He is Risen!

For me, Easter is the best day of the year. I wake up thinking, “He is Risen!”, and my heart continues to sing that joyful refrain throughout the day as it celebrates the assurance that death has been swallowed up in victory. I rejoice over the certainty of life eternal in the presence of God where the most beautiful of earthly days will dim by comparison.

Yet God, in His goodness, has blessed us with much beauty in this world. I can’t help but believe spring gives us a glimpse of what awaits when we get Home. In this glorious season of rebirth, creation not only reflects God’s glory, but shouts as well as whispers praise to the Creator in myriad ways, from flower-laden branches to the tiniest of wild flowers. And so I offer the following photos, most taken around my garden, as my contribution to the chorus of thanksgiving to the One who is most worthy of praise.

Joyful, joyful we adore Thee

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

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

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

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

In a moment, take 2

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,  a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

The last few months have brought several life-changing moments that, in turn, have led to times shaded by weeping and mourning for me and people close to me. Yet I know there will be times when laughter and dancing predominate again and so I want to reflect upon some past moments which led to great joy.

One such moment occurred on Thanksgiving Day, 2010. Our extended family was sitting around the table, chatting amiably, having enjoyed a delicious meal of smoked turkey and our favorite side dishes. My daughter, Mary, said she and my son-in-law, Justin, had news to share. My heart leapt! Could it be the announcement of an impending birth? Sure enough, Mary passed around an ultrasound photo and confirmed we could look forward to the arrival of a new family member the following July. At that point, Baby was roughly the size of a blueberry, but my eyes still welled up with happy tears knowing there was a new person to love.

The weeks passed and sometime toward the end of January, I got a phone call from Mary and Justin letting me know Baby was a boy.  Later that evening, Mary texted, “We’re going to name him Joshua Patrick.” In that instant, I fell in love with him! Not that I hadn’t been happily anticipating his advent since first peering at the ultrasound photo and trying to figure out exactly where the baby was, but now I knew who I was waiting for and my heart prepared a place for him. Little did I know then how much joy and love Joshua would add to my life or that I would lose my job a few days after receiving Mary’s text, making it possible to spend time with him on a regular basis and bond with him in a way I wouldn’t have been able to if I’d been employed full-time. He became my study buddy from his earliest days, sitting in his little seat by the table while I reviewed notes for plant ID classes and watching intently from his stroller as I collected weed specimens for my pest notebook when we went for walks.

Fast forward to April 20th, 2013 and another family gathering, my dad’s birthday celebration. It, too, would be punctuated by a joyful moment, as Mary and Justin informed us we could anticipate a very special Christmas present – another new family member! This time however, instead of thinking of the baby in gender-neutral terms, I consistently thought of “her” from the start. My premonition was confirmed at Joshua’s birthday party in July when Mary announced Baby was indeed a girl. I was glad Mary had shared the selected name a few days before the party – “IF it’s a girl, Mom, we plan to name her Lyla Ray in memory of Dad” – since even typing that sentence now causes bittersweet tears to spring to my eyes. Similar tears of joy mingled with sorrow flowed when I first held Lyla and longed for her grandfather to be there to cuddle her too.

Today Joshua is a boisterous, intelligent 3-year old with an amazing vocabulary. He assigns me roles in his elaborate make-believe scenarios and warms my heart with detailed recounting of his Sunday school lessons. Lyla is an eight-month old bundle of smiles and determination, happily exploring her world and delighting me with tiny hands that reach for me when I liberate her from her crib after nap time or bend to steady her as she pulls herself up.

Amidst the sorrows and losses of this life, God blesses us with life-changing moments of joy as well as tender occasions that give us glimpses of what we not only long for but are assured of because of another birth announcement 2000 years ago:  “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11) That baby grew to be a man of sorrows who was familiar with suffering. He took our flesh upon himself. He understands how hard this life can be and encouraged his followers, saying,“In this world you will have trouble. But be of good cheer! I have overcome the world.” Furthermore, He’s promised to never leave us or forsake us and even now He’s preparing a place for us where there will be no more loss or pain or grief. And so I treasure the moments of joy and love and tenderness we’re allowed to experience here. They remind me of the time when every tear will be wiped away and we will rejoice forever in the presence of the One who loves us more than we can imagine.