My husband knows I would much prefer a new plant for my garden over cut flowers–but the fragrant bouquet he gave me on Valentine’s Day was certainly a lovely way to remind me of his love for me and fill the wintery gap between now and the time when I can play in the dirt outside.
As my Valentine’s Day flowers begin to droop and fade, I am reminded that Valentine’s Day can be difficult for some. In my personal circle of friends and family, several were bereaved of a loving spouse in the past year or two. Others are going through a valley experience in life and wondering whether their Valentine will be there to love on next year. None of us knows whether we have the next breath. Romantic love is wonderful, but temporary. Finding ways to express Christ-like love is the best. I love Paul Tripp’s article filled with 23 ideas for sharing love with others in 2023.
There are people in my life I am having great difficulty loving as I should. This list reminded me of ways I can show Christ-like love to these prickly-hard-to-love people. I plan to print it and put it in my prayer journal as a guide, not only to prayer, but for putting love into action.
My hope and prayer is that this post will encourage someone who reads this to greater love in your circle of people who need His love.
Okay friends, you are going to need to cut me some slack on this mothering moment that I’m going to share. I had only been 20 years old for about 14 days when my first baby arrived in the world and probably not even 22 when this story took place.
I was pregnant with baby #2 and exhausted. Usually a good sleeper, lately Matt seemed to sense the moment my weary head hit my pillow. Well, on the night this story took place, I was settling in for sleep for what seemed to be the umpteenth time when my not quite two-year-old little Matt cried out for me from his crib with his loud toddler voice,
I shudder to think of what I did now because it is so contrary to good sense, but I was a gullible young mom who apparently believed this ad.
On that night I grew tired of getting my very pregnant self in and out of our waterbed (anyone remember those?). I desperately wanted to get my little guy to lie back down and go to sleep, so I gave him a bottle hoping he would fall asleep and let me get some sleep. I wanted to save the little bit of milk we had in the fridge for breakfast in the morning, so watered down some Tang breakfast drink and put it in his bottle.
Not two minutes had passed after I dragged my weary self back to bed when I heard the familiar squeak of Matt’s crib. We had a tiny house and I didn’t want him waking his sleeping daddy who had to get up early to go to work, so I got up and went to his room. He was standing in his crib again, arm extended out to me with an empty baby bottle in hand.
“More, Mommy, more.”
I couldn’t believe he had drained that bottle so quickly. I made him another bottle of the stuff then checked to make sure his diaper was dry. He took the bottle and snuggled in for what I had hoped would be the last time until morning’s light. Bleery-eyed with weariness, I then crawled back in my own bed hoping not to make too many waves.
Unbelievably, before I could pull the covers up under my chin, Matt was again yelling,
“More, Mommy, more!”
I made the trek of five or six steps to his room again and turned on the little Humpty-Dumpty lamp on the dresser. I couldn’t believe my eyes – his bottle was empty again! Checked his diaper again too – it just had to be wet, but it wasn’t.
Bordering on sheer exhaustion (and also a wee bit suspicious), against my better judgement, I fixed him another bottle. I turned off the light and then headed out of his door, this time waiting around the corner to spy on him and see what on earth was going on. Sure enough, I had every reason to be suspicious. My clever and mischievous little guy sat up in his crib, unscrewed the top of the bottle, then stood up and proceeded to pour that orange drink down the wall, then picked up the nipple end of the bottle and screwed it back onto the empty bottle.
I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry. I did know that if he could figure out how to do all of that, he was much too old to still be drinking from a bottle. I took the bottle out of his hand before he could say, “More, Mommy, more” and told him to say “bye-bye” to his bottle.
Matt never saw the bottle again.
Interesting note: Now, 40-some years later, Matt is an elder and discipleship pastor at Wildwood Church in East Moline, Illinois. On a recent Sunday, Wayne and I were able to worship with Matt’s faith family at Wildwood and were blessed to listen as our son preached from Luke 22 using this story from his childhood as a sermon illustration. I’m not proud of this mothering moment of mine, but it did make a pretty nice sermon illustration. It warmed this momma’s heart (and his dad’s too) hearing Matt sharing God’s Word as he preached. I invite you, dear readers, to give that sermon a listen right here.
It was 13 years ago today that my dad was called Home to heaven. May I share his story of how God drew him to Himself?
My dad was a mechanical engineer by training, so could figure out how to fix most anything long before the advent of YouTube tutorials. If he didn’t have the right part, he’d get creative and make something else work. Our family jokes that he could fix just about anything with duct tape.
My dad learned later in life that there was one thing he definitely couldn’t fix by his own ingenuity. His own sinful heart. I was about 12 years old when my dad realized he needed to trust Jesus for salvation from sin. I was old enough to notice his dramatic spiritual transformation — a change that carried over into every aspect of his life.
Mom once shared with me that Dad would spend every lunch break at work reading the Bible he kept in his car. He read through it so many times that it fell apart. Dad repaired it with his favorite tool: duct tape. I displayed that Bible at my dad’s memorial service in 2008, but it disappeared sometime during mom’s battle with Alzheimer’s a few years later. I did find another Bible, similarly repaired (pictured).
Not long ago I sat down with my Dad’s well-worn Bible in my lap and began to page through it, stopping to read his notes in the margin. It was clear to me that he spent much time exploring this copy of God’s Word too. The Bible had a few special things tucked in the flyleaf, including two cards I had sent him — it meant a lot to me knowing that he had treasured those cards enough to save them.
My heart got all tangled up with emotion when my eyes spied two sheets of lined paper in my dad’s familiar handwriting. These were the notes from which my Dad shared this testimony of faith with the congregation at Garfield Baptist Church on March 31, 1971.
Today, dear readers, on the 13th anniversary of his homegoing to heaven, I would like to share dad’s testimony with you, just as he wrote it, with a prayerful hope that God will use it for His Glory .
March 31, 1971
Jerry Boyles - A Son of God
Matthew 10:32 - "Whosoever therefore shall confess me before man, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven."
It is a shock to learn at the genetic age of 39 to find that you are a spiritual babe. I have been a church member since the age of 11-12 but do not recall being asked personally, 'Do you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior?" I could not give an affirmative answer the first time this question was posed on a Monday night visitation by Gene Klingbeil and Ed Newton, but it did start the wheels turning. I admitted to being a sinner and I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior on Monday evening November 9, 1970 with the assistance of Rev. (Edward) Fuller, Mr. (Everett) Huebner, and my family. I was baptized by immersion by Rev. Fuller on Dec. 27, 1970.
I base my salvation on John 1:11-13 "He came unto his own and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."
My assurance of salvation is: John 10:28 "And I give unto them eternal life: and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand."
At this point in Dad’s testimony, he made a note to himself to “Give thanks to AWANA and Sunday School.” Those two ministries of Garfield Baptist Church were very instrumental in my coming to Christ and growing in my faith too. I love knowing that when God drew me to Christ, my family would soon come to know Him too. Dad concluded his testimony in this way:
Being a spiritual babe I have a lot of "catching up" to do. I'm going to need all the help I can get from God and this congregation. I feel that I've had much help from both. I hope, if accepted as a member, that I can be an asset to this church.
In Jesus Name,
Jerry R. Boyles
Right hand of fellowship, Thursday, April 8, 1971
Today I am reflecting on God’s design in the trials of life. This piece is based on the Five Minute Friday word prompt for the week: Design.
I love to work in my garden and always enjoy the great wonder of seeing God’s design in the things He created.
It’s easy to see God’s design in the beauty of life, but how can it be that the trials of life are also part of God’s blueprint for growth for the Christian? It’s a hard truth, but if we look closely at the path our lives have taken, we can see His loving hand carefully moulding and shaping us with each step in life’s journey…even the difficult steps.
The tune to a favorite hymn, “Jesus, draw me ever nearer” has been running through my heart and mind today. Let me invite you to listen with me to a beautiful version of this hymn which I truly love.
This verse captures my heart:
May this journey bring a blessing, May I rise on wings of faith; And at the end of my heart's testing, With Your likeness let me wake.
This particular verse reminds me that when the heart of a Christian is tested by that which happens in life’s journey, it’s is God’s design and purpose to perfect and complete us and make us look more like Jesus.
I had planned to keep my Christmas stuff up well into January because it just felt like this year needed a little extra sparkle for just a bit longer. I’m not a perfectionistic white-glove housekeeper (by any stretch of the imagination), but I do like a certain level of tidyness and order. Before I knew it, the niggling longing for order won out and those green and red plastic tubs were making their annual trek back up from the basement storage area so I could begin putting back all those pretty Christmas-y decorations.
Each ornament goes back in its original box, or gets wrapped in newsprint or tissue and placed in a protective box or tin. As I carefully stacked those boxes filled with fragile baubles into one of the three larger bins, there was a sense that I was, in a small way, packing up and setting aside some memories that would be unwrapped and remembered once again in the hope of next Christmas.
“Putting away Christmas” is theologically impossible. Christ’s advent, God’s gift to the world, cannot be wrapped up in tissue paper and set aside the day after Christmas. Emmanuel, God With Us, cannot be stuck in a box to be forgotten about until unwrapped again next year. When I “put away Christmas,” it is our somewhat clouded by glitz and glitter attempt to remember his advent each year that we are really putting away.
As I filled the third bin with my tissue-wrapped baubles, I noticed the corner of an envelope hiding in the bottom of the bin. It was tucked under a box of lights I haven’t used in years. I pulled it out and discovered a gift I hadn’t opened this year. It was a letter addressed to me in my mom’s familiar cursive script.
Years ago, Mom had taken the time to write out the words to the poem “My First Christmas in Heaven.” I’ve read it many times before — maybe you have read it too. I know that a few of you, my friends and loved ones, experienced the fresh sting of grief in your heart because a loved one was missing at your celebration this Christmas, so I will include an image of the poem here for you.
The postmark on the envelope was clearly stamped 10 DEC 2009, so it was fitting that when mom copied the poem’s title, she neatly crossed out the word “First” and wrote above it, “Second.”
Mom’s little personal post-script penned beneath the poem sheds light upon the reason why.
I just love this little find, yet another of God’s little grace gifts in my life. You see, she sent it on my dad’s second Christmas in heaven, and here I was re-reading it 12 Christmases later, just after she celebrated her first Christmas in heaven.
Counting our common everyday gifts – our grace gifts from God – is the challenge I have accepted as a discipline of the heart. My current Bible study is encouraging me to take notice of God’s grace in the minutae of life and giving thanks.
Eucharisteo. To be grateful, feel thankful, give thanks.
It’s probably the last day in 2020 where the sun will feel so very warm and the air so beautifully crisp. Today was a good day to take a walk in “my park” just down the street. Today I step off of the paved path and take the lesser traveled pathways worn in the tall grasses in little patches of the park.
Today I take notice of the small things. The glimmer of sunshine low in the sky, streaming through the trees, forming halos around what remains of summer’s flowery offerings.
I thank God for the sun. It’s there every single day, even when I don’t see it, reminding me that God’s grace surrounds us, intricately involved in our ordinary days – even on the darkest and most difficult of days.
My wandering feet cross the expanse of grass still green which not so very long ago hosted soccer games, picnics, and kites. A distant patch of color lures me to explore the paths that other feet have created. Such beauty. I thank God for placing me in a community that has such a wonderful place for families to play and explore. Even now, in the midst of the sickness that stubbornly refuses to loose its grip on humanity, people enjoy its respite and calm.
A colony of milkweed punctuates the wind-flattened grasses. I step into their abode to explore the spent pods which have long since burst open to release next year’s seeds. The fruit pods are dry now, grayed like me with age, yet the outer capsule still bears a design and texture placed there by the Creator. I marvel at the intricacy and find joy of heart when I find one lonely pod still not quite open. The cottony fluff feels like silk to my touch.
I thank God for this herbaceous perennial that beckons the Monarch butterfly to lay her tiny eggs in the shelter of its ovate leaves. One tiny egg for each plant, if she can, so as to make sure the babies she may never see will have food enough to grow, yet not destroy the hospitable host. [Read more about milkweed here.]
I spy Queen Anne’s Lace framed by amber colored grasses tipped in burnt orange and a band of blue sky. She sways tall in the breeze over the meadow grasses, her skirt drawn up and around her as though bracing for winter’s nip. As my aging eyes seek to see more, her Designer’s sage attention to detail reveals a gentle beauty, even though stripped of her ornate white petaled robe.
Somehow, this stately queen of the meadow makes me think of my mother’s gentle beauty. Many have remarked that there was something about her skin that was so lovely and fair – even in her 80’s. But what made her truly beautiful was the beauty of Christ in her. No beauty serum could impart more radiance than my momma’s beautiful reflection of Christ as she imitated Him in life’s ups and downs. Alzheimer’s could not steal that beauty.
I stand in the meadow and thank God for reminding me that this beauty can be mine too. Her faithful example still lingers, pointing the way. Momma’s life still touches mine, even in her absence. Today, I thank God for taking my beautiful momma home so gently. Though she went through many difficult days with Alzheimer’s, years actually, I thank God that now she knows fully they were truly light momentary afflictions when compared with the glory of her heavenly home for which she longed.
Tomorrow the snow will begin to fall and soon it will hurt just a little to take in that first breath of air when we walk outside. Yet, even in that, there will be countless reasons to thank God, be reminded of His grace, and experience true joy in the bounty of His grace upon grace.
Eucharisteo. To be grateful, feel thankful, give thanks.
I hope it’s no secret that I am a Christian who truly desires to live every aspect of my life in such a way that Christ is honored and glorified. When you read what I write, I genuinely hope you see the Word of God is the hub around which the wheel of my life revolves.
Most who know me personally consider me to be a mature believer, but I know there is much room for growth. If I am honest with myself, there are days when I fall very short in my goal of making the Bible central in my life. For this reason, I have accepted a challenge to become part of the Word Before World Bible study challenge – a group of believers seeking to make time in the Scriptures a first thing in the morning priority. Before all the things which will capture our attention during the rest of the day that follows. Before we pick up our cell phone or log onto our computers, or turn on our televisions. Time in the Word before we pick up that interesting novel, or check to see what’s going on in Facebook or Instagram world.
First in my heart.
Our little Word Before World group is now 12 days into the challenge. It’s a virtual group – perfect for this day when social distancing is recommended. While we may never actually meet one another on this side of heaven, it has been delightful getting to know other women who struggle just like I do, yet have the same heartfelt longing and desire. We have been praying for one another, sharing insights we have gleaned from our time in the Word, sharing verses and encouraging one another.
So, here’s how my day 12 went.
It is my custom to listen to the scripture while I’m getting ready for my day – sometimes before my feet even hit the floor. Yes, it involves picking up my cell phone, but I rather like hearing the Scripture spoken out loud (by a wonderful narrator) on my Bible app. Today I decided to listen to the suggested reading while I took a morning walk. I began with Psalm 103 and ended up listening to the entirety of Psalm 119 (176 verses!).
Along the way on my personal “psalm-walk,” I stopped to enjoy God’s magnificent creation in the gardens of a few of the neighbors along my route. There were several beautiful gardens, but I think this mailbox garden was particularly impressive.
When my route finally returned me to my own driveway, I grabbed a cup of coffee, headed to my favorite Bible study spot and opened my Bible to Colossians (which I am currently studying). It’s a little book, just four chapters, yet so very challenging to me – particularly as it relates to my responsibility to pray for other believers and encourage them in their walk with Christ. Next, I flipped back to Psalm 103 to read the passage our group was challenged to read together. As I spent time reading and contemplating this psalm, verses 17 and 18 made me stop and thank the Lord for his steadfast love – and that His love and righteousness has been extended to my own children and each one of my grandchildren too.
But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.
Psalm 103:17-18 (ESV)
I couldn’t help but pull out my coloring pencils. and write the names of my grandkids in the margin as I prayed for each one.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name!
From the moment I arrived at BeeHive, it was apparent to me that we would be experiencing the final chapter of Mom’s remarkable sojourn on earth. The stroke had dealt a crushing blow, adding further injury to Alzheimer’s furtive chipping away of her mind and body.
I will forever be grateful to the staff of BeeHive for graciously allowing me to stay at my mother’s side during her final days. It was a hard week, filled with opportunities to be a comfort to my mother, and moments both endearing and bittersweet. My overnight vigil afforded a rare opportunity to observe the night shift at work, deepening my appreciation for those dear ones who watched over the residents at night.
On May 24, 2020, a beautiful Sunday morning, as I held her hand in mine, the final page of Momma’s life was quietly turned. My sweet mother’s story on this side of Glory ended just as I hoped and prayed: Alzheimer’s lost and God won as He called her gently Home to begin the story that never ends.
Even on nights when I am weary and tired, I sometimes have trouble falling asleep. Other times, I fall asleep, but cannot stay asleep. My trouble with insomnia probably stems from being on the plus side of 60; but, I think the main problem is that my mind just keeps whirling with thoughts long after my head hits my pillow. In my search for a remedy, I read about a sleep tactic whereby you count backwards from 50, mindfully counting each breath. Breaths are slow and measured – one deep breath in, hold a few seconds, then a slow breath out. I thought it couldn’t hurt, so I tried it. Lo and behold, it seemed to work, as I don’t recall ever getting past the 20’s on my way to zero.
One recent evening, as I completed my requisite bedtime routine of pillow-punching and fluffing, I decided there might be a more meaningful way to spend my countdown to sleep. Rather than pay close attention to the ins and outs of my breathing, I decided to pray about things that were on my heart as I counted forward, rather than backward.
That night, I prayed for the things God brought to mind: a missionary our church supports, my Christian brothers and sisters in Christ who live and serve in India, my children and grandchildren, my brother as he recovers from surgery, my husband’s various ministry endeavors, my pastor, the friends who are looking for work, and several friends with health needs. As I poured the concerns of my heart out to God, I remember taking my sweet mom’s name before the throne as well, asking God to take her gently Home to heaven in His time. Even though I knew I would greatly miss her, I longed for God to rescue her from a body and mind trapped in the clutches of Alzheimer’s.
One by one, my requests were heard by my heavenly Father, resulting in a heart that was quieted by this little bedtime prayer and praise time. Tucked in my bed and nestled under a blanket of God’s peace, eyes closed in prayer were soon closed in sleep. Something tells me my Heavenly Father didn’t mind one bit when His sleepy child fell asleep mid-prayer.