David C. Hughes, Writer

“Whatever you do, do from the heart, as for the Lord and not for others” –Colossians 3:23 NABRE

Archive for the month “May, 2014”

Life Began in a Garden (2014-05-30 Daily) [1 of 2]

LIFE BEGAN IN A GARDEN

by

David C. Hughes

 

If you want to be happy for a lifetime, plant a garden.

-Chinese Proverb

 

From the top of the door frame leading to our back yard hangs a wind chime.  Inside the house.  What a wind chime is doing inside the house only Mary knows, but it’s a beautiful work of art.  A cross sporting a maroon heart, an orange button, and a hand-painted bumblebee dangles from a shiny silver “S” shaped hook.  Below the cross hangs a flowery sky-blue rectangular plaque attached with two rusty coils.  “Life began in a Garden,” the small plaque proclaims.

“God Almighty first planted a garden,” wrote Frances Bacon, “and indeed, it is the purest of human pleasures.  It is the greatest refreshment to the spirits of man, without which buildings and palaces are but gross handiworks.”  Life began in a Garden and He placed Adam and Eve there to tend it to the greatest refreshment of their spirits and their souls.  In the Garden they communed with God, walked with God, spoke with God, and enjoyed His presence both directly and within the realm of His creation.

After the Fall, God allowed the memory of the Garden to remain within the deepest recesses of human experience.  We now spend a good part of our lives building careers, establishing relationships, and piling up useless stuff while erecting barriers and taking up residence in self-made prisons of ignorance and self-focus.  But when we step inside the gates of a garden, thrust our fingers deep into the dirt, lift the soil and breathe deeply of that musky, earthy, messy matrix of life, we are transported back to the foundation of time.

Cultivating a garden is the antithesis of modern existence, one in which I willingly partake, a catharsis I’ve embraced since I can remember.  My parents raised me up alongside the yearly garden; as the tomato plants grew, so did I.  I remember my dad hand-digging the 20-by-40 foot plot with nothing but a pointed shovel, a pair of work gloves, and lots of grunting and sweating.  Even now, when I turn over the sticky black North Texas clay with my strong and steady Craftsman rototiller, I am once again connected through time and circumstance to those simple days of my ancestors’ necessity.  But I do it not out of the necessity for physical sustenance but rather out of the need for spiritual nourishment.  I garden because I can’t not garden.

Gardening slows me down.  Practically nothing happens fast in a garden and between growing seasons.  The seasons roll by, driven by the relentless precession of a wobbling earth, opening the window to planting and closing the window after harvest.  The moment I drop a seed in the ground, slow-motion unfolds right before my eyes.  It may take a week for those seeds to germinate, two or three months to harvest, eight months to die at the touch of subfreezing temperatures.  It’s all in God’s timing.  A garden demonstrates God’s urging to be still and know that He is God.  It takes away my control because once the seeds are in the ground, there’s nothing I can do to make them grow except to apply the water, pray, and wait.  A garden is counter-cultural, it’s a throwback to slower times, to a time of faith, of reliance, of worship.

From the first cultivation in late February to first frost in late October my garden grows.  Millimeter-by-millimeter the okra and the zucchini and the green beans thrust their heads above the ground, reaching for the sky.  Millimeter-by-millimeter the pumpkins spread their leaves and begin to crawl.  Millimeter-by-millimeter the peas climb their chicken wire trellises and open their ivory blossoms to the steadfast search of honey bees.  Only the asparagus runs counter to the rest of the garden, shooting straight up from the ground at the breakneck speed of seven inches a day, scrambling toward the sun in an attempt to spread their wispy leaves before I come along with my pocket knife and assimilate their lives into mine.  Their season is very short.

“Half the interest of a garden is the constant exercise of the imagination,” wrote Alice Morse Earle in Pot-Pourri from a Surrey Garden.  But it’s more than an exercise in imagination; it’s a workout of sensations. I breathe deeply the scent of rotting mulch, the prickle of disturbed tomato leaves, the sting of freshly-harvested jalapenos.  I squish the damp clay between bare fingers.  The two-inch layer of mulch yields to my sandaled feet after three days of rain has softened the earth, giving me hope that this growing season might provide enough natural moisture to keep the plants hardy and oh so dark green.  Verdant leaves shiver as a south breeze tickles the asparagus, the wispy fronds hissing back like petulant children going through growing pains.  Serves them right.  Sunlight excites the deep greens and plays across the oversized pumpkin blossoms waving their yellow orange greetings at every honeybee and red wasp flying by.  I snap off a pea pod and devour it, savoring the earthy sweetness and thanking God for the bounty surrounding me, doing what it’s supposed to do while I struggle to do what I’m supposed to do.

One afternoon I dropped my world-weary body onto the small settee Mary placed beside the redbud next to the garden.  I sighed, lifted my wine glass, and sipped the now-warm sauvignon blanc.  The wine flowed over my taste buds, its subtle citrus tones emboldened by the dry air rushing out of the southwest.  I looked at the garden, I mean, really looked at the garden, and here’s what God revealed to me.

We grow a traditional garden, nice neat rows planted side-by-side with peas, onions, green beans, lettuce and okra.  Pumpkins, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, cantaloupes, tomatoes, and zucchini reside in their own plots, spaced far enough apart to allow these larger, vinier plants to spread out without rubbing tendrils with their neighbors.  These are the “compartmentalized” fruits and vegetables.

Springing up all over the garden are the volunteers, plants we didn’t sow by hand but rather sprouted from seeds discarded in the compost box or plowed under during the fall cultivation.  This vegetation pops up in the dirt patches, pushes up through the mulch, grows outside the nice, neat boundaries we’ve set up for the other plants.  In other words, these are the wild ones, the unruly ones, the free spirits of the plant kingdom.  These are the “non-compartmentalized” fruits and vegetables.

And all are thriving.

(continued)

 

Copyright ©2014 by David C. Hughes

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The Epiphany of Joy, Chapter 14: Joy in Everyday Miracles (2 of 2)

In all three of the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus concluded several parables with the phrase, “Whoever has ears [to hear], let them hear” (Matthew 11:15, 13:9, 13:43; Mark 4:9; Luke 8:8, 14:35).  And in the Book of Revelation, Chapter 2, Jesus said, “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, and 29). As the Spirit opens our spiritual eyes to see beyond the natural, He likewise opens our spiritual ears to listen to, comprehend, and witness the reality of the supernatural, the Kingdom of God on earth, where miracles are an every-moment occurrence.

Miracles happen all the time; I know–I’ve witnessed countless, both large and small, and I’ve heard stories from others that can only be caveated as miracles.  Why does God still dole out miracles?  For our joy and encouragement, and for His glory.  As a daddy myself, there’s nothing like hearing the squeal of surprise and unfettered joy erupting from my daughter as she opens up a gift she’s been nagging us about.  At six years old, Hannah’s at the age where nothing’s subtle, especially asking for something she wants.  She doesn’t drop hints, she just asks, asks again, asks yet again, asks continuously, like the persistent widow in Luke 18, until we either yell “no,” sigh “yes,” or begin plotting for the delivery of the gift wrapped in surprise.  Hmm, sounds a little like God when we pray, eh?

As Mary prepared for Hannah’s sixth birthday party, we asked her what she wanted.  “I want a magic kit!” she told us.  And during the weeks leading up to the party her desire never wavered, so we passed the information on to Grandma and Grandpa, who set out to fulfill the mission.  Mary had hired a professional magician to entertain Hannah and the dozen little girls at the party, so after the magic show ended, the cake and ice cream were consumed, and the piñata was smashed to confetti, we herded the sugared-up girls back into the living room so Hannah could open her gifts.

After Hannah had torn off the wrapping paper from a few boxes, Grandma handed her a long package.  I pointed the video camera at her and stood in anticipation of the incipient culmination of weeks of expectancy.  Hannah began peeling off the paper, and the instant she realized what she held in her lap, she squealed with joy.  I mean, squealed!  That is why God still performs miracles!  That is why Daddy still hands out fish instead of snakes, and eggs instead of scorpions.  He’s a good Daddy, and He loves it–loves it!–when we not only recognize His miracles with joy, but when we make known His marvelous deeds to the world.  Like Hannah, the more we squeal about our magic kits, the more we glorify the gift Giver.

Like I said, I’ve witnessed countless miracles, many small, some extraordinarily large, and it’s funny: I seem to remember the small miracles more than I do the large ones, maybe because they seem to happen so often now.  These are little signs He’s intimately involved in my moment-by-moment existence, that He cares about me more than I’ll ever realize.

In the fall of 2012 Mary and I (well . . . Mary) decided to replace the worn out, stained carpeting in our living room and hallway with laminate flooring.  We’re do-it-yourselfers, so we ended up in the flooring department at Lowes poring over various types and styles of laminate, asking for advice, and comparing colors.  Both of us quickly arrived at the same color and style: Pergo Hand Scraped Heritage Hickory.  Independently deciding on the same style and color at the same time could be considered a miracle in itself!  On that day, all the various colors in the Pergo style we wanted sold for $2.99 per square foot.  When we got home that afternoon, I calculated how much it would cost to cover our entire living room and hallway.  The laminate, vapor barrier, trim boards, and the flooring itself exceeded our $1,350 budget.  We’d planned to install the flooring over Christmas break, but put off buying the material until we came up with a more affordable alternative.

A day or two later a Lowes flyer arrived in the mailbox.  I opened it and casually flipped the pages to see if there was anything we couldn’t live without.  As I turned to the flooring page, I noticed the ad featured Pergo laminate for the original $2.99 per square foot.  Then I saw it: Pergo Hand Scraped Heritage Hickory, $2.49 per square foot, the only style that had been discounted.  What the–?!  I quickly calculated the new cost to redo our living room and hallway: $1,350, give or take!  We rushed to Lowes, secured a whole pallet at the sale price, and got to work.  Three days later (which was another miracle in itself!) we hosted Christmas at our house featuring a brand-new Pergo Hand Scraped Heritage Hickory laminate living room floor.  Oh, and you know what’s even cooler?  Both of the saws I used to cut the wood–the table saw and the compound miter saw–had been given to us by generous neighbors.  For free.  Yet another miracle!  Praise God and pass the vapor barrier!

God reveals Himself every moment of every day, and He loves it when we not only recognize Him in the everyday miracles, but when we squeal with delight when we open the package and recognize the gift as coming from Him.  And what’s even better?  When we store up those stories of God’s awesomeness in our hearts and then tell those stories to the world.  “Declare his glory among the nations,” urged the psalmist in Psalm 96:3, “his marvelous deeds among all peoples.”  God gets the glory and we get the pleasure and the joy.  As the psalmist sang in Psalm 107:21-22 (NIV):

 

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his

  unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind.
Let them sacrifice thank offerings
and tell of his works with songs of joy.

 

Be blessed, keep your eyes and ears open for those miracles, and tell of His works with songs of joy!

 

Copyright © 2014 David C. Hughes

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