Friday, June 26, 2015

Watching Your Garden Grow

I grew up with gardens.  We had a kitchen garden that was a stone's throw from the back steps and a larger garden through the woods, past the barn and meadow.  The larger garden was mostly corn, field peas and rows of potatoes, green beans and butter beans.  Daddy usually planted tomatoes,cucumbers,squash, beets, okra, cabbage, sweet potatoes, onions and peppers in the kitchen garden.  Daddy went to his factory job from 7 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon.  When he came home he ate supper and went out to do his second job.  His second job kept us from starving.  He grew the vast majority of what we ate.  Mama preserved the bounty by canning, freezing, pickling and drying. Supper usually consisted of five to six vegetables and a small portion of meat.  I had to be an adult to  grasp the bounty of that table.  Throughout the summer we ate corn picked fresh from the field.  It was shucked, silked and dropped into boiling water, slathered with butter and sprinkled heavily with salt.  Cooked  cabbage, sliced tomatoes, cucumbers and onions marinated in vinegar and water,  little new potatoes cooked on top of just picked green beans, fried okra and squash casserole were common items on our summer table.  For me, those foods beat anything that I have tasted in any nicer restaurant.
The garden plots have all been overtaken by brambles and trees and the land sits fallow.  But the gardening seeds still grow in my heart.  I can't get away from the idea that it is good and right to grow at least a portion of the food that I eat.  When I drive through a subdivision, I think what a waste it is to put in all of the ornamental blooming trees that don't bear fruit.  I love my flowers, but the land was given to us to yield a harvest. 
This year I have tomatoes, eggplant, yellow squash, pumpkin, spaghetti squash, patty pan squash, tomatillos, okra, green beans, speckled butter beans, and beets.  I hope to add more in a second garden. 
 It is a wonderful system.  The rain comes from the clouds, the sun shines energy into the plants, the soil is renewed through microbes and worms.  We cultivate, plant and  water as well if there isn't sufficient rain.  There has to be a constant tending of the garden plot where the gardner looks at the health of the plant, guards against marauding pests or overrunning  weeds. 
There are so many gardening analogies.  Amazing how God has built wisdom right into Creation.  But sometimes we have to be still and quiet inside to understand the message.  Our lives are a lot like a garden.  Sometimes we have to "break up the fallow ground..."  when our hearts have  grown dull to spiritual truth.  We let weeds of pride and being self-centered choke out any love and compassion.  Marauding hordes take us down while we are being amused to spiritual death. as we fill our minds with vain and worthless trash.  Sometimes we are just lazy and don't watch our "hearts with diligence" and before you know it we have rotten fruit in our lives.  
 Even Jesus talked about the importance of good soil and how the good soil would produce a good crop. 

 What do you want from your life? What kind of crop are you hoping to produce?  In all honesty, your life and mine are zooming past at an unheralded rate.  We may end up with a great job, or an exciting life.  But what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?  We are more than just the things we own and the places we go on vacation.  We have an eternal soul.  Its' value is so costly that Jesus, God's Son came to earth to be one of us.  He paid the redemption price for our souls with His own blood.

Give care to your life.  Take time to ponder who you really are and why you do the things you do.  Where are you really headed? What is really truth?  The gardening season quickly passes and every single day a good gardener is attending to something in the garden.  How much more we should be attending to the garden that is our lives.  

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Mama Ain't Got No Shame

Today I was bee bopping down the interstate when I saw a big utility sign by the road.  It read, "Trash Pickup SC Correctional Department"!  That made my mind spin.  Grown men and women out on the side of the road picking up trash because they need to be corrected. .

I grew up with my own Department of Corrections.  Her name was Louise and she was my mama.  Mama had a hairbrush.  The bristles had long lost their power to be of any use.  She carried it anyway.  It was light brown with flecks of black paint.  If you happened to sass Mama or be disobedient, the brush was taken out of her purse and the back side of it was put into action on your back side. She was also known to swing it from the front seat of the car even though she never made contact with anyone in the backseat. I do not want to hear how that teaches a child to be violent.  I am one of four girls and none of us have grown up to  be violent.  Most of my generation grew up the same way and we didn't have any school shootings.  We were never bruised or abused, but we did learn to have respect for authority and how to exercise self control.  We knew how to be quiet in church and we knew how to behave in school. We were taught to be respectful to all adults and no one ever pitched a fit in a store or anywhere in public.

Were we perfect?  Absolutely not, we were sinners that needed more than just a hairbrush to fix our broken sinful hearts.  But the hairbrush set the stage  to help us understand that we did not measure up and that we would have to change our actions and attitudes. That breaks some of your hearts to read such a statement, but is so true.  We lie to children and tell them that they are perfect just the way they are, but in reality they are little sinners who need to be taught, trained and disciplined.  Our kids grow up so confused and sometimes angry when the rest of the world doesn't tell them that they are special and perfect.  The disappointment is just too much.  We have a staggering suicide rate among teens. Even though Mama and Daddy never told us we were perfect with their words or their actions, they told us we were loved unconditionally in our imperfections, and through their discipline we knew that there were higher goals that we could attain and the hairbrush was available to help us on our way.

 Proverbs says it is the job of the parents to train up a child.  Parents have bought into the idea that every socially inappropriate act is just a developmental stage.   The scripture doesn't call it a developmental stage.  It calls it foolishness.  "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child..." The rest of the verse says that the rod of correction will drive it far away.  Whether it is talking about corporeal punishment or a figurative rod, that is up to you to decide.  The idea is that it is parents' job to correct the behavior.  We somehow think that these behaviors will magically solve themselves.     If you genuinely love your child then you will correct behavior.  I am not suggesting any methods of disciplining just lovingly telling you that if you love your child then you will be diligent to discipline  in an appropriate fashion for the age of your child.

To discipline does not always carry the idea of punishment.  It can be the act of disciplining or the act of training.  I personally believe that the younger one starts, the better.  A young child can be gently disciplined and taught to listen to mom and dad and any other rightful authority.  I have no confidence in the kind of parenting which decides to lay down the law, but waits until the child is in their teens.

Proverbs also says that "a child left to himself is a shame to his mother".   My mama didn't have any shame.  I tell you the truth if I or one of my sisters were having to be corrected by the state by having to pick up trash, we would be looking over our shoulder wondering if Mama somehow from heaven would still get us with that hairbrush.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Preaching Hell

Lying in our backyard tent last evening as the temperature became bearable, I listened to the muffled sound of night and inhaled the aroma of the earthy outdoors.  My mind raced backward in time to the days that we would attend camp meeting.  I grew up being part of  a country Baptist church that was part of a local association.  Many years back the association purchased a piece of property and built an open air shelter.  A stage, choir loft, and wooden benches turned it into a place for outdoor meetings.  Heavy canvas curtains stayed rolled up unless it happened to rain.  The floor was covered with a thick layer of sawdust and wood chips.  Yellow bug lights gave  an unworldly glare to the whole arena.

Every year , the last week of August and first week of September, services were held at 7:30 during the week nights and Saturdays and  at 3:00 on Sunday afternoons.  We went as a family almost every single time for the 14 day marathon including attending our own church services on Sunday morning.  The association of churches invited a speaker for each week.  The churches combined their musical talents and provided special music each night.  It was hot, almost hot as Hades sitting in the open arbor until the sun slid beneath the horizon, then a breeze and almost a chill would permeate the air.

The cars pulled  to the lightly wooden area and bumped their way over roots to park in some semblance of an order.  A group of men met prior to the service to pray by a huge boulder that stood on the property.  There was an outdoor well house with two drinking fountain heads rimmed by little
metal cups..  I loved being able to get up during the service just so I could go to drink  that ground cold well water.  A cinder block building stood to the side of the back driveway and housed facilities for the men and women.  The bathrooms were austere and often had granddaddy longlegs climbing around the inside of the sink or maybe skittering across the floor in front of you.  It was a different time and we were allowed even as little children to go to the bathroom winding our way in the dark through the parked cars to that cinder block building on the fringe.  I was never afraid that anyone would hurt me, or kidnap me.  That would have been the most ridiculous thought.

I was more afraid of the preaching that we heard from the pulpit.  It was often hell and damnation preaching.  The preachers raised their voices and they preached hell hot.  They made it clear that if we remained living in our sinful ways that God would judge.  Our only hope was repentance and faith in Jesus.  We don't do that these days.  We talk about God's love and His acceptance.  We talk about not judging people and how everyone is on a spiritual journey.

I can tell you that God by definition is Love.  He showed His love by sending His Son to die in our place for our sins.  If any of us were totally  apart from the work of God's grace we would be unrecognizable in our evil  even to ourselves.  The Spirit of God restrains even now.  All the evil that we would do as people, we don't accomplish because God simply will not allow it.

But there is another part of God's character.  It is the part where He will judge and He will do so justly, but He has provided a way for us not to be judged.  It is through repentance, turning from our sin and then turning to Jesus Christ by faith.  Hope of redemption is placed squarely on the work of Jesus, not my own goodness or attempts at being righteous.  This work of redemption changes the old spiritually dead person, into a spiritually alive person who is able now to genuinely make a choice to do right.

We live in a world where very few people have a righteous fear of God and His judgment.  We like the idea that God, whoever He is, is just there to watch my back and give me parking spaces when I need it.  He has specifically named for us things that are off limits to us.  Things that He says are against His perfect plan and will destroy us and others in the process. He calls them sin and He says that if we do these things then He will judge us.  Even the Jesus of the New Testament says to not fear man but to fear God who can cast one into Hell.

There were still people in open rebellion to God in the community I lived in,  but they knew they were in the wrong.  Overall there was still a relevant fear of God.  .  The church doors remained unlocked all week long.  It was never vandalized and things were never stolen.  It was a holy place and people feared God.  Never would someone go into a church and shoot the congregants.  Churches were sanctuaries and a sanctuary was just that.  It was a safe place.

We stopped fearing God.  We stopped fearing Him by neglecting His word.  We stopped fearing Him by allowing evil into our homes.  We adopted new ways of doing things and new standards.  First the streets became unsafe for women and children. then our own neighborhoods and homes became unsafe.  We have let evil run rampant.  We do not fear God.  We do not call evil by its name.  We accommodate and rationalize.  God will judge us as individuals and as a nation. God is patient, very patient, but He will judge.  Hell is still hot.  It isn't dependent on whether we believe it or not.  He has declared it in His Word.  Either God will judge each of  us personally  or  we accept how God the Father has judged Jesus as our substitute on the cross.

I never liked the hell and damnation preaching, but I could walk in the dark to the bathroom by myself as a little child and I was perfectly safe.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Granny Knew Her Tomatoes

Granny was my great grandmother.  She was a small lady with long white hair that she kept braided and wrapped in a tight bun at the nape of her neck.  When I was a small child she was already in her late 80's.  Granny lived in a 5 room house less than a mile from the Dunn's Mountain Baptist Church.  If you peered up the road, the church stood in the bend of the road with the steeple standing like a sentinel on duty.  The old white wooden sanctuary was where my parents married and where my mother attended church as a child.

In Granny's house there were 5 rooms with one bathroom.  There was a columned front porch with the ceiling painted blue and if I remember correctly the floor painted gray.  The back porch was enclosed and a metal table stood by the screened back door.  A tall spigot by the table was used to wash her extraordinarily perfect and large red tomatoes that she grew in straight rows of vegetables unfettered by weeds of any sort.  She used a white ceramic covered metal bowl to wash the tomatoes.  The water was flung out the back door.  The tomatoes then rested in perfect rows on that white metal table.  She grew the kind of tomato that was deep red and so big that one slice would fit nicely between two slices of white bread smeared with mayonnaise making an amazing and delectable tomato sandwich. There were shelves at the end of the porch enclosed by gingham curtains.  Behind those shelves were perfect jars of canned vegetables waiting to be used as the growing season passed.  She always had a 6 pack of the small bottles of Tab soda under that table.
Mama at Granny's house

Her house was spotless, totally spotless!!!!!  Nothing was ever amiss in her house and the only clutter was the 472 rolls of Scott individual rolls of toilet paper that she kept stacked on her wardrobe in her bedroom.  Even the toilet paper was neatly stacked and in rows.

One of her sons lived with her.  They called him Fat, but his real name was Fletcher.  He was in his late 60's and skinny as a rail.  He had been a big man and cook in the army until he had a heart attack.  He never married and he was a cook in diners during his working years.  I was always confused as a child how two people who to me just both looked old could be a mother and a son.

Every year they had a load of big blue and white gravel dumped and spread on their driveway.  . There was one big maple tree that they kept trimmed to perfection that stood by that crunchy gravel driveway.  A white clapboard car shed housed an ancient car with rounded hood and trunk.  It was extremely roomy inside and the trunk was large enough for a small elephant.  One other small white tool building stood beside the car shed.  It had a small square cut out of the bottom for the cats. There were always work cats about their place.  I do not think they were pets, but were expected to work for their keep.

Granny was frugal except in the winter time with the heat.  It was always about 87 degrees in her sitting room.  The heater was in the middle of the room and it was almost unbearable to sit politely while adults droned on and the heat belched out dragon puffs every 3 seconds.  Granny could scrape a mayonnaise jar so clean that you would think washing was unnecessary.  I think she would share one small 6 ounce Tab with Fat.  I doubt they drank one every day.  She had a Hoosier cabinet with the bins for flour and sugar where she would carefully scoop out her cooking ingredients.

She was frugal with her words as well.  The only time she ever really talked to me about anything of importance was when I spent the night with her as a teenager.  By this time Granny was in her 90's. Fat had to stay in the VA hospital, so the great grand daughters were sent over to baby sit Granny at night.

When night fell and we were in the bed Granny began talking.  She told me how her mama died when she was a baby and her daddy remarried but she lived with her Aunt Jane instead of with the new step mother.  She told me how the cleaning woman took her wedding rings off the mantle and how she never saw them again.  She told me about games that she played as a child.  She talked and talked about all of those things deep inside of her.

She lived a well ordered life and she loved her family.  She was a hard working woman who seemed to have learned a great deal of self control and home management.  Granny is still teaching me lessons on how to be a good homemaker even though she passed away 40 years ago.
The night time talks let me see that she was the same as me, only that she had been born 80 years before me.  She had a lifetime  experience of joys, pains, sorrows, births, and deaths that had shaped her character.  She never really talked with me about God.  I don't really know what she truly believed.  I know she attended the little church that you could see from her door step.  I assume that she had truly embraced the gospel. Lots of people then were reticent to speak of their personal faith.  For them, maybe it was too sacred to be flippant about.

I wish I truly knew what her thoughts were about Jesus.  I know her life spoke of someone with a great deal of character.  I want both my life, my words and my character to all play the same tune.  I want the tune to say, "Oh, How I Love Jesus,  Oh, I How I Love Jesus, Oh I How I Love Jesus because He first loved me...."

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

Granny Lefler at one of her birthday parties.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Simple Solutions to Complex Problems

Summer time is upon us and today I am thankful for the AC in our house especially since I spent a couple of hours in the heat this afternoon cutting grass. I like cutting grass as it gives me some immediate results without having to spend much time thinking about what I am doing.  I don't have the brain power to think in the heat much beyond giving myself pep talks to continue persevering.

But my mind did wander back to my growing up years when I used to push our old  mower to knock down the mixed lot of weeds and grass in our yard.  Believe this if you will but we often fought over the opportunity to cut grass.  No, we did not get paid!  Our lives were pretty simple and we liked the job.  We learned to work early not because our parents thought they were building our character, but because it was common sense.  Everyone worked because everyone had to eat.  I have only sisters, so work was very equal opportunity.  We lifted bags of fertilizer, drove the tractor, washed dishes, hung out clothes, picked up potatoes, used the double handed saw to cut logs, swept the floor,  picked beans, potatoes, and squash, and gathered eggs.  Whatever needed to be done on a small homestead, we did.  We never received an allowance.  I don't think I knew that was even an option.

I learned to work and I discovered that storehouse of endurance that is placed in the human spirit. I learned that work was enjoyable.  I learned that I was quite capable of a variety of skill sets.  Even as a woman in my 50's, I will still attack jobs that are somewhat beyond me. I may not always be successful but most of the time I am successful  simply because I am willing to try. I am thankful that my parents didn't shield me from unpleasant work tasks.  They gave me abilities that have benefited me almost every single day of my life.

Somewhere along the line we stopped expecting people to genuinely work.  Many people have employment, but they often spend their energies trying to dodge work.  Laziness is a disease that will destroy the body and the mind.  A working person engaged in meaningful tasks can often work themselves out of boredom or a funk.  Finishing a task brings a genuine sense of accomplishment and even a renewed vision.

We are a culture engaged in all kinds of destructive behaviors. By making it so easy to receive without engaging in work, we have stolen the joys and benefits of work.  A  person who is trying to keep a roof over their heads and food in their belly doesn't have time to roam the streets or spend numerous days in protest movements.  In many ways, handouts put people in a form of enslavement. Those dependent on government subsistence because of laziness miss the opportunity to do better for themselves and their children. By not engaging in work on a regular basis, they stop learning and growing as a person. Laziness casts into a deep sleep...The Pulpit Commentary says laziness, "enfeebles the mind, corrupts the higher faculties, converts a rational being into a witless animal."

Work will elevate folks out of poverty.  Work will relieve stress, clear the mind, make even mundane food delicious and the night's sleep sweet.  Physical work often helps  to solve unrelated personal dilemmas unrelated to the task.  We were created to work.  We are commanded to work and to do so with vigor.

and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own
business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, ...

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,

“Work is a blessing. God has so arranged the world that work is necessary, and He gives us hands and strength to do it. The enjoyment of leisure would be nothing if we had only leisure. It is the joy of work well done that enables us to enjoy rest, just as it is the experiences of hunger and thirst that make food and drink such pleasures.” 
― Elisabeth Elliot, Discipline: The Glad Surrender


Thursday, June 11, 2015

Fathers and Cardinals

Outside of my front door in the crape myrtle tree is a cardinal's nest.  I had noticed the cardinals and had heard the characteristic sounds of baby birds chirping.  Yesterday, Daddy Cardinal was staying super close to the nest and I tried to snag a couple of pictures of him as he flew in and around the other trees.  He must be a young cardinal as his crest looks more like mohawk or maybe fatherhood has him frazzled.  Today when I pulled in the drive, I noticed Mama Cardinal was also on duty.  I started taking pictures of both the mom and dad as I sat in the car.  Ordinarily, getting out of the car and slamming the door would have spooked any bird away.  So why did they continue flying in and around the nest?  I examined the tree as best I could and discovered two little ones on the branches outside the nest.  They obviously were there to protect their young.  It was a beautiful picture of the parents doing what they were ordained to do.  They protect their young  because God has put that within them.  We call it instinct!

There is another kind of normal instinct that seems to be missing though from our culture.  We have human parents who seem to not have the capability to care for their own.  The scripture describes it, " faithless to their promises, without natural affection, without human pity." Humans should possess a natural affection for their own.

We are not going to solve all of the racial tensions. economic struggles, moral dilemmas, political failures, or divorce rates until we figure out some basics.  We have to protect and provide for our young even at the risk of our own lives.

I can tell you what is wrong with both the black and white communities.  Many of our fathers do not have a backbone.   It is the kind of backbone where you marry and stay with your wife and then go to work to provide for your family. It is the kind of backbone where you look at bad influences in your kids lives and say "No, not in my house and not in my lifetime!"  It is the kind of backbone where you don't make your own sexual desires or other pleasures  the ruling force of your life.  It is the kind of backbone where you do all you can to pour into the lives of "your children" to help them be a success.  It doesn't end when they are eighteen.  It lasts for the rest of your natural life. I am so thankful for the many fathers who have stayed true to their God given responsibilities and who do have a backbone.  They are the very ones that are holding down the fort in our culture.

Dad has been maligned and made fun of in our culture through much of the entertainment industry. The feminist have tried to feminize the male and make us all unisex.  Dad's authority has been thrown to the floor and trampled on by everyone.  I do understand why many men are pretty confused and have gone AWOL but opposition to the call of fatherhood  does not abdicate anyone of God given responsibility.

We need true godly fathers who serve from a heart filled with the kind of love that protects, provides and trains. We do not need caricatures of a surly men lording over those in their charge.  Our civilization is collapsing before us.  If you are a man, then please for the sake of your children, fight the fight that is worth winning.

He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so I will not come and smite the land with a curse.