Christianity · Spirituality

From flower to cucumber

My cucumber vines were almost dead when I came back last week from my short trip to North Carolina to visit my cousin Garner and her family. The miserable heat and lack of rain had dried them up and they lay brown and listless on the ground. I gave them a long drink with the hose and by the next morning they had perked up and had a little color. The sparse afternoon showers helped, but we have still only gotten a few cucumbers from them.

The problem is that even though the vines look better, they are not producing flowers – and without flowers, there are no cucumbers! I find that it is easy to forget this basic tenet of gardening. It doesn’t matter how big and lush the vines get, without flowers they are just another plant.

Each morning as I’ve gone out to check on their progress, I’m reminded of myself. I think of the times I have looked the part of an upstanding Christian on the outside, but in reality I was not getting enough nourishment. I can fake it for a while, but eventually, like my cucumber vines, I start to fade. Anger and negative thoughts start taking over and soon I’m not producing any fruit.

 Jesus tells us this pretty clearly: I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything. ( John 15:5)

So if I’m not spending time with God, then I’m not going to be productive in the spiritual realm. But what does it mean to produce fruit? I’ve asked myself this in the past months. Spending more time at home has made me feel un-useful. It’s easy to get wrapped up in my own little world.

But I’m seeing that if I keep studying and praying, God starts revealing ways he can use me. Yesterday I spent a few hours at my church getting supplies ready to be given out at a local school. I counted out sheets of paper into groups of 10! It didn’t feel like much of a contribution. But then I thought of the harried teacher who would get the supply boxes for her students and how that would help her out in some small way. Everything has meaning if we see it through our spiritual eyes. 

Jesus tells us in Luke 6:44  that we are known by the fruit that we produce.  I want my vine to be more than decorative!  I want to keep my heart open to whatever seemingly insignificant job God has for me to do. I’ve found that those kind of jobs can bring the biggest harvest.

A few yellow flowers have finally emerged on my cucumber vine and I’m ready for the crunchy cucumbers to come!

A few flowers on my vine!

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Christianity · Gardening · solitude

In the Garden

I am on spring break this week and having a ‘staycation’. I’m loving time at home to write, sleep, cook, read and relax.

Wednesday was finally gorgeous and warm, so after spending the morning working on a magazine article, I headed out to my flower garden.

It’s a mess.

I have to admit I’m a fair weather gardener. I’m not big on getting out in the cold and wet to pull weeds and it seems like all we’ve had for the last six months here in Northwest Georgia is cold and wet. My garden shows it. The daffodils have finished and the day lilies are putting out their greenery, but all my other plants are hidden under a jungle of spindly junk. Nothing to do but dig in and start pulling.

I don’t mind. I’m not in a hurry when I’m in the garden; I know that I’ll eventually get it all done.   This is my space. No one tells me how it should look or what I should plant.  I never know what it’s going to look like from year to year. It’s not terraced or spaced or landscaped. Most of the flowers and bushes are odd ones that I’ve been given or found at some out of the way place or dug up and transplanted. Some  live and some die. Some surprise me and others disappoint. A lot like people, I guess. But I love it.

I have a strict no electronics rule with myself for when I’m in the garden. In the house or car, I have music, NPR, or Audible going nonstop (I’ve even gotten in the habit of listening to Audible while brushing my teeth.) But out here, the phone stays off. The only sounds are the birds talking, a lawn mower growling down the road, my neighbor Jack putt-putting by on his tractor or the mournful sound of the train passing a mile away. Quiet, calm sounds.

This is my listening place. While I pull up the offensive weeds, God and I talk in that companionable way of old friends that don’t have to be constantly saying something. My problems and concerns, fears and uncertainties about the future, are less pressing. As friends and family come to mind, I pray for them and then turn them over to God.

When the sound clutter is gone, I’m amazed at what I hear.

We read in Isaiah:

“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
    in quietness and trust is your strength,
 But you would have none of it.” (Isaiah 30:15)   

Notice that phrase — ‘But you would have none of it.’ Even in Isaiah’s time, the Israelites didn’t want to be quiet — the passage goes on to say that they rode off on their horses.

I wonder why it’s often hard to find time for silence. What am I afraid of? That I might be bored for two minutes? That I won’t like what God might say when I’m still enough to listen? That I’ll be shown all the ways I fall short?

That’s where I’m learning to trust. Even though I’ve heard it all my life, I’m learning to truly believe that God loves me and wants what is best for me. That makes listening to Him easier.

I love this quote from the author Pearl S. Buck:

           I pray you find that quiet place inside. to renew your springs in the coming days.

Christianity · Spirituality

New Traffic Pattern Ahead

I turn 60 today, a milestone in many ways. Decade birthdays are always a time to reflect — at 30 I thought I was old (not), at 40 I thought I would quit worrying about what others thought (didn’t happen), at 50 I was finally starting to feel empowered. Conversely, 60 doesn’t feel old. Maybe it’s because 60 is the beginning of being elderly. I’m young for an old person, kind of like freshman year.

This birthday is a special turning point for me because I’m now eligible to retire. So at the end of May, I’m will be hanging up my school media specialist ‘Super-cape’ and moving onto my next chapter.

I’m not a person who loves change, so knowing that I’m leaving this part of my life and the fun and amazing people I’ve known for the last nine years, carries a gamut of emotions. I love my library with its blue and green walls that I painted myself, the books that I painstakingly ordered, the stuffed couches and chairs that the kids fight over. On those days that students are lying across the couch reading, or quietly browsing books I feel at peace. Those are the times I love.

But I’ve been praying about this for a long time and it’s time for a change. I’m ready to have time to write, visit friends and family and explore other avenues. I’ve been asking God to show me what He wants me to do but He hasn’t gotten back to me with any specific plans yet.

The other night I was having a small panic attack over the retirement- how will I fill my days? Will I have enough money? Will I get lonesome spending my time writing? Will Keith and I kill each other? I started searching the internet for some kind of job I could do when I felt God gently nudging me. “Just relax and let me work it out,” He said. “It’s okay to take some time off to just be.”

I crave time to be. My mind stays full of what I need to do at school, what I need to defrost for dinner, when I’m going to work in a run or time to write, and how to cram in all the pieces of being a good friend, wife, and mother. It’s exhausting and overwhelming. And I’m not even as busy as most people I know.

God has given me a metaphor for this season of my life. For the past two years, the bridge over the interstate that I take every day has been under construction. I wrote about it in a previous blog. While the DOT workers have been out laboring in all kinds of weather on the new part, those of us driving across have to go through an awkward series of stop signs and confusing arrows. The area is littered with orange cones and piles of concrete and fencing. It’s been inconvenient and aggravating.

But progress is slowly being made and signs are now up with squiggly lines showing how to go around the soon to come roundabouts and where to turn to get on I 75. A big encouraging sign is up that says “New traffic pattern ahead.”

I can see the new road next to me as I maneuver the old one. It’s right there, but I can’t ride on it yet. I’m not sure what it will be like. I imagine it will take a little while to get used to its new curves and turns. It might even be scary and confusing at the beginning. But once I’m used to it, I think I will love it.

Do you see the correlation?

I’m getting ready for this new road in my life, but meanwhile, I’m savoring the lessons I’ve gleaned on the old one. I’ve learned to slow down and take my time, to give others the benefit of the doubt, to trust that the road ahead will get me across to the other side. I will take those lessons with me when the new way opens up.

When my anxiety starts to kick in, God reminds me that whatever path I’m on, He will be with me. In Psalm 139:5 I read:

“You hem me in – behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.” (NIV)

This translation from ‘The Message’ opens it up more:

I look behind me and you’re there,
then up ahead and you’re there, too—
your reassuring presence, coming and going.

 I love this image—God protecting me from dangers sneaking up behind me and at the same time, clearing the way ahead. He’s “got my back”.

Just as the bridge builders have been preparing the new route, God is right now preparing what comes next for me. Even if there are bumps in the road, I know that He will be there with me. I’m plunging ahead with anticipation!

Christianity · Teachers · Vatican

Closing the Gap

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A magnet hangs on my refrigerator amid the jumble of graduation pictures, dentist appointment reminders and other magnets from places I’ve visited. I bought this when my son and I visited the Sistine Chapel a few years ago. It shows the part of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling masterpiece, the Creation of Adam, when God’s hand is reaching out to meet Adam’s finger. A small gap rests between the two fingers as the most important moment in human history is about to happen – God making contact with the first person.

I’ve been reading a book called Restored: Finding Redemption in our MESS by Tom Berlin, and he uses this iconic image as the starting place to explain how God meets us in the mess of life we have created. Berlin theorizes that we live in that gap between those two fingers meeting – so close, but not quite making contact with the Supreme Being. He says:

“What is represented in that gap? It is the almost of life – what we would have, and could be, if only we would reach toward God as energetically as God reaches toward us. That gap is the distance between the life we have and the life we want. It is the empty space in the relationship with God that we feel even as we long for the communion with the one who created us.” (P. 16)

That line “That gap is the distance between the life we have and the life we want” – has been rolling around my brain this week. As I’ve looked at that magnet each day I’ve thought about how far I feel from God at times. Yet I know that God is close, right there, but I can’t quite reach Him. What can I do to bridge that gap?

If we pan out from the small section of the two hands meeting and take in the scene with Adam and God, we see that God is straining with all His might to reach Adam. He has the help of the angels who are supporting Him In the air and He is intent on making contact. Adam on the other hand, seems unconcerned and weak, leaning away from his Maker and holding out a limp hand. One art commentator noticed that all Adam has to do to touch God’s Holy finger is simply lift up his own finger just a little – but the action seems almost too much for him.

How often are we like Adam in the painting – too lazy or weak to make the contact with God, who is straining toward us?

On one hand, being a Christian is the easiest thing in the world – simply accept the free gift God gives us. But there is also some effort involved. Paul writes about this to the Philippians, in a passage that fascinates me:

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (2:12-13)

Paul tells us to work out our own salvation. Does this mean that we have to work for our salvation? No, salvation is God’s gift to us – For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 3:8-9). And it doesn’t mean that God loves us because of how good we are – He loves us unconditionally. But in order to reap all that He wants to give us – “to fulfill His good purpose” – we have to do our part.

If someone gave me a gift of an expensive treadmill and I set it up in my bedroom and then never ran on it, but used it as a place to hang my clothes or to store the paper towels from Costco – would I be getting the benefit of the gift? I would still have it, no one has stolen it, but would it be doing me any good?

That’s how I am with my gift from God. Sometimes I feel like Adam in Michelangelo’s painting – that I’m not extending my finger to meet God’s. I don’t want to make the effort. We have so many things to drag our attention away from spending time with God – the TV, the internet, Face book, not to mention our jobs, families, friends and church. These are not bad things, but we just have so many distractions that take up our energy.  Meanwhile, God is straining toward us with so many good things to give us, and we are watching cat videos!

So I’m back to the balance that I wrote about previously – sometimes I am studying hard and working to understand what God is saying, and other times I’m resting and letting His love and peace wash over me. It is a constant back and forth, like the waves coming into the shore and leaving again. When the rhythm gets out of whack, then I run into problems and I have to find it again.

My magnet has more meaning for me now, and I look at it each day and look forward to the times when God’s hand makes contact and touches me!

grace

Christianity · Daffodls · Spirituality · Uncategorized

Daffodil Strength

My daffodils are here and they give me hope.

Years ago when we first moved into our old house, we began transplanting daffodils around the yard. Patches of them grew in the woods around us, leftover from the days when tenant houses were there. I think of them as wild, although I don’t know if daffodils actually grow wild. I like thinking about awoman planting them outside her little house a hundred years ago, when it was just a swept dirt yard with chickens and children running around. Did their cheerful yellow faces give her hope as well?

 

These little daffodils are not big and showy, but they are tough and consistent. They push their heads up when the ground is still hard and frozen, as if determined  to come up no matter what the weather. Usually they make their appearance toward the end of February, but they showed up early this year since we have had such a balmy winter. Their bright sunshine color and distinctive aroma announce “Spring is coming!”,  even though we still face possible snow and ice.

In this age of noise and bluster, the little daffodils remind me of people I know that are strong in their quiet ways. I think of my friend Tiffany who struggles with Cerebral Palsy.  Just getting out of bed and putting on her clothes is a challenge each day as she deals with muscles that don’t cooperate and braces on her legs and a walker that she hates. Yet she doesn’t give up and comes to work each day with a smile and a laugh. I think of another friend who was recently widowed. She has that lost, fragile look of someone fighting through grief, yet she forces herself to get out of the house, put on some makeup and face the world. That is true strength.

Tiffany and me at Christmas

What botanical urge causes the daffodil bulb to decide it is time to bloom when it is sleeping underground, even as the temperatures dip and the snow comes? A scientist could explain it to me, but to me it is a mystery.  In the same inexplicable way, people push through hard times and survive against the odds, pulling their strength from deep within.

In Ephesians 3, Paul tells the readers of his letter that he is praying for them to experience the power that only comes from Christ in their “inner being”.  I like the New Living Translation:

I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.

Notice that God’s resources are unlimited and that through the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to do whatever is before us. Too often I don’t take advantage of this power in my life. Unlike that little daffodil flower that is being pulled up by a desire for the sun, I don’t let myself be pulled and led by the Holy Spirit. But notice verse 17 – that “your roots will grow down in God’s love and keep you strong.” The daffodil spends all year building up its resources underground in order to bloom for a few weeks. Our strength must come from putting down the roots we need, securely anchoring ourselves in God’s love.

I’m thankful for the daffodils that promise Spring and for the people in my life who inspire me each day with their courage. And I’m thankful also for the Holy Spirit in my life, promising strength to face life’s struggles.