Love That Will Not Let Me Go

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends . . . So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:7-8a; 13

I was planning to write another in my series of reflections inspired by Mom’s hospitalization and Homegoing, but a Facebook memory popped up yesterday and sent my thoughts meandering down a different pathway. The post reminded me I met my late husband 40 years ago, on June 19, 1981.

The Backstory

Some of you are already familiar with the story behind how Ray and I met since I like to share it every year on the anniversary of our first encounter. But I’ll gladly retell it here for those of you who are more recent friends and readers.

Ray and I attended a church-sponsored singles group on that warm June evening, both for the first time. Food-fueled fellowship followed the Bible study lesson. As I willed my introverted self to mingle, my gaze kept returning to the handsome young man also making his way around the room.  I watched Ray interact with others, noting that he seemed like a nice guy who genuinely listened to people he engaged in conversation.

I finally got my chance to talk to Ray and, entirely out of character,  gave him one of my business cards after adding my home phone number. “Give me a call sometime.” Looking back, I credit divine inspiration for my bold gesture.

Regardless, I was mortified when I woke up the following day, thinking, “I gave a total stranger my business card, with my home phone number on the back!!!” And then I said a simple prayer, “Lord, if you want something to come of it, fine. If not, that’s fine too.”

I don’t remember how much time passed, but Ray did call. The friendship we developed in the singles group blossomed into a romantic relationship that led to 13 years of marriage and two daughters. Occasionally I would tease Ray, telling him it was the best use of a business card ever.

The years were punctuated by laughter and tears, filled with love, commitment, and hard work as the bonds between us grew ever-stronger. Then, in a moment, it ended.

Love That Endures

Or did it?

Imagine my surprise when I found that business card in Ray’s Bible several weeks after he died suddenly of a heart attack. Tears of amazement mingled with sorrow when I saw he’d kept it all those years. I left it there and look at it from time to time, a sweet reminder of how the Lord brought us together on that long-ago night. And of the love that grew over the years that followed, an unconditional love that didn’t end when Ray died because it flows from the fountain of God’s love.

My reminiscences on this 40th anniversary led me to think of others who, like Ray, loved me so well during their lifetimes that I still feel their love even though they’ve been gone many years. No surprise, my contemplation of enduring love included Mom. Though she passed away more recently, she poured so much selfless, unconditional love into me I have no doubt the bucket will remain full the rest of my life. I imagine her joining the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds me, urging me to finish strong.

A Legacy of Love

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about the wonder I feel when I ponder the power of love that transcends the grave, undimmed by the passage of time, and it most likely won’t be the last. Though I cherish tangible reminders of departed loved ones, material gifts aren’t the basis for our lasting connections. Shared experiences bolstered by loving acceptance and encouragement form the links that bind us together.

Love grounded in faith and hope is the most valuable legacy we can bestow, far more significant than any earthly treasures we might bequeath. I suppose my thoughts frequently turn to those who loved me well because I want to love the way they loved, to pass on the legacy they left me.

The Father’s Love

The Father first loved us by sending His Son to die for us, the just for the unjust. Empowered by the Spirit, we are to love others as God has loved us (1 John 4:9-11). Jesus even said His followers’ love for each other should be notable, a distinguishing characteristic  (John 13:34-35).

And how blessed we are that nothing on earth or in heaven will ever be able to separate us from God’s love:  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-9).

What a glorious assurance!

Dear Lord, thank You for Your infinite, eternal love. May we live in such a way that our love and faith are evident to a watching world, hallmarks of our relationship with You. And may we love others so well that the effects endure even after You’ve called us Home.

A Single Red Rose, Remix

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 4:9-10

An Iconic Flower

Red roses and romantic love have been linked for centuries. “The red rose began its illustrious symbolic history in Greek and Roman iconography, where it was tied to Aphrodite, or Venus, the goddess of love . . . Throughout its long, storied history, the red rose still reigns as the ultimate symbol of passionate affection.”[1]

Like many of you, I  have been touched by the beauty of red roses. In fact, one played a role in changing the course of my life. If that sounds like hyperbole, read on for the rest of the story.

A Broken Heart

When I was in my early twenties, I met a handsome young man and promptly fell head-over-heels for him. Thus smitten, I had no trouble convincing myself he was “the one.” Some months later, it became evident he wasn’t. He stated his desire to return to his college sweetheart, who he’d never completely gotten over, thereby crushing my happily-ever-after dreams.

But God has a plan for our lives and is always going before us. One week to the day after receiving the hurtful news from Mr. Not-the-one-after-all, I met Ray, another handsome young man, who I’d come to know and love, at a church singles group.

At subsequent gatherings, I noted Ray was thoughtful and kind, a godly young man who cared about others. He also had a stubborn streak. His tenacity came in handy since it took no small effort on his part to break through the fog of despondency that settled around me after the painful breakup. As summer turned into fall, I continued to decline Ray’s invitations, seeing him instead at activities sponsored by the singles group.

I commented to my mom, “I’m not sure why Ray keeps asking me out.” Her reply, “He’s obviously found someone he likes and isn’t going to give up easily!”

I’m forever thankful he didn’t give up.

A Breakthrough

108The singles group held their Christmas dinner on my birthday that year. After the banquet, Ray presented me with a single red rose. Somehow his gesture broke through my defenses and opened my heart to the possibility of loving again. Founded on friendship and undergirded by faith and shared values, our relationship blossomed.

Paying homage to that initial flower, I carried a red rose with a sprig of baby’s breath and some greenery when Ray and I got married two years later; this despite the florist’s protestations that the bridesmaids’ bouquets cost more than mine. Over the years that followed, Ray often gave me a single red rose for my birthday, our anniversary, and other special occasions, hearkening back to the first one and what it meant to us.

010The last birthday Ray spent with me was no different. When I came home from work that night, he had adorned the kitchen with roses – miniature pink ones for our daughters and a dozen yellow ones for me. And, amidst those beauties, a single red one. Ray also gave me an exquisite pin – a delicate red rose on a gold stem. I still marvel at this gift in light of the fact he died precisely four months later. Ray didn’t know he wouldn’t be around to purchase single red roses on birthdays yet to come, but God did. I believe He somehow nudged Ray to give me the pin I now wear each year on my birthday.

Love Never Ends

When Ray died, I took a single red rose to the funeral home and asked the funeral director to place it in his hands for me. It seemed a fitting close to our tradition, at least for now. Sometimes I think about what it will be like when I finally get to see Ray again. Might he have that rose in his hands, ready to give it back to me? After all, nothing’s impossible for God. Yet rose or no rose, I’m confident the longed-for reunion will take place. Ray and I will spend eternity together worshipping and praising our great Redeemer because God didn’t give up on His people. He loved us so much, He sent His only Son to die for us, that we might live with Him forever (John 3:16).

What a blessing to know that nothing can separate us from the love of God – neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation (Romans 8:38-39).

I sometimes buy a single red rose for myself “from Ray” on special occasions, and I gratefully remember the gift of unconditional love that persists beyond the grave (1 Corinthians 13:7-8a).

Dear Lord, thank You for loving us so much that You sent Jesus to die for us. We can’t fully fathom the height, depth, breadth, and width of Your great love, Lord, but we are grateful for the glimpses You give us in our relationships with others who love us unconditionally.

[1] https://www.proplants.com/blog/history-and-meaning-behind-red-roses, ProFlowers Blog, “History and Meaning Behind Red Roses”, January 18, 2017.

Enlightened Eyes

I’d opened my Bible study lesson but hadn’t silenced my phone yet. It dinged three times in rapid succession alerting me to incoming text messages, most likely of the group variety.

043My curiosity piqued, I had to look. After all, I hadn’t officially settled into my quiet time. The glance confirmed my hunch. Daughter Jessie sent a photo to me and her older sister, Mary, with the comment, “Fun game! Let me know when you spot it.”

Mary replied without hesitation, “Cool!!!”

I stared at the up-close photo of a tree trunk, admiring the bark, but had to enlarge the image before I found the hidden critter and exclaimed, “That guy is super camouflaged!”

Jessie conceded, “I totally wouldn’t have seen the moth except he was sitting right below a trail blaze (blue rectangles painted around the trail so you can keep track of it) and I had looked up at the blaze just by chance.”

Our pleasant text conversation came to an end and I turned my attention back to the lesson before me, astounded to read, “Unless a power beyond us opens our eyes, we will blindly walk right past the infinite magnificence of God’s treasure. We take for granted the glorious truth in Christ: we are God’s beloved children.” (1)

Talk about an immediate spiritual application of Jessie’s trail blaze experience!

The Apostle Paul, writing to the Ephesians, proclaims, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3).

Paul then goes on to recount those blessings. In Christ we are:

  • Chosen by God before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him (vs. 4).
  • Predestined for adoption to himself (vs. 5).
  • Redeemed (vs. 7)
  • Forgiven (vs. 7)
  • Made recipients of the riches of God’s grace, lavished upon us (vs. 7-8)
  • Given wisdom and insight to understand God’s plan of redemption (vs. 9-10)
  • Made heirs (vs. 11-12)
  • Sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, the guarantee of our inheritance (vs. 13-14)

Paul prays for the eyes of their hearts to be enlightened that they may know the hope to which they’ve been called, the riches of God’s glorious inheritance in the saints, and the immeasurable greatness of His power toward those who believe – precisely the same power that raised Jesus from the dead (vs. 18-19a).

Fueled by that kind of power, you’d think we’d be better at living out the reality of all the blessings heaped upon us.  But too often our spiritual sight is clouded by immediate demands, our ears filled with voices clamoring for our attention. The temporal hides the eternal as effectively as the moth’s disguise allowed it to blend into the bark.

Jesus frequently taught in parables, many of which had a connection to plants – sowing, reaping, seasons, soils. When his disciples asked why He used such stories, He replied, To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given . . .  Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: ‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.’ . . .  But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.” (Matthew 13:11, 14, 16)

Blessed indeed! Jesus came not just to restore sight and hearing to those physically blind and deaf, but to open our spiritual eyes and ears to His message and the evidence of His love all around us. And, when Jesus ascended to heaven, He didn’t leave us as orphans. The Father sent the promised Helper to be our trail blaze (John 14:16-17, 26).

Even so, we must be intentional about seeing and hearing.

Interludes spent in my garden allow me to be still in God’s presence, to deliberately look and listen. Time after time, Jesus’ parables come to life as I dig and prune, weed and water. I stroll my property in search of treasures I imagine God’s tucked lovingly here and there for me to find. Years of practicing these purposeful walks have honed my sight, enabling me to recognize even barely-there plants as they emerge from the soil. How much more should I seek to know the things of God, to perceive the guidance of His Spirit, and to hear His still, quiet voice by becoming intimately acquainted with the treasures found in His Word?

O Lord, how I thank you for lavishing your spiritual blessings upon your chosen ones and for enlightening the eyes of our hearts to understand the magnitude of those blessings. Please help us to be ever-attentive to the leading of your Spirit.

 

(1) Lisa Tarplee,”Hinged, Vitally Connected to Christ and His Church, Women’s Bible Study on Ephesians”, Week 2, CDM Discipleship Ministries, 2020, p. 31.

Love Never Ends

February 14th. Valentine’s Day. One of several days throughout the year when I have to take myself in hand and preach truth to myself even more so than usual. Father’s Day, my late husband’s birthday, our would-be wedding anniversary, the day God called Ray Home. Difficult days when I’m tempted to question God’s goodness; to wonder why He wrote my beloved spouse’s too-soon-for-me departure into our story.

The sunshine streaming through my windows this morning provided a stark contrast to my mood. No card, no flowers, no warm embrace from my forever love. Everything in me wanted to ignore the holiday. Well, almost everything. Whispers of truth made their way through the silent, solitary morning moments, “You’re not alone. Reach out.”

I sent a few texts, their content more cheerful than my prevailing state of mind. Soon my phone began to ping notifying me of incoming replies, most bedecked with emoji hearts and hugs:

“Happy Valentine’s Day to you, my friend!”

“Happy Valentine’s Day to you as well! I am thankful today for friends and family! Love to you today!”

“’The Lord has appeared of old unto me, saying, ‘Yea, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn you.’ Jeremiah 31:3 . . . Praying this will minister to you.”

Gratitude, love, the Word of the Lord – potent antidotes for sorrow, doubt, and self-pity. They provided the traction I needed to extricate myself from the emotional quagmire I was languishing in. Back on solid footing, I redirected my thoughts.

img_2626-1I’m thankful for the time Ray and I spent together. I’d rather have been married to him for 13 years than not at all. The last card he gave me was a Valentine card. Unlike other memorabilia tucked away in various boxes and file folders, it resides in a special spot on my bookshelf. Lost in my reverie, I retrieved it from its slot and reverently removed it from its well-worn envelope. After savoring the sentiments within, I placed it on the edge of my dining room table which also serves as my desk. There, alongside other tangible reminders of loved ones, it radiated a message of glowing encouragement.

When I first read the words some 23 years ago I asked Ray if he truly felt that way about me. I didn’t see much of myself in the card’s lofty ideals which reference the Proverbs 31 woman. He didn’t hesitate before confirming the message rang true. What a gift to be able to see someone’s potential in the Lord, wherever they may be in the life-long process of sanctification, and then graciously point it out to them.

God used Ray’s unconditional love to show His love for me throughout our marriage. What a blessing to read the words contained in that final card all these years later and hear Ray’s resounding affirmation.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:7).

With my thoughts on a decidedly-positive trajectory, I pondered some things our pastor pointed out during last night’s study of the Westminster Confession of Faith: God is pleased to reveal Himself to us in His Word. He desires intimacy with His people. The Bible is a living document, God’s direct link with us. When we read our Bibles we should imagine God smiling at us because He loves us.

Isn’t that amazing?!!

And now here I sit, joyfully overwhelmed by God’s great love, with so many pertinent passages running through my mind, I don’t know how to end this post. Likewise, I don’t know how you’re feeling on this Valentine’s Day, dear reader. Maybe, like me, you’re yearning for a loved one who’s no longer with you. Then again, you may have a special date planned with your sweetie. Regardless, I pray the following Scriptures will cause your heart to rejoice as you remember the One who loves His children with a love that never ends (Psalm 100:5). To Him be all praise, honor, and glory!

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us (1 John 4:7-12).

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).

Love never ends . . . So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:8a, 13).

And the next time you’re feeling down or doubting God’s goodness, remember Martyn Lloyd- Jones admonition:

“Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul, ‘Why are thou down cast? What business have you to be disquieted?’ You must turn on yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself, ‘Hope thou in God’ instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way. And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, who God is and what God is and what God has done and what God has pledged Himself to do.”

 

Spring is coming!

When I awoke this morning an almost-forgotten sight greeted me: sunshine! Yes, after a rain-filled week that felt more like a month and led one of my cousins to report his mildew was growing mildew, bright, beautiful sunlight streamed through my windows. My heart rejoiced and “Thank You, Lord!” escaped my lips.

A short time later, I took my usual seat at church. From there, I had a perfect vantage point to gaze at the brilliant blue sky, framed by the large window behind the pulpit. As we sang “Before the Throne of God Above”, I watched, misty-eyed, while wispy, breeze-borne clouds meandered by. The scene before me underscored the greatness of the One we praised in song.

Despite numerous indoor chores looming over me, I scampered outside as soon as I finished lunch. My weary soul longed for a dose of garden therapy. A scavenger hunt ensued. I gently nudged aside leaves to see if any plant friends had managed to puncture the soil and emerge from their winter rest. I inhaled the sweet aroma wafting from the paperbush. My gaze lingered on artful displays of moss. Each discovery buoyed my spirits. Spring is coming! The tiny sprouts sense it. The birds taking turns at my feeders know it.

There are times when we experience storms in our lives, seasons when it feels like the rain won’t ever go away. But, just like the sun is shining brightly above the clouds and the plants are nestled under their leafy blankets ready to burst forth, God is with us. Even when circumstances cloud our spiritual vision, even when we’re buffeted by doubts. Because He promised to be with us forever. (Deuteronomy 31:8; Matthew 28:20) And He always keeps His promises. (Joshua 21:45; 2 Corinthians 1:19-20)

Furthermore, He’s pledged to return, to take us to the Home He’s preparing for us (John 14:1-3), a Home where there will be no more death or tears or pain. (Revelation 21:4) Until then, He’s left countless reminders of His love and goodness, as exemplified below. May the photos from my afternoon stroll give you a sense of the hope and joy I felt as I ambled through my garden, warmed by the Son.

“When thro’ the woods and forest glades I wander, And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees, When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur, And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze. Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee; How great Thou art, how great Thou art!”[1]

 

 

 

[1] “How Great Thou Art” (2nd stanza), Text and Music, Stuart K. Hine, 1953.

Come to Me

I well-remember the exhaustion I felt as a mother of two pre-school daughters, working full-time for a large corporation. There were numerous occasions when I wouldn’t even hear my night-owl husband, Ray, gently close our bedroom door as he crept out after we’d said our prayers. I could have been featured on a sleep clinic commercial, along with the old adage, “asleep as soon as her head hits the pillow.”

A few fleeting years later, emotional weariness joined my physical fatigue. My beloved spouse died unexpectedly, felled by a fatal heart attack weeks after his 39th birthday. Suddenly left alone to parent my daughters (7 and 10 years old at the time), I clung to God for daily strength. Above all else, I prayed for wisdom. And I repeatedly petitioned Him to let me live long enough to raise my girls. Unbearable thoughts of them being orphaned fueled my pleas.*

Nonetheless, some nights found me too worn-out to formulate a coherent prayer. In the brief moments between crawling under the covers and drifting off to sleep, I counted on the Spirit’s knowing my unspoken needs and interceding for me with groans too deep for words. (Romans 8:26-27) Furthermore, I imagined myself in my Father’s lap, wrapped in His loving arms. “Please, Lord, just hold me. I’m so tired.”

Though I’m often reminded this world is not my home, I’ve been acutely aware of the ever-present brokenness in my not-Home in recent days – from malfunctioning printer technology to discord in cherished relationships, from self-doubt to minor frustrations to major misunderstandings. I’ve grieved my own short-comings and been disappointed by those of others. Day after day, my heart has cried out to the Lord for relief and restoration, longing for peace and beauty and the promised perfecting of all things.

Jesus bids us come. All who are weary and burdened. He promises us rest. Not just any rest, but rest for our souls. (Matthew 11:28-29) Our gentle Savior took on flesh and walked this world. (John 1:14) He knows how difficult it is, how fear and anxiety and hopelessness can produce tired, troubled souls. Not only does He invite us to take His yoke upon us and learn of Him, but He:

  • Promises to never leave us or forsake us. (Deuteronomy 31:8)
  • Invites us to cast our cares on Him because He cares for us. (1 Peter 5:6-7)
  • Tells us not to be anxious, but to bring our prayers and petitions to Him. (Philippians 4:6-7)
  • Advises us not to worry about what we will eat or drink or wear. (Matthew 6:25-34)
  • Instructs us to fear not. Though we will have troubles in this world, He has overcome the world. (John 16:33)
  • Reminds us He is preparing a place for us and will return to take us Home. (John 14:2-3)

Throughout these difficult days, I’ve felt God’s comforting presence. His tender ministrations have manifested themselves in ways as varied as my heartaches:

  • A blog post from a fellow writer which provided encouragement to keep writing and bolstered my diminished confidence.
  • A phone call from my daughter who listened patiently to my sob-punctuated litany of sorrows which burst forth upon hearing her concerned, “Are you ok, Mom?”
  • Lunch with a long-time spiritual sister whose wisdom and calm presence I cherish, one who helps me regain a proper perspective.
  • An extended phone conversation with my other daughter, who I see at least twice weekly but rarely have time to chat with because of the three little ones clamoring for our attention.

And then there was Saturday, beautiful, soul-satisfying Saturday, spent in my garden. When I went out to water my thirsty plants, God bestowed upon me a tiny glimpse of the way it will be in His Garden. As sunlight filtered through the floriferous branches of my 7-27-2013, My beautiful crape myrtlecrape myrtle, sights and sounds of early-morning re-awakening greeted me. Two glistening gold finches balanced atop gently-swaying stalks of verbena, expertly extracting the tasty seed. All kinds of busy pollinators buzzed in and out of colorful blossoms. A bejeweled hummingbird hovered near the lantana. Butterflies zig-zagged lazily in the breeze. Birds chirped and frolicked in the sprinkler spray. My heart exulted.IMG_6301

One day the children of God will be revealed. The groaning will stop and all things will be made new. (Romans 8:18-21; Revelation 21:4)) Until then, may our world-weary souls find rest in Him and may we have eyes to see and ears to hear the evidence of His lavish love all around us. (Matthew 7:11; James 1:17)

 

*God not only graciously granted that prayer, but I’m now Grammie to three precious grandchildren.

I see you!

The week before last was one of those “what next?” kind of weeks. A series of small-to-medium challenges plus an inconceivable event that led to bewildered contemplation one sleepless night, had me hunkered down, bracing for the next volley. Nonetheless, I was cautiously optimistic when Saturday of the oh-so-trying week dawned, reminding myself the Lord’s mercies never fail, that they’re new every morning. (Lamentations 3:21-24)

IMG_6080I was barely halfway down the stairs, looking forward to a day at home to do a few chores, maybe some writing and a little weeding, when I saw it. Instead of facing outward toward the sun like its fellow flowers, one beautiful blossom on the althea on my front porch was peeking in the left sidelight. A joyful, irrepressible exclamation escaped my lips, “Good morning, Lord! Thank You!!” I knew, without a doubt, Who was responsible for the perfectly-placed greeting.

Several years ago, my kids introduced me to American Ninja Warrior. The amazing athletic feats performed by the participants plus some equally-inspiring backstories combine to make the show a much-anticipated staple of my summertime TV-viewing. Often, as a contestant makes their way through the obstacles, drawing ever-nearer to the podium where the announcers stand, one of the hosts will yell, “I see you (insert name of ninja)!”

The Lord’s Saturday-morning salutation shouted, “I see you, Patsy!” (Psalm 34:15) It was a reminder that none of what transpired the previous week went unnoticed by the One who’s promised to never leave me or forsake me. (Deuteronomy 31:6-8) The image of that flower stayed with me throughout the day and I’ve recalled it a number of times since, always with a smile, because my loving Father reached out in such an intimate way. I don’t think it’s far-fetched to imagine Him smiling as well, watching as his delighted daughter gazed out the window, appreciatively acknowledging his floral gesture which found its mark like an impeccably-aimed arrow. (Matthew 7:11)

This, friends, is my 100th post. I expect a few long-time readers have noticed that I believe in acknowledging anniversaries and celebrating milestones, so I’ll also mention the 4th anniversary of the debut of “Back 2 the Garden”. My main objective in launching my blog with “Consider it pure joy” on July 1, 2014, was to glorify God and to encourage my readers by proclaiming His faithfulness. My objective, all these posts later, remains the same.

Thank you to all of you who’ve read and commented. You’ve come alongside me on this journey and you encourage me to keep writing. In fact, I’ve been considering compiling some of my posts into a devotional book and would appreciate your thoughts about doing so. I love books – you can hold them and highlight them and re-read them – but the idea of publishing one is a bit intimidating! Nonetheless, it is a dream I pray the Lord will allow me to realize.

In the meantime, I will endeavor to write engaging posts for this site, using simple stories and everyday examples to tell of God’s extraordinary goodness and grace.

O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come. (Psalm 71:17-18)

Tradition!

(This is the final post in my reflections-on-a-different-December trilogy.)

Do you hear it? The opening strains of “Fiddler on the Roof”, that is. I do almost every time I come across the word “tradition”. Like the townspeople in the critically-acclaimed musical, my family cherishes our traditions. In fact, we make good-natured fun of ourselves by saying once we’ve done something two years in a row, it acquires tradition status. Nonetheless, we’ve had to accept that there are times when circumstances intervene and beloved customs must be modified or set aside completely.

My husband’s sudden death when our daughters were still in elementary school ushered in significant changes to our Christmas celebrations. Years later, eldest-daughter Mary’s marriage brought about another shift in the flow of holiday events, as did the births of her children. Not only were there in-laws to visit, but she and husband Justin sought to develop their own blend of old and new traditions, as Ray and I had decades earlier.

One thing that hasn’t changed over the years is our oft-uttered proclamation, “Being together is the best gift.” Reiterated on a variety of gift-giving, tradition-laden, special occasions, there are times when its veracity is confirmed by prevailing events. Such was the case this past December as Mom spent an unscheduled six-day stay in the hospital, a detour which included back surgery. Her unforeseen hospitalization brought about a number of deviations to not only our daily schedules, but also to some pre-holiday plans. Nonetheless, Mom was released in time to attend great-granddaughter Lyla’s birthday party on the 23rd and all subsequent Christmas festivities. Having her home, pain-free, truly was better than anything to be found in a brightly-wrapped box.

As I contemplated the various vicissitudes visited upon us in December, I was repeatedly reminded that everything that genuinely matters hadn’t changed at all. Indeed, most of the traditions I hold dear are special because of the people associated with them. The love, laughter, and, sometimes, tears shared as we create memories that bind us together are priceless. Those ties encompass ones who have been called Home, sustain those of us temporarily left behind and are the stuff of family lore for our youngest, providing a foundation for their own celebrations.

Yes, some of the memories now associated with the twelfth month of 2017 are different, but if you look beneath the surface, you’ll find the similarities to so many of our traditions – our love for each other manifested in our commitment to be together, to celebrate when we can and to navigate uncertain waters together. All of which is a blessing, bestowed by the Giver of every good gift.[1]

Furthermore, we love because He first loved us[2], by sending his Son[3], as a tiny, helpless baby who grew into a man, lived a sinless life and died a horrific death on our behalf.[4] All so we could be with God FOREVER.[5] Good news, amazing news, the news we’re commanded to teach our children[6] and share to the ends of the earth.[7]

Even though some may say we’re too quick to initiate traditions and declare special occasions, every day is celebration-worthy when viewed in the light of God’s goodness.

Oh Father, how we thank you for the gift of your Son. Please help us to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge[8], for comprehending who we are in Him changes everything.

 

[1] James 1:17

[2] 1 John 4:19

[3] John 3:16

[4] Isaiah 53:5-6

[5] 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

[6] Deuteronomy 4:9; Psalm 34:11

[7] Matthew 28:18-19

[8] Ephesians 3:18-19

Do-overs

Fall is the best time for planting most trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials. Soil remains relatively warm even as ambient temperatures drop, allowing for root development as top growth slows. I’ve been judiciously purchasing specimens to fill in some gaps in my landscape, eagerly awaiting the optimal time to plant new leafy friends and to transplant a few old ones. Given the size of some of the items to be installed and the ever-deteriorating condition of my hands, I arranged for some professional assistance and happily anticipated the appointed day, which happened to be yesterday.

I awoke early, excited to finally get underway; however, as I bustled about making breakfast, a familiar “ding” alerted me to a text message. Sadly, my landscaping project could not proceed as planned due to a key helper’s illness. My disappointment was somewhat assuaged by knowing this change of plans would allow the other partner to attend her sons’ Thanksgiving programs without the added stress of traveling back and forth to oversee my project. Little did I know God had other, more important plans for me as well.

I texted my daughter, Mary to ascertain how 21-month-old Emma was doing. She’d fallen victim to some un-diagnosable, rash-causing virus the day before and was covered in red splotches when I last saw her. Mary replied that Emma’s runny nose was considerably worse and they wouldn’t be able to attend 3-year-old Lyla’s Thanksgiving feast. She then inquired if I might be able to go instead. I  responded affirmatively and quickly shifted my attention from playing in the dirt to surprising my beloved granddaughter.

As I made my way to Lyla’s pre-school, circumstances surrounding another feast came to mind. Many years have come and gone since that fateful day, blurring the details, but I distinctly remember the nature of the faux pas, long filed under “Regrettable Mom Moments”. Somehow Ray and I got our signals crossed or misunderstood the parameters of the event and neither of us went to Mary’s kindergarten Thanksgiving meal. She was the only one in her class without a parent or grandparent present. Although the hurt we inflicted on our dear daughter was unintentional, I felt miserable for disappointing her. Even now the memory brings tears to my eyes.

But yesterday, when He allowed me to be there for Lyla, God graciously gave me a do-over. His gift and the realization He too remembered my long-ago remorse made sharing Lyla’s experience that much sweeter, the past regret less painful.

Several Old Testament passages refer to God as compassionate, gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.[1] From Adam and Eve to the chosen people of Israel to those of us who call on his precious name in these end times – we’ve all been wayward[2] and given God plenty of reasons to turn his back on us. But He will never forget[3] or forsake[4] his children. In fact, He sent his only Son to save us from our sins[5], to be our righteousness[6], for He knows we are dust[7] and can never stand in his holy presence on our own merit.

God disciplines those He loves.[8] He forgives and restores us when we repent.[9] And by the power of his Spirit, He is transforming us more and more into the likeness of our Savior[10], enabling us to produce good fruit when we abide in him.[11] Finally, when the old order of things has passed away, He’ll wipe away every tear and dwell among his people forever.[12]

As we enter into this Advent season, may we rejoice anew at the extravagant gift we’ve been given. Our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace[13] knows us intimately. He humbled himself, took on flesh, lived a perfect life and died on a cross[14], the Sacrifice to end all sacrifices. No do-overs required. [15]

 

[1] See for example, Exodus 34:6; Psalm 86:15; Psalm 103:8

[2] Isaiah 53:6

[3] Isaiah 49:15

[4] Deuteronomy 31:8

[5] John 3:16

[6] Romans 5:17

[7] Psalm 103:13-14

[8] Hebrews 12:5-11

[9] 1 John 1:9

[10] 2 Corinthians 3:18

[11] John 15:5

[12] Revelation 21:3-4

[13] Isaiah 9:6

[14] Philippians 2:5-11

[15] Hebrews 10:1-18

The new dress, take 2

I remember the moment even if I can’t recall the exact date . . . the moment when I realized I truly wasn’t good enough.

A number of childhood experiences – an inconsistent relationship with my dad; often being described as “smart”, but rarely “pretty”; enduring a pudgy pre-adolescence during which classmates called me names – planted seeds of doubt deep inside. I was unaware of their presence. Focusing instead on navigating my teen and college years, I attempted to fit in and find acceptance. But by the time I reached young adulthood, the vines had grown into tangled masses, their tendrils wrapped tightly around my heart. I kept people at arm’s length, even those in my inner circle, fearful that if they really knew me they’d reject me.

I was married, a young mother of two precious daughters, when the Master Gardener said, “Enough!” As is often the case, the Lord chose a surprising method to begin my reclamation: a secular self-awareness workshop my then-manager encouraged me to take, paid for by my employer. The psychologist-led sessions were intense. Through the various exercises and discussions I came to recognize the subconscious message underlying my beliefs. In spite of my academic and career accomplishments, my loving family and a group of caring friends, I felt I wasn’t good enough to be loved or accepted.

Just as the restoration of an overgrown garden requires time and tenderness, there were many weeds of doubt to be removed before the seeds of understanding and truth could thrive. I turned to a counselor and pastor for assistance. The weeks passed and progress was made. The moment alluded to above, a bona fide epiphany, occurred as I was driving home from a counseling session. The reality flooded my being: “In myself, I’m not good enough, but in Christ I’m perfect!”

I’d been baptized and professed my faith some 17 years earlier. I trusted Christ alone for my salvation[1] and, with the Spirit’s help, tried to walk in a manner worthy of my calling.[2]  Nonetheless, the gloriously-freeing realization that God sees Jesus’ perfection when He looks at me became heart-not-head knowledge that day and continues to serve as a reliable rebuttal when the old misgivings resurface.

Like seeds that remain dormant until the right conditions are present, concerns regarding my unworthiness reemerge from time to time. I expect they will as long as I’m in the flesh. Like Paul’s thorn, those consternations draw me closer to God, making me ever-dependent on his strength and assurances.[3]

Because of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice I am:

  • A child of the King. (John 1:12-13; Romans 8:16; 1 John 3:1)
  • A co-heir with Christ. (Romans 8:17)
  • Robed in his righteousness, without spot or blemish. (Colossians 1:22)
  • Forgiven. (Psalm 103:11-14; Isaiah 1:18; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:13-14)
  • Welcomed into my Father’s presence. (Hebrews 4:14-16)
  • Watched over. (Psalm 33:18; Psalm 34:15)
  • Provided for. (Matthew 6:25-34)
  • Promised an eternal dwelling place. (John 14:1-3)
  • Strengthened by the Spirit. (Romans 8:11; Ephesians 3:16; Philippians 2:13)
  • Irrevocably loved and accepted. (John 10:27-29)

By now you may be wondering about the title of this post, but I promise there’s a connection to my last one. As noted therein, my generous daughters gave me a gift card so I could buy an outfit for the Rose Garden Gala. Getting dressed up for a special occasion is an infrequent treat. I felt a bit like a princess as I left my house . . . then, unexpectedly, a joyful thought manifested itself: I am a princess, a beloved daughter of the King! What a contrast to my thought patterns before I attended that workshop and subsequently entered counseling 25 years ago. It’s been a long, sometimes arduous, but most-decidedly-fruitful journey since. The faithful Gardener continues to prune and till, removing pesky vines and noxious weeds before they gain purchase in the soil of my soul. The seeds of truth now flourish and his tender ministrations remind me who I am.

My prayer, fellow believers, is the same as Paul’s desire for the Ephesians: “may (we) have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that (we) may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”[4] For once we have even a glimpse of Jesus’ sacrificial, unconditional, eternal love for us our perspective is forever changed.

We may not look like much in the world’s eyes, but in our Father’s eyes, we’re perfect.

[1] John 14:6

[2] Colossians 1:9-10

[3] 2 Corinthians 12:7b-10

[4] Ephesians 3:14-19