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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Deep Roots and Shallow Convictions - A Gardner's Observation

Deep Roots and Shallow Convictions – A Gardner’s Observation
            My wife and I are blessed to live in a small rural town of about 350 people who are all (or at least mostly all) good, salt-of-the-earth people.  Many of them are multi-generational farmers who know the joys and heartaches of what it takes to plant in faith, nurture, care for, and partake of either a bounteous harvest or devastating loss.
            Being inspired by our many neighbors when we moved here 13 years ago, and being fortunate enough to have a nice, moderate size corner lot, we have tried our hand at becoming backyard gardeners over the years.  While our intentions are always grand and glorious each spring, the reality of long summer days, relentless weeds, and our own inexperience have led to some variable crops from year to year.
            Nonetheless, it is a fun endeavor to participate in with what time we have amongst our otherwise busy lives, and there’s nothing better than eating fresh produce from your own garden each fall!  We have tried many different gardening techniques, some with good success and others with humbling failure, but the experience has taught me many things throughout the years, a few of which I would like to share with you today.
            One of our yearly favorites is corn.  There is something wonderful about picking cobs of corn fresh off the stalk, cooking them within the first 15 minutes of picking and then eating them slathered with butter, salt and pepper (I’m drooling just writing about it)!  This year was no exception, and when the time came to plant, I took it personally upon myself to plant the rows of corn with tender care.
            As the summer progressed, my excitement grew along with the tall stalks rising up into the sky as I dreamed of the plump, juicy ears soon to be forming.  They were beautiful and seemed to be taller and thicker than in years past.
            But a shocking surprise awaited me when I went out to check the garden just a few days ago.  I couldn’t believe it.  My once majestic stalks lay toppled horizontally across the ground!  What had happened?  Had some group of visiting, nearsighted aliens attempted to make a crop circle in my small rows?  Did Bigfoot pay another visit to my property and decide to make a cozy bed in my soft garden soil? (See this link for the story on my Bigfoot encounter - )

            Actually, it was nothing spectacular at all, as a visit with a wiser more experienced farmer revealed.  The mistake was mine and mine alone.  During planting, I had made the mistake of planting in freshly tilled soil, which was too loose and aerated.  I had also planted the seeds too shallow in the earth by about ½ to ¾ of an inch less than I should have.  The result was stocks of corn that sprung up easily through the soft dirt, without much of a struggle to reach upwards into the light.  And because the seeds were too shallow, the roots did not sink deep enough into the solid base they needed, but instead spread out not far below the surface.  The plants looked beautiful with all their energy able to be poured into the stalks… but without a solid foundation and sure footing, the recent heavy rain and wind storm had easily uprooted them, leaving behind a toppled mess, from which no fruit will be harvested.
            In life when things go too easily for us, we feel as if we are able to flourish without any need for struggle or extensive effort.  We tend to complain when the soil of life is hard and stiff, and we seem planted too deep to get out, but with the consistent struggle to do so and rise above our trials, we form deeper stronger roots, in a more sure footing, which is able to then support us once we reach the sunshine waiting for us beyond the struggle.  But in those easy times, we often fail to make the effort needed to anchor ourselves adequately and when the winds come and the storms beat upon us, we are too weak to withstand the onslaught and fall.
            It is so important to anchor our lives to the “Rock of Salvation” our Savior, Jesus Christ. And make the effort to sink the roots of our testimony in him deep and sure.  Life’s winds will surely howl about us, and without that sure bedrock and footing, the rest of what we appear to be is weak and likely to topple.  We are only as strong as our roots.
            Another brief lesson to share has to do with our raspberry patch.  When we moved to our home, it was thick and overgrown, and could only be effectively cared for around the edges.  The interior was clumped and clogged, and we never seemed to yield as many berries as we felt were possible.
            Over the past few years, we made a concerted effort to thin and shape the bushes into more manageable form.  We attacked them with hedge trimmers, trimming out the old dead canes, putting up stakes and restricting the bushes with twine.  These initial actions may have made the bushes wonder, “Hey, what the heck are you doing to us?  Why are you cutting and gutting me and taking away from what I have worked so hard to become?”  The result however was manageable rows through which we were able to walk, weed, water and fertilize more effectively.
            As a result of this trimming, taking away of the dead and useless parts, we have had several years of incredible berry production and output, which was never realized during the years of cluttered overgrowth.  The plants are now able to produce and fulfill their purpose and potential.

            Hopefully what I’m trying to say is obvious.  If we can make an effort in our lives to cut out much of the unnecessary and unproductive behavior we seem to often engage far too much time and effort in, we will likely find that our lives are much more sweet and fulfilling, as we operate within the rules and guidelines of the gospel principles the Lord has staked out for us.

            May our spiritual roots be anchored solid and deep in fertile soil, and our lives be more focused, unencumbered and meaningful.  Although mistakes will occasionally cause us to miss some of the corn that could have been enjoyed, through God’s plan of happiness for us, we can all enjoy the sweet and savory fruit this life has to offer, if we are allow our will to come more in line with his purposes.
            Now… to enjoy the fruits of our labors!  Mmmmm!!!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

As Plain as the Nose on Your Face

As Plain As The Nose On Your Face

            No, it’s okay… I’ll admit it.  I’ve got a bit of a big nose!  Not the huge bulbous kind that
looks like a tennis ball with nostrils, but the longer skinny kind, with a narrow bridge which is crooked and tilted off a bit towards the right side.  If I were to literally comply with the age old advice to “Follow your nose”, my journey would be a large clockwise circle which could be measured by the exact degree to which my nasal septum deviates.  Trauma will do that to a nose…especially multiple traumatic events.
            Although I am sure there were many blunt force episodes to the most forward part of my face over the years, I can remember three specific events which I will recount today.
            The first happened in sixth grade PE class at the old Washington Elementary school on Main Street, which has long since been torn down.  On this particularly fine day, our class was engaged in an epic and ruthless game of dodge ball.  Now when you are a young, not yet developed 6th grader, you can only grasp and throw a big 11” rubber dodge ball with limited force and control, and typically don’t inflict or receive much damage.  But amongst the collection of rubber balls in the gym closet at Washington Elementary, were a hand full of smaller 6” diameter globes of death we referred to as “cherry bombs”!  When inflated with enough PSI, these small projectiles packed a bit of a sting when hurled with accuracy.  Lucky for us, our puny pre-pubescent arms didn’t pack much of a punch.
            But on this particular day, we had encouraged our teacher, Mr. Erickson to join in our battle to the death, in thoughts that it would be fun to peg our teacher with balls and have it be legal and acceptable.  After all, how else could a kid get back at the man who docked you a few points on your last spelling test?
            The problem was that although he was a bigger target, he could also throw a lot harder than we could. I remember being engaged in brutal combat, and bending down to pick up a large ball rolling near my feet, while unbeknownst to me, at the same time, Mr. Erickson was hurling a tightly pressurized cherry bomb at someone standing several feet behind me.  As I arose to search for my next victim, my hands occupied holding the ball I had just retrieved; I stood up directly into the line of fire.  I remember my face feeling intense burning numbness, and I think I might have felt the tip of my nose briefly bounce off the back of my skull as it compressed inward and then exploded back outward with a great burst of blood.  My lips stung and my eyes spurted tears as warm, red liquid gushed over my chin and I staggered sideways out of bounds and my nose now slanted slightly askew.
            Nasal deviation #2 happened a few years later while playing football. Back at that time in Junior High, I was playing fullback and linebacker (these were the days before I grew into a sluggish offensive lineman). During the course of play, one of my chin strap snaps had come loose. It was right before halftime and during one of the final plays before the quarter ended I had a significant collision with an opposing player.  I can’t remember now if I was running with the ball and getting tackled or if I was making a tackle on someone else, but during the collision, the chin strap of my helmet came completely loose and my helmet was jammed forcefully downward, with the top edge of my helmet breaking my nose flat and once again, slightly off to the right.
            A humorous side story to this event was that after having halftime of the game to staunch the bleeding from my nose, our team was kicking off to begin the second half.  While running down the field full speed on the kickoff, an opposing player stepped in front of me to block my progress.  As we impacted an enormous amount of coagulated blood and snot which had filled my nasal cavity during halftime, was ejected out through my broken nose, bypassing my face mask and splattering all over the chest of the opposing player!  I remember the look of shock and horror on his face as he looked down at his jersey after the play.  Unhurt and now breathing better, I laughed and ran off, but I am sure that over the years since he has exaggerated the story, and not knowing of my previous injury, has told his kids of the time that he hit a player so hard he literally knocked his brains out.
            The third traumatic blow to my protruding proboscis occurred on a dark and quiet night.  I was in high school and my room was in the deep, dark recesses of the basement.  Awakening from a sound sleep, I realized I needed to use the bathroom.  Not wanting to awaken my brother, who was still fast asleep, by turning on a light, I arose and made my way toward the door.  Now at night, in a basement with no windows or lights on other than a minuscule fraction of light reflected around several corners and down a flight of stairs, I was pretty blind as I staggered forward.  I recalled that we had left our bedroom door partially open and I didn’t want to run into it, so I plodded ahead waving my arms back and forth in front of me like a lurching zombie or Frankenstein monster for several slow, cautious seconds.  Mentally calculating that I surely had passed the doorway at this point, my bladder reported that I needed to quicken my pace to the designated objective.
            Lowering my hands partially to my sides, I strode ahead out into what I expected to be the hallway.  Imagine my sniffer’s surprise when I thumped fully unguarded and face first into the edge of the open door.  Although it wasn't at high speed, in my sleepy stupor it might have well been a stiff boxers jab to the face. Once again the blood flowed from my nasal orifices, albeit off to the aforementioned right angle.
            Now all these years later, I am reminded of such events every time I look into the mirror or try to take a deep breath through my deviated septum. So what can I possibly glean from these traumatic events and their ever-present facial reminder?
            From the dodge ball episode, I learned to be ever vigilant and never take your eyes off the potential spiritual attack of the Adversary.  I am reminded of the story in the Old Testament in Judges, chapter 7 when Gideon is instructed of the Lord to select only 300 soldiers for his army to fight against the Midianites.  The sign he was given to know which men to select was to have the men come and drink from the river.  Most lowered their heads to drink with their mouths to the water or knelt down and bent forward. But those few who kept their head up and alert to potential threats from the enemy as they used their hands to raise the water to their lips were those chosen and worthy to fight for the Lord… and they were victorious, despite their small numbers, in their battle against a Midianite army which was “without number”. I think the Lord would have all of us be ever vigilant and alert against the numberless temptations and spiritual attacks which might be thrown at us at any moment if we aren’t paying attention.
            My football fracture indicates that we must make every effort to ensure that we are properly clad in the armor of God (See Ephesians 6:10-18), including the helmet of salvation.
“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness… Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”  Most likely, most of us tend to run around in the competitive game of life with pieces of our armor loose or missing, and when we encounter those collisions which mortality throws in our path, we suffer the unprotected consequences and pain.  When properly and securely padded in my football gear, I experienced many violent collisions without incident, but when we have chinks in our armor we are all vulnerable.
            In my darkened basement bedroom, I collided with an obstacle that I knew was there and thought I was prepared to handle, but just when I thought I was in control of the situation and knew my bearings, I became overly confident in my ability to negotiate the darkness safely without the simple assistance light could have provided.  Lowering my guard and lacking clear vision, I slammed face first into something I could have easily avoided.  In life, if not careful, we can all fall victim to overconfidence in our own ability to do things on our own.  We fail to take the effort to do those things that will shed a more clear light onto our surroundings and give us clear vision to avoid the pitfalls and stumbling blocks which are strewn along our path.  Thinking we can negotiate the darkness on our own, without the light and help the Lord has to offer us, we will undoubtedly experience some unnecessary hard knocks.
            The good news is that, despite the short term blood, sweat and tears we spiritually suffer, that the Lord helps us to heal our wounds, learn and keep moving forward.   As I look at my crooked nasal reflection, I am glad that he has left me a small reminder of these lessons learned, so that hopefully I can avoid repeating them again in the years to come.
            Happy days, friends!  Remember to keep your armor secure, your guard up and stay in the light!