Another Anniversary

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

Life-changing Moments

There have been a number of life-changing events in my six decades of living. Some were happily anticipated, like my wedding day and the days my daughters and grandchildren were born. Others caught me by surprise and not in a pleasant way.

Two events in the latter category cleaved my life into before and after segments so that what followed wasn’t just a new chapter but a whole new volume in my life story. Each year when the anniversaries of those events come around, I intentionally look back at what’s happened since, remembering all God has done.

My reflections remind me that His ways are not my ways (Isaiah 55:8-9) and that He is able to do far more than I ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

Telling and Retelling the Story

Sometimes I wonder if I should keep discussing these events or writing about them. Maybe others are tired of the repetition. Then I remember Elisabeth Elliot talking about how many times she told the story of losing her husband, Jim, and four friends in the jungles of Ecuador. Yet that was the story entrusted to her, and she faithfully told and retold it, always wrapped in a message of God’s sovereignty and providential care.

Author and friend Sharon Betters refers to such stories as our credentials, i.e., the very things that allow us to speak credibly into the lives of others because of God’s faithfulness to us in hard times. Scripture itself instructs us to comfort others with the same comfort we’ve received from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

Twelve Years

The anniversary of one of the life-cleaving events occurred several days ago. January 26 marked 12 years since my 30-year career came to an inauspicious conclusion in a windowless conference room. My manager filed in with her manager in tow. Not a good sign. My heart rate increased as she calmly pronounced the death sentence on my career.

“I know you’re expecting to have your annual review, but you won’t be having it because your job has been eliminated.”

Thus ended the saga that had begun the previous year when she became my manager. In the intervening weeks, she systematically removed most of my responsibilities, excluded me from meetings, and barred me from customer visits. Things became so stressful I wondered if God wanted me to stay or leave. I asked friends to pray for clear direction and wisdom to know what to do.

As the day of my review approached, I became increasingly convinced I’d be fired or put on probation. Even so, hearing my manager’s words stunned me. My first thought? “This is real.” My second? “Thank You, Lord, for giving me a definite answer.”

A Fateful End

The HR Director came in as my manager and her boss departed. She described the severance package and legal details surrounding the abrupt end of my job. She also instructed me to turn in my badge, company credit card, and computer and leave without saying goodbye to anyone.

I followed her directions, each step feeling surreal. I exited the building, entered the misty chill of the gray winter afternoon, and walked to my parking spot one last time.

The following morning, I awoke to brilliant sunshine streaming in my window. Though I still couldn’t fully grasp my new status – unemployed after working over 30 years for the same company – I clung to my belief in God’s goodness and His sovereignty. I posted on Facebook, “30+ years of continuous employment came to a halt yesterday when my job was eliminated. God obviously has something else for me to do. I can’t wait to see what it is!”

A New Beginning

Even so, I couldn’t imagine the gift God had planned for me. Two days after I was let go, I contacted the local technical college and began the process of returning to school to study horticulture. Six months later, my first grandchild, Joshua, was born. Eighteen months after that, he and his mother (my daughter Mary) and great-grandmother (my mom) were at my graduation. They watched me realize my dream of receiving an Environmental Horticulture diploma.

In the years since graduation day, my granddaughters were born. I’ve had the joy of spending time with them and Joshua on a regular basis since their earliest days, something I wouldn’t have been able to do if I’d been working full-time.

The intervening years have held some hard times too. Mom’s health declined as she progressed through her 80s, and then she passed away several months shy of her 90th birthday. Six months after her passing, Dad experienced a stroke.

Being happily retired[1] has allowed me the flexibility to help my family members, both young and old, pursue my passion for horticulture, become involved in women’s ministry at my church, and develop my writing skills. Though some may have meant evil against me, God surely meant the job elimination for good (Genesis 50:20).

Telling of His Glorious Deeds

We’re in good company when we retell our stories. The Israelites repeatedly told the story of God’s deliverance. In fact, God commanded them to tell the story to future generations so they would know the glorious deeds of the Lord (Psalm 78).

And what story did they tell? The story of God’s rescue, how He brought them out of slavery in Egypt by sending plagues,  sparing the firstborn sons of families whose houses had lambs’ blood on the door frames, and drowning Pharoah’s army in the Red Sea after the Israelites passed over on dry ground. He gave His chosen people laws to live by and provided for them as they wandered the desert for 40 years. Disobedience brought about consequences, yet throughout the Israelites’ history, God faithfully preserved a people for Himself, even grafting pagans and Gentiles into His family.

Our Common Story

No matter the details of our individual stories, believers share the story of God’s rescue. We weren’t enslaved to a human task master but, dead in our trespasses, we were enslaved by sin, in desperate need of a Savior (Ephesians 2:1-3). God sent His Son, the spotless Lamb, whose blood made it possible for God’s wrath to pass over us as it did the night He rescued His people from Egypt. Unlike the Passover lambs and subsequent sacrifices performed year after year, Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient for all time (1 Peter 1:18-19).  

So, dear readers, let’s continue to tell our unique stories of God’s goodness and faithfulness as we seek to encourage others in similar circumstances. But even more, may we recognize that our little stories are part of God’s great big story of redemption and point others to the hope we have in Jesus, the One in whom all God’s promises are yes and amen (2 Corinthians 1:20).

Dear Lord, thank You for loving us so much that You sent Your beloved Son to save us from our sins and make us alive in Him. Our lives have meaning because You chose us to be your treasured possession. May we honor You by giving You the glory in all of our stories.


[1] One day after I graduated, I was at my Mary and son-in-law Justin’s house. I commented, “I guess I’m unemployed.” Justin quickly replied, “No! You’re happily retired!” I’ve gone with that ever since. 😊

A Light to My Path

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
Psalm 119:105

Annual Tradition

For as long as I can remember, I’ve set aside time in early January to reflect on the previous year’s events. I bet you won’t be surprised to learn I’ve recorded those reflections in numerous journal entries that now span decades.

Last week when I sat down to capture some thoughts about 2022, I found my mind turning not to the past twelve months but to January 2020 and all that’s happened since those pre-pandemic days. None of us could have imagined the changes Covid-19 would bring with it, which occurred so quickly that life as we knew it came to an abrupt halt and hasn’t returned.

But there were personal cataclysms too, as Mom passed away and Dad had a stroke and moved into assisted living, culminating in the sale of the home they’d shared for nearly 25 years, the site of frequent family gatherings. Then there was the upheaval that befell my grandson, sending shock waves through our close-knit clan.[1]

So much loss. So many changes.

But God

As my mind replayed scenes from the past three years, I thought about how thankful I was not to have known what awaited me as I stood at the beginning of 2020. Taken altogether, the events may have caused me to despair. Instead, viewing them with 20/20 hindsight confirmed what years of intentional reflections have taught me – God’s grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9), and His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). Just like the manna that appeared each day in the wilderness, God provided what I needed to face each challenge as it came.

Indeed, for every hardship I recorded, it was equally evident how God had faithfully prepared the way before me. I added those recollections to my burgeoning catalog of examples of God’s goodness, the one I refer to when I need to be reminded that He’s never forsaken me, and He never will (Deuteronomy 31:8).

One Step at a Time                 

Perhaps like me, you’ll read a passage of Scripture, one you’ve read numerous times in the past, only to have it speak to you in a new way. Such was the case last year when I was preparing a women’s Bible study lesson on God’s Word. Psalm 119:105 (see above) is a familiar verse. In fact, when it dances through my mind, it’s usually accompanied by the music of Amy Grant’s tune, Thy Word.[2]

Yet, I had an ah-ha moment while working on the lesson. It occurred to me that footlights don’t illuminate a large area. Think about the emergency lights on airplanes that lead you to exits if the cabin lights go out or the lights installed near the floor in theaters that yield just enough light for you to navigate the stairs when the house lights are dimmed.

That’s the way God’s Word is. It doesn’t lay out every step on our journey, but it gives us the light we need to take the next step, trusting in the Light, knowing that He not only knows every twist and turn in our path but also has intentionally and lovingly prepared the way for us.

Take Note

I recently began reading Seasons of Sorrow. In the prologue, author Tim Challies wrote, “I have often said that I don’t know what I think or what I believe until I write about it. Writing is how I reflect, how I meditate, how I chart life’s every journey.”[3] His statement resonates with me. I’ve journaled since I was a teen, and many of my entries follow the trajectory of the Psalms of lament, beginning with a troubling scenario, winding through anxious thoughts, then settling on all I know to be true about God and His care.

I’m not naïve enough to think everyone processes life that way. I know some of you may loathe writing, but I want to encourage you to at least jot down examples of how you see the Lord working in your life this year, maybe in a gratitude journal or simply on a calendar. As time passes, it’s relatively easy to recall momentous events where we’ve seen God at work, but not as easy to remember the small ones.

Yet it’s in those daily details that we see how intimate and personal our relationship with our Father truly is. For the One who set the stars in place and causes the sun to rise and set, who appointed the seasons and the boundaries for the mighty oceans, also knows each of His children by name and oversees their coming and going (Psalm 139:1-6).

Eternal Light

As we stand at the beginning of this new year, it’s natural to wonder what it holds, to make plans, and maybe even pen a resolution or two. Like years past, it will undoubtedly encompass a mix of joys and sorrows. Some will catch us by surprise, while we eagerly anticipate others.

Even though we can’t see very far down the road, and we may face many changes, we belong to the One who never changes, who’s promised never to leave or forsake us. We can count on Him to go before us as He has in the past, leading us ever closer to Home, where there will be no need of lamplight or sunlight, for the Lord Himself will be our everlasting light (Revelation 22:5).

Dear Lord, thank You for the gift of Your Word, full of guidance and promises. Through it, we see that You are a good Father, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Please help us not to run ahead into the darkness but to recall all You’ve done for us in the past, knowing You will be faithful to accomplish Your purposes for us and complete the good work You’ve begun.


[1] Please see “A Grandmother’s Heart,” in Archives, October 2022.

[2] “Thy Word,” released 1990. Lyrics by Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith.

[3] Tim Challies, Seasons of Sorrow, the pain of loss and the comfort of God (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), xiv

Buying and Selling Real Estate, a Tutorial on God’s Faithfulness

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

Note: The following post is based on one I wrote several years ago to encourage friends who were in various stages of buying and selling houses. Now I’m faced with getting the home Mom and Dad shared for 24 years ready to put on the market. Consequently, I need to revisit my words to remind me of God’s faithfulness and sovereignty, not only in matters involving real estate but also over every detail of my life. Though the post focuses on property transactions, I pray the over-arching message of God going before us will resonate with many of you.

Starter Home

As I open up my mental portfolio containing instances of God’s providence, the “Real Estate Transactions” file stands out because it encompasses events that still give me goosebumps of the most positive kind when I recall the specifics 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, 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.

Expanding Family

But when I became pregnant with our 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 carried price tags well 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 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 thoroughly considering our options, Ray and I decided their house was indeed 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 so a few days after Jessie’s birth and made an offer. Thus we secured buyers without ever putting up a for-sale sign.

Another Move, Another Contract

The single-family house on Dewalt Road was to be our long-term, raise-the-kids residence. However, my employer decided to move my entire workgroup 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.) God graciously provided a young family, much like our own, who could no doubt imagine their 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.

God Goes Before Us

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 and had been considering several location options for their retirement years. What a blessing when they chose to move to Georgia to help me with the logistics and challenges associated with being a single mother.

Mom and Dad had an offer on their house within a few days of putting it on the market. Then, when 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.”

Recounting God’s Goodness

I realize your real estate history may differ 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, recording instances of His provision, and sharing them to encourage yourself and fellow believers when times get tough (Psalm 63:1-8).

Recording and remembering will give us ammunition to combat the lies Satan whispers to our anxious hearts in the wee hours: “Just look what God has 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).

O Lord, please help us to be ever-faithful to recall and recount Your goodness and faithfulness in all circumstances. When our hearts are troubled, they will find rest in remembering all You’ve done and all You’ve promised to do.

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.

Celebrate the Light

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:5

Traditions

I’m a Christmas baby, born on December 19th. Mom and Dad brought me home on Christmas Eve, and Dad hung a bootie up as my first stocking. Despite my birthday falling within a week of Christmas, Mom made sure I had a birthday celebration each year, complete with cake and presents. Some years we invited friends over for a party, while other times, Dad took us out to dinner at a nice restaurant. And each year, my gifts included a pretty dress from Mom.

Christmas traditions were equally dear and included shopping, preparing dozens of goodie boxes to share with friends, decorating, and attending Christmas cantatas and worship services.

As the years passed, I married and started a family, so we tweaked and added to our traditions. We joked that our holiday season begins with daughter Mary’s late-October birthday and continues into November with Mom’s birthday and Thanksgiving.  Granddaughter Lyla’s birthday is the day after mine, then Christmas. We finally wrap up our celebrations on New Year’s Day. Different foods and festivities accompany each occasion, as do plenty of reminiscences and lots of photo-taking.

Just Skip It

Several weeks ago, I began to contemplate this year’s holiday season. Unlike most years when joyful anticipation colors my feelings, I thought, “I wish I could fast-forward past the holidays.”

You see, for the first time in my life, Mom won’t be with me to celebrate. Granted, we curtailed our goodie-making some years ago, and Mom’s ability to fully participate in shopping, wrapping, and sending out Christmas cards had declined the last few years. However, her smile still shone brightly, and her joy at being together was infectious.

Pondering Mom’s absence on my birthday and Christmas morning weighed heavy on my heart.

Not Celebrate?!

Those dismal thoughts didn’t have a chance to put down roots, though. Almost as quickly as they came, another took their place, “What do you mean, not celebrate?! How would that honor her memory, much less the One whose birth we’re celebrating?”

Last week’s sermon[1] further dispelled the notion of merely going through the motions this December. After acknowledging that not everyone experiences hope and joy during the holidays, Pastor Donovan reminded us of the following:

  • Biblical hope isn’t maybe-things-will-work-out wishful thinking, but the confident expectation that God will act according to His purpose, plan, and promises.
  • Advent is a season of celebrating God choosing to come near, to save us. (What a gift!) We must:
    • Gratefully acknowledge and receive the gift. Don’t take it for granted or think, “I’ve heard the Christmas story so many times.” Never stop marveling at the fact the Word became flesh and dwelt among us!
    • Actively cultivate hope by remembering God’s past faithfulness to look forward with assurance. God is worthy of our joy, expectation, and trust. He will fulfill all His promises.
    • Communicate that hope to the hopeless. Celebrate what is and what’s coming. Don’t complain about what (or who) no longer is.
    • We’re to be agents of hope by sharing and celebrating the Light of the World.

Grief Veteran

Shortly after Mom passed away, a friend described me as a grief veteran. It was her way of encouraging me, of acknowledging the path wouldn’t be easy, but it would be passable. Having been widowed at age 38, knowing what it’s like to miss a loved one across over two decades of holidays yet find joy in celebrating and remembering, I knew she was right.

This Dietrich Bonhoeffer quote is one of my favorites regarding grief:

Nothing can make up for the absence of someone we love . . . it is nonsense to say that God fills the gap; God doesn’t fill it, but on the contrary, God keeps it empty and so helps us keep alive our former communion with each other, even at the cost of pain . . . the dearer and richer the memories, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude changes the pangs of memory into tranquil joy. The beauties of the past are borne, not as a thorn in the flesh, but as a precious gift in themselves.”

Each year when I set up the Dickens Village my late husband Ray started for me or purchase poinsettias in memory of the last Christmas he worked at Home Depot, tears of sorrow and joy mingle together. Sorrow that he’s no longer here to help me set up the village or see how much it’s grown, but such joy and gratitude for the love and years we shared. As Bonhoeffer observed, the memories are a precious gift in themselves.

It is the same with Mom. I cherish all the years we had to laugh, love, and celebrate in so many ways. Though she’s no longer physically present, I know she’ll always be with me.

Pass it On

I’m blessed to have three grandchildren to create and share traditions with. But I’m most excited to share the true meaning of Christmas as we celebrate the Light that came into the world. All the love and joy bound up in our celebrations is a reflection of God’s great love and an outpouring of thanksgiving for the blessings we have in Christ. Because He came as a tiny baby, lived a sinless life, and died on our behalf, death doesn’t have the final say. The circle of love is unbroken. And one day, we’ll be reunited around His throne to praise His name together forever.

Heavenly Father, thank You for sending Your Son, the Light of the World, to bring everlasting hope to this dark world. Regardless of the source of darkness – sin, grief, illness, loss – we have the confidence that the darkness will never overcome the Light. Please help us not to hide our light under a basket, but place it on a pedestal for all to see, ever ready to share the reason for our hope.


[1] “Advent: Having Hope and God With Us in This World,” Pastor David Donovan, Grace Covenant Church, November 27, 2021.

Annual Reflections

Dear Readers,

Yesterday was the 7th anniversary of my foray into the world of blogging. After plenty of contemplation and a dash of trepidation, I launched Back 2 the Garden on July 1, 2014 with “Consider it Pure Joy.” Some six years later, that article became the basis of the prologue for my first book, Be Still, Quiet Moments With God in My Garden.[1]

Yes, after five years of talking and dreaming about compiling some of my posts into a devotional book, I finally got down to the hard work of doing so. Even though I had plenty of material to work from, I’d initially written the posts as stand-alone pieces, and it took countless hours to craft them into a single volume.  However, it was so worth the effort! Not that I’ve garnered fame and fortune by publishing Be Still, but that wasn’t the point anyway.

The rewards were priceless, not measurable in terms of sales – the joy of fulfilling the dream, the pride my grandchildren felt when they gave “Grammie’s book” to their teachers for Christmas, and the excitement shared by friends and family when the book went on sale. Best of all, I finished Be Still in time for Mom to read it. As I wrote in the dedication, she was my life-long cheerleader and prayer warrior. She couldn’t have been happier or prouder when I gave her her copy of Be Still. Mom’s passing on April 30th left a gaping hole in my life, yet I know the petitions she raised on my behalf over the years are in effect, and her words of praise and encouragement will always be with me.

This is my 193rd post. My goal in writing remains the same as it was in the summer of 2014 – to recount God’s great love and faithfulness and motivate others to look for evidence of His care that is all around us.  We can trust Him, even amidst the most challenging circumstances.

Thank you, readers, for joining me on this journey. Some of you have been with me from the beginning, while others are more recent followers. I’ll keep writing as long as the Lord enables me to do so. And I’ll continue to pray that my words will be encouraging and hope-filled, always pointing to the One Who is able to do far more than all we ask or imagine and Who loved us so much He sent His Son to die for us.

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace (Numbers 6:24-26).


[1] https://www.amazon.com/Be-Still-Quiet-Moments-Garden/dp/1735373338/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=patsy+kuipers&qid=1625255136&sr=8-1

Ten Years

The Backstory

January 26, 2021, marked the tenth anniversary of the end of my 30-year career. My last day wasn’t preceded by a countdown of crossed-out calendar days, nor was it observed with a celebratory send-off. No, my long tenure sputtered to a conclusion when my department eliminated my job and, according to my boss, there was no other work for me.

Our HR manager filled me in on benefits and legal details before requesting I leave as unobtrusively as possible after turning in my computer, building pass, and company credit card. I didn’t get to say goodbye to anyone except the sympathetic IT associate who took possession of those items. Though all aspects of being terminated were tough, being deprived of the opportunity to bid farewell to longtime customers and colleagues broke my heart.

If you’re unfamiliar with the rest of this story, you may be thinking I was consumed by bitterness over the demise of my position. But longtime readers know that though some may have meant the events of that day for evil, God surely meant them for good. So much so, that this is one of the mega-milestones I intentionally ponder each year, recounting how God works all things together for good, even the most painful ones. [1]

Praying, Weeping, and Rejoicing

My work life began to derail when I was assigned to a new manager who restructured our roles. Bereft of most of my previous responsibilities, I went from days full of meaningful work to wondering how I would make it to lunch, much less fill eight hours. I became angry and confused.

But knowing God is sovereign over every detail, I began to pray. Was the Lord allowing the challenges to mount up so I’d resign, or was it to build character, an opportunity to be a life-giver despite my circumstances (Romans 5:3-4)?

I confided in several friends, asking them to join me in praying I would know what to do and that my actions and attitudes would be pleasing to God. As the day of my performance review drew near, I felt sure my employment status was about to change. The Lord graciously prepared me to hear the definitive answer to those prayers for direction.  My first thought, “This is real!” was quickly followed by, “Thank you, Lord, for such a clear answer.”

As news of my departure made the rounds, friends, colleagues, and customers expressed both condolences and congratulations. They were weeping with me over the abrupt end to my career and rejoicing with me over future possibilities (Romans 12:15). Many have continued to pray, weep, and rejoice with me as my post-corporate life evolved, making the journey that much sweeter.

Daily Bread

In the waning months of my corporate life, I ran and re-ran financial scenarios, wondering if I had enough in savings to retire. Should I try to work for a few more months? Years? Would I be able to pay my bills? What if a medical emergency came up?

Though I gleaned no precise answers to my questions, the Lord reminded me of His sufficiency. He has determined the number of my days (Psalm 139:16) and knows what I need before I ask (Matthew 6:8). By the time I lost my job, I’d been a widow for over 13 years. I had seen God’s faithfulness in providing for my daughters and me, personal proof of Jesus’ declaration that if God provides for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, He’ll most certainly provide for His children (Matthew 6:25-33).

I thankfully rejoice in His provision and trust His promise to carry me the rest of my earthly life (Isaiah 46:4).

Immeasurably More

The day after I lost my job, I posted this status on Facebook:

“30+ years of continuous employment came to a halt yesterday when my job was eliminated. God obviously has something else for me to do. I can’t wait to see what it is!”

img_0495Even so, I couldn’t have imagined all God had in store for me. Two days after losing my job, I began the process of enrolling in the horticulture program at a local community college. Six months later, Joshua, my first grandchild, was born. Not only was he my study buddy, but, accompanied by my mom and my daughter Mary, he also attended my graduation ceremony the following year when I realized my dream of acquiring an Environmental Horticulture diploma.

105Granddaughters, Lyla and Emma, joined our family. I’m blessed to spend two days a week with them and big-brother Joshua. Earning my diploma and becoming a grandmother are bountiful blessings, but God has woven so much more into the past ten years. I volunteer at a local botanical garden, serve on our Women’s Ministry Committee, and am available to help my aging parents. I started this blog and published my first book.

I joyfully testify to God’s ability to do far more than all we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

Spiritual Amnesia

Even though the Lord’s mercies are new every morning and those of us who’ve walked with Him across many years have a treasure trove of examples of His faithfulness, when faced with adversity, we can sometimes forget His goodness. Thus God tells us to be intentional about remembering, calling to mind all we know about His character and recounting all He’s done for us, so spiritual amnesia doesn’t set in (Deuteronomy 4:9).

Someone on a podcast I listen to declared, “God’s never forsaken me, and today won’t be the first day He does.” I’ve since adopted her statement and remind myself when concerns begin to poke holes in the edges of my peace. If that doesn’t quiet my anxious thoughts, though, I hit play on the highlight reel of God’s goodness across ten years of “early retirement,” 23 years of widowhood, and a lifetime of Fatherly care (Psalm 9:1-2; Psalm 143:5).

How about you? Which scenes would you put on your Jesus-loves-me highlight reel?

Dear Lord, my heart swells with gratitude for all the ways You care for us. From friends who prayerfully and compassionately share our journey to daily provisions and over-and-above blessings, You pour out grace upon grace. Please help us to remember and rejoice.

[1] Please see “Purposeful Pondering” in Archives January 2019.

The countdown

Each year as the anniversary of my husband Ray’s death approaches, I intentionally, day-by-day, review the details of our last week together. It’s my way of honoring his memory, of thanking God for the blessing of a godly husband and reminding myself not to take anything for granted, especially time with our loved ones.

I began my annual tradition yesterday. It included an impromptu stop at The Home Depot Woodstock (GA) where Ray worked as head of the indoor gardening department. Though I make frequent visits to The Home Depot closest to my house, I couldn’t remember the last time I was at that particular store, but I was in the area and paying a visit seemed a fitting part of my remembering. On April 13, 1997, I was driving back from Charlotte, NC with my elementary-aged daughters, Mary and Jessie. We’d spent the week of spring break with my parents. Ray was working his usual 1pm to 10pm Sunday shift. I called to let him know we made it home safely and again later to report on Tiger Woods’ first-of-several Masters wins, that one at the age of 21 and by a margin of 12 strokes, a record that still stands.

Funny how all those details coalesced in such a way that retrieving one allows me to retrieve them all.

The store was busy, as it no doubt was on Ray’s last Sunday there. I entered through the outdoor gardening section, and made my way to the space between it and the main store – Ray’s domain, indoor gardening. My breathing deepened and tears welled as I stepped through the door. I immediately sensed Ray’s presence as I gazed at the beautifully arrayed houseplants. My mind conjured up the now-gone potting desk, along with visions of previous visits over two decades ago when Ray walked me around his department enthusiastically pointing out changes he’d made. I could almost hear his laughter, feel his kindness as he patiently waited on customers and answered their questions. It was a worthwhile stop, a meaningful beginning to this year’s reminiscences.

Our final week was oh-so-normal, with the girls back to school and Ray and I working at our respective jobs. Then came Saturday evening. Ray’s sudden death shattered normal as we knew it and stole our dreams for the future.

Just as I deliberately call to mind the events of my last week with Ray, I purposefully remember Jesus’ last week – the triumphal entry on what we now celebrate as Palm Sunday; His final Passover celebration with His disciples, washing their feet and instituting the Lord’s Supper; the fervent pleas in the Garden of Gethsemane; Judas’ betrayal; the mock trials, the scourging; the agony of the cross; His final words. Unlike me and my family, who proceeded through our week blissfully unaware of what lay ahead, Jesus knew exactly what He would endure, yet He set His face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51).

Jesus tried to tell His disciples, but they couldn’t grasp the enormity of it all. They were still hoping for a more immediate kingdom and shared power (Matthew 20:20-21), so when the guards took Him away, they scattered, afraid for their own lives (Mark 14:50). Even Peter, self-avowed-loyal-to-the-end Peter, denied his Lord (Luke 22:54-62). And when Jesus died? Their hopes and plans died too (Luke 24:21a). Or so they thought.

But then Sunday came, with the best news EVER, news that restored hope, news that changed everything FOREVER: He is Risen! (Matthew 28:6; Mark 16:6; Luke24:5-6)

Two men. Both demonstrated unconditional love, One in the most ultimate sense. Every so often the commemorative countdowns to the anniversaries of their deaths overlap, at least partially, as they do this year. And when they do, it softens the blow of one loss by magnifying the sacrificial benefits of the other. Because Jesus died and rose again, death doesn’t have the final say (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).

IMG_0972Dear readers, as we enter Holy Week, I encourage you to read through the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ last week on earth. Meditate on His final teachings. Contemplate the single-mindedness of His actions on our behalf. Ponder His supplications in the High Priestly Prayer (John 17). And let us never forget what it cost Him to redeem us.

Purposeful Pondering

There are a number of days and seasons throughout the year when I intentionally open my figurative chest of memories, select the appropriate box and carefully remove the lid so I can inspect the contents. Sometimes the momentous events which trigger my reflections were joyfully anticipated, like the births of my daughters and grandchildren. But others, like the sudden death of my husband, came without warning and brought deep sorrow and bewilderment. Irrespective of the emotions associated with the initial event, I choose to remember. Because time offers perspective. And anniversaries provide opportunities to reflect on God’s goodness.

Eight years ago today, I awoke to my first day of unemployment in over three decades. Although not completely unexpected, the news the day before that I was no longer needed because my job was being eliminated left me numb and disoriented. I recognized those feelings, milder versions of the shock I felt after my husband’s unexpected death.

Unlike the previous afternoon when the slate sky matched the tenor of the windowless conference room where I received my termination notice, the morning was drenched in brilliant sunlight. In spite of my surreal circumstances, I held onto hope every bit as bright as the sunshine streaming through my windows. In fact, I posted the following status on Facebook:

“30+ years of continuous employment came to a halt yesterday when my job was eliminated. God obviously has something else for me to do. I can’t wait to see what it is!”

Even though I was uncertain how being unemployed would affect my life, I rested in the certainty that my life was exactly where it had been before I lost my job – secure in the hands of the One who declares the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:9-10), who has a plan for good and not harm (Jeremiah 29:11). The previous day’s events did not surprise Him or catch Him off-guard.

I reminded myself of another windowless room where I and my elementary-aged daughters were told the unthinkable – that our beloved husband and father had succumbed to a fatal heart attack – and I recalled God’s provision across the 13 ½-intervening years. He’d graciously allowed me to work as long as my daughters depended on me for support. Single parent, sole provider, but underneath were the everlasting arms (Deuteronomy 33:27) of the One who’s promised to never leave us or forsake us. (Deuteronomy 31:8)

img_0495Even so, I couldn’t have imagined all God had in store for me. A mere two days after losing my job, I contacted the admissions office at the local community college to inquire about enrolling in their horticulture program. Six months later, my first grandchild was born. Joshua was my study buddy, as I strolled him around the neighborhood while practicing my new-found plant identification skills. He, along with my mom and daughter Mary were present at my graduation ceremony the following year. Yes, 18 months after losing my job, I fulfilled my dream of acquiring an Environmental Horticulture diploma. God is truly able to do far more than all we ask or think. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Two more grandchildren, Lyla and Emma, have joined our family. I’m blessed to spend a couple of days a week with them and big-brother Joshua. I volunteer at a local botanical garden. I started this blog. I’m available to help my aging parents. I’m a member of our Women’s Ministry Committee. Engaging in these activities would be impossible if I was still working in my cubicle, making carpet samples and visiting customers. For a time, that was my work, but now God has other work for me to do. (Ephesians 2:10) And I am grateful for both seasons of my life.

I don’t know what you may be going through, dear reader. Maybe your life is relatively free of difficulties, but we know troubles of various kinds will come. Jesus said as much. However, He also told us not to fear because He would be with us to the end. (John 16:33; Matthew 28:20b) So let us call to mind the good He’s already done for us, in full assurance that His compassions never fail. They are new every morning. And may we be diligent in telling our children and their children of His great faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-24)

When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’” Then Joshua called the twelve men from the people of Israel, whom he had appointed, a man from each tribe. And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.” (Joshua 4:1-7)

 

Eating apples (reprise)

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. 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.

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’s spoken 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 in at 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 surely contributed to his wiry physique. 029My 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, a bit more stern 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 his pocket knife in the other. He’d cut a slice for me, then a slice for himself. Back and forth the ritual would continue until the tasty fruit had been consumed. 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.

IMG_6759“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, 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. For a man who loved his garden and was used to being outside, it was like a death sentence. 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.

Fifty-three years ago today, on October 25, 1965, he was called Home. He had gone outside to check on some work being done 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.

Although our relationship was brief in terms of time, 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 this one, a self-awareness workshop, was different. It was facilitated by a team of psychologists 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 by comparison to the bonds of unconditional love and acceptance that were formed.

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.

It’s been much too long since I last visited the small graveyard where my grandparents and a number of other maternal relatives are laid to rest. My husband is resting there too, alongside my sister who died in infancy. But when I worked, my job frequently took me to that area of North Carolina and I’d visit the cemetery as often as I could. As I gazed at the tombstones, each representing someone I love and miss, I’d think about 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.

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)