Eulogy For a Godly Mother

Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Proverbs 31:28-30

IMG_4723

Dear Family and Friends,

I’ve mentally written and rewritten this eulogy many times over the past few days. After all, how can you sum up the blessing of having a godly mother in a few minutes and several hundred words? But, as I look out on those of you gathered before me, I know many of you have your own sweet recollections of Mom, and so I hope my comments will help us reminisce together and maybe provide some other images for you to add to your collection.

Tell Them Hello

I was looking forward to bringing Mom back to church with me after she received her Covid vaccinations. Although that occurred several months ago, she was experiencing such pain in her left leg due to sciatica that she couldn’t sit still long enough to attend service. She recently lamented, “This is the longest I’ve ever been away from church in my life.”

She missed her church family so much. But she was here in spirit and, each week when she knew I’d be at church, she’d say, “Tell them all hello for me, and I really appreciate their prayers. That’s what’s getting me through.”

During her year away from Grace, many of you reached out to her via cards, phone calls, and visits. And when you did, it was usually the first thing she’d mention when I’d see her.

“Guess who called me today?”

“I got a nice card. I left it on the counter for you to see.”

“So and so came to see me.”

And a little over a month ago, “A group from church stopped by to sing to me!”

So, “Hello!” from Mom and “Thank you!” from both of us for being here today and for loving her so well to the very end.

Mom’s Mottos

I bet I’m not the only one who has some of their mother’s sayings deeply ingrained in their beings. I want to share a few of what I call “Mom’s Mottos,” most of which were grounded in Scripture.

People will let you down, but God never will. Mom saw me through numerous trials during the 60-plus years we were together. Lies, disappointments, job loss, broken relationships, deaths. Through it all, Mom taught me to depend on the One who says He’ll never leave or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6), who 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)

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 say this? “You’re right. I have a hard enough time keeping myself in line!” As part of His 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 transform us more and more into the image of Christ, a transformation we’re incapable of accomplishing on our own  (2 Corinthians 3:17-18).

We can’t give up. We’ve got to hold on to our faith. Throughout her life, Mom faced challenges that may have led some to quit or become bitter. In the last decade 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 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.
  • spent a combined 24 days in the hospital and rehab recovering from pneumonia.
  • endured daily pain associated with the ravages of arthritis.

Yet Mom 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, often quoting her favorite verse, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

Her final struggle was no different. I watched her battle valiantly to stay with us, her tiny body so fragile and racked with pain and her mind often overwhelmed by imaginings, some pleasant, others troubling.  As I marveled at her tenacity, I remembered the Apostle Paul’s debate in his letter to the Philippians. He knew it would be best for him personally to depart and be with the Lord, but he preferred to remain in the flesh to benefit his children in the faith (Philippians 1:21-24).

467

There’s nothing so bad it couldn’t be worse. My grandmother passed this saying to Mom, and we’ve quoted it to each other many times over the years. It’s been an undercurrent in my thoughts the past couple of weeks. Last year when the pandemic struck, I prayed none of us would end up in the hospital, isolated from loved ones. God graciously answered that prayer. Mom did end up in the hospital, but by then, the stringent visitation protocols were no longer in place. There wasn’t a single day we weren’t able to be with her. And what a blessing to be able to gather today to celebrate her life.

Even so, some may look at the situation and think, “But she died! How could it be worse?” No, for those who die in Christ, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:6-8). I always recall Rev. Todd Allen’s declaration at Ray’s funeral, “Death is not the end, beloved. For the believer,  it is the most glorious beginning.”

The Little Moments

Any of you who know me well know I’m a proponent of savoring the little moments in life. I believe God showers us with good gifts, but we need to be intentional to see and appreciate them. Mom’s final days with us were no different as God provided memorable moments to add to our treasury of good memories.

Two days before Mom broke her hip, Dad left a message for me while I was at church. He asked me to come straight away to help him with Mom, who’d been experiencing some hallucinations. When I arrived, I found her calm and asked if she’d like to spend the afternoon at my house. Typically she would have said, “No, that’s ok. I know you have things to do. I’ll stay here.” Instead, she accepted my invitation. We spent several hours in my sunlit kitchen that afternoon, her reading and me working on my computer. We chatted about the birds, the beautiful day, and the pretty plants growing in my garden.

A couple of times, she said, “Are you sure I can’t help you with something?”

“No, I’m good, thanks!”

“Ok, well, just go ahead with what you need to do. I’m fine.”

One of the things I was working on was a project for our Women’s Ministry Committee, E-ncouragement Through Song, where we’ve been sharing our favorite hymns several times a week. I asked Mom for her favorite, fully expecting Amazing Grace, What a Friend We Have in Jesus, or the like. Instead, she mentioned a song I don’t ever remember hearing, The Land Where We’ll Never Grow Old. I pulled it up on my computer. As the first few notes played, I asked, “Is this it, Mom?” She smiled, nodded, and started to hum along.

As I listened to the lyrics, I understood why she selected it. Even though Mom aged with grace and flourished into old age, with her spirit growing ever more beautiful, she didn’t like the toll the years had taken on her body. She missed driving and working in the yard and, in the last days, even being able to clean her house.

Given all that’s transpired since, I know that afternoon was a beautiful gift, several hours of sweet normalcy with my dear Mom before her earthly life started unraveling at a frantic pace.

Even after she broke her hip and had few lucid periods, there were precious moments to deposit into my memory bank – times when we prayed together, declared our love and appreciation for each other and for God’s many blessings, and professed our assurance that eternity in a land where we’ll never grow old awaits. 

Mom’s final moment was perhaps the most precious of all. Gathered around her bedside, we watched as she took her last breath and slipped peacefully away from us into the presence of Jesus. God mercifully answered our prayers to heal her by calling her Home, where she’s now free from all pain and suffering.

Now What?

I keep thinking I’m going to break down from the weight of this tremendous loss, and I suppose the time will come when grief overwhelms me. I stand before you today, not in my strength, but by the power of the Spirit, the same strength that Mom depended on. I know from losing Ray that it’s often the little things that get to me, not the big events I know to prepare for. Going to get my hair cut without Mom, waiting in line at Starbucks, lunchtimes when I reach for my phone, then remember I can’t call her anymore.

But I also know how blessed I’ve been to have her godly influence for 62 years. Mom will always be with me. She lavished so much love and care and wisdom on me that my heart will be filled to overflowing for the rest of my life. I’ll hear her voice encouraging me and be inspired by her sayings and example. Likewise, my children and grandchildren will benefit from their time with her as she’s shown them the same unconditional love and acceptance she’s always shown me.

I invite you to join me in honoring Mom’s memory by embodying some of her characteristics, which she in turn modeled after Jesus – her love for God and others, her welcoming smile, her steadfast faith.  May we grieve her passing well, not as those without hope, but as those who have an unwavering assurance in Jesus’ promise to return (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). We look forward to the fulfillment of John’s prophecy, recorded in Revelation:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)

Walking Mom Home

IMG_0579

Thelma Thomas November 24, 1931 – April 30, 2021

“I’m going to tell you as much as I can about the job (of writing) . . . It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.” Stephen King

Dear Readers,

It may surprise you to see a Stephen King quote at the top of my post instead of a passage of Scripture, but it’s most appropriate given the events of the past month. Perhaps you’ve noticed I haven’t written for a while. My thoughts and efforts have focused on walking with my beloved mother on the last leg of her journey Home. My flesh grew tired and my brain foggy as I accompanied her. But what a blessing and privilege to do so!

As I sat by her bedside, the Lord allowed her to teach me some final lessons, which I look forward to sharing with you in the coming weeks when I get Back 2 the Garden. Indeed, as Stephen King intimated, life, with all its joys and sorrows, provides the fodder for our stories. For believers that means opportunities to testify to God’s great faithfulness and amazing grace through all of life, from first breath to last.

For now, though, there are services to be planned and held in honor of this precious soul who fought the good fight, finished her race, and kept the faith. May all we say and do in those services glorify Jesus, our Lord and Savior, Who Mom always depended on for her strength.

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

Too Good to Be True

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:7-8

Intriguing Email

I casually scrolled through email while my daughter, Jessie, got ready for our special post-Biltmore-tour dinner. One particular subject line made me pause before opening the note attached to it: “You won! Time to claim your prize.” Curious and cautiously optimistic, I clicked on the message.

The email wasn’t sent by a bogus prince from a remote overseas country. No, it was from the sweepstakes fulfillment company employed by Starbucks®. Even though I’d been playing their Summer Game, garnering entries by purchasing my usual tea and treats, and even though the graphics looked exactly like the ones featured on the sweepstakes emails, I was skeptical. I reread the note from top to bottom, including all the fine print, before showing it to Jessie.

“Do you think this is real?”

“It looks real, Mom, but I think you should call Starbucks® to be sure.”

We went to dinner, splurged on our selections, and mused over my potential win.  The next day, as Jessie chauffeured me back to Georgia, I called Starbucks’ customer service. After a lengthy hold, a transfer to a different department, and another brief wait, the cheerful associate on the other end of the line confirmed the win and congratulated me on my good fortune.

Misgivings

The email stated I had three days to respond or I would forfeit the prize.  That night, after returning home, I determined to set aside my lingering doubts and fill in the affidavit of eligibility.  Despite the earlier confirmation received directly from the Starbucks® agent, my confidence withered when it came time to divulge my tax info.  With the knot in my stomach growing tighter by the moment, I filled in my social security number, having discerned (via a Google search) that it was a legitimate request so my winnings could be reported to the IRS.

I hit send on the finished documentation and prayed I hadn’t fallen for a perfectly executed scam. A few days later, I received an email confirming my eligibility and informing me that my winnings would be posted to my Starbucks® account in approximately two months.  I felt more confident but still only shared the good news with Jessie, my parents and my older daughter, Mary. I wanted to limit future humiliation if this ultimately proved to be a sham.

The rhythm of everyday activities and responsibilities intervened, and I mostly forgot about the promised stars. When I did think of my winnings, I half expected not to receive them. But then, on the designated day, I pulled my phone out to check my account balance, and there they were, thousands upon thousands of stars, deposited as promised.[1]

No Boasting

You may be wondering if I created a celebratory Facebook post or messaged all my friends with the exciting news. Nope. I still didn’t tell anyone – until now. Even though my win was undeniably real, I didn’t want to appear like I was boasting since I hadn’t done anything exceptional to deserve the prize. I simply bought tea and pumpkin bread and treated Mom to her beloved frappuccinos, as usual, while the sweepstakes was going on.

Nonetheless, my love of a good analogy has overcome my reluctance to share about my prize, and I hope by now you’ve surmised where I’m going with this tale.

As believers, we have something far more valuable than stars that can be redeemed for beverages and tasty treats. Yet, we’re tentative about telling others for fear they’ll scoff at our too-good-to-be-true message:  God loved us so much He sent His only Son to die for us so we can live with Him forever (John 3:16). From a human perspective, it makes no sense that a righteous man would die for the unrighteous, His very enemies.

But from the first book of the Bible (Genesis 3:15) to the last (Revelation 21:1-4), God promised to redeem a people for Himself and dwell with them throughout eternity. No fine print to read. No scams to fear. We can always count on our covenant-keeping God, who is Faithful and True (Revelation 19:11).

And just like I had nothing to boast about in winning the sweepstakes, Scripture makes it clear we have no room to boast about our salvation. We are saved by grace through faith which is itself a gift (Ephesians 2:8-9). But unlike my hesitancy to share the news of my winnings, we’re commanded to tell others about God’s plan of salvation (Matthew 28:19-20), encouraging them to heed His voice and acknowledge their need (Hebrews 3:7-8), while giving Him all the glory (Jude 1:24-25).

True After All

Occasionally a barista will notice the extraordinary number of stars in my account when I ask them to “please use stars for the whole order.” Their look of amazement is usually followed by, “I’ve never seen that many stars!”

I humbly reply, “I won the Summer Stars Sweepstake! I’ve never won anything big before. I could hardly believe it!”

“Wow! I’ve wondered if anyone ever really wins those games!”

We share a smile before I move on, happy to know that sometimes news that seems too good to be true is real after all.

Dear Lord, as we joyfully celebrate Jesus’ resurrection and triumph over death, help us to endeavor to share the good news of the gospel with others, unafraid of their potential skepticism. May our lives underscore the truth of our message and point them to You.


[1] For those of you unfamiliar with the Starbucks® rewards program, you can use stars to purchase menu items and merchandise.

Our Refuge

Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy. Psalm 61:1-3

Like Dominoes

This time last year, we were at the beginning of what we thought would be a couple of weeks of quarantine. Surely if we all stayed home and kept our germs to ourselves, we’d be back to normal by Easter, right? In light of all that’s transpired since, those notions seem so naïve now.

Like most life-changing events, the early days of the pandemic etched images into my memory – bare grocery store shelves, cheerful drawings and encouraging messages chalked onto sidewalks, empty streets in place of rush-hour traffic. But one of my first Covid-related recollections is my dad’s statement that the ACC had canceled the rest of their basketball tournament and that the NCAA basketball championship would likely meet the same fate.  Incredulous, I pooh-poohed the thought. “What? No way they won’t have March Madness!”

But there was no March Madness 2020. And once the cancellations began, they just kept coming, like a legion of perfectly arranged dominoes, one after another, until we didn’t know what to expect next. Easter came and went with no return to normalcy. It was the saddest day of the entire time of isolation for me because I couldn’t go to church and repeatedly exchange the cherished greeting, “He is Risen!”  “He is Risen indeed!” I texted the first phrase to friends and family. Many replied with the second. But it wasn’t the same as sitting together in worship, rejoicing over our Savior’s resurrection victory.

As days turned into weeks, it became evident there would be no quick and easy fix, that some aspects of what we considered normal might not return at all. It didn’t take much to make me cry. Not deep, heaving sobs, but drops of sorrow welling up and spilling over. And then my daughter sent an article, “That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief.” It put words to my tears and our collective sense of loss.

Naming it didn’t make it all better, but it was affirming and helped me understand the underlying sense of angst I felt.

Here Come Those Tears Again

I’m thankful for the pieces of my life that have gradually returned over the ensuing months  – hug-filled time with my grandchildren, fully-stocked grocery shelves, in-person worship.

Even so, I’m dealing with feelings similar to those associated with the early, uncertain days of the pandemic when we didn’t know what to expect next but surmised it most likely wouldn’t be good news.  This time, the circumstances are personal, not global.

My dad and I have spent the past few weeks taking Mom to various appointments in an attempt to help her find relief for excruciating pain in her left leg. One doctor diagnosed it as bursitis, another sciatica, while my massage therapist confirmed Mom’s muscles on that side are tight from her lower back to her foot. No wonder she’s in pain! Shots, pain meds, and massage have given her little relief. She needs to rest her leg and give it time to heal.

Even at 89-years-old, rest isn’t in Mom’s vocabulary. Her motto? “I’d rather wear out than rust out.” At 85 pounds, plagued with arthritis and osteoporosis, she’s just about fulfilled her objective. Her will is strong, but her little body is failing, and her mind isn’t as sharp as it once was.

After restless nights and days punctuated by frustration and tears, I finally realized the discomfort I’m feeling is grief, just like last year. Even if Mom’s leg gets better and she can resume some of her normal activities, she’ll never return to the vigor of her younger days. The years have taken their toll, and the relentless march of aging will continue to its ultimate conclusion as it will for all of us unless Jesus returns first.

Re-gaining Perspective

Just like last year, proper identification of my emotional state hasn’t made it all better, but it has allowed me to begin to deal with the actual source of my distress. When I woke up yesterday morning, I didn’t want to get out of bed. Uncertain what the day would hold, yet expecting my daily phone call to Mom would convey news of more pain for this one who I dearly love, I preferred to stay curled up under my covers.

Despite my depressive feelings, I recited the Serenity Prayer and reminded myself God knew every detail of the hours to come. Moreover, He would give me the grace and strength I needed to face the day, going before me, walking beside me, carrying me if need be (Lamentations 3:21-26; 2 Corinthians 12:9).

I came downstairs to find the first day of Spring awash with sunshine. The birds descended on the feeders as soon as I placed them on the hooks and returned inside. I perused my woodland garden and observed signs of life returning everywhere I looked. My spirits lifted as I continued reminding myself of the truth I’ve written about many times – the One who cares for the sparrows and the lilies cares for me (Matthew 6:25-33).

After breakfast, I reached out to a friend and, later, to one of my cousins, both of whom have walked the path I’m trodding now. They faithfully and lovingly cared for their mothers, even as they navigated their sorrow at watching them decline bit by bit. I received their empathy as a heaven-sent gift (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

One of my daughters stopped by. Her loving presence and genuine concern as we sat outside, catching up, warmed my heart as the afternoon sun warmed my body and dealt another blow to the lies I’d been feeling a few days ago – that I was alone in all of this.

If there was ever any doubt about our need for fellowship and friendship, the separations we’ve endured since the beginning of the pandemic have made it abundantly clear God created us for community. I’m thankful for those He’s placed in my life who want to know how I’m truly doing, who will come alongside me during hard times.

Crying Out

The Lord is abounding in steadfast love toward His children. His only begotten Son knows the hardships and heartaches that come with living as a finite being in a world wracked with the effects of sin, because the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). God hears our cries, counts our tears, and bids us draw near to the throne of grace, where Jesus is seated, interceding for us (Psalm 56:8; Hebrews 4:16; Romans 8:34).

Over the past few weeks, I’ve repeatedly prayed, “Lord, I don’t know how to help Mom. Please show me what to do. Please take the pain away.” I will continue to cry out to Him –  for wisdom for me and relief for Mom – but I will also be praying for the ability to accept His will for her, knowing He’ll give her strength as He always has.[1]

As I watch Mom suffer, I grieve, but not as those who have no hope. I belong to the One who conquered death. So does she. Even if healing doesn’t come in this life, health and wholeness are guaranteed in the life to come, purchased by the precious blood of Jesus (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

Lord willing, I’ll be in church on Easter Sunday, celebrating  Jesus’ victory over death.

He is Risen!

He is Risen indeed!!

O Lord, how I thank You that You are our Refuge, an ever-present help in times of trouble, a strong tower against all our enemies, be they doubts or infirmities or death itself. Please help us come alongside each other as You come alongside us, to encourage and remind and point each other to You, the Rock that is higher than we are.

 

[1] Mom’s life verse is Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

The Fall

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.
Genesis 3:7a

Ouch!

The fateful morning began as usual. I fed the birds, started my own breakfast, then strolled out to get the newspaper. Whenever I traverse the driveway, be it on foot or in my car, I scan the flower beds on either side, checking for any new plant developments.

058As is often the case, I spotted a lovely sight – the freezing overnight temperature had left the ornamental cabbage encased in frost. Seeing them glistening in the sunlight, I knew I had to get a photo! I hurried inside to retrieve my phone and returned to capture the image.

Although I’d walked the same stretch just minutes before with nary a stumble, the second time around, I stepped on an unseen rock, turned my ankle, and crashed onto the cold concrete. My phone clattered to the ground next to me, leaving me to wonder which of us had suffered the most damage.

 I was stunned, but my embarrassment superseded my shock, and I got up quickly lest anyone should spot me, prostrate on the driveway.

My right knee complained mightily, and the palms of my hands stung from their encounter with the concrete. Still focused on my goal, though, I winced as I hobbled over to the mailbox bed, took the photo, and limped back into the house.

And then it hit – nausea and light-headedness washed over me. I had to sit down to avoid passing out. Maybe I shouldn’t have gotten up so quickly. Perhaps it would have been better to lay there for a moment, to absorb the shock, even if it meant being seen. After all, I’m confident my neighbors would have come to my rescue had they observed my plight, and I could have used a steadying hand and some sympathy.

Dire Consequences

My right hand was swollen and discolored, and both knees sported bruises for days after my tumble. As I contemplated how quickly I went from upright to prone, my thoughts turned to THE fall. You know, the one described in Genesis 3.

Unlike my situation, Adam and Eve had been warned. God set a clear boundary when He told them they could eat of all the trees in the garden except for one – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17). But the serpent was crafty, and the fruit was a delight to the eyes. Eve ate and then offered the fruit to Adam, who readily joined her.

In a moment, everything changed for them and all who would come after them. Sin entered in, opening the door to death. Undoubtedly Adam and Eve’s abrupt fall was as stunning and disorienting as mine. They plummeted from their privileged position, no longer able to enjoy sweet, unhindered fellowship with God. Instead, their eyes were opened to their nakedness, and when they heard the sound of God walking in the garden, they hid, much as I scrambled up from the pavement, lest anyone see me.

But, we can’t hide from God (Psalm 139:1-16).

A Plan and a Promise

God wasn’t surprised by Adam and Eve’s disobedience. He came to the garden as usual and drew them out of hiding. When they blame-shifted their way through a confession, He declared the penalties they and their progeny would incur. However, God directed His initial comments to Satan. The curse He pronounced on the serpent held the promise of a Savior for His wayward children.

Before the foundation of the world, Father and Son purposed to save those chosen in Him, a people for themselves, a treasured possession (Ephesians 1:3-6; Revelation 13:8). It would cost the Son His life to redeem the fallen, those stumbling around, their steps hindered by sin. As He breathed His last, hanging on the cross, Jesus uttered, “It is finished!” (John 19:30)  The curtain in the Temple was torn in two, signifying the removal of the barrier between God and His people. Our relationship thus restored, we can once again enjoy intimate fellowship with God.

Jesus’ atoning death makes it possible for us to approach the throne of grace to receive mercy in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16). Furthermore, when Jesus arose on the third day, He secured victory over death, our ultimate enemy.

Securely Held

102There wasn’t anything inherently wrong with my behavior the morning I tripped on the driveway. Still, there are times when I’ve intentionally chosen a path strewn with rocks and pebbles, much to my detriment. Eventually, I lose my footing. Yet, it’s then I’m oh-so-thankful I can’t hide from my loving Father who disciplines and restores me. Though I stumble, I won’t be cast headlong (Psalm 37:24). The Lord has promised to help and strengthen me, to hold me up with His right hand (Isaiah 41:10).

A snippet of lyrics from Rich Mullins’ song, “If I Stand,” has been playing in my mind as I’ve been writing. It makes a fitting prayer to end this post:

(Lord), if I stand let me stand on the promise
That you will pull me through
And if I can’t let me fall on the grace
That first brought me to You[1]

[1] “If I Stand”, Rich Mullins, Steve Cudworth; Universal Music, 1988.

A Single Red Rose, Remix

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 4:9-10

An Iconic Flower

Red roses and romantic love have been linked for centuries. “The red rose began its illustrious symbolic history in Greek and Roman iconography, where it was tied to Aphrodite, or Venus, the goddess of love . . . Throughout its long, storied history, the red rose still reigns as the ultimate symbol of passionate affection.”[1]

Like many of you, I  have been touched by the beauty of red roses. In fact, one played a role in changing the course of my life. If that sounds like hyperbole, read on for the rest of the story.

A Broken Heart

When I was in my early twenties, I met a handsome young man and promptly fell head-over-heels for him. Thus smitten, I had no trouble convincing myself he was “the one.” Some months later, it became evident he wasn’t. He stated his desire to return to his college sweetheart, who he’d never completely gotten over, thereby crushing my happily-ever-after dreams.

But God has a plan for our lives and is always going before us. One week to the day after receiving the hurtful news from Mr. Not-the-one-after-all, I met Ray, another handsome young man, who I’d come to know and love, at a church singles group.

At subsequent gatherings, I noted Ray was thoughtful and kind, a godly young man who cared about others. He also had a stubborn streak. His tenacity came in handy since it took no small effort on his part to break through the fog of despondency that settled around me after the painful breakup. As summer turned into fall, I continued to decline Ray’s invitations, seeing him instead at activities sponsored by the singles group.

I commented to my mom, “I’m not sure why Ray keeps asking me out.” Her reply, “He’s obviously found someone he likes and isn’t going to give up easily!”

I’m forever thankful he didn’t give up.

A Breakthrough

108The singles group held their Christmas dinner on my birthday that year. After the banquet, Ray presented me with a single red rose. Somehow his gesture broke through my defenses and opened my heart to the possibility of loving again. Founded on friendship and undergirded by faith and shared values, our relationship blossomed.

Paying homage to that initial flower, I carried a red rose with a sprig of baby’s breath and some greenery when Ray and I got married two years later; this despite the florist’s protestations that the bridesmaids’ bouquets cost more than mine. Over the years that followed, Ray often gave me a single red rose for my birthday, our anniversary, and other special occasions, hearkening back to the first one and what it meant to us.

010The last birthday Ray spent with me was no different. When I came home from work that night, he had adorned the kitchen with roses – miniature pink ones for our daughters and a dozen yellow ones for me. And, amidst those beauties, a single red one. Ray also gave me an exquisite pin – a delicate red rose on a gold stem. I still marvel at this gift in light of the fact he died precisely four months later. Ray didn’t know he wouldn’t be around to purchase single red roses on birthdays yet to come, but God did. I believe He somehow nudged Ray to give me the pin I now wear each year on my birthday.

Love Never Ends

When Ray died, I took a single red rose to the funeral home and asked the funeral director to place it in his hands for me. It seemed a fitting close to our tradition, at least for now. Sometimes I think about what it will be like when I finally get to see Ray again. Might he have that rose in his hands, ready to give it back to me? After all, nothing’s impossible for God. Yet rose or no rose, I’m confident the longed-for reunion will take place. Ray and I will spend eternity together worshipping and praising our great Redeemer because God didn’t give up on His people. He loved us so much, He sent His only Son to die for us, that we might live with Him forever (John 3:16).

What a blessing to know that nothing can separate us from the love of God – neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation (Romans 8:38-39).

I sometimes buy a single red rose for myself “from Ray” on special occasions, and I gratefully remember the gift of unconditional love that persists beyond the grave (1 Corinthians 13:7-8a).

Dear Lord, thank You for loving us so much that You sent Jesus to die for us. We can’t fully fathom the height, depth, breadth, and width of Your great love, Lord, but we are grateful for the glimpses You give us in our relationships with others who love us unconditionally.

[1] https://www.proplants.com/blog/history-and-meaning-behind-red-roses, ProFlowers Blog, “History and Meaning Behind Red Roses”, January 18, 2017.

Ten Years

The Backstory

January 26, 2021, marked the tenth anniversary of the end of my 30-year career. My last day wasn’t preceded by a countdown of crossed-out calendar days, nor was it observed with a celebratory send-off. No, my long tenure sputtered to a conclusion when my department eliminated my job and, according to my boss, there was no other work for me.

Our HR manager filled me in on benefits and legal details before requesting I leave as unobtrusively as possible after turning in my computer, building pass, and company credit card. I didn’t get to say goodbye to anyone except the sympathetic IT associate who took possession of those items. Though all aspects of being terminated were tough, being deprived of the opportunity to bid farewell to longtime customers and colleagues broke my heart.

If you’re unfamiliar with the rest of this story, you may be thinking I was consumed by bitterness over the demise of my position. But longtime readers know that though some may have meant the events of that day for evil, God surely meant them for good. So much so, that this is one of the mega-milestones I intentionally ponder each year, recounting how God works all things together for good, even the most painful ones. [1]

Praying, Weeping, and Rejoicing

My work life began to derail when I was assigned to a new manager who restructured our roles. Bereft of most of my previous responsibilities, I went from days full of meaningful work to wondering how I would make it to lunch, much less fill eight hours. I became angry and confused.

But knowing God is sovereign over every detail, I began to pray. Was the Lord allowing the challenges to mount up so I’d resign, or was it to build character, an opportunity to be a life-giver despite my circumstances (Romans 5:3-4)?

I confided in several friends, asking them to join me in praying I would know what to do and that my actions and attitudes would be pleasing to God. As the day of my performance review drew near, I felt sure my employment status was about to change. The Lord graciously prepared me to hear the definitive answer to those prayers for direction.  My first thought, “This is real!” was quickly followed by, “Thank you, Lord, for such a clear answer.”

As news of my departure made the rounds, friends, colleagues, and customers expressed both condolences and congratulations. They were weeping with me over the abrupt end to my career and rejoicing with me over future possibilities (Romans 12:15). Many have continued to pray, weep, and rejoice with me as my post-corporate life evolved, making the journey that much sweeter.

Daily Bread

In the waning months of my corporate life, I ran and re-ran financial scenarios, wondering if I had enough in savings to retire. Should I try to work for a few more months? Years? Would I be able to pay my bills? What if a medical emergency came up?

Though I gleaned no precise answers to my questions, the Lord reminded me of His sufficiency. He has determined the number of my days (Psalm 139:16) and knows what I need before I ask (Matthew 6:8). By the time I lost my job, I’d been a widow for over 13 years. I had seen God’s faithfulness in providing for my daughters and me, personal proof of Jesus’ declaration that if God provides for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, He’ll most certainly provide for His children (Matthew 6:25-33).

I thankfully rejoice in His provision and trust His promise to carry me the rest of my earthly life (Isaiah 46:4).

Immeasurably More

The day after I lost my job, I posted this status on Facebook:

“30+ years of continuous employment came to a halt yesterday when my job was eliminated. God obviously has something else for me to do. I can’t wait to see what it is!”

img_0495Even so, I couldn’t have imagined all God had in store for me. Two days after losing my job, I began the process of enrolling in the horticulture program at a local community college. Six months later, Joshua, my first grandchild, was born. Not only was he my study buddy, but, accompanied by my mom and my daughter Mary, he also attended my graduation ceremony the following year when I realized my dream of acquiring an Environmental Horticulture diploma.

105Granddaughters, Lyla and Emma, joined our family. I’m blessed to spend two days a week with them and big-brother Joshua. Earning my diploma and becoming a grandmother are bountiful blessings, but God has woven so much more into the past ten years. I volunteer at a local botanical garden, serve on our Women’s Ministry Committee, and am available to help my aging parents. I started this blog and published my first book.

I joyfully testify to God’s ability to do far more than all we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

Spiritual Amnesia

Even though the Lord’s mercies are new every morning and those of us who’ve walked with Him across many years have a treasure trove of examples of His faithfulness, when faced with adversity, we can sometimes forget His goodness. Thus God tells us to be intentional about remembering, calling to mind all we know about His character and recounting all He’s done for us, so spiritual amnesia doesn’t set in (Deuteronomy 4:9).

Someone on a podcast I listen to declared, “God’s never forsaken me, and today won’t be the first day He does.” I’ve since adopted her statement and remind myself when concerns begin to poke holes in the edges of my peace. If that doesn’t quiet my anxious thoughts, though, I hit play on the highlight reel of God’s goodness across ten years of “early retirement,” 23 years of widowhood, and a lifetime of Fatherly care (Psalm 9:1-2; Psalm 143:5).

How about you? Which scenes would you put on your Jesus-loves-me highlight reel?

Dear Lord, my heart swells with gratitude for all the ways You care for us. From friends who prayerfully and compassionately share our journey to daily provisions and over-and-above blessings, You pour out grace upon grace. Please help us to remember and rejoice.

[1] Please see “Purposeful Pondering” in Archives January 2019.

Bundled Up

It’s been an overcast day here in Georgia. A few shafts of sunlight have split the steely sky, only to be engulfed once again by clouds that looked like they might produce snow flurries at any moment. Alas, there has been no sprinkling of white to add enchantment to this mid-winter day, just increasing wind gusts and decreasing temps.

Despite the less-than-ideal conditions, I decided to bundle up and go for a walk. I was feeling out of sorts and hoped the brisk air and some time with the Lord would lift my spirits, even if it chilled my face, fingers, and toes in the process.

I retrieved my Delaware coat – the one I wore a lot in the land of longer winters but turn to only occasionally in the South – along with my mittens and earmuffs.  Given this information, some of you hardier folks, including my relatives in South Dakota, are probably thinking the temperature must have been near zero to merit such gear. At the risk of being labeled a winter-weather wimp, I’ll admit the windchill was 32 degrees when I exited the house, balmy by January Midwestern standards.

Inevitably, this level of bundling up reminds me of a Peanuts cartoon from my childhood. In the first few frames, Charlie Brown is donning his coat, scarf, hat, and boots. In the last frame, he laments, “Can someone please open the door? I can’t move!”

Fortunately, my long, puffy coat doesn’t hinder the movement of my legs, even though I look like I’m walking around in a sleeping bag. Thus prepared for the elements, I ventured out. It wasn’t long before striding through my neighborhood had the hoped-for effect. My torso was warm, and my mind, relieved of its previous concerns, turned to a Bible study lesson from earlier in the week.

Secure in the Lord

My small group has been working our way through the 25th chapter of 1 Samuel, which recounts the story of foolish Nabal, his beautiful, discerning wife, Abigail, and their encounter with anointed-but-not-yet-king, David. Though a mere 44 verses long, the chapter is packed with high drama and reminders that,  “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly” (Proverbs 15:1-2).

The whole chapter and its attendant lessons are beneficial, but the phrase I pondered as I walked along came from Abigail’s impassioned plea to David. She respectfully implored him not to behave foolishly as her husband had and repay evil with evil.  She reminded him his life was bound in the bundle of the living in the care of the Lord his God and that the Lord would take care of David’s enemies in His time (1 Samuel 25:29).

Isn’t it wonderful to know the same can be said about every one of God’s children?  Regardless of the form our enemies take, each of us is eternally bound in the bundle of the living, safe in the Lord’s care, where no one can snatch us away (John 10:28-29). We will face trials and tribulations of varying kinds, but nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39).

Pressing On

Although my winter garb allows me more freedom of movement than Charlie Brown’s, once I pull my hood up and fasten the top snap of my coat, it’s difficult for me to turn my head. There too, my musings led to a spiritual parallel. Multiple references in the Old Testament document God’s warnings to His people regarding the consequences of straying from His commandments. He admonished them not to turn to the left or right but to stay on course.[1]

Likewise, in his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul described such single-minded focus as he wrote about pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-15).

And then there’s the precious promise of Isaiah 30:21: When we’re tempted to wander off, we’ll hear a word behind us, constraining us from turning to the left or right as the Spirit shows us the proper path.

Whichever climate you’re in, my friend, I pray you will feel the warmth of being securely bound in the bundle of the living in the care of the Lord our God.

Dear Lord, how I thank You for quiet moments with You this winter afternoon, full of reminders that Your children are eternally secure. Nothing can snatch us out of Your hand or separate us from Your love as Your Spirit guides us along our Homeward path.


[1] See for example Joshua 1:7, Joshua 23:6, 2 Kings 22:2, and Proverbs 4:26-27.

Through the Waters

But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
    he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.
 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.
 For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
Isaiah 43:1-3a

Hello, dear readers.  I know you’re not used to hearing from me this frequently, but I need to remind myself of a few things as this challenging year draws to a close, and I thought you might need a reminder as well.

Bad News

After months of staying out of the crosshairs of Covid-19, my daughter and son-in-law contracted the disease last week, sending me into self-quarantine and separation from my elderly parents. I’m thankful their cases have been mild and that none of the rest of us have developed symptoms so far.

But then, within the space of an hour yesterday, I received news that:

  • More members of the church I attend tested positive for Covid-19, while others had possibly been exposed to the virus, at church and elsewhere.
  • Cases of Covid-19 had popped up at the rehab facility where my friend’s mother is receiving care.
  • A longtime friend had been diagnosed with cancer.

I barely had time to process one communication before another reached me. The coronavirus isn’t a distant threat anymore. It’s affecting people in my everyday circles. And old enemies, like cancer, are still very much present.

As I mulled over the morning’s messages, a ditty from the old TV show Hee Haw came to mind. In Gloom, Despair, and Agony on Me, the comedians proclaimed, “If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.” I tweaked the refrain: “If it weren’t for bad news, I’d have no news at all.” Unlike the minstrels of the catchy tune, I found no humor in the situations facing my friends and family. Concern for them furrowed my brow and troubled my thoughts.

Shifting Focus

I needed a spiritual pep talk, an attitude adjustment, a change of perspective. The shift began when a Facebook memory reminded me that yesterday marked the 10th anniversary of Mom’s emergency triple bypass surgery. I pondered the events of that day, how a catheterization two days after her heart attack revealed three life-threatening blockages. The images are still fresh all these years later: the nurses on either end of Mom’s bed who wouldn’t meet my gaze as we waited for the doctor to tell me the devastating news; the haste to prepare Mom for surgery; how our eyes locked lovingly for what I wondered might be the last time as they took her back to the operating room and the doors closed behind her.

Those ruminations led me to contemplate another health scare last spring at the same hospital after Mom developed a severe case of pneumonia. Late that night, when I left her with the emergency department’s capable caregivers, she was attached to all sorts of contraptions to help her breathe.  Once again, I parted company, not knowing if she’d be alive the next time I saw her.[1]

But she was. And she still is, blessing my life and that of many others, thanks be to God!

Sometimes the unexpected plot twists don’t end the way we would hope, though. On the evening of April 19, 1997, I received a phone call informing me my 39-year-old husband had been transported to the hospital by ambulance. My mind raced as I drove. Clenching the steering wheel, I prayed I’d find him alive. But I didn’t. Unbeknownst to me, we’d said our last goodbye hours earlier when he’d left for work.

Gains and losses. We can trust God to work them all together for good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

The Best News

This time last year, as we were getting ready to bid farewell to 2019 and welcome 2020, we had no idea what lay ahead – a pandemic, social unrest, political discord, personal challenges and triumphs of various sorts. The truth is, we don’t know what the next hour holds, much less the coming year. But, unlike my edited version of the old Hee Haw song, there is good news, the most excellent news: we belong to the One who does know, the One who ordains the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:9-10). And He’s promised never to leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:8). That’s what we just celebrated last week – Immanuel, God with us.

I’ll close with two quotes I came across recently. I pray they’ll encourage you as they do me. As we enter a new year, may we endeavor to remind ourselves and each other daily of God’s steadfast love.

“God’s grace is sufficient, and his grace is specific. When it’s time to age, he gives aging grace. When it’s time to suffer, he gives suffering grace. When it was (my husband) Gene’s time to die, the Lord gave dying grace. And now he is giving me grieving grace.” Susan Hunt [2]

“And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’
And he replied:
‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.’” Minnie Louise Haskins[3]

Dear Lord, what a blessing to know that no matter how deep the waters or how hot the fiery trials we may face, we have nothing to fear because You’ve promised to be with us. Please help us to turn to You each day for the grace to meet our needs, knowing Your mercies are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness!

[1] You can read about both of these experiences in more detail and find more encouraging verses in “Through the Night” and “Encourage One Another” in the May 2019 archives.

[2] Sharon W. Betters & Susan Hunt, Aging With Grace, Flourishing In An Anti-Aging Culture (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021), 26.

[3] From Minnie Louise Haskins’ poem, God Knows, aka The Gate of the Year, written in 1908.

A Post-Christmas Meditation

Merry Christmas, dear readers. I pray you have found renewed hope as we’ve celebrated the birth of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. As I write, various piles of  Christmas-related items are beckoning, but this post is begging to be written, so the clutter will have to wait as I  compose this meditation.

209I bet it wouldn’t surprise you to know I read Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth each Christmas Eve (Luke 2:1-20). I’m guessing many of you do as well. No matter how many times I ponder it, I’m overcome by the depiction of that long-ago night. The angel of the Lord declaring the glorious news. Startled shepherds, who nonetheless went immediately to investigate this thing the angel proclaimed. And the Baby in the manger. The second person of the Trinity, a helpless babe, the Word made flesh. How amazing! No wonder a multitude of the heavenly host joined the herald angel, praising and glorifying God!

Now, what if I told you I also read Isaiah 53 each Christmas Eve? Would you think it incongruous, too dark a chapter for such a night of rejoicing? I read it because I want to remember the joyful news of peace on earth came at the price of Jesus’ very life. Take a look at the first six verses:

Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
 For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
 He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

Jesus knew what it would cost Him, and He came anyway. The Apostle Paul wrote, one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:7).

Having humbled Himself even to the point of death on the cross, Jesus accomplished His mission and returned to the Father’s right hand (Hebrews 10:12). There He sits, interceding for us.  And we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16).

Therein lies our hope for today and for eternity. Jesus knows what it’s like to walk this earth, to be acquainted with grief and sorrow, to be tempted. Our compassionate Savior understands. He gave His life that we might draw near to the throne of grace – not in fear, but with confidence –  to receive the mercy and grace we so desperately need as we await His return.

Christmas decorations will soon be stored away, piles sorted, boxes and paper recycled. But the greatest gift ever given will never lose its luster or wear out. It’s to be embraced and cherished every day of our lives.

Dear Jesus, Luke wrote that the shepherds returned to their flocks glorifying and praising God after they’d seen You. They found everything just as the angel had told them. Thank You that we too will find every one of Your promises and proclamations to be true. Thank You for giving Your life to make it so.