gardening, spiritual life

Enough to face the killing frost

“Listen! The wind is rising, and the air is wild with leaves,
We have had our summer evenings, now for October eves!” Humbert Wolfe, British poet

There’s not much left in the garden. But, it’s enough to sustain life through these last days, weeks of the season. A handful of cosmos, a butterfly bush, a bit of morning glory and a couple of potted flowers are still producing enough nectar and pollen to keep “our” bees and butterflies reasonably happy. There are enough seeds still in their pods to keep birds rustling through the vines and enough ground cover to keep crickets on the prowl.

Life is slow now. Butterfly wise, there has not been a monarch since early last week. Nearly every day during a prolonged hot spell they stopped and refreshed before heading vaguely south. Now, they are gone and we’re down to cabbage whites, a plucky little species that is the first to appear in the spring and the last to succumb in the fall.

The crickets, with their remarkable temperature-revealing chirps, are like a seasonal time piece they are now so slow. At night, it’s dipping into the 30s. There’s only a raspy criiiiiick…..etttt come dawn.

Yet it is still life. All of this life, abundant life, even as the countdown to the killing frost relentlessly continues. Isn’t that reassuring?

One generation of insect life winds down. Another is waiting, attached to the underbellies of leaves or tucked into the earth. Other animals are so very busy. Fur is thickened. Seeds cached. Leafy nests assembled. Sleepy rest comes to still others.

It is fall and God is as good as always. Life is. Life will be. And, that is enough.

spiritual life, writing

Life 101: 4 lessons from the news

“A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself.” Arthur Miller, American playwright

Watching the news in the last few weeks has been sobering. No matter how you look at it, America and, indeed, the world are not in their finest hour. As writing news is what I do for a living, however, I may look at the unending mayhem in a different way. One, news reports can give direction to our prayers. Two: News offers continual talking points for parents.

The latter is what has particularly been on my mind lately. Mid-life mom and church lady that I am, I’ve come up with four news-illustrated truths I hope will sink deep into our daughters’ souls and minds.

  1. We live in a fallen world; so don’t expect life to be “fair.” Hurricanes can sweep your house down. You might not get the job, the man, the situation you want, or at least not when you want. There is way more illness and injury, abuse and neglect than you will ever want to know about. Justice is not always served. Sometimes, in fact, the guilty go unpunished and the righteous are murdered in the street. (God knows exactly what happened to you and who did it, my slain fellow journalists! Your blood cannot be silenced.)
  2. Some people will take a bullet for you; others are not even safe to be around. There is often a very sad backstory and God is able to deliver, but some people are just not safe. Wise people will take this into account and not put themselves or their children into situations in which their well-being is dependent on the goodwill or lawfulness of unproven acquaintances, particularly those who are drunk or high.
  3. God is able. No matter how corrupt the official, the organization or even the church — God is able. No matter how violent, how hellbent the offender — God is able. No matter how sick, how disabled, how unemployed, how tragic, how hopeless, how suicidal, how loveless the situation appears to be — God is able. Therefore: Don’t try to keep Him in a tiny box. Set God loose in your life and see for yourself that He is good.
  4. And so are you. Because He is good, your hope is pinned on something that will not fail or disappoint — no matter how impossible the news makes such a thing seem. You can make wise choices. You can rise above this troubled world. You can hope. You can help. You can shine with joy instead of living in fear. So, go. Shine on and on and on!
community, spiritual life

Gut or tear down?

“Hearts rebuilt from hope resurrect dreams killed by hate.” Aberjhani, American poet, “The River of Winged Dreams”

It has been fascinating to watch. An old Arts & Crafts style house in our neighborhood recently changed hands. It was the home for decades of a single family, a home the elderly son of whom must have finally decided was too much house for one man.

The for-sale sign went up. It went down nearly as quickly. And, a virtual army of contractors has been swarming the badly neglected structure for the last two or three months. The first change was exterior paint. The house went from a faded, chipping brown with tired beige trim to a nautical blue and white that would look at home in Cape Cod.

And, that was only the beginning. There have been new windows, new doors, a ripping out of overgrown landscaping. Most recently, interior plaster has come crashing down. The open windows today revealed a whole-scale rewiring is in the works.

Someone has obviously decided that there was enough history, beauty and value in this old house to make it worth “gutting,” an odd American term for taking a structure down to its supports for rebuilding, instead of tearing down. I’m so glad, because, whoever that someone is, the whole neighborhood is in agreement. It was a good house even in its neglected state. Now, it’s a thing of beauty.

I’m so glad, too, that God works exactly the same way. Tired beige souls, neglected marriages, hope that can no longer quite stand on its own — God is a master craftsman, a restorer of them all. It’s true. No one, no one is a tear down, not as long as there is a God who makes all things new.

 

spiritual life

You talkin’ to me?

“I didn’t know what I was reading. Before I knew it, I was in the middle of my cell floor on my knees. I was just asking God to forgive me.” Karla Faye Tucker, Christian, executed murderer

“I don’t do prayer,” she said, in the manner of one who doesn’t “do” gluten or dairy or lines of coke. I didn’t ask why. I like this woman. She’s smart and kind and probably has a reason why she chooses to stay out of contact with God. (We Christians do have a way of muddying the waters.)

This is what she said, but the skeptic in me was thinking, “Really?” I have no Pew study to back me up on this, but I suspect almost everybody prays, even when they have no idea why they are doing it or to whom they are talking.

I suspect this, not because of my own experience. The offspring of many generations of church ladies and gentleman, it’s hard for me to separate family culture from the hard-wiring of the soul. I can distinctly remember thinking prayers at age 4 or 5. I knew I was talking to God. But, do other people do this?

From anecdotal evidence gleaned from friends and those whose stories I’ve only read who became Christians after they were well into adulthood, the answer is likely “yes.” Almost universally, people in this category share that they prayed long before they ever had what Christians call a “saved” or “born again” experience.

And, where and how they prayed can be extraordinary. Karla Faye Tucker, a Texas prostitute who participated in murders that involved a pick ax, swiped a Bible early in her imprisonment. God’s spoke through scripture. Tucker spoke through prayer. There, in a prison cell, God met her and she was astonishingly saved. Still executed for her crimes, but saved.

A couple I know tells a similarly surprising story. Both raised outside of church — like such a large proportion of the Millennial and Gen Z generations — they acknowledge their acquaintance with God began while high. For a season of their life, they would sit on their kitchen floor, smoking pot and reading the Bible. Some extraordinary way, God spoke, they spoke. He met them there and they, too, were amazingly saved.

So, if you catch yourself engaging in internal conversation with, well, someone, take some time to ponder this. I guarantee that Someone is actually listening.

gardening, spiritual life

Safe!

“Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.” James Baldwin, American novelist

One of the stories to emerge from Hurricane Florence is precious. A tiny kitten made it out of the flood-ravaged city of New Bern, NC, attached firmly to the shoulder of a man who may or may not have exactly been his before the weather went wild. His or not, the aptly named Survivor sunk his claws into the man’s rain gear and held on. Where the man went, Survivor went — and that’s just how it was until they were both safe.

I thought of them this weekend when we (by which I mean my husband; I mainly smile hopefully and point) were lugging massive pots of tropicals back into the sunny kitchen for the winter. The deer are coming out of the mountains, seeking what they may devour. They may get what’s left in the ground, possibly by tonight, but the tropicals are safe. Gathered in. To a place where neither deer doth munch nor frost doth turn to green goo.

(Wink, wink to fellow KJV enthusiasts.)

Not all the stories of the weekend bring such smiles, of course. America alone has been rocked by disasters of several kinds in just these last few days. Home and life-destroying floods and winds in the South. Exploding homes in the Northeast. Wildfires in the West. Rogue ministers just all over the place. And, it’s not any easier anywhere else in the world. Typhoons, drought, violence. It’s tough all over.

It’s enough to make one fearful, in fact. But, how much better to focus on the fact that God loves us more than a tropical plant, more than even that darling wee cat. Come what may, we can hang on — clinging to Jesus for dear life, for eternal life! Where He goes, we go — perched on His shoulder or, more accurately, tucked securely into His arms. Safe!

 

outdoors, spiritual life

Sea change

“Don’t let the rain drive you to the wrong shelter … sometimes the rain is the perfect protector from the rain.” Michael Bassey Johnson, Nigerian writer

In our part of the planet, people are watching the sea — or at least the sea as seen on The Weather Channel. Hurricane Florence is looming off America’s Southeast shore, a menacing threat to not only beloved coastal communities but places far inland, where already-saturated soils and heavy rains can turn lethal.

A conveyor belt of hurricanes and other rain makers is the new reality for a large part of America, including our home city. There are titans. Harvey. Irma. Maria. But, even wee Gordon soaked us to the bone in recent days. It’s true. What was left of the garden is now so bedraggled it will be cut back to over-winter height this weekend. I’m not sure the porch furnishings will ever dry out.

We are soggy. We will likely get soggier. Yet, God is still God.

He is the God who made butterflies and river otters. Yet, He is also the God who made great beasties with razor teeth and fierce claws. He is the God who made breezes that whisper pine-tinged secrets. Yet, He is the God who can lay whole forests flat.

In America, we prefer the God of butterflies and breezes. We largely pretend the God of grizzly bears and howling wind does not exist. Or that, if He does, it only takes louder, longer prayer to convince Him to abandon any path that would bring loss or even discomfort to our lives.

It is true there are many promises of God’s care for His people in the Bible. There are stories of miraculous deliverance — from wicked kings, from lions, from death itself. But, there is also acknowledgement after acknowledgement and vignette after vignette that suggest God is not as focused on our short-term comfort as we would like to believe. He is, rather, the ultimate man with a plan — watchful of believers, yet relentless in His pursuit of outcomes that have been in the works, well, forever.

Forever. We need to remember that when sea change overtakes us, even if it literally overflows us. As we are where we are geographically — in the track of endless rain in our particular case — we also are where we are in time, both as believers in particular and as humanity collectively.

We must keep in mind that God is God whether the leaves flutter or the sea roars. God is God whether His path leads to deliverance or the destruction of something we hold dear. God is God. And, God will never change. He is a shelter, an anchor, a solid rock. No short-term outcome can change that forever fact.

books, spiritual life

Is it time to ‘give up?’

“It is a mistake to think that moving fast is the same as actually going somewhere.” Steve Goodier, inspirational writer

If America had a universal religion, one of the top tenets of the faith would be, “Never give up.” Whatever our color or nation of origin, we are frontiersmen — determined to the bone. But, sometimes, we might be better off drifting into apostasy.

The wrong-headedness of universal relentlessness can be seen all over the place. Among children, sports and extreme academics are pursued no matter the physical injury or state of mental exhaustion. The god of success forbids that anyone even think of quitting. Young adults up the game by devoting themselves to endless years in college and endless hours of work pursuing careers that require a lottery-style win to secure they are so rare.

Among the mid-lifers, particularly among women, there’s a growing refusal to let go of the appearance of youth. It’s not just people in Hollywood. There are plenty of ordinary American women who will stop at nothing in this pursuit — surgery, strange drugs, excessive exercise, starvation and a staggering variety of cosmetic procedures.

If aging is unacceptable, dying is now seen as outright failure. We rarely use the word “die” as a culture, in fact, even in obituaries. Instead, people “pass after a long battle with…” Those long battles often include grisly and insanely expensive medical treatment that brings misery to the one dying and to their family.

Yes, we do all these things and many more, convinced that our dogged pursuit of a goal is not only a guarantee we will get what we want but is also a form of righteousness. The difficult thing is, sometimes that’s at least somewhat true. Determination can  bring what we want and can be admirable. Other times, however, it’s a form of self destruction disguised as positive action.

How can we tell the difference? It’s tough. I ask myself this question regularly: Is anything I’m pursuing harming me or my family? This has been a particularly tricky question in terms of writing. After nearly 30 years in the business, I recently chose to step back from one venue that was making me so unhappy it was spreading into my family life.

Is that “giving up?” Yes. And, no. What many Americans see as “giving up” can also be seen as a change of direction, a re-focusing. Think about it for yourself. Is it time to “give up” on something? If we’re talking about life, hope, marriage, caring for one’s children and so on — no. If we’re talking about a pursuit that is hurtful — you may surprised the answer is yes.

It’s true. There are times when “giving up,” is simply the wisest thing to do.