A Week for Tiny Miracles

By: Marcy Barthelette

Before the mountains were born, before you birthed the earth and the inhabited world—from forever in the past to forever in the future, you are God. Psalm 90:2,4

This week my yard has been witness to a host of small miracles. For the first time in weeks, I walked outside in the early morning to find sparkling dew on the grass. Black-eyed Susan blooms danced atop brown and withered stems. Tall garden phlox which only attained about two-thirds their normal height and for which I held no hope of their typical second flush of blooms started producing a second round of buds. Daylilies, whose foliage had been long since removed, sprouted fresh green spikes. Bermuda grass, tough as buffalo hide, became green and cushy once more. Hydrangeas, the water hogs of the garden, held their leaves high and proud instead of wilting in the sun. Bugs were hatching in abundance, ladybugs were everywhere, and I spotted my favorite late summer insect, the clear-winged hummingbird moth. The sedums, being the succulents they are, suffered little throughout the hundred-plus temperatures and absence of rainfall, but they were nearly the only green left before the heavens’ bounty of moisture began to fall.

They’re a group of small blessings, each on its own not making much of a splash on nature’s recently brown palette. But when joining forces together, those small miracles wove a tapestry of color that breathed life back into my very soul. It had hurt my heart to not be able to meet the daily demands of moisture to keep everything going, but I chose to let my giant island bed in the backyard go dormant, not knowing which roots would take advantage of the R & R then be ready to poke their heads up when the water finally fell.

The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life. Job 33:4 ESV

Those Black-eyed Susan blooms I mentioned earlier were half their normal size and they typically rise above a preponderance of dark green foliage. The foliage was dead and brown before the rain but the scraggly blooms held on. And, lo and behold, those stems must have garnered every minuscule amount of moisture they could find and telegraphed it through browned and hardened stems just to deliver a life-giving drink to tiny golden petals. They looked really strange, with brown stems and yellow petals, but they offered hope that next year will be better.

One of nature’s critters that didn’t make an appearance and for which my gratitude is never-ending would be the dreaded Japanese beetle. I saw two the entire summer and, if you don’t garden, you’ll never grasp the enormous blessing revealed in that simple statement.

Lord God, you created heaven and earth by your great power and outstretched arm; nothing is too hard for you. Jeremiah 32:17 CEB

Today, I actually saw an earthworm squirming along and wondered how deep it had to burrow to find moist earth and how did it know to make the journey back to the surface when moisture came. Did its underworld flood and send it climbing upward toward the surface once again? How did our robins know that a second or third nest of tiny mouths would be incredibly hard to keep fed when bugs and worms and even seeds were in short supply?

How could anyone see such miracles and not know that there is a God who is right in the midst of every tiny detail of the natural and the human world? He knows that some plants just have to shut down in times of heat and drought to conserve their energy for regeneration. 

Just think about the fact that perennial roots are shipped all over the country, actually all over the world, in bare root condition, looking dry and lifeless. But when we add soil and water and nutrients, they spring forth in new life. How can it then be any more a miracle for them to rest during times of extreme heat and drought sense that better times lie ahead?

And how can we not accept that He will do the same for us?  

Keep me as the apple of your eye. Hide me under the shadow of your wings. Psalm 17:8 ESV


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The Swedish Candle and Other Blessings

By Marcy Barthelette

He provides rain for the earth, he sends water on the countryside. Job 5:10

It is Sunday morning as I write! A day for praise and worship! I have so much to be thankful for. These past few days, the heavens poured forth their bounty and every living thing breathed deeply of the smell of rain. Trees, grasses, and flowers soaked in every drop of moisture to rehydrate themselves after a long absence of life-giving rain. Birds flapped in reckless abandon throughout the yard wherever a puddle welcomed them. We, humans, had planned a camping trip but canceled, first because of impending heat and then of impending storms but also because of issues with the camper. We did, however, drive to the campground through pounding rain, of course, where our kids camped and we had planned to be. We spent the day, a good portion of it indoors, just laughing and talking and catching up. The night before a burn ban had been in effect, but the deluge of the morning had lifted the ban and we were able to enjoy a campfire. What’s a camping trip without a campfire?

You might ask, where did we find dry wood? The answer is simple. Our son-in-law had squirreled away a Swedish candle log in the back of his truck. This unique method of providing a lovely campfire is great for summertime use when you don’t really want or need heat but choose to enjoy the ambiance of a fire. Nothing beats a campfire for relaxing the soul and bringing folks together. The Swedish candle log is a simple device made by standing a good-sized log on end and making several cross-cuts with a chainsaw, two-thirds of the way down the log, to resemble a sliced pie on top. Three to four cuts will be good, dividing the log into six or eight fairly uniform sections. Remember only two-thirds of the way down, not completely through. Start a small fire in the center of the top with kindling or charcoal and watch the flames emerge like a torch. The fire burns from the inside out, fueled by oxygen from the saw cuts, and creates really lovely patterns in the log as it burns down and eventually collapses upon itself.

We all got a good laugh from our daughter’s slip of the tongue in referring to the cut log as a Roman candle. Our fire didn’t propel colorful balls of fire into the air, just offered a nice, relaxing end to the day. We were sorry to have sacrificed the complete camping experience butwere grateful for the good times we had.

As we were leaving the park, we happened upon a deer lying on the cool, damp ground relaxing and nibbling newly refreshed grass. A short while later the clouds of the day broke open to an amazing spectacle, one of those silver lining moments, so intense was the light against the cloudy gray background. It was a stunning reminder that God is always with us, in times of drought and in times of abundance. It came at the close of a week of losses in our neighborhood. One friend and neighbor ended his journey on earth while another moved into assisted senior housing. Other loved ones among us are dealing with family loss and serious illness. Our heat and drought had added to the overall feeling of discouragement, but our God never fails to remind us of His constant presence. We only have to be open to it.

Was it a perfect day? No, in reality, it was an average one. Heavy rain could have severely dampened our spirits, it was difficult to drive, but we laughed our way through it. Our daughter had taken a bad fall down slippery steps the night before but she didn’t belabor her misfortune, she kept right on going through her discomfort. Our eleven-year-old granddaughter (you know that 

awkward tween time when kids are trying to find their place in the scheme of things) often becomes frustrated with all the “old” people who populate her world, but we all joked and laughed at her many mood swings and enjoyed the crispy goodness of the chicken quesadillas she cooked on the outdoor grill. We made a Dutch oven peach cobbler that didn’t go quite as planned but with many suggestions and a few corrections during the cooking process, it reached a slightly more than the golden brown stage. It wouldn’t have taken any prizes for presentation, but the flavor really tickled the taste buds. What else could a person ask for? Love and laughter with precious family, plentiful rain to relieve our drought, safe travel, good food shared, the magic of a Swedish candle log fire, the beauty of nature, and clouds decorated with silver linings sealing the promise that we are never alone.

Sometimes we should express our gratitude for the small and simple things like the scent of the rain, the taste of your favorite food, or the sound of a loved one’s voice. Joseph B. Wirthlin

 


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The Summer of ‘22

By Marcy Barthelette

 

The Lord will send rain at the proper time from his rich treasury in the heavens and will bless all the work you do. Deuteronomy 28:12

The summer of 2022 has been a challenge thus far, at least at our house. There was no spring in southwest Missouri, just a giant leap from winter to summer. Lazy, hot days have been the theme for weeks. And when the rain spicket shut off, it meant business. The grass is brown and crunchy and August hasn’t even arrived. Hay couldn’t be cut until very late because of excess moisture and now the crops are dying in the fields. And let’s not forget our backyard gardens that are turning to dust.

Even my potted plants, which receive a good drink every day, can’t force themselves to bloom properly in the extreme temperatures we are experiencing. Day after weary day of 100 plus degrees without a drop of moisture from the sky. I wonder sometimes if God is sending us some kind of message and we haven’t received it yet. If so, He isn’t being shy about it.

If the heat and drought weren’t enough, COVID-related issues, hiring difficulties, and exorbitant transportation costs, have escalated prices at the grocery store and the gas pump to a level that has turned our budgets upside down and diminished customer service almost to the point of non-existence.

On a personal note, we’re experiencing refrigeration problems in the kitchen and in the camper. The big fridge in the kitchen has a problem with the water filter housing. The issue itself is minor and the fridge still cools our food efficiently but getting warranty repairs completed seems to take an act of congress. And you know how fast those wheels turn. Delayed parts delivery and disinterested service people seem to be the norm these days.

The biggest problem with the tiny camper fridge is the lack of use. Travel refrigerators differ from home models in that they don’t operate with a compressor. They use a combination of liquids and gases that must be heated before traveling through tubing to cool the fridge compartment. I don’t understand the process and it makes absolutely no sense to me but I do know that when the camper sits unused for long periods of time, the liquids and gases settle, and sometimes they have difficulty starting to circulate again. That is, of course, a very simplistic explanation but you get the idea. We haven’t camped much in the last three seasons and our poor fridge is suffering the consequences. Therefore, when we do have an opportunity to go, the preservation of food becomes a little dicey. Add to that, the camper AC doesn’t like temperatures above 90º and camping has been a real challenge.

My point in this roundabout ramble of complaints and frustrations is that we experience all kinds of drought in life, the obvious being the absence of water, but when life takes unexpected turns we can also find ourselves running low on faith and hope and trust. While we can’t control the amount of rain that falls, we do have some measure of control over our own emotions and I would suggest that times of “emotional drought” are prime opportunities for supercharging our spiritual power source. In the dry valleys of life, we can set our sights on hope or we can allow exasperation to take over and make poor choices that could impact us forever.

Our heat wave and our moisture drought will end in God’s good time, but the emotional droughts in our lives will come calling again and again and they are ours to face or deny. We can invite God to guide us or we can go it alone. I don’t know about you but I can use all the help I can get.

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord…. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit. Jeremiah 17:7-8


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Grab Onto the Rock

By Marcy Barthelette

Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord is a rock for all ages. Isaiah 26:4 CEB

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned how much I love lighthouses at some point. What’s not to like? They’re always situated on the coastlines of large bodies of water and I know I’ve stressed my love of water multiple times throughout this journey of words we’ve traveled together. For the adventurous among us, they offer majestic views if we’re willing to scale the stairs. No elevators there. They are a window into our history and many no longer play the role of sentinel. Technology has ended the chapter in their stories of ships passing in the night and through tumultuous storms because of the beacon they provided. But their stories live on in the people who dwell near them.

There’s another aspect of lighthouses that I love, the fact that they often cling to the shore on which they tower with seemingly little to anchor them. Many stand tall upon rocky points where they appear to have simply sprouted and grown, much as the stunted trees that constantly fight harsh conditions to survive. At the same time that the lighthouse is anchored securely atop the rock, its light warns approaching ships of the danger of coming too close to those very same rocks.

I can recall many times while floating down an Ozarks stream when I have sought the comfort and safety of a solid rock after a tumble from a canoe or being purposely upset from a tube, much to the delight of the perpetrator. Even sliding through the giant boulders at Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park here in Missouri often required grabbing onto an overhanging rock to keep from ending up in a precarious adventure.

Rocks, large boulders specifically, represent strength, solidity, and safety. When we’re in or near a body of water, rocks offer a place to rest in the sunlight, absorb the warmth and feel the comfort of being secure.

You’ve certainly heard reference to a person who is in deep  trouble personally or financially as finally hitting rock bottom. That person’s life has traveled some very slippery slopes when he or she lands with a jolt on a hard rock surface and can fall no further. The rock provides a safety net and the only direction to go is up.

Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I built my life. J.K. Rowling

Jesus has often been referred to as our rock and he has also been tied metaphorically to a lighthouse. You can see where I’m headed with this. If you’re sliding down some slippery slopes or your boat has been upset in rough waters, or you’ve hit the proverbial rock bottom, it might be a good time to look for a solid rock to grab onto. Shifting sands won’t work, nor will mighty rapids. You need the security of the solid rock and the perpetual light from the beautiful lighthouse atop it.

He’s waiting!

He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress…Psalm 62:2a


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Parental Chirps

By Marcy Barthelette

  Whoever dwells in the shelter of the most high will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. Psalm 91:1 NIV

It was Sunday, July 3rd, we were halfway through the Independence Day weekend and the thermometer was climbing. After nearly a week of blessedly cooler weather, summer was returning with a vengeance. Ken loves it hot so he was relaxing on our screen porch when he spied an adult robin flying in and out of our crawl space access well. His assumption that a baby must have managed to get itself into trouble was confirmed as he looked down into the face of the human equivalent of perhaps a pre-teen. All at once, the parent swooped down, squawking, and flapping its wings against Ken’s head and he decided it would be best to keep an eye on this little drama from a distance. Mama finally settled down and resumed her watchful vigil and her feeding routine. We retired for the night with junior still in his predicament.

Monday morning I went into the backyard and was greeted by frightened chirps from our trees. It was then that I remembered the baby bird and went cautiously to check. Sure enough, it was still there and the parents were warning it to keep still and lay low, at the same time warning me to leave. I steered clear of the access well and went about my watering. Soon the adults calmed and from the other end of the yard, I saw one of them hopping discreetly toward the access well with a mouth full of some tempting morsel. It stopped every two or three hops to look around and be sure the coast was clear. It made one last hop to the rim of the access, then swooped down to deliver breakfast and was out in a flash as if it had never been there. Amazing and stealthy creatures, these birds.

Tuesday morning, day three of this vigil, I crept to the access well and looked inside. My glance was met by a tiny beak and two imploring little eyes, seemingly saying, “You aren’t my mom and where is my breakfast?” A little later, Ken was thinking of a way to get the bird out without causing injury or undue stress and he decided that if he put something in the well that was a height the youngster could jump to, perhaps it could make its way out. Of course, the usual warning chirps ensued, but this time he was prepared wearing a wide-brimmed hat. He was able to install a shoebox in the well hoping the little guy’s tiny talons could penetrate the cardboard enough to gain a foothold. It worked! By evening, the youngster was out and perched on the downspout extender, still waiting for food.

Wednesday, I was in the backyard again and the chirping was louder than ever. I looked in the access well to see if junior had managed to get himself back into trouble. He wasn’t there but an upward glance brought my eyes to the downspout extender where Ken had seen him the night before. I wondered if he’d spent the whole night balancing on that round, slick surface? It didn’t matter, I just needed to give him and his parents some space. The problem was that we have an area of new grass right beside him that needed water. Nevertheless, I didn’t want to create any more stress for this little feathered family so I  moved on to my perennials. After a while, the chirping almost stopped and as I finished the perennial beds, I walked cautiously in the direction of the new grass. The little guy was still there but kind of tucked in next to the house, so I figured I could keep my distance, turn the spray on high, and water the grass without posing too much of a visible threat. With care not to hit the little bird, I completed my task during which the youngster dropped to the ground and sought shelter under some of my larger plants. Now he had some shade and maybe the fine mist cooled him a bit in preparation for another hot day.

We saw the family several more times, parents assuring their youngster was fed while pushing him to try and get those new little wings working. The last time I saw him, he was sitting on our front porch and mama spied me watching. She few toward the door, chirping loudly, warning the little guy that it was time to leave. Quick as a wink, he took flight. I’m sure he’s still around but so grown up, we wouldn’t recognize him anymore, thanks to wonderful, supportive parents who kept constant vigil during his adventure into the big scary world. And our yard is back to normal, warning chirps have ended and a crisis was averted.

We, too, have a parent who looks after each of us in the same way. He provides for our needs and offers guidance for living. But we, too, stray from the safety of His “nest.” We fail to hear His voice or read His roadmap and we travel down roads better left untraveled. Sometimes we find ourselves in very dangerous circumstances and sometimes we feel deserted and alone, just like a certain little robin.

I can honestly say I’ve never felt alone because I was blessed to grow up knowing I was a child of God. I still have my certificate of promotion from the cradle roll at First Baptist Church in Fulton, MO. Throughout those important formative years, faith-based activities were a mainstay in my life and I always felt surrounded by people who loved me and filled me with stories about a guy named Jesus, my very special friend. Even though I stumbled many times during my tumultuous teen and young adult years, I still never felt alone. Oh, I 

had questions about why things happened as they did. I still do. God and I have had some enlightening discussions about the “why” of life’s twists and turns, but I can’t imagine living in this world without the knowledge that God surrounds me all the time and He will forgive me when I return to His protective “wings.” If there is ever distance between us, it is I who have created that distance. I pray for people who don’t feel that special certainty that a loving protector always has their best interest in every situation and my hope is that one day, they will find it.

So, breathe deeply of the sweet scent of God’s presence, drink from His living waters and the next time you feel you’ve been abandoned, ask Him to offer a few loud chirps to let you know He’s still there and watching over you.

For his eye is on the sparrow, (or robin) and I know He watches me.

Paraphrased from the hymn, His Eye Is On the Sparrow, by Civilla Martin

 


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An Opportunity Built On Faith

By Marcy Barthelette

Be reasonable since God has measured out a portion of faith to each one of you. Romans 12:3b   

Our youngest daughter and her family just returned from a wonderful trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Each evening they uploaded the day’s photos to a shared online album so we were able to see the majestic vistas they had visited on that day. We thoroughly enjoyed experiencing those natural wonders with them through the miracle of technology. In fact, it became the highlight of our evenings. Only one night did they not send photos. We simply received a message that they were exhausted and would send photos the next day. And when they came, we understood. They included a shot of one of their apple watches and the figures were staggering. They had walked nine miles, over 22,000 steps, and were in the park for just under fifteen hours. I’m not sure I’d still be alive after all that, but the images they sent from their day of exploration were incredible. As awesome as this trip was, it didn’t happen without some difficulties along the way.

In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity. Albert Einstein

Let’s rewind a bit to a few days before their scheduled departure. You may recall that Yellowstone experienced catastrophic flooding on June thirteenth and our kids planned to leave on the twenty-first, just eight days after the water destroyed roads and bridges throughout the northern portion of the park. Everyone was evacuated and all entrances were closed until further notice. Until the damage could be assessed, there could be no decisions made regarding re-opening and the consensus was that it would be quite some time, probably not even this year in the northern reaches.

It was a period of concern and indecision for many who had reservations in the park and in that general area with Yellowstone being their primary destination. There were lots of cancellations, some were made by the park itself and others by individuals. But our kids didn’t waver from their plans. Reservations had been made months earlier, much research time had been invested to ensure the best possible trip and they weren’t letting go. You see, last year they had to forfeit their vacation because COVID came calling and they had no desire to give up another wonderful trip if there was any way to avoid it. They started by looking into alternative activities if, in fact, Yellowstone remained closed and they found there were lots of things they could do. Of course, it wouldn’t be the same as experiencing Yellowstone, but many of those alternatives held excellent promise.

A few days before their departure, Yellowstone officials announced they would reopen the south loops of the park on June twenty-second. The kids were leaving the day before and would spend a night on the road and then two nights in Cody, WY before entering the parks. They were to spend a full week at a campground located between Yellowstone and Grand Teton and administered by the National Park Service. (It, by the way, turned out to be gorgeous.) Their arrival was June twenty-fourth. Yellowstone was allowing entry into the park by means of a system that admitted cars based on the last numeric digit of their license plate number. An even number on the plate equated to admission on even-numbered dates and those with an odd number on the odd-numbered dates.

The only difference between stumbling blocks and stepping stones is the way in which we use them. Anonymous

As it turned out, the kids would have three full days to spend in Yellowstone and another three exploring the Tetons and other attractions in the area. Our granddaughter was able to earn her junior ranger award in both parks. Ironically, they arrived back home on the same day that most of the roads in the badly damaged north loops were re-opened and the license plate system was lifted, July second, much earlier than originally anticipated. Through the tremendous efforts of many agencies, ninety-three percent of America’s first national park was re-opened in less than three weeks following the mass devastation. This is certainly proof that we can all accomplish much more when we work together.

But here’s the real truth behind this miraculous trip. Our kids never lost faith that it would work out. They had made all their plans in the confidence that it would be one of the best trips ever and then life and nature intervened. They could have canceled their reservations and taken the accompanying financial hit, then traveled in another direction. But they researched again, made compromises, and carried on because they believed everything would be OK. And it was. They pulled their camper safely over the more than 3500 miles that comprised their trip. They witnessed wonders that only a God with a very creative mind could have wrought. And He held them safely in the palm of His hand through it all. They had faith that He would take care of everything for them and He did.

Faith is not the belief that God will do what you want. It is the belief that God will do what is right. Max Lucado

How often do we give up when things don’t go as planned? I know I’m guilty. How many times do we miss a totally awesome opportunity because of an unexpected roadblock? Guilty again! We would all do well to remember that God is always in control and He offers endless opportunities, even if they differ from our plans. And they’re usually much better!

On this adventure of faith, we are promised the presence of God in our hearts, His strength to sustain us, and His peace to surround us ─ fully equipped, ready to roll. Bear Grylls, Soul Fuel


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The Sweet Scent of New-Mown Hay

By Marcy Barthelette

I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. Jeremiah 29:11 (CEB)

It’s finally hay baling time and I’m obsessed with grassy hilltops and rolling meadows covered in fat round bales. I love the sweet scent of freshly mown hay and I love seeing the sunlight reflecting off them.

I’m sure the local farmers wondered if they’d ever get into their fields this season. We had so much rain in late spring that fields were a muddy mess, miring tractor wheels in their sticky goo, not to mention that the grass was much too wet to cut. But the heat arrived and God turned off the faucet from heaven and the work began. Now, everywhere we go, I get to enjoy the beauty of newly created hay bales. I’ve taken lots of photos, especially near our home. This year I found my favorites to be those taken just about a half-hour before sunset when the sky is filled with pinks and oranges against a lovely blue backdrop.

We are separated from a good-sized hayfield by a row of houses and a highway so we always have a view that makes us feel as if we live in the country, at least somewhat so. But it may be our final year to enjoy that hayfield. This year’s photos may become historic ones. Because, you see, our city, in all its wisdom, has approved the building of nearly three hundred homes on that tract of land. Instead of waking to the sound of tractors and balers and smelling the sweet scent of hay, we’ll spend the next few years listening to earth-moving equipment, cement trucks, and nail guns. And when undisturbed soil in this area is turned over, it has a horrible smell, resembling a hog pen.

I must learn to find a way to deal with these changes being wrought in the name of progress. It seemed wonderful to have a number of huge companies moving into the Republic area but with those new jobs come lots of new people hoping to find financial security and they all need a place to call home. That means that construction is booming in Republic and Clever. The tapestry of our countryside is rapidly changing.

And therein lies my conundrum. It’s easy to be kind to everyone and keep a smile on our faces when all is, according to our personal view of the world, going well. In fact, sometimes we can even get a little full of ourselves. But when the tide turns and it seems very little is going our way, it’s also easy to become irritable and out of sorts with those around us.

Be silent before the Lord and wait expectantly for Him; do not be agitated by one who prospers in his way…..Psalm 37:7 HCSB

I can only hope we get a short reprieve from the noise and dirt of construction. This housing project has been coming down the pipe for several years and, according to city officials, it is ready to go. But maybe, just maybe, the developer might find some reason to delay through another haying season and I might get to enjoy that sweet scent, the sounds of country life, and the beauty of fresh bales in the field on a hot summer day again next summer. If so, I will be a grateful and humble child of God. If not, I hope I can be thankful for the years that I’ve been able to enjoy them.  And when those new houses are filled with families, I’ll welcome new neighbors with a smile.

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28    

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Time for a Trim

By Marcy Barthelette

I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape bearing he prunes back so that it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken. John 15:1-3

It was a hot, sultry morning when I decided last week to attack my holly bushes. Our spring weather had kept me indoors too much and my gardening efforts for the season were sorely lacking. I’d been trying to play catch-up and it seemed the harder I worked, the less I accomplished. I really hadn’t intended to deal with the overgrown hollies, but after completing my watering and removing a lot of general garden debris, I just couldn’t look at them any longer. I could make this job a lot easier by just asking Ken to drag out the electric trimmers but he and I have very different philosophies when it comes to pruning. A couple of years ago, I turned him loose on one of the said holly bushes and the end result almost made me cry. Of course, to Ken’s way of thinking, it was very neatly trimmed.

Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined by the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined by me. John 15:4

That poor holly looked really scalped post haircut and it didn’t make much progress toward recovery by the end of the growing season. Last year it spent the entire summer just getting back to being what I consider a healthy-looking plant. I didn’t want to touch it going into winter because those hollies are the only evergreen cover in our yard for birds and other critters. All the other trees are deciduous and the perennials die back to the ground.

Regardless of your pruning perspective, I think we can all agree that God didn’t make perfectly rounded or squared bushes and I really prefer to keep his creations as natural as possible. They shouldn’t overtake the house or even their smaller neighbors so sometimes a little pruning is needed and by doing so selectively, we can retain the natural appearance of the bush or tree. Scrupulously sculptured bushes certainly have their place but the free form is typically my choice in our very casual garden.

By this spring, even by my standards, the hollies were getting a little hairy looking. Even though I was hot and ready for the shower, I decided to tackle the one that had been tortured with the electric trimmer. I have a favorite pruner that has been with me for a very long time. It makes nice clean cuts and even catches a finger now and again, but that’s a story for another time. I’ve always chosen selective pruning accomplished with manual equipment. I began from the bottom, creating airspace below the bush. The plant can now breathe better and those formerly low-hanging branches no longer encourage a collection of insects to reside there. I then worked my way slowly upward and by selecting well-spaced branches to trim, I maintained a nice shape without leaving the bush with the look of a fresh haircut. As the branches fill back in, the changes will draw little attention. It’s as if the bush changes without really changing at all.

I am the vine. You are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. John 15:5a

And of course, when I finished the first bush, I couldn’t leave the other one looking so ragged. I dived right in and shaped that one up too. They’re very different varieties, one has smaller, tighter growth while the other sports much coarser leaves with a more open growth style. Both, however, are approached in the same way and after many careful cuts, the second holly was as handsome as the first.

Interestingly enough, when I read my devotions for the day, I came across a tale of a father who taught his daughter to prune the same way. I was encouraged to know someone else thoughts as I did about taking the time to carefully select the branches needing to be trimmed away but leaving the bush basically intact. Hand pruning, along with hand watering, offers opportunities to see any problems your plants may be experiencing. There’s just no substitute for personal attention when dealing with plants or with people. A well-loved friend is quite similar to a well-tended plant. Both will reward you by developing beautifully.

As to my earlier comment regarding my pruners nipping fingers, the pinky on my left hand has twice been the victim of pruner atrocities. A number of years ago I skimmed the tip from it and just recently I cropped a nick from the side. Both injuries healed well and my pinky is normal except for a couple of slight divots. Oddly enough, I was aggressively trimming spent daylily leaves when both incidents occurred. Perhaps I should apply my selective pruning perspective to all aspects of my gardening clean-up. Speed is not always a good thing!

Of course, the topic of pruning allows me to use my favorite scripture as a reference. This time I chose to use The Message as my source. Having recently re-read it, I felt it expressed my own sentiments very well. And it ends:

You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you. But remember the root command: LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

John 15:16-17

 


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Perfect Timing

By Marcy Barthelette

Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord will stand. Proverbs 19:21 NASB

The rain finally stopped and the temperature was really feeling like summer. Ken came in from working in the yard last Friday and wondered if there might be a campsite open at Mill Creek campground. It’s one of the many Corps of Engineers parks that dot the shores of Beaver, Table Rock, and Bull Shoals Lakes and it’s our favorite. The bad thing about that is that it’s also everyone else’s favorite. I pulled up their website thinking there was no way we would find a site for Saturday night, maybe Sunday, but the weekend? Lo and behold, there were several sites, two we were familiar with and two we had no interest in. I booked one of them and the race was on to get everything ready to go. The camper needed some cleaning, clothing had to be packed. We had accomplished some of the major cleanups prior to an anticipated earlier trip that was canceled. We were really ready to get on the road for our first trip of the season.

Part of my routine is to turn on the refrigerator the night before so that it gets good and cold. Since it would be our first time out, I double-checked again before bedtime and my ice cube trays were freezing nicely, so all seemed well. We got a good night’s sleep, I got up and watered all my plants in preparation for hot, dry days, finished loading non-perishables and when I once again checked the frig, it was not cooling. I passed my wonderful discovery on to Ken and he set about reading the operator’s manual, searching on YouTube, and checking electrical connections. In the end, we set it to battery operation and, after a time, ice began to skim over once again. I filled the now cooling frig, grabbed a quick shower and we were on the road.

An hour and a half later, we backed into our site, our wonderful waterfront site which was in full sun on a 90º day. It was then that we realized our frig was, in fact, not cooling and our AC couldn’t drop the inside temp below 88º because of the extreme sunlight. We really weren’t sure what to do, but we decided to take a walk and just enjoy the beauty all around us. At least half of the campsites in the park were still closed because of floodwater from all our spring rain. Of the sixty-seven sites, forty-seven are on a peninsula, putting them at prime risk. Some were still underwater and others were inaccessible because the roadway was covered.

As we walked, we noticed that a site we had seen and liked last year was empty and the camper pad was surrounded by lovely shade trees. We headed back and Ken stopped by the gatehouse to find out the story on the empty site. As it turned out, the people who had reserved it had confused their arrival date and they were going to transfer to a different site the second day anyway, so we were able to get that site for our two-day stay. We packed everything back into the camper and moved to the new site still wondering what that refrigerator was going to do.

After we were settled, Ken addressed the situation again and learned that to reset the frig, it is necessary to turn the breaker off and back on again so he did. We enjoyed a nice dinner that I had prepared in advance and then went for a walk to check out the flood damage. There was an amazing breeze that kept us cool even though the thermometer said it was hot and we were treated to an extraordinary sunset. When we went in for the evening, we found ice cubes in the freezer and everything seemed well chilled throughout the frig. I went to bed with a prayer of gratitude for a frig that was working, safety while traveling, and a huge thank you for all the beauty around us. The entire remainder of our spontaneous trip was just lovely. We visited with some really nice folks and hated to leave when the time came. But all earthly things do have an end.

I believe God was in charge of that trip from the moment Ken was inspired to ask me to check on sites. He kept giving us hope, with each new thing we tried, that the frig would work. He gave us campground volunteers who found a way to offer a site we hadn’t even known was available and provided the shade we needed to keep everything cool. He treated us to that incredible sunset and we even enjoyed a beautiful campfire, from a distance. It was still a little too warm to sit near. The hot dogs we roasted were delicious and our “ice cold” watermelon surely hit the spot. What more could a person ask? What began with questions and concerns turned out to be a wonderful trip and all we needed to do was turn over control to God for it to happen. Our plans may seem great at the time but His plan is always the best. We just have to get out of the way and let Him lead us.

Lord, forgive me. My agenda is earthly, but yours is eternal.

Buck Storm, Daily Guideposts 2022


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Nourish Your Roots

By: Marcy Barthelette

So then, just as you received Jesus Christ as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught… Colossians 2:6-7

Look out world, I’m in re-arranging mode! No, it’s not my furniture this time. It’s my perennial beds that need an overhaul. My garden phlox have been struggling because the daylilies and Asiatic lilies are definitely hogging garden space. The phlox like good air circulation and that just wasn’t happening. Thinning out the Asiatic lilies has been my first course of action as their blooms are beginning to wane. Removing about half of each cluster has given me the opportunity to share some bulbs with a young neighbor who is just getting her beds started and a good friend who shares with me whenever she has extra plants. When my Stella D’ Oro daylilies finish their first bloom, I’ll dig a couple of those as well. Maybe I’ll share or maybe I’ll just relocate them. They’ll make an encore appearance in the fall after I find a comfy new home for them. And therein lies the beauty of perennials. If they’re not doing well, or they’re too crowded, or you just don’t like the way they’re arranged, you can dig them up and settle them into a more appealing location. Most of them aren’t very fussy and they often appear happier in new surroundings. Maybe they tire of the same old view as much as I do.

There are some important things to do when relocating perennials or starting from scratch with a new bed. When starting fresh go online or talk to a gardener you trust and learn about plants you might want to try. A refresher course never hurts even if you’re experienced. What kind of soil does a specific perennial favor, does it prefer lots of sun or perhaps need shade during the heat of a summer day? Can it handle being in constantly moist surroundings or does it not like having wet feet? Does it prefer acidic or alkaline soil? What is its optimal height?

After learning all you can, it’s important to have a home prepared for your plants, especially if you’re digging and moving from one location to another, but even when buying new ones, a little advance planning makes the job progress more smoothly. Most soils in the Ozarks will need some amendments. After all, we do have a lot of rock around here. So grab your heavy-duty Ozark tools and grub out the big ones. A little gravel won’t hurt but roots have a hard time penetrating large stones. Look on the bright side, the stones may come in handy for a border around your bed. Now follow the instructions from your research regarding soil additives and you’re ready to shop.

When buying plants, it’s best to look for healthy green leaves and new buds. Some gardeners enjoy the challenge of bringing ailing plants back to life and saving a few pennies at the same time. I’m one of those who will take a chance on the castoffs at our local gardening centers but I don’t recommend that for beginners because there may be no real reward until the following year. But here’s the thing, the real strength of a perennial is in its roots. Nurseries ship bare-root dry plants at appropriate planting times and with proper care in planting and tending, they flourish, just maybe not the first year. So, it stands to reason that a nursery plant that has bloomed and wilted probably still has lots of life left in its roots if cared for properly and given lots of patience. Its roots will continue to anchor it to life-sustaining nutrients.

And, of course, in my world, there’s always a God analogy. In order to grow and flourish, we humans also need good strong roots. They sustain us in the form of family, friends, and particularly faith. When they’re nourished with plenty of “sonlight” (no, that’s not a misprint), living water (from the one who gave all for us), a healthy dose of the Holy Spirit (our constant companion), an intimate relationship with God the Father (who’s only a prayer away) and plenty of love and encouragement, not to mention patience, those roots will burrow deep, spread widely, and surround the lives of everyone you meet. They’ll be just like a warm hug.

As for those perennials, the best advice I have is to become a friend to the neighbors with the prettiest yard, listen to what they have to say, and respect their love of nature. Show them lots of love along the way. Maybe you’ll even find an opportunity to introduce them to Jesus or maybe they’ll already know Him and you’ll have lots in common. When they need to divide perennials, you’ll likely be a benefactor. And you’ll likely get a lot more from the relationship than pretty blooms. Your roots will become stronger too and you’ll be anchored right where you need to be …. in the loving arms of the Father.

Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. Ephesians 3:17


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