25 March 2014

Basil Harvest

Today we harvested basil.  But so much more than basil.

We recently opened the front door to find a package on the porch.  Who doesn't love a package?  Especially from a brother way up north who has a knack for knowing just the things you love and manages to wrap those things up in boxes and mail them.  (Did I mention the package of garden produce he sent us in the fall?  Produce he harvested from those plants we carried across from Virginia?)

This time, the whole box was full of pine nuts.  Yes, pine nuts!

He knew good and well we weren't spending a fortune on them.  We may have mentioned it once or twice or every time we talked about the basil growing in the back yard last summer.

Have you seen the price of pine nuts recently!?  More than double what they used to be!  Crazy.  We used to use them in pesto, but now we have another recipe that's pretty good, so we use that instead.

Thus when we opened the box to find it full of pine nuts, we felt appropriately spoiled rotten.  He had listened.  He had remembered.  He had invested.  He had heard about our new plants, and wanted our first basil harvests turned pesto to be something beyond an everyday treat.

That treat will be tomorrow, and we can't wait.  Thanks, Brother!

21 March 2014

Faith's Sacrifice (Zacchaeus and a Roman Centurion)

 Slo Bolt Cilantro, almost blooming

I strike the letters hard and more than once sometimes, because we either need to learn how to take apart and clean the keyboard or buy a new and more ergonomic one.  But some days the words I type into my memory via ScriptureTyper strike me harder than I strike them.

Because while some people's faith helps them subdue kingdoms?  Other people's faith gives them courage to wander about in sheepskins and goatskins and in dens and mountains of the earth, homeless because of that faith.

Some people escape the edge of the sword, while others are sawn asunder.  Some fight the battle valiantly and win, while others are tortured victims not accepting deliverance, because to do so would sacrifice their faith.  Some stop the mouths of lions and get set free in the morning after one night in the den, while others endure bonds and imprisonment indefinitely.  

I sit there in front of the screen, amazed at how easy it is to think faith always equals an outward victory, when the victory of faith may be as often a victory of patient endurance that on the outside looks like it ends poorly.

It's both reassuring and daunting, to be honest--reassuring, because the appearance of failure might not always actually be failure; daunting, because how I long to be the one who rests well in the den of lions for one night knowing it will all be over by morning (See Daniel 6).

Slo Bolt Cilantro, blooming

It happened that way for Zaccheus.  While he hadn't seen or heard Jesus in person, he had heard enough about him to believe.  His belief led him right down a path of change--restoring what he had stolen from people through his job (adding more than enough to compensate for lost time and interest) and helping the poor out of his rightfully acquired wealth.  

Yet he was still a societal outcast, a hated employee of the Roman government.

When Jesus came to town, Zaccheus determined to see him.  Yes, just seeing his new Master would be enough.  He could not get through the press of the crowd, and he could not see over their heads, so he climbed up in a Sycamore tree, thinking perhaps he could catch a glimpse and a paragraph in the sound of His voice as the Lord walked underneath.

Though it had already shown itself strong enough to change his life, his faith didn't dare imagine what happened next, what honor and joy would be his as the Savior stopped, called to the man in the tree, and invited Himself over for dinner.

Can you imagine?  

The God of the universe stopping by your house for the evening, taking time to visit, to teach, to bless.

Zaccheus's faith opened up an experience more wonderful than words could describe, full of joy, happiness, awe, and delight.

{Read his story in Luke 19:1-10, and my favorite commentary about him in The Desire of Ages.}

Volunteer Sunflower

At first glance, the Centurion had a similar experience.  He expressed his faith in Jesus' power to heal his servant no matter where in the world He was, just by speaking the word, and his servant was miraculously healed.

Yet it meant that in honoring the Roman's faith, Jesus couldn't honor his home with His presence.

Jesus had begun the walk, fully planning to step through the Centurion's door and grace the entire home not only by healing the ailing servant, but also by blessing the members of a Roman (read, Gentile) household with the express image of the glory of God in their hallways, their dining room, their sickroom.

The Centurion. however, understood by faith something of the privilege it would be to have Jesus come to his house, and he rightly knew himself to be unworthy of Him.

While he still sought the blessing of health for his beloved servant, he eloquently and publicly declared his faith in the One who had more beings and elements than Roman soldiers at His command.

The servant was healed, and I imagine the household rejoiced; yet by faith they sacrificed (or at least deferred until the second coming) one of the greatest treasures imaginable.

{Read the Centurion's story in Matthew 8:4-13 and Luke 7:1-10, and my favorite commentary about him in The Desire of Ages.)

Jesus could look down the ages, and see there would be others who wanted nothing more than to catch a glimpse of Him, but who might fear to come near because they were society's outcasts.  He knew they needed to know that if He could spend the day in Zacchaeus's house, He would welcome them as readily.

Then again, looking down the ages, He knew there would be others who would need the assurance that no matter how far away they feel (and are), His power extends that far and farther.  Even if He's not in the room, even if we don't feel worthy, even if we or those close to us are tucked away in some distant sickroom at death's door.  Jesus can simply say the word, and work miracles from afar.

Only our God really knows how many people gave their lives to Him because they were there on those days, with the Centurion or with Zacchaeus, or how many people have held on to their faith because they read these stories in the Bible at just the right time.

Zacchaeus didn't get to see how far-reaching his story would be; he simply acted on his faith and drank in every word that came out of the mouth of God that day, at his own dinner table.  The Centurion didn't expect Jesus to be in awe of his faith when he humbly begged Jesus to just say the word; he simply made the sacrifice only faith can make, and trusted Jesus with the results.

Countless others made the same sacrifice, and even greater ones than the Centurion made that day.  A widow gave all her money to the Lord, not knowing where her next meal was coming from.  John the Baptist spent many dark days in prison, apart from the Light of the world, dying a cruel death alone yet not forsaken.  Stephen was stoned, his face aglow with the glory of God, giving up his life with peace and even joy because he had seen God.  

Out of all their suffering, these faithful ones did not see the blessings accomplished by their sacrifices.  

They didn't get to see how a small offering could turn into a rich treasury, the thread of humble gifts traced back to two mites for inspiration.

They didn't get to see how a dark, lonely death after a successful ministry might encourage the countless others who suffered cruel mockings and scourgings for their faith.

They didn't get to see how perhaps a man holding the coats on the sidelines of a stoning could trace part of his conversion story to the moment of glory on Stephen's face, or how countless more through the centuries could trace the beginning or the longsuffering and endurance of their faith to one of these two men.

We don't always get to see the results of our faith, either, but my prayer is to be faithful, even when the days seem long and the price for faith seems high, and to be used by God in somehow blessing someone nearby while His pen writes my story.

18 March 2014

Facing Storms

I'm programmed to believe that every time I see a cloudy sky, I will open the door to cold weather.  If you're from the northwest like I am, you understand.  But here in south Texas?  I always get a shock when I step out on a blustery looking day, bundled up and expecting a cold blast...only to find out it's eighty degrees.

Why again do they sell coats here?

Recently, though, when I looked out on the palms on my horizon, they were backed by dark, fast-moving clouds.  I love a good storm, so I grabbed the camera to see what I could capture and stepped outside for once forgetting my coat only to find that this time, the wind actually was chilly. 

The dark clouds were a disappointingly narrow strip, moving quickly overhead and to the south within about five minutes.  I guess sometimes even menacing clouds move on fast.  The wind blew hard, but we didn't even get any rain.

But then a week or two ago, we had quite a rain storm, in the middle of the night, with rain pounding hard enough to wake me up.  My husband slept soundly through the whole thing, while I lay awake planning how to protect the piano from a possible flood coming through the sliding glass door.  

I think we got more rain in those forty-five minutes than I've ever seen fall in so short a time.  I checked outside several times, trying to see how much water was in the lawn.  It was a lot.  I wondered how long and hard it would have to rain for the water to rise up above the cement patio, and then the next inch or two to the bottom of the door.

I've seen water coming in under a sliding glass door before.  I was in Australia, and my traveling companions and I waded through a couple of inches of water to the front desk of our hostel to check in to our rooms for the night.  It was a nice thing to have a room on the upper floor, but in retrospect, they probably should have given that room to our adult sponsors.  We teenagers would have though it a great adventure to have a flooded room (maybe?) whereas I don't believe the adults thought it so grand.

So I thought of all those blankets hanging in the closet that we don't use much here in south Texas, and thought I would try to soak up the first floods of waters mopped up with those, if it should come to that.

It didn't.

My husband had a good night's rest while I worked it all out in my head, and looked out the sliding door wondering where on earth all that water was going.  And I prayed for the little seedlings we had planted in the garden a few days before.  I thought for sure I'd find them all dead or washed away the next morning.

I didn't.

They were small and new and tiny and delicate, but somehow they all stayed rooted in their places all through that terribly long hard rain storm, even though the surfaces of all the flower beds were quite different in the morning than they had been the night before.

Life's like that.  When the storm starts, we have no idea how long or how hard it will be.  We wonder how we'll mop up all the water if it comes in where it doesn't belong, or we wonder if we'll survive the force of the rain, or we wonder if we'll really be able to handle all the cold, or the heat, or the hardness of it all.

And then we just do, and the sun comes out, and somehow our little roots are still in the ground under us.  Because Jesus still knows how to carry us through, whether he calms the waves or invites us to walk out in their full fury, hand in hand with him, eyes of faith turned toward the face of him who wore the crown of thorns for us.

15 March 2014

What it's Like to Memorize a Book of the Bible

Sometimes when you start something, you don't really know where it will take you.

You're talking Bible with a friend one day, you unearth the same dream of memorizing the same book, and there you are, right at the beginning of a long path, committed.  You know then it's a long path, putting all twenty-two chapters of Revelation irrevocably in your mind, but you don't know how long.  But you know from that day forward you'll never turn back.

You hardly know how to walk the path, actually, but you just start with a step, and then keep taking another step and then just one more, until one morning almost six years later you're at the path's end.

Except standing there, at the end, you're looking at sixty-five more paths stretching out in front of you, all as enticing as the first one.

Because when you've worked long and hard to make Bible memory a habit, and it takes more than half a decade to make a book stick in that brain of yours?  

That habit is hard to break, and you can't imagine not trying for the next book (in fact, you've already begun the work on several) and then the next book, and maybe even the next one after that, and why not keep trying until you've either got the whole thing or the Lord comes?

After all, by the time you've walked that first path, you've learned that the more you work toward memorizing a book of the Bible, the more you realize you've only just begun to grasp its truth, its beauty.  You feel as if you're at the mere edge of a vast treasure house, and you don't dare stop exploring it, reveling in it, drinking deep of the waters of life you've found at the fountain inside.

A lot of things happen inside you when you put words straight from the Bible into your mind.
  • You start to notice how much unity there really is in the Bible, because everywhere else you read reminds you of something you've been trying to memorize.
  • You therefore run out of room for your hand-written cross references in your Bible's margin.
  • You learn to keep trying new things until the memory work really sticks (you memorize while walking with a little hand-held Bible until you move to a place where it rains more often and you can't take your little Bible outside as readily, so then you make a calendar to track review goals and new goals to work on inside under a good roof, but then you think you're cheating too much when you're reviewing so you put everything on ScriptureTyper which helps test you without giving you a chance to check for that word you can't remember, until finally you've "mastered" the whole thing according to a standardized mechanism and then you truly feel finished).
  • You pick up more depth in a sermon that has anything to do with your book of choice.  Even when that sermon is in Spanish: because you already know the verses in English, any new Spanish vocabulary words on the power point screen are easy to understand.
  • Your desire to go home to heaven grows more intense than ever, and you feel less at home on earth all the time.
  • At the same time, you feel more content with your earth-home, as imperfect as it is, because you know it's really just temporary, and the longest, most dreary day or week or month or year on planet earth will from heaven's vantage seem incredibly insignificant.
  • You hear phrases or even single words in normal conversation, and your brain immediately finishes a phrase from the verses you've been working on.
  • You know good and well that the day after the goal was "met", you'll be right back reviewing, reviewing, reviewing, one section at a time...because you don't want to lose everything those six long years gave you.
  • You find out how true it is that everything in this world can change (in fact, almost everything about my life HAS changed since I started this crazy memory goal), but the Word of our God stands forever.  It does not fail, it does not change, unless it merely becomes more beautiful with each passing day (which is perhaps only a change in my vision, for the better).
I suppose this post is a bit of a celebration of a long-worked-for goal being met, but more than that I hope it can be an encouragement to my several friends who are also working on memorizing a book of the Bible.  

To keep at it.  To make this habit of wrestling through until the memories are automatic and stick through life, letting these words change the heart and life.  To work one day at a time, knowing that you'll never have the whole book if you don't start with one verse, and then add one more and one more until you know its every verse by heart.

11 March 2014

Cutworm Control in Your Garden

My friend L left a comment on my last post asking about cutworms, and whether cutworm collars really work to defend plants against them.  So here's a short answer.  Sort of.  If you can ever get a short gardening answer out of me!

Years ago, when I first stumbled on a blog, I read about a book called The Victory Garden Kids Book.  I ordered one right away, and have loved having it in my gardening library as a wonderful and simple yet detailed guide to gardening.  

That's where I first read about cutworms.  I had never encountered them before, and indeed it would be several years before I would meet any of the dreaded things.

Which brings me to last summer, when I planted a row of sunflowers for my mother.  We watched each one come up, eager with anticipation.  They germinated well, but every morning, I came outside only to find a few more missing from the row, as if someone had taken a pair of scissors and snipped them off, leaving the top part of the plant lying flat on the ground.

Well, if only my Victory Garden Kids Book had not been in storage all summer!  Perhaps we would have saved the last few sunflowers from their doom. As it happened, my mom only got one sunflower out of the whole row. 

Then here in south Texas, we lost every one of our first batch of eggplants, as well as a few other plants, to cutworms.  We were finally on to their schemes, and I looked up the entry in my trusted, used little book.

Here's the scoop:  Cutworms are fat, short, and sort of white or gray in color.  They feed at night, close to the surface of the soil.  

But apparently they aren't very smart:  If you put a cutworm collar around your young plants (the cutworms usually go after young seedlings--older plants are too big for them to chew through), the cutworm will come along during the night looking for food.  It will bump into your cutworm collar, and go another direction, leaving your plant for you to enjoy, never realizing it could have gone a little deeper and gone up through the collar's opening in the bottom to get the plant.

You can buy cutworm collars, or you can simply make them out of paper cups, making sure the collar goes down into the soil for about an inch, and sticks up as much again above the soil.  When the plant gets big, you can take the collar away.

Do they work? 

Well, since we have been using the collars for our seedlings, we haven't lost even one to cutworms.  So my vote is, YES, they work.

In a big garden, it would be hard to protect every seedling or seed you sow in the garden, but the cutworms probably wouldn't eat every plant in a large garden.  Since our garden is fairly small, we use the cutworm collars for almost everything.  For our dill patch, above, I put in four collars, and sowed seed in and around the collars, thinking that perhaps the collars would protect even the plants in the middle by creating a bit of a maze around them.  So far, so good.

05 March 2014

A Watermelon's Trials

 Watermelon Sprout

Dear Watermelon Sprout,

You may be wondering why we made you stay cooped up in the dark for two days straight, no sunshine allowed.  This morning when I opened your cutworm-collared cage to the sky, you blinked back at me, all white and yellow, crying for the lack of light.

Thing is, you were just born the other day, little guy!  On that day when the air stayed warm and welcoming, just how you like it, all the way up at 89 degrees Fahrenheit, and there was no way for you to know by the next morning you might be dead from stormy cold if we didn't take drastic measures to save your life before it dropped those 52 degrees and stayed there hour after hour after hour.

We had to put you in that dark prison, little one, because we loved you, and we wanted you to live to see the summer.

We got covered up, too, with some heavy clouds, the kind even the South Texas sun doesn't break through easily.  So it didn't, and it hasn't.  That old sun who has been around thousands of years gave that floating sky water a turn to cover up the firmament.

And it stayed cold {relatively speaking} those two days straight.


Don't even go peeking over there at the basil plants, still looking green after their days in the dark, wishing you could be more like them instead of like your little yellow self.  You aren't old enough to know they've lost more leaves than you've ever had in unexpected cold snaps, only growing back to this size after some serious pruning and a lot of days above 80.  

If they're still green now, it's because they had more oil in their lamps (so to speak) before the dark storm hit.

It might be tempting to feel jealous of them, to beat yourself up for not being as prepared as they were.  But don't be.  It wouldn't be fair to expect the same from you as from plants months older than you are.  Fact is, you'll get green so fast that by the time you're putting out thirty-pound watermelons in a few months, you won't even remember those two dark days.

Brussels Sprouts

You might have noticed the Brussels Sprouts plant over there, his huge leaves basking in the cool of the morning.  You might be a little upset to know he didn't get smothered in darkness at all the last few days.

But you know what?  By next week when you're a little older and the weather is a little hotter, I'll let you look over his way again.  You'll see Mr. Brussels Sprouts wilting in the mid-day heat.  I'm not going to cover him up then, either, even though he might wish I would.  

You and I will both know he'll perk right back up again overnight, night by night, yet only time will tell if the heat will be too much for him this spring and keep him from putting out a crop after all.  

You'd best not be jealous of him, either.


Now, see those little okra starts over in the corner by the gate?  They're only a couple of weeks old.  It seems they made it through the cold snap without issues, and we can both be glad.  We had to protect them just like we protected you, but they made it out the other side alive and green.  That's the kind of strength you'll have soon, too.  

So keep your chin up, little watermelon, and don't get distracted comparing yourself to the other plants or being jealous of them, even if they sometimes seem a little greener and stronger than you are.  They'll face their own battles, and chances are, you wouldn't trade places with them given an educated choice.

Just grow in your own dirt, trust your gardeners to water and feed you when you need it, and focus on putting out the best watermelons a gardener could ask for.  You'd make terrible pesto, but you'll do a great job making watermelons if you stick with it, to be the best you can be.

With love,
Your Gardeners

P.S.  In case you're wondering why you have to have that ugly cutworm collar at your base?  Don't ask.  Cutworms are the stuff of nightmares.  When you're old enough, we'll take away the collar, I promise.

01 March 2014

A Squirrel's Sabbath Breakfast

I wander in the yard each morning, admiring the garden.   The volunteer sunflowers are blooming well above my head, getting tangled in the tree branches.  Three pretty blossoms to brighten my Sabbath morning.

From the breakfast table, I glanced out the window.  Sure enough, something had moved on the branch near the sunflowers.  A squirrel!  I wonder if he was the same one who yelled at me the other day while I tended the okra starts in the corner.

But what is that in his paws?  He's eating one of my sunflowers!  His breakfast is more exotic than mine, for sure.  The little rascal!  He'll probably be back to gather more blooms for another meal.