31 January 2014

Crowning Jewel of Creation (A Hymn)

{Photo:  La Sal del Rey, near sunset.}

My prayer for your Sabbath.  Because singing is often prayer, too, and just as much an act of worship as is prayer.

"Crowning jewel of creation,
Blest and hallowed, sanctified;
Time and changes all transcending, 
Shared forever, glorified.

"Blessed Sabbath made for man,
Gift from the Creator's hand.

"Sin and sickness, prayer and weeping
Cease at close of earthly days;
But Thy Sabbath is eternal, 
Joyful thanks to Thee we raise!

"Blessed Sabbath made for man,
Gift from the Creator's hand.

"Teach us, Lord, in storm or sunshine
How to truly rest in Thee,
May Thy Sabbath peace enfold us,
And our shelter ever be.

"Blessed Sabbath made for man,
Gift from the Creator's hand."

{Crowning Jewel of Creation, tune JEWEL, by Wayne Hooper; words by Gem Fitch.  Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal, 385.}

29 January 2014

Ice in South Texas (with thoughts on Moses, the Sanctuary, and Grace)

We've had quite an event here in South Texas:  Ice.  See it there, barely hanging on long enough in the early daylight to be captured by the camera?  Our garden was all covered and fine during the whole event, and at no time did we see ice on the roads, but the whole thing yielded an unexpected day at home for my husband.  It has been great to have him around!

Given the more relaxed nature of our day, I'm not going to spend much time here in front of the screen, but I wanted to stop in and say hi.  Because by tomorrow, when it's back up to somewhere near 70 degrees, it won't seem appropriate to share photos of little ice droplets.

Here are some of the kinds of things that pass through my mind on a quiet, cozy day at home:
  • I need to go through and count the number of times the book of Revelation uses the words, "And he cried with a loud voice..."  It's a lot.  I don't want to undervalue the still, small voice, but I think when we focus only on God speaking to us softly, we worry somewhere deep down inside that we'll miss an important cue He wants to give us.  But that's not like Him.  When it's really urgent, He's not afraid to use every decibel of His loud voice.  And something in me just loves that the everlasting gospel is proclaimed to the whole world in a loud voice.  (See Revelation 14.)
  • It's easy to glaze over a little in Exodus when Moses recites all the details of making the sanctuary in the wilderness.  But did you notice that?  All those incredibly intricate crafts of woodwork, perfume work, weaving, and working with gold, silver, bronze, and precious stones, happens in the wilderness.  Amazing.  Skilled craftsmen, to say the least.
  • And what huge responsibility would it have been for Moses to inspect all that work when it was finished!  You know what, though?  All the work passed on first inspection, maybe not just because the workers were skilled, but also because they knew they were working for God.  That idea gives new meaning to the words "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might" and "whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God".  (loosely paraphrased, probably)  I think it calls for more careful attention to quality in whatever I do each day.
  • We talk so much about the grace of God being unmerited favor, and I think that's true.  It's just that I usually stop there.  Paul, however, is challenging me to think beyond the way I receive grace to the idea of what I do with it once it's in my hands:  "Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:" (Hebrews 12:28)  Using grace, so to speak, to increase reverence in service?  Completely profound thought.

26 January 2014

Of Harvests and Thank Offerings

My mother would call this blossom in January yet another token of the Lord restoring the year that the locust had eaten.  Or seemed to have eaten, at least.  In a way, I think she would be right.  The proverbial locust did appear to have his way with things for a while.

But we just kept planting beside all waters, not knowing which would prosper, this or that, and guess what?

They all seemed to prosper, those plants in several states.  It's just that we left Apollos to water most of those, and these plants here, in January, are the ones we'll get to harvest ourselves.  In fact, we enjoyed the first bunch of our own heirloom cilantro yesterday, on our haystack lunch.

Here is one of our three best little tomatoes, which you can see is a bit lopsided.  I don't know why he grew that way; I just hope it doesn't hinder his maturing process too much.  I'm generally of the opinion that looks don't much matter, as long as the produce is healthy and tasty in spite of funny shapes.

We found a YouTube video on pollinating tomato plants, and although we don't own a suitable paint brush or an electric toothbrush, we did find a little battery operated device that vibrates.  Which is what we used to jiggle the pollen around in the tomato flowers this evening.  That's supposed to help simulate the buzzing of bees and get the pollen go to the right place in the flower.

We do see bees here from time to time, but since we are still having cooler days interspersed with days in the 70s and 80s, they stay hidden away a lot of the time.  {That's my theory, anyway.}  We hope there will be more bees soon, but meanwhile, we thought we'd try to help things along a little.

Have you marveled over the beauty of a bean blossom lately?  And to think this is just a volunteer, an unexpected delight.


I don't think it will be long until we have a small harvest of beans.  There are four or five already growing on the plants.

We do have one more cold night in the ten-day forecast.  It's coming on Tuesday night, so we'll cover all the plants again like we did Thursday and Friday nights last week.  It didn't end up frosting those nights, and we gratefully thanked our Lord for caring about such small things as the baby beans in our garden enough to preserve them one more time.

Now, that's not to say that if it did frost and kill our garden, we would think He didn't care.  It's just that this time, He saw fit to give us a few more days, at least, of pleasure in the green and growing things that have filled our yard with the eager anticipation of watching for each new leaf, each new bud, and each new developing fruit.

And we are grateful, still eager to see what's in store on our waist-high volunteer sunflower, among other things.

Have you read lately in the Bible how in Israel people gave a firstfruits offering to God when they harvested the first lovely ripe things from their gardens and farms?  I don't know if I've exactly done that before, but we did this weekend, after a sort, with just a few extra dollars to something special through our church.

Not because we felt obligated.  Because we are thankful, for Jesus' leading and care in our lives over the course of our four-state gardening year.

And because gifts that help bring the gospel to people who've never heard it before bless the heart of Jesus.  That's what we want for all our tithes and offerings, actually--the gospel getting planted, watered, and harvested just a little more than it would if we had never returned something of the blessings God so graciously puts in our care.

21 January 2014

My Personal Testimony

I finished the sixth grade, walking out of my classroom for the last time, not even knowing I'd be in a different school by fall but fully expecting my summer to be different from any I had enjoyed to that point.  

And I did always enjoy summer, the time for growing things, running through sprinklers, swimming in lakes, camping, cutting wood to burn in winter's wood stove, building forts with the neighbor boys, spending as many hours out in the sun as Mom and daylight would allow.
My older brother graduated from the eighth grade that year, and at fourteen, the law said he could spend the summer earning money.  My parents said the same thing, which meant I had more hours to myself ahead of me than I had ever had before.

I, too, experienced an increase in responsibilities.  I don't have exact measurements, but our lawn at that house on those five acres with that tremendous well water was enormous.  Not only would I have the privilege of doing my share of the mowing, but I would also be sole manager the sprinkler system, which amounted to setting timers, and moving sprinklers around every hour by hand all day.

Summer was a great time for our latest pregnant mama cat to give birth; it gave me loads of time to play with her kittens, all of whom I loved.  

But I chose a particular kitten to name and to keep, and he stayed right with me all summer long.  He followed me everywhere.  He came--from far away, even--when I called.  He curled up to read with me.  He probably tried to help me pull weeds in the driveway.

Maybe he witnessed more of my conversion than anyone else, in fact, because to this day I don't remember if the humans in the house realized it when I sneaked a New Testament into my room, shut the door (but always opened the window), and spent hours within its pages.

From the time I was born, I owned my own Bibles.  The first was a tiny red New Testament.  Another was a red children's study Bible, the one all of us third graders had in common.  Another was a pink leather bound one, which I eventually gave away to a stranger in Africa.

Yet something drew me to the brown, hard cover New Testament that wasn't really mine, the one in which I ever so faintly underlined in pencil, hoping no one would notice, and if they did notice, hoping they wouldn't mind.

Thus if I could point to any particular time, or period in time, when my faith became my own, it would be that summer.  The summer all the years of Bible learning in a Christian home yielded a harvest in one little girl.

I don't recall why I picked up the New Testament; I simply recall not being able to put it down.  I don't recall not reading the Bible on my own before; I simply know from then on, the Bible became my daily staple, my guide in life.  

Which is what I believe every true conversion, whether dramatic or quiet, really comes down to:  making the Bible, and the Bible only, the rule of life.

By the end of the summer or the early fall, if I remember right, I asked if my parents would be willing to arrange baptismal studies for me, which they agreed immediately to do.  I guess I knew I had a lot to learn!  By the summer after that, my decision for Jesus was sealed by immersion in the waters of a swimming pool.

And I still have a lot to learn.  I still read and study my Bible every day.  I still believe it to be the fully inspired word of God.  I still cling to it when I'm frightened.  I still find in it my brightest hopes and sweetest dreams.  It's where I meet Jesus, and it's where I believe you can meet Him, too.

19 January 2014

Canning Orange Juice

There's an orchard near our house that sells oranges and grapefruits for right around twenty cents per pound.  We've learned in the short time we've lived here that canning isn't something a lot of people do in a climate where there's something in season just about all the time.  

But it's in our blood, and we can't help but imagine how wonderful it would be to have our own orange and grapefruit juice all year long, so we buy a lot of oranges at a time and put our half gallon jars to good use.

I did a Google search to find out what I needed to know about canning orange juice.  Here is what I learned, from Google and from processing my own juice:
  • Don't use a regular juicer.  The membranes between orange sections, and the white stuff between the peel and the fruity part will turn bitter after the juice is canned.
  • Use a citrus juicer.  {See above.}
  • One blogger recommended cooking the juice first, and then putting hot juice in hot jars for processing in a water bath.  I put cold juice into cold jars, which I then put into cold water.  I brought it to a low boil for twenty minutes (fifteen minutes would work for quart size and smaller), and took them out.  All my  jars have sealed so far.
  • There's no need for sugar, but add some if your oranges are a little on the tart side, or if you like it extra sweet.  The juice we taste tested after canning was still perfectly sweet.
  • Unlike the pulp in home canned grape and apple juice, the pulp in the orange juice remains sweet after it's canned.  In the above photo, the two jars on the left show what the juice looks like when it first comes out of the water bath (the pulp separates).  The jar to the right shows how it looks with the juice shaken so that the pulp is mixed with the rest of the juice again.
  • I haven't tried making grapefruit juice yet, but by all accounts, the process will be the same.

15 January 2014

A Wayfaring Stranger

In the morning I sit down at the computer, striving with my mind again, working hard to etch holy words into it, using my fingers, those instruments I'll use later at the piano, as one more way to reinforce paths across my consciousness.  

I memorized Hebrews 11 years ago, which is in a way what eventually led to my other memory projects, which is another story.  Except that I had lost the Hebrews words somewhere in my mind, and I've thought about that faith beginning so many times lately I decided needed to get those words back again.

"Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God..."

Did you ever think about how Paul wrote you into the very first slot in faith's hall of fame?  Teachers use that technique every day, affirming any evidence of the specific qualities we want our students to strengthen today.  Paul wants me to remember and to believe in the One who made me and everything I see out of nothing, without wavering.  

Because without a beginning, how will I travel the rest of faith's road?  The one that winds through lands unknown, the road Abraham knew so well?  Life's grand scheme is not the place to wander for wandering's sake alone.

"By faith Abraham, when he was called to go to a place he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went...dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise....

"These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off...and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth...But now they desire a better country...wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he hath prepared for them a city."

I sit at home, typing these words over and over and over, yet I am not home.  I have more under my feet and over my head than Abraham did, my boxes are {almost} all unpacked after my summer of life like Abraham during which I always and never felt at home, and I'm surrounded with comforts. 

It's just that I must not become too attached.

I've learned when I get too attached, I forget I'm still traveling, and I forget to keep moving toward that city with foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

Later I sit down at the piano, taking my volunteer responsibilities for a middle school choir seriously by preparation.  Good intentions without works would, in this case at least, be dead.  I don't sight read well in front of people, and choirs don't rehearse well with a pianist who's always hitting the wrong harmonies.

The first few measures stump me for a couple of weeks.  They're not technically difficult; in fact, they're easy, which in some ways makes conveying the atmosphere of the piece more difficult.  But the only "mood" word at the top of the score is "Mysteriously", and I'm not connecting the music with any sort of mystery.  

I write "flow" and "float" instead, my attempts to capture an elusive feeling, hoping those will give me a more defined intention to communicate through my fingers.

It's not that I don't like the piece; I feel like I could play it over and over all day, choir or not, without growing weary of it.  It's so hauntingly hopeful I can't shake it out of my mind.  It's more that I don't feel like I'm doing its potential enough justice.

I sit down to rehearse with sixth grade, and that's when they hit, those holy words from my time in front of the computer.

This song is Abraham.

"I'm just a poor, wayfaring stranger.
"I'm trav'ling through this world of woe.
"Yet there's no sickness, toil or danger
"In that bright land to which I go." 

And this song is that city, the holy Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, where there will be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain.

"I'm going there no more to roam."

But here, now, until that day, I will always be roaming, on my way somewhere else.

"I am going home."

The "Mysteriously" written at the top of the page makes sense now.  It's Abraham, in the early morning, the last morning at home.  Everything is ready to go, his whole household willing to wander like strangers in a strange but promised land, wherever that is.  The sun peeks over the horizon, he gives the command, and away they go.

Not knowing where they're going.  That's the mystery.  I understand this kind of mystery, and I can play this kind of mystery.  I don't erase them, but "flow" and "float" sit meaninglessly at the top of the page now that I've written "Abraham....didn't know where he was going" next to "Mysteriously".

In the afternoon sunshine, I squat down beside various garden plants with my camera.  I'm thinking today especially about the volunteers.  The sunflower, the beans.  

I'm thinking about what it means to put down roots with the hope of a harvest when we know we're always traveling toward that other home, what it means to be a stranger, if also a delightful surprise, where no one expects you to even show up.

I pulled a slender, young thorn bush, only a single stem so far, out of the garden today.  I used pliers to keep my fingers safe.  That little thorn bush's root was longer than the stem above the ground.  I think about my roots, and whether they're as deeply rooted in Paul's faith that understands where this whole wide world comes from as the little thorn bush was in my garden.

The song still plays through my mind, while I'm out here where there can't be fruit without roots, where not even a pole bean can grow toward heaven without being firmly planted.  I wonder how a pilgrim grows roots, without anchoring in what can be seen.

Because even pilgrims, those whose wanderings through life on earth as if it were a strange land may seem to take away all sense of rootedness, need this faith-root clinging down into the Word made flesh, not living by bread alone but by this every Word coming out of God's mouth.

It's the only way to bear fruit, have purpose in life, keep the heart from setting itself on things moths and rust and thieves destroy.  

It's the only thing that kept Abraham going on until his death bed, still embracing the promises in faith that God would raise him up in the glorious and soon resurrection to receive them.  And it's the only thing that can keep me pressing forward, through trial and victory, all the way home.

{If you'd like to listen to my new favorite arrangement of this old spiritual, Sheet Music Plus, which sells the printed music, has sample recordings.  Here is one of Greg Gilpin's SAB The Wayfaring Stranger, as well as one of his SSA setting of the same piece.}

13 January 2014

Boca Chica State Park (Texas)

Over Christmas vacation, we wanted to visit a new place or two, and enjoy the beauties of the Gulf of Mexico.  Boca Chica State Park had been on our list for a few months already, for a few reasons:  It's free to visit there; it goes right up to the Rio Grande, which means you can see straight into Mexico; and it's said that many birds winter there, some coming south and stopping at the river while others come north to stop at the river. 

Now, I have to make a disclaimer.  We are not expert birders.  We are not even elementary birders.  We're probably in the birder equivalent of Pre-Kindergarten.  But if we're going to live in and near some of the best birding opportunities of our continent, we figure we had better begin learning and taking advantage of it, at least a little.

So, we grabbed some water, jackets, dried fruits, nuts, a book, and our brand new Adventist history story CDs (thanks, in-laws), and got in the car.  Oh, and toilet paper.  We grabbed some of that, too...or if we didn't, we should have.  You just never know.

The site I used to identify birds for this post (comparing my photos with their photos) is called Texas Birds 2.0.  I will definitely be visiting it again.

The Brown Pelicans were out in force.  We loved watching them fly in big flocks just barely over the tips of the waves.  Others seemed quite content to take a nap on the beach.

Great Blue Herons were equally plentiful and abundant, standing still except to escape those two suspicious looking humans wandering toward them across the beach. 

The Royal Terns were the least worried about my approach.  I probably stood about a foot away from this one.  They were everywhere, they were beautiful, they were not shy.

And you'll notice how he's standing in tire tracks?

If you go to Boca Chica, you'll pass lots of shore fishermen and women, with their vehicles, along the beach as you walk toward Mexico.  There are numerous garbage cans provided for any trash you need to discard, so you don't have to "pack it in, pack it out".  {Please don't join in the multitudes who seem to leave their garbage next to the cans instead.  The litter was our one disappointment in the beach.}  Also be aware that there are no bathrooms or outhouses.

You know you've arrived at the park when, if you were to drive any further, you would end up in the ocean.  Driving on the beach is allowed, but we parked to the side of the road's end, and simply walked the two or three miles to where the Rio Grande empties into the ocean.

Would we go again, and recommend that you go?  Absolutely!  The birds indeed were plentiful and delightful, even though we don't know all their names, and there's always something beautiful and refreshing about spending a quiet afternoon wandering next to the ocean waves.  We loved being out in nature, and being next to the water for several hours was even better.

12 January 2014


Yesterday some friends took us to a wonderful nature reserve.  While wandering the trails, they pointed to a brushy area under some trees, and said, "See if you can find the birds."

Sure enough, after some searching, we found them.  I'm continually amazed at how God made all the animals to be both functional and beautiful, and how each one is designed to fill a special place in the world.

These birds, called Pauraques, apparently sleep during the day, and get up at night.  We're told they usually sleep in much the same spot, so once you find one, you're likely to see it again.

Can you find the one in this photo?

10 January 2014

On Taking Sermon Notes and Making More Resolutions

Yes, this really is January, and as I walk between stores beside a busy street, I can't help but stoop to capture these blooming beauties.  It's about 80 degrees, much warmer than the near-freezing temperatures in the middle of the night earlier in the week.  I'm wearing short sleeves and capris, soaking in more vitamin D than I've ever had access to in January before.

I don't stoop to photograph the ants who were using the sidewalk as their superhighway.  I'm not good enough to get a clear focus on them, but after going to them today, I can assure you, warm or cold, they are still working hard, thou sluggard.  See Proverbs 6:6-8 if you're wondering what in the world I'm talking about.

I've already posted about New Year's resolutions, but I have a little bit more to say about them.  It's because my husband read a great article a few weeks ago called Six Ways to Get More Out of a Sermon, and as one of the ways I'm putting the suggestions into practice, I've dug out my little old notebook I used to use for taking notes during sermons.

Last Sabbath, the first of the new year, the pastor preached about what seven of God's resolutions for our new year might be, from the book of Philippians.  Which was revolutionary for me on a couple of levels.

First, that I should have HIM make my resolutions for me.  Now, I try to live daily seeking His guidance and direction in my life, but for some reason when I make resolutions, I usually just make a list and go for it.  I make good resolutions, and I even pray about them, but I think I've been missing something richer and deeper, found in the pages of the Bible.

Second, I saw in a new way how God's instructions for our lives not only come with the command, but with clear and simple how-to's.

For example, one of the resolutions the pastor talked about was to "Do all things without murmerings and disputings: That ye may become blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world..."  Philippians 2:14, 15.

That's a good resolution to make, right?  But keeping our mouths from complaints and arguments is easier talked about than done.

In the very next verse, we have the solution:  "...holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain."  Philippians 2:16.

So the way we don't let ourselves complain and argue?  Fill our mouths with the gospel of Christ.  Keep working for the Lord until He comes.  Keep our eyes on the purpose He has laid out for our lives, not allowing ourselves to be distracted by pettiness or weariness.

I also have ringing in my ears a talk I believe I listened to for the first and second times yesterday and today, even though I've heard about the concept from my mother and her sisters for a good twenty years now.  {Could it really be that long?!  And yes, I listened to the whole thing at least twice.  It was that good.}

I grew up on Florence Littauer.  Her "Personality Plus" seminars played on our tape player over and over and over and over--usually at the kids' request.  We thought they were absolutely hysterical.  {Yes, we knew exactly what that word meant, reading level appropriate or not, and would have used it freely.}  

It was with keenest delight that I discovered one of my dearest friends from graduate school also grew up on Florence Littauer, and ever since that moment of discovery we have delighted in reminding each other of the "lost" car in the mall parking lot, the little witches swimming in the orange juice in the back seat, and the bunch of grapes neatly clipped apart with fingernail clippers.

I remember when my mother, her mother, and most of her sisters spent a weekend at a retreat with Florence Littauer as the speaker and first heard about the Silver Boxes.  That our words should be like silver boxes with bows on top--gifts to each other, meant to encourage and not tear down.

It's fresh for me, though, hearing it for myself.  By God's grace I want to take the message into my life, to be lived out more fully.  

She challenges her listeners to think of the people around us who need encouragement, and then to go give it.  She challenges us to think of ways our words might not have always been like gifts of grace to our hearers, and then not only to make the past right, but also to reform our ways for the future.

I'm going to start on those challenges this weekend.  What about you?

08 January 2014

Garden Frost Protection

Here in south Texas, there isn't very much frost.  If what people say is correct, they've had snow here once in the last 75 to 100 years, and even then, it all melted before the day was over.

We giggle a little bit, inside at least, when it's down to 60 degrees F and all the teachers warn the children not to go outside without their coats and gloves.  Why, if we were in Alaska, we say, all the children would be wearing shorts to school in this weather!

Over Christmas break, we knew we needed to stake up our tomato plants.  I've never done that over Christmas vacation before, but it was a nice first.  I love staking up the tomato plants, too, because all of a sudden the plants look a foot taller than they did before.  At least when the staking is a bit overdue, like it was in our garden.  It makes a dramatic difference.

But back to frost.  We actually have had four very light frosts since Thanksgiving.  Every time I have seen a bit of frost on the neighbors' roofs, or a little dusting of it on the grass, the weather predictions for that night's lows have been 37 degrees F.  Sometimes we've covered the plants; other times we've left them alone.  Every time they've been ok, though--not as happy as if it had been above 60, but they've lived through all those nights.

Early this week, however, there were two nights in a row with predictions of the dreaded 32.  We figured if it can frost with a prediction (and actual recorded low) of 37, our plants could be in real trouble this time.

Like good Northwest gardeners in September, we gathered what supplies we had on hand to protect our little garden from the coming doom (aka frost).  
  • Trash bags.
  • Cardboard boxes.
  • Heavy things like water jugs and bricks on top to keep the cardboard boxes and trash bags from flying away in the wind.
  • Blankets would have worked too, but in this case would have been harder to secure against the wind.
My husband covered all our plants while I made a batch of bread.  Then we prayed for our garden and went to sleep.

I had left some laundry hanging on the line, because it wasn't quite dry, I was lazy, and I didn't see rain on the forecast.  But in the middle of the night when I got up for one of nature's calls, I couldn't get back to sleep for the sound of the wind.

What if all the bags blew off the tomato plants?  What if it really gets too cold for them?  What if all my clothes blow away and I have to buy all new ones?

I got up.  I might not be able to control whether the plants would freeze or not, but I at least wanted to keep my socks from ending up in the neighbors' yards.  Maybe if I took care of one of the major worries keeping me awake, I could go to sleep and see what would happen to the plants in the morning.

I thought about letting my husband sleep through this one, but not wanting him to stir and wonder where I was, or hear noises at the door and come out ready to attack an intruder, I decided to at least wake him up to let him know I'd be out getting the laundry before it all ended up blowing around town.

I assured him he didn't need to come out to help me.  I wouldn't be long, and he needed his sleep for the next day at school.

But no matter what a woman might say, real men don't let their wives go out alone into the coldest night of the year at 2:19 a.m. to get the laundry off the line, so out we went together.

We weren't missing any laundry, but a few of the plant coverings had indeed gone awry in the wind and under the weight of the bricks and water jugs.  My husband set about fixing them up again, putting strengtheners on the tops of boxes to prevent them from caving in, and we went back inside to go back to sleep.

Which took me f.o.r.e.v.e.r.  There's nothing like a good dose of cold wind to wake a person up.

I thought about some of my wonderful friends from college.  Then I thought about people who haven't been nice to me.  I thought about my stresses.  I thought about my friends' stresses, and how I wished I could just wipe them all away (the stresses, not the people).

None of those things helped me go back to sleep, but finally I remembered hymns, and started singing them, silently, in my head.  I don't think I got past the third one before I was asleep again, peacefully, with all those thoughts of stress and pain wiped out of my mind by words of faith I had taken time and effort to memorize years before.

And in the morning when we got up, there wasn't any frost.  In fact, the low had only been down to about 40 degrees.  We thanked God for getting us through the first night, and made plans to protect our plants from the potential frost on the coming night.

Again, we were prepared.  The predicted low still read 32, and I covered the plants just like I had seen my husband do it the night before.  Again, we prayed for our garden, like we imagined the farmers and orchard owners around the valley were also doing.  Again, we woke up the next morning to a world completely free from frost.

We learned something about these south Texas weather predictions:  If it predicts 37, it will probably frost a little bit.  On the other hand, if it predicts 32, temperatures probably won't sink below 40.

Really, though, we were grateful for answered prayers, and for the simple ways our parents taught us years ago to protect our garden from light frosts.  Our plants--especially the tomatoes--are just beginning to put out fruits, and we're completely excited to see how they do in the next month or two.  The ten-day forecast, at least, looks great, with a few highs even in the 80s.

06 January 2014

Nebuchadnezzar's Humble Praise

Daniel chapter 4 is Nebuchadnezzar's letter of testimony to the whole world.  If we didn't know the story already, perhaps we would begin this chapter with expectations high, looking for a glorious victory of faith.  In fact, let's pretend for a moment we don't already know.  Let's simply revel in his praise for a moment, his apparently jubilant declaration that God is above all, everlasting, mighty.

We travel through dreamland with the king, but not just normal dreamland.  Once again, Nebuchadnezzar's dreamland gets infused with the divine longing to save him from himself.

We see a beautiful picture in nature, of a tree full of all kinds of birds and surrounded by the peaceful pasture home of every ho-hum and exotic creature we could imagine.  The tree is gigantic, and bears all kinds of fruits.  In fact, the language and imagery here, used to describe Nebuchadnezzar and what he is and should be to the world as its leader and protector, remind me a little of the way John describes the tree of life in heaven itself (see Revelation 22).

For a moment, it would be easy to think the tree would give honor to its Creator, pointing high into the heavens to remind everyone who sees it that God made all things and rules all things.

But unlike the peaceful picture painted of the tree of life, a note of trouble soon rings through dreamland.  The tree is about to be cut down.  We can hardly imagine such a picture of strength being laid low.  The warning sounds loud, in hopes that all the birds and animals taking shelter under this tree will escape with their lives before it comes crashing, hard, to the ground.

Now we hear a clue that perhaps the tree isn't a tree after all, but a person.  The tree has a man's heart, but soon it will have an animal's heart, instead.  The only hint of hope comes with the promise that the roots will be left in the earth, and that another change of circumstance will come to this tree-man after "seven times".

The holy one tells us all these things have to happen not only for this person will know God, but also because all living people everywhere need to know that ultimately God's power rules even the kings of the earth.

And it all happens.  Daniel stands in shock for an hour before he can wrap his mind around it enough for words; finally, he's able to tell the strong and mighty king how he will live as an animal in the field for seven years, until he acknowledges the God of heaven above all.  Then he begs the king to change his ways, in hopes that a repentant heart, humbled before God, will remove the need for such an intense trial.

God gives Nebuchadnezzar the space of twelve more months.  Twelve months to consider and implement Daniel's advice.  Twelve months to begin learning to show mercy in place of cruel force.  Twelve months to remember that while he's the head of gold, the chest of silver follows upon his heels, and even that is ultimately followed by God's own everlasting kingdom.  (See Daniel 2.)

With so many humans bound by hurt, anger, bitterness, and fears, however, Nebuchadnezzar finds that time alone does not heal the wounds of a life or change the deadly habits of pride.

Another voice speaks from heaven, and Nebuchadnezzar becomes as close to an animal as a human can get.  He eats grass.  His hair grows like feathers.  His fingernails and toenails grow like claws.  He stays out in the pasture, leaving his government officials to tend the needs of the world while he's entirely incapable of doing so.

It's out of the depths of difficulty and even insanity that Nebuchadnezzar recognizes God's hand in his life.  Only at a point lower than we can imagine reaching does the king finally grasp what his brilliant mind ignored for years.

He was not brilliant in his own power.
He was not strong in his own might.
He was not king of the world in his own wisdom.

And when he's released from the pasture, the zoo of creatures who have been his companions for the better part of a decade?

He doesn't praise God merely for letting him back into the land of human intellect and activity.  He acknowledges the miracle of restoration, to be sure, yet the main theme of his praise is simply this:

"Now I praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase."  Daniel 4:37

Because he knows only a good God can and will wash pride away from the ugliest human heart.  He knows from painful, bitter experience that any trial we face that brings us to this place of complete surrender and praise to the One who is all powerful, is truly a good thing and something for which we can be infinitely thankful for.

Remember how the messenger in the dream says that the trial comes to the king not only for him, but also for every living person to see the power of God?

The king can't keep such good news to himself. 

Thus, in the end of the story, we get a glimpse of a glorious victory in faith after all, which is told all over the world, from that time to this.

01 January 2014

Plant Based Fertilizers for Your Garden Soil

Home-grown Carrots
Carrots from the summer garden in Oregon

Recently, a reader commented on my post about using fish fertilizer that it's hard to stay away from using dead animals (bone meal) even in an organic garden.  Indeed, many organic gardeners recommend using blood and bone meal, since they are rich in nutrients the soil needs.  However, there is a strong "gross" factor that comes with these types of soil amendments, and it seems daunting to find alternatives.

I got to thinking about the plant-based soil and plant fertilizers I've used or heard about over the years, and although I've talked about a few of them before (like in my posts about using molasses and Epsom salts in the garden), there are a few more to discuss.

I'll share some links to products in this post, just for you to get some ideas of what's out there.  I won't list anything I haven't tried, or wouldn't try, in my own garden.  They won't be affiliate links.  They'll just be ideas to get you started.  But do explore your options, whether online or at a local garden or farm store.  You might be surprised to find out what's available, and what's actually great for your garden.


Between talking with friends in an informal natural remedies class about how alfalfa grows and becomes as nutrient dense as it is, and hearing the praises of alfalfa from my massage therapist, someone in my little circle of great people decided alfalfa would be a great boost for garden soil.  

I went down to the local feed store, and bought a 50-pound sack of alfalfa pellets (like you would feed to a rabbit), probably because it was cheaper than buying it in a bale.  I spread the pellets all over my flower beds turned vegetable garden as a mulch, and waited for the rain to help them break down and decay into the soil.

My observations of what happened next in the garden were not terribly scientific.  All I knew was that I gave away baskets full of tomatoes and cucumbers, and the flowers and herbs in the garden looked quite happy to be there.

I'd suggest using alfalfa as a mulch any time of year.  If you add it to your garden or raised beds in the fall, it will have time to add nutrients to the soil, but if you add it any other time around the plants as they grow, they'll be just fine.

You can order bales and boxes of alfalfa from Amazon in varying sizes (10-lb, 25-lb, and 50-lb), and they'll all qualify for free shipping if your order is over $35.  However, without too much extra thought or research, paying more than $1 per pound for alfalfa doesn't seem like a great price to me.  I'd check a feed or farm store before I would pay the Amazon price.

Soy Bean Meal

Last spring we talked often with a man who we knew had run a farm for a private school's work program.  I was eager to hear everything he had to say about gardening, and one evening we asked him to tell the story of the farm and orchard.

He grew several years of good crops, but one year floods came, wiping out everything including his soy beans.  The specialty combines he brought in to rescue the beans out of the mud couldn't do the job, so he plowed them under and planted wheat.  When he hired harvesters to cut the wheat, they couldn't believe how rich a crop he had gotten, and wanted to know how he had done it.

He answered simply, "I plowed in X number of bushels of soy beans before I planted the wheat."

I haven't found a place to buy soy bean meal yet, but we're keeping our eyes peeled.  I think it would be another great mulch to put over the soil to add all kinds of nutrients.

Kelp or Seaweed Meal

Kelp and seaweed meal are similar to blood and bone meal, but they have the benefit of being plant based.  I've used kelp meal in my garden before, and have had good results.  As I recall, the one thing to be careful of is to make sure you don't put too much in the garden, and not too often.  It's rich enough that it only takes a little to go a long way.

Amazon carries a 5-pound bag for a little less than $2 per pound, as well as a 50-pound bag for about the same price per pound.  (Amazon has more options, but those are the cheapest per pound, just to give you an idea.)  Home Depot also carries a couple of options, which you may be able to pick up in your local store:  this one is a dry meal, and this one is a liquid concentrate that can be applied weekly.

Wood Chip Mulch

Although I'm sure the idea using wood chips as mulch has been around for a long time, and I've encountered other gardeners who have used this method independently of the man in the film, I first learned about it in depth from a video called "Back to Eden", which you can watch online for free.  There is even an option with Spanish subtitles, if you're interested.  I watched the film in segments during graduate school, using it as a background to my exercise routine until I made it all the way through.

I wouldn't say I enjoyed every bit of music they use in the film, but if you're like me in that regard, you can lower the volume until the educational segments come back again.

There are three main reasons to use wood chip mulch in your garden.  First, the mulch decomposes slowly, and is constantly adding nutrition to the soil so that your garden will have richer soil the longer you use the mulch.  Second, the mulch keeps moisture in the ground longer, reducing, or in some climates even eliminating, the need for watering your garden.  Third, the mulch reduces the number of weeds that grow through it and therefore your efforts to pull the weeds.

My husband and I were able to get some wood chip mulch for free (thanks, Craigslist) this fall, and have spread it over parts of our garden beds already.  We're on the lookout for more, since we've already noticed the difference it makes in reducing our weeding and watering.

Buying Compost

For whatever reason, you may not have space or desire to start your own compost pile.  I'd still encourage you to keep your eye out at your local garden centers, on Craigslist, or even your city's compost and mulch program, because you'd be amazed at how many times you can find aged compost for sale or for free.  Your garden still benefits, but you don't have to manage the pile yourself.  

Spreading aged compost over the garden, or working it in (depending on whether you think tilling is good for your garden or not), is always a great way to feed your soil, which will in turn feed your plants.

There are many more ways to add nutrients to your soil, but I hope this gives you more ideas!  Let me know in the comments if I've missed some of your favorite ways to feed your soil--I'm still learning, too.  :)