Hang in There (Another Life Lesson from the Garden)

I’m no farmer.

I’m not even smart enough in the area of growing plants to be called a “gardener.” The most that can be said about me in this arena is that I have bought plants to put in the ground and have only killed some of them. While parenting feels natural and intuitive to me most of the time, gardening feels awkward; I have no instincts about how things are supposed to go. This doesn’t stop me, of course, but it makes for some great “a-ha” moments. Two examples…

This spring, Rob and I planted sweet potatoes. Our friends who really are gardeners told us about how the plants shoot out “tubers” and that sounded cool, (also, we found we quite enjoy saying,”Tubers!”) so we bought a 6-pack of the pretty plants and put them in the ground. Sure enough, the plants started shooting out vines like crazy! My understanding from the words I’d heard was that the vines were going to take hold of the earth at points along their lengths and put down roots, thus enabling the shooting out of tubers.  I inspected them from time-to-time and found that, though the vines seemed very healthy, they were not putting down roots anywhere. But they were beautiful with their dark green and purple leaves, so it was all good. Then there was the day the deer ate the vines down to nubs and I lost all hope of tubers.

The vines grew again, though, and we enjoyed their beauty all summer long. A few weeks ago, I thought I’d check for tubers one last time. As I approached the side of the garage where the plants were, a thought crossed my mind…”What if the tubers grow from the base of the plant and not from the vines.” I’m not sure if it was Divine inspiration, or whether common sense had finally taken hold, but it seemed right to call for Rob to join me. We poked around the base of one plant and found a huge, softball-sized sweet potato! We dug some more and eventually found about a dozen that were suitable to eat. Oh, did we laugh when we realized we actually had some tubers! They were there all along, we just didn’t know where to look.

Then there’s the pink muhly grass plant we bought last fall. It was past its peak when we bought it, so we cut it way back and planted it in the ground. I’ve been eyeing it since spring. As the grass grew, I’ve been watching for the pink “fireworks” to shoot up from the base. For months, nothin.’ But a few days ago, I walked past and they were suddenly there! Guess what?! The pink fronds don’t grow out from the base of the plant like I had thought – they emerge from inside the green grass that’s been there all along. The beauty has been trapped inside the grass leaves, all this time – waiting to pop out at just the right time.

Why am I sharing this? The past several months have not been the easiest for me – I’m guessing that maybe they haven’t been the easiest for you, either. (If you’ve been in a season of ease, Hallelujah for that – tuck this away for later!) It’s nothing major, but I’ve been praying and hoping and watching for some relief – know what I mean? And now that it has shown up, just like with my sweet potatoes, I realize that I had let myself grow discouraged simply because I wasn’t looking in the right spot. And just like with the muhly grass, the beauty and relief were there all along – and have appeared just at the right time.

I’ve found that sometimes, uncertainty and discomfort are not signs that something is wrong. They can be signs that something really good is growing – something really good that God knows we’ll need for the next season.

Here are some verses I read this week that have encouraged me in the process of emerging on the “heaven side” of this struggle. If you’re in the middle of a difficult season, I’m praying they will speak to you as well!

Colossians 4:2
Pray dilligently. Stay alert, with eyes wide open in gratitude.

I Thessalonians 1:6
Although great trouble accompanied the Word, you were able to take great joy from the Holy Spirit! Taking the trouble with the joy, the joy with the trouble.

I Thessalonians 2:3-5
God tested us thoroughly to make sure we were qualified to be trusted with this Message. Be assured that when we speak to you we’re not after crowd approval. Since we’ve been put through the battery of tests, you’re guaranteed that both we and the Message are free of error, mixed motives or hidden agendas.

 

I Thessalonians 3:11-13
May God our Father himself and our Master Jesus clear the road to you!
And may the Master pour on the love so it fills your lives and splashes over on everyone around you, just as it does from us to you.
May you be infused with strength and purity, filled with confidence in the presence of God our Father when our Master Jesus arrives with all his followers.

 

 

 

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When Life Lessons > Summer Tomatoes

Our little backyard garden was doing amazingly well. Until it wasn’t.

A deer from the woods behind our house discovered and helped him- or herself to our plants. Overnight, our healthy vegetable plants and hydrangea were munched down to nubs. Seriously. Where there had been beautiful, strong leafy plants loaded with blossoms, baby tomatoes and cucumbers, there are now green stalks with roughly-munched ends.

The morning we discovered the thievery, we were stunned. And bummed. And a little ticked.

But hey, gardening is never a sure thing (especially with my “black thumb of death), and we have the opportunity and the means to go to the market to buy produce, so this loss certainly wasn’t the end of the world; not even close. It settled quickly into something we can chuckle about – the image of “that deer” chomping on the leaves of the sweet potato vine which led the way to the tomatoes and cucumbers like a signpost. “Dinner: This Way.”

The next day, our sister-in-law brought us a beautiful bouquet of hydrangeas “just because.” I didn’t make the connection until another sweet friend brought an armful of “extra” zucchini to Bible study two days later. As I carried my share of the veggies to the car, it hit me. What a sweet (and swift!) reminder that God has the ability and the resources (and access to people who can help) to restore us when we suffer losses of any kind. This is not the first time I’ve been the recipient of this sort of blessing. And I’m sure it won’t be the last.

I’m praying that I will remember this the next time I feel God whispering “share your stuff.”

Everyone was amazed at what God was doing. They were amazed when the apostles performed many wonders and signs. All the believers were together. They shared everything they had. They sold property and other things they owned. They gave to anyone who needed something. ~Acts 2:43-45

PS: I’m happy to report that the blueberries are still safe, and just beginning to ripen!

Promises, Promises

We planted two blueberry bushes a few years ago. This will be our second season with fruit. Take a look at these beauties! I mean, seriously. Just look at ’em.

The bushes are along the path from our house to the garage, so I pass by them several times a day. Each time, my reaction is the same.

Pure delight.

The promise of future berries is a gift in its own right. I have enjoyed watching the bushes closely this spring. There was the first sign of flowers – little white bells in clumps, almost like lily of the valley. And then the blossoms fell away to reveal the tiniest little swellings on the ends of the stems. Heavy rains in the last few weeks have resulted in plumper berries than last year, and their color is shifting slightly with each passing day.

All of this feels like a sweet miracle.

The promise season is lasting much longer than the eating season will. I’m enjoying every minute.

Today is a gift. Life on earth for some is long and for others is much too short. Either way, let’s not waste any of it. Let’s enjoy the promises that come true today as well as the ones that we are still waiting to see fulfilled. There are rich blessings in both.

There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!
Romans 5:3-5 (The Message)

Finding Our “Bearings”

I can’t help but notice that it seems like the whole world has gone “mad” recently. I don’t mean “crazy” mad, I mean “mad” mad. I get it. There’s plenty to be upset about. But I don’t think the kind of anger I’m seeing leads to anyplace that’s good, because it seems to be turning us against each other.

I’m a peace lover. I love gentle words spoken in soothing tones over a slice of pie and a mug of hot coffee. In times like this, when there are so many issues and so many voices arguing SO LOUDLY with so much venom, I feel like a little girl – trapped while the adults fight at the dinner table. I want to cover my ears and be excused. What can I do to fix ANY of this? I am just one little girl.

But then I remember.

I am one little girl

Who knows the Great, Big God.

So I am looking to Him for the answers -for direction on what to do, and what to say. (And also what not to say.)

He says

“Love one another as I have loved you.”

“Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

“Feed My sheep.”

“Bear one another’s burdens.”

None of us (on our own) has what it takes to fix all that is wrong. But we can each do something. Let’s find our “bearings” – our ways to bear another’s burdens.

This week, Rob and I had the honor of caring for a very young child through Safe Families – a movement that offers temporary housing to children whose parents are in distress. The little guy who stayed with us has been hosted by some friends for several weeks. They needed to go out of town, so we got to keep him for a few nights. It was an easy thing to do, but what a balm to my soul to get to do it!

I’m seeing you bear burdens, too.

Your actions are speaking to my heart and overshadowing the harsh words I’ve heard and read lately. I am watching you and you are giving me hope. You are taking time to share smiles and kind words with strangers. You are showing love to children who need your help with both school lessons and life lessons. You are supplying hungry children with food to eat over the weekend. You are offering ears to listen and shoulders to cry on to people who are scared and hurting. You are preparing meals to ease the strain on families dealing with illness or grief or poverty. You are standing hand-in-hand and side-by-side with those who cannot stand on their own. You are using your strong voices to speak the words that need to be said in the places where it will do the most good.

We’ve got this, people! Let’s remember how much we love each other. Let’s remember that it is Love that has the power to overcome. Let’s stay at the table together until it is time for pie.

 

Solid Christmas

I love the holiday season. From Thanksgiving’s focus on gratitude (and the feast, how I enjoy the feast!), to Christmas with the Babe in the manger who changes everything, to the fresh start of the New Year, those 6 weeks were packed, weren’t they?

Now, as we face the wintry months when the nights are quiet and cozy,* there is plenty of time to savor holiday memories, process experiences and reflect on lessons learned.

Christmas is all about Jesus for me, but I’m not a Santa hater. One of my favorite Christmas decorations is a wooden Santa that hangs over the corner of a door. Its a treasure because of the friend who gave it to me, because it was handmade by her dad, and because it is amazingly cute. Honestly, I would like to leave it up all year.

I do, however, have a strong dislike for those inflatable Santas (and other characters – I even saw a Christmas dragon this year – what the heck?!) that populate front yards everywhere all December long. They’re not so bad at night, when they are full of air and light and “life,” but in the morning light, when they are lying in a sad puddle of polyester, I think they’re awful.

They do make a great metaphor, however, for the state of things right now. Many people think Christmas (and Life, for that matter) is about things that don’t last; putting their hope in decorations, gifts, traditions, achievements, possessions … while the Prince of Peace is right here, offering real hope and joy that endures even after the “stuff” is put back in the attic. In these postmodern days, many people don’t even know that Jesus is the Christ in Christmas. Maybe that is what was up with the Christmas Dragon?

I am thankful for Immanuel: God With Us, who makes Christmas solid and Life full. My prayer for our family and yours in 2017 is that we never stop growing in our understanding of how much He loves us.

Isaiah 6:9: For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

John 10:10: I came so they can have real and eternal life,
more and better life than they ever dreamed of.

    John 17:20-23: I do not ask for these only,
but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21
that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you,
that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe
that you have sent me.
22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them,
that they may be one even as we are one,
23 I in them and you in me,
that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know
that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

Ephesians 3:14-19: My response is to get down on my knees before the Father,
this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth.
I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength
but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you
open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet
planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in
with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love.
Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length!
Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights!
Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.

 

 

*Confession: there’s some “spin” here – I’m not a huge fan of winter. But calling it “cozy” rather than “dreary” is working for me so far this year.

“Getting” Better

I’ve been thinking about “better” recently. The word has been spoken around, to and by me in ways that have challenged and encouraged me (and nearly broken my heart, but that’s a story of its own).

“Better” is deceptively relative – do you know what I mean?

On one hand, better can be somewhere between “good” and “best” – or maybe even, “just shy of excellent.” But sometimes, all it means is “less worse” or “the only way to go was up.”

We don’t always get to decide. Sometimes, life hands us “worse and worse.” In those times, just barely holding on is the very best we can do. I’ve had seasons like that. I am praying for several friends who are right there, right now. This post is not about that.

When it comes to going after better, my hard and fast rule is to keep it personal; to compare myself only against myself. We save ourselves a lot of pain when we refuse to compare ourselves to others. This is one of most important lessons I’ve learned as a human.

There’s a song on my running playlist that my nephew introduced to me years ago – “Never Going Back to OK, by The Afters”…

I feel alive
And it hurts for a change
I’m looking back and it’s hard to believe
That I was cool with the days
that I wasted,
complacent,
and tasteless and bored
But that was yesterday

We’re never going back to OK
We’re never going back to easy
We’re never going back to the way it was
We’re never going back to OK

I haven’t got it all figured out, that’s for sure. In fact, there are areas of my life where I need to improve drastically, and areas where I have fallen hard from where I once was. If I ever master the art of being at the peak of “better-ness” across the board, I will happily share the secret.

But I do have some “betters” that I am thankful for right now.

The point of getting to “better” is to make it a new benchmark. It is good to celebrate and acknowledge progress, and then, to keep at it. The next “better” will be – well, you know.

“Good, better, best. Never let it rest.
‘Til your good is better and your better is best”
-St. Jerome

How much better to get wisdom than gold,
and good judgment than silver!
-Proverbs 16:16

 

And Then She Graduated

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She did it! Our girl graduated from UNCG with honors and has already landed a job in her field. I am amazed (but not surprised) at these accomplishments.

After spending years preparing my heart for sending her off to college, it is odd how quickly it seems to have happened and is over. (I realize we weren’t simply preparing for college, but for adulthood.) Yet when I think over the past four years, and the growth, skill and maturity she’s gained through hard work, experiences and making decisions for herself, not to mention the excellent “pouring into” she’s received from School of Education professors and mentor teachers, I can see clearly that it really did happen, and it took more than the blink of an eye.

How do I feel? So proud – so happy for her. There are tears of joy and prayers of gratitude. And while her degree and job offer are noteworthy and cause for celebration, there are more important reasons I’m proud of this woman.

I’m proud of the way she loves.

I’m proud of the way she perseveres.

I’m proud of the way she sets her sights (and wisely adjusts, when needed).

I’m proud of her confidence, and her humility.

I’m proud of the way she follows Christ.

This girl is on fire.
This girl is a firework.