The Empty Chair

If you have ever found your life situation abruptly changed, and grieving the loss of a time in life when you used to feel useful, but don’t anymore – perhaps you will appreciate this.

Please click over to Ungrind to read about hope and kitchen furniture: The Gift of The Empty Chair. 

A shoot and a stump

This morning I decided to forgo exercising at the gym, and instead turn my attention to my horridly overgrown garden. As it turned out, I got a full upper-body workout. I also got a workout for my soul when I came across this, hiding under the leaves of the too-big-for-its-britches fan palm:

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I don’t know that I have ever seen a shoot come straight out of a stump before. But there it was, hiding in the shade of my garden: an object lesson for my quiet-time-avoiding-self.

Immediately this verse came to mind:

Isaiah 11:1 – A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;

from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

2The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—

the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,

the Spirit of counsel and of might,

the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord

3and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

The Jews must have been feeling stumped 2000 years ago. God had made all these lavish promises about how the Son of David, the son of Jesse, would come and rule with an eternal, glorious Kingdom. But there they were under Roman rule, with no promising royalty having been born for several hundred years. No little Prince George standing third in line for the exalted throne. In contrast, David’s line seemed to have suffered a similar fate to the tree in my front garden: felled. stumped.

But tucked away in a sleepy town in Galilee, Luke 3 tells us, Jesus was born. In the most humble and surprising of circumstances, there came Jesus, the son of David, the son of Jesse, the son of Abraham, the son of Adam, the son of God (Luke 3).

Out of the stump will come a shoot. Right in the middle of what seemed to be the dead-end will come a new beginning.

I wandered through the garden and wondered: where else have I felt “stumped” by situations and relationships? Or felt that dreams or hopes had been felled?

Perhaps God will yet give life: He excels at producing fruitful shoots from abandoned stumps.

Click here for other posts you might like:  Corny reflections or God-thoughts while weeding…..

Garden-variety God-thoughts: overkill

My two best times for thinking are in the shower, and when I’m gardening. Some say their very best thinking happens while they run, but this is a hypothesis I am never going to test. So I shower, and I garden, and while I garden, I think. My soil time is soul time, good for reflecting on how things grow, and on dealing with sins as weeds.

Last week, however, I realized that sometimes I can take weeding a little too far.

Two months ago I planted an entire bed of sweet onions. One by one, I had laid them in neat little rows. I was so thrilled when they sprouted strong green tops. Surely this was a sign of deep growth happening beneath the soil.

Inevitably, the weeds grew too. Little creeper weeds began to grow and cover the area between each onion, creating an intricate lattice work of not-onions. There were a lot of them, and I began to panic about how my baby onions would fare.

In a rush one afternoon, I judged that my trusty scuffle hoe with its 3″ wide edge could safely and easily maneuver between the 4″ spaced rows. So scuffle, scuffle, scuffle I went.

Hoe hoe hoe. Weeds gone.

And within two days, most of my onions gone too. Not so Ho Ho Ho.

They were too young, too tender, too vulnerable for my vigor. They needed hand-weeding. They needed just a bit more time.

The onions made me think of one student in particular I mentored some years ago. She had a young, fledgling faith and it was exciting to see her grow. But there were things in her life which, if left for too long, would cause her damage: bad habits, bad relationships, less-than-wise choices.

However, instead of helping her deal with those gently, pulling sinful “weeds” out one by one, I went in with a spiritual scuffle hoe: full of advice on how to overhaul her life from top to bottom. Immediately.

Weeds gone. For a short while.

But within two months, she was gone too.

Let’s not deal with people with a scuffle hoe.

“Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.” – Galatians 6:1

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Garden-variety God-thoughts: growth

We planted our first vegetable garden when I was three months pregnant.

We pushed those little, dry, brown seeds of hope into that dark soil, and then we waited.

Sun, water, time.

Sun, water, time.

And one day, the tiniest little folds of green poked bravely out of the ground.

Sun, water, time.

Sun, water, time.

Newly pregnant, I marveled at the parallels: a little life forming in an unseen place because a seed had been planted. But everything after that? The miracle of life, unfolding in my yard, in my womb.

Spiritual growth is like that too. A little seed planted in our hearts, perhaps something we heard long ago. A little water, perhaps a sprinkling of encouraging conversation. A little sonlight. A little time.

It gives me such joy to watch things grow: vegetables, babies, faith.

“So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.
– 1 Corinthians 3:7

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Corny reflections

This is our third summer growing vegetables. Last week I harvested garlic, this morning I picked our first zucchinis, and as I look out on my veggie patch I see a veritable forest of tomato plants which will yield a harvest FAR beyond our ability to consume them. But no corn. Despite the fact that we love corn, and would gladly eat as much as we could grow. there is no corn.

The reason for this is that our past two years of corn-growing have been abject failures. As it turns out, corn growing is tricky business: you need a certain number of days all above a certain temperature. The soil needs to be not only warm, but also well-aired and rich in nitrogen. We thought we had the perfect soil – but in the first year our soil spent 3 months growing and only reached 3ft in height before being toppled by an early autumn wind storm. No crop.

The following year we started earlier, read more… and the initial growth was better. But after 4 months again we had 3-4 feet stalks with TINY corn heads. We told Teg they were “baby corns” (as if we’d grown them that way on purpose), and ate the whole lot as a sprinkling on one summer salad. Pathetic.

Meanwhile, on the way to J’s work we pass corn field after corn field which rapidly shoot their way towards the standard 8-and-a-half feet corn height. “Wow,” we think, “farmers are SO much more impressive than we give them credit for.”

Here’s one of the things that the farmers have got right though: they know that corn likes company. Maize needs mates. You cannot grow just one stalk of corn, or even just 6 or 8. You need a minimum of a 5 by 5 square of it (not a long row, mind you – it needs a CLUMP for cross-pollination).

Which makes me think: Christians are a lot more like corn than zucchini. Christians who think they can “go it alone” and have fantastic growth all by themselves, as long as they give themselves the right kind of “soil” (teaching input, spiritual disciplines etc)… may well land up looking like the corn in our garden: stunted growth, minimal fruit, susceptible to the first big winds of the season. To really thrive, you need to be with other corn – cross-pollinating, sharing the sun, working the soil, growing tall together.