Thanks, Mom! (Reprise)

Her children rise up and call her blessed.
Proverbs 31:28a

My dear little mom was born on November 24, 1931. Every few years, the anniversary of her birth falls on Thanksgiving. I think it’s so appropriate when it does since Mom’s life blessed me and many others. Thus, in grateful appreciation to God for the gift of a godly mother and in recognition of what would have been her 91st birthday on Thanksgiving this year, I offer this lightly-edited version of the initial post.[1]

Mom’s Mottos

Following are some nuggets of wisdom Mom shared with me throughout my life. I referred to them as “Mom’s mottos” in her eulogy.[2] They’ve become ingrained in my psyche, and I’ve passed them on to my daughters and am now sharing them with my grandchildren.

People will let you down, but God never will. Mom and I endured numerous trials together in the 62 years between my birth and her passing. Lies, disappointments, job loss, broken relationships, health crises, and deaths. Through it all, Mom taught me to depend on the One who says He’ll never leave or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6), faithfully keeps His promises (Hebrews 10:23), and speaks only truth (Hebrews 6:18). We will have troubles in this world, but Jesus has overcome the world. We can find peace in Him. (John 16:33)

When faced with a list of tasks, do whatever’s bothering you the most first and get it behind you. When I felt overwhelmed, which was more often than I liked to admit, Mom encouraged me with this time-tested advice bestowed upon her by one of her grade-school teachers. Though it may not have been inspired by Scripture originally, there’s undoubtedly a Biblical tie-in. Usually, when my to-do list becomes overloaded, it’s filled with chores associated with temporal concerns. Cooking, cleaning, weeding, mulching, paying bills and the like are necessary. But Jesus makes it clear we’re to seek eternal things first, trusting Him to provide all we need (Matthew 6:25-33) and spending time at His feet to learn of Him (Luke 10:38-42).

We can’t change anyone else, much as we’d like to sometimes. We can only give an account of ourselves. My reply when Mom would tell me this? “You’re right. I have a hard enough time keeping myself in line!” Once again, there’s Biblical truth in Mom’s statement. As part of His magnificent Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned against judging others, especially since we have sin in our own lives to deal with (Matthew 7:1-5). Praise God for giving us His Spirit, which is at work in us to bring about the transformation we’re incapable of accomplishing on our own (2 Corinthians 3:17-18). Furthermore, we’re called to pray for others, because only He can soften hardened hearts (Ezekiel 36:25-27).

We can’t give up. We’ve got to hold on to our faith and keep going. Throughout her life, Mom faced challenges that may have led some to quit or become bitter. In the last decade of her life alone, she:

  • shattered the bones in her right shoulder, an injury that required surgery to install a plate and multiple screws, and left her with a limited range of motion in that arm.
  • suffered a heart attack that led to the discovery of three severely-blocked arteries resulting in emergency open-heart surgery.
  •  fractured a vertebra in her back and had a procedure known as kyphoplasty to repair it.

Mom endured daily pain due to the ravages of arthritis that led to enlarged joints in her fingers and cartilage deterioration resulting in a bone-on-bone right knee. Yet she rarely mentioned her constant aches. Instead, she clung to God’s mercies which are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-24), and encouraged those in her inner circle to do the same. Not surprisingly, her life verse was Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” It appears on her grave marker.

There’s an end to everything and everybody sometime sooner or later. Mom usually used this phrase when a situation called for consolation, such as when a cherished object wore out, broke, or was lost. But her most poignant use of the saying came several days after she broke her hip. During one of her lucid moments, she recited it to me, followed by, “I guess this is the end of me.” As much as it hurt to hear her acknowledge what was becoming increasingly likely, I could comfort her with the assurance of complete healing that awaited. As we live under the curse where death and brokenness are certainties, we have the promise of Christ’s return when all will be made new, and death will be no more (Revelation 21:1-4).

There’s nothing so bad it couldn’t be worse. Similar to the motto above, Mom used this one to offer comfort. It also reminds me to be thankful even in trying circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). For believers, even death isn’t the worst possible scenario. Instead, it ushers us into the presence of Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:6-8).

That’s a Gulf song. Granted, this statement isn’t advice, but I include it because it alludes to my heritage of faith. Mom grew up in the tiny town of Gulf, NC, where she attended a small Presbyterian church established in the 1800s. When the strains of a familiar hymn from her childhood would begin to play at our current church, Mom’s face would brighten, and one of us would usually lean toward the other and whisper, “That’s a Gulf song.” On a recent Sunday morning, I whispered the same to my 8-year-old granddaughter, explaining the connection after the service. I don’t know how many generations my heritage of faith encompasses, but I know there are at least two behind me and two in front. I pray that legacy of faith will be passed continually from generation to generation until Christ returns (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).

Mom’s Enduring Love

Oh, how I miss Mom! Though petite, she had a big, beautiful smile and an even bigger heart. She was my main cheerleader and most dependable defender. We all need someone who’s unconditionally, unreservedly in our corner. I’m so thankful Mom was in mine. She was my rock because she consistently pointed me to the Rock and reminded me that His everlasting arms are securely holding all who belong to Him in an eternal embrace (Deuteronomy 33:26-27a). And since Mom’s love was grounded in God’s great love, it will be with me until we meet again.

O LORD, thank You for the priceless blessing of a godly mother and the assurance that I will see her again! Please help me to recount Your goodness and faithfulness to coming generations as she did.

Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth!I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done (Psalm 78:1-4).


[1] Please see “Thanks, Mom!”, Archives, November 2018.

[2] Please see “Eulogy for a Godly Mother”, Archives, May 2021.

A Cavalcade of Color

Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
Psalm 96:12 NIV

Dear readers, it’s been a while since I last let photos carry most of the message in one of my posts, but I’m about to remedy that. We’ve experienced a beautiful fall here in NW Georgia, full of copious sunshine and exceptional leaf color. After several arduous months that nearly sucked the life out of me, time spent strolling my property, neighborhood, and local gardens is renewing my spirit. As I behold the beauty all around me, I repeatedly exclaim, sometimes out loud, even though I’m alone, “Look at that tree! The color is gorgeous! Thank You, Lord!!”

Just as springtime arrives with a floriferous shout of praise, fall brings a final hallelujah before the trees and plants settle into their season of rest. For weeks, they’ve expended energy growing and reproducing, setting seeds and buds which will yield next year’s leaves and flowers. Watching this cycle reminds me that it’s not only ok but also necessary for me to rest too.

And so I draw near to the One who bids me find my rest in Him (Matthew 11:28-30).

I hope the following photos, accompanied by lyrics to two of my favorite hymns, How Great Thou Art[1] and This is My Father’s World[2], will be a balm to your soul, a reminder that the One who cares for the birds and the lilies cares even more for His beloved children (Matthew 6:25-33).

This is My Father’s World

This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears all nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.

This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought of rocks and trees, of skies and seas; his hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father’s world, the birds their carols raise, the morning light, the lily white, declare their maker’s praise.

This is my Father’s world: he shines in all that’s fair; in the rustling grass I hear him pass; he speaks to me everywhere.

This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.

This is my Father’s world: why should my heart be sad? The Lord is King; let the heavens ring! God reigns; let the earth be glad!

How Great Thou Art

Oh Lord, my God when I, in awesome wonder consider all the worlds Thy hands have made.
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee how great Thou art, how great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee how great Thou art, how great Thou art.

And when I think that God, His Son not sparing sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in.
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing He bled and died to take away my sin.
Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee how great Thou art, how great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee how great Thou art, how great Thou art.

When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation and take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.
Then I shall bow, in humble adoration and then proclaim, my God, how great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee how great Thou art, how great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee how great Thou art, how great Thou art.

Dear Lord, thank You for the beauty of your creation, full of reminders of your infinite, eternal love for us. There are times when the wrong in this world does seem so strong, whether in our personal lives or globally. Still, we know You are the Ruler over all, sovereign over every detail. May we rest in that confidence until You return, ever praising your Name.


[1] Carl Boberg, 1885. Translated by Stuart K. Hine, 1949.

[2] Maltbie Babcock, 1901.

A Grandmother’s Heart

Children’s children are a crown to the aged, and parents are the pride of their children.
Proverbs 17:6

Mama Bear

Many years ago, an article I read described being a mother as having a piece of your heart walk around in another person. When your child hurts, you hurt. When they rejoice, you rejoice with them. Weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice is scriptural (Rom. 12:15), but those feelings are magnified when the one doing the weeping or rejoicing is your child.

I wasn’t an overprotective parent. As my daughters grew up, I allowed them to work out their challenges to the extent it was appropriate for their ages and maturity levels. Even so, they knew I was there to back them up, and when issues arose that were beyond their abilities, I stepped in to advocate for them.

I’d like to say I always did so with grace, but there were times when anger or frustration got the best of me. Though this may not be the best example, it’s the one that came to mind immediately as I typed that line. One morning, I was following behind newly licensed Mary, who was driving to school with her younger sister Jessie in the passenger seat. Someone cut between us and started tailgating Mary. Unable to give the driver an ample piece of my mind regarding road etiquette, I did the next best thing – I gave her a long, loud blast of my horn. Not my proudest mom moment, but my “cubs” were threatened, and it was the only way I could intervene.

Grandmama Bear

Fast forward nearly 20 years. In addition to my beloved daughters, I now have pieces of my heart residing in a dear son-in-law and three precious grandchildren. Grandmama bear is real, friends! From the early days of strolling grandson Joshua through the neighborhood and wondering how I’d fight off an unfamiliar dog who was eyeing us with a menacing glare to now, messing with my kids or grandkids is likely to raise my hackles.

Such was the case recently. Though it would be inappropriate for me to share details of the challenges we’re currently facing, suffice it to say it’s as if someone threw a grenade into our family. Misunderstandings, accusations, and ultimatums splattered everywhere. And now we’re left to pick up the pieces and find a way forward.

My heart aches for my children and grandchildren.

Reaction or Restraint?

The first few days after hearing the news, my emotions ran hot. Anger, sorrow, bewilderment – back and forth, up and down, my feelings tumbled and churned. Grandmama bear wanted to confront those who’d wreaked havoc, demand an explanation, and describe the painful aftermath of their actions.

But in the two decades since the horn-blowing incident, my spirit has become quieter and gentler because of the influence of the Spirit that dwells within me. So instead of lashing out, I took my jumbled emotions to the One who hears it all and bears it all. After several days of crying out to the Lord, He reminded me that nothing comes to us before it passes through His hand. It wasn’t “those people” who’d inflicted the situation on us. No, our loving heavenly Father had allowed it for His purposes.

 A Firm Foundation

Spewing hateful words and blaring our horns at people may make us feel better in the moment, but Scripture tells us it is fools who give full vent to their anger (Prov. 29:11). Such behavior merely multiplies the harm (Prov. 15:1). As a senior member of my family who yearns to sow seeds that will yield sweet, lasting fruit for generations to come, my actions need to point them to Jesus. Thus,

  • I can pray for my family without ceasing and in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:17; Phil. 4:6-7). When a horde comes against us, and the way ahead is unclear as it is now, I can pray as Jehoshaphat did, “Lord, we don’t know what to do, but our eyes are fixed on you” (2 Chron. 2:12).
  • I can be diligent in sharing my love of God with my grandchildren, weaving His word into our conversations as we sit at the table eating lunch, when we stroll the sidewalks of their neighborhood looking at plants and critters, and when we say bedtime prayers on sleepover nights (Deut. 6:7).
  • I can recite countless examples of God’s goodness to our family, reminding them that God has never forsaken us and never will. Those stories are part of my grandchildren’s heritage of faith, no less than God’s people hearkening back to their deliverance from Egypt (Ps. 78:1-4).
  • As one who has endured the sanctifying fires of loss and hardship, I can testify that God’s promises are a sure anchor for our souls and that His word is a firm foundation on which to build our lives. When the winds of adversity blow through our days, they won’t topple us (Matt. 7:24-25).

As much as this (grand)mama bear would like to protect her offspring and shelter them from all harm, I know that my faith has grown most through the times when I came to the end of myself and clung to God for help. I can say with Elisabeth Elliott, “The deepest things that I have learned in my own life have come from the deepest suffering. And out of the deepest waters and the hottest fires have come the deepest things that I know about God.”[1]

I would not wish a stunted faith for my children and grandchildren. Therefore, I will entrust them to the One who loves them perfectly and eternally, knowing that He will work every hurt and heartache for good (Rom. 8:28). I will watch and pray and continue to grow right along with them.

[1] Elisabeth Elliot, Suffering is Never for Nothing (Nashville, B&H Publishing Group, 2019), p. 9

Letting Go, Reprise

Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
Isaiah 43:18-19

What’s Next?

Over the years Ray and I were married, I saw him pull up plants that were still flourishing to make way for the next season’s annuals. I was always appalled since I’m one of those people who doesn’t like to waste anything. Yet he knew the next season’s plants needed time to establish their roots and get acclimated before the harsher temperatures of the upcoming season arrived, be they summer’s highs or winter’s lows.

As I’ve become more knowledgeable horticulturally, I’ve realized Ray was right. I try to get my cool-season annuals placed in their beds at a reasonable time, even if it means pulling up still-blooming warm-season plants and vice versa. However, I apologize to the plants I’m pulling up and thank them for providing so much enjoyment across their respective season.

Strength or Weakness?

A wise friend pointed out that our strengths become weaknesses when pushed to extremes. I’m loyal and dedicated, a consummate Golden Retriever for those of you familiar with Gary Smalley and John Trent’s animal-based personality profiles.[1] Furthermore, I’m not fond of change. The corporation I worked for had ten guiding principles, one of which was “embrace change.” I used to joke, “Me, embrace change? No, I run the other way!” And one of my longtime friends has dubbed me the least spontaneous person she knows. You get the picture.

Just as I hesitate to remove still-flowering plants from my garden, I find it difficult to let go of people or situations, even when it would be best to do so – loyal and dedicated, to a fault.

After experiencing months of tension at work and wondering if I should resign, my 30-year career ended when my employer eliminated my job. I’ve said on many occasions since that day eleven years ago I’d still be sitting in my cubical, working away, if God hadn’t made it abundantly clear that chapter of my life was over. What an incredible adventure I would have missed had He not lovingly slammed that door and sent me on my way. I went back to school to study horticulture and became a first-time grandmother within six months of losing my job. What a joyful – and humorous – combination of events!

Pressing On

Becoming gainfully unemployed is just one of many positive, life-changing examples I can look back on. So you’d think I’d be better at letting go by now. Sadly, that’s not the case. Probably because letting go feels too much like giving up or losing. Plus, there’s the fear of the unknown. Yet I have no doubt God always knows what’s next. He encourages us to forget the former things and to receive the new ones.

There are times when I’m so focused on the known and the present I can’t perceive anything beyond an underlying sense of disquiet beckoning me to move forward. Like the changing of the seasons triggers my overhaul of the seasonal color in my flower beds, God uses those stressors to prepare me to reach for what lies ahead.

Tentatively, I’ll let go with one hand while keeping a tight grip with the other. But God is able to do far more than I can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20), so isn’t it likely I’ll need both hands to receive whatever He wants to give? Being a patient and compassionate Father, He works to loosen my grip and enable me to embrace His plan – His good and perfect plan (Jeremiah 29:11).

Bearing Witness

Similar to the scenario surrounding the loss of my job, my family is currently facing monumental changes, not of our choosing. Though it would be easy to blame the instigators, I know that apart from God’s will, they would have no power in the situation. Therefore, I have let go more quickly than usual, assured that what others may have meant for evil, God surely means for good (Genesis 50:20).

One of the benefits of growing older is amassing a mental file folder overflowing with examples of God’s goodness and faithfulness. I can share them with my children and grandchildren as they go through this season of testing, reminding them that letting go isn’t giving up or losing. It’s making way for the new.

Lord, You are in the business of making all things new, including Your children. Please help us to let go of what lies behind, yet never forget instances of your steadfast love as we press onward to You and our calling in Christ.


[1] For more information visit smalleyinstitute.com

Beach Butterflies

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30

Bountiful Butterflies

There were numerous gulf fritillary butterflies at the beach this week, more than I’d ever noticed on previous trips to Hilton Head Island. Watching them flit and soar in the unrelenting breeze made me think, “You’ve got to be strong to be a beach butterfly!”

As I strolled the quarter mile from our rental house and then up and down the beach, I also noted there weren’t nearly as many flowers compared to my floriferous garden, where bees and butterflies can pick from a wide variety of colorful options.

Despite the challenges, they seemed joyful. Sometimes the butterflies would gather in groups, then fly separately for a while, only to come back together, fellow travelers making their way to the Florida peninsula.

Headwinds

My family has endured more headwinds than gentle breezes over the past couple of years – Mom’s passing, Dad’s stroke and move to assisted living, and the sale of their house and dispersal of their belongings – and we continue to face trying circumstances. More significant changes are ahead for us.

Unlike in years past, my time at the beach didn’t provide the respite I so desperately needed. We’d barely settled in before we started wondering if we’d have to leave to avoid hurricane Ian. We did end up shortening our trip, and I returned home to all the clutter and responsibilities I’d left just a few days before.

My soul is weary. I need the rest only God can give, but I also need the companionship of those who will speak truth to me, assuring me that His power is made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). Ones who will remind me that, like the butterflies, we’re just passing through on our way Home. The afflictions that plague us now are light and momentary compared to the glory that awaits (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

Watchful, Welcoming Savior

I enjoyed eating lunch on the screened-in deck at the vacation house. An aged fig tree grew next to it, providing a perch for the birds so I could watch them undetected. There was a noticeable increase in activity and twittering the day before the storm was supposed to hit. I wondered if the birds were strategizing where to hunker down and how to make it through the storm. I hope one of them reminded the others, “We don’t need to worry. His eye is always on us!” (Matthew 10:29)

I may not have found the rest I was hoping for at the beach, but it’s available to me anytime, anywhere, when I draw close to my gentle and lowly Savior, Who beckons me to come to Him for comfort, solace, and assurance. The things my weary soul is longing for most.

O gentle Jesus, thank You that You will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick (Isaiah 42:3). We know You are acquainted with our grief and have borne our sorrows (Isaiah 53:4), so we approach Your throne of grace confidently in our time of need to find the grace and mercy You’ve promised (Hebrews 4:16).

When We Least Expect It, Reprise

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.
1 Thessalonians 4:16

Surprise!

It caught my eye as soon as I pulled into the driveway, weary from a long drive home after a week at the beach. So much time had passed since the cream-colored Lycoris last bloomed, I didn’t even remember it was there. Yet despite its long absence, in a perfectly-timed reappearance, it provided a cheerful, “Welcome home!”

Its return was even sweeter because my late husband, Ray, planted the bulb from which it sprouted over two decades ago. The intriguing inflorescence has shown up each year since, accompanied by additional specimens in adjacent flower beds.

One of the common names for Lycoris albiflora and its more common red-flowered cousin, Lycoris radiata, is “surprise lily”[1] because its foliage disappears weeks before the bloom spike appears, thus allowing time for you to forget it’s there.

Be Prepared!

Jesus said His promised return will be a surprise. In fact, He said no one knows the day or hour except the Father (Matthew 24:36). After making this statement, Jesus went on to tell several parables emphasizing the importance of being watchful and ready:

  • First, there’s the tale of the master of the house who would have stayed awake to protect his dwelling from a break-in had he known when the thief would arrive (Matthew 24:43-44).
  • Then there’s the story contrasting the behavior of faithful and wicked servants (Matthew 24:45-51).
  • And finally, the tale of the ten virgins, five wise and five foolish (Matthew 25:1-14).

All three have the same warning: be prepared! Our Master may return at any moment.

Telling Future Generations

The Old Testament is full of prophecies regarding Jesus’ incarnation, yet 400 years passed from the time of the last one until His appearance – more than enough time for people to forget or doubt. Nonetheless, God preserved the memory of His covenant promises across all those centuries, as exemplified by Simeon and Anna. Both were devout. Both watched hopefully for the coming of the Savior. Enlightened by the Spirit, they exulted over weeks-old Jesus when He was presented at the Temple, knowing the long-awaited One was before them (Luke 2:22-36).

The wait for Jesus’ return is nearing 2,000 years. I rejoice that I am one of those expectantly waiting because generations before me told their children, who in turn told their children so the marvelous message of God’s glorious deeds would not be forgotten (Psalm 78:1-4). Likewise, we must tell our children and grandchildren of His great love and faithfulness and instruct them in His commandments (Deuteronomy 6:4-7).

Called Home  

When my mom was a little girl, talk of the end of the world scared her. In her wisdom, my grandmother told her, “Honey, the end of the world comes for someone every day.” And so it does, sometimes when we least expect it. My husband, barely 39 years old, went to work on a beautiful spring day, suffered a fatal heart attack, and never returned home.

Whether we remain until Jesus returns or He calls us Home before, may we be found ready and watchful, faithfully going about our Father’s business. Though the timing is unknown, His second coming is as certain as His first, and our eternal destiny is secure.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
(1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)

Dear Lord, thank You that even though present circumstances sometimes cause us to forget we’re merely pilgrims in this world, we can look forward to arriving safely Home. We may not be able to pencil in the day of Your return on our calendars, but it’s a surprise we can anticipate with joy and certainty.


[1] Common names for Lycoris radiata include surprise lily, hurricane lily, and spider lily.

Blessed Ties, Reprise

Dear Readers, I’ve got some exciting news – I’m working on my next book! Since most of my writing time will go toward that project, I’ll be sprucing up some previous posts to keep Back 2 the Garden going. They’ll be new for those of you who’ve found your way to the Garden more recently, and I’m hoping longtime followers will find the updated versions worth reading again. And, as you think of it, I would appreciate your prayers for my writing efforts.

For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
Galatians 3:26

First Impressions

It’s customary to meet the family of your intended before making a lifetime commitment to each other. Ray had ample opportunity to interact with my parents in Delaware, but it took a 1,400-mile trek to South Dakota for me to get to know his kin.

The sixth of seven siblings, Ray was preceded by three sisters and two brothers. His youngest brother, Phil, completed the family. There were also 18 nieces and nephews at the time of my first visit in September 1982. Thus, we spent much of our flight going over relationships, with Ray patiently coaching me on who was married to who and the names and ages of their offspring.

Although I’m an only child, I’m no stranger to large families. My dad was one of ten, my mom one of eight, so I had plenty of aunts and uncles as well as 31 first cousins. Nonetheless, knowing Ray was seeking his family’s input before he asked me to marry him made me somewhat nervous.

I’m not sure what those fun-loving folks from the heartland thought of this serious, suburbanite introvert, but they welcomed me warmly. Furthermore, I must have garnered enough support since Ray proposed three months later, and a substantial Midwest contingent attended our wedding the following year. Ray and I exchanged vows one sweltering August evening as they and other relatives and friends watched. Thus I became “Patsy Kuipers,” an official member of the family.

Building Bonds

Years passed. We added two daughters to the tally of nieces and nephews, and we strived to return to Ray’s hometown every other year, keeping in touch via phone calls and cards in between.

Then came April 19, 1997. Barely 39 years old, Ray succumbed to a fatal heart attack, like his father 34 years before him. I trembled as I dialed my sister-in-law’s number, tasked with placing a call I didn’t want to make. I was relieved when her husband answered, confident he was strong enough to hear the unthinkable news, wise enough to know how to convey it to the unsuspecting kinfolk.

Once again, my Kuipers family made the journey eastward, first to Georgia for Ray’s funeral and then on to North Carolina for his burial. In our shared grief, we cried, laughed, and celebrated the life of the one we’d lost. We reminded each other that death is not the end for those who belong to Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:20-28).

Mary, Jessie, and I resumed our every-other-year visits until cumulative life events kept us away for almost eight years. When we finally returned in 2014, our family unit had increased by three. What a delight to have son-in-law Justin, and grandchildren, Joshua and Lyla, with us for the long-awaited reunion.

Familiar Grounds

The summer of 2017 found Jessie and me back in the heartland. Ray’s hometown, Platte (population ~1,300), is a picturesque farming community. The surrounding land is flat, the roads straight, and the horizon seems to stretch forever. The vista is a swath of differently-hued greens and browns dotted with placid cows and classic red barns. As the crops sway in the ever-present breeze, it’s virtually impossible to keep from mentally humming “America the Beautiful.” 

Inevitably, when I mention I’m going to South Dakota to visit my Kuipers relatives, someone will comment, “How nice that you’ve kept in touch with Ray’s family.” I suppose some would view Ray’s death as having severed those ties. How wrong they would be!

As I traversed miles of open country on my most recent trip, I thought how familiar it all feels, how much I enjoy the traditions that have developed over the years, and treasure the relationships. My brothers and sisters-in-law connect me to Ray, while my children and grandchildren allow them to see glimpses of their brother.

Unbreakable Bond

Although much fun accompanies our visits (I laugh more in a week in Platte than I do in a month at home!), our times together are tinged with sadness for the ones no longer with us. My melancholy lingered after I returned home last time. Maybe it was the visit to South Dakota State, Ray’s alma mater, or watching brother-in-law Dave tenderly clean the grave marker of his beloved wife or standing by brother-in-law Phil’s grave for the first time since we attended his service.

But most likely, it was the photos from one of my early trips to Platte that nudged me over the edge. Ray and I were newlyweds, blissfully unaware of what lay ahead. Grief that usually resides deep within my soul after 25 years without my partner spontaneously surfaced as I gazed at our youthful innocence through tear-filled eyes.

I lost Ray’s care and companionship when his earthly life ended, but I didn’t lose his family, my family. How thankful I am our shared history now spans 40 years. So many memories – times of laughter and tears, rejoicing and sorrow. Yet I am most grateful for the strong heritage of faith that exists in my family-by-marriage. Our shared belief in Jesus as Savior and Lord sustains us. It’s the real tie that binds us. The one that will last through eternity when we are reunited with our loved ones around His throne (John 6:40; John 10:28; Revelation 7:13-17).

I was so honored when the siblings invited me to stand in Ray’s place in this age-order photo taken in July 2014.

Dear Lord, thank You for the blessing of being Your children and the eternal bond we have with You and each other through Jesus, our elder Brother.

“Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.

Before our Father’s throne we pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one, our comforts and our cares.

When we asunder part, it gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again.”[1]


[1] “Blest Be the Tie That Binds,” John Fawcett, lyrics

The Incomparable Word

Introduction

Occasionally, I depart from my usual story-telling format to share a Bible study or devotional I prepared for the women in my church. Such is the case this week.

Earlier this summer, as I thought and prayed about my designated topic, Scripture, verses started coming to my mind. I realized Scripture has plenty to say about itself, so I let some beloved passages teach the lesson with minimal comment from me.

I pray reading the following verses (still with minimal commentary) will remind you how blessed we are to have the incomparable Word of God to guide, nourish, and protect us.

Spiritual Nourishment

The first passage that came to my mind was Jesus’ response to Satan’s temptation to satisfy His hunger by changing stones into bread. Recorded in Matthew 4:4 and Luke 4:4, Jesus’ reply, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,’” hearkened back to an event recorded in Deuteronomy:

And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
Deuteronomy 8:2-3

The Armor of God

In using Scripture to rebuke Satan, Jesus gave us an example of putting on the armor of God as described in Ephesians:

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil . . . and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God . . .
Ephesians 6:11, 17

Living and Active

Hebrews also describes the Word of God as a sword, and it goes on to proclaim it is alive.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
Hebrews 4:12

Have you ever read a passage you know you’ve read many times before, but this time it comforts, convicts, or informs you in a whole new way? I know I have! God’s Word is indeed living and active.

Trustworthy

The night before Jesus went to the cross, He prayed for His disciples, those who were with Him then, and all those to come, including us.

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
John 17:17

God-breathed

In his second letter to Timothy, Paul described the all-encompassing role of God’s Word in our sanctification.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17

To Be Obeyed

James never minced words. He made it clear that reading the Word isn’t enough. We must do as it says.

Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
James 1:21-25

A Light

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
Psalm 119:105  

Think about footlights in a theater or airplane cabin when the lights have been dimmed. They provide enough light to safely take the next step or two, not see great distances. And so it is with God’s word. Though Scripture describes the end of the story (see Revelation 21 and 22), we sometimes wish to know the details of how our lives will play out. Instead, the Lord leads us step by step as we live by faith and endeavor to follow Him.

Fruitful

 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
Isaiah 55: 10-11

I used to think I needed to share the whole plan of salvation to be an effective witness. God has repeatedly shown me that isn’t the case. Even when I use words like “blessed” or mention I attend Bible study or quote a snippet of Scripture, it can open the door for me to share more, knowing that God’s word will accomplish His purposes.

Eternal

The grass withers, the flower fades,  but the word of our God will stand forever.
Isaiah 40:8

Pure, Perfect, Desirable, Sustaining

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart. The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever. The rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. God’s word is like honey.
Psalm 19:7-11

The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.
Psalm 12:6

Jesus – The Word Made Flesh

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:1-5; 14

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
John 6:35

With these verses, we come full circle. Jesus, the Word, provides the very life alluded to in the passage in Deuteronomy. As the second Person of the Trinity, He has existed from eternity past and will exist for all eternity. In Him, we have all we need for life and godliness – spiritual nourishment, guidance, protection from the evil one, and victory over death.

So, dear readers, I hope you’ll revisit the passages I’ve included and maybe even add some more (this list is far from exhaustive) as you contemplate the beauty and sufficiency of God’s incomparable Word.

Buying and Selling Real Estate – Epilog

Now to Him who is able to [carry out His purpose and] do superabundantly more than all that we dare ask or think [infinitely beyond our greatest prayers, hopes, or dreams], according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever. Amen.
Ephesians 3:20-21 (Amplified Bible)

Needed Reminders

Six weeks ago, I posted “Buying and Selling Real Estate – A Tutorial on God’s Faithfulness.”[1] I’d begun the arduous task of clearing out the house my parents shared for the last 24 years of their nearly 70 years of marriage. My to-do list was long, and I had many things to check off before we would be ready to place a “For Sale” sign in the yard.

There were moments when the emotions associated with the duties set before me threatened to undo me. I knew I needed a touchstone, so I revisited and revised the post I’d written several years ago. When I wondered if I’d ever reach the finish line, I reminded myself of God’s over and above goodness when it came to buying and selling real estate. And as I worked, I prayed He would provide another family to enjoy the house as we had for so long.

The Offer

Four weeks passed, weeks in which I finished going through Mom and Dad’s things, staged an estate sale, gave away usable items that didn’t sell, and threw away the small portion that remained. On the evening of July 25th, the same day the house had been deep-cleaned, the sign went up. It was a sobering sight, but it also meant the light at the end of the long, dark tunnel I’d been in was growing brighter.

Two days later, just hours after the listing went live, my realtor texted, “Call me when you can.” I knew there had been a showing that afternoon, and I allowed the possibility of already getting an offer to enter my mind.

Even so, I could barely believe the news my realtor conveyed when I placed the call. The prospective buyers made a cash offer and wanted to close the following week! I had hoped and prayed we wouldn’t lack offers since the market is still strong and the house is beautiful. Still, I had prepared myself for another month or so of daily visits to the empty property, expecting it would take that long to complete the necessary paperwork, inspections, and financing.

But God did immeasurably more than I dared to ask or think, as He often does.

Worrywart

I’d like to say I spent the next eight days blissfully anticipating the closing, but some what-ifs poked at the corners of my mind. Though clearing out the house had taken me into every cabinet, closet, and corner, I wasn’t an electrician or plumber, and I certainly hadn’t been up on the roof to check the shingles. What if something significant came up during inspection? Or a tree fell on the house during one of our frequent summer thunderstorms? Or the buyers changed their minds?

I prayed the Lord would forgive me for my misgivings and enable me to rest in His provision and rejoice that the grueling responsibility of caring for two houses – mine and Dad’s – was drawing to an end even more quickly than I imagined.  

And I continued to pray for the family who would soon take ownership.

Closing Day

None of my fears came to pass. One by one, we checked off the activities required prior to closing as the appointed time drew ever closer. August 5th, a day already full of meaning for our family, would now be associated with another momentous event.[2]

I asked several friends to pray I wouldn’t cry throughout the entire proceeding. I shed a few tears as I signed the papers transferring ownership. And I shed a few more as I told the buyers a bit about how Mom and Dad graciously moved to Georgia after Ray died to help me raise Mary and Jessie, my then elementary-aged daughters. I recounted how the house became a second home to me and my girls, the site of countless family dinners and celebrations across 25 years.

Then the buyers, Patricia and Jessica, a mother-daughter duo, described their situation. Patricia’s husband passed away in April. She decided to sell, not wanting to remain alone in the house they’d shared. Jessica then sold the home she and her two daughters lived in with the intent they’d all move in together. Not desiring to commit to a new house, they waited to secure buyers before they began looking, expecting to be homeless for a while.

But then they found Dad’s house, empty and freshly-scrubbed, ready to move in. As I listened to their story, I knew the Lord had been working on their behalf as well as mine. They wouldn’t have to find an interim place to stay, and my weighty responsibilities would end much more quickly than I’d anticipated.

As Patricia said, “It was meant to be.”

Attention to Detail

I apologized to Patricia and Jessica about the state of the yard, saying it needed some TLC. They responded, “No problem! We’ll get it back in shape.” Patricia went on to say that working in the yard is relaxing and rewarding for her. I told her we’re kindred spirits.

God pays attention to the details. The family configuration – a mother, daughter, and two granddaughters –  so similar to ours, though we also had Dad. A shared love of gardening, an appreciation for the house and its backstory, an open invitation to stop by for a visit – a lovely package of blessings specially prepared by the One Who has a good and perfect plan for His children.

I hugged Patricia after the closing and told her I hoped they’d have many happy years there, making fond memories of their own. She replied, “I know we will. The house has a good history.”

And so it does.

Dear Lord, thank You for doing abundantly more than I ask or imagine. And thank You for forgiving me for my doubts, compassionately remembering I’m dust (Psalm 103:13-14).


[1] You may find that post in Archives, June 26, 2022.

[2] Mom and Dad were married on August 5, 1951. Ray and I were married on August 5, 1983.

Eating Apples – encore

I first published “Eating Apples” on October 25, 2015, the 50th anniversary of my beloved grandfather’s death. It remains one of my favorite posts because it’s about one of my favorite people. I’ve made several edits and added some scripture references, but the heart of the story – my grandfather’s legacy of faith and love – remains. Today I’m posting this revision in honor of the 132nd anniversary of his birth.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13

Cherished Memories

I don’t have many distinct memories of my grandfather since I was in first grade when he passed away. However, I cherish the recollections I do have. Details provided by my mom as she spoke lovingly of her father over the years complete my mental portrait of this kind and gentle man.  

Born July 31, 1890, James Alton Phillips was a short fellow, about
5’ 3”, who weighed 125 pounds, give or take a few. No doubt genetics played a part in his slight build, but a lifetime of hard work farming his land undoubtedly contributed to his wiry physique. My mom was the baby of her family, the youngest of eight siblings, and her father’s darling. He called her “Babe” and warmed her clothes by the fire for her before she went off to school on cold mornings.

Occasionally my grandmother, sterner in her demeanor, would delegate the task of disciplining a wayward child to my grandfather. He would take the offending party outside beyond her view and tell the child to cry out while he used the switch on some inanimate object instead of their legs.

As for me, I recall walking hand in hand with him to the small general store, stopping by the post office to check Box 73 for mail, and waiting for the train to come by so we could wave to the conductor and count the cars. But my favorite activity was eating apples with him. “PaPa,” as I called him, would sit me on his lap, produce an apple in one hand and a small knife in the other. He’d cut a slice for me, then a slice for himself. Back and forth the ritual would continue until we finished the tasty fruit. For as long as I can remember, I’ve eaten an apple almost every day. And when I do, I always think of my grandfather.

A Godly Man

“Mr. Jim,” as the people around town knew him, was a man of faith, a deacon in the tiny country church where he worshiped. He embodied the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). When he suffered a heart attack a few months before he died, the doctor told him he had to limit his physical activities. The doctor’s order was like a death sentence for a man who loved his garden and was used to being outside. He’d sit in the kitchen of the home he shared with my grandmother, his wife of 55 years, turn his gaze toward the little church, and comment he’d rather be in the cemetery than just sitting around.

Nearly 57 years ago, on October 25, 1965, God called PaPa Home. He had gone outside to check on some work a neighbor was doing for him, work he would much rather have done himself. In a fitting end to his earthly life, he died in his garden. I can still hear my mother’s anguished cry, “No, not Daddy!,” when she received the phone call telling her of his passing.

Abiding Love

Although our relationship was brief in terms of time, and nearly six decades have passed since we last shared an apple, PaPa’s love impacts me to this day. Years after his death, the large corporation I worked for sent me to a training course, one of many I attended during my career. But that one, a self-awareness workshop, was different. A team of psychologists facilitated it, and it was intense. One of our first exercises involved closing our eyes and imagining a safe place. I immediately envisioned myself in my grandfather’s lap, sharing an apple with him. The physical nourishment we’d partaken of paled when compared to the bonds of unconditional love and acceptance formed during our time together.

Today I’m privileged to be “Grammie” to three precious grandchildren. Sharing snacks, especially apples, is one of my favorite things to do with them. It connects me to them and them to my grandfather, who they’ve come to know by my loving accounts of my short yet precious time with him.

A Promised Reunion

I don’t get to visit the small graveyard where my grandparents and many other maternal relatives are laid to rest as often as I’d like. My husband Ray is resting there, too, near my sister, Mary Jeannette, who died in infancy. Last spring, Mom took her place between them, leaving a space for me.

When I worked, my job frequently took me to that area of North Carolina, and I’d visit the cemetery as often as possible. I would gaze at the tombstones, each representing someone I love and long to see again, pondering how glorious it will be when we all rise to new life, a life that will never end (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). For the love we share now is but a shadow of the Love that awaits when the Everlasting Arms reach out to embrace us and welcome us Home (1 Corinthians 13:4-13).

Until then, I’ll remain thankful for little rituals and rock-solid faith, lovingly shared, that can reach across the decades, blessing one generation after another.

O Lord, how great are the gifts of familial love and a heritage of faith! Please help us to be resolute in telling those coming along behind us about Your great love and faithfulness that they too may know the joy of belonging to Your family.