Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The accidental pumpkin patch - new pumpkins, new lessons

About ten days ago I started to worry about the soil my accidental pumpkin patch had decided to grow itself on. Off to the side at the end of my driveway isn't a place where I'd expect to find the most nourishing soil. Some wilty looking leaves had me afraid because I've become a bit attached to my pumpkin planting now. I began to research and discovered that my pumpkins needed more than just water and any-old dirt. They needed nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Not wanting my babies to starve, I went out and bought a balanced fertilizer mix. Ten days later, I'm seeing results.

Although my pumpkin patch began to grow in an unexpected place, I could not expect it to thrive without the proper nourishment. Watering it daily was a given, but I had to discover what food pumpkins need to thrive. I also discovered that there are pests that will need to be battled along the way (as well as making sure folks walking dogs don't let them pee on my roadside pumpkin patch).

Again, I see so much of myself in my pumpkin patch. I'm growing in a place I did not expect to grow but in order to thrive I need more than sunshine and rain. Jesus tells us in Matthew 4:4 that, "man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God." Eating daily of that manna, that bread of life is essential to my survival. John 6:35 tells us that He is the bread of life -- and I need the nutrients that only that heavenly Bread can provide. Prayer, to me, is the watering - it's that daily connection and communication with the Father. Like Isaiah cries out in 45:8, "Open up, O heavens, and pour out your righteousness. Let the earth open wide so salvation and righteousness can sprout up together."

Another thing needed to grow and thrive spiritually is fellowship. We are created to need each other. Man needed woman, a suitable partner and helpmeet. We, as the body of Christ, are made up of various members uniting as a whole in service of our Head. We need to invest ourselves in each others' lives, caring for each other, watching out for each other, building each other up, praying for each other. We need fellowship, to bond together in worship and in sharing our lives. Koinonía is that sharing together, participating with one another in a mutual bond. I'm so blessed to have friends who lift me up and share in this life in Christ. I'm also blessed that God chose to place Eddy in my life. Eddy, who worries over those pumpkins like I do, and Zane, who wants to check on them and water them with me, have made the pumpkin patch a shared endeavor. Shared ventures seem so much more rewarding to me. Rather than being an island, I like to be an archipelago. I think life is like that. While we leave this world singularly, while we are here life is so much more enjoyable when our lives are entwined and interdependent.

Invest yourself in someone's life and open yours to being invested in by others. Invest yourself in the community of your church fellowship. Above all, invest yourself in a relationship with the Life-giver and drink in the nutrients He so abundantly provides.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Combustion

Those kisses on my skin
Have burned into me
Learning to know you
And the touch of your lips
Feels right in a way that
A match does when it touches a wick
The wick can't help it,
but it is compelled
Compelled to drink in the flame
Your touch ignites possibilities
Chemical yearnings
Not a wildfire
But a brightly burning flame
The kind that keeps you warm
All winter
The kind you can trust
Trust to light the room, light my soul
There is an energy
Of emotion, of longing, of need
Sparks and gasoline kind of passion
Tempered by this deep feeling
That you're my home fire
Igniting my heart
And that these flames we create
Have a resting place
A hearth where they can safely dance
Together

Til death do you part

Traditional wedding vows include pledging fidelity until death separates the union.  When you are saying those words, all starry-eyed, in love and ready to embark on "happily ever after," you do not necessarily embrace the reality that one day death will indeed separate you.  For some it is sooner rather than later, yet we all tend to sail on into the sunset believing that tomorrow will never come.

It was no different for me. I pledged those words to my husband, Pat. In a world where the vows should say, not until death do us part, but until "money, adultery, shiny new things, etc." part us, we managed to stay together for 33 years of marriage. We quickly discovered that marriage was not sailing off into a glorious sunset. It was work - emotional, physical work. And word we did. We worked through personal problems, family problems, work problems, through times of plenty and times of little. We laughed and cried, fought hard and made up harder. After three decades together, we found a comfortable rhythm of life and were content to march to our own special beat together.

Death changed that. He arrived unexpectedly, of course, uninvited. Very few invite death knowingly. People that smoke cigarettes should know but most seem shocked when the inevitable consequences arise. They are clearly giving death a hand-written invitation but are, like Pat, in complete denial. I had expected at least another 5-10 years before Pat's poor health choices caught up to him in a life-ending way. He, on the other hand, obliviously boasted that it would be him who would be taking care of me in our old age. I had come to terms with the fact that nagging, pleading, and crying weren't going to lead him to change his ways. I did my best to provide healthy foods at home and to encourage him to take the vitamins and fish oil his doctor recommended.

Two years later his death still reminds me to take to heart that life can turn at any moment from idyllic to tragic. When this occurs, rest assured that the annoying things you feel you have to pick at, those things will be things you miss one day. Cherish the opportunity to just “be” with the people you care about and who care about you. You honestly never know when the scene will change from idyllic to tragic.

Friday, June 29, 2018

My accidental pumpkin patch...and me

I had to take a writing break. In the midst of the clean up of a busy, busy week and on the verge of a busy, busy weekend, these thoughts were consuming too much of my heart and my head. They simply had to find a resting place on the keyboard. I'm certain it is becoming obvious that I'm a little excited about my accidental pumpkin patch. This is not only because I love pumpkins and pumpkin patches in general; it is also because I see so much of myself in this seemingly accidental planting.

The pumpkin from which this sprang was a beautiful pumpkin.  It was painted up for Halloween and placed beside my backdoor in a little flower bed.  Halloween ended, the next holidays quickly followed suit. A freeze came - and another - and another. That pumpkin began to disintegrate; it's purpose clearly was over.  Spring came and it was a mournful, soggy mess of rot.  There it sat in a pile of damp and decaying leaves.  Clean-up surely was necessary!  On a nice warm day in April, I got out the garden rake and I raked that mix of muck and leaves out to the side of the road where our city road crews come and take away yard trash to be made into compost.

The city clean up didn't arrive and there that pile of leaf matter sat, waiting for something to happen. A few warm days and then a few more. One day I was surprised to see a burst of life springing up from that rotted mess.  They were so new, the seeds were still clinging to the sprouts.  I confess, my heart skipped a beat or two. I didn't think they would make it, but I so very hoped that they would. 

It's been a few short weeks now and my accidental pumpkin patch is thriving. It has grown and spread. I've had to redirect a few vines from crossing the street and place them back on the lawn where I could care less if they take over. After all, that pumpkin that once seemed lifeless and without purpose is GROWING.  Children riding scooters down the road even admired it, one shouting with glee, "Hey! That's pumpkins!"  That plant is certainly known by its fruit.

Now it is BLOOMING.  Beautiful, glorious, ginormous pumpkin flowers are popping up within and without.  The beauty is spectacular.    My hope is that that blooms will bear fruit, that little pumpkins will begin to appear.  If you think I'm happy now, wait until a pumpkin starts! 

You might be wondering at this point - what does this have to do with me?  Well, I'm like that pumpkin. Pat and I were in the autumn of our marriage. It was Harvest Party time.  Our children were bearing children. It was a time of hayrides and happiness, planning for a nice cozy winter together. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the freeze was coming, and I would be facing it without my partner.  Widowhood is a bit like sitting there in that small flower bed slowly decaying.  The stuff you gave your life to begins to cave in upon you. It was a shell and that shell is no longer of use.  At times you feel like there is no point but to sit there in your flower bed and await disintegration. 

God thought otherwise.  There was life within that pumpkin; there is life within me. There is a future and there is a hope.  There is still purpose.  When I raked that pumpkin to the roadside, some seed was left behind.  That seed fell in a rocky, shaded place.  It has sprouted and it has valiantly tried to grow --- but that wasn't the right place for it.  I, too, experienced a period where I thought I was in a happy place but it was too rocky, too shady, and unfortunately, not a place with the necessary nourishment to grow and bloom. That part is left behind; it is sad to see it die -- but the Maker has planted me in the place that seems fitting to Him.  While it might seem as unlikely a place to grow and bloom as at the end of the driveway, alongside the street, and upon a lawn...growth can and will happen if the Lord desires it to happen.

There is an awful lot in 1 Corinthians 7 that points to the concept of "blooming where you are planted."  I want to be like that pumpkin plant and be known by my fruit.  Before that pumpkin plant even has pumpkins on it, the plant is recognizable by the fruit that it is prepared to bear. Matthew 7: 16-20 (NKJV) says, " You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them." Even if I am planted in as strange a place as the end of a gravel driveway, I want to be bursting with the fruit of the Spirit so that passersby recognize the fruit, "Hey, that's a follower of Jesus!" and better yet, that fruit will DO GOOD in the world around me. Galatians 5:22-23 says, " But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

I don't know if you've got an accidental pumpkin patch or something else in your life to give you hope and to remind you that the Maker has a plan and a purpose for you.  I hope that you do.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Mourning with those that mourn

Today a woman whose husband had been battling cancer came to my cycling class. This was a woman who had eyes that always sparkled, a humor that engaged the rooms. Her presence was always one of energy, brightness, and verve.  As I saw her walk toward the gym in front of me, I could see the change in her - the spring was gone from her step. There was a certain resignation in her carriage, a mournful gait in her motion.

I met her outside the studio door. It was her first class since the death of her husband three months ago.  The aura of grief enveloping her was palatable as we began to speak. Although she also was dealt a one-two punch as other things in her life collapsed, there was an energy tingling beneath that shroud of sorrow. She is a fighter; she is a survivor. I recognized it in her eyes, through the tears that couldn't help but flow. That sparkle was diminished, but not extinguished. I noticed how she did what I always did - fought back those tears, tried to continue with a steady voice and an inner resilience.   Respect for her welled as my heart bled with hers.

My spirit cried out in empathy - this a club you do not want others to join. Let the ranks stay small!  It is wrenching to see another woman going through this.  Now in the Saturday spin class, there are three of us near in age going through this horror.  What a sad commonality to bond over, to find a kinship in!

"Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn." Romans 12:15

The Lord is near to those who are discouraged; he saves those who have lost all hope. (Psalm 34:18)
Yesterday it was 23 months since I lost my beloved husband and became a widow.  Yesterday I ran into an old friend and no longer did I receive "the look." That look of tender pity was gone. The eyes that met mine no longer recognized me as the dear old friend who was limping through life like an amputee. No, time has passed and now the gaze that met mine did not react to any perceived brokenness in me.

In this two years, I've crawled, I've run. I've banged into walls and leapt over fire. I've not allowed the obstacles that life has thrown at me to become a fence. Instead, like Ben Carson advised, I've chose to hurdle them.  I learned to live with a hole in my heart. I was manipulated and lied to, thought I was in love and had my trust abused and betrayed. I dealt with income challenges, job challenges, and relationship challenges. 

23 months he has been gone; I am still here. I have survived due to the grace of God.
(Written on June 11)

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Wilson...

Back to comparing my widowhood with the movie Castaway.  It's time to address Wilson.  For a long, long time I didn't think there was a Wilson comparison. How very wrong I was!

In Castaway, Chuck is isolated and alone on his island. He desperately needs companionship. Widowhood is very much like that island isolation.  One moment you are in a world with your life's companion a purpose, a destination. Next moment you are plunging into an unwelcoming sea of despair. After floating aimlessly through that stormy sea, you find yourself shipwrecked on a foreign piece of soil. Alone.  You struggle with that alone-ness. Enter Wilson.  Wilson supplied the connection that Chuck so desperately needs --- Companionship through the mundane tasks of survival. Someone to talk to. A sounding board, a presence.  A substitute for the real thing. The need not to be alone is so intense that Wilson is a comfort and a bond with the substitute becomes "real" for Chuck.

What is the real thing, anyway? I think that when you are in a place of vulnerability it is easy to be duped. Flattery is powerful; it can sweep you away or suck you in. Elaine Chan and Jaideep Sengupta at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and published in the Journal of Marketing Research conducted a study which explored our susceptibility to flattery.  The bottomline is that we can be manipulated.  Chuck's Wilson was just a soccer ball; that was all that was available to meet Chuck's need for companionship.  The Wilsons that the widow meets are far more animated and seemingly better able to fill that need. A widow's Wilson will be a man like those mentioned in Psalm 12:2 - "They speak falsehood to one another; With flattering lips and with a double heart they speak."

In that fragile state of aloneness, disconnected from the spouse we loved so much we are prime targets for smooth-talkers with empty promises. It is easy to forget that our best interests are not at the heart of some men. There are men who merely look at a woman as an object to be obtained. Romans 16:18, "For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting." 

Even if she realizes that Wilson is not the real deal, the attachment is still present and the hurt of letting go is sincere and deeply felt. Just as Chuck grieved when Wilson became untethered and floating away in the waves, so the widow will grieve when she chooses life over maintaining the connection. I find it fascinating that the whale awakens Chuck to the fact that Wilson has been set adrift. The whale always seems to be a Watchful Eye, representative of God's Hand. It is like God said, "I allowed this fake companion in your life for a time to comfort you. However, he must go so that you can be free to heal."