Showing posts with label Reflection. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Reflection. Show all posts

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Foxgloves In My Garden

Last year I decided to plant perennial foxgloves in my garden. I planted what appeared to be two healthy and green plants last summer; but as with all of my perennials in my garden, I don't know if they will make it until the following spring.

NOT my foxgloves...yet!
I watch my garden with great attention. I know every plant and watch each one carefully. They each have special needs, not just from variety to variety, but from plant to plant. They all get fertilizer, water and sun as required, and regular hands-on care (shaping, pruning, deadheading, etc.). These new foxgloves are no different.

One overwintered beautifully. It awoke in early April with a lovely sprout in the center of the spent leaves from last year, the way it's supposed to grow, and has been growing quite perfectly. Right now it's wide, lush, green and beautiful. I'm confident it will flower beautifully.

The other didn't overwinter well at all. More than half of it was damaged by the rain and snow this past winter and spring. It's center sprout rotted and died off after only a few days. I really thought it was a goner; but then on one side of the plant I saw a little wisp of green peeking out from under the spent leaves.

Have you noticed how hard nature fights to live?

It's a good thing I spotted the leaves, as the damage might kill this poor little guy's chances. I cut away the dead leaves on the damaged side, careful to remove anything that appeared to be rotting. It continued to grow, and now a month later my damaged foxglove appears to be growing nicely. It's a little bit lopsided at the moment, but I'm pretty confident that in spite of its late start and tougher road back to life, this foxglove will flower beautifully.

Isn't this what God does with us?

When we finally hear His call upon our hearts and find the courage to reach out to Him from under the damage that we've done to ourselves through sin and despair--no matter how bad we think it is--He knows exactly what to do for each of us. He knows how to cut away all that damage. As we fight our desire to sin which we know will lead us back to death, He feeds us with His Word and with His Body, and He tends us through the sacraments. As we continue to reach for Him through prayer He reaches back with grace, and we grow strong in Him.

It doesn't matter how or when we start our new life in Christ; if we reach out for Him we, too, will flower beautifully.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ch- Ch- Ch- Ch- Changes...

“I bought one for everyone,” our team leader said as she approached the first member of our renewal team with her paper bag filled with polished stones. “Each one has a different word etched in it.” Everyone took a turn. A few didn’t like the first words they got, so they exchanged their choices for another, or switched off amongst themselves.

I kept mine. Six years later I still have it. It’s a polished jade stone etched with the word “CHANGE”. At the time I saw it as a reminder to expect change every once in a while. As my life continued on from that renewal, I experienced a wave of life-altering changes, and my stone became my warning. The more I continued to evaluate and re-evaluate my life, it occured to me that, since change was going to happen whether I liked it or not, initiating change is far easier than reacting to it. Suddenly my stone became a directive.

Change is hard…for even me, and I’ve gotten pretty good at it over the years. Some of the changes I've experienced were good, some not so good. The way we are created, though, we are not meant to stagnate. Change is necessary to our lives. Human life is in a state of constant change from birth through death. Perhaps that’s why we don’t like to initiate change-- the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality. If we aren’t seeking out opportunities for growth, a different kind of change will come find us, and the results can be devastating. This is true whether we're looking at a specific detail of our individual lives, or those grand issues affecting human development as a whole, or any point in between: friendships, jobs, our health, etc. This includes ministries, too.

How often do you hear "I/we've always done it that way"? If it's simply to see where we've been, that's one thing; but when it becomes conventional wisdom, it is suddenly an excuse to avoid change. We ignore truth and facts, leaving that which we've worked so hard for vulnerable to changes we never saw coming. We should learn our history, but not become history.

If we are to avoid the stench of stagnation in our ministries--or anywhere else for that matter--the continual building of relationships is also vital. If we don't know one another, how can we serve one another? Well-formed relationships with others based on not just our sharing our thoughts, but openly and attentively listening to others and observing them carefully with a heart open to service will increase our capacity to love.

There's that commandment again: "Love one another as I have loved you." It's no coincidence that Jesus' commandment has taken on similar voices as did my CHANGE stone: a reminder, a warning, a directive. Love, after all, requires change of the self. The more we change, the better we love.

Perhaps my CHANGE stone should serve me in the same way as Jesus' commandment now a goal.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Dominion Over the Back Yard

We didn't plant melon this year, but we bought some from a local fruit stand that was quite delicious. So delicious that we didn't throw the guts away like usual. My first batch of honey rock melon seeds is fermenting away in a big mason jar on my countertop. Fermenting removes chaff from fleshy fruit seeds like melon, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc., before they can be dried and stored for next year's garden.

Gardening is far more than sticking a plant in the ground and watching it grow. With a little effort in the right places, we won't have to spend another dime at a nursery. It's still a little too early to harvest seed pods from our annuals, and since we planted a little late our harvest is coming in late, so all we have are melon seeds. Still we spent the weekend in the yard weeding gardens & flowerbeds, spreading compost, re-staking tomatoes, moving a couple perennials from one bed to another, and tending our "new" mulberry bush.

The mulberry bush started out as a tree. Well, not exactly--this tree was just taking over our and our neighbor's back yards. Mulberries can grow up to 75 feet high, and this one was going for it. So earlier this year my husband and our neighbor cut the huge mulberry tree down to a stump. The mulberry isn't giving up. This stump shot out dozens of new branches, and suddenly we had a mulberry bush. Today we pulled it in with twine and pruned it into a nice hedge. It should retain the shape after about a year of being trained, but it will need careful tending so that it doesn't take over the backyards again.

God created man in his image...[He] blessed them, saying: "...have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth."

The more time I spend in my garden, the more I realize that less meddling with the plants is best. Dominion, after all, can be approached in two very distinct ways. I read something in one of my new gardening books titled Food Not Lawns that says it best: "...when you're asking the question Should I prune my grapes? try to see yourself as the willing servant to the garden, not the master."

The willing servant. Not the master.

My pink tea roses are a good example. Two years ago they were doing terribly. It's no surprise, though. "The master" was just torturing the poor things. I moved them three times and pruned off the new growth. They had three blooms. No kidding, three. Last year I had to prune them again just to get them into a normal shape. I also moved them, but only once, into a sunnier spot. They had more than three blooms, but it was still pretty sparse.

This year I tossed the master aside and instead approached my tea roses as the willing servant. I pruned off only three dead branches. I gave them a heaping shovel of compost. That was it, other than watering them. My tea roses doubled in size, producing dozens of beautiful pink blooms. Serving my roses gave me more results than trying to master them.

Back to the mulberry...just last night we were talking with our neighbor about what to do with that bush. Ultimately we were making a we act like the master and rip the sucker out, or be the willing servant and train it into a hedge? As you've already read, servant won out. The funniest part of this story is that we weren't even right about the kind of plant we had. We thought it was an elderberry bush gone completely insane. It was only just an hour before I started writing this post, when researching complimentary plants for the elderberry, did I discover our little mulberry bush's real identity. (nope, never saw an elderberry bush before, either.)

I also discovered that mulberries have no shelf life, so really the only way to ever enjoy fresh mulberries are picked right from the tree. What a shame if we'd have dug it up! Mulberries also make delicious juice, syrups, jams & preserves that you can't find in stores without paying out the nose. Every part of this plant is usable either as food or medicine, and mulberries produce a huge yield of berries, even from a relatively small bush.

Next spring I'll take a couple of clippings and start some new mulberry bushes. Maybe I'll plant a couple of rose bushes around them too, and in a few short years we'll have us a little mulberry hedge grove.

I think I'm going to like having dominion over my back yard as the willing servant.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Taking Risks

Right now my husband is getting the bike ready--checking the tires, loading the rain gear, giving all the mechanics a quick once-over before we take it out for the day. Oh, and one other thing, we're having the bike blessed at a local ceremony today. then we're riding up Rte. 11 to Lake Erie.

We met at a blessing of the bikes. Our priest (he was mine at the time) is a Harley rider, as are a few other priests in the diocese, and periodically they have motorcycle blessing ceremonies. I'll never forget Fr. Joe's homily that day. He talked about life being a celebration; about the need for taking risks. "Riding up Route 11 at 100 miles per hour might be overdoing it a bit, but if we don't take risks, how can we live the way God intended?"

Christianity today is the counterculture--though I think it's always been the counterculture. Even when it appeared that the Church was "in charge", it was really Church leaders willing to compromise their faith for the glory and riches of worldly power.

Look at the risks some of the saints took to uphold the true faith in the face of govenment powers: St. Thomas More; Maximillian Kolbe; the Jesuits of upstate New York; all but one of the first 34 Popes was killed by the Roman government.

More about this at a later date. We're going riding!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Monday, Monday

I let out a heavy Monday morning sigh as I sat down at my desk and turned on my computer. I stared at my to-do list for a moment before I began mentally breaking down my tasks and planning out my week. My job in Business Development for a local software company is nothing more than a never-ending process of proving my worth. A chain of successes are quickly forgotten. One failure, though, is permanently etched in the memories of my managers.

I work hard to avoid failures; but they are inevitable, especially when the economy is in decline and no one's buying. Still, as far as the world is concerned, I am considered fortunate to have a good paying job with full benefits. I therefore am obligated to work very hard in order to keep it.

A realization such as this makes the Communion Aniphon at morning Mass today all the more meaningful:

I can rely on the Lord; I can always turn to him for shelter. It was he who gave me my freedom. My God, you are always there to help me! Ps 17:3

For that half hour this morning in the presence of the Lord I was free. No to-do lists or tasks, no cold-calls to make, no trade shows, no special requests from my manager or from my VP. I didn't have to bring anthing that proves my worth. My simply being present was enough.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Here At The Table

I snuck in through the side door, tiptoeing toward the makeshift chapel set up in St. Columba’s parish hall. It just figured. The one day I manage to escape work early enough to get to daily Mass on time is when the Cathedral would be closed during weekdays for repairs, and I have never been to St. Columba’s parish hall before. By the time I found it, we were already at the Psalm.

There were plenty of seats available. My usual M.O. is to find a pew all to myself. Even in this temporary venue I had every intention of passing by this tiny black woman who took up three chairs with her stuffed shopping bags. Her little denim hat and giant plastic-rimmed glasses covered her eyes. Her jet-black wig was combed neatly into a bob, and her mismatched outfit appeared clean. She flashed me a shimmering pink-lipsticked smile as I stopped and met her gaze. I smiled back as I slid into her row and took the 4th seat in next to her treasures.

As mass went on, my little homeless neighbor began making odd grunting noises. She even let out a few soft “yeah’s” and an occasional “mmmmm-hmmmmmm”, but not in response to anything Father said. She fidgeted a lot. I tried to concentrate on Mass, feeling her eyes on me, as if she was watching me to see what she was supposed to do when. Clearly she wasn’t Catholic. I knelt down on the hard floor during the consecration. My little neighbor sat at the edge of her chair instead. I stole a quick look at her during the Lord’s Prayer. She prayed with her head back, her eyes closed, and her hands up like high she was being arrested. I giggled to myself, watching my little homeless neighbor trying to blend in with the rest of us.

I knelt down again on the hard floor after the Lamb of God. I think my little neighbor got an inspiration to do the same. With no kneelers or bolted down pews for leverage, though, the poor thing got stuck on the ground. I saw her eyes then, wide with panic, and even though she tried to keep her voice down, we could all still hear her uh-oh's and ohhh my's as she knelt there, stuck. I immediately reached over and grabbed her under her arm. With the help of another attendee, we hoisted her to her feet. I caught her eyes and smiled at her as she straightened out her too-big denim skirt.

She followed me to communion.

“The Body of Christ.”

“Thank you,” she replied. I heard the snap as she broke her host in half. On the way back to my seat I saw her slip a piece into her pocket as she ate the rest. I took a peek inside the top of one of her bags, which contained a couple rolls of toilet paper and some crumpled newspaper, among some other things that I couldn’t get a look at in a quick glance. I dropped to my knees in a sudden wave of emotion as it occurred to me that The Body of Christ was most likely this poor homeless woman’s only food yesterday.

She gathered her bags into one hand just before Mass ended, and as Father sat, she stood up to leave. Instead of leaving, she stood right in front of me and put her empty hand out. I immediately took it in mine. “God bless you,” I said, meaning it like never before. I squeezed her hand with love and looked into her dark, withered face.

Jesus looked right back at me, holding my gaze for a moment before turning away, before limping out of the hall toward the University campus across the street from St. Columba’s Cathedral.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Good Shepherd

I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

A few years ago I had the privilege of providing music for a four day mission at a local parish. For those of you who don't know, a parish mission is a several-day Lenten reflection, usually beginning Sunday evening. Priests, teachers, nuns or musicians offer an intense presentation on a specific aspect of faith to the parish, calling the faithful to deepen their faith.

Fr. Larry Richards, Pastor of St. Joseph Church/Bread of Life Community in Erie, PA, and Spiritual Director of the TEC (To Encounter Christ) Retreat Program for the Diocese of Erie, commanded the congregation with his passion for Christ and Christ’s Truth. (Check out his website here.)

In one segment, Fr. Larry recounts some time spent with a friend on a farm. He remembers going out with his friend to bring the cattle into the barn. A couple of cows, including one with a newborn, had wandered off up a hill. The calf would not have made it down the hill on his own. The farmer decided that he would round up the cows, and Larry would tend to the calf. Larry’s friend lifted the calf onto his neck and instructed him: “no matter what, don’t let go or he’ll fall and break his neck.”

The calf started out calm. But as they moved, it began to cry out. Larry tightened his grip on the calf’s legs, and the calf began to wriggle, then several times tried to jump away. Larry struggled to maintain a grip on the calf. It struggled violently against Larry's hold, kicking and bleating the whole way. Calves are much stronger than you’d imagine. It shook in fear and urinated down Larry’s back. They arrived at the barn, and he set the calf down, who ran to its mother and attached itself to her udder.

Larry suffered a few bruises, a strained shoulder and a very stiff neck. While soaking in a bath to remove the funk of calf pee, he heard his Lord. “Larry, now you understand, for this is what my flock does to me.”

A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away and the wolf catches and scatters them. This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the father Knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep.

As members of the faithful, it’s important to understand our failings, both individually and as a body (broken and scattered though it may be), so that we might grow in our relationships with God, and understand better the faith we all so deeply desire. I think of those Christians who expend hours and hours of effort repeatedly regurgitating all the past mistakes in others, for the sole purpose of tearing them down. They mean well, I’m sure, but they, too, are members of Christ's flock, and should remember that we all find ourselves crying, wriggling and trying to escape his hold out of our own fear, because we can't understand that He's just trying to carry us home.

I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd.

John 10:11-16

Saturday, May 2, 2009


"A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.” Matthew 13:3-8

A few years ago my husband was given some bulbs of hardy red-skinned garlic, a strain that came to America over 100 years ago from Southern Italy through Ellis Island Philadelphia. The first year the garlic grew moderately. The second year the yield was horrible. The bulbs were tiny, the flavor was mild and the skin was more brownish than red. Last year, however, the bulbs were huge, the skin veined with deep red and the garlic fragrance rich and pungent through the skin.

We used seeds from the same strain every year. What was the difference this last year?

The soil.

The first year, we tilled the ground and planted the bulbs. The soil wasn't too bad as it was. The second year we did the same thing—till the ground and plant the bulbs. We didn’t, however, do anything to replenish the nutrients in the soil that were used by our crop the previous year. The soil that year was hard, weedy and dense.

For last year's crop, we learned our lesson. We put in a lot of work to prepare the soil. We tilled in sand and some compost, and mulched with a thick layer of pine chips to protect the seeds, and then weeded regularly until we harvested last July.

We still had a few of our bulbs not growing as perfectly as they could have grown--we think there were still some nutrient-depleted pockets and a few areas along the edge of the garden with poor drainage. So we worked the soil again--tilled in bone meal and dried blood along with more compost and sand before we planted again in October. We have 150 plants this year, and they look beautiful so far.

Sometimes rich soil just happens, and sometimes it doesn't. If it does just happen, it doesn't stay rich for long. Working that soil is the most important part of gardening, and it takes deliberate, dedicated and dynamic effort to keep the soil nutrient-rich and suitable for planting.

Even in ancient times they didn't just drop the seeds and let them grow. The rich soil, composted and weeded during the growing season, was left in the hot, summer sun after spring's harvest. In the fall, the seed that was sown on the "rich soil" was then ploughed under—a laborious undertaking after the heat of the summer hardened the earth.

Isn't this the same with us?

"In toil shall you eat [the ground's] yield all the days of your life." Genesis 3:17

It takes effort to keep our hearts and souls ready to perpetually receive the Word which is Christ (John 1) that we might be fruitful unto His purpose. This effort requires letting go of the notion that spontaneous, serendipitous encounters with grace are sufficient. Are relationships and friendships lasting and fruitful when left to chance?

A deliberate, dedicated and dynamic plan encompassing our prayer life, our formative efforts and our love for each other will reap extraordinary harvests year after year. The more we develop our habits of prayer, the more we get to know ourselves. In time, we begin to see better our less fertile areas and adjust our efforts; and the more fruitful an instrument for our Lord we become.

And the bountiful harvest is worth every bit of the efforts.
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