Longing for Home

If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
Hebrews 11:15-16

A Devastating Blow

I watched as the EMTs carried Mom, cradled in her bedsheet, to the waiting ambulance. Though it appeared one of my worst fears, a fall-induced broken hip, had come to pass, I prayed Mom would somehow be able to recover and return home.

Several hours later,  x-rays confirmed our initial suspicions. I texted my kids[1] and called my dad to relay the daunting news along with the doctors’ recommendation that Mom have surgery to repair her hip. We debated surgery due to Mom’s overall fragile state, but there was no discussion necessary when it came to our ultimate goal: to bring Mom home, whatever it took.

Not only did Mom make it through the surgery, but her surgeon said she did well, and the rod he placed in her hip would be sturdy enough to support her when she was ready to stand up. All good news. Thank You, Lord!

Sadly, Mom’s mental state offset the positive report regarding her physical status. She was confused and disoriented. We prayed those symptoms were the after-effects of anesthesia and would soon wear off. Though her thinking remained muddled, Mom made it clear to anyone who’d listen that she wanted to go home – the sooner, the better.

Preparations

Physical and occupational therapy began the day after surgery as we looked forward to Mom getting strong enough to be discharged. We arranged to have the necessary equipment delivered and contracted with an in-home healthcare agency to provide 24/7 care.

I was present for the equipment delivery and watched as the technician set everything up. All the while, a knot in my stomach drew tighter and tighter. I half-listened while he explained how each piece of equipment worked, fearing the knot would tighten to the point of cutting off my breath.  Left alone to survey the place prepared for Mom, a sense of despair welled up within me. I knew Mom wanted to come home, but not like this, not to be bedridden.

Even before she broke her hip, a severe case of sciatica had limited her mobility and activities. She spent her last weeks at home sitting, resting her leg, no doubt torturous for someone used to being so active. Seeing her frustration at being sidelined, I was reminded of the story she recounted of her beloved father, a farmer who cherished being outside. After he had a heart attack, his doctor told him he couldn’t work in his garden anymore. As Mom told it, PaPa would sit in the kitchen of the home he shared with my grandmother, gazing out the window toward the little church where he was a lifelong member. “I’d rather be up there in the cemetery than sitting here doing nothing,” he’d lament.

I couldn’t help but wonder if Mom hadn’t had similar thoughts. Even though the little church was 400 miles away, I knew she could see it just as clearly in her mind’s eye as my grandfather could sitting at his kitchen window all those years ago.

God’s Plan

Long days in the hospital passed with no perceptible improvement. Still, we doggedly pursued keeping our promise to Mom to bring her home. With the specter of long-term disability looming menacingly, we turned our attention to procuring in-home hospice to supplement the 24/7 caregiver.

When I told the hospice coordinator about Mom’s oft-expressed plea to go home, she asked if I knew what she meant by “home.” Though I never questioned her desire to be back at home with Dad, I pondered Audrey’s question. Could it be, after days of suffering, Mom had begun to long for her heavenly Home?

Audrey suggested moving Mom to a hospice facility for a few days to address her pain more effectively. We agreed, still intending to bring her home. But God had other plans. Barely 24 hours after she arrived at Tranquility, the Lord called Mom to Himself.

As sad as I was not to be able to keep my promise to Mom, I rejoiced, knowing God was fully capable of keeping His (John 14:2-3). Though we had prepared a place for Mom, the one He had waiting offered ultimate healing and the joy of being in His presence (Jude 24).

A Promise Kept

Some years ago, when we discussed last wishes,  Mom told me she wanted her body brought back to the country church where she grew up. That was a promise I could keep. On May 7th, we gathered in the dearly-loved sanctuary. We sat on decades-old wooden pews, Mom’s flower-bedecked casket in front of us, as my son-in-law led her service. We couldn’t take her back to her home in Georgia, but we brought her back to her heart’s home, where she first knew the love of family and the love of her Savior.

After the service, several of my cousins serving as pallbearers carried Mom’s earthly remains to their final resting place – for now. 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 4:16-18).

As I stood by her grave, peace overcame my sorrow, a peace I’ve felt each time I visit that cemetery and observe the gravemarkers of other departed relatives, including my baby sister and dear husband, Ray. I imagine the day of Jesus’ return described in 1 Thessalonians when we’ll all rise together. He’ll welcome us into our forever Home, the one we’re truly longing for (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

Dear Lord, how I thank You for the assurance of eternal life in Your presence, a promise secured by the precious blood of Jesus shed on our behalf. I look forward to the Home where there will be no more death or mourning, or crying, or pain anymore, for the former things will have passed away (Revelation 21:4).


[1] “My kids” = adult daughters, Mary and Jessie, and Mary’s husband Justin.

Tell Them Hello

“Those whom you laid in the grave with many tears are in good keeping: you will yet see them again with joy. Believe it, think it, rest on it. It is all true.”
J.C. Ryle

“Tell them hello for me” was one of Mom’s signature sayings. Depending on who “them” referred to, she might also tack on, “and that I love them.” I delivered her message countless times over the years. Sometimes when Mom and I would muse about being reunited with our departed loved ones, we’d extend the request to the other side. One of us would say, “If you get there first, tell them hello for me.” And I would often add, “Please give Ray a big hug!”

A Wondrous Vision

As I recounted in “Either Way, It Hurts,”[1] we didn’t have many coherent conversations with Mom after the surgery to repair her broken hip. Hallucinations hounded her. She repeatedly referred to her nurses by my daughters’ names and mistook my son-in-law for one of her late brothers-in-law. One of her sweeter scenarios found us taking care of a baby. Though she referenced playing peek-a-boo with great-granddaughter Emma, I couldn’t help but wonder if the infant she was tending wasn’t my little sister, who died almost 60 years ago.

Nearly-constant fidgeting accompanied Mom’s imaginings, so I spent most of my visits standing at her bedside. I held her hands and stroked her head and arms in an attempt to calm her mind and body. Sometimes I played hymns on my phone or sang. I recited scripture and prayed.

One afternoon, as I was trying to soothe her, Mom’s gaze shifted to something beyond me. She became quiet and smiled several times as a look of joy and wonder transformed her countenance. I asked her what she saw.

Instead of responding to me, she marveled, “Well, is that Ray?”

Another big smile. Mom turned her eyes slightly as if surveying a room and exclaimed, “There you all are! Do you remember me? It’s been a long time!”

I thought the Lord was going to call Mom Home, but the moments of calm passed, replaced all-too-soon by agitation that would continue to plague Mom’s final days.

Reassurance

Though I spent numerous hours at the hospital, I didn’t have the emotional or physical stamina to be there 24/7. My daughters and son-in-law took turns visiting and soothing, but still, there were times when no family members were with Mom, only her dedicated caregivers. I fretted she might be alone if the Lord did call her Home.

The palliative care doctor attempted to alleviate my concerns. “Don’t feel guilty if you’re not here when your mother passes. I’ve seen instances where family members have kept bedside vigils for hours, step out of the room for a few minutes, and find their loved one is gone when they return.”

I consoled myself with Dr. Gordon’s words, knowing friends who’d experienced the sequence of events she described. I also knew God would never leave or forsake Mom in this life or the next.

But then He graciously gave me the gift of witnessing that brief respite, filled with wonder and joy and recognition, which buoyed my hope that Mom would be surrounded by loved ones even if we weren’t there.

A Greater Gift

My concerns were unfounded, as they often are. In His exceeding kindness, God made it possible for all of us – Dad, daughters Mary and Jessie, son-in-law Justin, our pastor, and me – to be with Mom in her final hour on this earth.

By the time we arrived, Mom was drawing ever-closer to her heavenly rest. Her breathing was shallow, and she didn’t respond to our expressions of love or our whispered prayers and hushed goodbyes. Nonetheless, I prayed God would enable her to know we were there.

I began to sing our family anthem, “Amazing Grace,”[2]  fully expecting my voice to falter before I got to the second stanza. Instead, it grew steadier, as a strength not my own carried me to the very last word of the final verse. By then, Mom had drawn her last breath and peacefully entered into the presence of Jesus. I imagined my voice blending with a heavenly chorus as Mom’s faith became sight (1 Corinthians 13:12).

I also imagined loved ones there to greet her. Then, much like her gaze focused beyond me the afternoon she initially saw them, I fancied her being captivated by her first glimpse of Jesus, His arms open wide to receive her, another saint safely Home (John 10:27-29).

And I like to think she gave Ray that hug.

Lord, there are many things we don’t know about heaven, but Your Word assures us that we’ll be with You and all those who belong to You (Revelation 21:3) in a place of unimaginable beauty and blessings (Psalm 16:11). Our faith will become sight as we behold Jesus and see that all of Your promises are indeed yes in Him (2 Corinthians 1:20).


[1] Please see Archives, May 2021.

[2] Please see “Let’s All Sing,” Archives, June 2020.

Annual Reflections

Dear Readers,

Yesterday was the 7th anniversary of my foray into the world of blogging. After plenty of contemplation and a dash of trepidation, I launched Back 2 the Garden on July 1, 2014 with “Consider it Pure Joy.” Some six years later, that article became the basis of the prologue for my first book, Be Still, Quiet Moments With God in My Garden.[1]

Yes, after five years of talking and dreaming about compiling some of my posts into a devotional book, I finally got down to the hard work of doing so. Even though I had plenty of material to work from, I’d initially written the posts as stand-alone pieces, and it took countless hours to craft them into a single volume.  However, it was so worth the effort! Not that I’ve garnered fame and fortune by publishing Be Still, but that wasn’t the point anyway.

The rewards were priceless, not measurable in terms of sales – the joy of fulfilling the dream, the pride my grandchildren felt when they gave “Grammie’s book” to their teachers for Christmas, and the excitement shared by friends and family when the book went on sale. Best of all, I finished Be Still in time for Mom to read it. As I wrote in the dedication, she was my life-long cheerleader and prayer warrior. She couldn’t have been happier or prouder when I gave her her copy of Be Still. Mom’s passing on April 30th left a gaping hole in my life, yet I know the petitions she raised on my behalf over the years are in effect, and her words of praise and encouragement will always be with me.

This is my 193rd post. My goal in writing remains the same as it was in the summer of 2014 – to recount God’s great love and faithfulness and motivate others to look for evidence of His care that is all around us.  We can trust Him, even amidst the most challenging circumstances.

Thank you, readers, for joining me on this journey. Some of you have been with me from the beginning, while others are more recent followers. I’ll keep writing as long as the Lord enables me to do so. And I’ll continue to pray that my words will be encouraging and hope-filled, always pointing to the One Who is able to do far more than all we ask or imagine and Who loved us so much He sent His Son to die for us.

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace (Numbers 6:24-26).


[1] https://www.amazon.com/Be-Still-Quiet-Moments-Garden/dp/1735373338/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=patsy+kuipers&qid=1625255136&sr=8-1

Love That Will Not Let Me Go

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends . . . So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:7-8a; 13

I was planning to write another in my series of reflections inspired by Mom’s hospitalization and Homegoing, but a Facebook memory popped up yesterday and sent my thoughts meandering down a different pathway. The post reminded me I met my late husband 40 years ago, on June 19, 1981.

The Backstory

Some of you are already familiar with the story behind how Ray and I met since I like to share it every year on the anniversary of our first encounter. But I’ll gladly retell it here for those of you who are more recent friends and readers.

Ray and I attended a church-sponsored singles group on that warm June evening, both for the first time. Food-fueled fellowship followed the Bible study lesson. As I willed my introverted self to mingle, my gaze kept returning to the handsome young man also making his way around the room.  I watched Ray interact with others, noting that he seemed like a nice guy who genuinely listened to people he engaged in conversation.

I finally got my chance to talk to Ray and, entirely out of character,  gave him one of my business cards after adding my home phone number. “Give me a call sometime.” Looking back, I credit divine inspiration for my bold gesture.

Regardless, I was mortified when I woke up the following day, thinking, “I gave a total stranger my business card, with my home phone number on the back!!!” And then I said a simple prayer, “Lord, if you want something to come of it, fine. If not, that’s fine too.”

I don’t remember how much time passed, but Ray did call. The friendship we developed in the singles group blossomed into a romantic relationship that led to 13 years of marriage and two daughters. Occasionally I would tease Ray, telling him it was the best use of a business card ever.

The years were punctuated by laughter and tears, filled with love, commitment, and hard work as the bonds between us grew ever-stronger. Then, in a moment, it ended.

Love That Endures

Or did it?

Imagine my surprise when I found that business card in Ray’s Bible several weeks after he died suddenly of a heart attack. Tears of amazement mingled with sorrow when I saw he’d kept it all those years. I left it there and look at it from time to time, a sweet reminder of how the Lord brought us together on that long-ago night. And of the love that grew over the years that followed, an unconditional love that didn’t end when Ray died because it flows from the fountain of God’s love.

My reminiscences on this 40th anniversary led me to think of others who, like Ray, loved me so well during their lifetimes that I still feel their love even though they’ve been gone many years. No surprise, my contemplation of enduring love included Mom. Though she passed away more recently, she poured so much selfless, unconditional love into me I have no doubt the bucket will remain full the rest of my life. I imagine her joining the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds me, urging me to finish strong.

A Legacy of Love

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about the wonder I feel when I ponder the power of love that transcends the grave, undimmed by the passage of time, and it most likely won’t be the last. Though I cherish tangible reminders of departed loved ones, material gifts aren’t the basis for our lasting connections. Shared experiences bolstered by loving acceptance and encouragement form the links that bind us together.

Love grounded in faith and hope is the most valuable legacy we can bestow, far more significant than any earthly treasures we might bequeath. I suppose my thoughts frequently turn to those who loved me well because I want to love the way they loved, to pass on the legacy they left me.

The Father’s Love

The Father first loved us by sending His Son to die for us, the just for the unjust. Empowered by the Spirit, we are to love others as God has loved us (1 John 4:9-11). Jesus even said His followers’ love for each other should be notable, a distinguishing characteristic  (John 13:34-35).

And how blessed we are that nothing on earth or in heaven will ever be able to separate us from God’s love:  For I am convinced that 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, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-9).

What a glorious assurance!

Dear Lord, thank You for Your infinite, eternal love. May we live in such a way that our love and faith are evident to a watching world, hallmarks of our relationship with You. And may we love others so well that the effects endure even after You’ve called us Home.

Role Reversal

Honor your father and your mother.
Exodus 20:12a

Baby Critters

Here in NW Georgia, it’s baby bird season – and baby deer, squirrels, chipmunks – you get the idea. Juvenile squirrels are relentlessly trying to figure out how to breach the bird feeder, an hours-old fawn traversed my daughter’s front yard on wobbly legs, and birds are devouring cakes of suet at the rate of one to two per day.[1] The wonder, joy, and occasional irritations associated with new life are everywhere.

Recently I’d opened a few windows to enjoy the breeze before summer’s impending humidity arrives and forces me to turn on the air conditioning for months to come. Suddenly, I heard such a riotous twittering coming from the back deck, I stopped what I was doing to investigate. Instead of finding one of the neighborhood cats threatening the birds, I observed a mother finch surrounded by three offspring almost as big as she was. The frantic chirping emanated from her little brood, each member demanding, “Feed me, Mommy, feed ME!”

Always a Mother

My mind has replayed the scene over the past few weeks as I’ve contemplated my own dear mother’s care for me. Like the mama bird faithfully feeding her babies even though they were nearly grown, Mom’s nurturing didn’t end when I left her nest. She respected my adult independence, yet I knew I could count on her for unwavering support, be it a home-cooked meal, attentive listening, or fervent prayer. Mom nourished me both physically and spiritually for 62 years.

When my 39-year-old husband died suddenly, leaving me to raise my 7-and-10-year-old daughters, my parents graciously moved to Georgia to help us. For the next 24 years, Mom lavished the same love and care on Mary and Jessie that she’d shown me.

Sometimes when I’d thank her for her steadfast devotion, she’d quip, “Once a mother, always a mother!”

Unwelcome Changes

If we live long enough, the effects of aging will bring about unwanted changes in our bodies, our minds, and our abilities. Such is life in this world marred by sin.

It was no different for Mom. Though her spirit and determination were as strong as ever, her physical self declined. Relinquishing her driver’s license was the most significant single blow as it made her dependent on others for transportation. She lamented imposing on me whenever I took her to a medical appointment regardless of how many times I tried to assure her it wasn’t a bother. (Besides, we’d often find a way to fit in a stop at Starbucks for our favorite beverages!)

Gradually I began providing more help with banking, household chores, and toward the end, personal care. Mom thanked me constantly, often apologizing for taking up my time. She told others I’d become the mother and she didn’t know what she’d do without me.

As our roles reversed, something inside each of us withered a bit, and a sad acceptance entered our relationship, not because I resented helping Mom, but because I knew how much it hurt her not to be able to do for herself and her loved ones. No amount of reassurance on my part could convince Mom it was alright. Our recurring conversation went something like this:

“I’ll never be able to repay you for all your help.”

“Mom! If we start keeping accounts, you know it’s me who’ll never be able to repay you! You’ve helped me far more than I’ve ever helped you!!”

“That doesn’t count. You’re mine, and I did it because I love you.”

“Well, you’re mine, and I love you. It’s a privilege to help you. You’re not a burden!”

In a moment of frustration a few days before she broke her hip, Mom exclaimed, “I’d hoped you’d never have to deal with this!” (“This” being providing so much practical help.)

Scriptural Mandates

Though I usually didn’t try to refute Mom’s protests with Scripture, there are several passages I could have quoted. Consider, for example:

  • But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (Timothy 5:8). Providing for relatives includes practical help, not just financial assistance.
  • Listen to your father who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old (Proverbs 23:22). This verse is closely aligned with the fifth commandment to honor father and mother.
  • Love is patient and kind (1 Corinthians 13:4). Mom’s love for me abounded in patience and kindness. I endeavored to show her the same, though sometimes I grew weary and my efforts fell short.
  • So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them (Matthew 7:12). I have no idea how my end-of-life scenario will play out, but I know I would like to be treated with love and respect. I pray Mom felt that despite her misgivings about needing help.

Motivated by Love and Gratitude  

The hours I spent assisting Mom weren’t burdensome because my efforts were inspired by my love for her and gratitude for all she’d done for my daughters and me. If we had been keeping accounts, I knew of no better way to pay down my debt.

Likewise, I recognize I owed an unpayable debt to the One who loved me so much that He sent His Son to die for me (John 3:16). Yet, when God credited Jesus’ righteousness to my account, He stamped it “paid in full.” How amazing!

Scripture states that salvation comes by faith alone as we depend on Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on our behalf. However, James declared that faith without works is dead. In fact, our faith is made evident by our good works (James 2:14-26) and the good fruit we bear (Matthew 7:17-20).

Just as I was motivated by love and gratitude to help my dear little mother, may our actions be motivated by love for God and gratitude for all He’s done. Let us gladly serve others well and love our neighbors as ourselves as we manifest the grace He’s shown us so abundantly.

Dear Lord, thank You for the blessing of a godly mother who showed me Your unconditional love. I praise You for the privilege of serving her in her time of need. And Lord, how I thank You for Jesus’ willingness to reverse roles with me, to take on the punishment for my sin, that I might be redeemed (2 Corinthians 5:21).


[1] A cake of suet usually lasts up to five days other times of the year. I surmise birds are feeding the soft, easy-to-digest treat to their babies.

Either Way, It Hurts

Jesus wept.
John 11:35

Across the years since Ray, my then-39-year-old husband, went to work, suffered a fatal heart attack, and never came home, I’ve pondered which is more painful, losing someone suddenly or watching them decline over time before they pass away. Having now experienced the latter with my dear mother, I can affirm what I suspected all along – either way, it hurts.

Sudden Loss

The phone rang within minutes of my young daughters and I returning home from a shopping outing. I answered to hear someone who identified herself as Chris, a patient care coordinator from the local hospital. She told me Ray had been transported from work to the emergency department by ambulance and asked if someone could bring me to the hospital. I assured her I could drive myself, gathered my girls, and said a brief prayer for Ray’s well-being before we set out.

As I drove, hands clasping the steering wheel, praying we’d find Ray alive, it occurred to me that Chris’s question regarding someone accompanying me already provided a clue to what lay ahead. The knot in my stomach was as tight as my clenched fingers.

When we arrived, Chris asked me some questions about Ray’s medical history as she ushered us to a private room to await the doctor, who would provide more details. As she turned to go, I asked, “Can’t you at least tell me if he’s alive?” She looked at me, silent.

I demanded, “Is he alive?”

“No, honey, he isn’t.”

Ten-year-old Mary, seven-year-old Jessie, and I heard the unthinkable, life-altering news as one and uttered a collective protest of disbelief. How could it be that our beloved father and husband would go to work on a beautiful spring day and not return to us?

In describing the aftermath of Chris’s statement, I’ve said it was as if I took it in only briefly before a giant door slammed shut to protect me from the enormity of it all. Shock, numbness, denial. But sometimes, the pain of profound, searing loss would overtake me, leaving me sobbing uncontrollably, longing for my life partner. Gradually, over weeks and months, reality dripped into my soul bit by bit as I was able to accept it.

There’s a tender scar where the raw wound used to be, and the torrents of tears have given way to deep sighs of acceptance, the expression of a heart pining for its missing piece.

A Gradual Decline

Even though I had no idea the Lord would call Mom Home a few weeks after I wrote Our Refuge (please see March 2021 Archives), I now know He was graciously preparing me for what was to come. I could no longer deny the changes I’d observed in Mom’s body and mind over the past few years, each one chipping away at her abilities, each one like a knife to my own heart. It grieved me so to watch her world become ever-smaller, to see her struggle to accomplish tasks once so easy for her.

I often thought of a friend’s comment two years ago when Mom was so frail, her body weakened by pneumonia, “I think seeing our loved ones decline makes it easier to let them go when the time comes.”

Even so, I couldn’t imagine the time would come when I’d sit by her hospital bed and plead with the Lord to relieve her pain entirely by taking her Home. But it did.

This time, the life-changing call came from my dad. On the morning of April 20th, his 90th birthday, he phoned to let me know Mom had fallen and broken her hip. I rushed to their house, two miles from mine, praying as I had on the drive to the hospital 24 years ago. The EMTs arrived soon after I did, followed shortly by the ambulance.

The image of them carrying Mom out to the ambulance, cradled in her sheet, pain etched on her face, gave me notice regarding the likely outcome, much as Chris’s question about someone bringing me to the hospital had. The following day, Mom made it through the surgery to repair her hip, but it soon became apparent even if her body recovered, her mind might not.

Mary and her husband, Justin, Jessie, and I took turns staying with Mom. There were some peaceful, lucid moments, but mostly we watched as she fidgeted and imagined all sorts of things and people, some pleasant, others deeply troubling. We wondered how her tiny body could keep up the almost-incessant activity without shutting down. We mourned as the bruises multiplied on her paper-thin skin, the aftermath of the fall, the surgery, and numerous blood draws. And we began to pray those prayers for ultimate relief and deliverance.

God mercifully answered our petitions on Mom’s behalf on April 30th, when she took her last breath and peacefully passed from our presence into the presence of Jesus.[1]

Different, Yet the Same

Losing Ray suddenly gave me no opportunity to prepare and resulted in a cycle of denial followed by painful acceptance of reality, a process repeated for months, the dripping I described earlier. Even though I was a rational person and recognized what happened, my subconscious searched for Ray everywhere I went and expected him to return home, hopes that could never be fulfilled.

On the other hand, every moment I had with Ray was normal. I didn’t watch him decline and become a shadow of his former self. Our last conversation was about attending church the next day. But not getting to tell Ray goodbye or express my love and appreciation one last time caused me much sorrow and regret.

Losing Mom a little at a time led me to begin grieving while she was still with me, as I missed activities and aspects of our relationship that were no longer possible. The accelerated pace of her decline after she broke her hip prepared me to let her go. In those final days, I also had the chance to pray with her, thank her for being a wonderful mother, and tell her how much I loved her. Though losing her is painful, it’s not the raw, open-wound kind of pain I felt when Ray died. It’s already a deep sigh of acceptance in my soul, tempered by the joy of knowing Mom is no longer suffering.

Prepared or unprepared, the result is the same. Death is absolute in this life, leading to separation, albeit temporary. For now, there are no more conversations, no more hugs or hand-holding, no shared reminiscences about past experiences or anticipation of future fun-filled activities.

Despite knowing death would not have the final say, Jesus wept outside Lazarus’ tomb. Likewise, we weep over the passing of our loved ones. Because it hurts. Aging and illness and death weren’t part of God’s good plan. Death entered in when Adam and Eve disobeyed, the penalty for their sin, just as God said it would (Genesis 2:16-17).

But God already had a plan of salvation. God would send His Son to crush the head of the Serpent (Genesis 3:15), to redeem those He chose before the foundation of the world. Jesus, man of sorrows, acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3a), comprehends our heartbreak when we watch loved ones suffer and die. So we approach His throne to receive grace and mercy in our time of need, knowing we have a great High Priest who understands (Hebrews 4:15-16), no matter how our loss comes about.

Furthermore, we grieve with hope as we look forward to Jesus’ promised return when He’ll wipe away every tear, and death will be no more (Revelation 21:4).

O Lord, it’s so hard to be separated from our loved ones. Thank You that You come alongside us to comfort us as One who understands our grief and who enables us to grieve with hope, knowing the separation is only temporary because of Your sacrifice on our behalf.


[1] Dad, Mary, Justin, Jessie, our pastor (David Donovan), and I were with Mom when the Lord called her Home.

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).

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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

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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.”