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)

A hand to hold

Anyone who’s tried to transfer a slumbering babe-in-arms to its crib knows what a daunting task it can be. Having attempted this move innumerable times, first years ago with my daughters and more recently with three grandchildren, I’ve come to believe babies are born with a sensor which alerts them to the increasing proximity of the miniature mattress. The little person sleeping so soundly and peacefully in your arms can become a crying bundle of flailing arms and legs in a split second.

Such is the case with baby Emma. Emma in her favorite sleeping position - a face down snuggle!She starts to fidget as soon as she feels my arms (and herself) move away from my body and works up to a full-on wail by the time I get her into her bed. I quickly cover her with a soft blanket and begin to rub her back and pat her bottom to ease the transition. Inevitably one tiny hand reaches for her mouth and extracts her pacifier. As of now this is a one-way maneuver – she hasn’t quite figured out how to put it back. The result: more fussing. In an attempt to keep her from dislodging her paci, I offer her one of my fingers to hold as she dozes back off.

Barely four months old, Emma has a vise-like grip which leads to another challenge as I try to reclaim my finger and exit her room. Yet a baby’s inborn ability to curl its tiny fingers around a bigger one is a most endearing quality. IMG_1356Siblings Joshua and Lyla will offer Emma one of theirs from time to time and then exalt, “Look! She’s holding my finger. She likes me!”

As our children become mobile, hand holding continues. We extend a hand to steady them as they take their first steps. We ask them to hold our hand as we cross the street or a busy parking lot. Gradually, the practical need to hold hands decreases . . .

But we never outgrow the need to hold hands from an emotional perspective. I’ve said countless times, one of the things I’ve missed most since Ray died was having his hand to hold. From momentous events like puffing my way through labor pains to more mundane activities such as discussing the day’s activities after dinner and strolling around our small property – we held hands. We were partners. He had my back. And then one day his hand was still and it could no longer reach for mine. Instead, it held a single red rose as we laid him to rest.

In the midst of my loneliness and sorrow, there was One who told me not to fear or be dismayed. He promised to strengthen me and help me. He assured me He would hold my hand and never let go. He’s been true to his Word. He always is. And now, in His goodness and mercy, He’s seen fit to provide another hand to reach for mine – a strong yet gentle hand that dwarfs mine in its grasp. Though I don’t know where our strolls will take us, I know the One who holds us in His mighty, everlasting embrace. We can trust Him to have a good and perfect plan . . . always.

Letting go

Over the years Ray and I were married, I saw him pull up perfectly good plants to make way for the next season’s annuals. I was always a bit appalled since I’m one of those people who doesn’t like to waste anything. Yet he knew the next season’s plants needed time to establish their roots and get acclimated before the harsher temperatures of the upcoming season arrived, be they summer’s highs or winter’s lows.

Purslane, Portulaca oleracea

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is a dependable sun-loving, drought tolerant summer annual. Mine has bloomed enthusiastically since I planted it in May, but is starting to look a bit tired and leggy. Soon it will be replaced by mums which will in time be replaced by violas.

As I’ve become more knowledgeable horticulturally, I’ve realized Ray was right and I try to get my cool-season annuals placed in their beds at a reasonable time even if it means pulling up still-blooming warm-season plants and vice versa. (I do, however, usually apologize to the plants I’m pulling up and thank them for providing so much enjoyment across their respective season.)

A wise friend recently pointed out that our strengths become weaknesses when pushed to their extremes. I’m loyal and dedicated, a consummate Golden Retriever for those of you familiar with Gary Smalley’s animal-based personality profiles. Just as I hesitate to remove still-flowering plants from my garden, I find it difficult to let go of people or situations, even when it would be best to do so – loyal and dedicated . . . to a fault. I’ve said on many occasions since losing my job four and a half years ago I’d still be sitting in my cube, working away, if God hadn’t made it abundantly clear that chapter of my life was over. And what an amazing adventure I would have missed had He not (lovingly) slammed that door and sent me on my way. After all, I went back to school to study horticulture and became a first-time grandmother within six months of losing my job. What a joyful, and somewhat humorous, combination of events!

Becoming gainfully unemployed is just one of many positive life-changing examples I can look back on. So you’d think I’d be better at letting go by now. Sadly, that’s not the case. Probably because letting go feels too much like giving up or losing. Plus there’s the fear of the unknown. Yet I firmly believe God always knows what’s next. He encourages us, saying, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19a) There are times when I’m so focused on the known and the now I can’t perceive anything beyond an underlying sense of disquiet beckoning me to move forward. Tentatively, I’ll let go with one hand while keeping a tight grip with the other. But God is able to do far more than I can ask or imagine so isn’t it likely I’ll need both hands to receive whatever it is He wants to give? Being a patient and compassionate Father, He works to loosen my grip and enable me to embrace His plan – His good and perfect plan.

Even though it’s only mid-August, a few leaves are starting to fall, early harbingers of the major leaf-drop to come in a couple of months . . . signaling another chapter, another season, reminding me letting go isn’t giving up or losing.  It’s making way for the new.

Working all things together for good

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

This is one of my go-to verses, one I turn to repeatedly for reassurance. Having made my profession of faith almost 40 years ago, I have plenty of life experiences that confirm the veracity of this verse. Even when things are bleak, even when I don’t understand, even when I can’t see how good could possibly come from a given situation or series of events, God is at work to accomplish what will be most glorifying to him and most beneficial to me. Following is one such example.

I was blessed to be continually employed by a large corporation for just over 30 years. I had an interesting and challenging job and a good salary and benefits package, critically important when I became the sole source of support for my daughters after my husband, Ray, died. As with anything in life, my job had its ups and downs over the years, but things took a downward turn the last year I worked and didn’t recover. I was assigned to a new manager. In a time when layoffs were happening on a regular basis and with two children of her own to support, I began to feel like she wanted to make sure she was the last woman standing. Bit by bit, my role was diminished. I was left out of meetings, told I could no longer travel to visit customers (some of whom I’d called on for almost 20 years), and wasn’t given meaningful work to do. I became increasingly frustrated. And I was ANGRY!

By the time the July 4th holiday approached, I’d been working for the new manager for almost seven months. As was often the case, I took the week of the 4th off. Attempting to regain some perspective, I spent most of my vacation reading my Bible, praying, journaling and working in my yard. Gradually, as the week passed, God reminded me He, not my manager, was in control. When I returned to work, the situation remained unchanged, but I tried to stay focused on the truth that God was indeed in control. I continued to pray for wisdom. Was God allowing things to become so miserable I’d leave or did He want me to remain and be a “life-giver” in a difficult environment, learning patience and humility along the way?

The answer came on January 26, 2011. My annual review was scheduled for that afternoon and things had gotten so bad I told my family I fully expected to be terminated or put on probation. I sat across the table from my manager and her boss as she said, “I know you’re expecting to have your review, but you won’t be having it because your job has been eliminated.” My first thought was, “This is really happening”, my second was, “Thank you, Lord, for giving me a black and white answer.” I turned in my badge, my computer, my keys. And just like that, a 30-year career was over. No retirement lunch. No goodbyes. No celebrations.

God had other plans. Over the years since Ray died,  as I cared for the beautiful garden he started, God was quietly, tenderly nurturing a new dream in me. A few months before my job was eliminated, I checked out the website of a local technical school while I sat in my cube eating lunch. When I read through the class descriptions for the horticulture program, my desire to take those courses was so strong I wrote on a sticky note: “My dream: Environmental Horticulture Diploma, Horticulturist Specialty”. I stuck it in the back of my planner, thinking it was unlikely, but treasuring my dream nonetheless. A mere two days after my job was eliminated I contacted the admissions office at Chattahoochee Tech and started the process of enrolling. I received my diploma eighteen months later.

Not only did God take the pain of losing my job and work it for good, He did far more than I could ask or imagine. Going back to school was an amazing, unexpected gift and having a more flexible schedule allowed me to spend time on a regular basis with my first grandchild, Joshua, who was born in July 2011. He became my study buddy from his earliest days. I delight in telling him about plants and, as he grows up, I look forward to telling him about his very special grandfather and God’s faithfulness to me and to our family.

My diploma with original sticky note attached.

My diploma with original sticky note attached.