26 February 2014

Tomatillo Seed Husks - Nature's Lace


Memory lane came in a flat rate box for Valentine's day.  I've already told you about the cookies Grammy used to make but now Mom makes, and the hard cover brown New Testament.  There was another little treasure box tucked inside the larger box, but before I show you what it is, we have to walk through last summer's garden one more time.

We'll pause to remember how the tomatillo plants kept having leaves turn yellow and fall off before they made it into some good, solid dirt, and how after that they seemed to grow an inch or two every day.

We'll get back down on our hands and knees to look up into the sweet yellow blossoms blooming face down, wondering if they have voices we can't hear to call the bees and if they don't have voices we'll wonder how the bees found them here in the middle of the neighborhood.

We'll look at the little green balloon lanterns with fruits inside for lights, gently pinching each one to be sure there really is something happening in there.  We'll watch as the paper husks begin to stretch and crack a little while the fruits poke their heads out into the big garden world.

We'll think of that other flat rate box bearing some of the harvest all those miles, and the delicious tomatillo salsa verde we made from our very own tomatillos.

We'll lift the lid on the pretty little stationery box, fairly certain there won't be stationery inside, but sure enough, we'll find something beautiful.  Nature's lace.  Nature's almost-silver wrought veins, holding little specks that, if planted, will become just like those other tomatillos who got about as tall as I am.

I can hardly bear to open the husks to get the seeds out, for fear of crushing the lace. 

I think of how seeds are the beginning, how they start tiny and grow to my size or taller.  I think of how they don't seem to change much from day to day, but in a week?  You'd hardly know it's the same plant from that tiny little seed.  

I think of how the fruit forms, and then how the fruits lead to more seeds, and how the beginning becomes the end of the plant's life, and how the end becomes another beginning.

24 February 2014

What that Little Brown Bible Told Me

When I posted a snapshot in words of my personal testimony a few weeks ago, my mom stood right up from her computer, knowing exactly which New Testament I had been reading all those years ago.  She climbed the stairs, found it sitting on its shelf, and opened the pages.

Sure enough.  There were my little pencil underlinings, not so straight and tidy as my almost-seventh-grade mind had imagined them to be.  She'd never seen those pencil markings before.

She decided she knew exactly where that New Testament needed to go.


Almost every year, Grammy (my mom's mom) made Valentine's cookies and mailed them to all her children, with the idea they would share them with their families.  It was a big undertaking--she had eight children!

Now, by the time I came along, the last grandchild in a looong line, baking wasn't the first thing that came to mind with every thought of Grammy.  Gifts?  Yes.  Grammy had a gift for any and every person and occasion.  It didn't matter if she already had forty people in her home on Christmas morning, she could always stuff another stocking for the last-minute guest.

But there were three things that came out of her kitchen on holidays that I couldn't wait to sink my teeth into:  Sour Cream Candy (oh, yes, it must be capitalized, it's that good), blanched almonds, and the Valentine's cookies.

The cookies were always the same kind--heart shaped, with soft and tasty raisins in the middle.

I remember the year my cousins discovered Grammy had been sending them Valentine's cookies every year.  She hadn't heard yet whether the packages had arrived, so she called my aunt's house.  When my cousin answered, the conversation (as it has been told to me) went something like this:

"Hi, honey, have you gotten your cookies yet?"
"Yes, the Valentine's cookies I sent."
"You sent Valentine's cookies?"
"Yes!  You know--the ones I send every year."
"You send Valentine's cookies every year?!"

Well, the cat was out of the bag.  My aunt had been hiding the cookies every year, and eating them all herself.  My cousin made a few phone calls, and quickly discovered that's what ALL the aunts and uncles had been doing.  Not one other cousin had ever heard of Grammy's Valentine's cookies before.

Except my brother and me.  Because our mother had shared them with us every year.

I always was proud of my mother's honesty and good character.  (Does that sound bad and selfish when I've just told you her honesty meant I got to eat more cookies as a child?)

Grammy died several years ago, but my mom makes and sends me Valentine's cookies, just like Grammy's (only maybe even a little better) every year.  At least, I can't remember a year she hasn't.  And she can never seem to limit herself to sending only cookies.  There are always a few other goodies in the box...


Maybe you've guessed one of this year's extra goodies already:  the brown, hard-cover New Testament I spent hours reading as a child.  

I'm starting to page through it, little by little, to find out what kinds of things stood out to me way back then.  Do you mind if I share a few?

"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."  (Matthew 4:17)  Perhaps I was thinking of how easily we forget that nearby kingdom, forget to let it influence and reform everything we do.

"Away from me, Satan!  For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'" (Matthew 4:10)  Perhaps I was thinking about the way Jesus was never afraid to exercise his authority over his mightiest foe.

"Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit."  (Matthew 12:33)  Too true.  Even as I read, I could look out my window at our plum tree.  Oh, how we loved that plum tree!  Here was language from the Master Teacher himself that I could understand.  People are like fruit trees, he said.  Take good care of the tree that is yourself, submitting to the best soul-gardener there is, and let the fruit be delicious and abundant.

"Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."  (Matthew 11:28)  Even children carry burdens, sometimes.  At least, that's what comes to mind when I think of the private school classroom where I volunteer, full of children, about the age I would have been when I underlined this promise.  Jesus is their only refuge.  I hope I can help them know him better.

"Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."  (Matthew 19:14)

Amen.  Indeed, let them come.  I will always, for all eternity, be glad I came.

23 February 2014

The First Tomato

We ate it today.  The first tomato.  It was delicious.  :)

And for a sort of garden joyful inventory, here are a few things we have going on out there in the soil, and in here in a few seed trays.
  • Five rosemary seeds sprouted yesterday.  I read on the seed packet that they could take six to eight weeks to germinate, and even then germination could be, well, rare.  So I felt incredibly blessed to have five come up in the seed trays after six days instead of six weeks.  (It has been between 70 and 80 degrees most of the week in the house.  Maybe that's their optimal temperature?)
  • My first two zinnias came up.
  • We have a young dill patch making a good start over by the fence.
  • We've harvested cilantro three or four times, and parsley twice.
  • The potentially thirty-pound watermelons got planted today, right next to the other melons, cucumbers, and squashes.
  • A little lettuce patch is making a go of it, even though it's beginning to get quite warm.  But when they send you free lettuce seeds, you have to try to grow a few, even if the cool season is past.
  • Several kinds of amaranth seeds are sprouting in the front yard.
  • The volunteer sunflower has begun blooming.
  • There are three more volunteer bean plants coming up.
  • All three okra seeds came up.  We'd love to have space for more...but they say this variety will get quite tall, so that's all we're planting for now.
There's always something happening in the garden.  I hope you have as many fresh, life-filled things happening throughout your week as we have springing up in our garden right now.

19 February 2014

Reviving a Soul

You've heard people joke about having nothing to do, except they say they're busy watching the paint dry or the grass grow, right?

I've actually always wished I could see the moment a seed poked up out of the dirt, or the moment a baby tomato gets big enough to shed the dying blossom and really head toward ripe adulthood.  Things seem to happen so quickly in the garden, from a week to week perspective, yet so slowly, from an hour to hour perspective.  We know these things happen, but when, exactly, do they happen?

Well, today I saw one of the most incredible things I've ever seen.  I was just standing in my living room, expecting a normal, low-key day.

But like my mom would say, you just never know what a day will hold.

I stood there, glancing down on the tray of eight marigold plants of three varieties, most of them showing true leaves already, every day getting closer to being big enough to go out into the real world.  

We both forgot to water them before bed last night, and by morning they were all drooping over, as if they might not live long enough to get planted outside after all.  My husband did everything he could to rescue them first thing when he discovered their plight this morning, and all but two had revived.

So, as I said, I stood there, looking down at those last two.

And maybe you'll think this is crazy?  But I SAW one perk up.  I witnessed the moment it sprang up from being wilted to standing tall again, life coursing through its veins.  It took less than half a second, but my eyes were open for that half second, and I watched it bounce (yes, bounce) back to vibrant life.

There must have been lots of things happening in the background before that moment--water going up through the roots into the stem--but from that moment, the whole plant was a new being.

Which, like a lot of things in the garden do, reminded me of people.

Sometimes we get dehydrated, too.  Spiritually, emotionally, physically...and from the outside, it can look like we're not going to make it after all.  Or maybe it can feel like that from the inside.

There's a Master Gardener out there, though, who brings living water freely to all who are thirsty.

Even the unlikeliest ones, who you'd never think would revive.  Somewhere down in the roots, a few cells get refreshing molecules of water, and pass them up through the stem, until the next time you look at that person, they're a new creature.

Who can really define the moment?  Not me.  I just know to keep cultivating and watering, not forgetting to drink in that water for myself too, in the strength of Jesus, leaving Him to do the miracle of reviving a soul.

16 February 2014

Long-Billed Curlews

I'm still meeting new people on a regular basis, and there's something they all want to know:

Do I like it here, in this multi-cultural place, where everything from climate to language spoken in church differ vastly from every land I've ever called home?

I always answer the same way:  Any place where my tomato plants survive December, January, and February is an easy place to love.

I go on to tell them it's no surprise, though because I've loved every place I've lived.  But here?  It's special, because I have the opportunity to do things I've never been able to do before.

Things like gardening in the winter, immersing myself in a second language while dabbling {sometimes} in a third, experimenting with new plants and trees {like papayas}, learning more about birds {because we live in a major birding hub} as well as butterflies.

These Long-billed Curlews, standing on one foot in the same corner of the lake every evening as they get ready for bed, are some of my new favorite things.  

The way they greet each new pair or group flying in for the evening?  Or the way they refuse to put down their second foot and walk, which would seem easier, but hop on one foot instead?  And the way they calmly {or lazily?} stay put while those strange human creatures walking by frighten the Sandhill Cranes to death?

Sheer delight.

The kind of sheer delight, in fact, that doesn't grow old in the sameness and predictability of it all.  Even though they come at the same time of day, every day.  Even though they come to the same end of the lake, every night.  Even though they seem to say the same things to each other every time I'm there to listen.

Or maybe not even though...maybe part of the delight is because these birds are steady, predictable, always there when we'd like to go visit them, aglow in the day's closing light.

11 February 2014

Humanity's Web

 ~Today's photos are from a recent walk near our home.  When I took this photo, I thought there were four turtles in it.  When I looked more closely, I found a fifth turtle.  Do you see him?~

I came home exhausted that afternoon.  Completely drained.  In a sort of shock perhaps only introverts understand.  After lunch, I sat down on the couch, and called a friend.  I was pretty sure she would understand.

"I just spent a lot of time [in my chosen volunteer activity].  It was crazy.  And I'm curled up on the couch calling you because I felt like I needed some introvert time before I can manage to do anything useful."

"Calling me counts as introverted time?"

We both laughed.  Well, yes, it did count.  Because introverts don't just need alone time, they also need deep, meaningful conversation time.

So we talked, about everything.  Or nearly everything.  Maybe we talked that day about how our  days were going.  What things were growing (or not growing) in the gardens and greenhouse.  Decorating the house.  Extravagance in spending.  Miserly spending.  Where the line might be between those two kinds of spending.  How we might spend our time if we ever ended up in solitary confinement for our faith.  Whether there is such a thing (morally speaking) as playing too many board games.  And could there be such a thing as wasted time in a prison cell?

Somewhere after realizing we had been on the phone for something like more than an hour (I hadn't even stirred off the couch), we might have prayed together, like we often do, for the big challenges and trials we both face in our lives.

Because everybody faces those things.

~Is it a ladybug if it doesn't have spots?~

In fact, some days, I look around at what goes on in my own life and in the lives of my friends, and I'm daunted by how hard the devil works to discourage, dishearten, and distract.  Yet on those same days, I've been as many times blessed as daunted by looking around at how Jesus turns what first appear to be curses into some of our most precious blessings.

I usually don't notice that without a little help to refocus, though, because it's far too easy for me to talk about all the troubles I face, dwelling on all the worst possible outcomes.  I'm pretty good at working myself into a tattered ball of worry.

Is that normal?  Sometimes I think I'm the only one who does that, and I even hope I am the only one, because I'd hate for you to experience that misery, too!

I've been learning something about how to handle my worry, though, and I can't even count how many times that one thing has rescued me from a lonely darkness that threatens to steal the joy right out from the bottom of my heart.

Want to know what it is?  I've given you a hint already.

~Bananas in the neighborhood~

Choose your friends wisely.  Then don't be afraid to call them when you need to talk.

Yep.  It's really that simple.  I have a substantial collection of friends and family I can count on to draw me wisely back to a place of courage, who will pray with me, who will repeat God's promises to me, who will hear me out, who will remind me to look even for the tiniest bright spots (because bright spots come like little lights from the Father of lights, from the Lord of love).

My friends are so amazing that even when I call to try to encourage them, I often find myself bursting with joy and blessing from the way they handle themselves and cling to God's promises in the midst of their toughest times.  What could be sessions of self pity for one or both of us turn into seasons of loud praise to our God who has led us faithfully all along life's paths.

Only Jesus can work those kinds of transformations out of human friendships, sending us out again for enthusiastic service for Him.  I believe that's part of why He prayed for us to have the kind of unity He has with the Father.

~This is why, says Michael, we HAVE to grow papayas.~

Of course, I do believe we need to learn to stand for the right whether anyone else does so or not.  There are times in our lives when we may not have support in as much abundance as we would like.

I've learned two things from times like that in my own life:  first, Jesus never leaves nor forsakes, so I never really have to stand alone.  And second?  Knowing what it's like to desire encouragement is a great reference point in knowing how to offer effective support to another person.

"We are all woven together in the great web of humanity, and whatever we can do to benefit and uplift others will reflect in blessing upon ourselves."  White, Ellen G.  Mind, Character, and Personality, vol. 2, p. 431. 

Today's another one of those days when I'm looking around at life--my life as well as my friends' and family members' lives--again reminded about how seriously engaged we all are in the battle of God against Satan.  There's no escape from it--only the fighting through to the final victory on the Lord's side, or the final defeat on Satan's side.

I bet (except I don't bet, but you know what I mean) if you looked around, you'd see battles raging, too.  What shall we do to fight, and lift up the hands that hang down, and strengthen the feet weary from the paths of war?

How about pray like crazy?
And ask Jesus to remind us of some Bible promise to share that might bless a friend?
Maybe even tell someone you've prayed for them extra today?
Or open God's unfailing Word, putting your finger right on the page, believing our Father will do just what He said?

We might just be amazed at what the Almighty God does in our behalf even yet today.

{In fact...this idea just struck me...if you leave a comment?  Or send me an e-mail via the little box on the sidebar?  I'd be happy to pray for you.  Tell me the specifics, or don't.  Whatever you're comfortable with.  Just know that I'll count it blessing and privilege to pray.}

07 February 2014

Loving the Details, Even in Leviticus

 ~Cactus growing by the shore at La Sal del Rey~

I've dreaded it a little.  Now, I know all Scripture is inspired of God, and useful (see 2 Timothy 3:16, 17), but I'll freely admit it.  In my human frailty, I haven't always appreciated Leviticus.  So reading through the Bible from the beginning onward, I knew it wouldn't be long before I'd come squarely face to face with a book long on law-lists and short on stories.

 ~Little birds racing through the shallow water~

There's always room for creative reading, of course:  Imagine what it would be like to lay your hand on a lamb's head, and kill it, knowing you could have spared his life instead of coveting your best friend's [hair, dress, financial situation] this afternoon.  Draw out a map of the sanctuary, and notice how all the items of furniture are arranged in the shape of the cross.  Notice the rules for priests handling sacrifices and eating sacrificial, holy food go long distances to prevent the spread of communicable diseases and blood-borne pathogens.

Yet none of these creative reading lenses stood out for me this time through.  I didn't want to glaze over and wonder if I'd gained anything by the end of the book, so I took out with intention one of the best Bible study tools I know.

I prayed, and asked for the Holy Spirit to teach me something.

Because spiritual things are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14), and unless I'm surrendered and listening, my mind wanders in decidedly carnal directions.  (Like making sure I've added that last item to my to-do list, or planning a new approach for teaching scales, just in case you're wondering.  Which can be good things to think about, except that during my Bible study time they only serve to take my mind away from Jesus.)

  ~Long-billed Curlews gathering for their evening social meeting~

As I've worked on memorizing large portions of Scripture over the last several years, I've appreciated repetitive passages of the Bible more than ever.  Repetition sticks out to me now, not only as a tool to aid the memory and help the words stay in my mind, tying whole stories together with golden threads, but also as a way to emphasize particular points for those in the olden days who would likely hear these words read aloud.

I'm not memorizing Leviticus, but maybe it shouldn't have surprised me to be reading along through the dreaded book only to have God answer my prayer to be taught something...anything...by pointing out a repetitive pattern.

~Clouds and light reflecting still calm on the waters of La Sal del Rey~

"...and the priest shall make an atonement for them, and it shall be forgiven them."  (Leviticus 4:20)
"...and the priest shall make an atonement for him as concerning his sin, and it shall be forgiven him." (Leviticus 4:26)
"...and the priest shall make an atonement for him, and it shall be forgiven him."  (Leviticus 4:31)
"...and the priest shall make an atonement for his sin that he hath committed, and it shall be forgiven him."  (Leviticus 4:35)

The list goes on.  It covers different types of sins; sin done in ignorance and how to handle it when you realize what you've done; sins of leaders; sins of regular people; what to offer if you're rich; what to offer if you can't afford the regular sacrifice; and what to offer if you can't afford the less expensive sacrifice.

But no matter what the sacrifice or the sin described--and there are many--each one ends with words full of hope:  "And the priest shall make an atonement for him before the LORD: and it shall be forgiven him for any thing of all that he hath done in trespassing therein."  (Leviticus 6:7)

 ~Day is dying in the west~

Here's the beauty:  all those lists and specific instructions on what sacrifices to bring before the Lord preach the gospel.  

In these pages, I appreciate afresh not just that I have a Savior who took that death penalty I should have justly received, but He also anticipated, ahead of time, every possible area in which I and we would struggle, and made provision for them all.

He didn't want anything to hold me back from the city with foundations He's preparing for us, mansions and all.  Not guilt, not ignorant mistakes, not poverty.

He knew I would stumble, and fall, and He knew exactly what it would take for me to be reconciled to Himself.  So He mapped it out as plainly as possible, as thoroughly as possible, with every detail recorded in that dreaded book Leviticus, repeating the promise over and over and over until I couldn't miss it this time and not one of us could leave thinking there was no mercy for us.

"I will forgive."

I don't dread Leviticus anymore.  Instead, in its pages full of endless details, I see a merciful, nail-pierced hand, reaching down to lift me, to lift you, out of every pit, no matter how deep, no matter how dark.  I see Jesus, the Provision for my redemption to whom all these sacrificial services pointed.

05 February 2014

What God's Wrath Tells Us About His Love

Walking once again around "our" salt lake (La Sal del Rey), I kept watching one of my favorite natural phenomena:  a sun dog.  Before long, there was a little rainbow splotch on either side, and then, to my utter excitement and delight, I could see an almost unbroken ring of light all around the sun.

Do you find, like I do, that the more time you spend thinking about or memorizing something, the more you notice it in the details of every-day life?

Another good reason to train ourselves to think about good things, for sure.

So the ring of light around the sun, clear yet faint, had me thinking of something I'd been typing out by memory quite a bit recently:

"And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat upon the throne.  And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne in sight like unto an emerald."  Revelation 4: 2, 3.

John had the privilege of seeing something not many human beings ever see, this side of the second coming.  In fact, the Bible tells us that no one can see God in His full glory, and live--at least not before sin has been completely removed from us and our world.  (See Exodus 33:20.)  Thus the vision John saw, glorious and incredible as it was, must have been to some extent a veiled vision.

This thought occupies my mind a lot lately, this thought about my God who is so great that His very presence has power to give life as well as destroy sin and those who love it.  Who parts the Red Sea as well as devours His enemies and the enemies of His people.  Who sets foot on rugged mountains in the wilderness and simply by being there makes even Moses "exceedingly fear and quake" (see Hebrews 12:21).

Yet this same powerful-beyond-comprehension God comes down, asking His people, May I be your neighbor?  I want to dwell with you.

They build Him a tent, they fill it with the things He tells them how to make, furniture and curtains that must have been some of the most exquisitely beautiful things human beings have ever made.

And this God, who doesn't dare reveal Himself in His fullness lest they perish, finds a way to live among a stubborn, fool-hearted, complaining camp of Israelites.

The centuries roll by, and Solomon builds another house for the Lord God omnipotent, a house whose beauty surpasses the glories of every earthly kingdom.  It's still a humble house for the God of heaven, but again He graces His undeserving people with His presence, keeping enough distance to preserve their lives, and promising that no matter what, if they turn and genuinely seek Him, He will hear from heaven.

More centuries roll by.  It's hard not to be upset with stubborn Israel, until I remember I'm stubborn and slow, too.  A temple destroyed, another one built, the all-patient God still pursuing His people, still looking for ways to get closer, to show them more of His saving love, to draw them to repentance by His goodness.

It wasn't enough for Him to be near them; this time He finds the only way to be truly among them, able to take the children in His arms to bless them, without His overwhelming might consuming them.

That way is Jesus, in human flesh.

We have a hard time reconciling the gentle Jesus on earth with the displays of thunder and smoke on Mount Sinai in the old days.  We can't imagine how the God who stays the same yesterday, today, and forever, could be both full of wrath toward sin as well as full of the kind of love that dies for filthy sinners.

Yet without catching at least a glimpse of the power of God's wrath, we can't grasp the fullness of His love.  

Without knowing how much He hates sin, we can't bring ourselves to reverence the One who holds vengeance in His all-righteous, nail-pierced hand.

Without knowing just how powerful God really is, and how His fire consumes sin in a flash, we can't appreciate the way He worked profoundly long and hard to win Judas, trying to save the traitor from wrath.

Without remembering how the people begged God to stop speaking to them for fear they would die by the glory of His voice, we can't appreciate how mercifully he dealt with the woman caught in adultery.

He told the accusing crowd they were welcome to cast the first stones at the woman, if they were without sin themselves.  Which meant He alone had the right to stone her.  Indeed, if it hadn't been for the human flesh veiling His glory, the whole crowd would have been consumed on the spot.

Instead, He took up His cross, and let her go free, focusing all His wrath not on her, but on Himself.

What wondrous love is this, O my soul?

It's not a love to be taken lightly.  It's not a love to be treated casually.  It's not a love to shrug your shoulders at, or to ignore while immersed in the faint and worthless pleasures of this world.

This love, unbounded and unfailing, brings me in utter and awestruck humble submission to the One who promised to guide me through this life and bring me safe at last to the home He's preparing for me in that city with foundations, whose builder and maker is God.