God’s Ambassadors

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
Matthew 5:14-16

A Brief Encounter

One of the first things I do each day is to check the weather. I suppose it’s the gardener in me. The week before Christmas, I noticed an alarming trend in temperatures forecasted for the holiday weekend. Even though I know our single-digit lows would be welcome in other parts of the country where temperatures plunged well below zero, they can cause problems for pipes, plants, and pets here in Georgia.

As many of you know, I count the birds that frequent my feeders as my outside pets. Thus, wanting to make sure I had plenty of food on hand and knowing I wouldn’t have time to make it to Home Depot, I opted to pick up a bag of mixed seeds when I got my groceries.

While I was perusing the choices, another woman joined me in front of the birdseed shelves. Detecting a kindred spirit, I commented, “I hope the birds will be ok when the deep freeze gets here.”

She replied, “Me too! They have downy feathers to keep warm, right?”

Trying to reassure her, I said, “They fluff up too to provide extra insulation.” (My 11-year-old grandson Joshua, a treasury of animal facts, and I had a conversation about that a few days before my trek to the grocery store, so I felt confident in my assertion.)

Still troubled, she said, “But what about their little feet and legs?”

That one stumped me, though if Joshua had been there, I have no doubt he would have had an explanation for why birds’ feet don’t freeze. Instead, in an attempt to ease our concerns, I stated something I knew to be true. “The Bible says God watches over the birds, so we’ll trust Him to do that.”

She smiled. “You’re right. It does.”

I added, “And we’ll do our part to make sure they have food.”

Another smile, “Yes, we will.”

We each selected a bag of seeds, wished each other Merry Christmas, and went our separate ways.

Deep Freeze

The forecast proved to be correct. Temperatures plummeted, lows were below 10 degrees, and three days passed with highs in the teens and 20s. When we finally made it above freezing, it felt like a heat wave!

As is my custom, I refilled the feeders each morning and returned them to their hooks on my deck. The first frigid morning, I peered expectantly out the kitchen window, awaiting the arrival of my bird friends.

I didn’t have to wait long. Soon a steady stream of customers was coming and going, consuming seeds even more rapidly than usual. The birds, including their tiny feet and legs, made it through the wintry blast. But I knew they would because I’ve seen God protect them through other unfavorable conditions. Their calm during those times, happily feeding, unphased by the adverse circumstances, reminds me that the One who watches over the birds and flowers also watches over me (Matthew 6:26-33). [1]

Shining the Light

Christmas is about God meeting our greatest need, our need for a Savior. The Apostle Paul, writing to the believers in Rome, assured them that if God didn’t withhold His only Son, He surely wouldn’t withhold any lesser thing (Romans 8:32).

As children of the King, we know our Father will meet all our needs and will never forsake us. Even so, there are times we need someone to remind us. As I told my fellow bird lover, we can do our part to care for those God places in our circle. Sometimes it looks like making sure the bird feeders are full. At others, it means sharing a word of truth in a brief encounter with a stranger to help turn their eyes toward Jesus. Then again, it involves consistently being life-givers to close family and friends, those we know best.[2]

Regardless of the situation, we’re God’s ambassadors, called to be light in a world filled with darkness because we belong to the Light that darkness cannot overcome (John 1:4-5).

Each week, our pastor encourages us to embrace, embody, and extend the love and grace we’ve received in Christ. I pray you’ll consider that to be part of your mission, too, as we begin a new year. May we always endeavor to shine for God’s glory.

Dear Lord, how blessed we are to be called Your children, and what a privilege You’ve bestowed upon us to be Your representatives. Please help us to care for Your creation and our fellow image-bearers with humble, grateful hearts, acknowledging all You’ve done for us.  


[1] Please see “Through the Storm,” Archives, September 2017.

[2] If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of being a life-giver, please see the “Give Life” tab and “Bucket-fillers” in Archives, November 2018.

Thanks, Mom! (Reprise)

Her children rise up and call her blessed.
Proverbs 31:28a

My dear little mom was born on November 24, 1931. Every few years, the anniversary of her birth falls on Thanksgiving. I think it’s so appropriate when it does since Mom’s life blessed me and many others. Thus, in grateful appreciation to God for the gift of a godly mother and in recognition of what would have been her 91st birthday on Thanksgiving this year, I offer this lightly-edited version of the initial post.[1]

Mom’s Mottos

Following are some nuggets of wisdom Mom shared with me throughout my life. I referred to them as “Mom’s mottos” in her eulogy.[2] They’ve become ingrained in my psyche, and I’ve passed them on to my daughters and am now sharing them with my grandchildren.

People will let you down, but God never will. Mom and I endured numerous trials together in the 62 years between my birth and her passing. Lies, disappointments, job loss, broken relationships, health crises, and deaths. Through it all, Mom taught me to depend on the One who says He’ll never leave or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6), faithfully keeps His promises (Hebrews 10:23), and speaks only truth (Hebrews 6:18). We will have troubles in this world, but Jesus has overcome the world. We can find peace in Him. (John 16:33)

When faced with a list of tasks, do whatever’s bothering you the most first and get it behind you. When I felt overwhelmed, which was more often than I liked to admit, Mom encouraged me with this time-tested advice bestowed upon her by one of her grade-school teachers. Though it may not have been inspired by Scripture originally, there’s undoubtedly a Biblical tie-in. Usually, when my to-do list becomes overloaded, it’s filled with chores associated with temporal concerns. Cooking, cleaning, weeding, mulching, paying bills and the like are necessary. But Jesus makes it clear we’re to seek eternal things first, trusting Him to provide all we need (Matthew 6:25-33) and spending time at His feet to learn of Him (Luke 10:38-42).

We can’t change anyone else, much as we’d like to sometimes. We can only give an account of ourselves. My reply when Mom would tell me this? “You’re right. I have a hard enough time keeping myself in line!” Once again, there’s Biblical truth in Mom’s statement. As part of His magnificent Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned against judging others, especially since we have sin in our own lives to deal with (Matthew 7:1-5). Praise God for giving us His Spirit, which is at work in us to bring about the transformation we’re incapable of accomplishing on our own (2 Corinthians 3:17-18). Furthermore, we’re called to pray for others, because only He can soften hardened hearts (Ezekiel 36:25-27).

We can’t give up. We’ve got to hold on to our faith and keep going. Throughout her life, Mom faced challenges that may have led some to quit or become bitter. In the last decade of her life alone, she:

  • shattered the bones in her right shoulder, an injury that required surgery to install a plate and multiple screws, and left her with a limited range of motion in that arm.
  • suffered a heart attack that led to the discovery of three severely-blocked arteries resulting in emergency open-heart surgery.
  •  fractured a vertebra in her back and had a procedure known as kyphoplasty to repair it.

Mom endured daily pain due to the ravages of arthritis that led to enlarged joints in her fingers and cartilage deterioration resulting in a bone-on-bone right knee. Yet she rarely mentioned her constant aches. Instead, she clung to God’s mercies which are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-24), and encouraged those in her inner circle to do the same. Not surprisingly, her life verse was Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” It appears on her grave marker.

There’s an end to everything and everybody sometime sooner or later. Mom usually used this phrase when a situation called for consolation, such as when a cherished object wore out, broke, or was lost. But her most poignant use of the saying came several days after she broke her hip. During one of her lucid moments, she recited it to me, followed by, “I guess this is the end of me.” As much as it hurt to hear her acknowledge what was becoming increasingly likely, I could comfort her with the assurance of complete healing that awaited. As we live under the curse where death and brokenness are certainties, we have the promise of Christ’s return when all will be made new, and death will be no more (Revelation 21:1-4).

There’s nothing so bad it couldn’t be worse. Similar to the motto above, Mom used this one to offer comfort. It also reminds me to be thankful even in trying circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). For believers, even death isn’t the worst possible scenario. Instead, it ushers us into the presence of Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:6-8).

That’s a Gulf song. Granted, this statement isn’t advice, but I include it because it alludes to my heritage of faith. Mom grew up in the tiny town of Gulf, NC, where she attended a small Presbyterian church established in the 1800s. When the strains of a familiar hymn from her childhood would begin to play at our current church, Mom’s face would brighten, and one of us would usually lean toward the other and whisper, “That’s a Gulf song.” On a recent Sunday morning, I whispered the same to my 8-year-old granddaughter, explaining the connection after the service. I don’t know how many generations my heritage of faith encompasses, but I know there are at least two behind me and two in front. I pray that legacy of faith will be passed continually from generation to generation until Christ returns (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).

Mom’s Enduring Love

Oh, how I miss Mom! Though petite, she had a big, beautiful smile and an even bigger heart. She was my main cheerleader and most dependable defender. We all need someone who’s unconditionally, unreservedly in our corner. I’m so thankful Mom was in mine. She was my rock because she consistently pointed me to the Rock and reminded me that His everlasting arms are securely holding all who belong to Him in an eternal embrace (Deuteronomy 33:26-27a). And since Mom’s love was grounded in God’s great love, it will be with me until we meet again.

O LORD, thank You for the priceless blessing of a godly mother and the assurance that I will see her again! Please help me to recount Your goodness and faithfulness to coming generations as she did.

Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth!I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done (Psalm 78:1-4).


[1] Please see “Thanks, Mom!”, Archives, November 2018.

[2] Please see “Eulogy for a Godly Mother”, Archives, May 2021.

A Grandmother’s Heart

Children’s children are a crown to the aged, and parents are the pride of their children.
Proverbs 17:6

Mama Bear

Many years ago, an article I read described being a mother as having a piece of your heart walk around in another person. When your child hurts, you hurt. When they rejoice, you rejoice with them. Weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice is scriptural (Rom. 12:15), but those feelings are magnified when the one doing the weeping or rejoicing is your child.

I wasn’t an overprotective parent. As my daughters grew up, I allowed them to work out their challenges to the extent it was appropriate for their ages and maturity levels. Even so, they knew I was there to back them up, and when issues arose that were beyond their abilities, I stepped in to advocate for them.

I’d like to say I always did so with grace, but there were times when anger or frustration got the best of me. Though this may not be the best example, it’s the one that came to mind immediately as I typed that line. One morning, I was following behind newly licensed Mary, who was driving to school with her younger sister Jessie in the passenger seat. Someone cut between us and started tailgating Mary. Unable to give the driver an ample piece of my mind regarding road etiquette, I did the next best thing – I gave her a long, loud blast of my horn. Not my proudest mom moment, but my “cubs” were threatened, and it was the only way I could intervene.

Grandmama Bear

Fast forward nearly 20 years. In addition to my beloved daughters, I now have pieces of my heart residing in a dear son-in-law and three precious grandchildren. Grandmama bear is real, friends! From the early days of strolling grandson Joshua through the neighborhood and wondering how I’d fight off an unfamiliar dog who was eyeing us with a menacing glare to now, messing with my kids or grandkids is likely to raise my hackles.

Such was the case recently. Though it would be inappropriate for me to share details of the challenges we’re currently facing, suffice it to say it’s as if someone threw a grenade into our family. Misunderstandings, accusations, and ultimatums splattered everywhere. And now we’re left to pick up the pieces and find a way forward.

My heart aches for my children and grandchildren.

Reaction or Restraint?

The first few days after hearing the news, my emotions ran hot. Anger, sorrow, bewilderment – back and forth, up and down, my feelings tumbled and churned. Grandmama bear wanted to confront those who’d wreaked havoc, demand an explanation, and describe the painful aftermath of their actions.

But in the two decades since the horn-blowing incident, my spirit has become quieter and gentler because of the influence of the Spirit that dwells within me. So instead of lashing out, I took my jumbled emotions to the One who hears it all and bears it all. After several days of crying out to the Lord, He reminded me that nothing comes to us before it passes through His hand. It wasn’t “those people” who’d inflicted the situation on us. No, our loving heavenly Father had allowed it for His purposes.

 A Firm Foundation

Spewing hateful words and blaring our horns at people may make us feel better in the moment, but Scripture tells us it is fools who give full vent to their anger (Prov. 29:11). Such behavior merely multiplies the harm (Prov. 15:1). As a senior member of my family who yearns to sow seeds that will yield sweet, lasting fruit for generations to come, my actions need to point them to Jesus. Thus,

  • I can pray for my family without ceasing and in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:17; Phil. 4:6-7). When a horde comes against us, and the way ahead is unclear as it is now, I can pray as Jehoshaphat did, “Lord, we don’t know what to do, but our eyes are fixed on you” (2 Chron. 2:12).
  • I can be diligent in sharing my love of God with my grandchildren, weaving His word into our conversations as we sit at the table eating lunch, when we stroll the sidewalks of their neighborhood looking at plants and critters, and when we say bedtime prayers on sleepover nights (Deut. 6:7).
  • I can recite countless examples of God’s goodness to our family, reminding them that God has never forsaken us and never will. Those stories are part of my grandchildren’s heritage of faith, no less than God’s people hearkening back to their deliverance from Egypt (Ps. 78:1-4).
  • As one who has endured the sanctifying fires of loss and hardship, I can testify that God’s promises are a sure anchor for our souls and that His word is a firm foundation on which to build our lives. When the winds of adversity blow through our days, they won’t topple us (Matt. 7:24-25).

As much as this (grand)mama bear would like to protect her offspring and shelter them from all harm, I know that my faith has grown most through the times when I came to the end of myself and clung to God for help. I can say with Elisabeth Elliott, “The deepest things that I have learned in my own life have come from the deepest suffering. And out of the deepest waters and the hottest fires have come the deepest things that I know about God.”[1]

I would not wish a stunted faith for my children and grandchildren. Therefore, I will entrust them to the One who loves them perfectly and eternally, knowing that He will work every hurt and heartache for good (Rom. 8:28). I will watch and pray and continue to grow right along with them.

[1] Elisabeth Elliot, Suffering is Never for Nothing (Nashville, B&H Publishing Group, 2019), p. 9

Blessed Ties, Reprise

Dear Readers, I’ve got some exciting news – I’m working on my next book! Since most of my writing time will go toward that project, I’ll be sprucing up some previous posts to keep Back 2 the Garden going. They’ll be new for those of you who’ve found your way to the Garden more recently, and I’m hoping longtime followers will find the updated versions worth reading again. And, as you think of it, I would appreciate your prayers for my writing efforts.

For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
Galatians 3:26

First Impressions

It’s customary to meet the family of your intended before making a lifetime commitment to each other. Ray had ample opportunity to interact with my parents in Delaware, but it took a 1,400-mile trek to South Dakota for me to get to know his kin.

The sixth of seven siblings, Ray was preceded by three sisters and two brothers. His youngest brother, Phil, completed the family. There were also 18 nieces and nephews at the time of my first visit in September 1982. Thus, we spent much of our flight going over relationships, with Ray patiently coaching me on who was married to who and the names and ages of their offspring.

Although I’m an only child, I’m no stranger to large families. My dad was one of ten, my mom one of eight, so I had plenty of aunts and uncles as well as 31 first cousins. Nonetheless, knowing Ray was seeking his family’s input before he asked me to marry him made me somewhat nervous.

I’m not sure what those fun-loving folks from the heartland thought of this serious, suburbanite introvert, but they welcomed me warmly. Furthermore, I must have garnered enough support since Ray proposed three months later, and a substantial Midwest contingent attended our wedding the following year. Ray and I exchanged vows one sweltering August evening as they and other relatives and friends watched. Thus I became “Patsy Kuipers,” an official member of the family.

Building Bonds

Years passed. We added two daughters to the tally of nieces and nephews, and we strived to return to Ray’s hometown every other year, keeping in touch via phone calls and cards in between.

Then came April 19, 1997. Barely 39 years old, Ray succumbed to a fatal heart attack, like his father 34 years before him. I trembled as I dialed my sister-in-law’s number, tasked with placing a call I didn’t want to make. I was relieved when her husband answered, confident he was strong enough to hear the unthinkable news, wise enough to know how to convey it to the unsuspecting kinfolk.

Once again, my Kuipers family made the journey eastward, first to Georgia for Ray’s funeral and then on to North Carolina for his burial. In our shared grief, we cried, laughed, and celebrated the life of the one we’d lost. We reminded each other that death is not the end for those who belong to Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:20-28).

Mary, Jessie, and I resumed our every-other-year visits until cumulative life events kept us away for almost eight years. When we finally returned in 2014, our family unit had increased by three. What a delight to have son-in-law Justin, and grandchildren, Joshua and Lyla, with us for the long-awaited reunion.

Familiar Grounds

The summer of 2017 found Jessie and me back in the heartland. Ray’s hometown, Platte (population ~1,300), is a picturesque farming community. The surrounding land is flat, the roads straight, and the horizon seems to stretch forever. The vista is a swath of differently-hued greens and browns dotted with placid cows and classic red barns. As the crops sway in the ever-present breeze, it’s virtually impossible to keep from mentally humming “America the Beautiful.” 

Inevitably, when I mention I’m going to South Dakota to visit my Kuipers relatives, someone will comment, “How nice that you’ve kept in touch with Ray’s family.” I suppose some would view Ray’s death as having severed those ties. How wrong they would be!

As I traversed miles of open country on my most recent trip, I thought how familiar it all feels, how much I enjoy the traditions that have developed over the years, and treasure the relationships. My brothers and sisters-in-law connect me to Ray, while my children and grandchildren allow them to see glimpses of their brother.

Unbreakable Bond

Although much fun accompanies our visits (I laugh more in a week in Platte than I do in a month at home!), our times together are tinged with sadness for the ones no longer with us. My melancholy lingered after I returned home last time. Maybe it was the visit to South Dakota State, Ray’s alma mater, or watching brother-in-law Dave tenderly clean the grave marker of his beloved wife or standing by brother-in-law Phil’s grave for the first time since we attended his service.

But most likely, it was the photos from one of my early trips to Platte that nudged me over the edge. Ray and I were newlyweds, blissfully unaware of what lay ahead. Grief that usually resides deep within my soul after 25 years without my partner spontaneously surfaced as I gazed at our youthful innocence through tear-filled eyes.

I lost Ray’s care and companionship when his earthly life ended, but I didn’t lose his family, my family. How thankful I am our shared history now spans 40 years. So many memories – times of laughter and tears, rejoicing and sorrow. Yet I am most grateful for the strong heritage of faith that exists in my family-by-marriage. Our shared belief in Jesus as Savior and Lord sustains us. It’s the real tie that binds us. The one that will last through eternity when we are reunited with our loved ones around His throne (John 6:40; John 10:28; Revelation 7:13-17).

I was so honored when the siblings invited me to stand in Ray’s place in this age-order photo taken in July 2014.

Dear Lord, thank You for the blessing of being Your children and the eternal bond we have with You and each other through Jesus, our elder Brother.

“Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.

Before our Father’s throne we pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one, our comforts and our cares.

When we asunder part, it gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again.”[1]


[1] “Blest Be the Tie That Binds,” John Fawcett, lyrics

Eating Apples – encore

I first published “Eating Apples” on October 25, 2015, the 50th anniversary of my beloved grandfather’s death. It remains one of my favorite posts because it’s about one of my favorite people. I’ve made several edits and added some scripture references, but the heart of the story – my grandfather’s legacy of faith and love – remains. Today I’m posting this revision in honor of the 132nd anniversary of his birth.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13

Cherished Memories

I don’t have many distinct memories of my grandfather since I was in first grade when he passed away. However, I cherish the recollections I do have. Details provided by my mom as she spoke lovingly of her father over the years complete my mental portrait of this kind and gentle man.  

Born July 31, 1890, James Alton Phillips was a short fellow, about
5’ 3”, who weighed 125 pounds, give or take a few. No doubt genetics played a part in his slight build, but a lifetime of hard work farming his land undoubtedly contributed to his wiry physique. My mom was the baby of her family, the youngest of eight siblings, and her father’s darling. He called her “Babe” and warmed her clothes by the fire for her before she went off to school on cold mornings.

Occasionally my grandmother, sterner in her demeanor, would delegate the task of disciplining a wayward child to my grandfather. He would take the offending party outside beyond her view and tell the child to cry out while he used the switch on some inanimate object instead of their legs.

As for me, I recall walking hand in hand with him to the small general store, stopping by the post office to check Box 73 for mail, and waiting for the train to come by so we could wave to the conductor and count the cars. But my favorite activity was eating apples with him. “PaPa,” as I called him, would sit me on his lap, produce an apple in one hand and a small knife in the other. He’d cut a slice for me, then a slice for himself. Back and forth the ritual would continue until we finished the tasty fruit. For as long as I can remember, I’ve eaten an apple almost every day. And when I do, I always think of my grandfather.

A Godly Man

“Mr. Jim,” as the people around town knew him, was a man of faith, a deacon in the tiny country church where he worshiped. He embodied the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). When he suffered a heart attack a few months before he died, the doctor told him he had to limit his physical activities. The doctor’s order was like a death sentence for a man who loved his garden and was used to being outside. He’d sit in the kitchen of the home he shared with my grandmother, his wife of 55 years, turn his gaze toward the little church, and comment he’d rather be in the cemetery than just sitting around.

Nearly 57 years ago, on October 25, 1965, God called PaPa Home. He had gone outside to check on some work a neighbor was doing for him, work he would much rather have done himself. In a fitting end to his earthly life, he died in his garden. I can still hear my mother’s anguished cry, “No, not Daddy!,” when she received the phone call telling her of his passing.

Abiding Love

Although our relationship was brief in terms of time, and nearly six decades have passed since we last shared an apple, PaPa’s love impacts me to this day. Years after his death, the large corporation I worked for sent me to a training course, one of many I attended during my career. But that one, a self-awareness workshop, was different. A team of psychologists facilitated it, and it was intense. One of our first exercises involved closing our eyes and imagining a safe place. I immediately envisioned myself in my grandfather’s lap, sharing an apple with him. The physical nourishment we’d partaken of paled when compared to the bonds of unconditional love and acceptance formed during our time together.

Today I’m privileged to be “Grammie” to three precious grandchildren. Sharing snacks, especially apples, is one of my favorite things to do with them. It connects me to them and them to my grandfather, who they’ve come to know by my loving accounts of my short yet precious time with him.

A Promised Reunion

I don’t get to visit the small graveyard where my grandparents and many other maternal relatives are laid to rest as often as I’d like. My husband Ray is resting there, too, near my sister, Mary Jeannette, who died in infancy. Last spring, Mom took her place between them, leaving a space for me.

When I worked, my job frequently took me to that area of North Carolina, and I’d visit the cemetery as often as possible. I would gaze at the tombstones, each representing someone I love and long to see again, pondering how glorious it will be when we all rise to new life, a life that will never end (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). For the love we share now is but a shadow of the Love that awaits when the Everlasting Arms reach out to embrace us and welcome us Home (1 Corinthians 13:4-13).

Until then, I’ll remain thankful for little rituals and rock-solid faith, lovingly shared, that can reach across the decades, blessing one generation after another.

O Lord, how great are the gifts of familial love and a heritage of faith! Please help us to be resolute in telling those coming along behind us about Your great love and faithfulness that they too may know the joy of belonging to Your family.

Of Mountaintops and Valleys

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.
Psalm 23:4

Hindsight

Hindsight provides a perspective we don’t have when we’re living the moment. Such has been the case as I’ve withstood weeks in the valley after reveling on the mountaintop of the My Focus Story experience.[1]

For roughly a month, from the days of filming to the release of the video and the resultant response, it was as if my heart was constantly singing. I praised God for giving me such a remarkable gift, a reminder that He never loses sight of me or any of His children.

Looking back, I realize the gift wasn’t merely for the 25th anniversary of my husband’s passing. No, the Lord knew I would need the bountiful blessings associated with that event to fortify me for what lay ahead.

Losses, Big and Small

Soon after the video debuted, my 91-year-old father announced it was time to sell the house he and Mom shared for the last 24 years of their nearly 70 years of marriage. Though I knew that day would come after Dad moved into assisted living earlier this year, I didn’t push the issue with him, knowing he’d already lost a lot in the past year. A broken hip led to the death of his beloved wife, and a stroke six months after that took away his freedom to drive and live on his own. We sold one of his cars and then the other.

His directive to get the house ready to put on the market came as both a relief and a stressor. Though necessary, it was a task I’d been dreading, one that felt like another step in disassembling my parents’ lives. My adult daughters came over to select items to keep, and friends provided practical help with packing and moving. Still, the daunting responsibility of going through everything fell squarely on my shoulders as an only child.

So I dutifully entered the valley, determined to carry out the process respectfully and in a way that would honor my parents and their life together. Days and nights ran together as I spent countless hours going through boxes and drawers and cabinets. Restful sleep eluded me. It seemed I was constantly sorting through stuff in my mind, whether awake or asleep.

And each day, my first thought upon waking was, “I have to go do it again.”

Sufficient Grace

My single-minded focus meant suspending the usual ebb and flow of my life. Instead of spending the customary two days each week with my grandchildren, I barely saw them. And other than mowing my tiny patch of grass to avoid letters from the HOA, I didn’t work in my garden for over a month. Things that generally counterbalance the stress in my life weren’t available to me, and there were moments when I didn’t think I would make it to the finish line, the date I agreed to turn things over to the company in charge of the estate sale.

But each morning, I countered the anxiety of those “Oh no!” thoughts with the reminder that God’s mercies are new every morning, and He would be faithful to see me through whatever the day brought (Lamentations 3:22-24).

Likewise, Mom’s life verse, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13), came to mind often as I imagined her encouraging me with one of her signature exhortations, “We can’t give up. We’ve got to hold onto our faith and keep going!” And oh, how I preached truth to myself throughout the lonely hours of sorting, reminding myself that God’s grace is sufficient and His power is made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Tears and Treasures

Going through all of Mom and Dad’s things generally delivered expected results, i.e., I found what I expected to find. But sometimes, my efforts yielded priceless treasures that elicited delighted exclamations – the tassel from Mom’s high school graduation cap, a photo of my grandfather in his field with his mules and plow,  the carriage for the baby doll Mom received for her tenth Christmas.

Other times my finds brought me to tears. Such was the case when I discovered my baby sister’s hospital bracelet and a tiny silver spoon from the funeral home that conducted her services barely eight months after she was born. Mom had drawers full of keepsakes from all stages of my life, but so very few from Mary Jeannette’s brief existence. I imagined her grief at losing her baby and across all the years since, as she wondered how her other daughter might have grown up.

Tears and treasures. Valleys and mountaintops. Such is life on this side of heaven. Regardless of what our days hold, we can rest in God’s promise never to leave or forsake us, knowing that He Who proclaims the end from the beginning will see the good work He began in us to completion (Deuteronomy 31:8; Isaiah 46:9-10; Philippians 1:6).

Dear Lord, no matter how bright our mountaintops or how dark our valleys, please help us never to lose sight of the fact that it is You Who goes before us, making a way, providing all we need, and accomplishing Your purposes in, through, and for us.

Post Script: The lyrics to the beloved hymn, Day by Day[2], are especially appropriate for the theme of this post. I hope they’ll give you added encouragement.

Day by day, and with each passing moment,
Strength I find to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.
He, whose heart is kind beyond all measure,
Gives unto each day what He deems best,
Lovingly its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.

Every day the Lord Himself is near me,
With a special mercy for each hour;
All my cares He fain would bear and cheer me,
He whose name is Counsellor and Pow’r.
The protection of His child and treasure
Is a charge that on Himself He laid;
“As thy days, thy strength shall be in measure,”
This the pledge to me He made.

Help me then, in every tribulation,
So to trust Thy promises, O Lord,
That I lose not faith’s sweet consolation,
Offered me within Thy holy Word.
Help me, Lord, when toil and trouble meeting,
E’er to take, as from a father’s hand,
One by one, the days, the moments fleeting,
Till with Christ the Lord I stand.


[1] Please see “Twenty-five Years” in Archives, April 2022 for a full recounting of the experience.

[2] Lyrics by Carolina Sandell Berg; translated by Andrew L. Skoog.

The Aroma of Christ

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Ephesians 5:1-2

A Familiar Fragrance

I’ve begun the difficult task of going through my parents’ things in preparation to sell their house, the site of countless dinners, family gatherings, and celebrations over the past 25 years. Myriad emotions accompany my almost-daily visits, which I continued after Dad moved into assisted living so I could keep an eye on things. Some days I can complete my rounds and remain detached, while others find me in tears before I even exit my car.

I walked the property several days ago to ensure nothing was amiss outside. As I rounded the back corner of the house, a familiar fragrance wafted toward me. I stopped and turned toward the gardenia bush, so full of flowers that its branches bent beneath the load.

Memories of Mom and past summer evenings came flooding back. Many nights during gardenia season, I would arrive for dinner and be greeted with Mom’s cheerful, “Look what I got for us, Babe!”[1]

She would point toward a glass or vase holding multiple stems of the sweet-smelling flowers – some for her to keep and some for me to take home.

The Perfume of Selflessness

As the season waned and the blossoms became less plentiful, Mom always wanted to make sure I had some for my house, even if it meant only a sprig or two for her. Humble and with a servant’s heart, Mom exemplified Philippians 2 as she considered others’ needs before her own, even in things as small as sharing flowers.

Mom’s generosity included food of all kinds. She not only made dinner for me most nights, but she also encouraged me to take leftovers home or pick something from the fruits and vegetables she purchased in the summertime. She always wanted me to have the juiciest peach or the ripest tomato. I can hear her saying, “Not that one! It’s got a bad spot.” Or, “That’s not enough! Here, take another one.”

It became a joke between us, and I finally stopped trying to choose for myself. I’d laugh, hand Mom the bag, and say, “Why don’t you go ahead and pick for me?”

Remembering those exchanges, representative of Mom’s sweet spirit, makes me smile.

A Pleasing Aroma

One of our former pastors used to tell us, “When you see ‘therefore,’ you need to ask ‘What’s the therefore there for?”

In the case of the introductory verses above, “therefore” links the directive that follows to Paul’s description in the previous chapter regarding our status as new creatures in Christ (Ephesians 4:21-24). Paul gets specific with the requisite put-offs and put-ons associated with our old and new natures, respectively (Ephesians 4:25-32). He then delivers summary instructions: because of our new life in Christ, we’re to be imitators of God, to walk in love, and to live so our lives will be an aroma pleasing to Him, just as Jesus’ sacrificial life was.

As our pastor has taught through this portion of Ephesians, he’s repeatedly encouraged us to be conduits of God’s love and grace. Sadly, as we live between the now and not yet (eternally saved, yet still in the flesh), we sometimes slip into the extremes of self-righteousness or self-condemnation instead.

I know there are times when my scent is more off-putting than welcoming, more sweaty than sweet. But, praise God for the power of His Spirit at work in His children, transforming us more and more into the image of Christ and enabling us to spread His pleasing aroma.

A Lingering Fragrance

I cut a dozen stems off the gardenia and brought them home. I placed some in a vase upstairs and the rest in a container on my kitchen counter. Soon the lovely fragrance was drifting through my house, reminding me of Mom. The essence of her beautiful life lived for Christ remains in the lives and memories of those she touched with His love, just as the fragrance of the gardenia blossoms lingers in my home.  

May it be the same with ours.

Dear Lord, thank You for the sacrificial love of Jesus and the power of Your Spirit at work within us. Please help us embrace, embody, and express the love and grace You’ve shown us so that we might spread a fragrant aroma that is pleasing to You and attractive to others.


[1] Babe was my grandfather’s pet name for Mom, the youngest of his eight children. She frequently used it with me and my daughters.

Choosing Sides

“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Joshua 24:14-15

Co-conspirators

Several years ago, I was seated at my daughter’s kitchen table. 5-year-old Lyla had barely finished saying the blessing over our PBJs and Goldfish when 8-year-old Joshua started whispering to 3-year-old Emma. I caught enough of his words to figure out the gist of what he was saying.

“Are you plotting against Lyla?” I asked.

“Hey! You’re not supposed to be listening!”

“It’s kind of hard not to overhear. I know I’m getting old, but my ears still work!”

Joshua scowled while Emma flashed an innocent “who me?” expression my way.

Usually, my grandchildren play well together. Everyone has a role in their imaginative scenarios, from setting up a petting zoo to running a bakery to fighting pretend foes. But sometimes, two will team up against the third, with Emma often being the one left out. No wonder she reveled at the turn of events.

Their behavior reminds me of my own childhood. I had several playmates on the street where I grew up. We’d go through cycles of acceptance and shunning, declaring life-long allegiance one day and then descending into angry silence over some perceived slight the next.

And don’t get me started on the agonies of middle school. Long before online bullying reared its ugly head, slam books were the epitome of teen-girl meanness.

Only Two Sides

Sometimes when two grandchildren are excluding the third, I ask them if they think their unkind behavior is pleasing God. One or both will cast their eyes downward and reply, “No, Grammie.”

“And if you’re not pleasing Him, who are you pleasing?”

I usually provide the answer, though they’ve become more astute regarding sin and evil and loving God (and parents) by being obedient (John 14:15).

Just like being a life-giver or life-taker are opposite sides of the same coin, pleasing God or pleasing Satan is like a spiritual toggle switch.[1] Satan is the father of lies, who came to steal, kill, and destroy (John 8:44). Masquerading as an angel of light, he is the purveyor of darkness and deceit. God is Light. In Him, there is no darkness (1 John 1:5). He only speaks the truth, and He is abounding in steadfast love.

God told Joshua the people would have to choose who they’d follow and whether or not they’d obey. Joshua boldly stated, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” The people immediately pledged the same, but they couldn’t keep their vow, and neither can we.

Foreign Gods

You may read the introductory passage above and think, “I don’t worship idols.” I agree that it would be unlikely to find an altar with little carved images in the home of a professing Christian. However, when we consider an idol as anything that takes God’s rightful place in our hearts, we must admit our hearts are fickle, constantly putting other things above Him in our affections.

Even good things, like family and friends, can usurp God’s place. Sadly, I find Self and my desires and preferences seated on the throne of my heart far more frequently than I like to admit.

Unity in Christ

I wish I could say we outgrow our tendency to elevate ourselves by diminishing others by the time we reach adulthood. Instead, we often revert to an us-vs-them mentality when disagreements arise, forming coalitions and choosing sides. We seek the approval of men, longing to be included and accepted. In our striving to be right, we can become self-righteous, forgetting that we would stand condemned apart from God’s saving grace.

But this type of behavior among God’s children doesn’t bring Him glory.

On the night Judas betrayed Him, Jesus prayed for all His disciples, those with Him then and those who would believe based on their words. That includes us! And what did He pray? That we would know the love and unity enjoyed by the Trinity (John 17:20-26).

Even now, Jesus is seated at the right hand of God, interceding for us (Romans 8:34)!

Choosing Wisely

Praise God that not only does Jesus pray for us but also that the Holy Spirit indwells us with the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, giving us a new will to obey and enabling us to do so (Ephesians 1:19-20; Philippians 2:13).

Thus, when we’re tempted to take sides or give in to our own desires or think, “Surely this small trespass won’t count,” we need to remember there are only two sides – darkness and Light. As children of God, Scripture calls us to walk in the light as He is in the light (Ephesians 5:8-9). We’re to let our light so shine before a watching world that they, too, will want to join us in the Light of His love.

Dear Lord, how blessed we are to be called Your children. Thank You for bringing us out of darkness into Your marvelous light. Please help us to remember there are only two sides in the spiritual battle. May we choose to walk in the light, enabled by the Spirit, out of love and gratitude for all You’ve done for us.


[1] Please see the tab, “Give Life,” for more on life-giving and life-taking behaviors.

My Forever Cheerleaders

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
Hebrews 12:1

Watching the Clock

For weeks after my 39-year-old husband Ray died suddenly of a heart attack at work, I dreaded Saturdays. I replayed the events of the fateful day when Ray passed away, becoming progressively tenser as 6 pm, the time of the heart attack, approached. I imagined what he went through, how his associates tried to help him until the EMTs arrived, and the wailing of the ambulance’s siren as they rushed him to the hospital. All the while, my young daughters and I were shopping, ignorant of the fact our lives had changed forever.

When Mom passed away last year, no such replays plagued me on subsequent Fridays. Though images of her tiny bruise-covered body and pain-racked countenance haunted me for several weeks, her peaceful passing surrounded by those closest to her was more of a comfort to me. Whereas Ray’s sudden death sent me into a state of shock, I’d begun to grieve Mom’s decline months before her death, and knowing she was pain-free and in the presence of Jesus was a relief, even though I missed her terribly.

Thus, when April 30th, the first anniversary of Mom’s Homegoing, arrived, I was caught off-guard by the flood of memories that accompanied it, memories as clear as if the events had happened last week, not last year. As soon as I woke up, the heaviness hit, and the tears soon followed. The morning progressed,  and I found myself watching the clock, tension building as the time of Mom’s final breath approached.

Last year’s sequence of events played out in my mind: I called her hospice nurse, who informed me Mom had rested well and was still dozing. The same nurse called an hour later, telling me Mom had taken a turn and we needed to come. Texts to my children and prayer warriors, a call to Dad. The tense drive. The hushed room where we gathered around our beloved to sing, pray, and whisper our goodbyes.

And then she was gone. Or was she?

A Great Cloud of Witnesses

Twenty-five years ago, when I met with my pastor to plan Ray’s funeral, I asked, “Do you think Ray can see us? Not to see how sad we are, but how much we love him.”

His answer, paraphrased after all these years, went something like, “Scripture isn’t clear regarding how much our loved ones see, but God is sovereign over all and can allow them to know things if He chooses.”

I’ve held onto his answer and have even prayed for God to allow Ray to know about certain events if it’s His will to do so: my daughters’ graduations, my return to school to study horticulture, the births of my grandchildren, and sometimes a simple, “Please tell Ray I love him, Lord.”

Ray loved me so well for the years he was with me that I still feel his love. And so it is with Mom’s. I know I’ll carry her love with me for the rest of my life.[1]

In addition, there are times when I feel them very close to me. Such was the case in the days after I finished filming the video for Focus on the Family.[2] I longed to share the experience with Mom and Ray, the wonder, the excitement, and the misgivings. I dreamt about Ray two nights in a row, dreams that were like sweet visits, as I told him about the video. We were both so happy. And then, when the self-doubts set in – being filmed introduces a whole new level of vulnerability not associated with written words – I could sense Mom’s affirmations, her wholehearted support of my efforts, her joy.

I described these incidents to a dear friend and asked if she ever has similar instances with her departed husband. She smiled, nodded, and said, “Yes. Sometimes the veil is thin.”

Indeed it is. My two most ardent supporters haven’t left me. They’re part of the great cloud of witnesses surrounding me (Hebrews 12:1).

Glorious Reunion

Though there are many things we don’t know about heaven and our loved ones’ current state, there are others Scripture is quite clear about:

  • Believers who are absent from the body are present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8).
  • Jesus is preparing a place for us and will return to take us Home (John 14:2-3).
  • Our bodies will be raised imperishable (1 Corinthians 15:53-55).
  • We will dwell in His presence forever (Revelation 21:1-3).
  • There will be no more tears, death, mourning, or pain (Revelation 21:4).

As the clock continues to count down to Jesus’ return, let us comfort each other with the words of the Apostle Paul:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

Dear Lord, as we recall all You did for us and await Your return, it is comforting to know that our departed loved ones are resting in Your presence. How sweet are the moments when You allow us to feel their nearness, and how dear the promise that we will one day be reunited in the new Jerusalem to live with You forever. Thank You for Your infinite, eternal love that unites us to You and each other.


[1] Please see “Legacy of Love,” Archives, July 31, 2020.

[2] Please see “Twenty-five Years,” April 19, 2022.

Hide and Seek, Reprise

 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
1 John 4:18-20

Let’s Hide!

One of the earliest and most endearing games we play with babies involves disappearing behind our hands only to reappear moments later, smiling and exclaiming, “peek-a-boo!” We repeat the sequence of movements multiple times, rewarded by baby’s surprised chuckles.

Before long, infants turn into mobile toddlers, able to participate in the hiding aspect of the game. Hide-and-seek became my grandchildren’s oft-requested favorite, complete with random-number counting and much laughter while scurrying to find the perfect hiding spot. Shrieks were just as likely to accompany finding as being found.

Sometimes the hiding wasn’t all that effective. For instance, even though a blanket would cover most of a tiny body, a foot might remain visible. Or, try as I might, I couldn’t fully wedge myself between the wall and the recliner when the little people were hunting me.

And then there were times when I wandered around, pretend-seeking the hidden one, musing, “Hmm, I wonder where (insert grandchild’s name) is?” The confident, she-can’t-find-me laughter that followed allowed me to zero in like a honey bee to its hive. More laughter, then, “Let’s hide again, Grammie!”

Child’s Play?

The first recorded episode of hide-and-seek was no child’s game. It was unplanned, and it certainly wasn’t accompanied by laughter unless it was the nervous kind borne of embarrassment. Genesis 3 recounts the story of the Fall. Satan, disguised as a serpent, engaged Eve in a doubt-God’s-goodness conversation – surely it wasn’t proper for God to withhold something as delightful as the forbidden fruit? Sadly, it didn’t take much to convince Eve of her right to partake. She ate and then shared the bounty with Adam (verses 1-6).

Oh, their eyes were opened, just like Satan promised. But instead of reveling in their newfound enlightenment, they were overcome with shame as they realized they were naked (verse 7a). Knowing God would soon arrive for His daily garden stroll, they hastily covered themselves with leafy loincloths and hid (verses 7b-8).

Guilt or Shame?

We’ve been hiding from God and each other ever since, haven’t we? Afraid if people knew our shortcomings and the secret sins that plague us, they’d turn away.

Guilt is a helpful, God-given poke to our conscience, convicting us of specific wrongdoing, leading us to confess, repent, seek forgiveness, and be restored to fellowship with God and others. By contrast, shame condemns, whispering some variation of, “You’re bad, and you always will be,” to our weary souls. Despite our best efforts, we just can’t rid ourselves of that sense of not measuring up, the vague feeling of not fitting in or meeting expectations.

So we cover up and keep our distance, as we strive to maintain an acceptable facade at all times, even, or maybe especially, at church where it seems like everyone else has it all together. We hide in our respective caves, safe but so alone.

Come out, come out, wherever you are!

Even though we usually don’t want to be found out, we do want to be found.

Praise God for coming to the garden in the cool of that fateful day, like He always had before. He sought His wayward children, even though He already knew of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, the extreme pain it would cause their offspring, and the price He Himself would pay to redeem them (John 3:16). He came bearing a perfect plan and the promise of better garments. The seed of the woman would one day crush the head of the serpent so all of God’s children could be robed in the righteousness of His beloved Son (Genesis 3:15).

Jesus, the Good Shepherd who came to seek the lost (Luke 19:10). The unblemished Lamb, slain for us (John 1:29). The Risen Savior who bids us come that we might find rest for our souls (Matthew 11:29). He knows the very worst about us, but calls us from darkness into light (Isaiah 9:2, John 1:5), to be cleansed by His precious blood that He might present us spotless before God (Ephesians 5:25-27).

Jesus is the safest of safe places for the children of God (John 3:17; Romans 8:1).

Becoming a Safe Place

Scripture is clear that we are to be conformed to the likeness of our elder brother (Romans 8:29), transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). So how can we become safe places for fellow, flawed sojourners, afraid to come out of their caves? Scripture instructs us to:

  • Practice humility, considering others’ needs, hurts, and heartaches before our own (Philippians 2:3-4). Each one of us is dealing with things known only to God (Psalm 139:1-3, 23-24).
  • Judge not, remembering all we’ve been forgiven (Matthew 7:1-5; Luke 6:37-38). Though our sins may differ from those of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we’re all sinners saved by grace (Isaiah 53:6; Romans 3:23).
  • Be willing to become vulnerable, stewarding our own stories well as we share examples of God’s goodness, faithfulness, even discipline, across the years we’ve walked with Him (Psalm 78).

May we live in such a way that it’s safer, indeed more desirable, for those tempted to hide to come out of their caves, into the light of the One who will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick (Isaiah 42:3).

Dear Lord, as Your chosen people, holy and dearly loved, please help us clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with and forgiving each other as You’ve forgiven us. And, by the power of Your Spirit, help us put on love, which binds all these virtues together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:12-14)