Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Secret Garden

In December of 2009, I was asked to plan a gardening seminar for our church to take place in May of 2010. I had been speaking on garden topics for several years, but this was an opportunity to use my knowledge to serve God. For me, gardening is all about God anyway. When I am in the garden, I am keenly aware of God’s creative Presence; each plant is so unique in its beauty and attributes and yet, they all weave together in an incredible tapestry that changes day by day.

When my husband works with me in the garden, he tries to be careful not to tromp on the plants. He asks which are my favorites so he can protect them, but he eventually has to point out that each one is “my favorite.” As I tend to my plants I’m reminded of the careful way God tends to those who belong to Him and the knowledge that each one of us is His favorite. God provides for all of our needs; I recognize His power in my life.

Giving the seminar was such a privilege for me. People were so receptive and gracious. One of their favorite stories was about the garden at Duffield, in South Carolina. This property was originally developed in the early 1900’s but at some point it was abandoned. The house became surrounded by overgrown shrubbery and invasive vines. Large trees still lay where they had been felled by Hurricane Hugo.In 1992, the property was purchased by a couple intending to renovate. They had been told that, decades before, it had been owned by a well-known Camellia expert who was renowned in the state for her knowledge and her collection.

As they began to clear away the debris and the underbrush, they happened upon a shrub with a single, eye-popping bloom. At that point, hope kindled that the incredible collection was still there, even after years of being deprived of sun and choked by the weeds. They hired a local designer who was familiar with the history of the property to assist them as they peeled back layer after layer of the overgrown tangle. Another Camellia was found, and then another; when finished, they had found and rescued over 100 beautiful camellias, originally handpicked by their loving owner, still flowering. It took years, but now the property has been restored to its original beauty and is featured on local garden tours.

I know I must periodically clear away the worries and the busy-ness of the world that threatens to choke out the Truth I’ve learned. If I let them, the worries-about my health, my husband’s health, my daughters and their families, my parents-will overwhelm me like those invasive plants taking over Duffield. Jesus says, “you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary: to spend time with Me and listen to My words.”

Perhaps you heard and believed the Word of God when you were younger, but the pace and the stress of your life have all but silenced that faith. It is not gone! Just like the beautiful camellias at Duffield, the beauty and appealing gifts that God has planted in your life are still able to bloom if you clear away some of the weeds-the worries of the world and the striving-that choke them out. Your faith remains, in all its beauty, waiting for you to prune out the overgrowth and give it room to flourish. What can you say “No” to today, so that you can say “Yes” to Jesus?

Scripture reference:Matthew 6:28-30; Zephaniah 3:17; Luke 10:38-42

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Ten Things I Learned from my Mom

I could never enumerate all of the things that I learned from you. In so many ways, you are a shining example of the Woman in Proverbs 31. You greatly enrich our lives; you always stayed busy, contributing to the family’s welfare. You took care of us in every way; you speak with wisdom and kindness. Your children stand and bless you; your husband praises you. What a blessing you are to us. I admire you and I love you so much.

Many hands make lots of tamales. When I was growing up, sometimes at Christmas my mom would gather her sister and all of the girl cousins to our house to roll tamales. Everyone would take home bags full of dozens of tamales that would go into the freezers to feed us for months. I learned that many hands make light labor-and a party to boot! A deeper truth: women need sisters. They might not be related, but we all need a group of women to love us.

If you are going to walk in the tall grass, carry a big stick. Mom was not a fan of snakes. When we lived in the country, her big stick rested just outside the door and when she went outside she made sure the snakes knew she was armed. They had a sort of d├ętente going on. We would tease her about it, but I learned to be aware that there was danger in the world and it was my responsibility to prepare for it and carry my own stick.

When you are camping out, somebody’s got to keep the fire going. When I was in Girl Scouts, we didn’t camp in tents but in large rock shelters with a central fire pit. I noticed when I went to sleep, Mom was tending the fire. I noticed when I got up, Mom was tending the fire. She was not the only leader there, but she was the one who stayed awake. Mom taught me that personal sacrifice for the good of others was a character trait worth emulating.

Everybody has a story. Everyone talks to Mom. Relatives, her friends, my friends, your friends, store cashiers, complete strangers. Mom is always ready to lend a compassionate ear. Within 5 minutes of contact, Mom will have a person she just met downloading their life story into her sympathetic and capable hands. I learned that you don’t judge people for how they act in the moment; everyone has burdens to bear that sometimes overflow. Show grace when you can because you can be sure there will come a time when you will need it shown to you.

Bloom where you are planted. Mom actually had a plaque with this on it and it is a good description of how she lives. She has not always been exactly where she wanted to be, doing exactly what she hoped. But she always blooms wherever she is and makes it a nicer place for everyone who is there with her. If you cannot be happy with what you have, you will not be happy with what you don’t have.

Silence can say it all. Words can be highly overrated. Especially in stressful situations or where negative emotions threaten to erupt, silence can be the better part of valor. Much can be conveyed without words and with less misunderstanding. Mom was skilled at controlling her tongue. As the Bible says, “too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.” I can’t say I’ve learned this; I’m still trying to learn that just because I think it doesn’t mean I have to say it. Even a fool may be thought wise if they keep silent.

You can do anything if you must. Mom has always been a hard worker. At times, she has worked much harder than is actually possible physically. When my parents owned greenhouses and were famous for their incredible fern baskets, Mom’s green thumb and relentless supervision were the key to their success. When they expanded, Mom was spread way too thin. She suffered physically and emotionally as a result of the pressure. Mom just never gave up, no matter how tired or discouraged she was. What she did was impossible-but she did it anyway. That is the way we roll.

It is possible to swim without getting your face wet. As a youngster, I asked my mom what her favorite sport was and she said, “Wading.” Didn’t even know that was a sport. Mom preferred water to stay below her knees but she was willing to go in the deep end for us. I’ll admit, her form may have been a bit unusual, but I learned to be a good sport, to participate and not worry whether or not I did something the same way as everyone else. The important thing in life is to get from one side of the pool to the other, not what you look like doing it.

You can feed 5 people with one steak if you have enough beans. During our nomad period, when we took a family of five all over the country during three summers, we ate a whole lot of beans. We ate beans in 25 states. Not only did my parents give us the wonderful gift of travel and history, but my mom taught me how to nurture fellowship through food. Hospitality is not about the perfect table, the most haute cuisine or the finest wine. Hospitality is about caring for others, spending time together, making them feel valued and serving them.

Nobody can ever love you like a mom can. Although her authority was undisputed, my mom was my best friend. I always thought that I loved her and she loved me and we were equal there. It wasn’t until I had my own daughters that the truth became clear to me. No matter how much I love Mom, she loves me more. No one loves like a mom loves, there is no substitute. Mom nurtured me, lectured me, supported me, challenged me, doctored me, praised me, and backed me all the way. She always protects, always trusts, always hopes and always perseveres. That is love. That is Mom.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Scripture references: Proverbs 31:10-31; Matthew 20:27-29; Proverbs 10:19; Proverbs 17:27-28; Philippians 4:12-14; 1 Corinthians 13:6-8