Monthly Archives: September 2014

The Back Porch Garden

garden frontyardI’m feeling pretty good about my green thumb this year. My vegetable garden has done really well, especially the tomatoes. I also planted a border of red impatiens and chocolate coleus along the front of the house, and it looks fabulous. But it’s my funny little back porch flower garden that has caught my imagination.

A couple of years ago I carved out a little patch of dirt on the west side of the back porch for a small flower garden. It’s only about 16 feet wide and 4 to 5 feet deep—just big enough to put a little color in our backyard. The first year I didn’t get around to planting anything until it was too late for seeds, and by the time I got to the nursery, things were pretty much picked over. Needless to say, the results were nothing to write home about.

Last year, I tilled in a whole bunch of compost early in the season and then planted it with different kinds of sunflowers—tall ones in the back, shorter varieties in the front. Unlike the year before, I had more flowers than I knew what to do with. There were only two problems—first, the flowers in the back were so tall and top-heavy that we had to tie them up so they didn’t fall over and smash the shorter ones, and second, they attracted lots and lots of bees. Nobody got stung, fortunately, but Grandma was always a little nervous when the grandkids were playing on the back porch.

I wanted something different this year—an old fashioned flower garden. I mixed compost into the soil, again, then went seed shopping. I purchased two mixed-seed packets, one labeled as a “children’s garden,” a designation I never really figured out, and another that was supposed to be a mix of flowers that were supposed to attract butterflies. After I got the soil ready but before I planted the seeds, I decided to hedge my bet, so I went to the nursery and picked up a few plants just in case the seeds didn’t grow. It was earlier in the season this time, so I had healthy plants to choose from this time. I picked up petunias, geraniums, moss rose, dahlias, and a couple of day lilies. Once I got the nursery flowers planted, I scattered the seeds I had purchased, lightly covered them with soil, watered, and began the waiting game.

garden early
My back porch garden early in the season.

It took awhile, but eventually I started seeing green shoots poking through the soil. I don’t know what it is about planting something from seed, but I looked forward to checking things out every day to see how much things had grown and if more plants were making an appearance. Because I had planted mixed seeds, I was never sure if what was coming up were weeds or plants, so I just let everything grow figuring I would sort things out later.

garden late
My back porch garden now.

As the plants grew, I began recognizing some of them—first some baby’s breath, alyssum, and bachelor buttons. A little later the cosmos, zinnias, and a couple of sunflowers made their appearance. After awhile, the cosmos, zinnias, and sunflowers grew so tall they started crowding out the shorter flowers. Just a couple of weeks ago I realized I had some four-foot high marigolds growing. I don’t know if they were supposed to be that tall or if they were just competing with the zinnias and cosmos for sunshine, but they are kind of cool. I suppose I should have cut the taller flowers back, but I chose to just let things grow wild.

garden mystery flower
Can anybody tell me what this is?

My old fashioned flower garden turned out to be a series of surprises. I never knew what was going to appear next. There were a couple of plants that I let get really big before deciding they were weeds and pulling them up. One of the prettiest flowers I grew was one I didn’t recognize. I’m hoping somebody out there can tell me what I was growing because I would like to have more of them next year. And what of the plants I bought at the nursery? I can see the petunias and dahlias if I go looking for them, but the geraniums disappeared a long time ago. Same thing for the moss rose. I’m not sure about the day lilies; since they’re perennials, I’m hoping they’ll come back next year.

My funny little flower garden reminds me of my life—I’m never quite sure what to expect. I’d like my life to be like the borders along my front yard—orderly and controlled. However, it seems that most plans I make, like the nursery plants I placed in my back porch garden, get lost in the unexpected and unanticipated experiences that fill my life. Occasionally those experiences turn out to be weeds. Unfortunately, I sometimes don’t realize their true nature until they are established, and then I have to work to pull them out by the roots. Other times my experiences are unlike anything I ever imagined and completely surprise me with their beauty. These are usually spiritual experiences that are difficult, if not impossible, to adequately describe in words. Sometimes my experiences, like my marigolds, have to fight to the top before I realize that they are a part of my life’s garden.

There is one big difference between my life and my flower garden—the gardener. I’m afraid I have been a rather irresponsible gardener when it comes to my back porch flower garden. While I was careful to fertilize and dead-head the impatiens in my front yard in order for the flowers to reach their full potential, I let the back porch garden do whatever it wanted without any effort on my part to refine it. The Lord is a much more conscientious gardener. Even though it often seems like my life is as out of control as my flower patch, that really isn’t the case because I know the Lord is in charge. He sometimes allows weeds to grow in my life so I can learn for myself what kinds of things I want or don’t want growing in the garden of my heart and mind. Sometimes he allows me to plant seeds that he knows won’t produce as promised. Those seeds that were supposed to attract butterflies? Nope—at least not when I was looking. And unlike me, the Lord cuts back and trims where necessary so I can benefit from the differing manifestations of every experience in my garden of life, whether they are obvious or hidden.

This summer has been a season of both old and new experiences—some really hard and some pleasant. If I learn from these experiences, I will be able to create even more beautiful and enjoyable earthly and heavenly gardens in the future. And that’s the most important thing of all—that we learn.

Waiting

My husband and I are pretty much on the same page with most things. However, waiting isn’t one of them. Craig hates to wait in lines. He especially hates to have to wait to get a table when we go out to dinner. For instance, one night the restaurant we had chosen had a 45 minute wait to be seated. Not wanting to spend that much time doing nothing, we drove around for the next hour trying to find someplace where the wait was less than ten minutes. I’m the opposite, I don’t mind waiting in lines—as long as I have my Kindle with me.

Craig also hates to wait to unwrap presents. On Christmas Eve, it’s not the grandkids pestering me to let them open their presents, it’s Grandpa. I like to wait until the appropriate day arrives before we unwrap a gift. Think about it. What fun is Christmas or a birthday if you’ve already unwrapped all your presents?

On my side of impatiently waiting, I hate to wait to find out how a story ends. Many, many times I have stayed up until the wee hours of the morning devouring page after page—or I guess line after line if I’m reading on my Kindle—just so I can see what happens. I will do this even if the book isn’t all that interesting. I confess I have occasionally read the last chapter of a book first so I can leisurely enjoy the story leading up to the conclusion. Craig is just the opposite—he can put a book down and not go back to it for weeks. More important, Craig is really good at waiting to see how his own story will end. Not me. Too often I find myself wanting to hurry through life just so I can get to the last chapter to see how things work out.

I have the same problem with impatience as I seek answers to my prayers. The LDS Bible Dictionary offers this perspective on how prayer works.

Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other. The object of prayer is not to change the will of God but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant but that are made conditional on our asking for them. Blessings require some work or effort on our part before we can obtain them. Prayer is a form of work and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings.

I diligently strive to know what blessings or answers God is waiting to give me and then ask accordingly. The only problem is I sometimes forget that “blessings [and answers] require some work or effort on our part before we can obtain them.” I mistakenly assume that knowing what the Lord desires to bestow upon me means that he intends to bless me with those things right now. It doesn’t work that way most of the time, and sometimes I get really frustrated with the his timetable. Intellectually, I know that he will bring promised blessings into my life at the perfect moment. Emotionally, however, I’m like Craig at Christmas and want to unwrap the gift right now. I have to confess, when the desired blessing doesn’t materialize within my expected time frame, I sometimes begin to doubt God and his promises. This is when I think of Hebrews 11:11, “Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.” I find the idea of judging God faithful intriguing. It implies that he doesn’t ask for blind acceptance, but rather that he expects us to carefully consider what he has done for us in the past and come to our own conclusion regarding his faithfulness to his promises. When I honestly examine his hand in my life, I clearly see that he has been perfectly faithful. Knowing this helps assure my impatient self that, as long as I am obedient to his commandments, my life is proceeding in the manner God intends and his promises are sure.

As I think about being patient with God’s plan, I realize that I’m not the only one exercising patience. In his great love for his children, God, with incomprehensible patience, waits for us. He waits for us to come to him. He waits for us to trust him. And he waits for us to be ready to receive the blessings he longs to impart.

There are four things we must do to obtain what God desires to give: 1) We must align our will to his to ascertain what blessing he desires to give us. 2) We must ask for the blessing. 3) We must do whatever work, including prayer, is required for us to receive the blessing. 4) We must wait upon and trust his judgment of our readiness to receive. The marvelous thing is that God is content to patiently wait until we reach that state of readiness. Paraphrasing 1 John 4:19, we wait for God because he first waits for us.

Image copyright: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/profile_mishoo’>mishoo / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

The Prodigal Pumpkin

The soil where I live contains a high concentration of clay. Consequently, because our house had been empty for two years when we bought it, our backyard was basically a clay tennis court when we moved in almost 30 years ago. Since clay-based soil isn’t exactly the best growing medium, we tilled up the yard, both front and back, brought in a big load of topsoil and started over. Thanks to my husband’s hard work over the years, we now have a really nice lawn.

Although we worked hard to improve the quality of the soil in the front and back yards, we neglected a little patch on the south side of the house. That spot eventually became our garden. For many years we had just so-so success trying to grow stuff in the clay. Zucchini was always successful, of course, and one year I grew a bumper crop of gourds.

However, last year we decided to solve our problem in the south-side plot by putting in two raised beds which we filled with good quality soil. Radishes grew great, carrots were nothing to shout about, cucumbers were ok, and zucchini eventually took over both beds. Our gardening efforts this year have been much more successful. In one box we’ve got two HUGE tomato plants that are the size of small trees and producing like crazy and a variety of pepper plants. In a second box we planted a zucchini which, of course, is growing like a weed.

ProdigalPumpkinWe added a third raised bed this year and planted pumpkins in it. For a long time I didn’t think it was producing anything but leaves and flowers. However, we had lots of bees buzzing around, so I assumed there was some pollination occurring. Finally, one day my husband discovered a pumpkin growing in the zucchini bed. A week or so later I was checking under the leaves one day and discovered a prodigal pumpkin seeking its fortune outside of the box. I figured that since the roots were planted in good soil, the pumpkin would be just fine growing on the hard clay ground surrounding the raised beds. I was wrong.

During a really hot spell, I made my daily garden check only to find the leaves on all of the plants wilted. Even though it was the hottest part of the day, and, obviously, not the best time to water, I dragged the hose around the corner and turned on the sprinkler to give the garden a really good soaking. What I hadn’t counted on was the fact that the soil in boxes drained really well, almost too well. Once the soil was wet, the excess water just seeped out the bottom of raised beds and flooded the surrounding ground. When I finally went out to check to see if I had given the garden enough water, I found a slimy, slippery puddle of clay-filled soil all around my box. The excess was eventually absorbed into the ground, and in a couple of days the ground around my garden beds was as hard as ever—at least I thought it was.

Over the past several weeks we have had relatively cool weather and some good rainstorms, nothing that flooded the garden area like my over-exuberant watering, but the ground has been kept pretty moist. Good weather for my plants, right? Well, mostly. A few days ago as my husband and I took our daily evening stroll to check on the garden, I checked both pumpkins and noticed that the one outside of the box was dark where it was laying on the ground. I looked a little more closely and realized that what I was seeing was mold. My husband nudged the pumpkin with his foot, and the whole top half rolled over to reveal a mess of rotting pumpkin. I hadn’t realized that the ground under the pumpkin growing outside of the raised bed didn’t ever really dry out after my thorough watering. Add to that the cooler weather and its accompanying precipitation, and we had perfect conditions for growing mold instead of just pumpkin. In contrast, the pumpkin growing inside the beds where the soil drained properly is growing bigger and bigger every day. So now we are down to a single pumpkin, but it’s a good one.

Sometimes I feel like that prodigal pumpkin. Far too often in my search for emotional satisfaction, I turn away from the protection of the raised bed of God’s garden. Instead of clinging to my knowledge of God’s all-encompassing love and my relationship to him as his daughter, I wallow in the slimy ground of self-loathing. I am continually baffled by this choice. Why in the world do I choose to define myself as unloved and unlovable when I know it isn’t true? Why do I believe the lies of the adversary that I am incapable of “getting it right,” whatever that means? Why do I believe the perceptions arising from my doubts and fears so easily and find it so hard to trust those rooted in my faith? Why is it so much easier to believe the negative rather than the positive about myself? How can I get my heart to accept what my head knows is true?

Unlike my prodigal pumpkin, I can choose whether to grow on clay or on fertile soil. The best choice is obvious—fertile soil wins hands down. But it’s not an easy choice for me. Even after more than thirty years of dealing with depression and anxiety, it is still difficult for me to see my mental illness as a physical disorder rather than a character flaw. I find solace in knowing that God is aware of my struggles. Every once in a while the dark clouds part and the knowledge that he approves of the way I am living my life finds its way on a ray of sunlight into my soul. For me, those moments are rare and fleeting, but they are such that I cannot discount them. In those brief bursts of brightness I know that, like the prodigal son of scripture, the Father yearns for me to “come to myself” and rest in his welcoming arms. Oh, how I want to believe those messages of light!

Lord, help thou my unbelief.