Thanks, Mom! (Reprise)

Her children rise up and call her blessed.
Proverbs 31:28a

My dear little mom was born on November 24, 1931. Every few years, the anniversary of her birth falls on Thanksgiving. I think it’s so appropriate when it does since Mom’s life blessed me and many others. Thus, in grateful appreciation to God for the gift of a godly mother and in recognition of what would have been her 91st birthday on Thanksgiving this year, I offer this lightly-edited version of the initial post.[1]

Mom’s Mottos

Following are some nuggets of wisdom Mom shared with me throughout my life. I referred to them as “Mom’s mottos” in her eulogy.[2] They’ve become ingrained in my psyche, and I’ve passed them on to my daughters and am now sharing them with my grandchildren.

People will let you down, but God never will. Mom and I endured numerous trials together in the 62 years between my birth and her passing. Lies, disappointments, job loss, broken relationships, health crises, and deaths. Through it all, Mom taught me to depend on the One who says He’ll never leave or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6), faithfully keeps His promises (Hebrews 10:23), and speaks only truth (Hebrews 6:18). We will have troubles in this world, but Jesus has overcome the world. We can find peace in Him. (John 16:33)

When faced with a list of tasks, do whatever’s bothering you the most first and get it behind you. When I felt overwhelmed, which was more often than I liked to admit, Mom encouraged me with this time-tested advice bestowed upon her by one of her grade-school teachers. Though it may not have been inspired by Scripture originally, there’s undoubtedly a Biblical tie-in. Usually, when my to-do list becomes overloaded, it’s filled with chores associated with temporal concerns. Cooking, cleaning, weeding, mulching, paying bills and the like are necessary. But Jesus makes it clear we’re to seek eternal things first, trusting Him to provide all we need (Matthew 6:25-33) and spending time at His feet to learn of Him (Luke 10:38-42).

We can’t change anyone else, much as we’d like to sometimes. We can only give an account of ourselves. My reply when Mom would tell me this? “You’re right. I have a hard enough time keeping myself in line!” Once again, there’s Biblical truth in Mom’s statement. As part of His magnificent Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned against judging others, especially since we have sin in our own lives to deal with (Matthew 7:1-5). Praise God for giving us His Spirit, which is at work in us to bring about the transformation we’re incapable of accomplishing on our own (2 Corinthians 3:17-18). Furthermore, we’re called to pray for others, because only He can soften hardened hearts (Ezekiel 36:25-27).

We can’t give up. We’ve got to hold on to our faith and keep going. Throughout her life, Mom faced challenges that may have led some to quit or become bitter. In the last decade of her life alone, she:

  • shattered the bones in her right shoulder, an injury that required surgery to install a plate and multiple screws, and left her with a limited range of motion in that arm.
  • suffered a heart attack that led to the discovery of three severely-blocked arteries resulting in emergency open-heart surgery.
  •  fractured a vertebra in her back and had a procedure known as kyphoplasty to repair it.

Mom endured daily pain due to the ravages of arthritis that led to enlarged joints in her fingers and cartilage deterioration resulting in a bone-on-bone right knee. Yet she rarely mentioned her constant aches. Instead, she clung to God’s mercies which are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-24), and encouraged those in her inner circle to do the same. Not surprisingly, her life verse was Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” It appears on her grave marker.

There’s an end to everything and everybody sometime sooner or later. Mom usually used this phrase when a situation called for consolation, such as when a cherished object wore out, broke, or was lost. But her most poignant use of the saying came several days after she broke her hip. During one of her lucid moments, she recited it to me, followed by, “I guess this is the end of me.” As much as it hurt to hear her acknowledge what was becoming increasingly likely, I could comfort her with the assurance of complete healing that awaited. As we live under the curse where death and brokenness are certainties, we have the promise of Christ’s return when all will be made new, and death will be no more (Revelation 21:1-4).

There’s nothing so bad it couldn’t be worse. Similar to the motto above, Mom used this one to offer comfort. It also reminds me to be thankful even in trying circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). For believers, even death isn’t the worst possible scenario. Instead, it ushers us into the presence of Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:6-8).

That’s a Gulf song. Granted, this statement isn’t advice, but I include it because it alludes to my heritage of faith. Mom grew up in the tiny town of Gulf, NC, where she attended a small Presbyterian church established in the 1800s. When the strains of a familiar hymn from her childhood would begin to play at our current church, Mom’s face would brighten, and one of us would usually lean toward the other and whisper, “That’s a Gulf song.” On a recent Sunday morning, I whispered the same to my 8-year-old granddaughter, explaining the connection after the service. I don’t know how many generations my heritage of faith encompasses, but I know there are at least two behind me and two in front. I pray that legacy of faith will be passed continually from generation to generation until Christ returns (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).

Mom’s Enduring Love

Oh, how I miss Mom! Though petite, she had a big, beautiful smile and an even bigger heart. She was my main cheerleader and most dependable defender. We all need someone who’s unconditionally, unreservedly in our corner. I’m so thankful Mom was in mine. She was my rock because she consistently pointed me to the Rock and reminded me that His everlasting arms are securely holding all who belong to Him in an eternal embrace (Deuteronomy 33:26-27a). And since Mom’s love was grounded in God’s great love, it will be with me until we meet again.

O LORD, thank You for the priceless blessing of a godly mother and the assurance that I will see her again! Please help me to recount Your goodness and faithfulness to coming generations as she did.

Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth!I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done (Psalm 78:1-4).


[1] Please see “Thanks, Mom!”, Archives, November 2018.

[2] Please see “Eulogy for a Godly Mother”, Archives, May 2021.

A Grandmother’s Heart

Children’s children are a crown to the aged, and parents are the pride of their children.
Proverbs 17:6

Mama Bear

Many years ago, an article I read described being a mother as having a piece of your heart walk around in another person. When your child hurts, you hurt. When they rejoice, you rejoice with them. Weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice is scriptural (Rom. 12:15), but those feelings are magnified when the one doing the weeping or rejoicing is your child.

I wasn’t an overprotective parent. As my daughters grew up, I allowed them to work out their challenges to the extent it was appropriate for their ages and maturity levels. Even so, they knew I was there to back them up, and when issues arose that were beyond their abilities, I stepped in to advocate for them.

I’d like to say I always did so with grace, but there were times when anger or frustration got the best of me. Though this may not be the best example, it’s the one that came to mind immediately as I typed that line. One morning, I was following behind newly licensed Mary, who was driving to school with her younger sister Jessie in the passenger seat. Someone cut between us and started tailgating Mary. Unable to give the driver an ample piece of my mind regarding road etiquette, I did the next best thing – I gave her a long, loud blast of my horn. Not my proudest mom moment, but my “cubs” were threatened, and it was the only way I could intervene.

Grandmama Bear

Fast forward nearly 20 years. In addition to my beloved daughters, I now have pieces of my heart residing in a dear son-in-law and three precious grandchildren. Grandmama bear is real, friends! From the early days of strolling grandson Joshua through the neighborhood and wondering how I’d fight off an unfamiliar dog who was eyeing us with a menacing glare to now, messing with my kids or grandkids is likely to raise my hackles.

Such was the case recently. Though it would be inappropriate for me to share details of the challenges we’re currently facing, suffice it to say it’s as if someone threw a grenade into our family. Misunderstandings, accusations, and ultimatums splattered everywhere. And now we’re left to pick up the pieces and find a way forward.

My heart aches for my children and grandchildren.

Reaction or Restraint?

The first few days after hearing the news, my emotions ran hot. Anger, sorrow, bewilderment – back and forth, up and down, my feelings tumbled and churned. Grandmama bear wanted to confront those who’d wreaked havoc, demand an explanation, and describe the painful aftermath of their actions.

But in the two decades since the horn-blowing incident, my spirit has become quieter and gentler because of the influence of the Spirit that dwells within me. So instead of lashing out, I took my jumbled emotions to the One who hears it all and bears it all. After several days of crying out to the Lord, He reminded me that nothing comes to us before it passes through His hand. It wasn’t “those people” who’d inflicted the situation on us. No, our loving heavenly Father had allowed it for His purposes.

 A Firm Foundation

Spewing hateful words and blaring our horns at people may make us feel better in the moment, but Scripture tells us it is fools who give full vent to their anger (Prov. 29:11). Such behavior merely multiplies the harm (Prov. 15:1). As a senior member of my family who yearns to sow seeds that will yield sweet, lasting fruit for generations to come, my actions need to point them to Jesus. Thus,

  • I can pray for my family without ceasing and in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:17; Phil. 4:6-7). When a horde comes against us, and the way ahead is unclear as it is now, I can pray as Jehoshaphat did, “Lord, we don’t know what to do, but our eyes are fixed on you” (2 Chron. 2:12).
  • I can be diligent in sharing my love of God with my grandchildren, weaving His word into our conversations as we sit at the table eating lunch, when we stroll the sidewalks of their neighborhood looking at plants and critters, and when we say bedtime prayers on sleepover nights (Deut. 6:7).
  • I can recite countless examples of God’s goodness to our family, reminding them that God has never forsaken us and never will. Those stories are part of my grandchildren’s heritage of faith, no less than God’s people hearkening back to their deliverance from Egypt (Ps. 78:1-4).
  • As one who has endured the sanctifying fires of loss and hardship, I can testify that God’s promises are a sure anchor for our souls and that His word is a firm foundation on which to build our lives. When the winds of adversity blow through our days, they won’t topple us (Matt. 7:24-25).

As much as this (grand)mama bear would like to protect her offspring and shelter them from all harm, I know that my faith has grown most through the times when I came to the end of myself and clung to God for help. I can say with Elisabeth Elliott, “The deepest things that I have learned in my own life have come from the deepest suffering. And out of the deepest waters and the hottest fires have come the deepest things that I know about God.”[1]

I would not wish a stunted faith for my children and grandchildren. Therefore, I will entrust them to the One who loves them perfectly and eternally, knowing that He will work every hurt and heartache for good (Rom. 8:28). I will watch and pray and continue to grow right along with them.

[1] Elisabeth Elliot, Suffering is Never for Nothing (Nashville, B&H Publishing Group, 2019), p. 9

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

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

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.

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.

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.

Twenty-five Years

My heart is overflowing with praise of my Lord, my soul is full of joy in God my Saviour. For he has deigned to notice me, his humble servant.
Luke 1:46b-48a (Phillips)

April 19, 2022 – 25 years since my beloved husband left for work one beautiful spring Saturday, had a fatal heart attack at age 39, and never returned home.

Some of you know me personally, others only from reading my blog. Either way, I’m sure you’ve noticed my intentionality in looking back when special days roll around. Months ago, even before I started penciling things in on my 2022 calendar, I began pondering how I would observe this momentous anniversary.

But, as is often the case, the Lord was far ahead of me, with a plan so astonishing that I couldn’t have imagined it, much less asked for it (Ephesians 3:20).

An Intriguing Email

Last October, I was scrolling through my inbox when this subject line grabbed my attention: “Video Request – Focus on the Family.” Intrigued, I opened the email and began to read.

The writer introduced himself as a video producer and described the project he was working on, a series of brief videos to be released this year. Each would feature a family who’d been impacted by the Focus on the Family ministry.

I kept reading, barely able to grasp the words. I love telling others about God’s goodness and faithfulness – that’s why I started this blog – but who was I to be in a video for a major ministry? Not that I questioned the email’s authenticity, but I couldn’t fathom receiving such an opportunity, and the thought humbled me.

The embedded quote from a letter I’d written to Focus several years ago dispelled any lingering doubts about mistaken identity. In it, I recounted a phone call I made soon after Ray died and the kind, affirming remark by the Focus counselor who took my call. In describing my loss, I told her I felt like a part of me was missing. Her reply still resonates with me 25 years later: “During the years you and your husband were married, you became one. Part of you is missing.”

I forwarded the email to my daughters with the message, “This goes into the category, ‘you never know what to expect on any given day!’”

A Change of Plans

Despite my initial disbelief, I responded the next day, thanking Tim, the producer, for considering my story and requesting additional information regarding timing and logistics. Several emails and a phone call or two later, we agreed Tim would come to Georgia to film on November 19th and 20th.

But life intervened. My dad’s stroke in late October and additional commitments for Tim led us to agree to postpone filming until after the holidays.

God’s timing is perfect – always. Even though I can find something beautiful in my garden any time of the year, late November would have found it in decline, going to sleep for the winter. Springtime, however, is the time of rebirth and new life, when the exuberance of Creation shouts praises to the Creator. It’s a season of personal loss, yet one that pours hope into my heart.

Images to Treasure

I’ve written before about my figurative chest of drawers where I tenderly tuck memories to savor again in the future.[1] This experience gave me a whole drawer full to cherish, some bittersweet, but each one a treasure:

  • The women in my Bible study gathering around me to pray several days before the taping.
  • Gathering mementos from Ray’s life – family photos, his wedding ring, neatly-folded Home Depot shirts – to be used in the video.
  • Working with Tim, a young man who would fit right in with my kids[2], with the mutual goal of producing a God-honoring video to bless others.
  • The joy of including my grandchildren, Joshua, Lyla, and Emma. Though Ray hasn’t met them yet, they’re as much a part of his legacy as my daughters and the beautiful garden he left for me to tend.

Over and Above

For the first few days after taping, I kept replaying the events in my mind, scarcely able to find words to describe what they meant to me.

Though the experience was a gift in itself, God was far from finished. When we agreed to film in November, I hoped Focus would release the video in April to coincide with the anniversary of Ray’s passing. I set that hope aside when we delayed to the end of March, recognizing that editing and production usually take 3-4 months. Three weeks seemed impossible.

Several days after Tim returned to Colorado, I received a text from him asking which day Ray passed, followed by another in response to mine saying he would try to get the video ready by April 19. Then, a mere six days after we finished shooting, Tim texted, “I have the first version of the video done! Do you want to see it? I’m shocked at how fast it came together. Felt like the Lord carrying it.”

Tim’s text confirmed what I already sensed. Nothing is impossible for God, and my loving Heavenly Father was orchestrating a most remarkable gift for me. I could finally articulate why the experience had left me speechless. I was overwhelmed by the reality that God never lost sight of me. He’d remembered the date, kept track of my tears (Psalm 56:8), and counted the years right along with me. Knowing how important it is for me to recall His favor and tell others of His steadfast love, He set up an unforgettable memorial stone to commemorate this 25th anniversary, one that will stand for future generations of my family (Joshua 4:1-7).

Unimaginable

Hours after Ray died, I penned the following in my journal, “This is the worst day of my life up to this point. Ray, my dear, dear husband and friend, died tonight. Even as I write it, I don’t believe it. It will probably take time for the numbness to wear off, but when it does, Lord, please enfold Mary, Jessie, and me in your love. I don’t understand this and I can’t even begin to imagine what my life will be like without him.”

I knew the joy of eternity awaited me, but as ensuing days found one, two, or all three of us in tears at bedtime, I wondered if I’d ever find joy again in this life. Later journal entries documented my concerns about being alone after Mary and Jessie grew up and went on with their adult lives.

But just as I couldn’t imagine life without Ray, I couldn’t imagine the abundant blessings God had in store for me. Good gifts of His presence, provision, and protection, of family, friends, and flowers.

Beauty From Ashes

I’m an equal-opportunity crier. I cry as easily over happy events as sad ones. Thus, I asked several friends to pray that I wouldn’t sniffle my way through the video interview. With a couple of minor exceptions, I managed to hold it together.

Nonetheless, when I finished watching the video for the first time, I wept. Tim captured the sorrow of what I lost, but my tears flowed because he also portrayed the beauty the Lord has exchanged for my ashes. My fears of being alone were unfounded. Not only has the Lord kept His promise never to leave or forsake me, but He’s also filled my life with people to love and be loved by and given me a foretaste of heaven in my garden.

I don’t deserve any of His good gifts, yet He pours them out on me, as He does all His children. He lavishes His love on us, leaving no doubt He sees us individually and intimately. Having already given us the greatest gift in Jesus, we have no reason to think He’ll withhold any lesser benevolence (Romans 8:32).

Though losing Ray remains the single most significant loss in my life, there have been other hardships and sorrows over the past 25 years, and I know there will most likely be more before the Lord calls me Home. But I’ve learned to trust Him in ways I never would have if I hadn’t experienced those difficulties. The Lord has repeatedly done far more than I could ask or imagine, including the opportunity to share my testimony of His goodness to a much broader audience than I ever expected. I pray this video will bring much glory to Him and point others to the life and hope found in Jesus.  

You may watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QqpDpuwCGUE


[1] Please see “In Remembrance,” Archives, April 25, 2015.

[2] Daughters Mary and Jessie, and son-in-law, Justin.

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.

Snow Day

Be still and know that I am God.
Psalm 46:10

Soul-soothing Scene

It’s a rare snow day here in metro-Atlanta. I’ve spent the past several hours at my kitchen table, where I have a front-row seat to the view unfolding in my woods. The forecasted wintry mix greeted me when I came downstairs this morning, but the temperature has dropped since, and the precipitation has gradually changed to snow.

Watching the gently falling flakes soothes my soul. Somehow it always seems quieter, more peaceful when it’s snowing. And oh, how I need some soul-soothing peace and quiet after the past week.

A Monumental Move

In my last post, I alluded to upcoming changes.[1] We were fortunate to find a compassionate, experienced live-in caregiver to stay with my 90-year-old father after his stroke last fall. However, it became evident over the ensuing weeks that staying in the big house he and Mom shared for the past 24 years wasn’t the preferred long-term solution.[2]

Thankfully, the stroke did minimal lasting harm, but lingering cognitive issues and potent blood thinners make it inadvisable for Dad to live by himself. Thus, at his suggestion, we found an assisted living facility with a cozy one-bedroom apartment and set about planning for his move.

Details, Details

In reality, after we signed the contract, arranging all the details associated with the move became my responsibility since Dad is now easily confused by such minutiae. Informing his caregiver, hiring movers, filling out all sorts of paperwork, obtaining medical records and health screenings – the list was long. And, once we agreed on the move date, there was little room for error.

One week out, I began to wake up at night, mentally reviewing the requirements and deadlines. Sometimes I drifted back to sleep quickly, having successfully cast my cares upon the Lord (1 Peter 5:7), while other nights, my wakefulness stretched from minutes into hours.

Nevertheless, the process was moving along in a timely manner. Then, with less than 24 hours before the movers were scheduled to arrive, it looked like everything would derail. There was confusion regarding one of Dad’s prescriptions, so his primary care physician wouldn’t sign off on the paperwork required for the assisted living staff to administer his medication. The bloodwork for his TB screening was “indeterminate,” so I had to take him for a chest x-ray. We arrived less than half an hour before the imaging facility closed. And then there was the potential stopper of all stoppers: the result of his Covid test. Would it and the chest x-ray arrive in time? Would they be negative?

Oh Me of Little Faith

My anxiety sky-rocketed. I expect my blood pressure was off the charts too. I flung multiple prayers heavenward and kept going. Thoughts such as, “What if Dad’s stuff gets moved to his new apartment and his Covid results are positive and he can’t go?” ran rampant. Though the what-ifs almost overcame me, I didn’t cancel the movers. I continued to pray and sent an SOS to several of my staunchest prayer warriors, pleading with them to join me.

Several hours later, as I was organizing piles and emptying drawers in preparation for the movers’ arrival, the peace that had eluded me earlier quieted my anxious thoughts. Although it was fine for me to outline specific details in my prayers, by rehearsing them incessantly, I was acting as if God didn’t already know each one, as well as their ramifications, even better than I did. That acknowledgment, coupled with prayers that His will be done, finally squelched my stress. I knew if it was His will for Dad to move the next day, nothing would prevent it, and if it wasn’t, then God had a good reason for him not to go.

I awoke early the following day and checked my email. The PCR test results were available. I prayed as I scrolled and rejoiced when I saw: NEGATIVE. Other messages conveyed more good news: the chest x-ray was clear, and Dad’s PCP had signed the requisite paperwork. Dad could make the move along with his things.

Dust Moments

As is often the case when I’ve worry-warted over a critical outcome, the tears that instantly sprang to my eyes were a combination of relief and thankfulness mixed with remorse for doubting God and not trusting Him completely with the situation.

Several days later, I realized when I become anxiously frantic, the underlying cause is usually a subconscious assumption: “It’s all up to me. If I fail, all is lost. The world, or at least my little corner of it, is depending on me to hold it together.”

After nearly 50 years of walking with the Lord, you would think I would have outgrown such unfounded, even arrogant, notions. In fact, I took an intense refresher course this time last year as Mom was living out her final weeks.[3] But, alas, it appears I  have to relearn the lesson periodically.

And so I’m thankful for my compassionate heavenly Father, Who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Exodus 34:6). He knows I’m dust and loves me anyway (Psalm 103:13-14).

His Part, My Part

From my vantage point at the table, I’ve not only been able to watch the snow, but I’ve also been able to keep an eye on the birds. They descended on the feeders as soon as I returned them to their hooks this morning, and there has been a steady stream of hungry visitors ever since.

Observing them and writing about the past week’s events reminded me of a recent conversation with my grandchildren. We were talking about pets and noted I no longer have any furry house companions.

I added, “But I have my birds! They’re my outside pets.”

Five-year-old Emma quipped, “Those aren’t your birds, Grammie. Those are the world’s birds.”

I acceded, “You’re right, Emma. They’re God’s birds, but He lets me help take care of them.”

And so it is with my loved ones. They belong to Him, and He allows me to help take care of them. He has a plan for them and me, and His purposes will prevail (Isaiah 55:8-11).

Heavenly Father, thank You for the quiet beauty of this day and the opportunity to be still in Your presence. Thank You that You are our compassionate Father, well-acquainted with the frailties of our finite flesh, yet always abounding in love for Your children.


[1] Please see “Age-old Assurances for a New Year.”

[2] Mom passed away last April.

[3] Please see “Who’s in Control?” in Archives, September 2021.