A well-lived life

I had another theme in mind for last week’s post, but what follows begged to be written. In fact, I attempted to comply on what would have been my dear husband’s 60th birthday since it wasn’t possible to regale him with a surprise party as I would have preferred. Instead, I opened the drawer of memories surrounding our life together and tenderly extracted a few to savor. I asked others to share their recollections. By the end of the day, my efforts to celebrate Ray’s life brought about an unanticipated consequence. I was overwhelmed with sorrow, having been reminded of all I lost on a warm spring evening nearly 21 years ago, when Ray died a few weeks after his 39th birthday.

In the ensuing days, I’ve regained a more balanced perspective and can unequivocally say with Alfred Lord Tennyson, “’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.’” Thus, I’m finally ready to record my reminiscences.

Ray entered the world in a small South Dakota farming community on February 6, 1958, the sixth of seven siblings. From what I’ve been told, he was a good kid who didn’t give his mom[1] or his teachers any trouble. IMG_5139He loved animals and even thought about going to veterinary school, though I, somewhat selfishly, am glad he chose horticulture instead. Not only did his decision eventually lead him to study in Delaware, where our paths crossed, but it contributed significantly to my own passion for plants years later.

We met at a church-sponsored singles group, attending for the first time on the same night. I watched as Ray interacted with other attendees throughout the fellowship time, listening with interest to their various tales. When we finally had a chance to talk, his kindness and warmth were evident. IMG_3593After several months of persistent pursuit by this handsome young man, I was won over by his gift of a single red rose on my birthday in December and we began dating in earnest.[2] With the blessing of our families and friends, we became engaged shortly before my next birthday and were wed the following August.

I struggled in those early months as we adjusted to married life. As an only child and an introvert, I wasn’t accustomed to sharing space with anyone else on a full-time basis. Nevertheless, Ray patiently accepted my shortcomings and God in his goodness gradually knit us together as one.[3]

We purchased a townhouse in 1984, welcomed our first daughter in 1986, and moved to a single-family home shortly after the birth of our second daughter in 1989. IMG_4123Ever-supportive, Ray was all-in when it came to our relocation to Georgia in 1992, a move precipitated by my employer. We were partners, working demanding jobs and raising our girls, teaming up to tackle the to-dos required to keep our household running. Until April 19, 1997 when it all came to an end.

Or did it? At Ray’s funeral, one of our pastors said he hadn’t accomplished anything that brought him great fame or world renown. Not many of us do. But, as Rev. Allen went on to say, Ray was a godly man, who consistently lived his faith, who could be counted on by those who depended on him. As they shared their recollections last week, friends from Ray’s grade-school years through his adulthood recalled the same qualities – kindness, a warm smile, a gentle soul, an unforgettable laugh. A well-lived life affects others for good, no matter the size of our sphere of influence.

I am forever grateful for the gift of Ray’s presence in my life. I wish it had been so much longer, but I’ve come to realize it is a gift with lasting significance, one that has begotten many other gifts. Our wonderful daughters top the list. IMG_1652Sure, I might have married someone else and even had two girls. But they wouldn’t be Mary with Ray’s beautiful brown eyes, or Jessie with his sense of humor. Furthermore, Ray’s unconditional love changed how I viewed myself, his steadying influence kept me grounded in truth and his death caused me to depend on God like never before. They still do.

Ray was a kind, godly, gentle man whose life displayed the fruits of the Spirit.[4] But he wasn’t perfect. Scripture makes it clear only One has lived a sinless life. Moreover, He did it on our behalf, so that we might partake of his righteousness and be reconciled to God.[5] Ray believed that. I believe that. Thus I look forward to being reunited some sweet day. In fact, I hope Ray and I will get to work and worship side by side in God’s perfect garden.055

Lord, thank you for your many good gifts, including love and relationships and precious people like Ray. May we be life-givers as he was, impacting others for good and pointing them to Jesus[6], the greatest gift of all.

 

 

 

[1] Ray was only 5 years old when his father passed away suddenly of a heart attack shortly before his 41st birthday.

[2] For more on our courtship, see “A single red rose” in Archives, December 2014.

[3] Genesis 2:18-24

[4] Galatians 5:22-23

[5] Romans 5:1-11

[6] 1 John 3:18

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Perseverance

We’ve had a rough winter here in metro Atlanta. Ten inches of snow in December, another 2-inch “dusting” in January plus a week-long string of high temperatures in the 30’s and lows in the teens and 20’s. We also awoke to single-digit wind chill readings on multiple occasions. Brrr!! I realize some of you may be perusing this from places where you experience long winters accompanied by plenty of snow and frigid temps every year. Thirty-seven degrees would feel like a welcome heat wave. But, after 25 years, this Delaware-transplant has more than acclimated to milder winters and is ready for the beginning of another Southern Spring!

IMG_0420After several days of near-average weather, a cold front blew in late yesterday, resulting in another brisker-than-usual day today. Nonetheless the sky was that brilliant blue that beckons me outside so I bundled up and went for a stroll through my neighborhood, praising God for the warm sun and glorious cerulean canopy. When I returned home, I just had to walk the property. Even though we’ve had an extra-cold couple of months, I wanted to see what signs of life I might be ableIMG_5078 to find. I wasn’t disappointed. My witch hazel is in full bloom, buds are ready to open any day on a number of Lenten roses and foliage of early daffodils has poked up through the soil.

These sightings brought a smile to my face, but what I found when I carefully moved the leaves back from the locations of some spring ephemerals elicited squeals of delight. Yes, if anyone had been close IMG_5133enough, they would have overheard several exclamations of, “Oh, yay! Thanks, Lord!!”, as I discovered the tiniest evidence of returning trilliums and trout lilies, their miniscule leaves barely protruding above the soil. I gently replaced their leafy blanket, buoyed by the anticipation of seeing them in all their glory in a few weeks.

And I was reminded of another late-winter day nearly 20 years ago when my heart was anything but light. I’d ventured out to start clearing the leaves from the planting beds, a task my husband would normally have performed. But, as I was gradually coming to accept, that and so many of his previous responsibilities shifted to me after a heart attack felled him suddenly a mere two months after his 39th birthday the year before. Grief and reality intermingled and permeated my soul. Nonetheless, just like today, when I moved the leaves, I saw tiny perennials popping up – plants that Ray had acquired and cared for. Seeing them gave me hope. If those tiny plants could survive the cold, dark winter, maybe I would survive mine as well.[1]

I’ve benefitted from many hours of garden therapy since, as God has used numerous aspects of his remarkable creation to encourage, teach and minister to me. Spending time with Him in my yard is indeed one of my most cherished pastimes.

Furthermore, plants’ perseverance through less-than-favorable circumstances is, for me, one of their most endearing characteristics, reminding me of my mom’s oft-uttered admonition, “We can’t give up! We have to hold onto our faith.” The Apostle James goes a step further when he instructs us to consider it pure joy whenever we face trials of many kinds, because we know that the testing of our faith produces perseverance.[2]   I don’t know about you, but I rarely ever (ok, make that never) pray to be tested and I still say I wouldn’t have volunteered to be widowed at age 38. Nonetheless, I am certain I know God – his love, his faithfulness, his character – more intimately because He sovereignly incorporated that event into my story.

James says we must let perseverance finish its work so that we may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. And Paul assures us we’re not striving alone as He who began a good work in us will see it through to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.[3] Each of us has our own unique set of difficulties, our own winters to endure, but He who watches over the birds of the air and the flowers of the field cares infinitely more for his children.[4]

The garden may appear lifeless these days, but the plants are merely awaiting their time to burst forth, reminding us of our resurrected Savior and his promise to return to set all things right and to dwell among his people forever.[5]

Oh, Lord, how we look forward to your promised return.[6] Please help us to be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer as we await the glorious day of your coming.[7]

[1] I wrote my first blog post about this experience. Please see “Consider it pure joy” in Archives, July 2014.

[2] James 1:2-3

[3] Philippians 1:6

[4] Matthew 6:25-34

[5] Revelation 21:1-5

[6] John 14:1-3

[7] Romans 12:12

Tradition!

(This is the final post in my reflections-on-a-different-December trilogy.)

Do you hear it? The opening strains of “Fiddler on the Roof”, that is. I do almost every time I come across the word “tradition”. Like the townspeople in the critically-acclaimed musical, my family cherishes our traditions. In fact, we make good-natured fun of ourselves by saying once we’ve done something two years in a row, it acquires tradition status. Nonetheless, we’ve had to accept that there are times when circumstances intervene and beloved customs must be modified or set aside completely.

My husband’s sudden death when our daughters were still in elementary school ushered in significant changes to our Christmas celebrations. Years later, eldest-daughter Mary’s marriage brought about another shift in the flow of holiday events, as did the births of her children. Not only were there in-laws to visit, but she and husband Justin sought to develop their own blend of old and new traditions, as Ray and I had decades earlier.

One thing that hasn’t changed over the years is our oft-uttered proclamation, “Being together is the best gift.” Reiterated on a variety of gift-giving, tradition-laden, special occasions, there are times when its veracity is confirmed by prevailing events. Such was the case this past December as Mom spent an unscheduled six-day stay in the hospital, a detour which included back surgery. Her unforeseen hospitalization brought about a number of deviations to not only our daily schedules, but also to some pre-holiday plans. Nonetheless, Mom was released in time to attend great-granddaughter Lyla’s birthday party on the 23rd and all subsequent Christmas festivities. Having her home, pain-free, truly was better than anything to be found in a brightly-wrapped box.

As I contemplated the various vicissitudes visited upon us in December, I was repeatedly reminded that everything that genuinely matters hadn’t changed at all. Indeed, most of the traditions I hold dear are special because of the people associated with them. The love, laughter, and, sometimes, tears shared as we create memories that bind us together are priceless. Those ties encompass ones who have been called Home, sustain those of us temporarily left behind and are the stuff of family lore for our youngest, providing a foundation for their own celebrations.

Yes, some of the memories now associated with the twelfth month of 2017 are different, but if you look beneath the surface, you’ll find the similarities to so many of our traditions – our love for each other manifested in our commitment to be together, to celebrate when we can and to navigate uncertain waters together. All of which is a blessing, bestowed by the Giver of every good gift.[1]

Furthermore, we love because He first loved us[2], by sending his Son[3], as a tiny, helpless baby who grew into a man, lived a sinless life and died a horrific death on our behalf.[4] All so we could be with God FOREVER.[5] Good news, amazing news, the news we’re commanded to teach our children[6] and share to the ends of the earth.[7]

Even though some may say we’re too quick to initiate traditions and declare special occasions, every day is celebration-worthy when viewed in the light of God’s goodness.

Oh Father, how we thank you for the gift of your Son. Please help us to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge[8], for comprehending who we are in Him changes everything.

 

[1] James 1:17

[2] 1 John 4:19

[3] John 3:16

[4] Isaiah 53:5-6

[5] 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

[6] Deuteronomy 4:9; Psalm 34:11

[7] Matthew 28:18-19

[8] Ephesians 3:18-19

Perfect timing

(This is the second in my reflections-on-a-different-December series.)

“Mom and Dad” appeared on the screen as my phone rang out its cheerful tune. But when I answered, I heard an uncharacteristically uncheerful voice. Mom was in so much discomfort I could scarcely understand her. Even so, I ascertained an ambulance, summoned by my dad when her ongoing back pain became intolerable, was on the way to ferry her to the hospital.

Emergency room staff assessed Mom’s situation and administered essentially-ineffective pain meds. She reluctantly agreed to be admitted so doctors could manage her pain more successfully while determining its exact cause. Little did we know when they transported her to a semi-private room several hours later that the overnight stay would stretch into six.

Mom is a people person so we were somewhat confounded by her less-than-thrilled opinion of her roommate; however, we presumed her response was influenced by her pain and the medications being used to alleviate it. In spite of her standoffish demeanor toward the patient sharing her room, Mom was her sweet self with the nurses and captivated them with her gentle spirit and radiant smile.

An MRI performed in the wee hours of the morning confirmed the results of an earlier CAT scan – Mom had a fractured vertebra. No wonder she was in agony! Fortunately, there was a procedure (kyphoplasty), which could be performed to stabilize the vertebra, thereby significantly reducing the pain. It was scheduled for Monday, three days hence.

My daily routine disappeared, dinners at my parents’ table being replaced by take-out consumed at the foot of Mom’s hospital bed. We laughed and talked and I read aloud the numerous Facebook messages friends and family posted for her each day. And I noticed a comradery gradually developing between Mom and her fellow patient, Gail[1].

Hopeful anticipation of the next day’s surgery colored our Sunday evening visit. I became alarmed, however, when Mom admitted she didn’t know who would perform the procedure and that no one from the referring orthopedics practice had been in to see her. A rather animated conversation with the head nurse, followed by her perusal of copious notes accrued since Mom’s arrival failed to deliver the assurance I sought. I convinced Mom not to undergo the kyphoplasty until our concerns were addressed. Gail concurred. By then, she and Mom had become each other’s advocates.

Misgivings commenced even before I reached my car, my mood as dark as the cold night. They persisted as I prepared for bed and dogged my restless sleep. Had I counseled Mom correctly or caused a needless delay?

The head nurse called the next morning with news she’d discovered a referral from the attending orthopedist, amidst the massive accumulation of notes on Mom’s chart. My sense of having meddled escalated, as I contacted the physician’s assistant in hopes of rescheduling. Her dispassionate explanation that we couldn’t reclaim the now-lost slot on the anesthesiologist’s calendar caused my recriminations to explode into full-fledged self-flagellation. “Just great! Now look what you’ve done, subjecting your mother to another day of pain, another day in the hospital!! Why did you have to interfere?”

Within seconds, other, kinder, thoughts entered my mind, as the Spirit began whispering truth to my troubled soul.[2] “Looks like you’re focusing on the storm instead of the One who can calm the wind and waves. Have you forgotten I’m in control?”[3] I gratefully embraced the assurance and, thinking more calmly, recalled the PA’s comment that the interventional radiology teams rotated shifts throughout the week. Could it be the Tuesday team was better-suited to care for Mom? Regardless, I knew God hadn’t lost sight of my precious mother.[4]

When I arrived for my Monday evening visit, Mom and Gail told me about the pain-filled night they’d both endured. I was standing by Gail’s bed while she delineated the details. As her tears escalated to sobs, I realized Mom, defying orders to stay in bed, was making her way ever-so-carefully to her new friend’s side with no thought of her own throbbing back.

“Mom! Be careful!!”

“I’m alright. Gail needs a hug!”

The soul-soothing voice returned. “See, your mother’s right where she’s supposed to be.”

IMG_4962Mom’s procedure the following day went flawlessly. By the time she was out of recovery, the horrific pain was gone. When I appeared the subsequent afternoon to take her home, she and Gail had exchanged their hospital gowns for real clothes and the newly-minted pals were discharged within the same hour.

There are times when God gives us no insight into what He’s doing; after all, He owes us no explanation.[5] But there are instances when He graciously gives us glimpses of what He’s accomplishing. I treasure those moments of insight. I tuck them away to shore up my faith and dispel my doubts when the path isn’t as clear and I have no clue why things are unfolding as they are.

Lord, please help us to trust your perfect plan[6] and your impeccable timing[7], for your ways and your thoughts are so much higher than ours.[8] Your steadfast love never ceases. Your mercies are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness![9]

[1] Name has been changed.

[2] John 14:26

[3] Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:36-40; Luke 8:22-25

[4] Psalm 33:18; Psalm 34:15

[5] Job confessed as much after God reminded him of all He’s capable of. See Job 42:1-6 and chapters 38-41, respectively.

[6] Isaiah 25:1; Jeremiah 29:11

[7] Romans 5:6; 2 Peter 3:9

[8] Isaiah 55:8-9

[9] Lamentations 3:22-23

Good stewards*

Happy New Year, Readers! As I alluded to in my last post, “The best-laid plans”, December served up some surprises that weren’t wrapped and bowed. This is the first in a series of devotions reflecting on important truths brought to mind while navigating those unexpected circumstances. I pray these humble illustrations will bless you as well.

I checked the forecast before I went to bed. A mere dusting of snow was predicted for our area and the weatherman appeared confident as he stated, “Nothing to worry about.” Ever since experiencing Snowmageddon in January 2014[2], residents of metro-Atlanta join in collective hand-wringing at the thought of snow, so the prediction was  reassuring.

But it was so wrong! I awoke the next morning to a world already cloaked in white, as more fluffy flakes floated earthward. I made a hurried trip to the grocery store and returned home before the onslaught of school buses started ferrying hastily-dismissed pupils back to their neighborhoods. Safely ensconced in my warm home, with plenty of supplies, I settled in to witness the rare event unfolding outside. A line of near-freezing cold from the North made acquaintance with plenty of moisture from the South over our swath of Georgia, resulting in perfect conditions for an abundance of snow.

My initial delight gradually turned to concern as I beheld trees bending ever-closer to the ground, their branches succumbing to the weight of their heavy blanket. IMG_4857As many of you’ve discerned, I love plants and do my best to care for the ones on my small suburban property. Thus, when the precipitation slowed to a halt mid-afternoon, I bundled up and ventured outside. Armed with an old broom, I began to gently poke, nudge and sweep snow from trees and bushes. Limbs of azaleas and camellias, dogwoods and maples reached skyward again once they were freed from their frosty burden. I labored for nearly an hour before retreating inside, satisfied that I’d done what I could to help my plant friends, at least the ones within my reach.

And then it started to snow again. The flakes’ persistent descent proceeded throughout the evening and into the night, sometimes fast and abundant, sometimes unhurried and sparse. IMG_4852Darkness enshrouded our neighborhood. I peered frequently out my front windows, checking on trees that were once again drooping perilously. The serenity of the streetlight-illuminated scene belied the danger posed by the mounting accumulation. As I gazed in dismay, I saw a large branch of one of my favorite conifers give way, bending slowly toward the street as a horse might lower its head into a feeding trough.

I eventually gave up my vigil and crawled into bed, hoping, praying that more would be spared than damaged.

Precipitation had ceased by the time I made my way downstairs the following day, but the sky was steely. IMG_4856I hastened to measure the accumulation before it was disturbed by frolicking children. Almost 10 inches adorned my yard, an amount unheard of since the Blizzard of ’93. With a sinking heart, I made note that many of my trees and shrubs were still pitifully bent, the branch of the juniper indeed irreparably broken, along with three others on the same specimen.

The gray scene soon gave way to a glistening wonderland. Clouds dissipated, revealing a IMG_4866brilliant blue sky and sunshine that skipped across the now-sparkling blanket of white. As I watched, the benevolent rays and a gentle breeze began to free the trees from their frozen constraints, accomplishing much more than I could with my broom. Snow fell in flurries and chunks. Limbs commenced to thaw and unfurl.

I smiled sheepishly, acknowledging that the Lord is fully capable of caring for his creation, acceding, yet again, that I am a steward, He is the Owner. Every plant, bird, blade of grass is his. Nevertheless, He has entrusted each of us with gifts and resources to use for his glory, and has placed folks in our sphere of influence that we might minister to them in various ways.[3] Even though God doesn’t need our help, He not only graciously allows and enables us to take part in caring for our world and each other, He commands us to do so.[4]

It’s weighty enough to be good stewards of the material resources God has consigned to us, much less the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of the people who share our lives, especially our children and grandchildren. What if I mess it up? What if my best efforts fall short? Our peace and assurance come from remembering He is God and we are not. He alone is able to replace hearts of stone with hearts of flesh.[5] And, as a wise friend told me when my firstborn was still an infant, God loves our children even more than we do, because ultimately they belong to Him. Precious truth for this once-young mom as well as her now-three-decades-older self.

Lord, please help us to have a proper view of our place and our efforts.[6] May we be faithful stewards of that which you’ve entrusted to us, but let us never forget You are Sovereign over the outcome. Grant us your peace as we trust You in all things.[7]

Every faculty you have, your power of thinking or of moving your limbs from moment to moment, is given you by God. If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to His service, you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense His own already.
(C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

[1] * Steward: A person who acts as the surrogate of another, especially by managing property, financial affairs, an estate, etc. (Dictionary.com)

[2] January 28, 2014. A combination of snow and ice created gridlock on area roads, stranded thousands of motorists and resulted in numerous schoolchildren spending the night at school or on buses. Metro-Atlanta finally started to thaw out several days later.

[3] 1 Peter 4:7-11

[4] Genesis 1:28; Matthew 28:18-20; Galatians 6:1-3

[5] Ezekiel 36:26-27

[6] Romans 12:3

[7] Philippians 4:6-7

The best-laid plans

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15)

I had a holiday-to-do plan for December. Oh, it wasn’t written down, but I’d roughly sketched it out in my mind and penciled in some dates on the calendar – yes, I prefer a paper calendar with pretty graphics to a digital one. I’d even outlined several seasonally-topical blog posts, optimistically hoping to find time to write amidst the extra busyness that descends upon the twelfth month.

And then reality intervened.

IMG_4815Two major events – a 10-inch snowfall and my mom’s unexpected hospitalization, including back surgery – took precedence, disrupting daily activities as well as special plans and traditions. One day melded into another as the countdown to Christmas continued unabated. Although the unforeseen circumstances derailed one or two highly-anticipated events, there were still special moments to be savored. Furthermore, the detours gifted me with time to reflect, to re-prioritize, to remember who’s in control.

It’s not wrong to make plans. In fact, Scripture encourages us to do so. It’s important to prepare, to count the cost[1], and to listen to wise counsel[2], but we delude ourselves if we believe we have the final say. Scripture is unwavering in its proclamations of God’s sovereignty. Regardless of our notions, his will prevails.[3] Nonetheless, those of us who belong to the King have nothing to fear. Not only does He assure us his plans for us are beneficial,[4] He promises to work all things together for our good[5] and to never leave or forsake us.[6]

The Lord blesses us with varying gifts and abilities,[7] He knit us together in unique ways,[8] and He’s prepared work for us to do.[9] All that we might glorify Him.[10] My desire when I started Back 2 the Garden in the summer of 2014 was to tell of God’s faithfulness, thereby offering hope and reassurance to those who read my stories. Many of you have been with me from the beginning. Some have started visiting more recently. I appreciate each one of you. Your comments and presence encourage me to keep writing. Thank you!

Lord willing, I’ll be able to write those posts I drew up a month ago plus a few featuring lessons learned as I navigated the ever-changing circumstances leading up to Christmas.  For now though, as we enter this new year, each with our own plans, hopes and dreams, may we endeavor to seek first the Lord’s will, trust his promises and rest in his assurances.

Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works! Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice! (Psalm 105:1-3)

[1] Luke 14:28-32.

[2] Multiple Proverbs, including 11:14 and 20:18, declare the importance of wise counsel.

[3] Proverbs 16:9, 19:21

[4] Jeremiah 29:11

[5] Romans 8:28

[6] Deuteronomy 31:8; Hebrews 13:5b

[7] 1 Corinthians 12

[8] Psalm 139:13

[9] Ephesians 2:10

[10] 1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:23

Happy nappy!

My 21-month-old granddaughter, Emma, loves to mother her baby dolls. She strolls and feeds them, tucks them in and sings “rock-a-baby”. Her tender ministrations warm my heart.

Earlier this week, I arrived at daughter Mary’s house for the first of my twice-weekly visits. Six-year-old Joshua greeted me with exuberant orders to “look at the tree, Grammie!” And what a tree it was! As my gaze followed Joshua’s outstretched arm, I beheld a magnificent, half-decorated Fraser fir, so wide it nearly filled the front room. Emma’s happy babbles joined Joshua’s continuing dialog about the tree as I made my way through the house. IMG_4789I tread gingerly, careful not to step on any of the favorite, kid-friendly (read: “unbreakable”) Christmas decorations scattered about on the playroom floor. Among those recently freed from their storage boxes: the Peanuts gang – Charlie Brown carrying his spindly tree, Linus hugging his blanket, Sally holding her outrageous letter to Santa; a stuffed, chartreuse Grinch with his menacing scowl; and the Fisher-Price nativity, whose plastic figurines are perfectly proportioned for tiny hands.

After the initial excited exclamations over the newly-appeared Christmas décor, Joshua, Emma and I settled into our morning routine, awaiting the appointed time to pick up 3-year-old Lyla from pre-school. As I was preparing lunch, I overheard Emma say, “happy nappy”, a phrase we use instead of “sweet dreams” when tucking the children in for naptime. Upon hearing her cheerful refrain, I surmised she was playing with the nativity.

IMG_4788“Emma, are you telling Baby Jesus ‘happy nappy’?” My query was met with her inimitable, “Yes”.[1] Moments later, she gently transported the miniature baby-in-the-manger to the play kitchen where she prepared a snack for him. As I looked on, misty-eyed, God graciously used Emma’s simple gestures to remind me of profound truths:

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

“ . . . Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8)

“The Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)

“When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:15-16)

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)

Jesus, the beloved Son, the second person of the Trinity, came to earth as a tiny, helpless baby who needed naps and food and the care of his parents. Our finite minds can’t fully comprehend this astounding truth. Nonetheless, may we never forget that because of God’s great love for us, He sent us the most amazing, precious, priceless gift ever given, the gift we needed most: a Savior.[2]

 

[1] “Yes” was one of Emma’s first words. Her charming, emphatic pronunciation makes it one of her most endearing.

[2] John 3:16

Do-overs

Fall is the best time for planting most trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials. Soil remains relatively warm even as ambient temperatures drop, allowing for root development as top growth slows. I’ve been judiciously purchasing specimens to fill in some gaps in my landscape, eagerly awaiting the optimal time to plant new leafy friends and to transplant a few old ones. Given the size of some of the items to be installed and the ever-deteriorating condition of my hands, I arranged for some professional assistance and happily anticipated the appointed day, which happened to be yesterday.

I awoke early, excited to finally get underway; however, as I bustled about making breakfast, a familiar “ding” alerted me to a text message. Sadly, my landscaping project could not proceed as planned due to a key helper’s illness. My disappointment was somewhat assuaged by knowing this change of plans would allow the other partner to attend her sons’ Thanksgiving programs without the added stress of traveling back and forth to oversee my project. Little did I know God had other, more important plans for me as well.

I texted my daughter, Mary to ascertain how 21-month-old Emma was doing. She’d fallen victim to some un-diagnosable, rash-causing virus the day before and was covered in red splotches when I last saw her. Mary replied that Emma’s runny nose was considerably worse and they wouldn’t be able to attend 3-year-old Lyla’s Thanksgiving feast. She then inquired if I might be able to go instead. I  responded affirmatively and quickly shifted my attention from playing in the dirt to surprising my beloved granddaughter.

As I made my way to Lyla’s pre-school, circumstances surrounding another feast came to mind. Many years have come and gone since that fateful day, blurring the details, but I distinctly remember the nature of the faux pas, long filed under “Regrettable Mom Moments”. Somehow Ray and I got our signals crossed or misunderstood the parameters of the event and neither of us went to Mary’s kindergarten Thanksgiving meal. She was the only one in her class without a parent or grandparent present. Although the hurt we inflicted on our dear daughter was unintentional, I felt miserable for disappointing her. Even now the memory brings tears to my eyes.

But yesterday, when He allowed me to be there for Lyla, God graciously gave me a do-over. His gift and the realization He too remembered my long-ago remorse made sharing Lyla’s experience that much sweeter, the past regret less painful.

Several Old Testament passages refer to God as compassionate, gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.[1] From Adam and Eve to the chosen people of Israel to those of us who call on his precious name in these end times – we’ve all been wayward[2] and given God plenty of reasons to turn his back on us. But He will never forget[3] or forsake[4] his children. In fact, He sent his only Son to save us from our sins[5], to be our righteousness[6], for He knows we are dust[7] and can never stand in his holy presence on our own merit.

God disciplines those He loves.[8] He forgives and restores us when we repent.[9] And by the power of his Spirit, He is transforming us more and more into the likeness of our Savior[10], enabling us to produce good fruit when we abide in him.[11] Finally, when the old order of things has passed away, He’ll wipe away every tear and dwell among his people forever.[12]

As we enter into this Advent season, may we rejoice anew at the extravagant gift we’ve been given. Our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace[13] knows us intimately. He humbled himself, took on flesh, lived a perfect life and died on a cross[14], the Sacrifice to end all sacrifices. No do-overs required. [15]

 

[1] See for example, Exodus 34:6; Psalm 86:15; Psalm 103:8

[2] Isaiah 53:6

[3] Isaiah 49:15

[4] Deuteronomy 31:8

[5] John 3:16

[6] Romans 5:17

[7] Psalm 103:13-14

[8] Hebrews 12:5-11

[9] 1 John 1:9

[10] 2 Corinthians 3:18

[11] John 15:5

[12] Revelation 21:3-4

[13] Isaiah 9:6

[14] Philippians 2:5-11

[15] Hebrews 10:1-18

A most glorious beginning

As chronicled in an earlier post , death has visited my family often in October. (See “The gift of remembrance” in Archives, October 2014)  Three of my four grandparents, a beloved aunt, a cherished uncle – all six passed away during the tenth month of different years.

This fall finds us bereaved once again, as son-in-law Justin’s grandfather completed his earthly sojourn two weeks ago. His memorial service was a celebration of a life well-lived, a race faithfully run, a servant safely Home.[1] As Justin and his brother and cousin shared memories of their grandfather, it was clear he made a lasting, positive impact on their lives.

Though their memories won’t be as clear or numerous, “Papa” touched the lives of the next generation as well. Since his great-grandfather’s passing, Joshua has comforted himself and others with truth: “He’s not sick anymore. He’s in heaven!”; “In heaven, guess what? You can’t die again! Papa is there waiting for us!”; and, possibly my favorite, “Papa doesn’t have to pray anymore. He can just walk right up and talk to Jesus!”

 

 

 

IMG_4547Oh the beauty and simplicity of child-like faith, the kind of faith Jesus commended[2], the kind we’re told to pass on to our offspring.[3] It’s apparent Papa followed that mandate, modeling a godly walk for his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Indeed, it is the greatest legacy any of us can bestow, the greatest joy to know our children are walking in the truth.[4]

Nonetheless, we grieve our loss when a loved one is called Home. Though we’re assured the separation is temporary, their departure leaves a silence, an empty spot, that only their voice, their presence can fill. Someone asked me recently if I would wish Ray back. I hesitated. I know the spiritually-correct answer. How could I be so selfish as to ask him to return from Paradise?[5] Yet, I think back over all we’ve experienced and endured without him over the past 20 years and, in my frail humanity, I wish, oh-so-much, that he’d been here – to watch his daughters grow into amazing young women, to play with his grandchildren, to tend our garden with me.

The One who records our tears on his scroll[6] understands. Moments before He called Lazarus from the tomb, even knowing his Father would hear his plea to raise his friend, Jesus wept.[7] Being full of compassion, He shared the sisters’ sorrow and He shares ours.

But unlike our human friends who come alongside us with sincere condolences and ministrations in our times of need, Jesus can also meet our deepest need, the need to be reconciled to God. Our Savior took our sins upon himself and paid our penalty so we may joyfully proclaim[8], “Death is not the end, beloved. For the believer it is the most glorious beginning!”[9]

As you might imagine, whenever I attend a funeral or memorial service, I think back to Ray’s services. My ability to hold my emotions in check varies. I did reasonably well last week until the final song, “Twelfth of Never”, requested by Justin’s grandmother. While strains of the Johnny Mathis classic filled the church, tears trickled, then streamed from my eyes as I was reminded love never dies.[10]

 

IMG_1102

During Ray’s graveside service, one of the pastors told Mary and Jessie their lives would be blessed by having had a godly father even though he was with them for a relatively short time. I’m thankful Ray loved us so well that we continue to feel his love, thankful for his saving faith that guarantees we’ll see him again.[11]

I recently read a thought-provoking statement: “We are all under sentence of death; we are all terminal cases.”[12] Sometimes death comes quickly, unexpectedly, as with Ray’s passing. At other times it’s preceded by a long, arduous illness. IMG_1539Regardless of its manner, it is a certainty.[13] The author went on to say, “For the believer, the time of death becomes far less daunting a factor when seen in the light of eternity. Although death remains a formidable opponent, it is, from another perspective, the portal through which we pass to consummated life. We pass through death, and death dies. And the more a Christian lives in the consciousness of God’s presence here, the easier it is to anticipate the unqualified delight that will be experienced in God’s presence there.”[14] A most glorious beginning indeed!

Papa

Lord, we are like a mist.[15] Please teach us to number our days aright[16], knowing You wrote them all in your book before even one came to be.[17] Help us to fix our eyes on things above[18], to store up an imperishable treasure.[19] And may we leave a legacy of love and faith like the steadfast witnesses who have gone before us.[20]

[1] 2 Timothy 4:7-8

[2] Jesus welcoming the children is recounted in three of the four gospels: Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17.

[3] Deuteronomy 6:6-7; Deuteronomy 11:18-19.

[4] 3 John 3-5

[5] Psalm 16:11; 2 Corinthians 5:1-6

[6] Psalm 56:8

[7] John 11:1-43

[8] Isaiah 53:4-6

[9] Rev. Todd Allen made this statement during Ray’s funeral service, April 24, 1997. I’ve thought of it many times since.

[10] 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

[11] John 3:16; John 11:25-27

[12] D.A. Carson, “Be Still, My Soul, Embracing God’s Purpose & Provision in Suffering”, Wheaton, IL; Nancy Guthrie/Crossway, 2010; p 117.

[13] Romans 5:12

[14] D.A. Carson, Ibid

[15] James 4:13-15

[16] Psalm 90:12

[17] Psalm 139:16

[18] 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

[19] Matthew 6:19-21

[20] Hebrews 11; Hebrews 12:1-3

The Good Guy wins

IMG_3893Ask six-year-old Joshua which show he’d like to watch and chances are he’ll reply with an exuberant, “Wild Kratts, please!” Each episode of the animated wildlife series features a different animal or two as cartoon versions of real-life brothers, Chris and Martin Kratt teach viewers about various critters. To keep things extra-interesting, the ever-dedicated siblings are usually tasked with keeping a particular episode’s subjects safe from one of several regularly-guest-starring scoundrels.

Earlier this week, three-year-old Lyla and I were coloring at the kitchen table, all-the-while keeping an eye on the Wild Kratts adventure unfolding before Joshua. I was bemoaning the fact Gourmand, a villainous chef with an affinity for cooking small animals, had trapped several baby ferrets and was about to turn them into some kind of stew. Lyla calmly consoled me, “Don’t worry, Grammie. The good guys always win.” I was immediately reminded of similar situations when I was not much older than my grandchildren. While watching some show or other with my dad, I’d become anxious as ne’er-do-wells got the upper hand, only to hear Dad’s confident, “They’ll get their comeuppance before it’s over!”

Oh how we need reassurance that happy endings aren’t just the stuff of fairy tales and cartoon heroes. From crushing headlines of unthinkable carnage to personal struggles and infirmities, it too-often appears malevolence has the upper hand and is refusing to let go. Despite events and circumstances to the contrary, God remains firmly in control, ruling over all the earth[1] and constraining evil.[2] Furthermore, He promises to work all things together for good for those who love him,[3] even the most horrific and difficult things we face, things our finite minds and fragile hearts can’t begin to comprehend. We can trust him to do so because He sent his only Son to die for us, the Just for the unjust – the supreme example of transforming immense evil into eternal good.[4]

Jesus won a resounding victory over death[5], our most heinous enemy. And, in taking our punishment upon himself,[6] He ensured all who believe in him for salvation will be victorious as well.[7] Jesus’ sacrificial death is the definitive assurance of God’s love; our Father’s guarantee that the good guys will win in the end and the bad guys will get their comeuppance.

I’ve been reading “Be Still, My Soul, Embracing God’s Purpose & Provision in Suffering”, a compilation of essays on the problem of pain by various authors. These passages from R.C. Sproul’s contribution, “Is There Such a Thing as Senseless Tragedy?” are especially meaningful this week:

“The word ‘tragedy’ presupposes some kind of order or purpose in the world. If the world has purpose and order, then all that occurs in it is meaningful in some respect. The idea of a ‘senseless tragedy’ represents a worldview that is completely incompatible with Christian thought. It assumes that something happens without purpose or without meaning. If God is God and if he is a God of providence, if he is truly sovereign, then nothing ever happens that is ultimately senseless.”[8]

“(Romans 8:28) is not merely a biblical expression of comfort for those who suffer affliction. It is far more than that. It is a radical credo for the Christian worldview. It represents the absolute triumph of divine purpose over all alleged acts of chaos. It erases ‘misfortune’ from the vocabulary of the Christian. God, in his providence has the power and the will to work all things together for good for his people. This does not mean that everything that happens to us is, in itself, good. Really bad things do happen to us. But they are only proximately bad; they are never ultimately bad. That is, they are bad only in the short (proximate) term, never in the long term. Because of the triumph of God’s goodness in all things, he is able to bring good for us out of the bad. He turns our tragedies into supreme blessings.”[9]

Lord, your ways are not our ways, your thoughts so much higher than ours.[10] Grant that we may we see with eyes of faith, trusting your unconditional, unending love for us; remembering that all of your promises are “Yes” in Jesus.[11] For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that outweighs them all.[12]

[1] Psalm 47:7-8

[2] See for example Job 1:12 and 2:6, where God puts limits on how Satan may torment Job.

[3] Romans 8:28

[4] Romans 5:6-8

[5] 1 Corinthians 15:54-57

[6] Isaiah 53:4-6

[7] John 3:16; Ephesians 2:4-9

[8] R.C. Sproul, “Be Still, My Soul, Embracing God’s Purpose & Provision in Suffering”, Wheaton, IL; Nancy Guthrie/Crossway, 2010; pp. 43-44.

[9] Ibid, p. 47

[10] Isaiah 55:8-9

[11] 2 Corinthians 1:20

[12] 2 Corinthians 4:17; Revelation 21:1-7