A GARDEN, A LIFE

“A garden is only yours as long as you seed, weed, cultivate, water and prune. A garden needs lots of tender loving care. It’s lots of work, softening the soil with hoeing and fertilizing, planting and watering… Protect the seeds from vermin. Prune when things grow too fast and wild… the whole point, don’t you see? Bearing fruit and carrying the sweet aroma.” –Francine Rivers, “Leota’s Garden”

On sunny spring days, garden stores are overflowing with ladies poking around among the bedding plants and planning their gardens. I’m not much of a gardener, but I’m right there with those ladies buying ferns and geraniums and potting soil, and I do need some zinnia seeds too.

I’m always inspired by other people’s pretty flower gardens.

I’m thinking of a front yard in one of the older neighborhoods, where a profusion of color peeps out through a white picket fence. The unique personality of the garden derives from the owner’s careful arrangement of healthy plants intermingled with quaint one-of-a-kind objects. I don’t think she ever planned the décor, but it developed as she collected things that called to her–a sale on bedding plants at a garden store, a display of hand-crafted birdhouses at a flea market, a collection of hand-painted feeders. The thing that holds it all together is the work the gardener continually puts into her space—planting, watering, feeding, weeding, and protecting her plants from vermin.

A life can be like a garden.

Each life is different. Some are well-tended and skillfully grown. Some are mediocre and plain, and others are scraggly and neglected. Some thrive and grow and bear good fruit.

Proverbs says,

“He who cultivates his garden will have plenty of bread.” I think God is saying: “I planted you at a particular spot. Look around; what do you see? There’s raw material waiting for your cultivation. If you do your work, you’ll have everything you need. You’ll begin to bear fruit right there in your particular space, and you’ll have more than you need—you’ll have enough to share with a hungry world.”

The Amplified Bible warns,

“But he who follows worthless people and pursuits will have poverty enough” (Proverbs 28:19). Our eyes wander to the neighbor’s garden. We watch others and think we’re supposed to be like them and have what they have. While we stand there wishing for someone else’s flowers and fruit, our work stops and our own plot becomes over-grown with weeds.

In the Message Bible, Galatians 6 instructs:

“Live creatively… Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given and sink yourself into that. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.”

It’s hard work making the most of your life. It’s not always fun when you’re digging. You pray for sun and sometimes it wilts your plants. You wake up one morning and something invisible seems to have invaded and drained the life out of your petunias. That’s when you look over the fence at what the neighbors have and wonder what’s wrong with you. It hurts when God prunes away what you’ve worked so hard for.

Nevertheless, one morning there’s a tiny green sprout peeping out of the soil and you know that God is still in control of growing things in your garden. So just keep watering and weeding and trusting Him. Something will grow and bloom and bear good fruit.

Robert Louis Stevenson said:

“To be what we are and to become what we are capable of becoming is the only end of life.”

 by Virginia Dawkins
Image courtesy of worradmu at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Best of Times; the Worst of Times

From our high school English classes we remember:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…”  

These words, written in 1859, describing Charles Dickens’ Victorian England could well describe modern-day America.

Charles Dickens, considered by many to be the grand master of Victorian English literature, walked the streets of London at night observing and listening and gathering scenes for his novels. His stories contained themes of social injustice and moral decline. He was an advocate for the poor and oppressed because he himself had experienced poverty and oppression.

When his father was sent to debtors’ prison,

young Charles was forced to work ten hours a day in a factory. Remembering this period of his life, he wrote: “I had the sense of being utterly neglected and hopeless. No counsel, no encouragement, no consolation, no support from anyone that I can call to mind, so help me God.” This experience was perhaps the motivation for a prevailing theme of child abuse in Dickens’ novels.

The Victorian England of Dickens’ day had little sympathy for its needy children.

It was a society where wide spread ignorance and passive indifference flourished. The community’s actions were motivated by the belief that the child of a pauper was a thing to be used in the working economy. If the little chimney sweeper was starved properly, he would be small enough to fit into a chimney. In “Oliver Twist” Dickens describes the attitude of the day through the voice of a wise trader who expresses his requirements for a useful child worker: “I want a boy and he musn’t be a big un. If I’d got that young boy of Ned, the chimbley-sweeper. He kept him small on purpose, and let him out by the job.”

Another gentleman remarks, “Young boys have been smothered in chimneys before now. Boys is very obstinint, and lazy, and there’s nothing like a good hot blaze to make um come down with a run.”

In his introduction to “Great Expectations,” John Irving wrote:

“The intention of a novel by Charles Dickens is to move you emotionally, not intellectually; and it is by emotional means that Dickens intends to influence you socially… You cannot encounter the prisons in Dickens’ novels and ever again feel completely self-righteous about prisoners being where they belong.”

The influence of Dickens’ faith on his work is evident in his writings and there are numerous religious images and biblical references. Toward the end of his life he said,

“I have always striven in my writings to express veneration for the life and lessons of our Savior—because I feel it.”

In “Dombey and Son,

”Dickens describes a scene after the shock of a great earthquake: “Houses were knocked down, streets were broken through and stopped… Everywhere were bridges that led nowhere… There were a hundred thousand shapes and substances of incompleteness..” In these words, we see an image of chaos without even a hint of order.

From “A Charles Dickens Devotional,” I take these words:

“From the foundation of time, we find God creating order from chaos. Look at the world today, and, like Dickens, you might see chaos. But keep in mind that Our Heavenly Father specializes in chaotic situations. He can bring harmony where disorder reigns. He always has a plan, and He works that plan into being.”  

 

By: Virginia Dawkins

Blessings

“If you really think about it,” wrote Mark Batterson, “it’s the bad days that help us appreciate the good days. Without them, we’d have no comparison point.”

In Mark Batterson’s book, If, he urges us to count our blessings and to remind everyone else how blessed we all are! He suggests that we consider these things:

  • If you woke this morning with more health than illness—you are more blessed than the million who will not survive this week.
  • If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation—you are better off than five hundred million people in the world.
  • If you can attend a church meeting, or not attend one, without fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death—you are more blessed than three billion people in the world.
  • If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep—you are richer than 75 percent of the world’s wealthy.

If you can read a book, you are more blessed than over two billion people in the world who cannot read at all.

In her book, Choosing Gratitude, Nancy DeMoss described a scene taking place in India: A three-year-old boy is leaning against the cot of his dying mother. The boy’s eyes are hollow, his stomach is distended, and his face is fly-infested. An American pastor observing the child and his mother made this statement: “Standing there in that slum, I felt all complaints I had ever spoken as if they were a weight on my shoulders.”

After returning to America, the pastor asked a church leader from India who had come to the states to study, “What do you think of Americans?” The man from India answered, “You have no idea how much you have, and yet you always complain.”

In our journaling class at church, we include in our journals a prayer list, a section in which we write letters to God, and pages for recording scriptures. Sometimes our “God letters” become a little whiney and self-centered as we describe our problems. Lest discouragement creep in, we turn to our Thanksgiving page, where we have listed daily blessings as well as great big miracles which God has performed in our behalf. When we reread each blessing and give thanks once more, our faith becomes brighter and our problems grow dimmer.

When Jesus told the disciples to provide food for five thousand hungry people, the situation looked hopeless; all they found was a little boy’s small lunch. Jesus took it, looked to heaven and gave thanks. His thanksgiving brought a miracle blessing that day—all the people were fed, and there was food left over.

When we take inventory of what we already have and give thanks for it, we realize that we are very rich indeed.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” –Melody Beattie

As Americans, we are very rich indeed! Let us give thanks for what we have and cry out to our Creator for His mercy and grace to reign over our nation.

By Virginia Dawkins

 

For  Mark Batterson’s book, If 

For Nancy DeMoss’s book, Choosing Gratitude

Small Town Memories

One morning, as I was returning home after taking my sons to school,

I happened to notice a herd of cows standing in the field by the road.  Seeing the early morning sun glinting off of their backs was one of those moments that make you stop and think about the beauty of simple things.  As I drove along, I suddenly thought of my grandmother.  She and my grandfather owned a dry good’s and grocery store in a small southeast Mississippi town.  In what little spare time she had, MeMe liked to paint.  I remembered how one day she challenged me to look and really see how many different shades of green I could find in the early Mississippi spring.  There was the bright lime green of the new leaves and shoots, all the way to the dark, forest green of the ever-present kudzu and tall pine trees.

This memory led me back to remembering the crisp fall afternoons of my childhood.

On Thursday afternoons all the stores in town closed at noon. On those clear, cool afternoons my grandmother liked to work in her yard and I would often “help” her.  I mostly loved playing in the big yellow, orange, green and brown magnolia leaves as she raked.  For me, fall always meant that the excitement of  the annual county fair and Halloween were just around the corner.

I have so many happy memories of growing up in that small town…

memories of loving grandparents that I saw everyday, parents who were always there, and a familiar town where we were free to roam.  There was always something to do, from getting a coke float at Bristow’s Drugstore soda fountain, to going down to the feed store right before Easter to look at the “Easter biddies”.  They were dyed in lovely pastel colors and although I wouldn’t condone it today, they were magical to me as a child.  Somehow, we always managed to come home with a couple in a little box with air holes punched in it, much to my mother’s dismay.

It was a childhood I wish I could give my own children.

It was Halloween Carnivals, Christmas parades, and basketball games in an old sweaty gym where the whole town turned out to watch their team.  There were summer evenings where the adults fried fish and French fries and put them in big brown paper bags, while we ran around in the dark yard playing chase and freeze tag.  Summer meant there were long summer days spent reading books from the bookmobile, swimming (which was a special treat) or exploring the “woods” behind our house on my pony.   Best of all was our annual trip to the gulf.  We always stayed on Okaloosa Island and always at the Blue Horizon Motel.  Vacation seemed to begin when we reached the Mobile Causeway and stopped at Palmer’s or The Seahorse restaurant for lunch.  I can remember how excited I would get when we got to Pensacola and I caught my first glimpse of the gulf.  Summer seemed to last forever.

My children can’t imagine how we survived

without video games, Nickelodeon, Lego’s and other facets of their 90’s childhood, but I know that we didn’t miss out on a thing in those simple, wonderful days of MY childhood.

 

Kay Kelly grew up in State Line and Waynesboro and graduated from the University of South Alabama with a degree in Educational Media. She recently retired from the Mobile Public Library. She lives in Mobile with her husband and one very neurotic rescue dog.

Bulldog Gospel

 

 

In Mississippi SEC affiliations are handed out as birthrights. Many a newborn Mississippian has made a trip home from the hospital already clad in colors passed down from generation to generation; and while those colors might include a random crimson/white or orange/blue combo, most of us know that the true choice is red and blue or maroon and white. ‘To be or not to be”…. a Rebel or a Bulldog… “that is the question.”

Although born in the heart of MS, I seem to have been an anomaly when it came to this rite of passage. My dad’s being more interested in watching boxing and documentaries than watching college football left me exempt. Or did it? Although I had no familial influence in this area, the mascot of the elementary and junior high schools I attended was a bulldog, and the colors were maroon and white. Sound familiar? Yep, my earliest attachment was to the same colors and mascot as dear ole Mississippi State University. Because our school only went through ninth grade; however, as an impressionable teenager, I transferred to a school where the colors were red and blue. Yep, just like Ole Miss. Although we didn’t share the same mascot, the message was obviously received subliminally by my classmates who, upon graduation, marched like lemmings twenty miles up the road to Ole Miss.  I, however, having been trained the right way as a child, broke free from the oppressive red and blue chokehold and made the two and a half hour trek to become an MSU Bulldog. bulldog

Eventually, I married into a misguided Ole Miss family. I found it my Christian duty to do my best and love them as they were. Just as Jesus did, I have dined with the lost. I have donned red and blue and have even forced myself to tailgate in the Grove, but that is where I draw the line. The words Hotty Toddy will never escape these lips, and the words Ole Miss will never adorn my clothing. Because, in the end, the scripture rings as true as a cowbell… “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is older, he will not turn from it. Proverbs 22:6. Can I get a “Hail State?” Amen.

 

By Mary Wiygul