#Hope · Farmers Market · Gardening · grace · Spirituality

Abundance

My kitchen window is lined with bright red tomatoes, a bowl of peaches sits on the dining room table and purple bell peppers fill a shelf in my refrigerator. The freezer holds bags of squash, green beans, crowder peas and okra.  Each evening Keith and I sit down to salads topped with cucumbers, peppers, and home-grown tomatoes. We feast on tomato-bacon sandwiches, slathered with good mayonnaise. I like mine with cheese toast.

 Earlier in the summer we were overrun with cucumbers and squash from my little garden. They have played out, but I’m still getting handfuls of little round salad tomatoes from my bushes, which I pop into my mouth like candy. My peppers are finally growing, and I’m waiting until they reach a rich red color before they are picked and packed away in the freezer for this fall’s chili.

We have been in a time of abundance.

As much as I love this summer eating time, I’m thankful that I don’t have to depend on what I grow to last me all winter. I can’t imagine what it was like when farmers knew that if the frost came late or the rains didn’t fall, they faced the prospect of going hungry.

I think that’s why the theme of abundance is so prevalent in the Bible. People in Biblical days lived close to the earth without a grocery store around the corner. They survived through lean years and fat years and appreciated having a bountiful supply of food. They recognized that they could not control the rains, so they put their trust in God to supply their needs.

I’ve been studying about grace lately, and I am struck by how often God’s abundance is mentioned in the New Testament, especially in relation to His provision for us:

Grace and peace be yours in abundance. (I Peter 1:2)

            I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. (John 10:10)

            Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us. (Ephesians 3:20)

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8)

When I read these verses, I’m reminded of how lavishly God wants to give me love, peace and grace. My cup runneth over with all the mercies He pours out. All I have to do is open my heart and accept His good gifts.

I’m learning to enjoy and embrace the blessings of today and not worry about tomorrow.

Abundance doesn’t last in the garden. The hot summer days are getting shorter, and the crops are starting to die back. I found out this weekend that my favorite vegetable stand, Ricney Farms, is closing for the summer. Our days of fresh tomatoes are coming to an end.

But we will still have abundance, just in other forms. We look forward to cooler weather, apples from Ellijay and pumpkin pie. God’s grace will still be there, in all its forms. The face of abundance changes depending on our season of life.

Living close to God is like eating summer tomatoes all year long!

What is abundant in your life right now?

Spirituality

Can you read the signs?

I was hanging out a few t-shirts on the clothesline Saturday afternoon when two motorcycles came roaring down our quiet country lane. Wait for it, I told myself, and sure enough, as I picked up my basket a few minutes later and headed for the house, here they came, barreling back. Obviously, the riders hadn’t read the sign that said, Road Closed Ahead.

Back in March we had a real gully-washer that sent water cascading off the mountain into the creeks around us. The bridge that is a little less than a mile from us was completely washed out, leaving the asphalt sunk into the creek. It looked like a scene from an earthquake movie.

May be an image of tree and body of water

Our county crew did a good job of putting up barricades and dump trucks of dirt to keep anyone from driving headlong off the edge. They also put up signs saying Road Closed. The problem is, people either don’t see the sign, don’t believe it, or choose to ignore it. The locals know not to come our way, but those that are just out for a nice ride in the country are surprised when they find a giant gap in the road. So our new pastime is watching vehicles head toward the bridge and turn around and come back.

I can’t be too judgmental, since I have sometimes not followed signs saying merge or detour or stop ahead. When I am focused on my destination, I don’t want to be slowed down by signs. Unfortunately, not following the signs can cause me more aggravation in the long run.

I thought about how this is true in my spiritual life as well as on the road. I often miss the signs that God is trying to give me, or I don’t like what they are saying, so I just ignore them. On the other hand, sometimes I am trying so hard to see the signs that I miss my turn!

We were discussing how to know God’s will in our Sunday School class last week — how do we catch the signs He puts out for us? I feel like I’ve been asking this question since I was a teen.

Our teacher, Charlie Bethel, used the analogy of a horse and rider to explain how we can better hear God’s direction in our lives. An inexperienced rider like myself will pull on the horse’s reins and try to kick and manhandle the huge animal. But when the horse and rider have worked together for a long time and know each other well, the rider only has to give the horse a slight nudge of the knee for him to know what to do. The horse trusts the person on his back and therefore lets him or her lead.

Jesus was around sheep more than horses, so he used this principle when he said, I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me. (John 10:14a) The sheep don’t have trouble knowing what their shepherd wants them to do because they are focused on following him.

Every now and then a lamb got distracted by a tuft of grass that looked enticing and wandered off, and the shepherd had to go get him. I get distracted a lot also, and Jesus has to keep going after me and pulling me back into the right frame of mind.

I find when I spend time just listening and keeping my heart open, God’s directions are not too hard to hear. I don’t always like what I hear — I don’t like signs saying I can’t go the way I want to go— but I’m learning that life goes easier when I accept what is in my path. When I choose to believe in the signs God gives me, I avoid being like the motorcyclists who had to change their course when they found out that the road ahead really was impassable.

What helps you follow God’s signs?

Follow Under the Magnolia Tree to receive an email each time I post!

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Following God · Spirituality

Following

We can put so much emphasis on being a leader in our families, churches, and communities that we sometimes forget the importance of being a follower. Last week I was a follower, and I learned some lessons.

I was with a group from my church, First Baptist in Dalton, building the framework for a house church near Blairsville, Georgia. We were helping Carrie and Nathan Dean, a couple with hearts as big as the North Georgia mountains. The Deans have a vision of creating a haven where troubled people can come to find God and peace. Having started a successful church in the inner city of Atlanta, they moved their four young children to the woods, where they are living in a two-bedroom cabin. They plan to use the new home we helped to build as a place to invite and gather folks who may not feel comfortable gracing a traditional church building.

Our group of twenty volunteers arrived on Monday morning to a bare concrete slab on the side of the mountain, surrounded by mud and forest. We had three levels of workers. Three professional contractors from our church gave up their time working on paying jobs to lend their expertise to the project. Next were those who are not professionals but have strong carpentry skills and are active on our church’s wheelchair ramp building team. The final group was the one I fell into — those who may have used a hammer or paintbrush before but knew next to nothing about building a house.

May be an image of outdoors and tree
Day one

The professionals and semi-professionals understood what we were attempting and could look at the architectural plans and translate them to actual walls. They quickly divided us up into two groups, one putting up the studs and joists for the outside and another group working on the framework for the inside walls.

I was with those working on the outside walls. I had no idea what we were doing. I just did as I was told. I carried two-by-four’s, held the boards while someone ran the dangerous circular saw, and learned to read a level so that I could holler “Go!” when the boards were ready to be nailed.

May be an image of 4 people, people standing and outdoors
Our crew

By the second day I was not as blind a follower as I was when we started. I had learned to anticipate what boards were going to be needed, where I should stand to be out of the way and the best way to be helpful to those doing the actual cutting and nailing. I picked up trash, brought water and painted boards for the rafters. But I still did not have an overall vision of what we were building. I just did the little part that was given to me.

By Day Five, we had put up the skeleton of a house, complete with metal trusses for the roof. We were all exhausted, but in awe of what we had accomplished. With the framework of the house in front of me, I finally understood what we had been doing all week.

May be an image of one or more people, people standing and outdoors
Last day!

As we gathered up tools and packed up to leave, each of us signed our name and a short message on one of the studs, which would eventually be covered with walls. As I thought about what to write, I kept hearing in my mind, “Trust in the Lord and He will direct your path.” I knew I didn’t have the whole verse right, but I took the Sharpie and wrote it on the stud.

The next morning when I turned to my devotional for the day, there was the verse:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge Him,
    and He will direct your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6

God was trying to get me to see that framing that house is so much like my relationship with Him. I usually cannot see how God’s plan is going to work out, but I keep doing my little part. Just as I trusted the contractors, who understood what we were building, I am learning to trust that God knows what He is building in my life.

Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the entire building, tightly framed together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God through the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:19-22 (MWV)

Gardening · Spirituality · Teachers

Tender Shoots

This weekend I attended the graduation ceremony for Southeast Whitfield High School  to celebrate the students that I knew when they were middle schoolers. Seeing these young men and women, so grown up and excited, walk, strut, and stroll across the football field to accept their diplomas filled me with joy.

Sunset over the graduation

To be honest, I was surprised to see that a few of them made it to graduation. I knew that in their middle school years they had struggled academically, socially and/or economically. Dropping out, not passing, or ending up in trouble were all paths that these students could have taken.  Receiving that diploma was a huge accomplishment, especially during this past pandemic year, which challenged even the best students. 

I was thinking about this as I tended to my baby trees yesterday. For several years, Keith and I have gone each February to the Arbor Day Seedling Giveaway in Calhoun. We bring home armfuls of little saplings in an attempt to replace the many old established trees we have lost to storms, disease, lightning and old age. Our success rate with the free trees has not been the best, but several bald cypress, red tips and oaks now grace our yard, having grown tall and strong from their humble beginnings.

A bald cypress in the front yard.

This year I was slow getting the seedlings in the ground, but I finally planted several dogwoods, cherry barks, and red oaks. They look like sticks stuck in the earth and as I watered and pulled up weeds around them, I saw few signs of life. I wasn’t sure any of them would survive.

 Then the other morning as I was pulling away some grass at the base of one of the dogwoods, I noticed something green. I dug carefully and saw that it was not a weed, but a tender shoot coming up from the base of the tiny tree. In a few days, cute  baby leaves were coming out on its fragile limbs. A tree is growing. The other seedlings are showing similar signs of life. The saplings are not strong yet and to keep them growing, I will need to keep caring for them over the summer.

My baby tree leafing out

Like my baby trees, children need patience, attention and someone to believe in them. I might have given up on some of those young people wearing caps and gowns on Saturday night, but fortunately someone did not. Someone kept their noses to the grindstone, fed and watered them, both physically and figuratively, and told them they could do it. 

Behind every graduate were family members, school workers, ministers, friends and coaches who had encouraged and supported them. As the families clapped and cheered for their sons and daughters, I felt their pride and their hope for their child’s future.

Jesus said, “I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.” Thank you to all  who helped grow these children into strong young trees, able to withstand the storms of life. 

racism · Spirituality

Confessions of a Southern White Woman

I have struggled with this blog post all week. Talking about race is hard, especially in the South and especially for those my age and older. I consider myself open-minded, Christian, loving, and educated, yet I find that over and over and over I must dig deep to root out the prejudices that are deeply ingrained in me .

I grew up with a framed picture of Robert E. Lee on the wall of our den. My father considered him the epitome of a Southern Gentleman and the general was one of his heroes. We had a Black maid who came at least once a week to clean our house, more often when I was little. I wonder now what she thought of that picture.

My parents were not racist, and I saw them make the conscious decision to change their views throughout their lives. They taught me to be respectful of everyone. Considering their childhoods in the Jim Crow South, they came a long way. In 1963, my father was part of a committee to help peacefully integrate Wilson, North Carolina, and it was an eye-opening experience for him. My mother commented before she died that she and Queenie, the last maid who worked for them for thirty years, sat down together for a sandwich and a glass of tea at lunch. She would not have imagined doing such a thing in earlier years.

Growing up in the sixties and seventies, I was taught that the Civil War was not fought for slavery, but for states’ rights, for freedom to do what each state wanted (which included slavery). The Yankees were the evil soldiers who destroyed the peaceful South out of meanness and because they could.

Gone With the Wind was one of my favorite movies until just a few years ago, when I began to recognize the lies inherent in it —that perhaps all slaves were not so devoted to their masters as Mammy and Prissy. It’s interesting that there was more scandal around Rhett Butler telling Scarlett at the end of the book/movie “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” than Scarlett slapping young Prissy across the face for  telling a lie about knowing about birthing babies.

I wanted to find a true picture of the history of this land that I love. I started reading works by Black authors and true diaries and accounts of what it was really like to be owned by another person. I learned that an enslaved person’s life was not one of happy spirituals sung under the shade tree, but an existence of fear, misery, and helplessness. Even under the best circumstances, a slave did not have the ability to decide where she would live, what would become of her children or what job she would do. There was little incentive to work hard other than hopes for some small reward. The South of Gone With the Wind was harsh and violent.

Last fall I visited my cousin Scott and his wife Debra at their home outside Washington, DC. While there I went to the new African American Museum of History and Culture and to Mount Vernon, among other stops. Both were eye-opening, but Mount Vernon stuck with me the most.

As a child, I loved learning about Colonial history and had visited George and Martha Washington’s estate with my family. In the last fifty years it has been expanded to include the adjacent farms and to tell the stories of the hundreds of slaves that worked the crops, fields, and stables. They kept the house going and food on the table for the family and their many guests.

In Mount Vernon’s gift shop, I picked up Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar. The small book recounted the true story of Ona Judge, who despite having what many might consider a ‘plumb’ slave job —who wouldn’t want to work for the President and live in a beautiful home? — made the decision to slip away to the North while living in the first Presidential Mansion in Philadelphia.

Martha and George were shocked and angry. They assumed that someone, probably a free Black man living in Philadelphia, had hoodwinked her, possibly gotten her pregnant, and lured her away from their loving home. But the reality was that Ona had heard rumors that she was going to be ‘given’ to Martha’s newly married niece and knew that this young woman was a hard mistress. Leaving behind her family and all she had ever known, she took advantage of being north of the Mason-Dixon Line and ran.

Something about Ona’s story struck a nerve in me. I’ve always defended our Founding Fathers for their slave holding, and Washington did free the slaves he owned after his death (the ones owned by Martha had to wait a while longer). But reading about this real woman and her determination to live life under her own terms, no matter how difficult, gave me the barest taste of what she may have felt.

I am listening now and doing my best to hear the pain that still lives in so many men and women today. The terrible sin of slavery grew from greed and fear and a sense that one group of people is better than another. Its effects are with us today, a hundred and fifty years after it was supposedly abolished.

I’m not where I should be yet, but I hope I’m on the road. As with other weaknesses in my life, I have to pray each day for God to open my heart and help me to continue to grow in grace.

And I am sure that God who began the good work within you will keep right on helping you grow in his grace until his task within you is finally finished on that day when Jesus Christ returns. (Phil. 1:6, TLB)

#shelterathome · #shelteringinplace · Spirituality · World Health Organization · World War II

Social distance shaming

I’m in the angry stage.

I’ve gone through different feelings these past weeks, much like the stages of grief. I’m over the initial denial and panic phase. I’ve had times of sadness and depression but also peaceful times of acceptance enjoying the solitude. Like going through a time of trauma, the stages circle around and repeat themselves.

But now I’m getting mad and my anger is directed at the people I see going about life as usual. I don’t want to mention specifics here because I’m afraid someone I care about will read it and be offended. But you know who I’m talking about – those who are getting together with their extended families, having cook-outs and seeing friends while the rest of us are trying to follow the rules and stay home.

I may not be physically pointing a finger, but I’m pointing it in my mind. Why do they think they are more special than the rest of us who are not seeing those we love? Don’t they get it?

I’m reminded of a story my father told about being in France immediately after World War II. He was wounded as an infantryman pushing into Germany with Patton’s army and was convalescing in a French hospital. One day he was taking a walk and saw a group holding a woman down and shaving her head. She was accused of being friendly with the German soldiers who had occupied France for four long years. Having a shaved head was a mark that she had been a traitor and had given in to whatever comforts the Germans offered instead of suffering the deprivations like her neighbors. The anger of the mob was palpable.

Woman having head shaved, from Rare Historical Photos

While our situation is not as dire as what the French experienced, there are some parallels. We are fighting an enemy that is sneaky and illusive. Many people are risking their lives every day to fight this enemy, just as the Allied soldiers and the brave men and women in the Underground fought the Nazi’s. Most of us are quietly going about our days just trying to make it through, giving up freedoms we had taken for granted. Meanwhile others are either intentionally or unintentionally helping the enemy to stay strong through their actions.

Hopefully we will not come to a place of publicly shaming for those who have broken the rules of staying at home, but emotions are running high. Our Georgia governor’s call to open up some businesses has elicited strong responses both for and against. One person posted that if her family wanted to go out to a restaurant it was their right. Others feel that we will be putting our neighbors at risk if we start back to normalcy too soon.

I don’t like this judgmental side of myself. I don’t know the circumstances of those who are together. Maybe that grandmother is helping look after her granddaughter. Maybe those ten family members in the FaceBook picture at Easter are all holed up together in one house. Maybe that crowd I saw smoking cigarettes outside of Dollar General all live together in one big group home.

Jesus tells us not to judge or condemn but to forgive (Luke 6:37). The anger I feel at those I am judging for breaking the social distancing rules is no different than any other judgement I might make for someone’s behavior. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s not up to me to say how others live. As long as they are not breathing on me, I have no right to judge. By some people’s standards, I may be just as guilty by meeting friends to walk.

Perhaps the woman who had her head shaved that day did what she needed to do to keep her children alive. She had her reasons.

Each of us has to live with our own conscience. I wonder how many of the French people wished they had acted differently during the time of occupation. Some may have wished they had done more to fight the Germans while others certainly carried guilt for their actions.

In the same way, those that are potentially spreading the virus have to live with their decisions.

I am learning that I can’t control the actions of others. I can make the decision to stay home myself, wear a mask when I go to the store and wash my hands. I can pray for others, but they are free to make their own choices.

I like this image from the World Health Organization and need to take it to heart. This is not a time to be angry at others, but to realize we are all coping the best we can.

So today I will try to be kind. I want my conscience to be clear about how I treated others when this crisis is over.

comfort zones · Prayer of Jabez · Spirituality

Stretching Out Our Roots

It’s the time of year when I go a little crazy at the garden centers. I drool over all the beautiful flowers and buy too many. I spent all last week planting and now I love the color that is popping up in my yard!

I have two Christmas Cacti that I bring outside when the weather turns warm and this year I finally got around to repotting them. They belonged to my Great-aunt Frances and I brought them home from a family reunion more than twelve years ago, not long after she died. They bloom every year around November, and I feel like a part of her is with me during the Christmas season. But in the last few years they have been looking scrawny. I decided they needed an upgrade.

A few Christmases ago.

I dumped them out of their old pots and was shocked at how little dirt they had been living on! These are some hardy plants! Their roots were pressed up against the sides of the pot as if they were fighting to get out.

I know that I’m a weird plant lady, but when I settled them into fresh potting soil and new larger pots, I swear I heard them say, “Aww, that feels so good!” They immediately looked better. I moved them to the back porch where they get lots of afternoon sun and they are thriving.

Aunt Frances’ cacti had become rootbound, which means that their roots had nowhere to go and were circling back on themselves. According to a gardening website, they were choking themselves to death. No wonder they were looking puny.

Those dried up roots remind me of the way I feel at times. I think and act in the same old ways for so long that I get rolled up in a tight little ball. If I don’t give myself a way to stretch and grow, I will start to wither just like the plants.

I was reminded of the little devotional book that was popular twenty years ago, The Prayer of Jabez, by Bruce Wilkinson. The book is based on this short prayer inserted in the middle of a long, boring section of I Chronicles 4:

Jabez cried out to the God of Israel,

“Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory!

Let your hand be with me and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.”

And God granted his request.

(I Chronicles 4:10)

This book was impactful in its simplicity — we ask God to bless us, give us a wider group to influence and keep us from harm. But Wilkinson raises the question: Do we want God to bless us and enlarge our territory?

Most of the time we feel like we have enough to handle with what is currently on our plate, without God adding more. Yet Jabez asks God to literally enlarge his tent. He says, “Give me more opportunities to work for you, Lord.”

Isn’t this another way of asking God to get us out of our comfort zones? Maybe we need to ask him to give us a little more room to stretch out our roots, to let go of whatever is holding us in and explore new paths.

As I have been pushing myself to move past some harmful attitudes and actions, I feel like my roots are no longer hitting the side of the pot. Growth can be painful, but it can also be liberating. When I tentatively stretch out my roots I may find myself moving into more fertile soil.

Do you feel God pushing you to expand today? Start by asking for his blessing and you may be surprised at how good it feels to stretch.