Seasons – The Promise of Spring

Four o’clock. A.M. Wide awake. Save for the occasional snuffle and snort, the quiet of the house wrapped around me like a soft and comforting blanket. As I pad downstairs to make myself a cup of tea, I can hear the faint tinkling patter of rain on the skylight.

th-83For many years, I would gripe, grouse, and go on, and on, on rainy days. But in the last several years, I have learned to appreciate quite a few things that I’d either taken for granted, or found otherwise inconvenient. Like rainy days.

Were you like me, grumbling and groaning when you would awaken to a misty day? Were you unlike me, greeting it with fascination, a sense of wonder, and perhaps allowing a smile to creep up on you? Did you choose to find the beauty and joy, or would you ruefully decide to bear it?

I have found there really is such exquisite beauty in a rainy day, if I take the time to appreciate it. I have come to like buffet offered to the senses, the sights and sounds of rain that, in spring and fall herald the anticipation of a new season, and in summer refresh and renew.

In spring, everything seems to come alive in a great festival of enthusiastic vitality. Raindrops kiss the fragrant moist dirt, and then burrow and sink deep within. A rich brew of musky and savory, and the sharp scent of damp cedar chips along with the sweet earth drifts past nostrils. The meandering stone pathway finds itself the center of a harmony of celebration as rain ticks, plops, skips, dances and jumps from its surface. Tufts of bright IMG_20160422_184802chartreuse dotted with glistening drops are delightful hints of an awaiting explosion of radiant color that will roll and undulate across the flowerbeds. Brilliant green blades of grass peek through the soft carpet that seems to yawn and lazily rouse from its sleep. The morning’s overcast sky provides a silvery velvet background to the massive maples, their compacted florets perched upon moistened branches, sweeping across the sky in the gentle breeze as if to stretch open the heavens. To the background of the pit-pat on window sills and pavement, and the tinkling sprinkle on the neighbor’s wind chime, the bright red cardinals sing their scales atop their roost. Brown speckled sparrows pip and squeak while they hunch together on the fence, glistening clear droplets struggling to hold on before dribbling down. Cars and bicycles slice pinstripe streaks down the length of the damp street, punctuated by the off-beat cymbal splash through a puddle. Raindrops hang like weights from the wrought-iron table and chairs, anticipating spirited gatherings and quiet times of reflection in the soft air and warm sunshine. Each drop seems to count down toward God’s glory in the infinitely small and magically veiled to soon crescendo in a display of jaw-dropping kaleidoscope in color, texture, tastes, sounds and bustling activity. Activated and animated by aqua.

Water is in just about everything, and is needed just about everywhere, not just my garden. We’ve all heard that just over roughly 70% of the earth’s surface is covered with water, and that our bodies are made up just about the same percentage of water (about 10% less than what we’re born with). “By the time a person feels thirsty, his or her body has lost over 1 percent of its total water amount. Pure water (solely hydrogen and oxygen atoms) has a neutral pHth-85 of 7, which is neither acidic nor basic, and dissolves more substances than any other liquid. Wherever it travels, water carries chemicals, minerals, and nutrients with it.” (allaboutwater.org). Life comes from, flourishes and is cared for through the existence of water!

Water is mentioned over 700 times in the Bible, referring not only to its requirement for meeting many of our physical needs, but also as imagery to quench our spiritual needs, and to embody our enmeshed resemblance with God. It illustrates and gives expression to God’s drenching us in the life-blood of his Word, to describe his lavish and provisional character and nature, and his likeness entwined within us. We are repositories, vessels ready to collect and appropriate his liquid love, the effusion of his life-spring that moves and oozes, swells and ebbs within us. No wonder then my aching thirst to break free of anything that hinders that tide and current, for the refilling and renewal of this intimate connection. No wonder the thirst to wash and refresh myself in the Gardener’s provision and care. The more I am soaked like a drenched sponge, the more easily I drip, dribble and refresh others in need of refreshment. But do I wait too often until I feel thirsty to cry out to the Gardener? Do I consider the rain a trial or an opportunity for thanksgiving?

IMG_20160422_081236Oh the power of rain! Thank goodness for the reviving nutrients and nourishing minerals the Gardener showers me with on those cloudy days! Our Gardener dissolves many a malady, cleanses and heals many a wound, quenches and tends to many an ache, all to bless and grace me with his tenderest of care. I long for his drenching with an unrelenting thirst. I need his living water. Perhaps this is why he suggests I regularly hydrate throughout the day, every day, in intimate conversation with him as I would my dearest companion, and before I thirst, before my wanting becomes panting. I can begin with the sights I see, and the sounds I hear. As I enjoy and allow myself to sit deep in the wonder of his creation, lift my face and listen for him in the peace of the patter of the rain, tip my ear to his cheer of the bird’s lilting song, his streams of living water beckon and draw me further in, closer. I am won over, and soon find myself beside he who opens storehouses of abundance. Perhaps then what seems like a relentless deluge is more a lavish blessing that soaks me through to the bone? Perhaps I can even venture welcoming it? Oh, the Gardener does bless, with showers as much as with sunshine – sunshine that so often is much the sweeter after a spell of rain.

Through both rain and sun, the Gardener is orchestrating the great and vigorous animation of what seems to have been mysteriously dormant for a season. He is birthing and rebirthing through cloudburst and floodgate a jubilee of splendid flower and bloom, scent and sound, abundantly flooding his world with his plenty and glory through you, through me. And, as if in an exquisite finale, the sun perforates all veil of pain and sorrow, evaporates deluge of adversity and trial, catching reflection in every last drop of rain and tear, only to have the pearly beads disappear in a joyful burst of gentle and vanishing irridiscent mist.

IMG_20160422_184910But those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.
(John 4.14, New Revised Standard Version)

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
(Isaiah 55: 10-11, New Revised Standard Version)

Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.
(Hebrews 10:22, New Revised Standard Version)

As the deer pants for water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God.
(Psalm 42: 1-2, The Living Bible)

Erin
Soil and Seed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Preparation – What Covers the Surface?

 

th-66Doesn’t it delight and surprise you when, amidst a vast vista of concrete, steel and glass, a lone perky flower unexpectedly and bravely peaks through?  It can’t help but make you smile! Even if it’s a dandelion! When you consider that all our communities, large and small, are built th-56upon a garden of some kind, I guess it makes sense that we should see evidence of its life sprouting up once in awhile. But, what more could be under there? Have you ever wondered? Life surely bustles underneath: worms still burrow, ants still march, roots still strain and spread. There is vibrancy that whispers from below, and if we were to remove what covers, it would surely spring up with energy and enthusiasm, a fertile ground that takes in, and stretches with gleeful purpose. That little flower is but a hint to tickle our imaginations to what lies below, and its defiance to the nature of its strength.

th-64One of the first steps we undertook in our new garden was to remove the ocean-liner of concrete slabs that cut a path through our back yard. Fledgling but fainting wild daisies that dared to slip around its fortress walls were gingerly transplanted. Hunks of concrete were heaved and removed to stacks elsewhere. No glamour here. Muscles were pulled. Mud was flung. Colorful expressions discovered. Hot, hard and heavy work! Phantoms of what had been were manifest in the bleached strip of shriveled and starved limp grass, its pale and frail roots bare to the unrelenting and blistering sunshine. We quickly pulled out the dead, liberally scattered grass seed, covered the raw wound with cool and soothing enriched soil, and saturated it with refreshing water.

Hard and heavy work too for the Gardener of my heart and soul, as he removes the weights and rigidity that afflict and burden heavy upon the growth he has nourished, upon growth he further envisions. But he has never stopped, nor ever will, working in the underneath. That little flower only hints at the much more that he wants and anticipates to carpet the world with. More. Our God has and wants more for his children. Splendiforously more. More within and outwardly to be extravagantly seeded, to be nurtured and grown, to be spread beyond in the tag-team of relationships to light up the world. If only I would agree to remove the slab to expose the effervescent glory, to absorb his much more! Thankfully, he is not one to stand aside and watch me do it alone. Nor is he one to stand on top to make it an impossible task. No. He helps.  th-50Whether the soil, the fainting flower or the limp grass beneath the weight, I can be encouraged that he is actually willing to get hot and sweaty and do some heavy lifting. But he won’t do it alone.

As we work, I can be assured that I am the love of his heart, that he is eager to lift that little bloom out from under, to uncover others ready to push upward, to scrape away the lifeless, to lavishly scatter seed for new. But for goodness’ sake, Erin, let’s lift that comfort-zone slab off of all this potential! I can choose to believe and know that he will soften and break the surface that has been hardened by th-78my ego and pride and their thorny relatives, to uncover, to scrape away the deadwood of my own misguided doings, the misguided doings of others upon me, and my chosen reponse to their misguided doings.  But for heaven’s sake, Erin, let’s get this slab of hurt, resentment, anger, fear, snap-judgements, hopelessness and faithlessness out of the way to let the sunshine in to truly heal, and render this patch fertile soil for new seed! I can choose to believe that these very difficulties are his affirmation that there is always something glorious, surprising and persistent deep beneath to be sown, watered, and ready to push through resistance in perky bloom. Will I get out of my own obstinate way to let him in?

Can I muster the strength to push aside my ego, hurt, fear and stubborn willfulness, to invite the Gardener through the gate, to survey together and to begin? Will I agree that a condition rarely stays the same but is always dynamic, and when I look back, grows into something good? His good? And when I do, will I trust his hands to bring me there, trust him to judge whether the slab needs to be gently lifted, ripped in whole away, or given a good, hard wallop to smash it into a layer of dust that serves to somehow fertilize future growth?  Can I find hope that he could choose to open floodgates of tenderness and love to wash over the ossification and wear it down to powder?

Will there be pain? I don’t care for pain. I’d rather not. th-81But have you found like me that avoiding pain only seems to prolong and actually intensify it, propagating like a poison? That it takes little to unexpectedly trigger it and send you into its dizzying spiral all over again that seeps into everything you think and do?  But what if I were to turn it on its head, to use it as an opportunity to tune into a truth – that it can be a whistle and wink to the truth of our Gardener’s pure nature and heart and his desire to see a change in me? Could I lean into his heart, to agree that he wants only what is best for me, that he will accompany me through these moments into a healthier, new direction? What if I held a vice-grip on that assurance that he will face it with me, prescribe according to the condition of my condition, and take my heart into his own and move me ahead?  If today is a living and breathing testament to his past work in me, I will live to tell of that day, and tomorrow will yet again. In fact, I think he delights in each moment of victory right along with me!

cropped-seedling.jpg“Let’s do it,” whispered with unexplained and newfound determination. Erin, keep eyes on the well-equipped and deftly skilled Gardener, no matter his prescription and method. Eyes on him who grieves deeply out of love over my hardness, and to spare me its outcome. Eyes on him through the pain, and as he and I work together, uncovering the shriveled seedlings and starved roots of dormant resplendent beauty. Eyes on him as he gently removes the deadwood, soothes with the rich soil of his love, seeds with his lavish abundance, waters with his tears, and cools with his grace. Eyes on him as he softens and tenders, transplants and prods growth to infuse and spread across his masterpiece creation. Eyes on him as he rejoices with me, with us, at each interval!

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“Study this story of the farmer planting seed. When anyone hears news of the kingdom and doesn’t take it in, it just remains on the surface, and so the Evil One comes along and plucks it right out of that person’s heart. This is the seed the farmer scatters on the road.”
Matthew 13: 18,19 (The Message)

All the days of the poor are hard, but a cheerful heart has a continual feast.
Proverbs 15: 15 (New Revised Standard Version)

 Jesus was angry as he looked at the people. But he felt very sad because they were stubborn. Then he said to the man, “Let me see your hand.” The man put his hand out for Jesus, and it was healed.
Mark 3: 5 (International Children’s Bible)

 

A vision of what could be…

Tired, tattered and scrubby tufts of grass in the mottled front yard. Defiant dandelion th-38regiments springing up in attack formation. Well-worn grass along the side of house to meet the backyard. Blocks of rectangular utilitarian cement dropped unceremoniously, slicing a path like a lumbering liner through waves of exhausted overgrown grass toward the driveway. Not a flower, not a shrub, save for the wild and crazed appearance of a parched honeysuckle that clung to the side of the back balcony as if to save itself from the sea of overrun savagery.

Such was our garden our first summer in our present home. But, I was undaunted and focused.

I walked slowly from front to back, caught up in what I knew could be. A vision unfolded before me. Springing up was a brilliant kaleidoscope of color in foliage and flower sidling up against the front balcony and under first floor windows, and a wooden fence softened with creeping flowering hydrangea and graceful tendrils. th-45Majestic cedars would rise to frame an arbored entrance to the flag-stone pathway that would meander alongside our new house through a dizzying array of English garden blooms and scents. Mum’s lily of the valley would have to be planted along the foundation so their delicious perfume would waft into our windows in the early spring! The path would widen to a patio where wicker lounges with generous poufy upholstered cushions would invite weary travellers a moment of rest. Maybe a glass of lemonade, iced Red Zinger tea?  A glass of cold, white wine? Off to our left, we’d see an enlarged balcony with potted palm trees, their frawns waltzing in the gentle breeze. A small bistro set would be th-46nestled in the corner for the occasional intimate souper à deux. Hmm… A small pot of coral geraniums would look nice on the table, and maybe a planter or two of herbs at easy reach from the kitchen. Don’t forget to water them, and not too much!

From there would be wooden steps up to our fenced-deck where a wrought-iron table and chairs, a barbecue, and a small, warm and handsome sitting area would fill its expanse. Vibrant, lush and fragrant annuals would spill from large terra-cotta pots dotted around its surface. Strung around the large canvassed patio umbrella would be rustic outdoor lights to softly illuminate animated (very animated) conversations and easy laughter that would stretch into the slowly darkening night. Back on the field-stone patio and off to the right, peering through the two regal trees, would be my grandmother’s phlox and bearded irises, Mum’s daisies and lilies rising up in front of the protection of cedars stationed around the periphery of the small back garden. Perhaps there would be a small bird-bath with the neighborhood mummy sparrows chittering whilst washing their chicks. And around this majestic maple, what about a fun little play area where our future children could play, imagine and climb? Over here, what about a small raised vegetable and herb garden too? In front of us, the patio would end at the stairwell that would spiral down toward the driveway.

I had not the faintest idea if these plans would come to pass in the small spaces afforded me. I saw the immense potential, and it was exciting!. Inspiring. I knew that more than likely, the plans would need adjustment as more detailed surveying would take place. They did. Exposure to the sun. Shady areas. Drainage. Water source. Condition and character of the soil. Pests in the area. Lots of pests in the area. Mr.-and-Mrs.-squirrels-th-77pests. Nest-condos in our majestic maple tree for the nourished-and-fattened-by-our neighbours pesky squirrels. Parents Richard and Isabelle, as we named them, favored the heads of our tulips, and would hide their stash of nuts  in our terra-cotta pots. Their children, Harold and Emma would bury theirs under upturned roots of flowering daisies, liatris, sweet peas, and Sweet William. None of them remembered where they’d buried their treasures. All of them would frantically dig up our garden in search. The aftermath of these quests dotted our garden like beds in an emergency ward. Little inconveniences. Things reorganized and amended my plans, but plans I still had.

It would be several years until any of my vision came to be realized. Several battles with Harold and Emma, and ambulatory trips to the garden center; several under-watered and over-fertilized episodes sprinkled with seasons of outright delight at the abundant and luxurious growth.

It never did and never will stop. Planning in deliciously pleasurable perpetual motion.

This is what, I understand, many real gardeners find, and come to expect. First, they walk the lot, th-51and based upon a myriad of conditions that they test and take note of, vision takes shape and coalesces in their mind. Planning and determination follow. The goal of nudging this patch of land into one that joyously shouts of abundance and glory begins. No terrain is beyond reach of transformation. No patch is too small. No challenge overwhelms a solution that will produce profuse and copious flourishing. Making and remaking. Planning and re-planning. Always on the move.

Our Master Gardener is in perpetual and undaunted motion as well, undeterred by any and all obstacle, and resolute in determination. He is caught up too. He is inspired not by what could be, but by what will be. He knows the plans he has for us – faint ideas they are not. But I wonder what he sees when he looks upon the garden of my soul, of my heart.

Does he sigh and see a condition beyond any hope of restoration or rejuvenation, or does he relish in the potential that hums beneath?

Does he despair at the overgrowth of the underbrush, or does he delight in the prospect of rolling up his sleeves and digging in to uproot and refresh?

Does he anger at the neglect and rebellion, the infestation of pests, and throw up his hands, abandoning all hope, or does he choose to gently tackle this little corner and then that, and so on, so that renewal slowly but surely spreads like a blossoming aromatic wave that coaxes and engulfs the whole?

th-47Does he see me standing in front of some patches, forbidding him from entering? Dark and foreboding places? Places of profound hurt, deep shame and debilitating guilt? “No terrain is beyond reach of transformation,” he softly whispers. “Don’t be afraid. Let me in to warm it with my light and life.”

Do the alarms that sound really come from his direction, or from my very insecurities, harmful habits and attitudes where he is kneeling, bending to gently uproot, to remove and replace with confident and exuberant beauty?

Does he bulldoze his way through, or does he extend a trowel or spade toward me, and invite me into his infectious enthusiasm, to partner with him in clearing the brush and unearthing the me whose hairs he counted, and eyes he painted?

It is said that no two gardens are really truly identical just as no two gardeners are. Each garden reflects glimpses of the gardener’s natural style, and their unique personality. It is also said that a garden is amongst the only places where you could create a splendiferous world, one as you would very much like it to be.

th-50Oh, the splendiferousness the One and Only Master Gardener would very much like for each of us, his parcels of elegant loveliness! Extravagantly and outrageously splendiferous. Triumphant in gentleness and goodness. Brimming in faith and joy. Rich in hope and peace. Brilliantly gleaming with kindness. Glistening in character and self-constraint. Gloriously exquisite in marvelous uniqueness, spilling over with his family resemblance. Exquisitely marvelous and intertwining plots of wondrous beauty trickling and spilling into his expansive, vibrant and lush carpet of flourishing in magnificent Kingdom splendor. And he will not stop until his purpose is fulfilled in me, in you, in each of us.

Will I pick up the trowel and join him?

But these things I plan won’t happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, do not despair, for these things will surely come to pass. Just be patient! They will not be overdue a single day!
Habakkuk 2:2-3 (Living Bible)

“So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.” Luke 12:32 (Living Bible)

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Carlsbad flower fields

Erin
Soil and Seed

 

 

The Character of the Gardener

th-4I don’t know about you, but it brings me great peace and pleasure to see a garden beautifully landscaped. I enjoy strolling through the cheerful exuberance of an English cottage garden as much as I do the quiet and disciplined formal grounds. I marvel at the astonishing variety of unique shapes, sizes, colors and textures woven together in a tapestry of breath-taking beauty. There is a feeling of wholeness, of roundedness, of fullness that sinks deep into my bones and innermost, washing away all trace of anxiousness and disquiet.

I marvel too at the skill and dedication of the gardener. How is it that he or she knows what goes where to get the most of the sun or shade, what is planted when, what seedling is weed or flower? From where does the knowledge and experience come to know how to protect from pests, to allow something to remain undisturbed as it goes to seed, or to exercise the extraordinary patience to nurture each plant to its fullest and most beautiful bloom? Which fertilizer nourishes which plant the best? Why do tulips bloom best when they are planted this far down in the soil? How do they know how and where to cut lettuce so that it continues to yield a crop? What is the best technique for pruning a dogwood? They seem to connect with every detail in the complexity of gardening. They are horticultural maestros. Seed whisperers, I call them.

I’m no such maestro, largely because I get anxious and impatient. I anticipate and relish the lush, and my keen undertakings to encourage its realization tend to snuff any future th-12prospect. At best, I tend to oscillate between calm diligence, and eager hurried haste, whether in the garden, or in life. Sometimes I overwater, then underwater in anticipation of what I think the plant must need. Sometimes I fertilize when it’s been weeks since the shoot sprouted with no sign of visible growth, often over-fertilizing and burning its tender leaves and roots. Sometimes I yank it out altogether before it’s even had a chance. Sometimes I honestly forget, preoccupied with what’s happening in my life at that moment, even ignoring its withering to favor procrastination and the consequence of neglect appears. Perhaps a mental picture of my garden is coming into focus! Many a seedling has quivered in fear at the prospect of receiving such distracted, scattered and unreliable attention!  If potted perennials could sprout legs and run, there’d be a stampede to freedom beyond my garden’s gate! It’s in all too often times like these that I gather all the strength within me, take a deep breath, deny the cacophony of contradicting advice, and allow myself to relax and take pleasure. Curiously, when I do, there is newfound joy and discovery. You’d think I’d do it more often!

My immature gardener’s character is mellowing. Hopefully.

The character of the Master Gardener, though, is fully mature. Like any superb gardener, He is fully experienced, consistent and persistent. He knows what he is doing. He has a plan. A very good plan. He is The Expert Landscaper and Soil Specialist. He is always filled with eager and ingenuous creativity and lavish joy, focused on His clear and strong vision of coming splendour in His sights as He prunes or uproots, th-14clears for a new plot, transplants or fertilizes, or whispers life into the seed that He tenderly plants and affectionately waters. He is never frustrated, never complains. He is forgiving, looking upon missteps as possibility for fresh starts and new growth. He is reliable and thoroughly relishes what He is doing. He has a sharp eye, a kind heart, and a strong determination to see His project through to its end, persistently training climbers to climb, creepers to creep, and tare roots to relinquish their hold on the lush soil. There is nothing that escapes His notice, and He has a clear view, grasp and control of every detail in the interconnecting vista before him. He is The Horticultural Maestro.  Oh the relief!

It has been said that the activity of gardening has a positive effect on us, and can help transform us into better people. I like that, don’t you? I believe the Master Gardener knows it, likes it, and wills it for us too.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Jeremiah 29: 11 (NIV)

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Erin
Soil and Seed