Half-Naked and Picking Weeds

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When I was a little girl we had this huge garden running alongside our house on Mockingbird Lane. Mornings and evenings when the heat was bearable we’d pull the weeds and collect our bounty in baskets. I can still feel the prickle of the cucumber stems and smell the pungent scent from plucking the tomato off the vine.

            My sister, Tricia and I labored in our underwear. The sun-browned our bodies to the color of mahogany and we’d moon Granny our bright white bottoms because she’d laugh so hard tears spilled out of her eyes. We didn’t have air conditioning in our home until I was almost a teenager. Daddy clutched the coins and feared a high electric bill. In case you’re unaware, summers in the Tidewater area of Virginia can get extremely hot and sticky.

            We didn’t have a microwave either. Momma feared her children would glow in the dark from the radiation. She was a purist when it came to feeding her brood. Most of our food was homemade for she didn’t like preservatives. While Tricia and I raided our cousin’s house for the Pop Tarts. No amount of begging in the grocery aisle would make my Momma cave.

            “That’s junk!” she’d said. “Do you want your poop to turn green? I’ll bake you a banana bread instead.”

            Momma was a firm believer in the color brown, brown eggs, brown bread, brown cereal, brown poop. She was obsessed with us having a good BM (Bowel Movement) every day. This obsession peaked in her wheat germ phase. As I sat guarding my mashed potatoes like a dog over a bone, and hoping Daddy would hurry up… for all things good and decent in this world… and say the blessed blessing so I could get in a few bites before she came around with that jar of brown granules…splat! It was too late, my potatoes were healthy-matized brown.

            “There! Now you’ll get a good cleaning out,” she’d said.

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            I can still picture Momma clad in a halter top and shorts standing by the hot stove. Her dark hair piled on top of her head, while her brown skin glistened from perspiration, cooking up dinner or canning the cucumbers. Without air conditioning, summer meal preparation was a true labor of love. It probably explains why Momma’s lost the joy of cooking today.

  I suppose my nostalgia stems from just returning from taking care of Momma after her surgery. Time has a way of turning the table. I was the one standing by the stove cooking the meals albeit in a nice cool kitchen.

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             I haven’t written in a while because I’ve gone through an extended season of illness. I had Influenza B, then strep invaded our home, after that a dear friend named Vanessa who’s been battling brain cancer took a turn for the worse, followed by my trip to Virginia to take care of my parents.

            Meanwhile these last two months, I’ve felt half-naked in the scorching heat picking through weeds while they keep popping up through the soil of my garden.

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            Speaking of gardens, we’ve entered the garden season at the farm. The land is plowed and planted. The families on the farm are pitching in, to weed and harvest. We are then going to learn to can the produce in an assembly-line fashion. I’m surprised I’m excited about this, and yes, for all those dirty minds out there, I wear clothes when I garden now. (Farm friends you can thank me later…Ha!) Our last attempt at gardening, we ended up with vegetables rotting on the vine, that eventually sank into the earth and fertilized the soil.

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            Lately, I’ve thought about times we feel like that, the times we feel God out of reach or not answering our prayers, the times we think He’s neglected us, left us drooping on the vine. If only we could peer into the future and see our rotten times just may be the fertilizer in someone else’s life, would we be more willing to allow ourselves to be bruised… to feel neglected? 

            I imagine Vanessa feels that way as she lies in her hospital bed suffering from seizures. There were times my sister Tricia felt as if God left her dangling on the vine during her battle with breast cancer, but her rotten part revived the heart soils of those around her.

 

            The older I get the more thankful I am for the rotten times. I hated my sister’s suffering, but it was through it my husband strengthened in his walk with God. It was through it, we all strengthened our faiths in a God who’s sovereign and holy. My sweet Tricia passed away in the winter of 2014.

            When vegetables rot on the vine, they not only fertilize the soil, but their seeds fall into the earth as well. After the vegetables have been long forgotten, a new shoot springs up from the earth. Lately, I’ve witnessed one of Tricia’s seeds in the green faith of Vanessa.

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( To be continued…)

If Chestnut Trees Could Talk Week 3

 

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Many times when you plant a young tree you stake and tie it, so it has a support system for growth, but a Chestnut Tree shouldn’t be staked and tied when it’s newly planted unless it has an immature root ball.  A Chestnut Tree needs the movement to grow. When a Chestnut Tree sways in the wind, it stimulates its roots to grow, and also allows the trunk to become thicker at the base. This movement creates a healthy tree.

This brings us to the third thing the Chestnut Tree wants to tell us:

 

III.  When planted if a Chestnut tree is tied and staked tight, it will never grow roots and a trunk that can weather the storm.

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My son Nick came home from FSU for Christmas break, not looking healthy. He’d lost weight, and his eyes sunk deep into his pale face. Each morning, he headed out the door and didn’t return until late. Everything in my Momma body screamed something was not right. One afternoon, I received a text from his roommate’s mother, who was hosting a brunch for all his high school friends.

“Nick brought me flowers but didn’t stay for the brunch. He didn’t look good. I hope everything is alright.”

That night, I texted him demanding he come home immediately. I met him outside and he followed me in.

“Sit” I pointed to a dining chair across from me. I leaned over. “What’s your GPA?” I said.

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His eyes teared up. “I don’t have a GPA, Momma. I received a call on the way to the brunch. I’m on academic suspension for a semester.” He spilled the whole story. He couldn’t handle the 16 hours I made him sign up for in his freshman year. He found himself buried after the hurricane when a week of makeup work was piled on top of his regular week, which started a cherry-picking of which class he’s doing well enough to skip, in order to catch up in another. He’d always been good at school, and now he sat across from me with his tail tucked between his legs. He was having an identity crisis.

“I stayed up all night studying and vomited on test days. I panicked and then I made stupid mistakes, like forgetting to email my speech to my professor, which earned me a 0 on the whole project.” He shrugged. “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

I recalled a conversation with my husband Jay, during Nick’s senior year.

“I’m concerned life’s been too easy for Nick,” I said. “He’s never failed at anything. He’s always been a good student, good at computers and editing, he’s talented in art, he picked up a guitar and learned how to play. Everything he touches turns to gold. I’m scared when he does fail, he’s not going to know how to recover.”

“He’ll be fine,” Jay said.

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I’ve gone over and over in my mind the picture of my boy. I think of mothers who have heard worse news from their boys, like the parents who showed up for parent’s weekend only to find their son died the night before from alcohol poisoning. This could be so much worse.

He hung his head and promised to pay us back. “Maybe I’ll just quit college and work for Dad, I can learn the business.”

“No, you’re not. You’ll untuck your tail and try again. Look, I can handle bad grades. I’m not happy about it, and we did lose money, and I’ll admit I’m a bit embarrassed to tell family and friends, but that’s just my pride and money can be replaced.” I reached for his hand. “To be honest, I’m relieved it’s not something worse.”

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Life is messy. Sometimes, we have to flap in the wind to learn how to weather the storms.

My son is flapping in the wind like those Chestnut trees on the farm. He’s learning how to weather the storms of failure, criticisms, and a confidence beating, but the roots of humility, perseverance, and faith will spread. His trunk will strengthen. Too often as parents, we tether our children too tight to our aprons strings, and they never learn coping skills. The best lessons we can teach is how to turn to God when they’re in trouble, and how to learn from failure.

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Nick is reading Discerning God’s Will, by Richard Case and journaling. It is a crash course on hearing God’s voice. He is on academic suspension until summer, when he will start again with a clean slate.

“I’ve been praying about my degree. I pray a lot in the car. God will show me what to do, for now, I volunteered to work for a guy starting an oyster business,” he said.

He also has an interview with the city of Tallahassee to volunteer for several organizations this Friday and is re-thinking a business degree.

“Would you guys be okay, if I just pursued my passion in Marine Biology?” Something, Jay and I talked him out of. (Momma has had to take some responsibility. No judging. I’m a work in progress.)

Nick is spending a semester spreading roots and growing a thick trunk so he can bear fruit no matter what storms come along.

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What about you? Do you see failure as hopeless? Or do you see it as an opportunity for growth and change?  Next week the Chestnut tree wants to tell us what protects them until they are ready to nourish others. Have a great week!

 

Out of the Boat

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Out of the Boat

The day I posted my painting to social media and titled it “Out of the Boat.” I neglected to share what inspired me to paint it. Last year, I felt a yearning to move to the farm, but I didn’t know if this desire was from God or myself, so we began praying last fall for confirmation. Around January, I noticed within sermons, devotions, emails etc. the story of Peter stepping out of the boat onto the water kept popping up. I dreamt this painting. I saw myself looking across the deep at the light of Jesus. As I painted, I stepped back and saw the monsters in the water. Through all of this, I knew God was telling me, He wanted me out of my comfort zone, but my farmhouse is the epitome of comfort.

Jay and I scheduled a tour of the best and closest Christian school, a thirty- minute drive from the farm. We told each other if we felt comfortable with the school, it was meant to be. We would move. We stood in the stained carpet hallway with the moldy vents when the bell rang. Hoards of dark-skinned giants (football players) flooded the hall along with all the light-skinned students who looked a bit rumpled and wearing their stiff pants. It was a far cry from the campus at our private school in Orlando, the picture of perfection. Waves

We toured the football field. Hoping to find our comfort zone. Christian is our football player and this school has one of the best football teams. Our guide rambled on about the school’s championship wins and the college coaches that attend their games. The field looked more junior high stacked next to ours. Under the bleachers weeds grew up between the weight equipment. Waves

We returned to the car. “Well, that was disappointing,” Jay said. I felt the same. I didn’t have my peace that we were supposed to move.

We drove back to the farm and I stared out the window down those country roads. Confederate flags flapped in the wind, and we passed several pick up trucks with the good ole Dixie hanging off the back or in the window. What am I doing? Moving my bi-racial family to a town like this? A town filled with good ole boys. Waves

            Black versus white…in all honesty, I’m uncomfortable in the cultural extremes. I’ve found my comfort spot in the warm, buttery brown, where cultures blend and bleed into each other easily.

I pray and pray for what’s best for my children and Peter keeps stepping out of the boat onto the rough seas over and over again. What are you telling me Lord? My father-in- law (Ompa) recently said, “At least Peter had the courage to get out of the boat.” That stuck. It takes courage to step out into the uncomfortable… the imperfect…the inconvenient.

I see Orlando through a different lens now.I drive around passing luxury vehicles and perfectly manicured shopping centers.The boy’s school has a sparkling new gymnasium complete with large screen tv’s. Tourist flood here to savor perfection, a place to get away from their own bitter waters for a bit. Orlando is beautiful and takes constant polishing to keep it that way. It is not real, not true to life…It is a facade. I have to ask myself, is God’s plan for His followers to be so comfortable when it is in the moments we are uncomfortable we feel more alive and closer to Him? We reflect back on those times as spiritual growth, a time when God showed up or we felt Him lean in close.

I’ve had to examine my heart, and go to the Word for my answer to prayer, rather than find it through my biased viewpoint and in my feelings. The Bible is called the living, breathing Word of God. It has all the answers. It speaks to us as individuals and in whatever situation we are in. It convicts, answers, and helps us to get know God on a more personal level. Although, there are other ways God speaks to us, we need to trust the Word to have the last Word in our lives. Peter is stepping on the waves. I am stepping on the waves. My boys will step on the waves.

Do you wonder how to find the answers in the Word of God? Stayed Tune to part 2. Next, how to Abide and Hear from the Lord through the Bible.