#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?

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. 

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.

Farmers Market · Gardening

A Place for a Tomato

Some women love clothes. Some have a weakness for jewelry.

I can’t resist summer vegetables.

I stopped by the Farmers Market at the Calhoun Depot on Monday and went a little crazy. I left with three kinds of tomatoes, including a purplish heirloom variety and the most wonderful sweet cherry ones that are like having summer explode in your mouth, green beans (white half runners), yellow squash, okra and two kinds of peppers, although the farmer gave me the banana ones, so they don’t really count. In my defense, I did not buy the purple hull peas or the interesting striped squash or any of the homemade jams – but there’s always next time.

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My Farmers Market dinner!

My weakness for summer vegetables goes back to memories of my childhood when my mother cooked okra covered in oil in her black cast iron frying pan and boiled green beans all day with a big chunk of fatback. Summer dinners always included fresh tomatoes and I loved them on a big crispy biscuit with mayonnaise (still do!) The squash was baked into a casserole covered in cheese and the butter beans were almost more butter than bean. All of that together with some greasy fried chicken and fresh peach pie meant good eating – and may be why I wore those chubby girl dresses.

I remember the smell of vinegar throughout the house when Mama was making cucumber pickles and the mess in the kitchen when she froze cream style corn. But as a child of the suburbs, I was removed from the actual work of growing the vegetables. My father tried to put in little gardens at our various houses, but our shady neighborhoods were never conducive to sun-loving tomatoes.

My grandfathers were the gardeners, each with his own large plot behind his house where we children were forbidden to play for fear we would trample a tender squash or knock over a stalk of corn. Their gardens became mysterious and magical places, fueled by Beatrix Potter stories of animals living among the plants, losing shoes and jackets as they scurried among the rows.

Summer visits to my mother’s parents in Eastern North Carolina always included at least a few hours shelling butter beans while sitting in the metal chairs on the wide front porch. No one seems to plant these anymore (known by some as baby limas) and I’m sure it’s because they are so labor intensive. We seemed to constantly be working, pulling the strings from the butter bean pouch and sliding the three or four little green jewels into our colanders. Our reward was the bowl of butter beans on the dinner table that night, swimming in melted butter, next to the corn on the cob, more butter slathered across its steaming kernels.

(Crowder peas, also known as purple hull peas, take almost as long to shell, but you do get more peas from a pod, and they make a satisfying clink as they hit the colander.)

When Keith and I moved into our farmhouse thirty years ago we were excited to have a garden. We plowed and tilled the sunny spot behind our house, digging up hundred-year-old pieces of pottery and even older arrowheads. The rich black dirt took our seeds and fledgling plants and miraculously — vegetables grew! Each year we experimented, trying broccoli, lettuce, zucchini, sunflowers and all colors of peppers. We grew sweet corn, green beans (blue lake), rows of okra that got so tall I had to pull it down to cut it, and butter beans on little bushes.

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Our garden in 2014

Keith loved the planting but not so much the weeding and picking, so I learned to use a hoe and worked on my tan pulling up the invading grass. My neighbor Zeta, who knows all things about gardening and cooking, taught me when to pick the crowder peas (before the hulls get brown and dry), how to use a knife to cut the pesky strings off the half-runners and the art of canning tomatoes in a hot water bath. (Keith was afraid I would blow the house up if I used the pressure canning method.)

I learned how to tie the tomato plants to a stake to keep them from falling over and to wait for the tassels on the corn to turn black before yanking them off their stalks with a twist. I found that the squash were best when they were small and tender but that the green peppers got sweeter when they stayed on the plant long enough to turn red. Cutting okra with my garden shears was best kept for the end of the day so that I could jump in the shower to get rid of the itchiness that came from brushing up against the leaves.

Keith got interested in heirloom tomatoes and for several years ordered seeds from the Burpee Catalog and carefully grew them in tiny pots under grow-lights at his office. Later he transplanted them into the ground with a shovel full of lime. The planting of the tomatoes took on an almost reverent quality, similar to rituals performed by the Old Testament prophets.

The richest I’ve ever felt was having a kitchen counter full of tomatoes waiting to be canned and being able to share with my “town” friends.

As the years have gone by, our garden has grown smaller and smaller. When June rolled around this year we didn’t have anything planted. I couldn’t stand the thought of no garden, so I went to Calhoun Farm Supply and bought one cucumber, two green pepper, and three tomato plants and stuck them in with my daylilies. Getting them in the ground so late means I’m still waiting for the first baby buds to appear, but the tomatoes have grown enough that they needed to be staked and the cucumber vine is climbing the fence I put around it. I go out every morning and track their progress, hoping that the rabbits are not doing the same.

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My tiny garden

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I remember my mother saying many times that my grandfathers just liked watching their gardens grow. I get it. I hope I will always have a place for a tomato plant.

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Gardening · Middle school · Parable of the sower · Uncategorized

Stuggling through the weeds

I came back from my spring break trip to New York to a mess – in my flower garden. After several cool rainy weeks, and then a warm week-end, the weeds had gone crazy, covering all my little flowers trying to come out to enjoy the sunshine. Despite my best efforts at putting down mulch during the winter, the nettles and crabgrass and something called ‘henbit’ had sprouted.

But amazingly, my flowers were still there under the invading predators that threatened to snuff them out. My butterfly bushes were putting out new growth, the Lenten Rose Bush was beautiful and lantanas that I cut back over the winter were putting out some tentative greenery. The early irises were blooming tall and proud.

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After spending almost the whole day yesterday on my hands and knees pulling up the invaders, the garden is looking better. I found a few plants that were hidden under the weeds and more that are coming up from their winter sleep underground. They are like old friends that I haven’t seen in several months.

My flowers that are pushing their way up to the sun remind me of some of the young people at my school, kids that fight their way past weeds and debris in their lives, both metaphorically and physically. These are young teens who have to worry about whether Dad remembered to pay the electric bill or if Mom will wake up in time to get to her job because she was drunk the night before. Lots of them sleep on couches because there are not enough beds to go around and may not have much to eat on the weekends. Some of them may be afraid of their dads or uncles or Mom’s boyfriend.

Yet some, not all, of these kids survive and even thrive. They see a life beyond what they have known and they work to get there. Many have a natural intelligence and love of learning. They want to go to college and study and get a good job and have a comfortable house and a decent life. Those are the ones that keep us going as educators – the flowers that keep struggling to survive, despite the odds that are against them.

Each spring I’m amazed at the miracles that come up from the soil in my garden. Like the flower bulbs and seeds that hold so much potential, these middle schoolers impress me with what they can do. Just as I pulled away the weeds to let the flowers in my garden have room to expand and blossom, I do what little I can for the students I see, whether it’s a listening ear, a compliment or a book that I think they will like. Others do much more than me -teachers who work with them daily and administrators who find money for growth opportunities – so hopefully, prayerfully, all of us working together will make a difference in the sun coming in or the weeds taking over.

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http://www.verseoftheday.com/en/09222015/