Winter Growing

It’s January.  I walk in the park.  It seems the trees were sleeping.  Their bare arms are frozen.  They are shrouded in ivy, cocooned in sleep, waiting for warmer times.  I imagine the blossoms of spring: the surfacing crocuses of purple and yellow, the white snowdrops, the trumpeting daffodils.  I imagine life re-emerging, like a blasting firework, all will come to life again.

But, I look closer.  The shoots are already showing.  The new growth buds are emerging.  The early catkins are gently waving at me.  Nothing in fact is dead.  Nothing has stopped.  It is still growing, cell by cell, line upon line, precept upon precept.  As inevitable as day follow night, these living things grow.  They don’t stop.  They may rest.  They may grow in a different and new way.  Growth is not something one day they will do.  They are growing now, all the time.

As we turn the year I hear resolutions trip of the tongues of those around me.   Plans for change, courses of action for self improvement.  Lists, plans, goals.  All noble and admirable.  Some may be a success.  Afterall, if we do not aim for something, we’ll hit anything.  If we  read more, serve more, study more, we can be happier, pull God closer to us.  Then how pleased he will be with us and how pleased we will be with ourselves.  We wish so hard on a future star, desperately dragging the future toward us, wishing like Dorothy with all of our might me ‘ I wish I was home, I wish I was there’.

But I have found I am not there, I am here.  Wishing to be there makes the here a sad and unfulfilled place.  I cannot summon the future to today, no matter how amazing by goals may be.  I can only live in this day. This day is after all the only place I can be.  Today …I will hear His voice.  For me this means that today I will notice.  The trees had not stopped growing.  They are growing now.  I am growing now, today.  I was so busy thinking about a future spring, I did not see the growth and wonder of today.

Sometimes we don’t see for looking.  That’s when we need to stop straining to see into the future and just look about us now.  For me it is a simple inner relax of my outward gaze; I relax and still my mind, refocus what I am looking for.  I stop rushing along in ‘in a minute’ time and focus on this second.  Then something happens.  Something so simple and wonderful, and miraculous and ordinary.  I look around me and start to see what really is there.  Like seeing the new growth on winter trees, right in front of my eyes.  I see Him. He is right there, all the time: at my elbow as I write, next to me as I sip coffee, kneeling with me as I put on my shoes, walking with me through winter parks.  Today is a significant day, now is a precious moment. 

Resting to grow

Come aside and rest for a while – Mark 6 v 31

It is winter. The days are short; the light is low. Frosty mornings, foggy evenings. On clear nights the moon and stars seem frozen in a sapphire lake – they hardly move. The garden is bare. Trees are empty of leaves. Colours are muted. No bees or butterflies, just a robin or wren searching for food in the cold earth. All looks dead.

But what are looks? I rely too much on sight to see if things are going well. Just below the ground, under the decaying leaves, hidden in cool earth, are roots and bulbs are sleeping. After a busy season of fruitfulness and giving out and growing, it is time to rest. To replenish.

The world of the light bulb is 24/7. The world of wifi has a yearly calendar of 365days. But endless activity is not fruitfulness. It is burnout and overload and a wondering of what is life about.

My life is hidden in Christ in God (Col 3 v 5). All seasons are from Him. Fruitful summer; still winter. He has made them all to help me grow. After a busy year, a chaotic year, stressful times, He smiles at me and says, ‘Come aside and rest, awhile”. Slow down, rest with Me. See this is winter. It is good for your soul. Like the trees, rest. No need to be busy growing leaves. Gather in energy for the journey. Sit here, stop and stare. Care and share. Replenish your soul. Let’s dream together…

The Gardener knows me

Psalm 139

Oh Lord you have searched and know meYou hem me in behind and before

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me

Some guests come to my garden and just love hanging out in the sunshine.  Tea, cake, chatter and laughter.  This is all they remember; all they want to do. 

Some come and they notice the golden yellow climbing rose,  the damask sweet pea, the scent of jasmine in June, the high lemon gladioli.  They like the games on the lawn, watch newts in the pond, lounge on cushioned chairs.  They comment, compare, digress.  Tell me of their garden.  Enjoy for a while.

But I am the gardener and designer.  I arranged all this.  I planted all this, way back when.  And I watch over it each day and notice.  I know where the hidden bluebells are, the single raspberry cane amongst the roses.  I know that the little path to the pond is made by the toad as he waddles to the pond each night.  I know that when the large white clematis dies back, the little lavender climber will raise her head and weave herself around the faded leaves.  I wait for it each year.  I know where she is, and look after her while she grows in autumn, and tend her while she sleeps the rest of the year  

Sometimes we can feel overlooked, overgrown, not planted anywhere in particular in this world.  Our past is confusing, our future foggy, our present doesn’t make sense.  We feel the “sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers” (CSLewis).  But feelings, though needed, don’t always tell the truth.  The truth that the Gardener knows us and our unique and individual traits and ways.  The ways and traits he designed.  He is interested in us.  He always turns aside and notices us.  Even when we don’t know it, He is always watching over us.  He accepts, acknowledges and welcomes us.  I also thing that is WONDER FULL.

  • Read over Psalm 139.  
  • Write out verses 1 – 6 on a card
  • Replace the words “I” and “me” with our name
  • Now read it again every day… He knows you

Oh…. the wonder of you!

Psalm 139 v 14

I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; 

Marvellous are Your works, 

And that my soul knows very well.

Roses love full sun, daffodils love damp, rich ground, clematis loves to climb but hate hot roots, camellia loves evening sun. They know what is best for them and grow well when they find that ‘sweet spot’.  

In Alice in Wonderland, Alice visits a Garden of flowers.  There are roses, tulips, chrysanthemums to name a few.  They sing her a song (Golden Afternoon) and afterwards the delighted Alice applauds the flowers.  This catches their attention and they ask Alice ‘What type of flower are you?’, since they all what flower they are themselves.

I wonder, how well do I know myself?  I trust God to look after me, but how much have I reflected on who I am, who He has created me to be?  Life is busy and it easier to DO what I have to do, than take time to slow and find out WHO I AM.

The psalmist in 139 seems to have taken some time to do this.  The full Psalm reveals how they are so aware of their own uniqueness: individually knitted together by God with each living day prepared in advancw. In verse 4 they declare that they are wonderfully made.

There is a further result for them too.  They praise God and have a contented soul:  ‘That my soul knows very well’.  Taking some time to discover who I am and who I am made to be will help me to stop trying to fit into someone else’s mould.  I guess it will also help me to love others more, because if I know and love myself, I will love others too.  

Try out some of the following and note your discoveries in a journal.

  • Put some time aside to think about you.  What do you like?  Dislike?  What are your hopes and dreams?
  • Try out some free personality profiles online to find out more about you.  Myers Briggs, Birkman, DISC are just a few that you can tap into for free online. 
  • Share your thoughts and discoveries about you with the Lord in prayer and with a trusted praying friend.  

Grow where He plants you and you will thrive

Genesis 2 v 8

And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there He put the man whom He had formed

My garden has lots of different plants.  Some were here when I moved here a while ago, like the burnished orange crocosmia that bloom every August.  Some I brought from the garden in my old house, like the climbing Jasmine cutting I transplanted here.  Some I planted new since living here – too many to mention!  One thing I have always found is that for a plant to thrive, it needs to be in the place that is best FOR THEM.

When I moved here there were a few fruit trees at the back.  One day I was looking around by the trees and discovered a little rose.  She was drooping, not flowering, looking very sad.  I looked around the garden for a better place, somewhere in full sun that roses love, somewhere with space to grow and stretch out.  Somewhere to thrive.  I prepared a place, gently moved her, and let her grow.  I have lived here for 16 years and she has grown into a stunning standard rose.  Taller than me and full of blushing, pink flowers.  She needs little support, the occasional prune and feed.  Otherwise, she just gets on with growing, supporting a host of bees and bugs and looking glorious.

Sometimes, we are so keen to grow and produce fruit that we don’t think about where we are planting ourselves.  We just run around like mad chickens trying to do everything.  Maybe doing something that we are not gifted to do.  Maybe doing too many ‘somethings’.  Sometimes we need to realise we are not best placed. My little rose was in the right garden, but in the wrong place for her.

God formed Adam, prepared a garden for Him and then planted Him there.  The key to thriving in God’s garden is to grow where He has planted YOU.  This may be in a certain place where you serve, in your job,  in your school or college,  where you volunteer.  Return to the Gardener.  Put yourself in His hands.  Ask Him where He wants you to be.  Ask Him where it is that you will thrive.  

Stop! Start with Prayer

Philippians 4 v 6

Let your requests be made known to God

I don’t have a green house.  I have a small kitchen table in front a sunny windowsill.  In March this year I started to plant some seeds in some seeding compost, in seed trays, on in the sunlight.   I watered them, and watched for signs of life.  By April the seedlings were growing and ready to go out in pots in the ground.  I was excited and ready to go.  I had places were some could go outside and was ready to get to action.

Then I stopped.  I came across a prayer of blessing for gardens.  It was simple and focused.  It prayed for flower beds, for vegetable and fruit, for the compost heap, for the place where people would gather and sit and talk.  I realised that before I planted anything, I would pray.  I followed the prayer.  Reading the words.  Asking God’s blessing and direction on where and what to plant.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.

I had a bumper crop this year.  May have been the care and attention we gave the plants.  I think it was more down to the prayer of blessing.  Asking God the Gardener to bless this little patch of mine.

This reminded me how sometimes in life I can be too eager to launch out, full of good intention, and not stop to pray, to ask His blessing and guidance.  Sometimes I have just forgotten.  Sometimes I have felt I haven’ t the time to pray ‘properly’.  To read up on all the right scriptures and do it ‘right’.  Funny eh?  This year I just stood by some empty ground and read out a few prayers, asking Him to bless.  Not working myself up.  A simple request, in line with his Word.  I think He was listening.

  • What stops you praying before you do something?
  • What is the benefit of asking for God to bless what you do?
  • What are you planning to do next in your garden of life.  Talk to God about it …now.

God the Gardener

How well does your garden grow?

Song of Songs 4 v 15

You are a garden spring, a well of fresh water flowing down from Lebanon.

I love gardening.  Always have, always will.  From a little shared plot of land outside my first flat, to a flowerbed in my first house.  I am not great at it, but I am fascinated by the magic of it.  You prepare some ground, plant a seed, give it some water and warm sunlight and , hey presto, in a few days green shoots are emerging.  The picture I shared above is of all the apples harvested this year from one little apple tree in my small garden!  

Not everyone likes gardening.  My boys are not so keen. But they do like to sit out in the garden and admire the flowers and fruit and veg.  We all like to find a quiet spot with a cuppa and a book or ipod and just watch the butterflies and bees hop in an out of the flowers.  It’s so restful, good for the soul.  

I think God likes gardening.  He planted the first one – the glorious Eden.  It must have been something.  A delight for all the senses.  Colours, fragrances, taste, textures.  His instructions in Genesis 1 about seedtime and harvest set the boundaries for all nature and gardens.  He told the seeds to grow and so I know my little seeds have to do something!

The Bible has many ways to describe our lives: a journey, a race, a pathway to follow.  Song of Songs 4 v 15 says our lives are like a garden spring, flowing with fresh life.  The question comes to me from a familiar rhyme: ‘how does your garden grow?’. I’ve been reflecting on this and am going to note some of my thoughts here. Perhaps it’ll get you thinking too.

Life … unfurls

There is a right time for everything” (Ecclesiastes 3 v 10 TLB)

“Where did you come from?”, I said to the fern that had ‘appeared’ one day in the shade at the back of my garden. I have a small garden, thoughtfully planted, packed full with flowers, vegetables, an apple tree, a wildlife pond. I know all the flora and fauna residents. I smile at the slow firework display as it changes through the months and seasons. I did not plant the fern. It was not there when I moved in a few years ago. But here it was, leaning against the back fence.

But I have come to love this elegant resident, growing in the shadows. All winter she curls her head and arms in a cozy ball, like a hibernating hedgehog. She rests through the short days and frosty nights. Then in spring she slowly unfurls, gracefully reaching for the sky. The happy daisies on the lawn pop and burst on the scene; smiling from early morning until they withdraw tired and sleepy at dusk. The fern holds her posture and rests in the moonlight.

The fern reminds me that life… unfurls. If I tried to hurry her on, I would damage her and miss the moments of her growth. Miss to notice each meaningful stage. There is a pressure to rush through key life events: growing up, relationships, children, loss of those we love. Each day can be a race to the end. Each month, year a receding to-do list. I am learning that ‘There is a right time for everything” (Ecclesiastes 3 v 10, TLB). Often I am not sure when this is, but if I walk it through, stop and stare, let things grow in their time, I may slow my heart to His time, the right time. And all may not be over, but it will be well.

Hideaway Realm

 

There is a woodland walk that I know
Where sylvan springtime flowers grow.
Not many know the trail that is there,
So I slip in secretly, to listen and stare.

I gaze at the bluebells with heads that bow low
To tiny star speedwell, so far below.
See the pink Lady’s Smock as she blushes and weaves
Through sleek emerald grasses with elegant ease.

I find where the crowds of sweet celandines flow,
Like May time buttercups that shimmer and glow.
Through leaves high above I see the warm sunlight glance
Then shine on the moss where the wood fairies dance. 

I hear the bumble bee humming as she wanders a- pace
Seeking and searching a new dwelling place.
While above in the rafters a sweet melody lingers
Of robin and blackbirds – the most joyful of singers!

So I wander and wonder as if in a dream,
Peaceful and rested in this cavern of green.
My heart slows to the tempo of beach, oak and elm
In this gentlest of greenwood, this hideaway realm.

 

My Dad 21 12 37 – 04 04 20

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On Saturday 4th April my lovely Dad, John Ball, died of Covid 19.  He had Alzeimher’s and was in residential care.  A stroke in late March saw him admitted to hospital, where he contracted Coronovirus.  We could not be there with him through all this due to lock down.  I could not be there with him at the end.

The day before he died I was woken by a tune in my head, Ashoken Farewell.  On reflection it seems I was being prepared for his leaving.  As I prayed for his healing or departure, I listened to this haunting tune.  I looked through my bedroom window at the white clouds in the April sky.  One cloud was brightly highlighted with gold.  I saw Dad in a bright place, and Mum coming towards him.  They kissed and embraced.

I have been lost in sadness.  Good days and really awful days.  The good days seem to be getting more.  With the help of W.H. Auden I am trying to capture my sadness at his leaving and some cherished memories.

 

Funeral Blues – Farewell Dad

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,

Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,

Silence the pianos and with a muffled drum

Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

 

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead

Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead,

Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,

Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

 

He was my Dad, my Father and my friend;

A gentle man, a kind and caring blend.

He loved a stroll, a chat, a rousing song.

I thought he’d last forever.  I was wrong.

 

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one,

Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,

Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood,

For nothing now can ever come to any good.

 

Yet in my broken heart you will live on,

Your sunny smile, your serenade in song.

You take my hand, look in my eyes, and say,

‘I love you, love’, and that’s enough today.

 

 

 

 

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