Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy. Psalm 96:12 NIV
Dear readers, it’s been a while since I last let photos carry most of the message in one of my posts, but I’m about to remedy that. We’ve experienced a beautiful fall here in NW Georgia, full of copious sunshine and exceptional leaf color. After several arduous months that nearly sucked the life out of me, time spent strolling my property, neighborhood, and local gardens is renewing my spirit. As I behold the beauty all around me, I repeatedly exclaim, sometimes out loud, even though I’m alone, “Look at that tree! The color is gorgeous! Thank You, Lord!!”
Just as springtime arrives with a floriferous shout of praise, fall brings a final hallelujah before the trees and plants settle into their season of rest. For weeks, they’ve expended energy growing and reproducing, setting seeds and buds which will yield next year’s leaves and flowers. Watching this cycle reminds me that it’s not only ok but also necessary for me to rest too.
And so I draw near to the One who bids me find my rest in Him (Matthew 11:28-30).
I hope the following photos, accompanied by lyrics to two of my favorite hymns, How GreatThou Art and This is My Father’s World, will be a balm to your soul, a reminder that the One who cares for the birds and the lilies cares even more for His beloved children (Matthew 6:25-33).
This is My Father’s World
This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears all nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought of rocks and trees, of skies and seas; his hand the wonders wrought.
This is my Father’s world, the birds their carols raise, the morning light, the lily white, declare their maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world: he shines in all that’s fair; in the rustling grass I hear him pass; he speaks to me everywhere.
This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world: why should my heart be sad? The Lord is King; let the heavens ring! God reigns; let the earth be glad!
How Great Thou Art
Oh Lord, my God when I, in awesome wonder consider all the worlds Thy hands have made. I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder Thy power throughout the universe displayed. Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee how great Thou art, how great Thou art. Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee how great Thou art, how great Thou art.
And when I think that God, His Son not sparing sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in. That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing He bled and died to take away my sin. Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee how great Thou art, how great Thou art. Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee how great Thou art, how great Thou art.
When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation and take me home, what joy shall fill my heart. Then I shall bow, in humble adoration and then proclaim, my God, how great Thou art. Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee how great Thou art, how great Thou art. Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee how great Thou art, how great Thou art.
Dear Lord, thank You for the beauty of your creation, full of reminders of your infinite, eternal love for us. There are times when the wrong in this world does seem so strong, whether in our personal lives or globally. Still, we know You are the Ruler over all, sovereign over every detail. May we rest in that confidence until You return, ever praising your Name.
 Carl Boberg, 1885. Translated by Stuart K. Hine, 1949.
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)
Six weeks ago, I posted “Buying and Selling Real Estate – A Tutorial on God’s Faithfulness.” 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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
 You may find that post in Archives, June 26, 2022.
 Mom and Dad were married on August 5, 1951. Ray and I were married on August 5, 1983.
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. 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, 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).
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.
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.
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.
Here in NW Georgia, it’s baby bird season – and baby deer, squirrels, chipmunks – you get the idea. Juvenile squirrels are relentlessly trying to figure out how to breach the bird feeder, an hours-old fawn traversed my daughter’s front yard on wobbly legs, and birds are devouring cakes of suet at the rate of one to two per day. The wonder, joy, and occasional irritations associated with new life are everywhere.
Recently I’d opened a few windows to enjoy the breeze before summer’s impending humidity arrives and forces me to turn on the air conditioning for months to come. Suddenly, I heard such a riotous twittering coming from the back deck, I stopped what I was doing to investigate. Instead of finding one of the neighborhood cats threatening the birds, I observed a mother finch surrounded by three offspring almost as big as she was. The frantic chirping emanated from her little brood, each member demanding, “Feed me, Mommy, feed ME!”
Always a Mother
My mind has replayed the scene over the past few weeks as I’ve contemplated my own dear mother’s care for me. Like the mama bird faithfully feeding her babies even though they were nearly grown, Mom’s nurturing didn’t end when I left her nest. She respected my adult independence, yet I knew I could count on her for unwavering support, be it a home-cooked meal, attentive listening, or fervent prayer. Mom nourished me both physically and spiritually for 62 years.
When my 39-year-old husband died suddenly, leaving me to raise my 7-and-10-year-old daughters, my parents graciously moved to Georgia to help us. For the next 24 years, Mom lavished the same love and care on Mary and Jessie that she’d shown me.
Sometimes when I’d thank her for her steadfast devotion, she’d quip, “Once a mother, always a mother!”
If we live long enough, the effects of aging will bring about unwanted changes in our bodies, our minds, and our abilities. Such is life in this world marred by sin.
It was no different for Mom. Though her spirit and determination were as strong as ever, her physical self declined. Relinquishing her driver’s license was the most significant single blow as it made her dependent on others for transportation. She lamented imposing on me whenever I took her to a medical appointment regardless of how many times I tried to assure her it wasn’t a bother. (Besides, we’d often find a way to fit in a stop at Starbucks for our favorite beverages!)
Gradually I began providing more help with banking, household chores, and toward the end, personal care. Mom thanked me constantly, often apologizing for taking up my time. She told others I’d become the mother and she didn’t know what she’d do without me.
As our roles reversed, something inside each of us withered a bit, and a sad acceptance entered our relationship, not because I resented helping Mom, but because I knew how much it hurt her not to be able to do for herself and her loved ones. No amount of reassurance on my part could convince Mom it was alright. Our recurring conversation went something like this:
“I’ll never be able to repay you for all your help.”
“Mom! If we start keeping accounts, you know it’s me who’ll never be able to repay you! You’ve helped me far more than I’ve ever helped you!!”
“That doesn’t count. You’re mine, and I did it because I love you.”
“Well, you’re mine, and I love you. It’s a privilege to help you. You’re not a burden!”
In a moment of frustration a few days before she broke her hip, Mom exclaimed, “I’d hoped you’d never have to deal with this!” (“This” being providing so much practical help.)
Though I usually didn’t try to refute Mom’s protests with Scripture, there are several passages I could have quoted. Consider, for example:
But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (Timothy 5:8). Providing for relatives includes practical help, not just financial assistance.
Listen to your father who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old (Proverbs 23:22). This verse is closely aligned with the fifth commandment to honor father and mother.
Love is patient and kind (1 Corinthians 13:4). Mom’s love for me abounded in patience and kindness. I endeavored to show her the same, though sometimes I grew weary and my efforts fell short.
So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them (Matthew 7:12). I have no idea how my end-of-life scenario will play out, but I know I would like to be treated with love and respect. I pray Mom felt that despite her misgivings about needing help.
Motivated by Love and Gratitude
The hours I spent assisting Mom weren’t burdensome because my efforts were inspired by my love for her and gratitude for all she’d done for my daughters and me. If we had been keeping accounts, I knew of no better way to pay down my debt.
Likewise, I recognize I owed an unpayable debt to the One who loved me so much that He sent His Son to die for me (John 3:16). Yet, when God credited Jesus’ righteousness to my account, He stamped it “paid in full.” How amazing!
Scripture states that salvation comes by faith alone as we depend on Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on our behalf. However, James declared that faith without works is dead. In fact, our faith is made evident by our good works (James 2:14-26) and the good fruit we bear (Matthew 7:17-20).
Just as I was motivated by love and gratitude to help my dear little mother, may our actions be motivated by love for God and gratitude for all He’s done. Let us gladly serve others well and love our neighbors as ourselves as we manifest the grace He’s shown us so abundantly.
Dear Lord, thank You for the blessing of a godly mother who showed me Your unconditional love. I praise You for the privilege of serving her in her time of need. And Lord, how I thank You for Jesus’ willingness to reverse roles with me, to take on the punishment for my sin, that I might be redeemed (2 Corinthians 5:21).
 A cake of suet usually lasts up to five days other times of the year. I surmise birds are feeding the soft, easy-to-digest treat to their babies.
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.”
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.
The 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.
The 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.
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.
My 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.
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.
I’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.”
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!”
 “How Great Thou Art” (2nd stanza), Text and Music, Stuart K. Hine, 1953.
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 crape 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.
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.