How my garden grows : Lessons in patience

When we moved into our home a year and a half ago, the two raised planters in the backyard had various herbs and vegetables growing in it. Through the first few months, as we were settling in, we watched the Southern California sun slowly encourage the plants to grow leaves of all shades of green. Then blossoms arrived, bursting with small buds of hopeful growth. Eventually, we could see small glimmers of hope that actual food would be growing on those plants, even though we couldn’t see the full beauty of it yet.

Our tomato plant was especially large and prolific. For months, it continued to blossom and grow small tomatoes and we would be so excited as we plucked them from the heavy vines. Even as the fall and winter months set in, our big tomato plant was still growing strong.

Close up of a bunch of growing tomatoes

Eventually, we plucked it out, cleaned out the planter and started again with a new tomato plant, adding peppers of all sorts and lovingly calling this spot in the yard our Salsa Garden.

We don’t even like tomatoes, but there is something so satisfying watching a small little plant struggle to push up toward the sun and then bear beautiful, red fruit, that we grow the tomatoes just so we can make fresh salsa and share the bounty with friends and family.

This year, our little urban garden is doing especially well, and despite our limited knowledge of how to make things grow, we are being rewarded with enough of its goodness to feel like we have accomplished something.

A few weeks ago, our Big Bertha Red Bell Pepper plant had a huge pepper on it. It was the only one on the plant and was at least 10 inches long and 5 inches wide. It was green as green could be, with no hint of turning red. One week, as we endured 100+ temperatures for days, the hot sun burned the top of the pepper and it started to wither. My husband cut Big Bertha from the vine to save what he could and we set it on the counter for a day or two to see if she might ripen.
imagesA few days later, I cut Big Bertha in half, cut off the burned portion, filled her with meat and rice and put her in the oven. The result? A tasteless pepper with some really tasty meat inside. We were sad. She was picked too soon.

The other day, feeling certain we had many tomatoes ready for picking, I grabbed the shears and started cutting away. When I brought my bounty in the house and inspected the loot, I found that I had plucked some from their vine a day or two early. They were not yet fully ripe, and I knew I had robbed them of some precious time of growing.

If I had been patient, I would have been rewarded with much better tomatoes. They needed nothing but time. They didn’t need extra water or fertilizer or sweet lullabies sung to them. They needed the gift of time which cost nothing, but I was too impatient to give it.

The fruit of the Spirit is… Patience. Galatians 5:22

The garden is a wonderful teacher. Things grow when we bury the seeds down in the earth, add water, warm sunshine and give them time. Yes, it’s much easier to go to the grocery store, buy a tomato and a pepper and whip them up into a tasty meal. But the reward of watching seeds sprout into tiny plants, grow tall and thick and start blossoming with hope of good things, that is just a different thing all together.

The garden teaches us that good things can’t be hurried along. Standing by and watching, tapping our foot in impatient hurry won’t make the tomato plant suddenly burst with fruit or make the green pepper turn red.
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So it is with so many things in life, and so it is that Jesus is patiently teaching me to wait, something I am really terrible at.

Take the long way home, I hear him say.
But no! It takes too long, I reason.
And I jump on the freeway, speeding along toward home where there’s no real reason to hurry.

Wait. Be patient. It will all reveal itself in time, I hear him say.
No! I want to know now. What happens tomorrow? Next month? Next year? When will I see progress? I scream impatiently in my head.
And I start pushing and pulling and whining and complaining and trying to make things happen on my timetable, not His.
IMG_2079Plant a seed and watch it grow. Trust that I’m working in her. You can’t see it, but things are happening, I hear him say.
If I just keep talking, keep watching, keep watering, keep filling empty spaces of time with words, then I’ll feel like I’m doing something, I think.

I try to pluck the fruit too early, and the result is tasteless.
I keep tilling and watering and watching and impede the growth in my effort to help. 

I’m working on waiting. It isn’t easy for me. Patience is not my strong-suit. I do much better with hurry.

But Jesus is a patient gardener, and he doesn’t rush my growth. He won’t be hurried into plucking fruit too soon. He knows exactly how long I need to sit. And, he is doing the same thing for you.

If I take matters into my own hands, grab at what I want and take it for myself, the tasteless result will be no reward at all.

Despite the hard work of waiting, I am determined to allow Christ to build patience in me.

How about you? Do you hear him saying Wait? Stop today. Sit down on the inside and allow him to grow in your something worth the wait.

 

 

When I want to be anywhere but here

Anywhere but here.

That’s what I said to myself all last week.

After a wonderful vacation, going back to work was assaulting. I was exhausted after arriving home a day later than expected, a cancelled flight robbing me of the one buffer day I had planned before getting back to the grind. Things had piled up that I needed to take care of quickly. People had been waiting for my return to unload their concerns and complaints. It was difficult, to say the least.

Anywhere but here, I kept saying to myself.
IMG_1893The fruit of the Spirit is Self Control, Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians. When I think of self-control, I mostly think of refusing to eat that donut in the kitchen at work, or saying “No” to something that is not good for me so that I can say “Yes” to something better.

But last week, self-control meant self-talk for me. As my emotions reeled from lack of sleep and the demands of work, I desperately wanted to uproot myself from my current situation and run away. I wanted to be anywhere but here.
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“Every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more… In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me.” John 15: 2-4 MSG

Every time my emotions screamed at me that I needed to be anywhere but here, my soul whispered stay put, abide in him. It took nearly a week, but the screaming subsided and the whisper drowned it out. I was being pruned by The Gardener of my soul, and just as he has reminded me time after time, he reminded me again that the fruit of his Spirit in me can only grow from well-tended vines, pruned of the dead branches that steal the life source.
IMG_3226For me, this is a season of faithful waiting. My feet that want to take me to greener grass and fruitless vines, need to be firmly planted in the rich soil of the responsibilities I have now. It’s a hard road I’m on, and it’s lined with obstacles that seem insurmountable at times. Still, I know that this is where I am supposed to be, putting one foot in front of the other, faithful to the work that has been placed in my hands. Telling anywhere but here, “No!”

I see the hard road, the one that is less traveled, and I wonder why I have to be the one to take it. I see the roads others are traveling and dream about how much easier it must be. If I just could hop on over there where the grass looks green, things would be so much easier. The truth is, if I asked you about the road you’re on, you might tell me that your road looks barren and mine looks pretty green.

Anywhere but here, you might be saying.

Daily, he reminds me that he is always with me, and that he’s for me. He doesn’t ask me to pretend it isn’t hard or long or arduous or filled with exhaustion and difficulty. He reminds me to speak the truth of that hardness about my current state, and somehow, in the acknowledgement of the hardness of it all, I find peace that surpasses what I can understand. That peace makes a way for me to plant my feet on the path again and keep on journeying despite my questions about where I’m going.
IMG_3216Maybe you, like me, feel that the hard way you’re traveling is just too much. Remember that you do not have to hide your fears, your tears, your frustration, your exhaustion, or your disappointment. Jesus sees it already and longs to hold you up when you can’t do it yourself. He is at work, tending the vines of your life, pruning and shaping, cutting off all the dead branches that keep you from bearing a bounty of good fruit.

It’s sometimes painful, but always worth the waiting. Trust him. Abide in him. Stay.
The fruit of the-9

 

 

A word to start our week : Restraint

Sometimes, the right thing is the hard thing. The road less traveled seems insurmountable, too arduous, unfairly required of us. It would be easier, quicker, less trouble to take the easy road.

Help us to choose the hard thing and the high road anyway.
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Others do it. They take the easy road all of the time. We sometimes feel as though we are the only ones.

Help us to go there anyway.

Our passions and desires, our perceived need for things that don’t fill us and fill others, those are the things we must restrain ourselves from.

Instead, may we release our will to the will of the One who can fill us completely, even to overflowing so that Your Spirit spills out onto others.

When tempers flare, when we’re pushed to our limit, when our patience is tested beyond what we can endure, remind us of your great love for us and that you are with us, even in the heat of the moment.

When we’re tempted to throw in the towel, to give up on the good work you’ve given us to do, remind us of Your truth that all things are working for our good.
IMG_3252The fruit of the Spirit is… self control. (Galations 5:22-23)

 

How to lead with a strong hand and a gentle touch

It’s the strong hand, not the weak one that must learn to be gentle. (Gary Thomas)

I don’t often write about my job here. But for this post, I think it’s important to understand what I do and how gentleness has become a part of how I lead.

I’m a manager of people. I’m the boss. (I always hate that by the way, when introducing myself to a new employee I don’t like pointing out that “I’m The Boss.”) Having a boss should be a safety net. When things are out of control, when an employee is not performing, when a customer is screaming and wants to speak to the boss, it’s my responsibility to swoop in and deal with the situation.

So it is, that I have the opportunity to lead people for a living. Now we all lead someone, even (or especially) if we’re leading our children or others in our family. So for all of us, no matter who we lead, I have some words of wisdom for leading with gentleness that I hope you will find useful.
IMG_0805Leading requires a strong hand. Balance your strong hand with a gentle touch.
People deserve truth. Speak truth, but do it with love and respect. Be mindful that people may not like the truth, but they can and will deal with the truth.
Hold people accountable and allow them to experience consequences for their actions. Rescuing, not confronting, or letting things go too often, will reduce the respect the person has for you as well as exacerbate the behavior.
Approach others’ weaknesses and limitations with compassion. The saying, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” applies here. Put love first.
Be vulnerable enough to be relatable. When people sense you’re willing to be open and honest about yourself, they will trust you to lead them where they aren’t sure they want to go.
Admit when you’ve made a mistake. Apologies go a long way with people you lead.
Have a little fun. Tell jokes, pull some pranks, celebrate birthdays. People want to know that you’re real and relatable.
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If the fruit of the Spirit is gentleness, then let our strong hand with a soft touch be the difference that defines us as we lead others.

Let your gentleness be evident to all. Philippians 4:5

The fruit of the-8

 

 

A word to start our week : Gentleness

This world is anything but gentle.

Political wars are waging. Words spew out hate upon hate. It’s all too much.

Jesus, we know that you too lived in politically charged times. Yet, you were able to be gentle and kind, ignoring the cacophony of voices and expectations.

You lived as an example to us of strength under restraint. You never used your power to shame, insult, show off or disregard.
IMG_0805Help us this week to choose gentleness, humility and love.
When the words are full of hate, remind us to respond with gentleness and kindness.
May we see the struggles and the stories behind the words.
May we build bridges, not barriers.
May we reflect the gentleness your Spirit is growing within us.
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The fruit of the Sprit is… Gentleness.

Boundaries are not the same as barriers – Let’s not build barriers!

 

Faithfulness is the concept of unfailingly remaining loyal to someone or something and putting that loyalty into consistent practice, regardless of extenuating circumstances. – Wikipedia

The Apostle Paul told the Galatian believers that faithfulness was evidence of a Spirit-led life.

In his list of the fruits of the Spirit, Paul instructed the people how to interact and be in relationship with each other.

Don’t be like everybody else, he cautioned. Be different. Love each other. Be faithful to one another. (See Galatians 5)
DSC_0168“Faithfulness is unfailingly remaining loyal to someone or something.” For me this is one of those difficult truths about the Spirit-led life. Relationships are not always easy, so sometimes we choose to be faithful because it’s the right thing to do, not the thing we want to do. Sometimes we have to place a boundary around relationships because it’s the healthy thing to do.

But boundaries are different than barriers. Sadly, in many churches today, we’re seeing a lack of faithfulness toward people. In our search for right living and pleasing God, we build walls around others because we condemn their choices or behavior. We create barriers, not boundaries. Our fear is that remaining in relationship with someone whom we believe to be “in sin,” would give the appearance of condoning what they do. But that does not model the example of Christ. Jesus’ example was one of breaking down walls and barriers, not erecting them to keep himself separate and apart.
IMG_1224Peter, after denying he knew Jesus three times on the night of Jesus’ death, wasn’t rejected or shamed by Jesus. He was loved and accepted by him. Jesus affirmed Peter. Jesus tore down the emotional barrier that stood between him and Peter. He gave Peter the gift of restored relationship.

When the woman caught in adultery was about to be stoned, Jesus rose to her defense. He asked those who were about to throw rocks of judgment if they had any sin they might want to confess before condemning her to death. They all walked away. Jesus, the only one in the crowd who was without sin, had the right to stone her. He didn’t.

Neither do I condemn you, he said. (See John 8)
Version 2Now before you go and say that I forgot the second part of the verse that says, “Go and sin no more,” I want you first to ask yourself how that go-and-sin-no-more-thing is working for you. For me, it’s a daily struggle.

And I think that’s the thing. We have focused on the go-and-sin-no-more stuff, and forgotten that we need to focus on the neither-do-I-condemn-you stuff.

What would happen if we just loved people? If we stood at the doors of our churches, our homes and our communities and opened our arms to people without trying to change them? Would our families become stronger? Would our faith become purer? Would people begin to love others in the same way they experience love from us?

More and more people are leaving our churches and leaving faith in Christ. They are doing so because of you and me. In our quest to be faithful to God, we have lost our faithfulness to others. We’ve erected walls that keep people out instead of building bridges that welcome them in.
IMG_1232 (1)Someone once told me that people don’t have to approve of my actions to love and accept me as a person. I’m choosing faithfulness. I’m choosing love. I’m choosing relationships. I’m choosing to accept others, whether I approve of their actions or not.

Will you?The fruit of the Spirit-3

 

 

A word to start our week : Faithfulness

Sometimes being loyal and faithful to our work, our relationships and our beliefs, takes patience. We fall out of step, rushing toward our expectations, hurrying toward unknown destinations because we’re tired of being here.
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You promised to lead us and provide for us, but at times the waiting feels long and slow. We are tempted to grab for ourselves what we should patiently wait for.
Help us to wait and trust your timing.

You said that you are always with us, but some days it feels you’re far off and we’ve been abandoned.
Show us glimpses of your presence in the ordinariness of our days.

Our relationships become rocky and we question if it’s worth staying in it.
May we remember that you have been faithful to us and equip us to be faithful to others.
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In the waiting, the longing, the hoping, the dreaming, may we never forget that you showed your faithfulness to us in the form of sacrificial love. 

Help us to be faithful,
In our relationships
In our work
In our homes
In our faith
In our love

The fruit of the spirit… is Faithfulness.

For the not-good-enough parents like me

As I’ve been thinking about goodness this week and what I wanted to write in this space, I keep coming back to my frequent feelings of being a not-good-enough mother. I sense there are many of you who, just like me, fear that all our parenting mistakes have worked against us and our children.

When I adopted my first child over 23 years ago, I was more than ready to be a mom. I was 30 years old. I had longed for and waited for this child. Thirteen months later, when his sister came into our family, I was not prepared for the exhausting challenge of parenting two little humans so close in age. A person who thrives on rest and peace, I was often at my wit’s end, short-tempered and impatient.
IMG_1563The fruit of the Spirit is goodness, Paul writes in Galatians 5. Goodness, for me anyway, seems tied to my very human struggle to be good at something.
IMG_1566Now that my children are fully grown adults of 22 and 23, I have a different perspective on parenting. Had I known the challenges I would face, would I have done this parenting thing at all? Yes, of course yes. But when your little humans grow up to be big humans with minds and hearts and choices of their own, that feeling of I’m-not-good-enough floats back in. Only this time, it says I-wasn’t-good-enough.

So today, I want to encourage moms (and dads too) who feel like some days, some months, some years, our best just isn’t or wasn’t good enough. For those of us who feel that if-we-had-just-done-something-differentlyour-kids-would-have-turned-out-better, remember today, that our good and loving God is with you and has always been with you. Every moment of every day, he has been with you.
IMG_1603When the pregnancy test is negative again
When the baby you carried for a few short weeks is lost
When the diagnosis for your sweet child’s health is devastating
He carries you, grieving with you, comforting you with tender kindness.

When the report card reveals a challenge with learning
When the principal calls you to a meeting again
When all the other kids are graduating, and yours didn’t finish in time 
When the police knock on the door and deliver your teen to you
He holds your disappointment and embraces you with his love.

When he says, “I’m gay”
When she says, “I’m pregnant”
When he slams the door behind him, shutting you off from his life
When she chooses the drink and the drug over her children
He holds you up when you think you will crumble in a heap. He is your strength.

He is with you. He has always been with you. His goodness, his love, his kindness has always been with you.

Though you may look in the mirror and heap the shame of failure on yourself, he is right there, telling you, You’re good enough for me. You were good enough for them.

Though your body may have failed you, his love never fails.

Though your dreams lay in a heap of ashes, he makes beauty from those ashes.

Though the present looks nothing like you thought it would and the children you raised are distant and coldhe pursues them with his everlasting love.
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Goodness is not a reflection of being good at something. Goodness is a reflection of the very Spirit of Christ living in us. It’s an attitude of loving and giving and choosing to do good for others. Parenting is a perfect example of this.

We all hope that our children will reflect the good things we’ve spent years teaching them. For some, the good things are easily seen at a young age. They seem to sail through life, getting good grades, going to college, getting a good job.

But for some of us, it seems that our children have absolutely no reflection of us at all. They stumble and fall. They struggle to find their place in the world. They make destructive choices. And we, sitting on the sidelines watching all of this happen, want to blame ourselves. We just weren’t good enough.

It’s my fault she’s…
If I had only….
Would things be different if…

Your children and mine are on their own journey. We can’t take the journey for them. They will go at their own pace and their own time. And whatever they choose, whatever they do, your job is to do your best and trust that not only is Christ with you, He is with them. You can trust his goodness to be at work in them, just as it is at work in you.

You… are good enough. The fruit of the-7

 

 

 

A word to start our week : Goodness

Jesus, today we confess that our sinful nature often gets the best of us. We want to do good, but we get in our own way, tripping over our good intentions.
IMG_1566May we remember that it is You who makes the way straight for us, and Your Spirit living in us can set us right again.

When opportunity shows itself this week, when we can choose to do something good for another person, remind us to stop and see through Your filter of love, instead of looking the other way.

In the moments when we realize we missed an opportunity to do good, help us to be kind to ourselves the way you are kind toward us.
IMG_1563May we see Your goodness reflected in others, and may others see Your goodness reflected in us.

The fruit of the Spirit is…. Goodness.

Amen.

How compassion, kindness and reality TV go together

I have a confession to make. I love reality TV. I much prefer it to comedies, dramas, movies and such. I just love following the real lives of real people with real junk going on. They have good days and bad days and they aren’t rehearsed. They just live.

Now let me make something clear. I do not love the Housewives or the Jerry Springers or the Kardashians. I don’t like to watch nonsensical, trashy drama for drama’s sake. The shows I love are of families making it one day at a time, like The Little Couple, Little People Big World, Kate Plus 8, Jill and Jessa Counting On and Duck Dynasty. (Yes, I’m a Duggar watcher. Don’t hate!)

So this week, while my husband is out of town for work, I’ve been spending some time catching up on recorded episodes of my favorite shows. For the past couple of nights, I’ve been watching recent episodes of Little People Big World. If you don’t know the show, it’s about a couple who are both dwarfs, and their four, now adult children. The couple, Matt and Amy Roloff,  have been going through a divorce over the past year, and the recent episodes chronicle the struggles and realities they are dealing with as they adjust.

I have, more than once in the last two days, cried real, compassionate tears as I watched Amy pour her heart out, full of insecurities and fears mixed with a new found excitement and freedom. While I don’t know her personally, I feel real, honest compassion for her, as I know what it’s like to be going through a divorce that you know is the best thing for you, but still hurts like hell.

I know what it’s like to think about dating after 20+ years of marriage, and feel vulnerable, unlovable and scared.

I know what it’s like to wonder if the demise of your marriage was all your fault, and if you’d just done something different, this wouldn’t have happened. Thinking you suck at relationships.

I know what it’s like to be alone in a restaurant, at a movie, at home, in church, feeling like everyone’s watching you, wondering why you’re alone.

In one episode she said, “When you’re afraid to be hurt, you guard yourself. And that’s not healthy in relationships.” And yes, I know just what she is saying.
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“What happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard – things like… a sense of compassion in the heart. Galatians 5:22-23 MSG

You may think I’m a little bit crazy, but I think that the fruit of the Spirit living within me comes out in those moments. And though Amy Roloff may never know the compassion I feel for her, I’m grateful that God has gifted me with the ability to extend that compassion, even as I simply watch her on TV.
Grand Canyon 2010 029Our world is suffering from a serious lack of kindness and compassion. Our high-stress, make-it-to-the-top world has driven us to seek our own fulfillment above the needs of others.

In our hurry to get from here to there, we practically mow over others as we hurry to get in line for our morning coffee. 
We treat the poor kid behind the counter on his first day on the job as if he’s an idiot, because he can’t figure out the cash register. 
We are so fueled by competitiveness, that we speak over others, too bent on getting our own words out that we trample on the value others need to give and we need to receive.

What if instead we,
Hold the door open for someone, even if that means we get in line behind them at the coffee shop.
Remember what our first day on a new job as a young kid was like, and told him what we wished we had heard – “You’re doing a great job! You’ll get it down in no time!”
Listen more than we speak, letting go of the fear that our words won’t be heard, giving space for the words of others. Our silence can say what words can’t – “Your words have value.”

Galatians 5 describes our self-centeredness as an act of the flesh, or trying to get your own way all the time. It displays itself in short-tempered responses, cutthroat competitiveness, and a depersonalization of others. These, it’s clear, do not reflect a life guided by God’s Spirit.

For me, the choice is simple. Whether watching someone on TV or standing in line at Starbucks, a simple kind and compassionate heart will go a long way to sharing the love of Jesus that lives within me. I can think of few things that, genuinely offered, not only feeds others’ souls, but feeds our own as well.

Will you join me? Will you bear the fruit of kindness and compassion? Will you extend the love of Christ with those you encounter today?The fruit of the-5

 

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