The lie

I’m no longer surprised when a sense of melancholy descends on my soul each April. As dependable as the spring flowers, it ushers in a time of purposeful remembrance. I intentionally recollect details of Ray’s final days and those immediately following his much-too-soon-for-me passing. I honor his memory and allow myself to mourn the loss.

But sometimes sorrow associated with lesser losses catches me off-guard. Such was the case recently. After feeling out-of-sorts for a day or two for no pin-pointable reason other than being relegated to inside activities while my hand continued its post-op recovery, I was enlightened by a Facebook memory. In the original post I quoted Sir Walter Scott: “O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” And then I knew – it was the anniversary of a lie. Though not the first or last in the series, it was the most blatant and dealt a blow so severe that a valued friendship would eventually unravel completely.

Forgiveness is commanded.[1] Even so, reconciliation isn’t always possible or advisable, much less guaranteed. And so, realizing the source of my sadness, I grieved what might have been had truth-telling held more sway.

As with most parents, I endeavored to instill in my daughters the importance of honesty. (A task I’m now repeating with my grandchildren.) Nonetheless, lying is part of testing the boundaries for many children. This is especially true when imagined consequences associated with a truthful answer are deemed too much to bear. One of my most gratifying mom-moments came when daughter Mary told her younger sister Jessie, “Don’t lie to Mom. You don’t want to lose her trust.” To go from me accepting everything at face value to questioning and verifying was a fate Mary wanted to save her sibling from, having experienced the increased scrutiny firsthand.

IMG_3359Indeed, trust is a precious commodity and the foundation of any successful relationship, be it business or personal. Once broken it requires much time and faithfulness to repair, restore, rebuild, if it ever happens at all.

The very first lie, the one that changed everything, occurred early in the scriptural recounting of human history. God had graciously given Adam and Eve the fruit from all the trees in the garden for food with one exception: “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”[2] Then along came Satan, the father of lies.[3] After engaging Eve in a doubt-producing conversation regarding what God commanded, he brazenly contradicted the Almighty: “You will not certainly die. For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Eve ate. Adam ate. Their eyes were opened. They were ashamed and they hid.[4]

And still we try to hide from God and each other.

God could have left them to fend for themselves in their pitiful leafy garments, but He knew all along his creatures were dust.[5] In his infinite and eternal love, He’d already planned a way back.[6] A way to repair, restore and rebuild our relationship with Him for all time. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”[7]

As long as we’re in the world, we’ll struggle with sin and temptation.[8] Sometimes we’ll embellish the details, tell a half-truth or flat-out lie. But by the power of the Spirit, we’re being conformed more and more to the image of the Son[9] and He who began a good work in us will see it through to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.[10] On that glorious day there will be no more hiding for we will be welcomed into his presence clothed in radiant robes of righteousness.[11]

[1] Matthew 6:14-15; Colossians 3:13

[2] Genesis 2:17

[3] John 8:44

[4] Genesis 3:1-10

[5] Psalm 103:14

[6] Genesis 3:15

[7] John 1:14

[8] Romans 7:14-25

[9] Romans 8:29

[10] Philippians 1:6

[11] Revelation 7:9-17

Rest

The weather in metro-Hotlanta isn’t supposed to be this nice on the last day of July. Don’t get me wrong, a break from the seemingly-incessant heat and humidity of the past couple of months is a welcome relief. But it’s certainly not helping my post-surgery frame of mind. Even though an operation to relieve carpal tunnel and trigger thumb wasn’t optional, a steroid injection in May gave me some flexibility in scheduling. Thus I chose July 25th, the heart of summertime. I reasoned the customarily-oppressive weather conditions would soften the blow of not playing in the dirt while I focused on recovering in time for the fall gardening season.

Yet here I am, a mere six days after being anesthetized, cut on and sutured, clamoring toIMG_3952 be outside pulling weeds and swinging my mattock on this glorious afternoon. Although a passing glance at the back of my hand belies last week’s trauma, a quick flip of the wrist reveals a palm more befitting the Bride of Frankenstein. Black stitches protrude from my bruised, slightly swollen flesh like tiny whiskers, while the surgical road map sketched out by my doctor, though fading, is still visible.

I reach instinctively. My hand quickly reminds me it’s not ready to lift or grip or even hug. And so I rest.

In spite of my whining, I am thankful to be on this side of the surgery, thankful to have awakened from the anesthesia[1], thankful to be home. The windows are open for the first time in weeks, allowing me to savor the breeze. From my vantage point at the kitchen table, I’m entertained by numerous birds of varying kinds – daughter Jessie refers to them as my twitter following – as they flit from feeder to deck to branch, some with hungry fledglings in tow. As I sit and reflect, my body is hard at work healing, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.[2]

Making time to rest is challenging for wired-to-work me. I’m a list-making, check-it-off, don’t-slow-down sort. Yes, I’m like Martha by nature, but am called to become more like Mary. Commended by Jesus for having chosen the better part, she sat at his feet and drank in his teaching instead of bustling about with her sister.[3]

Be still and know that I am God.[4]

Taste and see that the Lord is good.[5]

“This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to Him!”[6]

God ordained rest. He who needed no rest, set us an example from the very beginning, when everything was still “good”.[7] Then, at the appointed time, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.[8] Fully God, yet fully man, Jesus knew hunger and thirst and fatigue. He, too, set us an example, affirming man does not live by bread alone[9]; promising living water[10]; taking time to be alone with His Father.[11]

When I had carpal tunnel surgery on my right hand two years ago, Mom told me multiple times a day, “Don’t hurt your hand!” My reply, “I’ll take care of my hand, otherwise I’ll only be hurting myself.” This now-humorous litany is repeating itself. Being a doer herself and having undergone several surgeries, Mom knows how difficult it is to endure forced rest.

Lord willing, I’ll be off the disabled list soon, back to the garden in time to accomplish my fall-season objectives.[12] But when my health is restored, may I remember rest is not optional, especially when it comes to my spiritual well-being. If I don’t take time to seek His face[13], to listen for His still, small voice[14], I’ll only be hurting myself.

The One who lived a sinless life on our behalf that we might live with Him forever[15] bids, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”[16]

Rest for our souls . . . the very best rest of all.

 

[1] I do NOT like to be put to sleep and my first thought upon regaining consciousness is usually something along the lines of, “Thanks, Lord, I’m still here!”

[2] Psalm 139:14

[3] For the full recounting of the sisters’ story, see Luke 10:38-42

[4] Psalm 46:10

[5] Psalm 34:8

[6] Mark 9:7

[7] Genesis 2:2-3

[8] John 1:14

[9] Matthew 4:4

[10] John 4:1-26 records the story of Jesus’ exchange with the Samaritan woman by the well.

[11] Luke 5:16

[12] James 4:13-15

[13] Psalm 27:8; Psalm 105:4

[14] 1 Kings 19:10-13 tells of Elijah’s encounter with the LORD.

[15] Romans 5:1-11

[16] Matthew 11:28-30

Blessed ties

It’s customary to meet the family of your intended prior to 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. Youngest brother, Phil, completed the family. In addition, there were 18 nieces and nephews at the time of my first visit in September 1982, hence much of our flight was spent going over relationships. Ray patiently coached me on who was married to who as well as names and ages of their offspring.

Although I’m an only child, I’m no stranger to big 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. IMG_3900I’m not sure what those fun-loving folks from the heartland thought of this serious, urbane 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.

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. And then came April 19, 1997. 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: Barely 39 years old, Ray had succumbed to a fatal heart attack, like his father 34 years before him.

Once again my Kuipers family made the journey eastward, first to Georgia for Ray’s funeral, then onward to North Carolina for his burial. In our shared grief, we cried, we laughed, we 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]

Mary, Jessie and I resumed our every-other-year visits until cumulative life events kept 7-7-2014, Justin and Joshuaus 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.

Last week 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”.

7-7-2014, Family by the family signInevitably, 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 this 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.

Although much levity accompanies our visits (I laugh more in a week in Platte than I do in a month at home!), our visits are tinged with sadness for the ones no longer with us. My melancholy has lingered this 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 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 normally resides deep within my soul after 20 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 will soon span 35 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[2] when we are reunited with our loved ones around His throne.[3]

IMG_3720“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.”[4]

[1] 1 Corinthians 15:20-28

[2] John 6:40; John 10:28

[3] Revelation 7

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

Putting down roots

The morning of June 29, 1992 found me seated in a conference room at a law office. Ray, next to me at the large, polished-to-a-shine table, remained his usual calm self. But the cumulative stress leading up to that moment overflowed as tears streamed from my eyes. No, we weren’t on the brink of divorce . . . it was time to settle on our house in Georgia.

Ray and I spent our first few months of marriage in a two-bedroom apartment, long enough to know we’d prefer to put the rent money toward a mortgage instead. The image of Ray sitting at his drawing board/desk, pencil in hand calculating and re-calculating budget scenarios makes me smile as I recall his diligence. After one such number-crunching session, he announced, “It will be tight, but I think we can do it.” Our options were limited by our rather meager finances, but we purchased a brand new townhouse, attached to one other unit which housed another young couple.

It was a perfect first home, plenty-roomy inside with a small yard for Ray to display his landscaping skills. When daughter Mary came along a couple of years later, the open floorplan allowed her to explore under our watchful eyes. However, when I became pregnant with our second daughter, Jessie, we decided to look for a larger, single-family home where we could put down roots and raise our family. What a nightmare! Houses in our preferred area were out of our price range, while those within our financial boundaries were far-removed from our desired location. Add the heat and humidity of a Delaware summer and the hormonal fluctuations of pregnancy – not a pretty picture.

Then one Sunday afternoon, Ray went to the showing of a 20-year-old house a few blocks from our townhouse. Hot, tired and generally miserable, I stayed home. Upon his return, Ray declared, “You need to see it! I think this could be the one.” And so it was. We moved into our “raise- the-kids” house the day before Thanksgiving 1989.

IMG_3645When you buy an older home, you expect to replace some things, both decorative and functional. Our first order of business: removing the shiny, 1960’s-era wallpaper in the kitchen – the glare was distracting! Eventually, we progressed to more substantial changes. We replaced the roof and added vinyl siding and double-paned, tilt-in-to-clean windows. These latter upgrades came only after several discussions with my management regarding a potential transfer to Georgia. The possibility of such a move had been bandied about by our business leaders off and on for months since it would put us closer to our carpet-industry customers. Assured we would be staying in Delaware, we proceeded with the renovations . . .

A little over a year after the last window was hung, the last shingle hammered into place, there we were in that law-office conference room to make settlement on our second-attempt, raise-the-kids house a thousand miles away from the first one. Yes, God does have a sense of humor, or, as one old saying puts it: “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” Scripture makes it clear his plans are the ones that prevail.[1]

IMG_3646Before the legal proceedings and endless paper-signing began, someone ventured to inquire about my emotional state: “Are you ok?” I wailed in reply, “My belongings are on a moving van somewhere between here and Delaware; my daughters are in Charlotte with my parents; my brand new carpet has Georgia-clay footprints all over it. No! I’m not alright!!” I felt uprooted, the pieces of my life scattered.

But I wasn’t. And they weren’t. My roots were deeply and firmly planted in the One who held each piece and every detail in his firm grasp.[2]

So much has transpired over the past quarter-century. My Georgia home was indeed our raise-the-kids house, but I did much of the raising on my own after Ray’s death not quite five years after the move. Sometimes I wonder what our lives would have been like had we stayed in Delaware, even if Ray might still be alive. Yet I know all his days were written in God’s book before even one came to be.[3] And I think of relationships and experiences woven into my life because God’s good plan[4] brought us to Georgia – friendships formed, lives touched, losses endured – as He’s worked all things together for good.[5]

Even after all the years of living in the South, my accent is indiscernible, prompting people to ask where I’m from. My well-practiced reply?: “I was born in North Carolina, grew up in Delaware and moved to Georgia in ’92, but I consider North Carolina to be home since several generations of my family have lived there.” Yes, that’s an accurate recounting of where I’ve put down roots during my earthly sojourn. But I know my forever-Home awaits, where Jesus is preparing a place for me.[6]

Until then, I will remain securely rooted in the One who sustains me,[7] for in Him all God’s promises are “Yes” and “Amen”.[8]

 

[1] Proverbs 16:9, James 4:13-15

[2] Colossians 2:7, John 10:27-29

[3] Psalm 139:16b

[4] Jeremiah 29:11-13

[5] Romans 8:28

[6] John 14:1-3

[7] Jeremiah 17:7-8

[8] 2 Corinthians 1:20-22

The new dress, take 3

Who would have thought you could get so much spiritual mileage out of a gift card? Yet here I am with one final, albeit shorter, meditation based on my daughter-funded dress- shopping experience.

As recounted in the first installment of this trilogy, I had a specific image in mind – cut and fabric – when I set off for the mall in search of a new frock for the Rose Garden Gala. After perusing the selection at several retail establishments and finding nothing resembling the hoped-for design, I reluctantly accepted I’d have to compromise. I tried on multiple dresses, comparing each to my imagined ideal. I eventually selected one for the Gala and was quite content wearing it to the event, even though it wasn’t exactly what I’d envisioned buying.

I’m thankful no compromise is necessary when it comes to my image in Christ. As discussed in “take 2”, when God looks at me, He sees the righteousness of his perfect Son even though I continue to struggle with sin and temptation and will until I’m called Home.[1] Through the work of the Spirit, I’m being transformed,[2] conformed more and more to the likeness of Christ.[3]

And so it is for all who believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord. We have the assurance that He who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion until the day of his return[4] when we gather around the throne. There, clothed in our spotless garments, we will praise and worship him forever.[5]

In closing, I offer one of my favorite passages from The Valley of Vision:

“I have no robe to bring to cover my sins,
no loom to weave my own righteousness;
I am always standing clothed in filthy garments,
and by grace am always receiving change of raiment,
for thou dost always justify the ungodly;

I am always going into the far country,
and always returning home as a prodigal,
always saying, Father, forgive me,
and thou art always bringing forth the best robe.

Every morning let me wear it,
every evening return in it,
go out to the day’s work in it,
be married in it,
be wound in death in it,
stand before the great white throne in it,
enter heaven in it shining as the sun.

Grant me never to lose sight of
the exceeding sinfulness of sin,
the exceeding righteousness of salvation,
the exceeding glory of Christ,
the exceeding beauty of holiness,
the exceeding wonder of grace.”[6]

[1] See Romans 7:14-24 for Paul’s description of wrestling with sin.

[2] Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18

[3] Romans 8:29

[4] Philippians 1:6

[5] Revelation 3:4-5; Revelation 7:9-19; Revelation 22:14

[6] Bennett, Arthur,The Valley of Vision, A collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, Edinburgh, 1975, The Banner of Truth Trust.

The new dress, take 2

I remember the moment even if I can’t recall the exact date . . . the moment when I realized I truly wasn’t good enough.

A number of childhood experiences – an inconsistent relationship with my dad; often being described as “smart”, but rarely “pretty”; enduring a pudgy pre-adolescence during which classmates called me names – planted seeds of doubt deep inside. I was unaware of their presence. Focusing instead on navigating my teen and college years, I attempted to fit in and find acceptance. But by the time I reached young adulthood, the vines had grown into tangled masses, their tendrils wrapped tightly around my heart. I kept people at arm’s length, even those in my inner circle, fearful that if they really knew me they’d reject me.

I was married, a young mother of two precious daughters, when the Master Gardener said, “Enough!” As is often the case, the Lord chose a surprising method to begin my reclamation: a secular self-awareness workshop my then-manager encouraged me to take, paid for by my employer. The psychologist-led sessions were intense. Through the various exercises and discussions I came to recognize the subconscious message underlying my beliefs. In spite of my academic and career accomplishments, my loving family and a group of caring friends, I felt I wasn’t good enough to be loved or accepted.

Just as the restoration of an overgrown garden requires time and tenderness, there were many weeds of doubt to be removed before the seeds of understanding and truth could thrive. I turned to a counselor and pastor for assistance. The weeks passed and progress was made. The moment alluded to above, a bona fide epiphany, occurred as I was driving home from a counseling session. The reality flooded my being: “In myself, I’m not good enough, but in Christ I’m perfect!”

I’d been baptized and professed my faith some 17 years earlier. I trusted Christ alone for my salvation[1] and, with the Spirit’s help, tried to walk in a manner worthy of my calling.[2]  Nonetheless, the gloriously-freeing realization that God sees Jesus’ perfection when He looks at me became heart-not-head knowledge that day and continues to serve as a reliable rebuttal when the old misgivings resurface.

Like seeds that remain dormant until the right conditions are present, concerns regarding my unworthiness reemerge from time to time. I expect they will as long as I’m in the flesh. Like Paul’s thorn, those consternations draw me closer to God, making me ever-dependent on his strength and assurances.[3]

Because of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice I am:

  • A child of the King. (John 1:12-13; Romans 8:16; 1 John 3:1)
  • A co-heir with Christ. (Romans 8:17)
  • Robed in his righteousness, without spot or blemish. (Colossians 1:22)
  • Forgiven. (Psalm 103:11-14; Isaiah 1:18; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:13-14)
  • Welcomed into my Father’s presence. (Hebrews 4:14-16)
  • Watched over. (Psalm 33:18; Psalm 34:15)
  • Provided for. (Matthew 6:25-34)
  • Promised an eternal dwelling place. (John 14:1-3)
  • Strengthened by the Spirit. (Romans 8:11; Ephesians 3:16; Philippians 2:13)
  • Irrevocably loved and accepted. (10:27-29)

By now you may be wondering about the title of this post, but I promise there’s a connection to my last one. As noted therein, my generous daughters gave me a gift card so I could buy an outfit for the Rose Garden Gala. Getting dressed up for a special occasion is an infrequent treat. I felt a bit like a princess as I left my house . . . then, unexpectedly, a joyful thought manifested itself: I am a princess, a beloved daughter of the King! What a contrast to my thought patterns before I attended that workshop and subsequently entered counseling 25 years ago. It’s been a long, sometimes arduous, but most-decidedly-fruitful journey since. The faithful Gardener continues to prune and till, removing pesky vines and noxious weeds before they gain purchase in the soil of my soul. The seeds of truth now flourish and his tender ministrations remind me who I am.

My prayer, fellow believers, is the same as Paul’s desire for the Ephesians: “may (we) have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that (we) may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”[4] For once we have even a glimpse of Jesus’ sacrificial, unconditional, eternal love for us our perspective is forever changed.

We may not look like much in the world’s eyes, but in our Father’s eyes, we’re perfect.

[1] John 14:6

[2] Colossians 1:9-10

[3] 2 Corinthians 12:7b-10

[4] Ephesians 3:14-19

The new dress

I hadn’t bought a dress in over six years! After all, I have a number of barely-worn frocks in my closet, leftovers from my former life in the corporate arena. Clothing acquisitions since my involuntary-but-oh-so-fulfilling retirement have been more casual and often suitable for gardening – think work boots, fishing shirts[1], wide-brimmed hats. Nonetheless, my thoughtful daughters provided motivation for me to deviate from my post-career-apparel shopping habits. The incentive came in the form of a gift card expressly intended for the purchase of a new dress for the Rose Garden Gala, the major fund raising event for the botanical garden where I volunteer.

Not only was I touched by Mary and Jessie’s kindness, I was genuinely excited about acquiring a new outfit. Armed with the gift card and a specific mental image of the preferred silhouette and fabric, I set off for the mall. Those who know me best are well-aware of the fact shopping doesn’t top my list of favorite pastimes. Aimlessly wandering through retail establishments is not my idea of entertainment. (Notable exception: strolling around plant nurseries!)

By the time I spent almost three hours trying on dresses I was frustrated and hungry. I’d also re-confirmed why I consider the phrase “shopping for fun” to be an oxymoron. However, I finally made it to Starbucks for refreshment triumphantly carrying not one, but three dresses, including the item I wore to the Gala. The night of the event found me buoyed by my perky new outfit as well as my daughters’ generosity.

Scripture doesn’t condemn dressing up, looking nice, applying make-up, but there are numerous passages that address inner and outer beauty from God’s perspective. For example:

  • Peter’s first epistle reminds us our beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. “Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”[2]
  • When Samuel was trying to discern who God had chosen to be Israel’s king, the Lord instructed him, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”[3]
  • Jesus decried the duplicity of the Jewish leaders exclaiming, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.”[4]
  • Jesus emphasized the importance of our inner condition yet again when he stated, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.”[5]
  • The phrase “good treasure” brings to mind Jesus’ teaching to store up our treasure in heaven where, unlike material treasure, it is safe for eternity.[6]

Even if a glance in the mirror didn’t confirm the veracity of Proverbs’ declaration that “beauty is fleeting”[7], 5-year-old Joshua’s occasional, “You’re really old, Grammie!” reminds me of the inevitability of the effects of aging. Compared to the smooth skin and lineless faces of his little sisters, my visage, etched with almost six decades of smiles, grimaces and furrowed brows must seem truly ancient to him. I was comforted by a passage in a book I’m currently reading. The author referred to the radiance promised those who look to the Lord, instead of dwelling on circumstances.[8] She went on to describe an “aunt who was still radiant in her nineties. If wrinkles can glow, hers did. Aunt Hazel had a way of making everyone feel like a special object of love.”[9]

IMG_3444 (2)I immediately thought of my own dear mother. Time has taken a toll on her physically, but her eyes are bright, her smile warm and inviting. Mom has always had an exceptional affinity for children.  The attraction is mutual and she’s forged a special friendship with 4-year-old Addie at church, as well as with a 7-year-old neighbor. But she befriends young and old alike with her kindness and encouragement. Mom speaks from the overflow of good treasure in her heart and I can only imagine how full her heavenly storehouse is as she’s laid up imperishable riches for years.

Beauty is fleeting, but as Proverbs goes on to say, “a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.”[10] May we be women who live in reverent obedience to the Lord, cultivating an inner beauty that never fades away.

(Although written primarily for my female readers, I hope any men who read all the way to the end were able to glean a helpful spiritual nugget or two!)

[1] I could do a commercial for Columbia’s PFG shirts for women! SPF protection, light-weight, quick-dry fabric – not just for fishing, great for gardening too!

[2] 1 Peter 3:3-4

[3] 1 Samuel 16:7

[4] Matthew 3:27

[5] Matthew 34b-35, ESV

[6] Matthew 6:19-21

[7] Proverbs 31:30a

[8] Psalm 34:5

[9] Sara Ann Dubose, “Be Anxious for Nothing”, pg. 62, Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL, 2001, rev. 2015

[10] Proverbs 31:30b, note: “fear” in this case refers to reverence for and obedience to God, not “terror”.

Passalongs

Sharing plants is one of the many joys of being a gardener. The tradition is especially strong in the South. In fact, some varieties known as passalong plants aren’t readily available for purchase. Instead they’ve survived for decades by being passed along from one generation of horticulture enthusiasts to the next.

Although I don’t have anything particularly difficult to come by in my garden, I’m blessed to have numerous plants given to me by fellow plant lovers: hosta from an aunt who had the greenest of thumbs; a hydrangea grown from a cutting of a friend’s father’s plant; multiple trilliums dotting the woods, offspring of a lone rescue plant; mayapples, spurred violets, several varieties of ferns. The list would be quite extensive if I catalogued each leafy gift. And then there are all the treasured items Ray planted that continue to flourish some 20 years after his passing.

Tending these perennials and woodies, anticipating their return each year and watching them grow gives me a great deal of pleasure, pleasure which is multiplied by remembering the people and circumstances which led to them being in my garden. I also think of plants I’ve shared now growing in friends’ gardens and I smile.

As much as I relish exchanging plants, I recognize I’ve been entrusted with something much more precious to pass along: my faith. Although trusting God and acknowledging Jesus as Savior and Lord are gifts only God can give[1], He commissions us to tell others about his great love.[2] Our first responsibility is to our families. We’re advised to teach our children his commandments as we go about our daily lives[3] and to bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.[4] But our mandate to reach others with the Good News doesn’t end there. We are to be light, living in such a way that we glorify our Father[5], always prepared to give an answer to those who wonder where our hope comes from. [6]

In fact, when we consistently live out our faith, God can use even the smallest details to reach others. I’m reminded of this when I recall a long-ago conversation with a business associate. I casually remarked I was glad our meeting had ended earlier than planned so I could make it to Bible study that evening. Several weeks later she asked if she could talk to me about my beliefs, having been encouraged to do so by my offhanded comment regarding Bible study.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul mentions different roles we might assume in others’ spiritual journeys. We may be called to sow seeds, to water,[7] to weed . . .

. . . Ok, I added the part about weeding, but I think its importance can be inferred from Jesus’ parable of the sower since the seeds that sprouted among the thorns were soon overcome by their weedy cohorts. Similarly, faith may be smothered by the worries of this life and become unfruitful [8], but I digress . . .

. . . In spite of the great privilege we have to labor in God’s fields, doing our part to ensure a plentiful harvest, Paul goes on to make it clear that God alone is the One who brings about growth.[9] Likewise, Jesus referred to himself as the true vine, his Father as the Gardener, and we, his followers, as the branches. As long as we abide in him we will produce much fruit, but apart from him we can do nothing.[10]

I cherish the passalong plants in my garden and the friends who gave them to me. Even more, I treasure those who’ve planted, watered and weeded my spiritual garden and the blessing of doing the same in the lives of my fellow sojourners. May we hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, considering how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds[11] as we make our way most assuredly back to the Garden, for He who promised is faithful.

[1] Ephesians 2:8-9

[2] Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15

[3] Deuteronomy 6:4-9

[4] Ephesians 6:4

[5] Matthew 5:

[6] 1 Peter 3:15-16

[7] 1 Corinthians 3:5-6a

[8] Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23; Mark 4:1-9, 14-20; Luke 8:4-8, 11-15

[9] 1 Corinthians 3:6b-7

[10] John 15:5

[11] Hebrews 10:23-24

‘Tis so sweet

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because God has never forsaken us![4]

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

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

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

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

 

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

[2] Ibid

[3] 2 Corinthians 5:1-9

[4] Deuteronomy 31:6

[5] Psalm 68:5

[6] 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

[7] 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

[8] Isaiah 61:3a

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

[10] Isaiah 61:3b

He didn’t have to do it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

[4] Genesis 1:1-31

[5] Genesis 3:1-7

[6] John 3:16

[7] Isaiah 53:5

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

[9] Revelation 21:1-5

[10] 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18