“They Need to See Each Other”

When my father passed away several dear friends gave me gift cards to purchase a plant in his honor. This was especially fitting since my father was a botanist and naturalist, as well as a biology teacher.

I knew immediately what I wanted to plant in his honor… an American chestnut tree, blight resistant.

When my father became a seasonal ranger in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1959, one still saw many towering gray tree trunks of dead American chestnuts, the last vestiges of a once mighty species of tree in our mountain forests.

Years later when my parents were living with us, Dad told me that he had read about a blight resistant American chestnut that had been developed and was showing promise of thriving in our mountain habitat. He mentioned that we should get one. I called around to a few local nurseries and no one had any of this variety yet.

So, after my father passed away at 91 years old, I again called the nursery and sure enough, they had American chestnut trees. Phil and I went to pick one up and the man helping us said,

“Now you need two so they can cross pollinate and you then you will get chestnuts.”

Of course – Biology 101.

Thinking about the many trees on our property already,  I asked, “How close do I need to plant them?”

“They need to see each other.” he said.

I smile every time I remember this conversation. As I was weeding around those two trees recently, which by the way are growing very well, I was reminded of a spiritual principle that those trees illustrate perfectly.

Trees will only bear fruit, (or nuts) if they are close enough to each other to cross pollinate. As Christians, we will only bear fruit if we are in close relationship to other Christians. We need the cross pollination of our brothers and sisters in faith to keep us growing spiritually in healthy ways.

Some of the effects of cross pollination are:

  • recognizing Truth vs. deception
  • being held accountable to Godly behavior
  • growing the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, self control, etc.
  • learning from what the Lord is impressing on fellow believers
  • being challenged to love and good works
  • reproducing more Christians

It is hard to demonstrate REAL love, patience, or self control if we are all alone. Expressing real love requires an object of that love. My patience is most often challenged by others and I learn to be patient by practicing it on others. It is hardest to demonstrate self control over my tongue when there is actually someone around to hear me. It is through close contact with others that I cultivate the fruit of the Spirit.

I Corinthians 12:12-13, 18-21 says the following –

12 The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. 13 Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.

18 But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. 19 How strange a body would be if it had only one part! 20 Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. 21 The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”

We need each other – to grow, to be healthy, to reproduce.

We must remain close to others Christians, close enough to see each other.

 

In My Garden with God #10

 

 

 

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It’s All About the Soil

 

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When folks see our yard, they often ask – “How do you get these plants to grow so well?”

First, I always stress that we are just the caretakers, God is the source. I truly mean that – it is NOT just a statement of false humility. Phil and I have moved plants, sometimes multiple times – until we find just the right location for them to thrive. But, then the rich mountain soil fulfills its God ordained function.

Phil – “I thought we moved this plant last year.”

Gayle – “We did, but I think it will do better over here.”

Phil – “It looks fine here.”

Gayle – “Yes, but it needs more sun to bloom. Just dig the hole, please”

Phil – “Is this why you married me?”

Gayle  – “Yes” (smile – always smile)

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The MOST important factor in the beauty of the plants in our yard is the soil. We had nothing to do with that. Over the years, many leaves and plant matter have decomposed creating a rich, nutritious soil that results in beautiful plants and flowers. That is one of the many blessings of living in an older home. Some of our shrubs and trees are very old and we receive the blessing of their beauty year after year.

But it started with good dirt.

I was thinking about this as I was reading in Ephesians as part of our Bible study. We are in chapter 6. In verse 4, Paul says

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise),“that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

In the Amplified translation verse 4 says this –

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger [do not exasperate them to the point of resentment with demands that are trivial or unreasonable or humiliating or abusive; nor by showing favoritism or indifference to any of them], but bring them up [tenderly, with loving kindness] in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

I try to place our plants in the best location for that plant. Hostas need shade, Shasta daisies need sun. ALL plants need the good foundation of rich, nutritious soil so their roots can grown down deep in that soil.

As we raise our children, we must first and foremost make sure that we provide a good foundation (soil). In a family this means a safe, secure, loving environment where the child can grow. As the child grows, we must then provide nurture for the specific needs that child may have. Just as all plants don’t require the same amount of sun, each child will not thrive in the same activities or learning environment.

Raising plants are a fitting parallel to raising children. If I place a hosta in full sun, just because my crepe myrtles do well there, the hostas are sure to burn up in the summer heat. Our native plant section is at the edge of the yard where these lovely plants thrive under the canopy of  poplar and oak trees, their natural habitat. When Phil and I move a plant, we study where it has thrived in nature and move it to a similar environment.

We must do the same as parents. Society now labels some of our children “special needs” which I feel is a respectful way to understand that these children have their individual path for growth and development. Yet ALL children have unique needs and recognizing those needs will help ensure their full growth and development. Those who don’t fit into the “traditional school mold”, (like most little boys) will need increased attention to their specific situations. Like some of my plants, they may need to be moved (i.e. try various strategies) several times before just the right place is found.

God is SO patient with us!

My dear friend Julianna is facing challenges with her special needs son, Hawk. They are facing these challenges with faith and grace, choosing to celebrate each step of progress no matter how small. Hawk is blessed to be in this family. Instead of focusing on what Hawk is unable to do at this time, they get excited over each new accomplishment.

We must provide the “soil” as parents – that firm foundation. Then as verse 4 says –  bring them up [tenderly, with loving kindness] in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Each child is unique. Each child is precious in God’s sight.

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In My Garden With God – 9

Pure Water

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Spring Lizard

Phil was cleaning out around the overflow from our spring. Several years ago Phil and my father threaded a hose through a vintage water pump and the water now flows freely nestled in our wild flower area.

“Gayle, come look here!”

I hurried over and much to our delight, a tiny salamander was peeking out from some decaying leaves Phil was about to remove. He gently moved a rock, and there was another one! I love seeing these amphibians of God’s creation. They have such a fluid, simple form as their moist skin shimmers in their wet habitat.

I remember my father showing me salamanders as a little girl and telling me not to pick them up because they are very fragile and our skin oil can harm them. Dad went on to say that they were an indicator of  pure water. Salamanders only survive in pure water.

Mountain folks call salamanders “spring lizards”. They knew if salamanders were in their spring boxes, the water was safe to drink.

As I was working outside yesterday, I started thinking about purity. Just as a salamander is an indication of pure water, what is the sign of purity in my life as a Christian?

Is there some quality that indicates I have a pure heart?

I thought about this awhile. Does love, joy, or peace in my life indicate purity? Those are “fruit of the Spirit” and are the result of God’s Spirit dwelling in me.

Not necessarily signs of purity. I asked God, “what denotes purity in our lives?”

Then today, our pastor asked us to read Luke 6:45. Our pastor was preaching on “Soul Food”, yet as soon as I looked at this verse, I knew it was God’s answer to my question.

Luke 6:45  (NLT)

45 A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.

The indicator of a pure life is the words that come out of one’s mouth.

John 7:37 says

37 On the last day, the climax of the festival, Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! 38 Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.”

The words we speak come from our heart. Those words then are the indication of what is in our hearts.

A PURE heart speaks PURE words.

The sign of purity in my life will be the words I speak.

This brought me back to my father. When he passed away a bit over two years ago, so many people expressed how kind, thoughtful, and loving he was.

And he was.

My father spoke kindly as his natural pattern of speech. It was rare for him to speak ill of others. I think those of us who knew him would say he had a pure heart.

I want a pure heart.

And the test of that will be what comes out of my mouth. Each morning I pray –

Psalm 19:14

“Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.

Amen

 

In My Garden with God    #7

Heaven Is Rejoicing!

 

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photo –  wfmynews2.com

Billy Graham passed on to his eternal reward yesterday. Heaven is rejoicing!

I was 11 years old in 1962 when I had the privilege of hearing Rev. Graham preach. (along with the 50,000 or so other people who were there at McCormick Place in Chicago) I will always remember the power of his message. “For God so loved the world…”

In thinking about the legacy that Billy Graham has left, I have two personal memories that stand out.

The first memory surrounds the crusade mentioned above.

My parents had attended the training to counsel individuals who responded to the invitation at the end of the crusade to accept Jesus as Lord and savior. This training included people from all over Chicago and the suburbs representing various denominations and churches. Billy Graham required pastors and church leaders, Catholics and Protestant to come together and commit to cooperation and participation in planning, volunteering, and participating in all aspects of the crusade. If the local churches couldn’t commit to working together, Billy Graham would not hold a crusade in that city.

This required religious leaders to put aside sectarian differences for the importance of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. Literally hundreds of churches joined together involving thousands of Christians. What an example for being one Body!

My family attended College Church in Wheaton, just west of Chicago. My father was a very loyal person and this extended to our family’s involvement in church. We did not attend other churches, even for special events. If the doors to College Church were open – we were there. Yet my parents felt this crusade merited our family’s involvement.

Attending the Billy Graham Crusade was an eye-opening experience for me. Seeing thousands of people singing and praising was awe-inspiring. All these people were worshiping together! The choir was made up of several hundred people led by Cliff Barrows. Seeing individuals of every race and ethnicity gathered in one place to worship offered me my first glimpse of the enormity and diversity of the Body of Christ.

The second memory is from my teen years, during the racial turmoil of the late 1960’s.

Billy Graham made it a priority to include black Christians front and center on the platform at his crusades. These spiritual brothers and sisters were embraced by Billy Graham and Graham’s actions set an example for all Christians – “we are one in Christ”.

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photo – billygraham.org

 

I remember being so pleased by the fact that Billy Graham had Andre Crouch and the Disciples sing for one of the crusades. They were my favorite singing group! Their pride in their race, and more importantly their savior, Jesus Christ was evident. Rev. Graham practiced what he preached when it came to demonstrating the fact that …  God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

Billy Graham was not perfect – he boldly acknowledged,including himself “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23  He then shared the truth that we become new creations when we accept Jesus’ sacrifice for us.

He left a legacy of life long (99 years long) commitment to serving the God he loved.

Heaven is rejoicing!

Seeds of Change

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As I mentioned recently, Phil has been ordering seeds. A box of seeds just came in the mail.

This is a sign of hope!

We still have snow on the ground, and I was waiting to take a picture of our first blooms of 2018. I guess I will have to continue waiting. As you can see from the above picture, our hellebores, our earliest bloomer, have yet to open up. Some folks call these flowers Lenten Roses. Winter has not loosened its grip here!

My hellebores were given me by a dear friend, Lois, and I think of her each time I see them. These plants re-seed themselves and spread, so before long there is a lovely group of these hardy, long lasting bloomers.

Seeds are a metaphor for hope. When seeds are planted, there is no guarantee that a plant will grow. There are many variables that influence the outcome.

  • sun, full sun for some plants, shade for others
  • water, not too much, not too little
  • soil, the right composition for various plants
  • critters! – (groundhogs have gotten their fill of tender bean plants too many times in our garden)
  • temperature – a late freeze, intense heat

All these factors determine the outcome of planting seeds. Yet isn’t is glorious when the right conditions all come together at the right time?

We have a bountiful harvest!

When these factors don’t align, we need to make changes to obtain a harvest. It may mean planting in a different location, supplementing with additional water, guarding tender sprouts from predators, or covering plants to protect from frost.

It may mean changing the type of seeds we plant. We take the necessary steps so our hard work gardening doesn’t go to waste.

This is much the same in our spiritual lives.

We may go through a time spiritually where we don’t “harvest” any spiritual fruit. We lack love, joy, peace, patience, and the other fruit of the Spirit. We may be doing all the things we have always done, yet we aren’t getting the same results.

Psalm 51: 10-13 says –

10  Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from Your presence,
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,
And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,
And sinners shall be converted to You.

These verses give me hope!

It may be time for a change. Just as doing the same things in our garden year after year doesn’t produce the same results, doing the same activities spiritually doesn’t insure the same peace, joy, or patience.

My friend Patti has walked with God for many years, and recently began sharing God’s Word in a local jail ministry. “I get so much from these ladies every time I go.” she told me today. “They have really had hard lives and to see the way God is working in them blesses and challenges me.”

Patti is planting seeds of change in these ladies’ lives, and it is changing her as well.

I’m praying that God will show me what I need to change so that I can continue to bear fruit – the fruit of the Spirit.

In My Garden with God – 4

Beauty Multiplied

 

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“The garden center person told us to plant three bulbs in every hole. That way they look more impressive when they bloom.”

Sadie, a dear, sweet friend recently lost the life, on this earth, of their little baby boy at 21 weeks. It was a sad loss and with it the loss of all the hope that new life brings.

I offered to plant the bulbs they purchased in honor of their son’s short life, since they were going to visit family for an extended period. Sadie passed along the above recommendations of the garden center. Our granddaughters and daughter offered to help me, so one day during a break between the extreme cold and rain we have been having lately, we had the joy of planting 80 spring bulbs.

Now the waiting.

The loss of life carries with it a sorrow that affects each of us in various ways. Sadie and her husband chose to honor the life of their son by planting bulbs that will remind them of his life each spring as they bloom.

They have chosen to replace their loss with beauty.

Isaiah 61: 2-3

To all who mourn in Israel,
    he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,
a joyous blessing instead of mourning,
    festive praise instead of despair.
In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks
    that the Lord has planted for his own glory.

I am sure that when those bulbs come up this spring in their multiplied beauty, there will be tears along with the blessing of the flowers’ beauty.

Tears for the loss of the life not with them.

Blessing in the beauty of remembering God’s faithfulness demonstrated each spring as new life comes forth after the bleakness of winter.

Sadie and Dustin chose to name their little boy Hero. As I was getting ready to insert the picture of us planting the bulbs, I noticed that one of my granddaughter’s had the name Hero on her T-shirt. Amazing.

May we allow God to multiply His life in us through times of loss and times of blessing so that we can become those oaks, planted for His glory.

Girls planting bulbs

In My Garden with God – 2

 

 

 

Overcoming Evil

It has happened again.

A senseless killing of innocent people. In a church while worshiping, no less.

Where is the God who these folks were praying to?

Does He hear?

Does He care?

These questions flooded my mind yesterday as I heard the news of the tragic shooting in the little town in Texas. A small, unincorporated community where everyone knows each other. The LAST place one would expect such a tragic occurrence.

Just like the place I live.

We know most all our neighbors and wave when they drive by.

I sat in a place of worship yesterday morning, just as those people in Texas did. So did our children and grandchildren in their various locations, surrounded by friends and family.

Christians gather regularly around the world to worship, pray, and learn from Biblical teaching and fellowship.

So did those people in Texas.

I can’t help but think “Why?”

God tells us in Jeremiah 17: 9-10

“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things,
    and desperately wicked.
    Who really knows how bad it is?
10 But I, the Lord, search all hearts
    and examine secret motives.
I give all people their due rewards,
    according to what their actions deserve.”

There is evil in the hearts of some individuals. We don’t understand it. But these verses assure me that God knows, and that He will avenge the ones responsible.

But what about the innocent victims? Those hurting family and friends of those killed and wounded? Why did God allow this?

In Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis addresses this very question. In his chapter The Rival Conceptions of God Lewis writes the following –

“Of course, that raises a very big question. If a good God made the world why has it gone wrong? And for many years I simply refused to listen to the Christian answers to this question, because I kept on feeling ‘whatever you say, and however clever your arguments are, isn’t it much simpler and easier to say that the world was not made by any intelligent power? Aren’t all your arguments simply a complicated attempt to avoid the obvious?’

“My argument against God,” Lewis says, “was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust?”

This is why God became flesh – in the form of man – Jesus – to redeem this cruel, broken world. Jesus is the hope of the world.

This realization does not change the very real suffering of those people in Texas. It does not change the very real hurt and loss of individuals throughout the world suffering from human trafficking, abuse, neglect, or cruelty.

It does give hope for the future. God wants to bring each person into the Light of His love, grace and restoration.

Denying the existence of God because one sees the real and terrible suffering of this life does nothing to alleviate, diminish, or explain that suffering.

Our grandsons dress up as “super heroes” ready to vanquish the evil in their back yard. Don’t we wish it was that simple? Jesus has promised to be with us through all the battles we face.

Right before Jesus was beaten and crucified He told his disciples the following – John 16:33 –

33 I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

Jesus wants to give us hope and peace in the midst of the suffering of this world.

We must pray – and hold on to hope.