Back to the basics

Bench in snow 03 07 08I thought the worst part of winter would have passed by now, but the weather advisories and the warnings of ice accumulations and hazardous travel conditions seem to reappear every week. I haven’t seen signs of life in my garden for a couple of months now.  As soon as the weather begins to warm a little I’ll be itching to get outside and dig in the dirt, but right now all I can do is stare out the window, dream about spring and the gardening I plan to do when the weather is right. Or I can start to formulate a plan.

By formulating a plan, I mean planning what plants I’m going to buy.  If you’ve ever ordered anything from a business that sells plants you’ve probably landed on at least a dozen mailing lists. I’m already getting a steady stream of plant and seed catalogs in the mail. They’re in my email in-box, too. I think the plant businesses know I’m working myself into a buying frenzy.

I’m not big on buying more of what I already have. I can just dig and divide and get those.  I want something new.  I want something different.  I want something that my gardening friends don’t have (and that they will envy).  So I peruse the catalogs and surf the web to find anything with those magical words “New and Improved!”

Changes are being made in the plant world everyday. Someone is constantly trying to improve a daylily, a rose or an oakleaf hydrangea. Trying for a larger bloom, a more vibrant color or a longer bloom season. We gardeners have come to expect something new every year. What we’ve begun to look for in our plants is the next-to-impossible.

I used to hear it almost everyday at The Green Thumbs, a nursery and retail garden center where I worked several years ago.  Some of our customers would come in with a list of requirements for their plants, and it usually resembled something like this…

  • Maintenance-free (almost always top of the list!)
  • Comes back every year
  • Looks good all year / evergreen
  • Multiplies, but won’t take over the garden
  • Attracts hummingbirds or butterflies
  • Deer and/or rabbit resistant

The lists would go on and on. I usually told the customer that they had two choices… silk or plastic.

daylily-bloom-purple-d-oro-b-06-05-07I’ve made plenty of plant purchases that fell under the “New and Improved” category. There was the new purple color of the seemingly perfect, ever-blooming daylily ‘Stella d’ Oro’ called ‘Purple d’ Oro’.

daylily-bloom-joan-senior-a-06-05-07And then I had to have the ‘Joan Senior’ daylily because it was the closest thing to a white daylily.

oakleaf-hydrangea-bloom-c-05-18-10

The Oakleaf Hydrangea ‘Snowflake’ was at the top of my list because it promised bigger blooms and even more beautiful fall colors.

I couldn’t resist the new Cuphea ‘Batface’… well, for obvious reasons. batface-bloom-07-16-07

I wanted by flowerbeds to look good all year long, so I needed evergreen plants.  The evergreen ferns looked like the ideal fit.

vinca-illumination-04-12-10

The new Illumination Vinca was going to be perfect for my containers, giving me an evergreen plant with some color variation to spill over the edges of my pots.

gardenia-05-20-10-aAnd the ‘August Beauty’ Gardenia would give me those heavenly-scented blooms long after everyone else’s gardenias had stopped flowering.

Some of these plants did a fair job in fulfilling their expectations.  Most did not.  The Purple d’Oro refuses to re-bloom for me.  The evergreen ferns can’t be divided nearly as easily as the traditional deciduous varieties.  The Illumination vinca looks a lot like a sparsely-leaved string.  And the August Beauty doesn’t even begin blooming until much later than the old standards. Even then, its flowers are much smaller.

I’ve said all that to say this.  We can’t improve on what God first gave us. We can try to intervene and fiddle and tinker all we want, but nothing seems to be better than the original.

Take roses, for instance. For Valentine’s Day a couple of weeks ago, florists delivered millions of long-stemmed tea roses.  These roses have been bred especially to have those long, sturdy, straight stems, and those tightly-formed, lovely-colored blooms.

I’ll never have the patience to grow hybrid tea roses.  I think they are the prima donnas of gardening.  They require way too much attention, with the fertilizing and the spraying and the pruning.  Besides, there’s hardly any fragrance at all.

That’s the thing about most hybrids. They’re bred for certain characteristics, but they lose some of their most precious traits… like fragrance. Want a rose that smells really good and is tough as nails?Get an old fashioned rugosa rose. That’s the parent plant of all the so-called new and improved roses. Finding a rugosa rose is no easy task if you’re shopping at a run-of-the-mill garden center.

Years ago, before I began working at a nursery and garden center, I went to a garden center in another town and asked for a rugosa rose.The salesperson looked at me like I had two heads and asked, “A ditchbank rose? You’re looking for a ditchbank rose?  We don’t sell those!”

rose-golden-showers-d-04-26-08

I’d never heard it called a ditchbank rose, but it certainly made sense. It’s tough enough to grow along the side of any road, with no help from man. You’ll find them still growing and thriving on old homeplaces that have been abandoned for decades. They can be seen gracing cemeteries where some were planted more than a half-century ago. And they smell heavenly! Yea, that’s what I want… a ditchbank rose!

It wasn’t the Hybrid Tea Roses that were delivered all across town for Valentine’s Day that made me think back to these new-and-improved’s. It was something I said to a friend at exercise class.

I told her I really didn’t care if I lost any more weight. I said I just wanted to try to be dedicated to eating healthy and exercising regularly. Yea, right. The fact is, that was just a cover-up for the fact that I hadn’t been able to lose any more weight.

The name of our exercise group at church was “Faithfully Fit,” so my statement seemed appropriate. The group helped us live by what God’s Word tells us in Romans 12:1… “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God.  Let them be a living and holy sacrifice — the kind He will accept.”

In our devotions we discussed nutrition and exercise that would help us treat or bodies like the temples of God that they are. But as time went on I started focusing on other things. Finding exercises that promised a flatter belly or a more firmed backside. I was looking for less flabby arms and a lower number on the scales.

I was spending a lot more time with my South Beach Diet cookbooks than I was with my Bible. I was trusting in South Beach instead of trusting in the Lord for my physical fitness. My focus became my body instead of obedience and trust in God. I was trying to do it on my own, in my own way, instead of relying on God and trusting Him to do His work in me.  Slowly but surely I was transforming myself from that resiliently fragrant rugosa rose into that prima donna of a hybrid tea.

“I just want to try to be dedicated to eating healthy and exercising regularly.”  God allowed the insincerity of my words to echo in my mind. It was quite a wake up call. Thank goodness He doesn’t give up on me. Thank goodness that His mercies are new every morning. Thank goodness for second chances.

I’m going back to the basics with my health and fitness, along with every other aspect of my daily life. I’m going back to doing things to honor God, and not for my own fulfillment. I’m going back to relying on Him to lead me in my food, my fitness, and all of my choices.  And once again I give my body to God — a living and holy sacrifice — the kind He will accept.

honeysuckle-a-05-18-10
Lonicera fragrantissima – Fragrant Honeysuckle – one of God’s most fragrant and carefree gifts to the plant world

“They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.  And my God will meet all your needs, according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:18b-19, NIV)

An Atheist’s favorite

15 Week Mums Padre Orange 10 11 10 dI’m still relatively new to some venues of Social Media. Even though I’ve had a Facebook page for years, I’m just beginning to test the waters of Instagram and Twitter. I’m not too sure what it means to hashtag something, but I’m pretty sure that my lone attempt at it didn’t end up the way I had intended. I once intended to tweet something to one person, believing that was the same as sending them a private message. I ended up just sending it out in a general tweet for the whole Twitter world to see. I do, however, understand the concept of having one of my tweets favorited.

It was a little exciting the very first time someone favorited one of my tweets. Then another of my tweets containing a link to one of my blog posts was favorited by a staff member at Proverbs 31 Ministries. That was the highlight of my week! Then something strange happened. I tweeted a link to another blog post, and it was favorited by someone whose very user name indicates they are an Atheist.

What had I done? I re-read my post to see if I had written anything blasphemous. I wanted to remove my tweet and its link, but I wasn’t even sure if that was possible. Something had to be wrong. Why would an Atheist favorite something that I had written intending to glorify God? My mind was peppered with questions and fears.

What if someone noticed this as being favorite of an Atheist?

What if they thought less of me after having noticed that my blog post was favorited by someone who professes unbelief in God?

What had I done wrong?

What had I said wrong?

Should I remove my blog post altogether?

The semi-panicked feeling continued. The more I thought about it, the more uncertain I was. I believed the things I had written in that post were truly things God had revealed to me, and that they were things He intended for me to share with others. I felt like He was telling me to leave the post there and not to make any changes to it. What was it that had appealed to this Atheist?

How would I have felt if a self-proclaimed plant hater told me they liked a plant in my garden? Would that have made me question my landscaping skills or my plant choices? Absolutely not! I should think I would be thrilled that a plant in my garden might actually change the way the plant hater feels about plants. Maybe that one plant in my garden might cause the plant hater to begin to see plants and gardening in a different light.

I read the post yet again, and it began to sink in.

The very first paragraph referenced times when our hearts are heavy with pain and confusion. I imagine that if I didn’t believe that there was a God who loved me and who held my life in His hands, my heart would be pretty heavy. Maybe those words struck a chord with him. Maybe the words that followed gave him a little hope.

Goodness is the under-planting that draws the downcast eyes of the hurting heavenward.

Maybe something I wrote in that post lifted his eyes heavenward to the only Source of hope.

I’m not naive enough to believe that absolutely no one will think poorly of me for having written something that would appeal to an Atheist. If that’s the case, so be it. We are placed here to be a light to a dark world. A glimmer of hope to the hopeless.

Maybe someday soon that spiritual equivalent of a plant hater will have a garden of his own.

Chosen

Flowers from my gardenI used to hate Valentine’s Day. I dreaded it so much that I even considered calling in sick and staying home from work. It was the one day every year when my singleness seemed to be magnified a thousand percent.

It was the flowers. All those flowers. Everyone else in the whole building seemed to get flowers. And candy. And cards. My desk sat void of gifts, looking as forgotten as I felt. Was I the only person without someone who had chosen them to be their most special person?

It was like a flashback to dodge ball games in elementary school. There was always that very last person to be picked for a team. I don’t ever remember being that person, but I do remember hurting for them as I watched the dwindling number of unchosen children left huddled together in humiliation. No one wanted to be the last one. That one left standing all alone and exposed for the world to see. The one with “undesirable” written all over them. Nobody wanted to be the one no one else wanted.

Those days are long past. This Valentine’s Day my husband and I will exchange cards and a kiss with our morning coffee. But, there won’t be flowers. There will be no chocolate (unless I cave and buy myself a box of chocolate-covered cherries). We have an agreement that cards are enough. We don’t buy each other gifts just because the calendar says it’s the thing to do.

Even without the flowers and the candy I don’t have to suffer through that miserable feeling that I’m unwanted because I have a husband who chose me as his special person. It’s a special feeling to be chosen. Sometimes we don’t fully appreciate just how special it is unless we’ve experienced the misery of rejection.

I’m no longer unwanted. I’m chosen.

Rose Janet 04 25 10 cIn reality, I was chosen long before my husband chose me. I was chosen when I was adopted at birth. It was actually even before then. My adoption was arranged before I was ever born.

I like to think my charming personality and my irresistible good looks were the reason my husband chose me, but I know better. I don’t know what I did to cause him to choose me, but I will be forever grateful that he did.

There was nothing I could have done to cause my parents to choose me for adoption because they didn’t know a single thing about me. Even if they chose me after I was born I wouldn’t have been able to do anything to influence their decision. I wouldn’t have known how to smile just right. I couldn’t have known that babies who don’t cry all the time are more likely to be chosen. They chose me because God had ordained that long ago. The matter was completely out of my hands.

The beautiful thing is that we’re all chosen. Each of us is someone very special to Someone.

We are the apple of His eye. (Psalm 17:8)

He rejoices over us with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)

There’s nothing we could do to cause Him to choose us. We could never be good enough. We could never do enough kind things for others. He chose us before we were ever born.

For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will — to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves. (Ephesians 1:4-6)

He chose each of us to be adopted into His family.

When my parents adopted me I became a part of their family, but I had no choice in the matter. That’s not to say that I wish I had been able to choose differently. Far from it! God placed me in the most wonderful family I could ever have asked for. What an undeserved blessing!

But when it comes to adoption into His family it’s a little different, because we do have a choice. We can choose whether or not we want to be chosen.

That last child left unchosen for the dodge ball team could have refused to join the team. They could have decided they didn’t want to be a part of that group; that family. They could have chosen to remain unchosen.

How sad is that? Choosing to remain unchosen.

Being chosen is a gift. If you haven’t chosen to be chosen, I pray that you will choose to accept that gift. You don’t have to spend another day without flowers from the Father adorning the desk in your soul.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)