The early bird gets the….eewww! Really??

I tend to frequent my garden patio in the early morning.  I appreciate the quiet of my rural, small town setting, and I love to hear the birds wake up and start singing.  My husband and I are true bird-admirers.  Not real bird-watchers, mind you; the true Audubons are the ones that can confidently identify, say, a loggerhead shrike from a Northern shrike…and enjoy it.  But like my more learned comrades, I have fun actually seeing the birds I am hearing, and I’m learning them little by little,(with my color picture book close by), to recognize a few species, including by the music they make.   I have also learned that, generally speaking, to attract birds you must have a bird-attracting environment.  They are all around me, because I can hear them, even if I can’t immediately see them.  But to seriously bring them into view I must entice them with something they want.   

Many of my patio variety songsters are not particularly picky eaters, thankfully.  A fifty-pound bag from the local feed store does nicely, especially for sparrows and junkos and an occasional cowbird or catbird.  However, I have learned that certain species are encouraged to frequent my garden depending on what I choose to put out.  Cardinals like their black-oil sunflower seeds.  Finches love the seeds on my dry coneflowers.  Hummingbirds go for red. Downey woodpeckers prefer the suet in the hanging cage.   And grackles, well, I guess they eat anything, and a whole lot of it! 

What I also find noteworthy is how these fabulous creatures find their way to the food.  It is such a natural, unfeigned, unpretentious process.  The more I set out, the more they come around.  And even if I don’t get around to filling the feeders, and maybe there are only a few kernels just left lying around a pile of empty hulls, they still seem attracted to it, pushing through the junk to find the valuable seeds.  But the converse is also true.  No food, few birds.  For them to stay around in abundance, and close enough for thorough enjoyment and study, they must be welcomed and wanted, and they must be drawn.

With all respect, the Holy Spirit is a bit, just a bit mind you, the same way.  As we provide the proper enticements (like faith), and make Him feel welcome (like humility), He comes more into view, becomes easier to see, and His ways are easier to identify.  And why?  Because what God is interested in most is the environment of my heart:

  • He looks deep within my human soul, the real me, the sometimes (oft times) hidden me, and invites me to come and take a good look with Him, since most of us are not even fully aware of what’s really going on in there anyway. And though He sees the “me” in my entire self, and though He recognizes so much beauty that could be, yet He patiently waits and constrains Himself, for even God must be invited, welcomed and wanted. One of the Old Testament songwriters put it this way, “I sought Your favor with all my heart;
    Be gracious to me according to Your word…”
    (1)
  • Although God is everywhere at once, yet He makes it clear that we get His attention by a humble heart, and a prayer of faith, even if it’s just a little faith mixed with a whole bunch of questions. It’s an easy and common deception to think that we are too far gone, too messed up, or have too little faith for God work His wonderful restorative power in our lives. However, a little faith is still faith, a powerful entity in God’s kingdom, even if it’s mixed with a bunch of empty husks known as doubt and the used up hulls we call fear.  God is just powerful enough to dig through our questions and circumstances to find the little seeds of faith in our prayers and our lives, even when we ourselves aren’t aware of their existence. (2)
  • The proud heart, on the other hand, the one that says it does not need God, that refuses to agree with God’s assessment of the situation and His answer to the problem, (possibly because it refuses to acknowledge that there IS a problem), this heart the Holy Spirit grieves over, since there is nothing to bid Him welcome, nothing to make Him feel wanted. (3)

My early morning “patio compadres” make my garden more than just a quiet place to sip my tea while the rest of the town wakes up.  Not only do I love having them around for their beauty and song, but they are part of the very livelihood of my garden!  So does God’s Holy Spirit infuse His life into the garden of my life.  Every day is another opportunity to invite Him into my world, my mind, and circumstances, and my heart. 

Then I can sit back, and listen for His song.

  • Psalm 119:58
  • See Mark 9:24
  • See Psalm 51:17, James 4:6

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Bring on the birds!

I tend to frequent my garden patio in the early morning, as will become repetitively apparent in subsequent entries.  I appreciate the quiet of my rural, small town setting. I love to hear the birds wake up and start singing.  I also enjoy actually seeing the birds I am hearing.  I’m learning them little by little, with my color picture book close by, to recognize a few species, including by the music they make.  My husband and I are true bird-admirers.  Not real bird-watchers, mind you; the true Audubons are the ones that can confidently identify, say, a loggerhead shrike from a Northern shrike…and enjoy it.   But I do, at least, like to be able to see those who are gracing my morning with their songs.  I have learned that, generally, to attract birds, you must have a bird-attracting environment.  They are all around me, because I can hear them, even if I can’t immediately see them.  But to seriously bring them into view I must entice them with something they want.

Many of my patio variety songsters are not particularly picky eaters, thankfully.  A fifty-pound bag from the local feed store does nicely, especially for sparrows and junkos and an occasional cowbird or catbird.  However, I have learned that certain species are encouraged to frequent my garden depending on what I choose to put out.  Cardinals like their black-oil sunflower seeds.  Finches love the seeds on my dry coneflowers.  Hummingbirds go for red. Downey woodpeckers prefer the suet in the hanging cage.   And grackles, well, I guess they eat anything, and a whole lot of it!

What I also find noteworthy is how these fabulous creatures find their way to the food.  It is such a natural, unfeigned, unpretentious process.  The more I set out, the more they come around.  And even if I don’t get around to filling the feeders, and maybe there are only a few kernels just left lying around a pile of empty hulls, they still seem attracted to it, pushing through the junk to find the valuable seeds.  But the converse is also true.  No food, few birds.  For them to stay around in abundance, and close enough for thorough enjoyment and study, they must be welcomed and wanted, and they must be drawn.

With all respect, the Holy Spirit is a bit, just a bit mind you, the same way.  As we provide the proper enticements (like faith), and make Him feel welcome (like humility), He comes more into view, becomes easier to see, and His ways are easier to identify.  And why?  Because what God is interested in most is the environment of my heart:

  • He looks deep within my human soul, the real me, the sometimes (oft times) hidden me, and invites me to come and take a good look with Him, since most of us are not even fully aware of what’s really going on in there anyway. And though He sees the “me” in my entire self, and though He recognizes so much beauty that could be, yet He patiently waits and constrains Himself, for even God must be invited, welcomed and wanted. One of the Old Testament songwriters put it this way, “I sought Your favor with all my heart;
    Be gracious to me according to Your word…” (1)
  • Although God is everywhere at once, yet He makes it clear that we get His attention by a humble heart, and a prayer of faith, even if it’s just a little faith mixed with a whole bunch of questions. It’s an easy and common deception to think that we are too far gone, too messed up, or have too little faith for God work His wonderful restorative power in our lives. A little faith is still faith, a powerful entity in God’s kingdom, even if it’s mixed with a bunch of empty husks known as doubt and the used up hulls we call fear.  God is just powerful enough to dig through our questions and circumstances to find the little seeds of faith in our prayers and our lives, even when we ourselves aren’t aware of their existence. (2)
  • The proud heart, on the other hand, the one that says it does not need God, that refuses to agree with God’s assessment of the situation and His answer to the problem, (possibly because it refuses to acknowledge that there IS a problem), this heart the Holy Spirit grieves over, since there is nothing to bid Him welcome, nothing to make Him feel wanted. (3)

My early morning “patio compadres” make my garden more than just a quiet place to sip my tea while the rest of the town wakes up.  Not only do I love having them around for their beauty and song, but they are part of the very livelihood of my garden!  So does God’s Holy Spirit infuse His life into the garden of my life.  Every day is another opportunity to invite Him into my world, my mind, and circumstances, and my heart.

Then I can sit back, and listen for His song.

  • Psalm 119:58
  • See Mark 9:24
  • See Psalm 51:17, James 4:6

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Patio vs. Tree

From my patio
From my patio

My patio is old.  But then, so is my whole house.  If new houses need maintenance, old ones need ten times more, or maybe it just seems that way.  Now, I love my patio because it’s old.  It’s one of those inlaid irregular stone jobs that was most likely done when the sycamore tree right next to it was merely a sapling, or maybe only a seed.  Well, the sapling grew up, and the roots not only went deep, they are also playing havoc with my patio, making the inlaid stones even more irregular than originally intended.  Before I began working with it, the stone walkway looked more like a stone carving of a seismic ocean wave than a place to gather in the backyard.  It was also a little dangerous, or at least not as functional as it was first made to be; that is, it appeared to be a little easier to twist one’s ankle if wearing something other than tennis shoes or Cabela’s high-top hiking boots.

There was only one thing to be done: dig up the stones and get the dirt out that was being pushed up by the roots of the tree. Some minor root trimming was also needed in the process, with no residual harm to the towering sycamore, before the stones could be refitted back into their proper place.  This was, and continues to be, a sweaty, dirty, mess of a job, but the patio looks so much better, is more functional, and is indeed, safer.  I also love the shade and the beauty of this aged sycamore, but its expanding root system also provides opportunity for some muscle building, back-wrenching toil.  As the patio stones and the tree roots try to prove what is metaphysically impossible—to occupy the same space at the same time—I play referee between the two, balancing their competition with cooperation and compromise.  In all, best to not hold a bar-b-que until the patio is transformed from a gale to a ripple.

Despite the inconvenience (and extra work), expanding roots do indicate growth. And growth helps to define life.  A few thoughts present themselves:

  • As growth in Christ begins and continues to take place, I can expect more than a little dirt to be pushed up to the surface of my life. As His heavenly roots invade my otherwise undisturbed soil, there will be displacement. Not so surprisingly, the dirt becomes more apparent and more accessible than ever before. Old habits of thinking, feeling, speaking, and doing compete with the Christlikeness that continues to grow inside of me. Needless to say, this process can create havoc with my inward patio, the place where fun and relaxation are supposed to take place.  (1)
  • Our life stones, those places that were once so convenient, can become now dangerous and disruptive, not only to myself, but to anyone else I invite onto my patio. Once I commit to the discipleship process, to truly “follow in His steps” (2), I suddenly have the potential to be a stumbling stone to fellow Christians around me. Like it or not, we all possess what can be termed a “hidden congregation”, certain people, or groups of people, that are eyeing our lives for direction and encouragement, people into whose lives we have influence. While it may be more comfortable to emotionally relegate this responsibility to “the pastor”, real life just doesn’t work that way.  Therefore, it is necessary, albeit sweaty, dirty work, to allow Christ to pull up those stones and clean underneath.  Only then can He replace the stones to make it a better, safer fit.
  • A last thought on the discomfort of this process. Analogies only go so far, and this one is no exception. Whereas I try to affect a balance between the burgeoning tree roots and the stone rocks, and this with my limited strength and vision, there is no such moral compromise with a Holy God.  His roots cannot be cut asunder, and His vision for us never changes.  Even though this may sound harsh, (and in our culture of pseudo-tolerance, over-indulgence, and self-defined entitlement, it most likely does), it is this root of God’s love that is alive and active in us.  The stones are dead things and can be displaced to the benefit of the patio: jealousy, envy, unforgiveness, self-pity, to name a few.  So as frustratingly painful as this root expanding process continues, it is a definite sign of life, and something to be joyfully and patiently embraced.  Besides, the pain is, after all, only temporary. (3)

Now, then, let’s fire up the grill!

  • Titus—the entire book!!
  • 1 Peter 2:21
  • 2 Corinthians 4:17

Shouldn’t I still be in bed?

IMG_clock

If my body had its way, I would still be in bed right now.  The alarm, however, announced my previous decision, which was to get up at 4:45AM.  Regardless of how much I wanted to stay under the flannel sheets next to my warm husband, embraced by quiet and darkness, and regardless of the fact that I didn’t need to be at work until 7:30AM, (which means leaving my home at 7:25AM—gotta love small towns…), yes, regardless of what most of my fellow humans would consider common sense, I am up at 4:45 in the morning and sitting on my patio in 40 degree weather.  And, oh!  It is so beautiful!

My old wool sweater and my brother-in-law’s army jacket keep me toasty warm.  The heated “corn pad” sits in my lap, and my steaming hot tea sits in my belly.  The Mighty Wonder Buck, our recently rescued 100% mutt, is happily content out here; with his thick black coat, this is his kind of weather.  Of course, the birds are singing, and somewhere off in the distance I hear the truckers moving their wares down the highway.

It’s a free country, as they say, and I could have changed my mind even after the alarm went off.  There are plenty of good reasons to stay in bed, even beyond the ones mentioned earlier.  Some of them are even arguably valid ones!  I need my sleep, especially at my age.  (That phrase, “at my age”, is becoming a great rationalization, by the way.)  It’s only Tuesday, and a long way until the weekend.  The Buck needs me to be more energetic when I get home from work.  Blah, blah, blah.

My brain wins the battle over my body as I stick to my original plan, pulling myself out of bed, rousing the dog, but usually not my husband, in the process.  I fire up the teapot and nuke the corn pad.  Within a few minutes, I’m wrapped up snugly in my patio chair.

There’s definitely something to be said for making a plan prior to the obstacles showing themselves.  It can be more than a little difficult to make qualitative decisions (especially moral ones) in the face of tempting circumstances, even when some of those circumstances are accurately anticipated.  The word is “commitment”, and it seems to have fallen out of favor these past several decades.

That’s just another reason why I love a good, old-fashioned church wedding ceremony.  I don’t just come for the cake with butter cream frosting, Aunt Sally’s butchering rendition of Paul Stookey’s Wedding Song (again), and the little ring bearer announcing loudly to his mom’s chagrin that he has to “go pee” just as the bride is ready to march down the aisle.  No, amid all the tumult and relative comedy that takes place in even the most formal nuptials, there are transactions far deeper, far more mystical, that take place.  One of those is commitment.  That is, prior commitment: making the decision to love and nurture prior to the financial fiascos, prior to the devastating accident or illness, prior to the disagreements over where to spend holidays.  Granted, some relationships are dangerous, and therefore not workable–most of us get that.  But in general, if commitment is just so dang hard, why even bother?

I suppose that’s one of the reasons why God chose weddings, and marriage, and family to represent so much of what He wants with us.  He tells us that, before God even created us, He knew that His Son, Jesus, would have to come and rescue us out of this messy, sinful separation from Him.  He knew we were going to tank the whole project even before the second generation came on the scene, and they didn’t exactly hit it off too well themselves either.  But, regardless of all that—all of that destruction, all of that disappointment, all of that pain—God stuck to His original plan.  He went ahead and made man in His own image, “in the image of God, He made him.”  The rest that followed is, well, history.

Right now, the owl is crooning, there is a faint lingering fragrance of someone’s wood smoke, and I can hear Buckley chewing on his bone—at least I think that’s what he’s chewing on… All things considered, I guess it’s okay, at least sometimes, to be counted with those whom others would question their common sense by sticking to a crazy plan.  I’m sure glad God stuck with His.

A gardener by any other name….

Not being a gardener by natural intuition, I have had a propensity to plant things in less than ideal places and in less than ideal conditions.  All a plant needs I learned in grade school science classes: dirt, sunlight, and water, right?  With this unimpeachable wisdom I have destroyed many an unsuspecting specimen of innocent flora.  And destroying plant life can become an expensive hobby.  My lack of foreknowledge and pre-planning has caused me a certain amount of anxiety over my green (sometimes brown) friends. As one insightful person once put it, rather than the conventional “ready, aim, fire!” kind of gardener, I tend to be more of the “ready, fire, aim!” variety. I like to think of my ‘scapes’ as controlled chaos, which at times may be more chaos than control. Then I get disappointed when I find my beauties are just not living up to my grand expectations.  Too much sun, too much shade, too much water, too little water; why does life need to be so picky?!  So I uproot my little designs to rearrange their environment, water others, improve the quality of the dirt overall, little by little.  I invest in soaker hoses, and then I can’t divine where I’ve planted them, so they end up with punctures and ruptures as I try to plant over them.  Does any of this sound familiar…to anyone?   Autumn comes and I’m happy about the plants that have survived the brutal late southern Missouri summers (as well as my decidedly lacking gardening prowess) , while other plants seem to just give it up and die off.

Sigh, yet another failure.  Mulch what I can to protect for the winter season and retire the tools until spring with a certain determination to try, try again.

Then March and April finally arrive, and with it tiny green things begin to emerge, miraculously, unexpectedly, where apparent death had conquered just a few months before!  And not only do they emerge, but explode onto the scene, taller, stronger and more vibrant than when first planted!  I guess some living things are just made to keep living, despite my inexperience and ignorance. And, of course, others don’t.  But I have an important hypothesis: if the roots are good, the plant will try again, because that’s the way it’s designed.

I have also learned, am learning, and will continue to learn, the importance of working with, not against, the natural environment.  I can increase the soil quality, I can irrigate (until my dear husband frets over the water bill), but I cannot control the sun, the rain, or the temperature.  God may have put me in charge of a few things, but the weather is not one of them.  And evidently working with the environment would include:  a) being flexible, b) considering my timing, c) increasing my creativity, and d) seeing the beauty and usefulness in what God supplies in my particular garden, even if at first it appears inconvenient or uncomfortable.  Incorporating these four components—skills they are actually—will not only increase the productivity and loveliness of my garden, but also decrease the stress and anxiety associated with my new hobby.

Hmmm…

Now, God has a time-honored way of communicating with us on what could be coined as a “natural level”, in the sense that what we see in nature corresponds many times with lessons that are extremely applicable to life in general.  The tangibles can help us to understand the intangibles.  For starters:

  • Lack of knowledge has a way of messing things up. I realize that is not a nice theological way of putting it, but if for any appreciable length of time you have been a card-carrying member of your local garden club, (or of the human race for that matter), you understand this concept. There is biblical precedent to back it up.  In the Old Testament, God said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” (1)  Yes, well, clearly this includes my plants.  But of infinitely greater significance, our lack of knowledge, wisdom, and insight can severely and adversely damage those around us.  Human relationships are costly, and foresight is expensive than hindsight.  I need help, I need correct information, but recognition of my need is the first step toward wise cultivating in my personal people-garden.  (For what it’s worth, one my on-going prayers is that God would grant grace to those who have to encounter me in any way today…)
  • I understand—yes, even me—that roots do more than hold a plant down should the gravitational pull of the universe change. There’s the hydration issue, the nutrition issue, and even the reproduction process in some plants is in the roots. I am told there are plants that, because of the way they are designed in their root system, are made to die off just up top, and relax for a while underneath the warm soil until it’s time to make their way to the surface again.  My husband, Bob, who has an alphabet of letters behind his name with his multiple science degrees, gave me a fancy name for this, but I’ve since forgotten it.  It’s the idea of programmed rest that I’m interested in—what appears to be dead is merely dormant, and given time and patience, and adequate supply for basic needs, it will return and flourish.  That’s the way it’s made.  People are amazingly resilient also…amazingly.  What seems to be dead, whether a dream or a vision or perhaps even a relationship, may only be dormant.  When God, as our Master Gardener, plants a root, we have only to nourish with faith and water it with patience, and what He has planned for that root will erupt.  That’s the way we are made.  I love how the Amplified Version puts it: “I [God] create the fruit of his lips, and I will heal him, make his lips blossom anew with speech in thankful praise.” (2)  It’s all about timing—God’s, not mine.
  • And concerning those roots, I sense that I have some responsibility in acquiring and properly using that aforementioned knowledge. This includes working WITH my environment, and not against it. Compromise is not always a bad thing, and as a wise wit once penned: “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall bend and not break.”  Jesus didn’t demand an air-conditioned conference hall and catered lunch for his hillside audience of 5000, but did just fine with rural setting and a few donated loaves and fishes. (3)  I would say that also qualifies as pretty creative.  And as much as I would love to have a full scale garden of blooming beauties, patience for the proper timing is part of the program.  So many times I want what I want…NOW.  How I thank my Lord for what I sometimes have regarded as a ball and chain, but has actually turned out to be a life-saving anchor!  Granted, it can seem inconvenient and heavy at first, but the benefits are enormous.

And so I love spring all the more as remarkable rebirth occurs sometimes to my delighted surprise, but I also find an increased appreciation of winter—not just a season of death as so many have unkindly marked it, but a season of rest and rejuvenation.  Such wisdom could only come from the mind of the Master Gardener, the One who planted the first garden, the One from whom I can learn as I dig about and get grass-stained in my own garden of life…if I will but make myself teachable.

–signing off for  now—-dawnlizjones

  • Hosea 4:6
  • Isaiah 57:19
  • Matthew 14:13-21

From my side of the fence to yours…

IMG_20140725_191756

First, let me just say that…

…my father-in-law is a Master Gardener and I have turned to him more than once for advice and assistance.  George does things correctly…the first time.  He has patience and experience; he is a builder of things.  He designed a special birdfeeder for my garden, and not only explained, but also got his hands dirty helping me “re-do” some potted plants that desperately needed to be, well….re-done.  In spite of my obvious inexperience, there was no chiding, only gentle and joyful condescension like a father to a child.

Our lives, our relationships, our families, and our own hearts are so much the same as my innocent garden with all its mess in the midst of beauty.  Who saw the divorce coming?  How could anyone have prepared for the accident?  Lost the house, what now?  Why does life have to be so hard?!

Master Gardener or invested amateur, navigating through life’s gardens takes more than the basics, even more than the best planning.  We, all of us, none excluded, need help, and usually more than a little.  We need the original Master Gardener Himself to walk through the garden of our lives, tending the soil, rearranging the environment, mulching, weeding and nurturing us.  And along the way, He makes us flexible, creative, patient, and attentive to what He supplies for our needs.

This is my offering.  A few seeds and grains of dirt from my life’s garden to yours.  I hope it helps good things to grow on your side of the fence!

—-dawnlizjones