I would have despaired had I not believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for and confidently expect the Lord. Be strong and let your heart take courage. Yes, wait for and confidently expect the Lord.
Psalm 27:13-14 Amplified Bible
The week before Christmas found us experiencing normal temperatures here in metro Atlanta – highs in the mid-50s, lows in the upper-30s – but that changed abruptly on December 23rd. Temperatures plummeted overnight from a high of 52 to a low of 19, dropping even further to a frigid 8 degrees the next day. Daytime highs returned to above freezing on the third day, but nighttime lows remained well below freezing as we experienced one of the coldest Christmases on record.
The lingering lows, accompanied by blustery, bone-chilling winds wreaked havoc on the plants, most of which hadn’t gone dormant yet due to our moderate weather. I compared notes with fellow gardening enthusiasts. Most of our annuals were a total loss. The arctic blast burned the foliage of the cheerful violas and pansies, staples of our winter gardens, while the ornamental kale was nothing more than mush when it thawed out.
One friend, a longtime Master Gardener, shared a video that addressed our “what now?” questions. The speaker used the term “flash freeze” to describe what happened to the plants when the temperature dropped precipitously. The water in their cells froze instantly. When the temperatures rose above freezing, some of the cells burst, no longer able to contain the water required for life.
Despite this grim description, the speaker affirmed what my gardening friends and I had been encouraging ourselves with: it was too soon to judge how the perennials, shrubs, and trees had fared. Given our cumulative experience, we were hopeful more plant friends would survive than wouldn’t.
Only time would tell.
After watching the video and contemplating what my garden might look like come spring, I pondered how sudden loss is akin to a flash freeze. Even though nearly 26 years have passed since my husband’s sudden death, I distinctly remember driving to work a few days before his passing. Stopped at an intersection, waiting for the light to turn green, I was soaking up the beauty of the day. I thanked God for the warm weather and springtime blossoms and that things were going smoothly for my little family.
Less than a week later, I received the life-changing news that my 39-year-old husband had not survived a heart attack that felled him while he was at work. My 7- and 10-year-old daughters heard the nurse’s somber pronouncement at the same time I did. In a moment, life as we knew it stopped.
Days passed. My daughters went back to school, and I returned to work as we tried to recreate some semblance of normalcy. But many nights, tears flowed from one, two, or all three of us. Even though I clung to my faith, knowing I would experience joy when God called me Home, I wondered if I would ever experience joy again in this life.
One evening, that question was running through my mind yet again when I sat down with my Bible. The reading schedule brought me to Psalm 27, where I found encouragement in the introductory passage above. The Lord used it to assure me I could wait with confidence, counting on His goodness. I trusted that joy would indeed return in this life, even though I wasn’t sure what it would look like or how long it would take.
Only time would tell.
Joy for Mourning
Ray had a horticulture degree and was an accomplished gardener whose legacy includes the plants he chose for our yard. In those early days of loss, I could never have imagined what a tremendous role those plants would play in restoring my joy.
In a journal entry dated 3-1-98, I recorded the following: I spent the whole afternoon outside yesterday, cleaning up the front beds and going through the many pots Ray kept. It was a bittersweet experience. I couldn’t believe all the little plants that are coming back to life. I cried several times as I dug, raked, clipped, and discovered new growth. The beauty and hope are there. I just miss having Ray to share it with. Several times I stopped and said a silent thank you to him for planting so many beautiful things and to God for sustaining it all.
That, my friends, was the first of countless sessions of what I refer to as “garden therapy.” Seeing the tiny shoots popping up through the leaf litter gave me great hope. If they could survive their cold, dark winter, then maybe I could survive my season of loss.
Sustained by God’s grace and His steadfast love, I’ve done more than survive. I’ve flourished – and so has the garden He’s entrusted to my care. It nourishes me spiritually as I see scriptural principles come to life and provides a tangible connection to Ray until we’re reunited.
You might be wondering how my plants are doing now, two months after the deep freeze. There are some indications that a few didn’t make it, just as there were some things in my life that didn’t survive Ray’s passing. However, I’m pleased to report that the plants are exhibiting the same perseverance I observed 25 years ago. Signs of life are popping out everywhere, and, just as my fellow plant lovers and I expected, far more of our leafy friends survived than didn’t.
Life in this world is challenging. As pilgrims on our way Home, we can be buffeted by all sorts of ill winds. Yet there is joy in the journey because our joy rests in a Person. Jesus, the One Who came to give us abundant life now and eternal life in His presence, is also the One Who’s promised never to leave or forsake us. He will give us strength for the journey and see us safely Home.
Dear Lord, thank You for lovingly sustaining all You’ve made, from the plants and animals to Your beloved children created in Your image. Though this world bears the effects of sin, You’ve filled it with examples of Your great love and care for us. Please help us to have eyes to see those gifts even as we long for Your return.