Just an old garden rake

I was mowing our lawns today, and because the catcher doesn’t work very well on our lawn mower, was using an old bamboo leaf rake inherited from my grandfather to gather up the grass clippings. The irony is that this old rake, with many tines broken off, is still more effective than a newer metal one that I have in the shed. The thing is probably older than I am, yet still it gets the job done.

But effectiveness is only part of the reason I like using the old rake. I don’t recall actually seeing my grandfather use that particular tool, but when I use it I’m reminded of him. He could be a cantankerous old sod, but it is still good to remember him. He certainly took care of his tools and implements better than I do, his workshop was always orderly and he took great pains to mend things and keep them in good order. To the extent that his wheelbarrow had an improvised tyre made from an old bicycle tyre wrapped around the wheel several times and held in place with bits of wire.

Using his old rake also got me thinking of their house, with it’s funny outside toilet that had a golf ball on a chain to flush it with. There was always a box of neatly split kindling by the back door, and the old wooden building blocks that my father had as a child. The way Nana and Granddad always used cloth napkins and had the table properly set for every meal. Sunday roast dinners that my grandmother managed to cook in a tiny little kitchen which became swelteringly hot when the oven was on.

Which got me thinking of the tragedy of my grandmother ending her days in the confusion of Alzheimer’s disease, forgetting and forgotten. I now wish I had put more effort into visiting her in the nursing home during her final few years. It was hard to visit someone who had no idea who I was, and those were the years when my own children were babies and toddlers so life was already very full.

Recently I read an article about caring for elderly parents as they slowly died. Something which stood out to me was the following:

Around holidays and birthdays, rejection and abandonment surfaced, especially when the “family expectations balloon” popped because distance and responsibilities prevented other family members from gathering. (H. Curtis McDaniel How Long Till I Can Die? A 5-Year Journey in Hospice Caregiving)

There will always be conflicting responsibilities and demands on my time and resources, but this article reminded me that to someone who is facing the loss of everything, what they value most is being loved by those they have spent their own lives loving.

As lives are lived and years tick by, families generate their share of issues, disappointments and disagreements. Things are said or not said, done and not done. Choices are made by people we thought we knew that show how much we have grown apart. Our own lives and families are an immediate demand upon us. Yet I suspect that my parents and siblings still long for a phone call, letter or visit to reassure them that I’m still thinking of them and want to remain part of their lives.

In the end all we are left with is memories, regrets and odd items that remind us of those who went before us and in their own way loved and nurtured us as part of their family. So maybe it is just a beaten up old garden rake, but to me it means much more than being just a rake.

My cheerful winter friends

Close-up of iris flower

As a lily among brambles,so is my love among the young women.
(Song of Solomon 2:2 ESV)

Near the entrance to the building in which I work is a patch of irises. I particularly like these irises because they flower during the winter, adding a splash of cheerfulness on gloomy days as I head to work.

I’m no gardening expert, but to the best of my knowledge these plants would normally flower in spring or summer, but for at least 12 years that I know of this clump of greenery has flowered right in the coldest part of winter. I feel like they have been my little cheerful friends for many years now, even when I have worked in other parts of campus these flowers boldly send a message of beauty and hope during the dreariest part of each year.

Somehow these small, fragile living things displaying their beauty does more to lift my heart than all my own efforts to do so. As I near the one thousand mark on my eucharisteo list I notice that many times I have given thanks for the fresh air, sunlight, plants, birds, insects, hills, and water that is given by God to all of us to partake of.

These flowers remind me of God’s extravagant love. His love in placing reminders of Him and His creative power in my path. His extravagance in that even though flowers wither within days and may not be seen by many, it is God’s pleasure to make them. Within the thorny brambles of life in a sin-wrecked world God creates stunning beauty for everyone if they will look for it.

Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!
(Luke 12:27–28 ESV)

Gifts I have noticed recently:

  • Frost crystals on a sunlit rock {973}
  • Irises blazing midwinter colour {976}
  • Dozing in the sunshine {978}
  • Being less then 1 metre from an adult fur seal {980}
  • Enormous ice creams {983}
  • Very silly, giggly girls at bedtime {990}
  • Three-year-old son ‘reading’ the dictionary {995}
  • A quiet cup of tea with my wife after she finished work {997}

Deadly soul weeds

“Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. (Matthew 13:7 ESV)

“As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. (Matthew 13:22 ESV)

By natural birth I am a fallen, sinful, broken man. By God’s grace in Jesus Christ I have been grafted in to the kingdom of God (Romans 11:24),  yet that wild, unfruitful, weedy nature needs constant cultivation and pruning to make it grow straight and bear fruit (John 15:1-2).

Tending to my soul is like trying to cultivate a garden in a jungle when I am not even sure what is a weed and what is a valuable crop plant. If I am occupied bringing one sin under captivity to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5), when I turn around another has sprouted wildly and is choking the life out of my crop.

In the garden around our house we wage a continual battle with weeds and overgrown hedges. The weeds I hate most are the overgrown prickly ones such as blackberry. But, although blackberry grows obscenely fast, smothers other plants, is horrible to cut back and nearly impossible to kill, the worst harm it can do is to scratch me or my kids. Foxglove, on the other hand, is pretty to look at, soft to touch, easy to pull up by the roots and not too invasive. It can also kill me or my children if we were to eat any part of it! It kills by going straight for the heart.

There are things which sprout and grow from the sinful nature in my soul that are nasty, prickly, noxious and everyone rightly hates them. These weeds must be constantly and ruthlessly chopped back and every attempt be made to kill their roots (Matthew 5:29-30). Then there are other things that can grow, such as a habit of passing on ‘interesting information’ about others (Proverbs 18:8),  preferring the company of ‘my type’ of people (James 2:1-4), being ‘mindful’ of the wrong done to me by another (Hebrews 12:15), or being quick to ‘discern’ the weaknesses of other people (Matthew 7:1-5). Such things do not look so nasty as lust or anger, but they will nonetheless poison my heart and should be uprooted whenever I find them taking root. I am very thankful that God is a master vinedresser and knows how to remove the unfruitful, sinful branches from me.

“… and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. (John 15:2 ESV)

Gifts I have noticed this week (185 – 197):

185) Briny wind reminding me of a trip to be with God.
186) The summery smell of lupins.
187) Our kind neighbour who fixed my broken gate latch.
188) A joy-filled wedding.
189) Being able to just quietly go about life.
190) Our Christmas baby of almost 9 years playing ‘Silent Night’ on the violin for our church
191) Finally knowing what I don’t want to be like when I grow up.
192) A good cup of tea.
193) That the desire to praise God and speak of His glory can even overcome my fear of what others might think (sometimes).
194) Kids loving Ann Voskamp’s ‘God stories’ before bed.
195) The story of the Fall, which makes sense out of my sinful nature.
196) An old dog frolicking like a puppy after some affection from her master.
197) A bit of physical labour to harvest the bounty of the earth.

Image: Foxglove photo courtesy of wikimedia commons

Weeding vs Roundup

I have some weedkiller in my garden shed. I don’t like using the stuff but we have ivy and blackberry growing wild which are almost impossible to control aside from a targeted spray with Roundup. Unfortunately it also kills any other plant it hits, so I have to be careful with it.

Jesus told a parable about agricultural weed control strategies in Matthew 13:24-30. Rather than a blanket weed eradication programme during the growing season, God uses an intensive weeding process during harvest. Modern agricultural scientists might scoff at such a strategy – surely it is better to use a genetically modified ‘Roundup ready’ crop seed and then spray the entire field with glyphosate to eradicate the weeds using minimal labour and allowing optimal growing conditions for the crop.

Well, Jesus gives an explanation explaining the symbolism of his parable in Matthew 13:36-43. The reason for God’s strategy is alluded to in Matthew 13:31-32; faith starts very small and must be given time to grow. The kingdom of God will grow bigger than all else that has been sown in the world. God is patient, He will not use weedkiller, rather He wants us to continue sowing seed until the very end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).

Photo of man weeding garden: dmaroscar

By the sweat of your brow

In Genesis 3:17-19 God consigns Adam to a lifelong battle with weeds. Churches are not exempt from this relentless toil.

On this past Saturday afternoon half our church turned up for a ‘summer clean’ of the buildings and grounds. We certainly toiled, the women ‘glowed’ and the guys dripped with the sweat of their brows. Floors, toilets, ovens and benches were scrubbed. Rooms were tidied, freezers moved, trees chopped down, weedeating done, culminating with a barbecue dinner.

Despite the philosophical futility of cleaning and weeding, it was a great time together. There is something strengthening about working alongside one another which builds fellowship even when conversation is minimal. When we are exhorted in Hebrews 10:25 to not give up meeting together this need not be limited to church worship. Our labours together in kitchens, gardens, workshops and offices can similarly honour God.