A Light to My Path

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

Annual Tradition

For as long as I can remember, I’ve set aside time in early January to reflect on the previous year’s events. I bet you won’t be surprised to learn I’ve recorded those reflections in numerous journal entries that now span decades.

Last week when I sat down to capture some thoughts about 2022, I found my mind turning not to the past twelve months but to January 2020 and all that’s happened since those pre-pandemic days. None of us could have imagined the changes Covid-19 would bring with it, which occurred so quickly that life as we knew it came to an abrupt halt and hasn’t returned.

But there were personal cataclysms too, as Mom passed away and Dad had a stroke and moved into assisted living, culminating in the sale of the home they’d shared for nearly 25 years, the site of frequent family gatherings. Then there was the upheaval that befell my grandson, sending shock waves through our close-knit clan.[1]

So much loss. So many changes.

But God

As my mind replayed scenes from the past three years, I thought about how thankful I was not to have known what awaited me as I stood at the beginning of 2020. Taken altogether, the events may have caused me to despair. Instead, viewing them with 20/20 hindsight confirmed what years of intentional reflections have taught me – God’s grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9), and His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). Just like the manna that appeared each day in the wilderness, God provided what I needed to face each challenge as it came.

Indeed, for every hardship I recorded, it was equally evident how God had faithfully prepared the way before me. I added those recollections to my burgeoning catalog of examples of God’s goodness, the one I refer to when I need to be reminded that He’s never forsaken me, and He never will (Deuteronomy 31:8).

One Step at a Time                 

Perhaps like me, you’ll read a passage of Scripture, one you’ve read numerous times in the past, only to have it speak to you in a new way. Such was the case last year when I was preparing a women’s Bible study lesson on God’s Word. Psalm 119:105 (see above) is a familiar verse. In fact, when it dances through my mind, it’s usually accompanied by the music of Amy Grant’s tune, Thy Word.[2]

Yet, I had an ah-ha moment while working on the lesson. It occurred to me that footlights don’t illuminate a large area. Think about the emergency lights on airplanes that lead you to exits if the cabin lights go out or the lights installed near the floor in theaters that yield just enough light for you to navigate the stairs when the house lights are dimmed.

That’s the way God’s Word is. It doesn’t lay out every step on our journey, but it gives us the light we need to take the next step, trusting in the Light, knowing that He not only knows every twist and turn in our path but also has intentionally and lovingly prepared the way for us.

Take Note

I recently began reading Seasons of Sorrow. In the prologue, author Tim Challies wrote, “I have often said that I don’t know what I think or what I believe until I write about it. Writing is how I reflect, how I meditate, how I chart life’s every journey.”[3] His statement resonates with me. I’ve journaled since I was a teen, and many of my entries follow the trajectory of the Psalms of lament, beginning with a troubling scenario, winding through anxious thoughts, then settling on all I know to be true about God and His care.

I’m not naïve enough to think everyone processes life that way. I know some of you may loathe writing, but I want to encourage you to at least jot down examples of how you see the Lord working in your life this year, maybe in a gratitude journal or simply on a calendar. As time passes, it’s relatively easy to recall momentous events where we’ve seen God at work, but not as easy to remember the small ones.

Yet it’s in those daily details that we see how intimate and personal our relationship with our Father truly is. For the One who set the stars in place and causes the sun to rise and set, who appointed the seasons and the boundaries for the mighty oceans, also knows each of His children by name and oversees their coming and going (Psalm 139:1-6).

Eternal Light

As we stand at the beginning of this new year, it’s natural to wonder what it holds, to make plans, and maybe even pen a resolution or two. Like years past, it will undoubtedly encompass a mix of joys and sorrows. Some will catch us by surprise, while we eagerly anticipate others.

Even though we can’t see very far down the road, and we may face many changes, we belong to the One who never changes, who’s promised never to leave or forsake us. We can count on Him to go before us as He has in the past, leading us ever closer to Home, where there will be no need of lamplight or sunlight, for the Lord Himself will be our everlasting light (Revelation 22:5).

Dear Lord, thank You for the gift of Your Word, full of guidance and promises. Through it, we see that You are a good Father, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Please help us not to run ahead into the darkness but to recall all You’ve done for us in the past, knowing You will be faithful to accomplish Your purposes for us and complete the good work You’ve begun.


[1] Please see “A Grandmother’s Heart,” in Archives, October 2022.

[2] “Thy Word,” released 1990. Lyrics by Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith.

[3] Tim Challies, Seasons of Sorrow, the pain of loss and the comfort of God (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), xiv

God’s Ambassadors

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
Matthew 5:14-16

A Brief Encounter

One of the first things I do each day is to check the weather. I suppose it’s the gardener in me. The week before Christmas, I noticed an alarming trend in temperatures forecasted for the holiday weekend. Even though I know our single-digit lows would be welcome in other parts of the country where temperatures plunged well below zero, they can cause problems for pipes, plants, and pets here in Georgia.

As many of you know, I count the birds that frequent my feeders as my outside pets. Thus, wanting to make sure I had plenty of food on hand and knowing I wouldn’t have time to make it to Home Depot, I opted to pick up a bag of mixed seeds when I got my groceries.

While I was perusing the choices, another woman joined me in front of the birdseed shelves. Detecting a kindred spirit, I commented, “I hope the birds will be ok when the deep freeze gets here.”

She replied, “Me too! They have downy feathers to keep warm, right?”

Trying to reassure her, I said, “They fluff up too to provide extra insulation.” (My 11-year-old grandson Joshua, a treasury of animal facts, and I had a conversation about that a few days before my trek to the grocery store, so I felt confident in my assertion.)

Still troubled, she said, “But what about their little feet and legs?”

That one stumped me, though if Joshua had been there, I have no doubt he would have had an explanation for why birds’ feet don’t freeze. Instead, in an attempt to ease our concerns, I stated something I knew to be true. “The Bible says God watches over the birds, so we’ll trust Him to do that.”

She smiled. “You’re right. It does.”

I added, “And we’ll do our part to make sure they have food.”

Another smile, “Yes, we will.”

We each selected a bag of seeds, wished each other Merry Christmas, and went our separate ways.

Deep Freeze

The forecast proved to be correct. Temperatures plummeted, lows were below 10 degrees, and three days passed with highs in the teens and 20s. When we finally made it above freezing, it felt like a heat wave!

As is my custom, I refilled the feeders each morning and returned them to their hooks on my deck. The first frigid morning, I peered expectantly out the kitchen window, awaiting the arrival of my bird friends.

I didn’t have to wait long. Soon a steady stream of customers was coming and going, consuming seeds even more rapidly than usual. The birds, including their tiny feet and legs, made it through the wintry blast. But I knew they would because I’ve seen God protect them through other unfavorable conditions. Their calm during those times, happily feeding, unphased by the adverse circumstances, reminds me that the One who watches over the birds and flowers also watches over me (Matthew 6:26-33). [1]

Shining the Light

Christmas is about God meeting our greatest need, our need for a Savior. The Apostle Paul, writing to the believers in Rome, assured them that if God didn’t withhold His only Son, He surely wouldn’t withhold any lesser thing (Romans 8:32).

As children of the King, we know our Father will meet all our needs and will never forsake us. Even so, there are times we need someone to remind us. As I told my fellow bird lover, we can do our part to care for those God places in our circle. Sometimes it looks like making sure the bird feeders are full. At others, it means sharing a word of truth in a brief encounter with a stranger to help turn their eyes toward Jesus. Then again, it involves consistently being life-givers to close family and friends, those we know best.[2]

Regardless of the situation, we’re God’s ambassadors, called to be light in a world filled with darkness because we belong to the Light that darkness cannot overcome (John 1:4-5).

Each week, our pastor encourages us to embrace, embody, and extend the love and grace we’ve received in Christ. I pray you’ll consider that to be part of your mission, too, as we begin a new year. May we always endeavor to shine for God’s glory.

Dear Lord, how blessed we are to be called Your children, and what a privilege You’ve bestowed upon us to be Your representatives. Please help us to care for Your creation and our fellow image-bearers with humble, grateful hearts, acknowledging all You’ve done for us.  


[1] Please see “Through the Storm,” Archives, September 2017.

[2] If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of being a life-giver, please see the “Give Life” tab and “Bucket-fillers” in Archives, November 2018.

God With Us

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
Isaiah 9:6-7

The First Year

The first year is the hardest. I heard that phrase repeatedly from well-meaning people attempting to comfort me after my 39-year-old husband died suddenly of a heart attack. As the days and weeks passed without him, their words led me to believe that if I could hold on until the first anniversary of his passing, everything would be ok. Even though I was rational and knew Ray couldn’t come back, part of me hoped it just might happen.

But 52 weeks passed, and everything wasn’t ok. Ray didn’t come back. I was still a single mother raising my two precious elementary-aged daughters, longing for my godly husband to be by my side.

Twenty-five years later, I know that grief lasts a lifetime, though it doesn’t remain as raw and piercing. It settles into your soul, a connection to the one you long for, and a reminder that the love you shared endures beyond the grave.

I didn’t have any such misconceptions after Mom passed away. I knew the first year would be challenging, but I also knew the longing to see and talk to her wouldn’t magically disappear when I reached day 366. No, it will be with me until I do see her again.

Another Christmas Season

I’m entering my second Christmas season without Mom, the season full of traditions, with her at the center of most of them. The joy she had in baking and shopping, wrapping and giving. The delight she expressed over every gift she received, big or small, store-bought or handmade.

The traditions and celebrations are bittersweet without Mom and Ray. Tears often accompany my activities – sometimes sad, sometimes grateful – as I reminisce about Christmases when they were with me.

Watching my 91-year-old father continue to decline, mentally and physically, adds even more angst to this year’s holiday. His confusion regarding time and the finer details of life has now grown to encompass dressing properly. Knowing how particular he’s always been about his appearance makes it even more difficult to bear.

Suffering Abounds

I’m painfully aware that we’re not the only family missing loved ones or watching them slip away.

  • My neighbor and his two-year-old twins are facing their first Christmas without their beloved wife and mother, who passed away this summer after a valiant battle with cancer.
  • Then there’s my friend at church whose cancer treatments are no longer working and another friend who’s watching her young adult son battle cancer that has returned with a vengeance after being in remission for several years.  
  • A few days ago, one of my nieces lost her twin sister and 12-year-old niece to a tragic accident that left her brother-in-law fighting for his life.
  • The section of my prayer list dedicated to those grieving contains a dozen other names of friends and relatives who’ve lost parents, siblings, or spouses in the past few months.

Those are just a few examples from my little corner of the world. I know similar scenarios are multiplied over and over across the globe. So much pain. So many tears.

But God

In the midst of my concerns for Dad and the busyness of the season, I had the opportunity to attend a women’s Christmas event. The food, fellowship, music, and décor were festive and uplifting. Something the keynote speaker, Laura Story, said has become my mantra as I navigate the hard parts of the holiday season and this season of life.

Laura is a gifted musician with several albums to her credit. One year she was calling radio stations to thank them for their support. Unbeknownst to her, the community where one of those stations was located had experienced a tragedy. When she wished the station manager Merry Christmas, he scoffed,  “What does Christmas have to do with (our situation)?”

“Everything!” Laura replied.

And so it does. God could have left us to muddle through on our own, in sin and sorrow, but He didn’t. He sent Jesus (John 3:16).

Immanuel

God knew beforehand that His headstrong creatures would rebel, and He created us anyway. Not only that but before the foundation of the world, He and the Son covenanted to save us. The promise God made to Eve had been sealed in eternity past (Genesis 3:15; Ephesians 1:4). Think about that! Marvel at it!

In the fullness of time, a virgin bore the Son of God (Luke 2:1-14), and in the fullness of time, He will return (Revelation 21:1-4). All our waiting will be over. Not only will we see our dear loved ones again, but we’ll also see our beloved Savior in all His glory.

So, dear readers, if you’re missing someone this holiday season, I invite you to join me in remembering Christmas has everything to do with our grief, losses, and longing. We can rejoice in knowing that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). The Baby in the manger was Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23), who grew to be a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, pierced for our transgressions (Isaiah 53:3-5) so that we might be filled with joy and hope (Romans 15:13).

Dear Father, our finite minds can’t grasp the enormity of the gift You gave in sending Your precious Son to save us from our sins, but how we thank You for Jesus! We don’t deserve Your mercy and grace, yet You lavish Your love upon us and pour out new mercies every morning. Please help us to remember we’re never alone. We have the ever-present Comforter to remind us of all Your promises and provisions.

Letting Go, Reprise

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

What’s Next?

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

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

Strength or Weakness?

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

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

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

Pressing On

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

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

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

Bearing Witness

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

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

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


[1] For more information visit smalleyinstitute.com

Beach Butterflies

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

Bountiful Butterflies

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

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

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

Headwinds

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

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

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

Watchful, Welcoming Savior

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

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

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

When We Least Expect It, Reprise

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

Surprise!

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

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

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

Be Prepared!

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

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

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

Telling Future Generations

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

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

Called Home  

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

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

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

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


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

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.

My Forever Cheerleaders

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
Hebrews 12:1

Watching the Clock

For weeks after my 39-year-old husband Ray died suddenly of a heart attack at work, I dreaded Saturdays. I replayed the events of the fateful day when Ray passed away, becoming progressively tenser as 6 pm, the time of the heart attack, approached. I imagined what he went through, how his associates tried to help him until the EMTs arrived, and the wailing of the ambulance’s siren as they rushed him to the hospital. All the while, my young daughters and I were shopping, ignorant of the fact our lives had changed forever.

When Mom passed away last year, no such replays plagued me on subsequent Fridays. Though images of her tiny bruise-covered body and pain-racked countenance haunted me for several weeks, her peaceful passing surrounded by those closest to her was more of a comfort to me. Whereas Ray’s sudden death sent me into a state of shock, I’d begun to grieve Mom’s decline months before her death, and knowing she was pain-free and in the presence of Jesus was a relief, even though I missed her terribly.

Thus, when April 30th, the first anniversary of Mom’s Homegoing, arrived, I was caught off-guard by the flood of memories that accompanied it, memories as clear as if the events had happened last week, not last year. As soon as I woke up, the heaviness hit, and the tears soon followed. The morning progressed,  and I found myself watching the clock, tension building as the time of Mom’s final breath approached.

Last year’s sequence of events played out in my mind: I called her hospice nurse, who informed me Mom had rested well and was still dozing. The same nurse called an hour later, telling me Mom had taken a turn and we needed to come. Texts to my children and prayer warriors, a call to Dad. The tense drive. The hushed room where we gathered around our beloved to sing, pray, and whisper our goodbyes.

And then she was gone. Or was she?

A Great Cloud of Witnesses

Twenty-five years ago, when I met with my pastor to plan Ray’s funeral, I asked, “Do you think Ray can see us? Not to see how sad we are, but how much we love him.”

His answer, paraphrased after all these years, went something like, “Scripture isn’t clear regarding how much our loved ones see, but God is sovereign over all and can allow them to know things if He chooses.”

I’ve held onto his answer and have even prayed for God to allow Ray to know about certain events if it’s His will to do so: my daughters’ graduations, my return to school to study horticulture, the births of my grandchildren, and sometimes a simple, “Please tell Ray I love him, Lord.”

Ray loved me so well for the years he was with me that I still feel his love. And so it is with Mom’s. I know I’ll carry her love with me for the rest of my life.[1]

In addition, there are times when I feel them very close to me. Such was the case in the days after I finished filming the video for Focus on the Family.[2] I longed to share the experience with Mom and Ray, the wonder, the excitement, and the misgivings. I dreamt about Ray two nights in a row, dreams that were like sweet visits, as I told him about the video. We were both so happy. And then, when the self-doubts set in – being filmed introduces a whole new level of vulnerability not associated with written words – I could sense Mom’s affirmations, her wholehearted support of my efforts, her joy.

I described these incidents to a dear friend and asked if she ever has similar instances with her departed husband. She smiled, nodded, and said, “Yes. Sometimes the veil is thin.”

Indeed it is. My two most ardent supporters haven’t left me. They’re part of the great cloud of witnesses surrounding me (Hebrews 12:1).

Glorious Reunion

Though there are many things we don’t know about heaven and our loved ones’ current state, there are others Scripture is quite clear about:

  • Believers who are absent from the body are present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8).
  • Jesus is preparing a place for us and will return to take us Home (John 14:2-3).
  • Our bodies will be raised imperishable (1 Corinthians 15:53-55).
  • We will dwell in His presence forever (Revelation 21:1-3).
  • There will be no more tears, death, mourning, or pain (Revelation 21:4).

As the clock continues to count down to Jesus’ return, let us comfort each other with the words of the Apostle Paul:

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

Dear Lord, as we recall all You did for us and await Your return, it is comforting to know that our departed loved ones are resting in Your presence. How sweet are the moments when You allow us to feel their nearness, and how dear the promise that we will one day be reunited in the new Jerusalem to live with You forever. Thank You for Your infinite, eternal love that unites us to You and each other.


[1] Please see “Legacy of Love,” Archives, July 31, 2020.

[2] Please see “Twenty-five Years,” April 19, 2022.

A Month for Remembering

Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?
1 Corinthians 15:54b-55

Beware the Ides of April

Though Ides looks plural, it is, in fact, singular and means the middle of a given month. According to the ancient Roman calendar,  the Ides fell on the 15th of  March, May, July, and October, and the 13th of the other months.

I’m not superstitious, and I realize I’m taking liberties with one of the most famous of Shakespeare’s often-quoted lines. Still, I’ve become wary of the middle of April, those days between the 10th and 20th,  because they are dotted with significant anniversaries of loss, both personal and national:

  • Waco Massacre – April 19, 1993
  • Oklahoma City Bombing – April 19, 1995
  • Ray, my dearly-loved husband, passed away from a heart attack on April 19, 1997, at the age of 39.
  • Columbine – April 20, 1999
  • VA Tech Shooting – April 16, 2007
  • Marcia, a dear sister-in-law, died on April 12, 2014, after a fall at her farm.
  • Mom was diagnosed with pneumonia on April 17, 2019, and spent the next 24 days in the hospital. There were several times we thought we’d lose her.
  • Mom fell and broke her hip on April 20, 2021, Dad’s 90th birthday. She went Home ten days later.

A Melancholy Month

When the calendar page turns to the fourth month, a thin layer of melancholy settles over my soul, much like pine pollen coats the Georgia landscape. I’ll admit I had to look up the specific dates of the national tragedies, though I knew they all occurred in April. Not so with the personal losses. Those dates and their attendant memories are etched into my mind.

Ray’s death forever divided my life into two pieces, before and after. Each year I intentionally revisit our last days together, when I had no idea how few there were, and the first days without him, when I wondered how I’d ever go on.

This year, I’m doing the same with memories of Mom. Last April, medical appointments filled the calendar as I desperately sought help for Mom, whose health was precarious and becoming more so each day. Yet I didn’t realize I had less than a month left in this life with the one who had been my chief cheerleader and devoted prayer warrior my whole life. Unlike Ray’s final days, which were filled with typical family and work activities, Mom’s were plagued with pain and confusion, making the memories even more heartbreaking.

Purposely observing the passing of Ray and Mom, my two most ardent supporters, touches tender scars and re-opens the wounds. But it is a price I’m willing to pay as I honor the memory of these dear ones, gratefully recalling the love and blessings they poured into my life.

Hope Abounds

Despite the undercurrent of loss that runs through April reminiscences, my mood seldom remains somber for long. The beauty of springtime bursting forth all around me won’t allow it to.

I revel daily in the signs of new life, as leaves emerge on formerly bare branches, flowering shrubs look resplendent in their colorful array of blossoms, and perennials push their way out of the soil for another season of growth. And I delight in the increased activity around my bird feeders as my feathered friends form couples and begin raising their young.

Everywhere I look, I see reminders of resurrection hope.

Suffering Savior

Just as I intentionally think back about Ray’s (and now Mom’s) final days, each year as Easter approaches, I ponder Jesus’ last week. On Palm Sunday, we remember His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, but over the next five days, the chants of adoration would be replaced by those of, “Crucify Him!” (John 12:12-13; John 19:15)

In His final week, our beloved Savior, the Spotless Lamb of God, would wash His disciples’ feet, be betrayed with a kiss, abandoned by His closest friends, arrested, beaten, mocked, and crucified. Writing those words, contemplating all it cost Him to save me, brings tears to my eyes as quickly as thoughts of losing Ray and Mom – tears of sorrow for my sins and all He endured on my behalf.

Grieving with Hope

But death doesn’t get the final say. Jesus’ resurrection guarantees He’ll have the last word.

Though it is right to mourn our sins with sorrow that leads to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10), we can rejoice knowing His atoning sacrifice removes our sins as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). They no longer define us because our identity is hidden in Christ, and we are robed in His righteousness.

Furthermore, Jesus’ victory over death enables us to grieve the passing of our loved ones with the hope of knowing the separation, though painful, is only temporary (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14). Jesus’ journey through the streets of Jerusalem, heralded by hosannas and palm branches, is but a shadow of His promised return. On that day, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. The dwelling place of God will be with His people, and He will wipe away every tear. Death, mourning, and pain will be no more, for the former things will have passed away (Revelation 21:3-4).

Thank You, Lord, for the hope we have in You. Because You took our punishment upon Yourself and then rose in victory over death, we have the assurance our sins are pardoned, and we too will be resurrected to eternal life in Your presence. May we be ever mindful of this truth to comfort our hearts while we tarry in this world where the effects of sin and brokenness remain.

Signs of Life

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Galatians 2:20

Let All Creation Sing

Some years ago, I attended a horticulture conference where one of the speakers began her talk by saying, “Summer, fall, and winter are seasons. Spring is a miracle!”

I often think of her comment when we’re on the cusp of spring, anticipating the glorious bursting forth of foliage and flowers when all creation joins in a chorus of praise to the Creator, pointing us to Jesus’ resurrection.

Yet, even when I stroll my garden in the winter, weeks before the magnificent display of new life, I find signs of what will be. Leafless branches sport tiny buds, which will become the next season’s greenery. Flowering shrubs often set their buds months before they bloom. They sit patiently, awaiting the time of their awakening. After years of watching the cycle repeat, I look forward with confidence to the beauty to come.

I find bulbs and seeds to be equally remarkable. They don’t look like much, but each holds the promise of what it will become. Given time and the proper conditions, even the tiniest of seeds will produce a towering tree with branches to provide shelter for nesting birds (Mark 40:30-32).

His Life in Us

The introductory verse above from Galatians affirms the status of those who believe in Christ as Savior. We are alive in Him. And though we will continue to struggle with sin as long as we’re in the flesh, God already counts us righteous because of Jesus’ sacrifice. The Spirit is at work within us, with the same power that raised Jesus from the dead (Ephesians 1:19-20), transforming us more and more into the image of the Son.

Just as the promise of what will be resides in buds and bulbs and seeds, we have the assurance that He who began a good work in us will see it through to completion (Philippians 1:6).

Aspirations

The first half of Acts chapter 4 describes an occasion when Jewish religious leaders arrested Peter and John, then summoned them to give an account of healing a crippled man (Acts 4:1-22). No matter how much the leaders threatened them, they boldly proclaimed the power of Jesus and His resurrection, giving Him full credit for their ability to heal.

Verse 13 has always inspired me:  Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. (Emphasis mine.)

That’s me, common and ordinary, nothing of my own to boast about (Ephesians 2:8-9), but I want to look different – to captivate others with the beauty and aroma of Christ – because I’ve been with Him.  

Blessed to Be a Blessing

Both the current sermon series at our church[1] and a Bible study[2] I’m in have included the message that God chose a people for Himself, not to take them out of the world immediately, but to join Him in reconciling the nations to Himself.

While we live as sojourners between the now and not yet, we’re called to manifest signs of the life of Christ in us, always ready to give a reason for our hope (1 Peter 3:15). Paul tells us we’re God’s workmanship in Christ and that He prepared good works for us to carry out (Ephesians 2:10). According to James, good works provide evidence of a faith that’s alive and well (James 2:14-26).

Likewise, the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control –  reflects our abiding dependence on the One who makes all things new, including us.

So, dear readers, won’t you join me in endeavoring to embrace and embody who we are in Christ, that our lives might bear much fruit for Him?

Dear Lord, what a gift You give us in the beauty of springtime when reminders of Jesus’ resurrection are all around us. Thank You for the assurance we have in Him that we too will be raised to eternal life. Until then, please help us to exhibit unmistakable signs of His life in us to a watching world.


[1] “Our Shared Life and Mission in the Peacemaking Christ, A Sermon Series in Ephesians,” Pastor David Donovan, Grace Covenant Church.

[2] “From Garden to Glory,” Courtney Doctor, Committee on Discipleship Ministries, 2016.