Another Anniversary

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

Life-changing Moments

There have been a number of life-changing events in my six decades of living. Some were happily anticipated, like my wedding day and the days my daughters and grandchildren were born. Others caught me by surprise and not in a pleasant way.

Two events in the latter category cleaved my life into before and after segments so that what followed wasn’t just a new chapter but a whole new volume in my life story. Each year when the anniversaries of those events come around, I intentionally look back at what’s happened since, remembering all God has done.

My reflections remind me that His ways are not my ways (Isaiah 55:8-9) and that He is able to do far more than I ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

Telling and Retelling the Story

Sometimes I wonder if I should keep discussing these events or writing about them. Maybe others are tired of the repetition. Then I remember Elisabeth Elliot talking about how many times she told the story of losing her husband, Jim, and four friends in the jungles of Ecuador. Yet that was the story entrusted to her, and she faithfully told and retold it, always wrapped in a message of God’s sovereignty and providential care.

Author and friend Sharon Betters refers to such stories as our credentials, i.e., the very things that allow us to speak credibly into the lives of others because of God’s faithfulness to us in hard times. Scripture itself instructs us to comfort others with the same comfort we’ve received from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

Twelve Years

The anniversary of one of the life-cleaving events occurred several days ago. January 26 marked 12 years since my 30-year career came to an inauspicious conclusion in a windowless conference room. My manager filed in with her manager in tow. Not a good sign. My heart rate increased as she calmly pronounced the death sentence on my career.

“I know you’re expecting to have your annual review, but you won’t be having it because your job has been eliminated.”

Thus ended the saga that had begun the previous year when she became my manager. In the intervening weeks, she systematically removed most of my responsibilities, excluded me from meetings, and barred me from customer visits. Things became so stressful I wondered if God wanted me to stay or leave. I asked friends to pray for clear direction and wisdom to know what to do.

As the day of my review approached, I became increasingly convinced I’d be fired or put on probation. Even so, hearing my manager’s words stunned me. My first thought? “This is real.” My second? “Thank You, Lord, for giving me a definite answer.”

A Fateful End

The HR Director came in as my manager and her boss departed. She described the severance package and legal details surrounding the abrupt end of my job. She also instructed me to turn in my badge, company credit card, and computer and leave without saying goodbye to anyone.

I followed her directions, each step feeling surreal. I exited the building, entered the misty chill of the gray winter afternoon, and walked to my parking spot one last time.

The following morning, I awoke to brilliant sunshine streaming in my window. Though I still couldn’t fully grasp my new status – unemployed after working over 30 years for the same company – I clung to my belief in God’s goodness and His sovereignty. I posted on Facebook, “30+ years of continuous employment came to a halt yesterday when my job was eliminated. God obviously has something else for me to do. I can’t wait to see what it is!”

A New Beginning

Even so, I couldn’t imagine the gift God had planned for me. Two days after I was let go, I contacted the local technical college and began the process of returning to school to study horticulture. Six months later, my first grandchild, Joshua, was born. Eighteen months after that, he and his mother (my daughter Mary) and great-grandmother (my mom) were at my graduation. They watched me realize my dream of receiving an Environmental Horticulture diploma.

In the years since graduation day, my granddaughters were born. I’ve had the joy of spending time with them and Joshua on a regular basis since their earliest days, something I wouldn’t have been able to do if I’d been working full-time.

The intervening years have held some hard times too. Mom’s health declined as she progressed through her 80s, and then she passed away several months shy of her 90th birthday. Six months after her passing, Dad experienced a stroke.

Being happily retired[1] has allowed me the flexibility to help my family members, both young and old, pursue my passion for horticulture, become involved in women’s ministry at my church, and develop my writing skills. Though some may have meant evil against me, God surely meant the job elimination for good (Genesis 50:20).

Telling of His Glorious Deeds

We’re in good company when we retell our stories. The Israelites repeatedly told the story of God’s deliverance. In fact, God commanded them to tell the story to future generations so they would know the glorious deeds of the Lord (Psalm 78).

And what story did they tell? The story of God’s rescue, how He brought them out of slavery in Egypt by sending plagues,  sparing the firstborn sons of families whose houses had lambs’ blood on the door frames, and drowning Pharoah’s army in the Red Sea after the Israelites passed over on dry ground. He gave His chosen people laws to live by and provided for them as they wandered the desert for 40 years. Disobedience brought about consequences, yet throughout the Israelites’ history, God faithfully preserved a people for Himself, even grafting pagans and Gentiles into His family.

Our Common Story

No matter the details of our individual stories, believers share the story of God’s rescue. We weren’t enslaved to a human task master but, dead in our trespasses, we were enslaved by sin, in desperate need of a Savior (Ephesians 2:1-3). God sent His Son, the spotless Lamb, whose blood made it possible for God’s wrath to pass over us as it did the night He rescued His people from Egypt. Unlike the Passover lambs and subsequent sacrifices performed year after year, Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient for all time (1 Peter 1:18-19).  

So, dear readers, let’s continue to tell our unique stories of God’s goodness and faithfulness as we seek to encourage others in similar circumstances. But even more, may we recognize that our little stories are part of God’s great big story of redemption and point others to the hope we have in Jesus, the One in whom all God’s promises are yes and amen (2 Corinthians 1:20).

Dear Lord, thank You for loving us so much that You sent Your beloved Son to save us from our sins and make us alive in Him. Our lives have meaning because You chose us to be your treasured possession. May we honor You by giving You the glory in all of our stories.


[1] One day after I graduated, I was at my Mary and son-in-law Justin’s house. I commented, “I guess I’m unemployed.” Justin quickly replied, “No! You’re happily retired!” I’ve gone with that ever since. 😊

A Light to My Path

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

Annual Tradition

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

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

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

So much loss. So many changes.

But God

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

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

One Step at a Time                 

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

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

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

Take Note

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

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

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

Eternal Light

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

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

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


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

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

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

God With Us

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

The First Year

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

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

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

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

Another Christmas Season

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

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

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

Suffering Abounds

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

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

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

But God

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

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

“Everything!” Laura replied.

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

Immanuel

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

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

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

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

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

Buying and Selling Real Estate – Epilog

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

Needed Reminders

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

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

The Offer

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

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

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

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

Worrywart

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

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

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

Closing Day

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

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

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

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

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

Attention to Detail

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

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

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

And so it does.

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


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

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

Of Mountaintops and Valleys

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

Hindsight

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

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

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

Losses, Big and Small

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

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

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

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

Sufficient Grace

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

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

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

Tears and Treasures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Eight Years

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

Dear Readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Starter Home

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

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

Expanding Family

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

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

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

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

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

Another Move, Another Contract

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

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

God Goes Before Us

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

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

Recounting God’s Goodness

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

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

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

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

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.