Emmanuel, God with us

This has been one of those weeks. You know, the kind dotted with numerous reminders things aren’t the way they’re meant to be. I’m not even talking about national or global events. No, just in my little corner of the world, the consequences of the Fall have been abundantly evident. From broken relationships to childish misbehavior to my own selfishness. Add in the effects of my precious parents’ aging, as well as mine – my IMG_E0161hands have made it clear they’re not happy with the repeated gripping and lifting required to set up my beloved Dickens Village – and the final enemy, death, which paid an unexpected visit to one of our church families. The weight has grown heavy indeed.

I suppose the world was every bit as dark, with sin and sorrow pressing in all around, when God sent His one and only Son, the Light of the world, full of grace and truth to that lowly manger in Bethlehem. The most precious gift ever given came packaged as a tiny baby, grew to be a man who lived a sinless life and took our sins upon Himself, that we might have hope now and eternal life in God’s very presence.

So, dear friends, whether you, too, have had one of those weeks or if you simply need to step back from the busyness of the season and refocus on the reason for our celebrations, I offer these passages, some of my very favorites. May they speak peace into our lives as we reflect on the coming of God’s promised Messiah and look forward to His equally-certain return.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone . . . For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:2, 6-7)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-5, 14)

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:3-6)

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. (Lamentations 3:21-25)

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:28-29)

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)

O, Lord, thank You for your great love and faithfulness, the assurance that every one of your promises finds its Yes in Jesus. (2 Corinthians 1:20) Please help us to never lose heart, remembering that the afflictions of this world are light and momentary compared to the eternal weight of glory You have prepared for us. (2 Corinthians 4:16-17) May we ever praise You for your incomparable gift of Life, not only at Christmastime, but throughout the year, with joyful, grateful hearts.

Make note

The Lord has been faithful to provide for me and my family in so many ways across the years. In fact, a desire to encourage others by sharing some examples of His goodness is what led me to begin blogging. I promised to write this particular post for some friends in various stages of buying and selling homes, but I pray the over-arching message of God going before us will resonate with many of you.

As I open up my mental portfolio containing instances of God’s providence, the file marked “Real Estate Transactions” stands out because it encompasses events that still give me amazement-induced goose bumps when I recall the specifics all these years later.

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

But when I became pregnant with daughter Jessie, Ray and I decided to start looking for a single family home to accommodate our growing family. Unfortunately, the houses we could afford weren’t within our desired distance to work and those in our preferred areas were priced beyond our budget. We looked and looked, our hopes repeatedly dashed. It was a hot, humid summer in Delaware and I was eight months pregnant, with all the attendant hormonal upheaval. So, when Ray excitedly told me about an open house at an older home in the same neighborhood as our townhome, I suggested he check it out while I treated my hot, tired, grumpy self to a nap.

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

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

Having finally concluded the search phase of our mission, we asked fellow members of our Sunday school class to pray our townhouse would sell. A young couple came up to us after class and said they’d be interested in looking at it. They did just that a few days after Jessie’s birth[1] and, without ever putting up a for sale sign, we secured buyers.

5-29-2015, 108 DewaltThe house on Dewalt Road was to be our long-term, raise-the-kids residence, but DuPont decided to move my entire work group to Georgia so we could be closer to our customers in the carpet industry. Once again we were faced with selling a house, this time one filled with toys and accessories parents of toddlers are used to stepping over and around. I dreaded the process of keeping the house picked up and ready to show at any moment. After Ray and I signed a contract with our realtor the day before I left for a weeklong business trip to California, I told them, “Ok, you two. I want you to find a buyer before I get back.” (Cue laughter.) But God graciously provided a young family, much like our own, who could no doubt imagine their own children’s toys strewn across the playroom and parked in the yard. They were ready to make an offer by the time I returned home.

Fast forward five years to when the unthinkable happened. My beloved 39-year-old husband went to work one beautiful spring day, suffered a fatal heart attack and didn’t make it back to what has indeed been my long-term, raise-the-kids residence. My parents were living in Charlotte at the time and had been considering a move since my dad was recently-retired. What a blessing when they chose to move to Georgia to help me with the logistics and challenges associated with being a single mother. They had an offer on their house within a few days of putting it on the market. And, when my mom told the owners of the house they bought in Georgia the reason for their move, the woman replied, “Our house was under contract several months ago, but the deal fell through. Now I know why. God was saving it for you.”

I realize your real estate history probably differs from mine. Maybe you’ve endured weeks without showings and multiple price cuts during stagnant markets. But, as I hope you can see, this recounting isn’t about houses at all. It’s about remembering God’s faithfulness. About recording instances of His provision and sharing them to encourage yourself and fellow believers when times get tough. (Psalm 63:1-8) About speaking truth to yourself: “Just look what He’s done! He’s never forsaken me and I know He never will.” (Deuteronomy 31:8; Psalm 9:10; Psalm 37:25)

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

May we be ever-faithful to recall and recount the Lord’s goodness.

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

 

[1] We’d originally planned for them to come over earlier, “unless I went into labor”, which I did on the previously-scheduled date.

Thank You!

IMG_6549 (3)I don’t know about you, but there are times when I’m truly confounded by the things small children quibble over. For example, my dear grandchildren, ages 2, 4 and 7, will argue about whose turn it is to say the blessing. In fact, they’ll talk over said blessing should one of them start praying before we’ve fully sorted out whose turn it is. Although I’d like to think their bickering arises because they realize how important it is to thank God, I’m afraid it is due instead to a desire for the honor of saying it.

Ah, teachable moments around the table for sure. I’ve tried telling them they can each say a blessing or we can all pray together because God delights in hearing from us and receiving our praises, all to no avail. And so I’m often left silently raising a petition of my own, “Lord, please help them to always have this much enthusiasm when it comes to wanting to thank You!”

Several weeks ago, I was helping daughter, Mary tuck the children in. 7-year-old Joshua selected the recounting of Jesus healing the 10 lepers from his children’s Bible as his bedtime story. In my ESV[1] Bible, the narrative in the Gospel of Luke appears as follows:

On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:11-19)

All ten of the lepers cried out to Jesus to heal them. All ten had faith He could do so and followed His command to present themselves to the priest even though the healing didn’t occur immediately in Jesus’ presence. Yet only one took the time to come back and thank Him. And this was no weak, afterthought of a “thanks”. Look again. The passage states the man was praising God with a loud voice and fell on his face at Jesus’ feet in gratitude.

When’s the last time we’ve acknowledged God’s good gifts with such exuberant praise? Not only do we rarely demonstrate such gratitude, but too often we behave like the nine who didn’t return to thank Jesus at all, overlooking or taking for granted His many blessings. Scripture is clear that God is worthy of all praise and thanks. David’s prayer after the Israelites made their offerings for the construction of the Temple is exemplary in acknowledging God’s ownership and benevolence:

Therefore David blessed the Lord in the presence of all the assembly. And David said: “Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.” (1Chronicles 29:10-14)

Jesus himself set an example for us by thanking the Father for sustenance (Matthew 15:36; John 6:11), as well as for hearing His prayers. (John 11:41) And the Apostle Paul repeatedly thanked God for the faith of his fellow believers (see, for example, Romans 1:8, 1 Corinthians 1:4, and Ephesians 1:15-16) and for the inexpressible gift of salvation itself (1 Corinthians 15:57; 2 Corinthians 9:15), reminding us of Jesus’ teaching regarding the superiority of imperishable spiritual treasure. (Matthew 6:19-20)

Furthermore, in his letter to the Colossians, Paul instructed his readers three times in as many sentences to be thankful:

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:15-17)

From the priceless gift of salvation to daily bread, from the beauty of creation to the warmth of friendship, from answered prayer to our very breath and every heartbeat, the reasons to thank God are infinite. Let us avail ourselves of myriad opportunities to praise Him. In so doing, may we model for our little ones how important it is to thank Him with happy hearts and joyful voices for His gracious gifts – not for our glory, but for His.

[1] English Standard Version

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)

A little bit of heaven

The first time I visited The Pocket at Pigeon Mountain it was unseasonably cold. All I remember are snow flurries swirling through the crisp air while I huddled close to my fellow wildflower enthusiasts in an attempt to avoid the brunt of the biting wind. I can’t even tell you if anything was blooming. cropped-016.jpgTwo weeks later I returned to find the slopes bedecked with such a vast array of wildflowers I could barely take it in. I asked my companion if someone had planted the wondrous variety. “No”, he explained. “The soils and conditions here are such that it developed naturally.” From that moment on, I’ve thought of The Pocket as “God’s Garden”, a little bit of heaven on earth, where the Creator’s ingenuity is on magnificent display.

I’ve written previously about what has become a highly-anticipated annual pilgrimage to this outdoor mecca, where a reverent awe settles upon me each time I visit.[1] Last week was no different. Sunlight filtered through the leafy canopy as a gentle breeze wafted about. The gurgling brook and chirping birds provided background music as I retraced familiar pathways, stopping repeatedly to admire God’s handiwork. What a joy to behold the complexity and beauty, fIMG_3106 (2)rom the tiniest of flowers to massive tree trunks toppled long ago, the latter now moss-covered works of art. All tucked away, far from the traffic zipping by heedlessly on the interstate, waiting to be discovered, pondered and appreciated.

It may sound presumptuous, but I’ve designated a small section of my wooded backyard a mini-Pocket. I’m gradually introducing some of the native plants found in that special place to my own suburban property – trilliums, wood poppies, Virginia bluebells, bloodroot, Solomon’s plume. Though it is but a shadow of the original, it nonetheless allows me to experience the same sense of wonder each spring as the plants reawaken, each uniquely exquisite. IMG_3050I stroll the woods almost daily in the early months of the year, gently moving leaves, searching for signs of life. I sense God’s peace and presence as I meander and I pray that my joyful exclamations of delight upon finding the treasures He’s brought through another winter reach his ears as songs of praise and thanksgiving.

As I was contemplating my attempts to recreate some semblance of The Pocket, the Lord’s Prayer[2] came to my mind, specifically the lines, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” At times we may think of this request in terms of Jesus’ second coming when all things will be made new and God’s kingdom will indeed be established forever. But Jesus ushered in the kingdom of God when He came the first time, saving us from our sins, buying our pardon with his precious blood, [3] gaining victory over death,[4] all that we might live and reign with Him in the new, forever kingdom. But in the meantime, He sent the Holy Spirit to comfort and counsel us, to conform us more and more to His image.[5] We are to be salt and light.[6] We are to bear witness, to be ready to give an answer for the hope that is within us.[7] We are called to take up our crosses, to follow Jesus and to love like He did.[8] We are to bring a little bit of heaven into the lives of those who come our way, be it for a moment or a lifetime.

Our finite minds can’t comprehend what it will be like to be in God’s presence. Even the most beautiful day here will seem dingy when compared to the radiant light emanating from his throne. But I’m so thankful He gives us glimpses of how amazing it will be. In blue skies and breezes. In flowers and friends. In love that will last forever. Though now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now we know in part; then we shall know fully, even as we are fully known.[9]

It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High, proclaiming your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night, to the music of the ten-stringed lyre and the melody of the harp. For you make me glad by your deeds, Lord; I sing for joy at what your hands have done. How great are your works, Lord, how profound your thoughts![10]

 

 

[1] Please see “He didn’t have to do it”, Archives, April 2017.

[2] Matthew 6:9-13

[3] John 1:29

[4] 1 Corinthians 15:54-57

[5] John 14:26

[6] Matthew 5:13-16

[7] 1 Peter 3:15

[8] Luke 9:23; John 13:35

[9] 1 Corinthians 13:12

[10] Psalm 92:1-5

‘Tis so sweet

Probably not the heading you’d expect for a reflection on two decades of widowhood . . . at least not until you complete the title of the cherished hymn, ’Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus and recall its first verse: “’Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, Just to take Him at His word, Just to rest upon His promise, Just to know ‘Thus saith the Lord.’” [1] As I’ve contemplated writing this memorial post, the refrain of that anthem has come to my mind repeatedly: “Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him! How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er! Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus! O for grace to trust Him more!”[2]

This time 20 years ago I was in a daze, a protective state of shock. On some level I recognized the need to make decisions regarding my 39-year old husband’s services – visitation, funeral, burial. So many decisions brought about by his sudden death the night before. But more than anything I just felt numb. My thoughts churned. “How could he have gone to work and not come home? Surely he’ll drive up any minute now, won’t he?” My mind and emotions grappled with the surreal situation I found myself in.

It was a Sunday and my house was full as friends came and went all day. Many heard the news at church, where we would normally have spent our morning had the unthinkable not occurred. Visitors came bearing food and encouraged me to eat, but I had no appetite. All I wanted was to be with Ray, to somehow help him, to know he was ok. When I finally got to see him on Tuesday afternoon, the knot in my stomach began to relax. I know that sounds contradictory, but in viewing his lifeless body I knew he was beyond any help I could offer. Furthermore, I was comforted to know his spirit was with the Lord. He was much more than ok. He was Home.[3]

Decisions were made, relatives and out-of-town friends made arrangements to attend the services – visitation Wednesday evening, funeral Thursday morning, burial in North Carolina on Friday afternoon. I can recall the events of that week in vivid detail. The people who gathered around us; prayers so abundant and fervent I could feel them; numerous gestures of support. I remember and am thankful.055

The flurry of activity and visitors eventually subsided and my daughters, ages 10 and 7, and I were left to contend with reality. I don’t recollect how many nights passed before one or more of us didn’t cry ourselves to sleep, how long it was before my subconscious stopped expecting Ray to come home from work, or when a “new normal” finally took hold. The raw pain of loss eventually diminished, but the longing to talk to Ray, to have my wise and loving partner by my side remains to this day.

So much has happened since that warm week in April, the daily ins and outs of life plus birthdays, graduations, weddings and the arrival of grandchildren. These momentous occasions were bittersweet without Ray to share them, but there has been much joy nonetheless.

Because God has never forsaken us![4]

From the second we heard the devastating news in a tiny room at Kennestone hospital to this very moment, God has been a faithful defender of this widow and a Father to her fatherless girls.[5] As I’ve thought about what to write on this 20th anniversary, each hardship that came to mind was met with a “but God”. A few examples: He made it possible for my parents to move to Georgia to help me raise Mary and Jessie, provided friends who’ve faithfully prayed for us and offered other assistance as needed, and he allowed me to be gainfully employed all the years my daughters were dependent upon me and my income. In addition there are the over-and-above gifts, like getting to go back to school to study horticulture.

I’ve often said if there’d been a signup sheet entitled “Get to know God better by losing your Husband”, I wouldn’t have put my name on it. Yet God sovereignly saw fit to add the roles of widow and single parent to my resumé. I have no doubt I’ve come to know him far better than if I’d had my earthly husband and provider to depend on. And so I can say as Louisa M.R. Stead did in the last stanza of her hymn, “I’m so glad I learned to trust Him, Precious Jesus, Savior, Friend, And I know that He is with me, Will be with me to the end.”

God owes me nothing, including explanations. Although I don’t remember ever being angry with God, I have wondered on more than one occasion why he took Ray so young. I’d reason it made no sense because he was a kind, caring spouse, parent, friend. But God sending his perfect Son to die in my place doesn’t make sense either.[6] Moreover, it is ample proof of his infinite and unconditional love. Yet He constantly pours out reminders, blessings both big and small.

Although my girls and I bear the scars of losing a beloved father and husband all-too-soon (at least from a human perspective), the Lord has comforted us that we might comfort others.[7] He has bestowed upon us the oil of joy instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.[8] Some who’ve witnessed our journey comment on our strength. May they recognize that apart from the Lord we would have none.[9] We are a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor[10]. Truly all praise, glory and honor belong to him alone.

 

[1] Louisa M.R. Stead, lyrics; William J. Kirkpatrick, music, 1882

[2] Ibid

[3] 2 Corinthians 5:1-9

[4] Deuteronomy 31:6

[5] Psalm 68:5

[6] 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

[7] 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

[8] Isaiah 61:3a

[9] See, for example Psalm 46:1-3, Psalm 73:25-26 and Isaiah 40:28-31

[10] Isaiah 61:3b

He didn’t have to do it

I’d reconciled myself to the fact I probably wasn’t going to make it to The Pocket this year. Weather, friends’ schedules, my commitments – things weren’t aligning favorably and the window for making my annual trek was closing . . . but then came last Sunday.

It was a beautiful Sabbath day, perfect for a field trip. As I awaited the start of morning worship, I contemplated the brilliant blue sky, the backdrop visible through large windows behind the pulpit. It wasn’t difficult to imagine the wildflowers calling to me, beckoning me to return to the place I’ve come to refer to as “God’s Garden”. I knew I would be sorely disappointed if I didn’t go. And so, after service, I invited a friend to accompany me, scratched my plans for the afternoon and headed to a truly amazing place.

The Pocket at Pigeon Mountain, located in Walker County, Georgia, is home to a dazzling array of wildflowers.[1] When I first had the pleasure of visiting in the spring of 2013, one of my initial questions was, “Did someone plant all these flowers?” When I was informed the plants had sprung up and flourished there due to advantageous conditions, I was overwhelmed. To my believing heart, I recognized and embraced it as an incredible gift from a loving Father, the Almighty Creator. That sense of awe has accompanied every visit I’ve made since.

As I’ve alluded to in previous posts, when I began to study horticulture I was astounded at the number of different kinds of plants that exist. So much variety and diversity! Consider, for example that there are approximately 600 species of oak trees and 250 species of camellias.[2] I suppose God could have created one kind of tree, a solitary selection of shrub, a single type of rose and left it at that. But he didn’t! I wonder if the vast array of plants (not to mention people, animals, insects . . .) isn’t at least partly a result of the sheer joy of creating and God’s desire to instill joy in us as we observe the complexity and beauty in the world around us.

IMG_3023To be sure, life in this world can be difficult.[3] From personal hardships to international conflict, we don’t have to look very far to find trouble. But we don’t have to look far to find evidence of God’s abiding love either. My heart sings when I’m at The Pocket, but it also soars when I find a returning trillium peeking out of the leaves in my woods, watch my granddaughter take her first tentative steps, or listen as a friend shares how God is working in her life.

Before the foundation of the world, God knew the choices we’d make, how we’d turn away from him. Nonetheless, he spoke this amazingly beautiful world into existence. He created men and women in his image and placed them in a perfect garden.[4] Yet Adam and Eve tried to usurp his rightful place[5], something their progeny have desired to do ever since.

Complete in himself and lacking nothing, God could have turned away from his ungrateful creatures. But he didn’t! Instead he sent his one and only Son to save us.[6] Jesus was pierced for our transgressions, his punishment brought us peace, his wounds healed us.[7] Therefore, we have the promise of abundant life now[8] and eternal life in his presence when he returns to restore all things.[9]

Until then, may we gratefully recognize the multitude of gifts surrounding us, ever thanking the Father for his lavish love.[10]

I hope you’ll enjoy this sampling of photos I took Sunday afternoon:

 

 

[1] For additional information on The Pocket, check out the US Wildflowers Journal site: http://journal.uswildflowers.com/spring-wildflowers-at-the-pocket-at-pigeon-mountain/

[2] Information on oaks from Wikipedia, on camellias from the American Camellia Society.

[3] John 16:33 – Jesus told us to expect trouble, but to take heart because he has overcome the world.

[4] Genesis 1:1-31

[5] Genesis 3:1-7

[6] John 3:16

[7] Isaiah 53:5

[8] John 10:10, Romans 5:17

[9] Revelation 21:1-5

[10] 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Bickering

img_2702I love to feed the birds. I consider my feathered friends to be outdoor pets of sorts. Now that the weather has turned colder and there are fewer natural food sources, the activity around the feeders has escalated. In fact, I added a second feeder to accommodate the increased traffic. Tufted titmice and cardinals, chickadees and nuthatches, wrens and woodpeckers are regular visitors, eagerly partaking of the sunflower seeds and suet. The feeding generally proceeds in a harmonious manner, with birds flitting from feeder to tree branch to deck railing, taking turns as it were. But occasionally one of the diners becomes impatient. A ruckus ensues as the bird brusquely flaps his way to the feeder, scattering his equally-hungry companions. Nonetheless,whether patient or pushy, the birds have done nothing to earn the savory seeds. They are a gift, freely given.

Having just celebrated Christmas and a December birthday for 3-year old granddaughter Lyla, I’ve witnessed an influx of presents at my daughter’s house. Thoughtfully chosen by the givers, there are plenty of toys to fill hours with imaginative play and help hone new skills, as well as clothes to fit growing bodies. It’s been satisfying to watch as Lyla and 5-year old Joshua have expressed their gratitude for the gifts they received. Lyla will often recount who gave her a particular item and say how much she “lubs”[1] it. Yet, just like the birds, there are instances when playtime fun is disrupted by a struggle over a particular toy. The fought-over item usually becomes the most desirable at that moment simply because someone else was intently playing with it. Even 10-month old Emma isn’t immune as she frequently finds her older siblings’ things much more interesting than her own and protests loudly if such a treasure is removed from her vise-like grip.

Observing the antics of the birds as well as the behavior of my beloved grandchildren reminded me of the sentiments expressed on Christmas cards I sent out years ago. Sigrid Undset’s[2] quote on the front resonated so deeply with me I made sure to keep a card for myself:

“And when we give each other Christmas gifts in his name, let us remember that he has given us the sun and the moon and the stars, and the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans and all that lives and moves upon them. He has given us all green things and everything that blossoms and bears fruit and all that we quarrel about and all that we have misused. And to save us from our own foolishness, from all our sins, he came down to earth and gave us himself.”

Indeed everything we have, all temporal and eternal blessings, are gifts, graciously given by our loving Father. [3] No room for boasting or bickering or grasping. Instead, may we say with the psalmist, “I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High.”[4]

[1] Lyla’s endearing pronunciation of “loves”.

[2] Sigrid Undset was a Norwegian novelist. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928.

[3] James 1:17

[4] Psalm 9:1-2

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.