An audience of One

IMG_0024 (2)Mom says she could always tell when I saw her in the audience at one or another of my elementary school concerts. A smile would spread across my face and I would relax, knowing my biggest fan was there. And so it was with my daughters and now my grandchildren. Indeed, wise directors of lower-school productions allow a few minutes before commencing for their performers to connect with those who’ve come to watch. Exchanging waves and grins makes for a cheerful beginning all around.

Truth be told, Mom is still my biggest cheerleader and encourager, the one I can always count on to be in my corner. From her fervent prayers to her interest in every post on this blog, her support is unwavering. I hope my daughters feel that same constancy of care from me.

We never outgrow our need for unconditional love or the assurance we’re accepted, short-comings and all. It’s a rare person who’s immune to the opinions of others, especially those we’re in contact with most. We prefer to be viewed positively by our neighbors, work colleagues, fellow church-goers, classmates and friends. Yet, given our fallen natures, opportunities to reject others and be rejected abound from our earliest years. Childish name-calling and shunning give way in later years to backbiting and various forms of adult exclusion.

We were made for relationship with God and each other. Our innate desire to connect and be well-received may lead us astray or cause us to hide parts of ourselves. Rejection hurts. Misunderstandings wound. If only I could explain – my tribulations, my perspective, my hopes – maybe then they’d comprehend.

No one can fully understand another. At times even our own hearts deceive us.[1] Yet there is One who knows me even better than I know myself. The One who knit me together in Mom’s womb, who wrote each of my days in his book before any came to be, who never loses sight of me.[2] Not only does He know me intimately, He purposed to save me by sending his Son to die for me – the epitome of unconditional love.[3]

Isaiah 53 describes the suffering Savior as “despised and rejected”.[4] Not only did those closest to him misunderstand his mission, hoping for an earthly kingdom, they abandoned him in his darkest hours, first by falling asleep, then by fleeing.[5] Truly, He understands our sorrows.

I recently came across the phrase “audience of one”, as in “Jesus, the One and only, Savior and Lord.” It resonated deeply with me. Even though I would like others’ approval and affirmation, his “well done” is not only sufficient, but supreme.[6] In fact, pleasing the Lord above all others is so important, the Apostle Paul includes reminders in several of his letters. Whether eating, working or serving, whatever we do is to be done for his glory.[7]

When plagued with self-doubt or troubled with a nameless sense of disquiet, I often pray David’s prayer: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”[8] Though we may be pummeled by differing opinions and challenged by clamoring voices, we have the assurance that his sheep hear his voice.[9] He will show us the way[10] and lead us on level ground.[11]

As we journey forth, precious are those who come alongside to encourage, support and cheer us on, for they give us a glimpse of God’s unconditional love. I am immensely grateful for the life-givers He’s placed along my path. They are among his greatest blessings.

“May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage (our) hearts and strengthen (us) in every good deed and word.”[12]

[1] Jeremiah 17:9

[2] Psalm 139:1-18

[3] Romans 5:6-8

[4] Isaiah 53:3

[5] Matthew 26:36-56

[6] Galatians 1:10

[7] See, for example, 1 Corinthians 10:13; Colossians 3:17,23; Ephesians 6:7-8

[8] Psalm 139:23-24

[9] John 10:2-5

[10] Isaiah 30:21

[11] Psalm 143:10

[12] 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

Passalongs

Sharing plants is one of the many joys of being a gardener. The tradition is especially strong in the South. In fact, some varieties known as passalong plants aren’t readily available for purchase. Instead they’ve survived for decades by being passed along from one generation of horticulture enthusiasts to the next.

Although I don’t have anything particularly difficult to come by in my garden, I’m blessed to have numerous plants given to me by fellow plant lovers: hosta from an aunt who had the greenest of thumbs; a hydrangea grown from a cutting of a friend’s father’s plant; multiple trilliums dotting the woods, offspring of a lone rescue plant; mayapples, spurred violets, several varieties of ferns. The list would be quite extensive if I catalogued each leafy gift. And then there are all the treasured items Ray planted that continue to flourish some 20 years after his passing.

Tending these perennials and woodies, anticipating their return each year and watching them grow gives me a great deal of pleasure, pleasure which is multiplied by remembering the people and circumstances which led to them being in my garden. I also think of plants I’ve shared now growing in friends’ gardens and I smile.

As much as I relish exchanging plants, I recognize I’ve been entrusted with something much more precious to pass along: my faith. Although trusting God and acknowledging Jesus as Savior and Lord are gifts only God can give[1], He commissions us to tell others about his great love.[2] Our first responsibility is to our families. We’re advised to teach our children his commandments as we go about our daily lives[3] and to bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.[4] But our mandate to reach others with the Good News doesn’t end there. We are to be light, living in such a way that we glorify our Father[5], always prepared to give an answer to those who wonder where our hope comes from. [6]

In fact, when we consistently live out our faith, God can use even the smallest details to reach others. I’m reminded of this when I recall a long-ago conversation with a business associate. I casually remarked I was glad our meeting had ended earlier than planned so I could make it to Bible study that evening. Several weeks later she asked if she could talk to me about my beliefs, having been encouraged to do so by my offhanded comment regarding Bible study.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul mentions different roles we might assume in others’ spiritual journeys. We may be called to sow seeds, to water,[7] to weed . . .

. . . Ok, I added the part about weeding, but I think its importance can be inferred from Jesus’ parable of the sower since the seeds that sprouted among the thorns were soon overcome by their weedy cohorts. Similarly, faith may be smothered by the worries of this life and become unfruitful [8], but I digress . . .

. . . In spite of the great privilege we have to labor in God’s fields, doing our part to ensure a plentiful harvest, Paul goes on to make it clear that God alone is the One who brings about growth.[9] Likewise, Jesus referred to himself as the true vine, his Father as the Gardener, and we, his followers, as the branches. As long as we abide in him we will produce much fruit, but apart from him we can do nothing.[10]

I cherish the passalong plants in my garden and the friends who gave them to me. Even more, I treasure those who’ve planted, watered and weeded my spiritual garden and the blessing of doing the same in the lives of my fellow sojourners. May we hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, considering how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds[11] as we make our way most assuredly back to the Garden, for He who promised is faithful.

[1] Ephesians 2:8-9

[2] Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15

[3] Deuteronomy 6:4-9

[4] Ephesians 6:4

[5] Matthew 5:

[6] 1 Peter 3:15-16

[7] 1 Corinthians 3:5-6a

[8] Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23; Mark 4:1-9, 14-20; Luke 8:4-8, 11-15

[9] 1 Corinthians 3:6b-7

[10] John 15:5

[11] Hebrews 10:23-24

‘Tis so sweet

Probably not the heading you’d expect for a reflection on two decades of widowhood . . . at least not until you complete the title of the cherished hymn, ’Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus and recall its first verse: “’Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, Just to take Him at His word, Just to rest upon His promise, Just to know ‘Thus saith the Lord.’” [1] As I’ve contemplated writing this memorial post, the refrain of that anthem has come to my mind repeatedly: “Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him! How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er! Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus! O for grace to trust Him more!”[2]

This time 20 years ago I was in a daze, a protective state of shock. On some level I recognized the need to make decisions regarding my 39-year old husband’s services – visitation, funeral, burial. So many decisions brought about by his sudden death the night before. But more than anything I just felt numb. My thoughts churned. “How could he have gone to work and not come home? Surely he’ll drive up any minute now, won’t he?” My mind and emotions grappled with the surreal situation I found myself in.

It was a Sunday and my house was full as friends came and went all day. Many heard the news at church, where we would normally have spent our morning had the unthinkable not occurred. Visitors came bearing food and encouraged me to eat, but I had no appetite. All I wanted was to be with Ray, to somehow help him, to know he was ok. When I finally got to see him on Tuesday afternoon, the knot in my stomach began to relax. I know that sounds contradictory, but in viewing his lifeless body I knew he was beyond any help I could offer. Furthermore, I was comforted to know his spirit was with the Lord. He was much more than ok. He was Home.[3]

Decisions were made, relatives and out-of-town friends made arrangements to attend the services – visitation Wednesday evening, funeral Thursday morning, burial in North Carolina on Friday afternoon. I can recall the events of that week in vivid detail. The people who gathered around us; prayers so abundant and fervent I could feel them; numerous gestures of support. I remember and am thankful.055

The flurry of activity and visitors eventually subsided and my daughters, ages 10 and 7, and I were left to contend with reality. I don’t recollect how many nights passed before one or more of us didn’t cry ourselves to sleep, how long it was before my subconscious stopped expecting Ray to come home from work, or when a “new normal” finally took hold. The raw pain of loss eventually diminished, but the longing to talk to Ray, to have my wise and loving partner by my side remains to this day.

So much has happened since that warm week in April, the daily ins and outs of life plus birthdays, graduations, weddings and the arrival of grandchildren. These momentous occasions were bittersweet without Ray to share them, but there has been much joy nonetheless.

Because God has never forsaken us![4]

From the second we heard the devastating news in a tiny room at Kennestone hospital to this very moment, God has been a faithful defender of this widow and a Father to her fatherless girls.[5] As I’ve thought about what to write on this 20th anniversary, each hardship that came to mind was met with a “but God”. A few examples: He made it possible for my parents to move to Georgia to help me raise Mary and Jessie, provided friends who’ve faithfully prayed for us and offered other assistance as needed, and he allowed me to be gainfully employed all the years my daughters were dependent upon me and my income. In addition there are the over-and-above gifts, like getting to go back to school to study horticulture.

I’ve often said if there’d been a signup sheet entitled “Get to know God better by losing your Husband”, I wouldn’t have put my name on it. Yet God sovereignly saw fit to add the roles of widow and single parent to my resumé. I have no doubt I’ve come to know him far better than if I’d had my earthly husband and provider to depend on. And so I can say as Louisa M.R. Stead did in the last stanza of her hymn, “I’m so glad I learned to trust Him, Precious Jesus, Savior, Friend, And I know that He is with me, Will be with me to the end.”

God owes me nothing, including explanations. Although I don’t remember ever being angry with God, I have wondered on more than one occasion why he took Ray so young. I’d reason it made no sense because he was a kind, caring spouse, parent, friend. But God sending his perfect Son to die in my place doesn’t make sense either.[6] Moreover, it is ample proof of his infinite and unconditional love. Yet He constantly pours out reminders, blessings both big and small.

Although my girls and I bear the scars of losing a beloved father and husband all-too-soon (at least from a human perspective), the Lord has comforted us that we might comfort others.[7] He has bestowed upon us the oil of joy instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.[8] Some who’ve witnessed our journey comment on our strength. May they recognize that apart from the Lord we would have none.[9] We are a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor[10]. Truly all praise, glory and honor belong to him alone.

 

[1] Louisa M.R. Stead, lyrics; William J. Kirkpatrick, music, 1882

[2] Ibid

[3] 2 Corinthians 5:1-9

[4] Deuteronomy 31:6

[5] Psalm 68:5

[6] 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

[7] 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

[8] Isaiah 61:3a

[9] See, for example Psalm 46:1-3, Psalm 73:25-26 and Isaiah 40:28-31

[10] Isaiah 61:3b

The letter

As I’ve admitted in previous posts, I’m a keeper, especially when it comes to things with sentimental value, mementos associated with the numerous trips I’ve taken throughout my life and items that might be useful at some point in the future. After nearly six decades, I’ve accumulated a lot of stuff that fits into one or more of those categories. Hence I’ve decided to start cleaning out bit by bit, box by box so my dear daughters won’t have quite so much to wade through later.

Since making this decision several weeks ago, I’ve managed to sort through approximately half a carton of keepsakes from the years I spent in Argentina. Pitifully slow-going to be sure as day-to-day demands are more pressing than dealing with boxes in the attic and basement.

img_2777Upon opening the aforementioned carton, I spied the beautiful scrapbook given to me by my 6th grade Spanish teachers, Señor Alvarez and Señora de López. It’s full of postcards and photos accompanied by my notations of dates and places. But, placed inside the front cover, I found a long-hidden treasure. It was the letter Señor Alvarez wrote to go along with the gift. Reading his kind words of affirmation and good wishes for future success affected me far more than flipping through the pages of the scrapbook itself. His words were the real gift, one that touched a 13-year old girl as well as the woman she became.

I have other similar gems tucked in boxes and drawers and files. Meaningful, heart-felt notes from family and friends, received on various special occasions or for no reason other than to reach out. Birthday cards, expressions of sympathy, thank you notes. From childish scribble to elegant cursive. Each in its own way says, “You matter to me.”

Written or spoken, our words can have lasting significance for good or for harm. Scripture instructs us to encourage one another and to refrain from unwholesome speech.[1] Proverbs 12:18 states, “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing”, while Proverbs 16:24 declares, “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”[2] James tells us man’s anger is contrary to the righteousness God desires[3] then goes on to explain in great detail how difficult it is to tame the tongue and how much damage it can cause.[4]

Furthermore, we don’t know when we’ll no longer have the opportunity to tell someone what they mean to us or to apologize for an angry word spoken in haste. After I read the letter eloquently penned in Spanish so many years ago, I longed to tell Señor Alvarez how much his words meant to me and how my life has turned out since he wrote them. But time and distance make that impossible.

Sometimes death is the cause of separation. On occasion it comes quickly and without warning. I need no reminder of this, having unexpectedly lost my husband to a heart attack shortly after his 39th birthday. Nonetheless, every so often the reminders come. Such was the case last week as I attended the funeral for a dear woman I worked with years ago. Her brother, a pastor, conducted the service. He eulogized his sister and shared fond memories, including how she ended their last conversation in her customary way, “I love you Brother.” Marcie was my age and her sudden passing has given me reason to reflect, once again, on the brevity of life; to remember we don’t always know when last goodbyes are being said.

Believers look to the Bible as our only rule for faith and practice, recognizing the sufficiency of Scripture[5] as well as its supremacy.[6] Yet the all-powerful Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.[7] Jesus’ coming was promised immediately after the fall[8] and foretold throughout the Old Testament.[9] The Gospels proclaim his birth and detail his earthly ministry. Revelation gives us a glimpse of eternity in the presence of God.[10] And so for me the Bible is a love letter from beginning to end. A divinely-inspired account, full of promises kept and assurances of promises yet to be fulfilled by an Almighty Father who will never forsake his children in this life or the life to come.

As we await Jesus’ return or our own summons Home, may our words be helpful and healing rather than reckless and angry, beneficial to those who listen[11] and expressed in a timely manner[12] for we do not know the final day or hour.[13]

 

[1] See Hebrews 3:13 and Ephesians 4:29 respectively.

[2] Both Proverbs verses are quoted from the NIV translation.

[3] James 1:19-20

[4] James 3:1-12

[5] 2 Timothy 3:16-17

[6] Hebrews 4:12

[7] John 1:14

[8] Genesis 3:15

[9] See for example Isaiah 53 and Zechariah 9:9

[10] Revelation 21:1-4, 22:1-5

[11] Ephesians 4:29

[12] Hebrews 10:24-25

[13] Matthew 25:13, Mark 13:32

It’s all in the details

1989 was an important year. On August 9th a baby girl joined our family. A few months later Ray gave me several pieces of Department 56’s Dickens’ Village and one of my most cherished Christmas traditions began. Not that I equate the importance of daughter Jessie’s arrival with an assortment of ceramic buildings and accessories, but it helps me keep track of how long Dickens has been part of my Christmas celebration.

As long as Ray was alive, he would creatively set up the village and add to the collection every December, usually giving me several pieces for my birthday and/or Christmas. He also started a set for my mom. After he passed away in April 1997, I came across a number of Dickens items boxed up in the basement. No doubt Ray had taken advantage of post-holiday sales, purchasing gifts for the next season. I gave some to Mom and kept the rest for myself, surmising Ray intended to divide his stash between the two of us.

Although I’m a fairly frugal person, my family will attest to the fact I have two weaknesses when it comes to buying: my village and plants. (They’ve also assured me there could be worse things when it comes to non-essential spending and are supportive of my relatively innocuous addictions!) During my travels, I found a small store that no longer planned to carry Dickens’ Village. They were having a “buy one get one free” sale to clear out their inventory. Of course I had to help them do so. That year the village gained a whole new suburb.

img_2464When I choose pieces to add, I usually look for ones I can connect with. This year’s additions include “First Christmas Eve Service” (for baby Emma), “Letters to Santa” (a Victorian version of granddaughter Lyla) and “Lovebirds” (‘nuff said).

Two birthdays ago, Mom gave me her entire collection. She said she’d enjoy it more if I combined it with mine. More suburbs appeared. The village now fills three rooms and requires many hours of assembly across several days.

Nonetheless, I always look forward to unpacking the village and getting reacquainted with the various pieces as construction progresses. Inevitably the initial opening of boxes is accompanied by bittersweet tears. So many memories. So many Christmases without Ray. And every year I pray he might somehow know how much joy the village has brought me; how thankful I am he started it for me.

This morning was no different. I was crying intermittently as I opened first one box, then another, when my phone chimed to signal an incoming text. I’d been corresponding with my daughters and several friends throughout the morning, exchanging thankful notes about the much-needed rain we received overnight and sharing Christmas plans. I supposed someone was continuing one of those conversations. I was amazed when I saw instead a text from a friend who’s on staff at Smith-Gilbert Gardens. img_2461She’d sent two pictures of a Japanese maple I donated to the Gardens in memory of Ray. In spite of the cloudy day, it shone forth in all its fall splendor. Planted on April 19, 2013, the sixteenth anniversary of Ray’s Homegoing, the tree sits at the edge of the Koi pond, one of grandson Joshua’s favorite places at SGG.

Stefanie had no way of knowing how much those photos would mean to me at that moment, but God did. He knows us intimately – every hurt, every hope, every reminiscence. Like the loving Father he is, he gives us good and perfect gifts.[1] Seeing those photos of the little tree decked out in its gloriously colorful leaves provided assurance of both an ongoing connection and a future reunion.

Not only does God tenderly meet our needs, his timing is always impeccable. Over 2,000 years ago, after hundreds of years of silence, He sent the perfect gift for all time, the One we needed most[2], the Baby in the manger.

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace[3].

As we go through this Advent season, may we rejoice, for the One through whom all things were made[4] humbled himself, took on flesh and came as Savior[5]. He cares about every detail of our lives and will graciously guide and provide for us[6] until he returns as King to gather us to himself.

Immanuel . . . God with us . . . for all time.[7]

[1] James 1:17

[2] John 3:16-17

[3] Isaiah 9:6b

[4] John 1:3a

[5] Philippians 2:8

[6] Matthew 7:7-11

[7] Matthew 1:23

Another year

My interest in writing dates back to elementary school when I started keeping diaries and chronicling family vacations. I’ve filled numerous journals with my take on life events ever since. After nearly 50 years of writing, I began to contemplate blogging and so, on July 1, 2014, I launched Back 2 the Garden.

IMG_1434

Two of my journals. Nothing fancy, but together they chronicle my musings across 24 years of life.

 

As I stated in my first article, “Count it all joy”, gardening became my passion after my horticulturally-trained husband’s death at the all-too-young age of 39. This passion has produced much fruit as I’ve tended our garden across the past 19 years:

“Not only has God faithfully provided for me and my family since Ray’s death, He has ministered to me over and over again through the beauty of his creation. While playing in the dirt, I’ve been reminded of his promises, seen tangible examples of Scriptural principles and found solace for my soul. This blog is born of a desire to share some of what I’ve learned spiritually and horticulturally.”

My hope when I embarked on this endeavor was to impart spiritual insights as well as practical horticultural information, with the aim of publishing an article once a week. But the demands of life have a way of tempering our goals. I’ve averaged posting an essay about every two weeks, the pages I launched to expand the content of Back 2 the Garden have languished, and almost all of what I’ve written has focused on the spiritual. Nevertheless, my longing to share the joy and hope I find in faith, family, friends and flowers is as strong as when I debuted my first post. My desire to carry on in spite of various and assorted distractions is fueled in no small part by those of you who take time to read what I publish and encourage me to keep writing. Thank you!

Since celebrating the first anniversary of my blogging efforts last July, I’ve lost a dear brother-in-law and gained a precious granddaughter; had to let go of a friendship or two, yet reconnected with a special friend from my past; had surgery; endured a time of not playing in the dirt while I recovered; and, just recently, commenced a major landscaping project which is sure to provide fodder for future reflections on this page. Joy, sorrow, challenges, new dreams – the stuff life is made of. And underneath it all, the everlasting arms of the One who never changes, who knows the end from the beginning and loves us more than we can imagine.

Whether you’re visiting this page for the first time or have been a faithful reader from the beginning, I hope you’ll continue to find many reasons to come back to the garden with me.

Family matters

Week before last, a friend from church and I made similar journeys. She and her husband drove to Texas with their two small sons while my daughters and I flew to South Dakota. We were traveling to be with our extended families – she to say goodbye to a much-loved grandmother; me to help lay to rest a cherished brother-in-law. Back in our home state of Georgia last Tuesday, we hugged and tearfully shared details of our bittersweet treks. We affirmed to each other the assurance our loved ones are safely Home and agreed the tears we shed weren’t for them, but for ourselves, the ones temporarily left behind.

And then my friend said something that resonated with me just as deeply: “When I’m with my family, I remember who I really am.” Yes! The world uses myriad criteria to judge us, each with an implied worth – income, education, appearance, occupation, and so many more. But in my family I’m valued simply because I’m one of them. I belong. Not that we don’t encourage each other to do our best and celebrate our successes, but they aren’t the cost of entry. And our calamities, even when self-induced, aren’t reason for dismissal. I’m thankful for the unconditional love I’ve experienced in my family of origin. I’m equally blessed to have married into a family whose members are there for each other. They accepted me into their fold when Ray first introduced me to them over 30 years ago and have welcomed me ever since.

As I listened to the prayers that punctuated many of our gatherings while we were in South Dakota, I was reminded of the heritage of faith undergirding my daughters and grandchildren. There are generations of faithful believers on both sides of our family, many now part of the great cloud of witnesses. Because of the boundless love the Father has lavished upon us in sending his Son, we’re part of his forever family – chosen, unconditionally accepted, destined for another Home. No matter how the world chooses to judge us, when we’re in the presence of our Father, we remember who we really are.

In remembrance

“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal. Love leaves a memory no one can steal.” (Unknown)

Eighteen years ago today my beloved husband was laid to rest in a tiny cemetery in North Carolina. The part of my heart that belonged to Ray went into the grave with him that sunny, late-April afternoon. Several weeks later I placed a call to “Focus on the Family” to request materials on dealing with grief. In the midst of my conversation with the kind person who answered I said, “I feel like part of me is missing.” I’ll never forget her reply, both compassionate and oh-so-insightful: “During the time you were married you and your husband became one. Part of you is missing.”

Months passed and I was having yet another day where I was struggling with the pain of losing someone so dear. Sensing my sadness, the woman I was meeting with inquired about how I was coping. When I confessed how difficult some days were she introduced me to a concept I’ve held onto ever since. She suggested I envision a beautiful piece of furniture, a chest with many drawers, each containing memories and their associated emotions. She went on with the analogy saying, “When memories of your husband’s death arise at a time when you feel your aren’t able to deal with them, imagine tucking them into one of the drawers, closing it gently and re-opening it when you’re ready to do so.” I’ll admit there have been times when a drawer has sprung open and caught me off guard. Times when a memory has overwhelmed me and I’ve struggled to shut the drawer. But more often the mental image has served me well.

The week before and the week after the anniversary of Ray’s death I’m quite intentional about opening the drawer. I think about how we spent our last few days, oblivious to the fact our time together was winding down. I remember the day of his passing with such clarity it could have happened recently, not so long ago. And I recollect the days following, when I had to make decisions I never expected, much less wanted to make at such an early age. My reminiscences are deliberate and purposeful, a way to honor Ray as well as remind myself of lessons learned and affirmed by losing him – The importance of numbering our days aright and keeping current in our relationships with those we hold dear.  The need to keep things in perspective, saving emotional distress for things that can’t be “fixed”, no matter how much money or time you invest. (And its corollary: things can be replaced, people can’t be.)  The ability of prayer to strengthen and support when raised up by myriad family members and friends on one’s behalf – just to cite a few.

I’ve kept a journal for ages. On the night I returned home from the hospital, dazed and in a mild state of shock, I penned these words: “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 was right. I couldn’t imagine what life would be like and to this day I don’t understand. But God heard my cry that night . . . and many nights since. He’s been so faithful to me and my family, loving and sustaining us all the years we’ve been without Ray.

Which brings me to another point regarding the imaginary chest: it contains numerous drawers. Although some hold remembrances that evoke sadness, there are many more containing memories associated with great joy. I open those on a regular basis, reliving and savoring the moments, praising God for His goodness and grace. And each year when April 19th comes around, I remind myself I’m another year closer to once again seeing the man I was blessed to call my husband. The reunion is guaranteed because of the broken body and spilled blood of the One who instructed his followers to remember . . . Him, his sacrifice, his promises. And so we wait in hope and assurance.

Joyful, joyful we adore Thee

“All Thy works with joy surround Thee, Earth and heaven reflect Thy rays,
Stars and angels sing around Thee, Center of unbroken praise.
Field and forest, vale and mountain, Flowery meadow, flashing sea,
Chanting bird and flowing fountain, Call us to rejoice in Thee.”
(Henry van Dyke)

My heart is content. Having spent part of this beautiful afternoon outside under a crystal blue sky, warmed by the sun and caressed by a gentle breeze, I am rejoicing in the One who created it all. Although I raked a small mountain of leaves into the woods (you’d think I hadn’t raked at all last fall!), my top priority was strolling the grounds to see what I could find. I wasn’t disappointed, as my scouting efforts yielded all sorts of tiny treasures – trillium beginning to unfurl their leaves; May-apples, looking like miniature umbrellas, tightly closed, as they poke their way through the soil; a solitary flower on the Hepatica, with the promise of more to come; Tipularia leaves, their deep purple undersides a key identifier; Lenten roses sprinkled happily about the garden, their seeds having freely dispersed over the years.

Not only do the plants bring me joy in and of themselves, but many of them are linked to special people, gifts from their gardens. Now growing in mine, they remind me of the friends who graciously shared them with me and delightful times we’ve spent together immersed in various horticultural pursuits.

So much to savor on this spring-is-almost-here Sunday!  So much love poured out on me in the form of flowers and friends, by a Father willing and able to do far more than I can ask or imagine! And so, with the Psalmists and hymn writers, I proclaim, “How great Thou art!”