.
I have a picture of my dad as a small child, dressed for church, his bright eyes full of joy. You could certainly describe him as a sunbeam sort of child.
Even as an adult, my dad exuded joy. He had a quick smile, an easy laugh, and a positive outlook on life. That’s just the kind of man he was. A sunbeam.
Sometimes, I wish I got more of my daddy’s sunbeam kind of personality. As it turns out, I got my dad’s nose and long toes. I didn’t inherit his sunbeam personality. (My daughter Julia inherited it though, so I’m definitely a “carrier” of the gene. I guess that DNA skipped a generation.)
Recently, the thought occurred to me that even though I may not have gotten my dad’s sunbeam personality, I can still rise and shine for Jesus. You see, rising and shining isn’t so much about my natural morning tendencies or any sort of hereditary trait. This is because rising and shining are both action words. And actions are as much about decisions as anything else.
That’s why I can decide that I’m going to be a person who:
rises every morning and spends time with Jesus.
shines with love for others.
rises to tough or difficult situations and circumstances.
shines with encouragement for others, even when my own life is not going so great.
rises by trusting God with all areas of my life.
shines by making decisions based on what Jesus would want me to do.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
Chances are pretty good, “Sunbeam” will never be my nickname. I’m just not a ray of sunshine kind of girl. Yet, I can still choose to rise and shine and give God the glory, glory.
And who knows … maybe someday, some of the hereditary sunbeam DNA will come out after all. A girl can always hope.
Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
I grew up attending a Southern Baptist church in rural north Louisiana.
My family attended the First Baptist Church, which was the biggest Baptist church in our tiny town. The population was barely 500 people, yet there were at least four other Baptist churches in the area: Bird’s Creek Baptist, Kidron Baptist, Wallace Ridge Baptist, Pisgah Baptist.
It seemed like everyone I knew was also a Southern Baptist.
But if they weren’t Baptist, then chances were pretty good they attended one of the many Pentecostal churches. And there were just as many Pentecostal churches as there were Baptists.
As an elementary school child, I never really understood the difference between Pentecostal and Baptist beliefs … that is, other than the obvious one. Pentecostal women wore long dresses, had long hair and never wore jewelry or make-up; the men always wore long pants and long sleeves shirts, even in the middle of the hot, humid Louisiana summers. Oh, and Pentecostals believed in raising hands, speaking in tongues and other mysteries I never could quite wrap my childish brain around.
Still, I understood that at its core, Baptists and Pentecostals weren’t all that different. We believed in the same Jesus. We just expressed it differently.
But Catholics … well, that was a different story. I really didn’t understand what Catholics believed.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
I had only one Catholic friend growing up.
Somehow we never did talk religion with each other. She moved away in the sixth grade. I never did have another close friendship with a Catholic until after my 30th birthday.
Catholicism baffled me. Somehow, even though we talked about the same Jesus and read the same Bible stories, our religions were so different that it felt like we didn’t worship same God at all. To me it was this huge mystery, too sacred to touch, too frightening to ask questions about. Yet, more than anything else, I wanted to unravel it to discover everything that was hidden underneath.
Growing up, all I knew about Catholics were that they went to Mass and not church. They prayed to God and Jesus, but also to Mary and the saints. There was this mystery called Confession. And then there were all the different sorts of clergy: fathers, priests, nuns, cardinals, bishops, and the Pope who ruled over them all.
Much of my understanding of the Catholic faith came from the musical The Sound of Music.
Oh, how I loved that movie! It came on TV at least once every year, back in those days before VCR’s and DVD players.
I was always fascinated by the main character Maria, who desperately wanted to love God enough to be a nun, but couldn’t manage to keep all the rules. I identified with that longing, so much so that I often pretended that I would grow up to be a nun … even though deep down I knew good Baptist girls didn’t become nuns.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
Nearly a dozen years ago, I married my husband Jon and moved to his home in the middle of Cajun Country.
If you know anything about Cajuns, you know that they are all Catholics. In fact, their religious beliefs is the very reason they were exiled to Louisiana in the first place.
While I was new to life along Louisiana’s Gulf Coast, the city of Lafayette has always been home to Jon. Like me, he grew up a good Baptist, our childhood faith stories mirroring each other’s almost perfectly. However, he lived in the shadow of the Catholic church, part of the Protestant religious minority. As a result, his understanding of Catholicism was much better than mine.
We had only been married a matter of days when Mardi Gras season officially kicked off. My previous Mardi Gras knowledge was very limited: parades, beads and King cake. I also knew that it would all culminate on Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras day itself.
Jon had already spent most of that winter in and out of the hospital, literally fighting for his very life. As the Mardi Gras season came to a dramatic close, Jon was back in the hospital. All day on that Fat Tuesday, the nurses bustled in and out of his room, beads and baubles around their necks.
“You missin’ the parades this year, Sha?” they playfully teased Jon.
I could tell that Jon was happy to be away from all of the Mardi Gras madness, but I grumbled because I was missing out on my first real Mardi Gras in Cajun Country. All I wanted was a chance to experience it for myself, to unravel a little more of the mystery.
But Jon wasn’t sympathetic to my desires.
“Paige, it’s just a bunch of people in costumes throwing out cheap beads. Trust me, the most you are missing is catching a couple of plastic cups … and if we are needing more cups, then you can just go buy some.”
So, I spent my first Mardi Gras in Cajun Country sitting in a hospital room, trying to be content to watch re-run episodes of Swamp People on the History Channel.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
The next day was Ash Wednesday.
Gone were the giddy nurses wearing beads from the day before. The lively spirit from the day before was completely gone. Instead, everyone who walked into the hospital room suddenly seemed much more somber, and there seemed to be a sadness so deep it felt almost palpable.
I questioned Jon about it.
“It’s Ash Wednesday,” he responded. “The party is over. Now it is time to repent.”
Late in the morning, my friend Catherine stopped by the hospital to check in on us. At the encouragement of my husband, Catherine decided to whisk me away for a few hours. Lunch, window shopping, but mostly time with a good friend were sure to cure my sagging spirits.
As we walked down one of the long passage-ways on our way out of the hospital, we passed by the chapel, where an Ash Wednesday service was just about to start. The next thing I knew, Catherine and I were seated inside.
Twenty minutes later, we left the chapel, an ash cross marked upon our foreheads.
It was well-after 1 pm by the time Catherine and I walked into a little sandwich shop for lunch. The lunch crowd has mostly left, and there weren’t but just a couple of other customers in the empty diner. As Catherine and I approached the counter to place our orders, the man behind the counter (who was clearly a Cajun) commented on our ash crosses. He went to great lengths to assure us that he was going to an afternoon service later in the day to get his ash cross as well. Soon, he was peppering us with questions about our plans for Lent.
Catherine, who had grown up Catholic though now practiced a Protestant faith, chatted easily with this friendly man, while I stood by silently, feeling like a mute impostor of sorts.
My mind raced frantically. What was I doing? Did this even represent my personal religious beliefs? I’m a Baptist, for crying out loud. Good Baptists don’t put ashes on their foreheads. I’m nothing more than a pretender!
Throughout the rest of the afternoon, those ashes burned against the skin along my forehead.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
Several hours later, I walked back into the hospital room. Jon looked up at me and raised his eyebrows quizzically. “I see that you went and got yourself some ashes.”
I hung my head, not really sure how to respond.
Jon smiled at me reassuringly. “It’s okay, Paige. There is nothing wrong with putting ashes on your forehead. In fact, it represents a beautiful truth. Without God and His forgiveness, our lives are nothing more than heaps of ashes. But, when we give our hearts and the ashes of our lives to Jesus … well, He takes that and turns it into something beautiful for His glory. Wearing ashes on your forehead is just an outward symbol of your belief in Jesus, and not something to be ashamed of at all!”
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
Twelve years later, I can laugh about my first Ash Wednesday.
Since that day, I’ve made more than a few Catholic friends here in Cajun Country. I’ve discovered more about their beliefs, comparing them to my own. I’ve come to the understanding that we do, in fact, follow the same Jesus, proclaim the same Savior, desire to know the same God. Our expression of faith might be vastly different and we might disagree over certain religious practices, but the basis of our faith is the same.
I’ve also learned to treasure Lent, something that my Baptist faith never taught me to do. What a blessing it is to spend forty days focusing my attention on intentionally living my life so that I grow closer in my relationship with Christ! Easter means so much more after this period of sacrificing and fasting and preparing my heart for the glory of Resurrection Sunday. It’s a worthwhile practice and I’m blessed each time I diligently consider how I might spend Lent seeking God.
Today is Ash Wednesday. While I won’t go get ashes smeared into the shape of a cross on my forehead, I will spend the next 40 days seeking God a bit more diligently. I am grateful to my Catholic friends who taught me how.
After all, even a good Baptist girl can celebrate Ash Wednesday.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” ~ John 14:6
This is my “family photo” from Julia’s graduation.
It is not the family photo I envisioned taking with my family. The one planned out in my head looked quite different.
Originally, I wanted all five of our young adult children in the picture, each one holding a chalkboard sign with the year they finished high school, from Maddie and Joel who finished in 2018 to Julia who is part of the Class of 2021.
Jon and I would hold signs too. His with the words, “Finally our nest is empty!” My sign would read, “Officially Retired Homeschool Mom.“
In my mind’s eye, I could clearly see all of us, standing close together with big smiles. The image in my head was sentimental yet cute, trendy yet witty. It would definitely be a social media worthy photo.
Unfortunately, that photo was also not meant to be.
None of our kids were eager to take a photo in the first place. There were various comments and complaints from the oldest right down to the graduate herself. At best, they were an ambivalent, uncommitted group who didn’t seem to appreciate their mother’s sense of humor..
One day as I washed up the lunch dishes, I asked myself, “It it worth it to try to beg and plead just to get this photo?” As much as I loved the idea of that cute photo in my head, I also didn’t really want to have to convince my mostly grown children to do this one thing just for me. The truth was I wanted them to want to do it too. I wanted them to share in my excitement. Unfortunately, I could tell that really wasn’t the case.
I told Jon, “I really don’t want to have to beg our kids to take a special photo for me, because then every time I look at it I will remember how no one really wanted to be there. Furthermore, the last thing I want is a picture of a bunch of fake smiles because I don’t want us to just look like a happy family. I want us to actually be a happy family. I’m not sure this a photo where I had to force people into participating will truly reflect that.”
Jon understood my perspective, and so it was decided that we would just take a picture of whoever could be with us — and we would definitely not use any cute or trendy chalkboard signs.
A Well-Captured Photo
Obviously, the above photograph looks nothing like the family picture I originally envisioned. Yet, I am not unpleased with the way this photo turned out either.
Why? Because this picture is worth a thousand words.
A long time ago, in what feels like another lifetime, I was married to a different man.
My heart shattered into a million little pieces when our marriage ended. The young lady proudly wearing the cap and gown had just celebrated her 4th birthday. She cannot even remember a time when her mom and dad lived in the same house.
Over the years, with a lot of counseling, the intense grief subsided and my heart began to heal. And yet, forgiveness didn’t come easily to my wounded heart. I wanted to forgive, but the struggle to actually do it was hard and real.
When the graduate was still a little girl of just 7 years old, I remarried. While my new husband certainly brought a lot of joy into my life, being married again didn’t help me forgive my former spouse. I wanted to forgive. I prayed about a lot about forgiving. But my wounded heart still struggled to let it all go.
You’ve probably heard it said, “Forgive and forget.” Logically it seems like forgetting would be the more difficult part of that process, but for me forgetting actually came much easier than forgiving! For periods of time, I would actually forget about the pain of unforgiveness in my heart, which oddly enough fooled me into believing I had also forgiven my ex-husband. Unfortunately, just as soon as I saw him in person again those old wounds felt fresh all over again.
Forgiveness might lead to forgetting, but forgetting doesn’t mean that you’ve actually done any forgiving.
I complained to my counselor about my inability to forgive my former husband. “Detach yourself,” she said. I wasn’t exactly sure how to detach from someone you have to be around as you co-parent your children, but I decided it couldn’t hurt to try.
And so I pulled back. My kids were teens anyway. It was easy enough to just step back and let them handle their own interactions with their father. The more I detached, the more I wanted to detach. The distance grew and I suddenly discovered I felt less stress and worry than I had in years. This detachment idea was working!
But unfortunately, every time I saw my ex-husband in person, my heart felt all bruised again. Forgiveness seemed awful slow in coming.
As the months passed by, my counselor remained full of advice:
Give it some time. You have been holding onto the pain for a long time. It’s not going away by tonight either.
Practice focusing on your positive attitudes and emotions. What you spend your time thinking about will influence the way you feel.
As much as possible, let your children manage their relationship with their father. Your main goal is detaching.
Due to his military career, my children only see their dad a few times a year. Furthermore, for the past couple of years, he had opted to fly the kids to visit him in Kansas instead of traveling down to see them in Louisiana. As my daughter’s graduation approached, I wondered how seeing him in person would make me feel. After his last visit, I could tell that in spite of all my work on detaching and letting go, I had still not truly forgiven him. Even though I hadn’t seen him in over two years, I sort of assumed it would be the same this time around, too.
My ex-husband was due to arrive in town the day before graduation. As it happened, I was out running errands when he showed at my house well before lunch. Jon sent me a text to let me know, stating, “I told him to make himself at home.”
When I walked in the door, the first thing I noticed was he was doing exactly that. My former husband was sitting on the sofa, talking and laughing with his children and completely enjoying himself in my home. For the entire weekend my ex-husband spent most of his time hanging out with our family. It surprised me that I didn’t feel put out by his presence.
On Sunday morning, my kids left for a week of vacation with their dad. As I waved them off, I realized I had just spent the majority of the weekend in the presence of my ex-husband, and yet emotionally I felt okay. No annoyance. No anger or bitterness. My emotions were totally in check and I felt in control of myself, instead of being strung out or tied up in knots like I normally felt after interacting with him..
For half a moment, I wondered if maybe I had actually forgiven him … but I still felt too uncertain to believe it could finally be true. And since we were also in the midst of moving house, I truly didn’t think much more about it over the next several days.
A week passed before the graduation photos came back. The very first picture in the digital file sent by the photographer was my family photo. I clicked to open it up, feeling excited to see the photos of our special day, and yet as the picture loaded on my computer screen, all I could do was stare in amazement.
How could I have not noticed at the time the photo was being taken that my ex-husband was standing right there? As we all crowded around my daughter, I didn’t even see that he was standing in the group too?
I pondered this for a second, and then looked to see if we had taken another group photo with just my family. Nope. Just the one big group picture.
The strange thing I noticed was not only did my ex-husband not seem out of place in the photo, but there was no rush of negative emotion within me about having him included in my family photo either.. While both of these things certainly surprised me, what I noticed next surprised me even more.
Before graduation, all I wanted a family picture where the people in it weren’t faking smiles. I wanted a truly happy photograph — one where I wouldn’t look back and remember how I had to work hard cajoling people to participate. In fact, I wanted it so much, that I willingly gave up all my plans to try to force it happen.
And the end result was this unexpected photo, where everyone looks happy to be together. There are no fake smiles here! In fact, I’m willing to bet that if you didn’t know the backstory, you might just think all the people in this photo were part of one big, happy family who had gathered to celebrate a person they all loved.
The more I stared at that amazing picture, the more it dawned on me that my focus was finally right — and that’s when I knew forgiveness had come at last.
Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends.
A Picture with Words
An idea for a new picture came to me two days before graduation, sort of a spin off from my original idea.
At first, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it but when I mentioned it to Jon, he said I should go for it.
With a little bit of hesitancy, I asked my graduate what she thought. When she said she would be delighted to take the photo with me, I think I nearly fainted. I was hoping for just an ambivalent agreement. Instead, she gave me her full enthusiasm.
I already had the chalkboards and the chalk marker. I just needed to find the time to pull it all together. Even though I had a million small task to complete on my graduation to-do list, I happily added the words “make chalkboard signs” to it.
Late on the night before graduation, I sat down and wrote out my three simple chalkboard messages.
The first for my daughter: “I’m done! Class of 2021”
The second for Jon: “College costs more than homeschool.”
And the last one for me: “Officially Retired Homeschool Mom”
Immediately after our family group photo, I asked the photographer please take a second picture. This time it was just the three of us … me and Jon and Julia … posing together for a picture.
And this time, the photo captured a thousand words wrapped up in my heart. It was the perfect combination of sentimental and witty; creative and silly. It’s probably even social media worthy.
Even though it is not my original idea, it’s still close enough so that it made my heart smile, intentionally and creatively demonstrating my personal decision to embrace the end of one season in anticipation of the next.
Finally, I didn’t have to beg or console anyone else to go along with my idea.
Life in Proper Focus
My counselor once told me I needed to practice embracing reality, regardless of whether I liked my reality or not.
Like it or not, as of May 8th, I am no longer a homeschool mother. The end of this part of my life has been coming for a long, long time. Therefore, I might as well embrace it with as much grace as I can muster.
The truth is part of my issue with unforgiveness was the fact that I felt forced into being a single mother, as if everything I ever loved about my life was stolen from me. I couldn’t see how things would ever feel right again.
I could have accepted the reality of what was happening, choosing instead to embrace the new gifts God placed in my life. But I didn’t, and that inability to accept reality cost me 14 years of pain in my own heart.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Once again, I’m being forced to leave behind one season of life and head into the next.
Whether I like it or not, many things I have loved and treasured about my current life are coming to a swift end. I can choose to kick and scream or moan and cry, but I cannot stop what is happening. My past experience tells me that if I choose to focus on this negatively, I will only prolong the pain of moving forward.
This time, I’m determined to embrace the next season as an adventure, even though it means I leave must behind what I once loved so dearly in order to step into a reality that I do not yet know.
As I gave Julia her high school diploma, I encouraged her with the following scripture:
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
You see, my daughter freely admits to feeling somewhat anxious about heading out to college in the fall.
“Mom,” she said to me recently, “I love my current life — my part-time job, hanging with my friends, taking long walks in our neighborhood, cuddling with my dog in bed every night.Every time I think about going away to college, I get sad because I’m going to miss so much about life right now!”
Who can blame her for not wanting to trade a life she loves for something new and unknown?
She’s not alone in her anxiety.
I am anxious about upcoming changes too. Suddenly I’m not going to be a homeschool mom, which means my whole world is turning upside down. Part of me is jealous of my daughter. At least she knows that she is going to college. I still have no idea what my next season includes!
But I can choose to willingly embrace this time in my life because God already prepared it for me. He knows my life’s path and I can walk in it with Him, knowing that He is going to be there with me through every twist and turn.
So the truth is, I picked this Bible verse for me too!
Here’s to a new seasons — to accepting the reality of my life, to forgiving myself and others, to moving forward into the unknown, and to embracing all that is to come.
Most of all, here’s to knowing God walks with us so we are never alone.
Refuse to worry about tomorrow, but deal with each challenge that comes your way, one day at at time.
Nathan’s voice had a concerned edge to it, making my heart race a little faster than normal. Sure enough, as soon as I saw Megan, pale-face and cradling her arm, I could tell she was in pain.
“I’m fine, GiGi. It’s nothing,” Megan said, though I could see tears still welled up in the corners of her eyes. She wiggled her fingers. “See,” she said with a wry grin, “it’s definitely not broken.”
“It may not be broken, but I’d still like to check out your arm. Show me where it hurts.”
Megan pulled her arm instinctively closer. “Oh, really … it’s fine.”
I could see the purple tint of a bruise already beginning to show on the side of her right forearm. “Sweetie, what happened? I can see where you’ve bruised yourself. It must really hurt.”
Megan looked first at Nathan. His eyes grew wide and he shrugged his shoulders at her. Megan shook her head and signed. Finally she said, “GiGi, I just bumped up against the corner where the wall sticks out. It really doesn’t hurt me much at all.“
Something about her answer and the look on Nathan’s face made me feel suspicious as to what really happened, but I could tell Megan wasn’t going to open up yet. I gave her a couple of ibuprofen tablets and suggested she find a quiet activity to rest her arm for the remainder of the morning.
An hour or so later, I saw Megan in the kitchen getting water. A huge knot stuck out, and the bruise was dark in color. I noticed my right-handed stepdaughter using her left hand to get a drink. But after a second round of questioning, she continued to insist her arm was quite alright.
At lunch, Megan winced through the meal, picking up utensils gingerly as if even the slightest movement cause her pain. However, she never uttered a complaint.
By early afternoon, it was obvious to everyone that despite Megan’s bravado, the pain was intense. The arm might not be broken, but I wondered if it was fractured. I also was curious as to why Megan was so closed-mouthed about how the injury occurred.
I called her pediatrician, who said we should bring her in to check for fractures. On the car ride to the office, I said, “Megan, I need to know exactly what happened to hurt your arm. The doctor will need to know how it happened. Casually bumping up against the corner of a wall shouldn’t cause this kind of pain. So, be honest with me and tell the truth about what happened.”
With eyes cast down, Megan sighed deeply. “I know you will be mad at me because I hurt my arm when I was doing something I shouldn’t have been doing.”
“Megan, it’s okay. Just tell me and then maybe I can help,” I said as I patted her hand.
“Well … Nathan and I went into dad’s office. I know we aren’t suppose to go play in there, but we did. First I had a turn sitting in dad’s chair while Nathan spun me around. Then I let Nathan have a turn sitting in the chair. But while I was spinning him, I somehow flung my arms too fast and my right arm crashed into the wall, right on the corner where it sticks out near dad’s desk. I didn’t want to tell you because I knew we would get into trouble.” Megan finished with a sigh.
“Aw, Meg … I’m sorry you got hurt. I wish you had told me sooner. You and Nathan did disobey a direct rule. But hiding the truth never makes a situation better. You’ve been in physical pain from your arm all day, but your heart has been heavy too. And it didn’t have to be that way.”
Meg smiled shyly. “I know. It was silly not to tell you. I already feel better because the truth is out, and I don’t have to hide it anymore. GiGi, will you forgive me for playing in dad’s office … and for hiding the truth about my arm?”
I grinned back. “You bet I will! And I’d say your hurt arm is a natural consequence for your disobedience, so we are all good. Now, let’s go get this arm checked out.“
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
As I suspected, our doctor did want Megan to have her arm x-rayed, and in short order he sent us off to a local imaging center to get an X-ray taken. As we left the pediatrician’s office, I called to the house to let the rest of my kids know it might be another hour or so before we got back home.
Immediately, four voices in the background began to clamor for me to come by and pick them up so they might come with us. “Why on earth would you want to come? We are just going to be sitting in a waiting room.” I asked.
“I’m really concerned about Megan,” said Julia, a little too enthusiastically.
“Yeah! We want to be there in case she needs any extra support,” echoed Maddie.
“It’s just an X-ray, guys … not surgery.” Their enthusiasm for coming along to get an X-ray was nearly as strange as Megan’s initial reticence to share how exactly her arm got injured.
“Well, personally, I just want to come so I can get a free coke and a couple of cookies,” said Joel.
“And candy! Don’t forget the candy!” said Nathan, his voice gleeful and giddy.
“Aha!” I said. “There’s the truth! I forgot how that imaging center has cookies and soft drinks and lots of bowls of candy strategically placed in the waiting room. You people aren’t concerned about Megan at all!”
“But Mom! It’s not fair that Megan will be the only one who gets to enjoy the free food … especially when she was the one being disobedient in the first place,” pouted Julia.
“Fair or not, that’s just the way it is. I’m not coming to get you, but I will return home soon.” With that, I hung up my cell phone.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
Fortunately, Megan’s arm was not broken or fractured. She just had a deep, severe bruise which took several days to heal.
Afterward, I began to think about Megan’s situation. She tried to hide the truth because she was afraid of being punished because she was disobedient. And then, somehow, despite her failure to obey and in spite of her lie, she was still blessed with a free soft drink and cookies as she waited to get her arm x-rayed.
Isn’t God like that with us?
We sin against Him all the time, and then lie to Him about our actions. And yet, He blesses us in so many ways. His love is deeper than all of our wrong doings. His love is greater than our inability to be truthful with ourselves. His love disciplines and yet blesses at the same time.
X is for X-Ray,
and for the reminder that God sees right into our sinful hearts, but loves and blesses His children in spite of it.
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.
Luke 2:1 (KJV)
Back when my children were relatively tiny people, my favorite Bible verse was actually just the phrase “and it came to pass.”
You might laugh, but during that season of my life those five small words felt like a balm to my weary soul. One thing moms of young children know is while the various stages and phases of infant and toddler life may feel long and arduous, they all eventually come to an end.
So, when Joel refused to eat anything other than peanut butter fold overs for the entire month of June or the winter that Nathan threw a tantrum whenever I put socks and shoes on his little feet or the time when sweet baby Julia went on a sleep strike for three weeks straight, I clung tightly to the wisdom found in that simple phrase because somehow just knowing it would eventually end made my tired spirit feel encouraged to just keep going.
And it came to pass …
Are you as ready for the new year as I am?
Normally, I love everything about New Year’s Eve. After all, it’s the day Jon and I got married, so we always have lots of great things to celebrate at our house.
But this year, I am extra excited. After all, 2020 has been a long and arduous year with its pandemic, murder hornets and locust swarms, Australian bushfires and American wildfires, rioting in the streets, racial tensions, the presidential election from you know where … not to mention, the death of Alex Trebek.
Thank goodness a year can only last twelve months! Can I get an amen?
Yet, as hopeful as I am for all the good that 2021 might bring our way, I’m also mindful that hope and peace and joy are not guarantees for the new year. If we are expecting 2021 to bring us only good news, then we are simply setting ourselves up for a big disappointment.
Hope isn’t found in the promises of good health.
Peace isn’t found in our elected leaders.
The state of the economy, the security of our jobs, and the amount of money in our bank accounts can never give us real or lasting joy.
Temporary circumstances cannot ever provide anything other than temporary feelings. Unfortunately, all things on this earth are temporary.
Everything, that is, except for Jesus Christ and all that belongs to Him.
The great news is that you can belong to Jesus, too.
If you already belong to Jesus, then you already understand that the very best gift of Christmas is His presence in your heart.
If you don’t belong to Jesus or aren’t sure, then I’d love to tell you more about how you can. It’s as simple as A-B-C … Admitting you are a sinner; Believing Jesus lived a perfect life, took the punishment for your sins through His death on the cross, and rose victoriously back to life; Confessing that He is Lord of all and surrendering to living your life by following Him. Trust me … doing this will be the very best Christmas present you could ever give yourself!
“But this Christmas know that He came for you. As broken and messed up as your year may have been, His love is infinitely greater. He is able. Able to restore joy, bring peace and truly bless your Christmas with the best gift of all – His presence.”
Susan Narjala, Making Space: An Advent Devotional
Wishing you all the very merriest of Christmases and the most joyous of new years!
Of all the Christmas decorations out there, Nativity scenes are my absolute favorite.
I currently own six different nativity sets, and yet every year when Christmas decorations start to appear in the stores, I have the urge to run out and buy another one or two. Jon doesn’t understand my desire to fill my house with all the beautiful Nativity scenes. I have too many as it is because I don’t have enough space to display all of the ones I own. Yet a part of me wonders if a girl can own too many Christmas Nativity sets.
As I decorated my house for Christmas and displayed my beautiful Nativities, I thought about how my love for Nativity sets started when I was a young girl, as well as some of the beautiful Christmas lessons I’ve learned from setting up Nativity scenes.
These are three of my favorite Nativity stories.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
When I was a little girl, I knew the Christmas season had arrived when my mother pulled out the Nativity set.
She always got it out in early December. Sometimes we wouldn’t decorate a tree until it was almost Christmas, but the Nativity set was put out early in the season to remind us of the real story of Christmas.
My brother and sister and I played for hours with the Nativity. Ours was made from a very study plastic. It was not cheaply made nor did it look cheap, but because it was so sturdy it was also very kid friendly. Nothing could be easily broken on it — at least not until we were all grown and Brooke’s dog got hold of some of the shepherds and maybe a wise man or two.
Each of us had our own way of playing with the Nativity.
I liked to arrange all the characters so that it covered the entire coffee table. Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus were settled into the wooden barn. The cow and the donkey were either in the creche or nearby. Not too far off to one side were the shepherds and their sheep, while a great distance off to the other side were the wise men with their camels.
Unfortunately, I always had a big dilemma over where to place the angels. There were two of them: one kneeling and one that was standing. I typically put one angel on a little flat section of barn roof, but should it be the kneeling angel or the standing one? Once I made that critical decision, then there was the problem of where to put the other angel. Should it be inside the barn worshipping Jesus or be near the shepherds bringing them news of great joy? This problem drove my Type-A brain crazy every single Christmas of my childhood.
I don’t really recall exactly how my brother Reid played with the Nativity. He probably arranged it so that the shepherds were fighting with the wise men or some other such silly boy nonsense. Or maybe he included extra characters in the scene: Star Wars and G. I. Joe figures guarding the baby or wise men arriving on the scene riding in tiny Matchbox cars. Probably he just spent time heckling me and Brooke over how we set up the Nativity scene and informing us that we did it all wrong.
But Brooke … well, I never will forget how she played with our Nativity set.
She worked hard, crowding all the characters right up into the barn. The pieces were literally crammed inside: shepherds stuffed next to wise men, animals doing handstands in the back corners. It was as if her goal was to get everyone as close to the infant Jesus as possible.
As a child, I never truly appreciated my sister’s way of acting out the Christmas story. I would come along behind her and put a little space between the shepherds and the wise men. However, now that I’m an adult and a parent, I have to admit I’m impressed by my sister’s innate understanding of the real meaning of Christmas.
Lesson 1:Get as close to the babe in the manger as possible.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Three years ago, my son Nathan bought me a Nativity set to add to my collection.
It was a pretty glass set, so small and sweet. He found it in a box of Christmas items at the antique store where he worked part-time, and purchased it for my birthday. His boss gave him a pretty good deal on it, and after I opened it I understood why.
Do you see the problem?
This nativity is actually the parts and pieces from several incomplete versions of the same nativity set that have been combined into one very inaccurate nativty. The absurd allotment of characters includes two Marys, three Josephs, and six Wise Men. The shepherds and angels are completely missing altogether.
I have to admit that I laughed the first time I saw it. It is just so crazy!
Every year when I pull it out from the box, I still laugh. And the giggles continue as I put the extra Mary and two of the Josephs on shepherd duty. Usually by the time I collect the Wise Men into a small horde, I am wiping away tears from the absurdity of this mismatched nativity.
And yet, every year I am reminded of a simple but oh-so-important truth as I set up my antique glass nativity, and that is that there is only one baby Jesus. I don’t have that particular piece in duplicates, nor is he missing altogether. And I think that’s really important to note.
Lesson 2:There is only one Savior. His name is Jesus.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I’ve always wanted a fancy Nativity set to display in my yard during the Christmas season.
Hobby Lobby has a beautiful outdoor nativity that costs several hundred dollars. Jon and I priced it a couple of years ago, and it’s nowhere near our price range for outdoor Christmas decor.
I have seen those simple Nativity scenes cut from plywood and painted white. These can usually be purchased for a reasonable price. I’ve also found patterns online to make them yourself. We’ve never bought or made one. Probably the biggest deterrent has been that we don’t have a truck to transport this large decorative piece or the plywood to make it to our house.
One year, Jon bought a blow-up Nativity for our yard. We had foster toddlers at the time, and they loved our Nativity. Sadly, it only lasted about three Christmases before it wouldn’t blow up anymore.
This Christmas, I told Jon that I thought of something we might be able to do for our yard and he was glad to help me make this vision come to life.
Together, we pulled out bits and pieces of wood from our shed and constructed a manger plus a cross. It took us just a couple of hours. I love the rustic appearance. Later, we went to Hobby Lobby, where I bought some straw and an old-looking piece of fabric for the swaddling cloth. All together we spent $6 on Christmas decorations for our yard.
I know it’s not a traditional Nativity, but it’s still really special to me. I’ll always cherish Jon’s enthusiasm for bringing my vision to fruition, as well as the time we spent together working on the project. And I think it will be hard for me to forget us searching through the fabrics to find the perfect one for our swaddling cloth.
But what I love the very most is that the manger is empty. Jesus didn’t stay an infant. He grew up and led a perfectly sinless life. He lived just to die and take the punishment for my sins.
Lesson 3: The manger in Bethlehem means nothing without the Cross of Calvary.
Here’s the best news of all: Jesus isn’t on the cross either.
That’s because He rose from the dead. He lives eternally, and through His death and resurrection offers me eternal life too.
It’s simple. The first step is to admit that I am a sinner, incapable of living life without breaking God’s laws. The punishment for not obeying God is death or eternal separation from Him.
Next I believe that Jesus came to live that perfect life without sin, and willingly took my punishment (death on the cross). However, He rose back to life and overcame death. The tomb is empty.
Finally, I repent or turn from living life my own way and surrender to living life God’s way. I confess Jesus to be the Lord and Savior of my life. And when I do that, God says that though I die an earthly death, I will live with Him forever in Heaven.
The best Christmas present out there is the presence of Jesus in your heart and life.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.