Blessed Ties, Reprise

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

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

First Impressions

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

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

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

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

Building Bonds

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

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

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

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

Familiar Grounds

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

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

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

Unbreakable Bond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Incomparable Word

Introduction

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

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

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

Spiritual Nourishment

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

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

The Armor of God

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

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

Living and Active

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

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

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

Trustworthy

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

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

God-breathed

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

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

To Be Obeyed

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

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

A Light

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

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

Fruitful

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

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

Eternal

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

Pure, Perfect, Desirable, Sustaining

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

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

Jesus – The Word Made Flesh

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

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

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

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

Buying and Selling Real Estate – Epilog

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

Needed Reminders

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

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

The Offer

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

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

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

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

Worrywart

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

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

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

Closing Day

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

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

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

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

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

Attention to Detail

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

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

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

And so it does.

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


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

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

Eating Apples – encore

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

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

Cherished Memories

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

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

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

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

A Godly Man

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

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

Abiding Love

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

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

A Promised Reunion

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

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

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

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

Of Mountaintops and Valleys

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.
Psalm 23:4

Hindsight

Hindsight provides a perspective we don’t have when we’re living the moment. Such has been the case as I’ve withstood weeks in the valley after reveling on the mountaintop of the My Focus Story experience.[1]

For roughly a month, from the days of filming to the release of the video and the resultant response, it was as if my heart was constantly singing. I praised God for giving me such a remarkable gift, a reminder that He never loses sight of me or any of His children.

Looking back, I realize the gift wasn’t merely for the 25th anniversary of my husband’s passing. No, the Lord knew I would need the bountiful blessings associated with that event to fortify me for what lay ahead.

Losses, Big and Small

Soon after the video debuted, my 91-year-old father announced it was time to sell the house he and Mom shared for the last 24 years of their nearly 70 years of marriage. Though I knew that day would come after Dad moved into assisted living earlier this year, I didn’t push the issue with him, knowing he’d already lost a lot in the past year. A broken hip led to the death of his beloved wife, and a stroke six months after that took away his freedom to drive and live on his own. We sold one of his cars and then the other.

His directive to get the house ready to put on the market came as both a relief and a stressor. Though necessary, it was a task I’d been dreading, one that felt like another step in disassembling my parents’ lives. My adult daughters came over to select items to keep, and friends provided practical help with packing and moving. Still, the daunting responsibility of going through everything fell squarely on my shoulders as an only child.

So I dutifully entered the valley, determined to carry out the process respectfully and in a way that would honor my parents and their life together. Days and nights ran together as I spent countless hours going through boxes and drawers and cabinets. Restful sleep eluded me. It seemed I was constantly sorting through stuff in my mind, whether awake or asleep.

And each day, my first thought upon waking was, “I have to go do it again.”

Sufficient Grace

My single-minded focus meant suspending the usual ebb and flow of my life. Instead of spending the customary two days each week with my grandchildren, I barely saw them. And other than mowing my tiny patch of grass to avoid letters from the HOA, I didn’t work in my garden for over a month. Things that generally counterbalance the stress in my life weren’t available to me, and there were moments when I didn’t think I would make it to the finish line, the date I agreed to turn things over to the company in charge of the estate sale.

But each morning, I countered the anxiety of those “Oh no!” thoughts with the reminder that God’s mercies are new every morning, and He would be faithful to see me through whatever the day brought (Lamentations 3:22-24).

Likewise, Mom’s life verse, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13), came to mind often as I imagined her encouraging me with one of her signature exhortations, “We can’t give up. We’ve got to hold onto our faith and keep going!” And oh, how I preached truth to myself throughout the lonely hours of sorting, reminding myself that God’s grace is sufficient and His power is made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Tears and Treasures

Going through all of Mom and Dad’s things generally delivered expected results, i.e., I found what I expected to find. But sometimes, my efforts yielded priceless treasures that elicited delighted exclamations – the tassel from Mom’s high school graduation cap, a photo of my grandfather in his field with his mules and plow,  the carriage for the baby doll Mom received for her tenth Christmas.

Other times my finds brought me to tears. Such was the case when I discovered my baby sister’s hospital bracelet and a tiny silver spoon from the funeral home that conducted her services barely eight months after she was born. Mom had drawers full of keepsakes from all stages of my life, but so very few from Mary Jeannette’s brief existence. I imagined her grief at losing her baby and across all the years since, as she wondered how her other daughter might have grown up.

Tears and treasures. Valleys and mountaintops. Such is life on this side of heaven. Regardless of what our days hold, we can rest in God’s promise never to leave or forsake us, knowing that He Who proclaims the end from the beginning will see the good work He began in us to completion (Deuteronomy 31:8; Isaiah 46:9-10; Philippians 1:6).

Dear Lord, no matter how bright our mountaintops or how dark our valleys, please help us never to lose sight of the fact that it is You Who goes before us, making a way, providing all we need, and accomplishing Your purposes in, through, and for us.

Post Script: The lyrics to the beloved hymn, Day by Day[2], are especially appropriate for the theme of this post. I hope they’ll give you added encouragement.

Day by day, and with each passing moment,
Strength I find to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.
He, whose heart is kind beyond all measure,
Gives unto each day what He deems best,
Lovingly its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.

Every day the Lord Himself is near me,
With a special mercy for each hour;
All my cares He fain would bear and cheer me,
He whose name is Counsellor and Pow’r.
The protection of His child and treasure
Is a charge that on Himself He laid;
“As thy days, thy strength shall be in measure,”
This the pledge to me He made.

Help me then, in every tribulation,
So to trust Thy promises, O Lord,
That I lose not faith’s sweet consolation,
Offered me within Thy holy Word.
Help me, Lord, when toil and trouble meeting,
E’er to take, as from a father’s hand,
One by one, the days, the moments fleeting,
Till with Christ the Lord I stand.


[1] Please see “Twenty-five Years” in Archives, April 2022 for a full recounting of the experience.

[2] Lyrics by Carolina Sandell Berg; translated by Andrew L. Skoog.

Eight Years

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.
James 1:2-3

Dear Readers,

Eight years ago, on July 1, 2014, I began my first post, “Consider it Pure Joy,” with those verses from James. Since then, I have faced trials of many kinds. I’ve shared most of them, plus others I experienced before I started blogging, in the over 200 posts now residing in the Back 2 the Garden archives.

My love of writing and a desire to honor God by telling others of His faithfulness fueled my blogging aspirations. A longing to provide Scripture-based encouragement and hope that belies the bad news the world dishes out keeps me writing.

Once again, I’m facing a trial; one brought about by the need to go through all of my parents’ things in preparation for an upcoming estate sale. The sale of the house itself, my parents’ home for the last 24 years of their almost-70 years of marriage, will immediately follow.  

The process is exhausting, physically and emotionally, but it’s also giving me opportunities to draw on past instances of God’s faithfulness and see new ones. And it’s providing material for future posts and a second book that’s been taking shape in my mind over the past year.

For now, though, I’ll stick to celebrating eight years of blogging by thanking you, readers, for coming along on the journey. I pray that whether you’ve been a faithful reader from the beginning or have found your way to the Garden more recently, my stories will give you plenty to ponder while consistently pointing you to Jesus, the Source of life and light.

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).

Buying and Selling Real Estate, a Tutorial on God’s Faithfulness

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.
Psalm 9:1-2

Note: The following post is based on one I wrote several years ago to encourage friends who were in various stages of buying and selling houses. Now I’m faced with getting the home Mom and Dad shared for 24 years ready to put on the market. Consequently, I need to revisit my words to remind me of God’s faithfulness and sovereignty, not only in matters involving real estate but also over every detail of my life. Though the post focuses on property transactions, I pray the over-arching message of God going before us will resonate with many of you.

Starter Home

As I open up my mental portfolio containing instances of God’s providence, the “Real Estate Transactions” file stands out because it encompasses events that still give me goosebumps of the most positive kind when I recall the specifics years later.

Several months after my late husband Ray and I got married, we began to contemplate the possibility of purchasing our first home. The image of him sitting at his drawing board, his silhouette illuminated by a clamp-on light as he calculated and re-calculated the numbers, is etched in my memory. After several such assessments, we decided to purchase a townhouse attached to one other unit. We had three bedrooms on the top floor, an open floor plan on the main level, and a full basement which we partially finished – plenty of room even after our daughter Mary was born two years later.

Expanding Family

But when I became pregnant with our daughter Jessie, Ray and I decided to start looking for a single-family home to accommodate our growing family. Unfortunately, the houses we could afford weren’t within our desired distance to work, and those in our preferred areas carried price tags well beyond our budget. We looked and looked, our hopes repeatedly dashed.

It was a hot, humid summer in Delaware, and I was eight months pregnant, with all the attendant hormonal upheaval. So, when Ray excitedly told me about an open house at an older home in the same neighborhood as our townhome, I suggested he check it out while I treated my hot, tired, grumpy self to a nap.

Ray returned from the open house, his spirits still high, and announced, “You need to see this one! It could be our house.” Several days later, I accompanied him on his return visit. I, too, liked what I saw. Coached by our realtor, we made an offer slightly under the asking price, only to be outbid. Once again deflated by dejection, we surmised it wasn’t the one after all.

Several weeks and more disappointing house-shopping jaunts later, the owners called to let us know the deal had fallen through and their house was back on the market. After thoroughly considering our options, Ray and I decided their house was indeed the one.

Having finally concluded the search phase of our mission, we asked fellow members of our Sunday school class to pray our townhouse would sell. A young couple came up to us after class and said they’d be interested in looking at it. They did so a few days after Jessie’s birth and made an offer. Thus we secured buyers without ever putting up a for-sale sign.

Another Move, Another Contract

The single-family house on Dewalt Road was to be our long-term, raise-the-kids residence. However, my employer decided to move my entire workgroup to Georgia so we could be closer to our customers in the carpet industry. Once again, we were faced with selling a house, this time one filled with toys and accessories parents of toddlers are used to stepping over and around. I dreaded the process of keeping the house picked up and ready to show at any moment.

After Ray and I signed a contract with our realtor the day before I left for a weeklong business trip to California, I told them, “Ok, you two. I want you to find a buyer before I get back.” (Cue laughter.) God graciously provided a young family, much like our own, who could no doubt imagine their children’s toys strewn across the playroom and parked in the yard. They were ready to make an offer by the time I returned home.

God Goes Before Us

Fast forward five years to when the unthinkable happened. My beloved 39-year-old husband went to work one beautiful spring day, suffered a fatal heart attack, and didn’t make it back to what has indeed been my long-term, raise-the-kids residence. My parents were living in Charlotte and had been considering several location options for their retirement years. What a blessing when they chose to move to Georgia to help me with the logistics and challenges associated with being a single mother.

Mom and Dad had an offer on their house within a few days of putting it on the market. Then, when Mom told the owners of the house they bought in Georgia the reason for their move, the woman replied, “Our house was under contract several months ago, but the deal fell through. Now I know why. God was saving it for you.”

Recounting God’s Goodness

I realize your real estate history may differ from mine. Maybe you’ve endured weeks without showings and multiple price cuts during stagnant markets. But, as I hope you can see, this recounting isn’t about houses at all. It’s about remembering God’s faithfulness, recording instances of His provision, and sharing them to encourage yourself and fellow believers when times get tough (Psalm 63:1-8).

Recording and remembering will give us ammunition to combat the lies Satan whispers to our anxious hearts in the wee hours: “Just look what God has done! He’s never forsaken me, and I know He never will.” (Deuteronomy 31:8; Psalm 9:10; Psalm 37:25)

Your list of examples will be as unique as you are. But, even if you’re a brand new believer, you have instances to look back on, including the fact He called you out of darkness and welcomed you into His family (Matthew 4:16; John 8:12; Ephesians 1:3-14). And the longer we walk with Him, the more extensive and varied our personal inventories become, as He does exceedingly more than all we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

O Lord, please help us to be ever-faithful to recall and recount Your goodness and faithfulness in all circumstances. When our hearts are troubled, they will find rest in remembering all You’ve done and all You’ve promised to do.

The Aroma of Christ

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Ephesians 5:1-2

A Familiar Fragrance

I’ve begun the difficult task of going through my parents’ things in preparation to sell their house, the site of countless dinners, family gatherings, and celebrations over the past 25 years. Myriad emotions accompany my almost-daily visits, which I continued after Dad moved into assisted living so I could keep an eye on things. Some days I can complete my rounds and remain detached, while others find me in tears before I even exit my car.

I walked the property several days ago to ensure nothing was amiss outside. As I rounded the back corner of the house, a familiar fragrance wafted toward me. I stopped and turned toward the gardenia bush, so full of flowers that its branches bent beneath the load.

Memories of Mom and past summer evenings came flooding back. Many nights during gardenia season, I would arrive for dinner and be greeted with Mom’s cheerful, “Look what I got for us, Babe!”[1]

She would point toward a glass or vase holding multiple stems of the sweet-smelling flowers – some for her to keep and some for me to take home.

The Perfume of Selflessness

As the season waned and the blossoms became less plentiful, Mom always wanted to make sure I had some for my house, even if it meant only a sprig or two for her. Humble and with a servant’s heart, Mom exemplified Philippians 2 as she considered others’ needs before her own, even in things as small as sharing flowers.

Mom’s generosity included food of all kinds. She not only made dinner for me most nights, but she also encouraged me to take leftovers home or pick something from the fruits and vegetables she purchased in the summertime. She always wanted me to have the juiciest peach or the ripest tomato. I can hear her saying, “Not that one! It’s got a bad spot.” Or, “That’s not enough! Here, take another one.”

It became a joke between us, and I finally stopped trying to choose for myself. I’d laugh, hand Mom the bag, and say, “Why don’t you go ahead and pick for me?”

Remembering those exchanges, representative of Mom’s sweet spirit, makes me smile.

A Pleasing Aroma

One of our former pastors used to tell us, “When you see ‘therefore,’ you need to ask ‘What’s the therefore there for?”

In the case of the introductory verses above, “therefore” links the directive that follows to Paul’s description in the previous chapter regarding our status as new creatures in Christ (Ephesians 4:21-24). Paul gets specific with the requisite put-offs and put-ons associated with our old and new natures, respectively (Ephesians 4:25-32). He then delivers summary instructions: because of our new life in Christ, we’re to be imitators of God, to walk in love, and to live so our lives will be an aroma pleasing to Him, just as Jesus’ sacrificial life was.

As our pastor has taught through this portion of Ephesians, he’s repeatedly encouraged us to be conduits of God’s love and grace. Sadly, as we live between the now and not yet (eternally saved, yet still in the flesh), we sometimes slip into the extremes of self-righteousness or self-condemnation instead.

I know there are times when my scent is more off-putting than welcoming, more sweaty than sweet. But, praise God for the power of His Spirit at work in His children, transforming us more and more into the image of Christ and enabling us to spread His pleasing aroma.

A Lingering Fragrance

I cut a dozen stems off the gardenia and brought them home. I placed some in a vase upstairs and the rest in a container on my kitchen counter. Soon the lovely fragrance was drifting through my house, reminding me of Mom. The essence of her beautiful life lived for Christ remains in the lives and memories of those she touched with His love, just as the fragrance of the gardenia blossoms lingers in my home.  

May it be the same with ours.

Dear Lord, thank You for the sacrificial love of Jesus and the power of Your Spirit at work within us. Please help us embrace, embody, and express the love and grace You’ve shown us so that we might spread a fragrant aroma that is pleasing to You and attractive to others.


[1] Babe was my grandfather’s pet name for Mom, the youngest of his eight children. She frequently used it with me and my daughters.

Choosing Sides

“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Joshua 24:14-15

Co-conspirators

Several years ago, I was seated at my daughter’s kitchen table. 5-year-old Lyla had barely finished saying the blessing over our PBJs and Goldfish when 8-year-old Joshua started whispering to 3-year-old Emma. I caught enough of his words to figure out the gist of what he was saying.

“Are you plotting against Lyla?” I asked.

“Hey! You’re not supposed to be listening!”

“It’s kind of hard not to overhear. I know I’m getting old, but my ears still work!”

Joshua scowled while Emma flashed an innocent “who me?” expression my way.

Usually, my grandchildren play well together. Everyone has a role in their imaginative scenarios, from setting up a petting zoo to running a bakery to fighting pretend foes. But sometimes, two will team up against the third, with Emma often being the one left out. No wonder she reveled at the turn of events.

Their behavior reminds me of my own childhood. I had several playmates on the street where I grew up. We’d go through cycles of acceptance and shunning, declaring life-long allegiance one day and then descending into angry silence over some perceived slight the next.

And don’t get me started on the agonies of middle school. Long before online bullying reared its ugly head, slam books were the epitome of teen-girl meanness.

Only Two Sides

Sometimes when two grandchildren are excluding the third, I ask them if they think their unkind behavior is pleasing God. One or both will cast their eyes downward and reply, “No, Grammie.”

“And if you’re not pleasing Him, who are you pleasing?”

I usually provide the answer, though they’ve become more astute regarding sin and evil and loving God (and parents) by being obedient (John 14:15).

Just like being a life-giver or life-taker are opposite sides of the same coin, pleasing God or pleasing Satan is like a spiritual toggle switch.[1] Satan is the father of lies, who came to steal, kill, and destroy (John 8:44). Masquerading as an angel of light, he is the purveyor of darkness and deceit. God is Light. In Him, there is no darkness (1 John 1:5). He only speaks the truth, and He is abounding in steadfast love.

God told Joshua the people would have to choose who they’d follow and whether or not they’d obey. Joshua boldly stated, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” The people immediately pledged the same, but they couldn’t keep their vow, and neither can we.

Foreign Gods

You may read the introductory passage above and think, “I don’t worship idols.” I agree that it would be unlikely to find an altar with little carved images in the home of a professing Christian. However, when we consider an idol as anything that takes God’s rightful place in our hearts, we must admit our hearts are fickle, constantly putting other things above Him in our affections.

Even good things, like family and friends, can usurp God’s place. Sadly, I find Self and my desires and preferences seated on the throne of my heart far more frequently than I like to admit.

Unity in Christ

I wish I could say we outgrow our tendency to elevate ourselves by diminishing others by the time we reach adulthood. Instead, we often revert to an us-vs-them mentality when disagreements arise, forming coalitions and choosing sides. We seek the approval of men, longing to be included and accepted. In our striving to be right, we can become self-righteous, forgetting that we would stand condemned apart from God’s saving grace.

But this type of behavior among God’s children doesn’t bring Him glory.

On the night Judas betrayed Him, Jesus prayed for all His disciples, those with Him then and those who would believe based on their words. That includes us! And what did He pray? That we would know the love and unity enjoyed by the Trinity (John 17:20-26).

Even now, Jesus is seated at the right hand of God, interceding for us (Romans 8:34)!

Choosing Wisely

Praise God that not only does Jesus pray for us but also that the Holy Spirit indwells us with the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, giving us a new will to obey and enabling us to do so (Ephesians 1:19-20; Philippians 2:13).

Thus, when we’re tempted to take sides or give in to our own desires or think, “Surely this small trespass won’t count,” we need to remember there are only two sides – darkness and Light. As children of God, Scripture calls us to walk in the light as He is in the light (Ephesians 5:8-9). We’re to let our light so shine before a watching world that they, too, will want to join us in the Light of His love.

Dear Lord, how blessed we are to be called Your children. Thank You for bringing us out of darkness into Your marvelous light. Please help us to remember there are only two sides in the spiritual battle. May we choose to walk in the light, enabled by the Spirit, out of love and gratitude for all You’ve done for us.


[1] Please see the tab, “Give Life,” for more on life-giving and life-taking behaviors.

Benevolent Dominion

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.
Genesis 2:15

Tree Hugger

Several years ago, then-seven-year-old grandson Joshua made a derogatory comment about tree huggers. Guessing he was mimicking something he’d heard, I smiled and replied, “Careful there, Joshua! One of your favorite people might be a tree hugger.”

He looked at me sheepishly as he realized I was referring to myself, his plant-loving Grammie.

Since that light-hearted exchange, we’ve had many conversations regarding invasive species of plants and insects, the effects of pesticides on pollinators, and our part in caring for God’s beautiful creation. Though neither of us is likely to chain ourselves to a tree in an attempt to save it, we both prefer protecting rather than pillaging our earthly home.

Rebellious Co-Regents

In the beginning, God created man in His image, male and female He created them. God blessed Adam and Eve, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)

How amazing that Almighty God, Creator and Ruler of everything, would allow His creatures to participate in ruling over all He had created. As His representatives, they were to extend the beauty and peace that existed in Eden to the whole earth.

Alas, they weren’t content with their position. When Satan tempted Eve, she exchanged the desire to glorify God for self-exaltation. Her eyes were opened, just as Satan promised, but her disobedience brought death and dismay, not equality with God.

The keeping of the garden that was to be pleasant work in the presence of God became onerous as God cursed the ground, and thistles and thorns sprang up to impede man’s attempt to cultivate crops. I often think of the curse when I struggle to free my azaleas and hydrangeas from the prickly vines that ensnare them or labor to rid my woods of poison ivy.

Relationships also suffered. No longer was there peace between God and man or between husband and wife. It wasn’t long before brother turned on brother. Strife became the norm, as God’s rebellious image-bearers were led astray by their deceitful hearts, each doing what was right in their own eyes. Even the creation groaned under the burden of sin (Romans 8:19-23).

Be Fruitful

Another, more recent, lunchtime conversation with my grandkids found us discussing pets. Since my 19-year-old cat, Willie, died several years ago, I haven’t had a pet, so I offered up, “The birds are my outdoor pets.”

Emma replied, “Those aren’t your birds, Grammie! Those are the world’s birds.”

“You’re right, Emma. They’re God’s birds, but He lets me feed them.”

And so He does.

Despite Adam and Eve’s rebellion, God didn’t give up on His original design or consign His wayward children to eternal exile. Before He banished them from the garden, God promised there would be a way back, a perfect plan developed before the foundation of the world (Genesis 3:15; Ephesians 1:4).

In the fullness of time, Jesus, the only begotten Son, was born, lived a sinless life, and died a brutal death, exchanging His spotless garments of perfect righteousness for our filthy rags of wretched sinfulness.

When it came time for Him to return to His Father, Jesus gave His disciples instructions that hearkened back to those God gave Adam and Eve, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

Righteous Rule

Too often, when we hear words like authority, dominion, and subdue, we think of harsh force, one side crushing the other and subjecting them to cruel treatment. But that’s not the way God deals with His creatures. He provides and cares for them so they might flourish under His watchful eye (Psalm 145:15-16). As His children who’ve been given authority to rule in His stead, we’re to do the same.

The Apostle Paul tells us we’ve been entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation. Jesus’ followers are to be fruitful and multiply spiritually. We’re to be peacemakers, sharing the Gospel message of how to be reconciled to God and each other (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).

Thus, God still calls us to extend the peace and beauty of Eden to the world in our homes, gardens, communities, and relationships – a foretaste of heaven. Though we won’t be able to do it perfectly until Jesus returns, we are empowered by the Spirit, enabled to bring the sweet aroma of Christ and the light of His love to a world in desperate need of both.

Enemies Vanquished

There will come a time when God displays the force we typically associate with dominion. When Jesus returns, it will be as the conquering King, the One Who will abolish all remaining enemies, including death (Revelation 19:11-16). Everything will be redeemed and made new, yet better than Eden because there will be no place for sin or evil in the new Jerusalem (Revelation 22:3-4).

Christ is currently seated at the Father’s right hand, possessing all authority in heaven and on earth (Luke 22:69). However, at the consummation of all things, He will assume His visible, eternal rule when every knee will bow and every tongue confesses His Lordship (Isaiah 45:22-24).

And we will rule with Him forever (Revelation 3:21)! How amazing!

Dear Lord, what a privilege it is to be allowed to rule with You even now though sin continues to influence our thoughts and behavior. Whether we’re caring for birds and plants or each other, please help us extend Your grace to all You place in our sphere of influence as we endeavor to be fruitful and multiply, all for Your glory.