September 20, 2015

Sunday Musings

It is a beautiful Sunday here in Arizona. I woke up feeling quite refreshed, though I think I am battling a bit of a tummy bug. I am not sure if I will make it over to church this morning or not. Right now, I am drinking my coffee and hoping everything settles down so I can go. It is okay if I end up staying home this morning. I have quite a bit of school work to finish, and it would be good to get a jump start on it. I know, I know -- school work instead of worshipping the Lord? Yes, there have been times when I have stayed home from church to work on a paper or to complete some last minute assignment. I know that sounds awful, but praise be to God, I am no longer under the law, but I am free under the banner of His grace and mercy.

Expectancy Delivered - 22 Years Ago

Today is a great day, at the least, I feel that it is going to be a great day. It is September 20th, the day before I get to celebrate the birth of my only child. Yes, my beloved son turns 22 tomorrow, and I give thanks and praise to God for his precious life. I remember how timid I felt, how anxious and worried I was at the thought of giving birth. The day before he was born, I was a mess, really a mess. I was a whole week late on delivery, and I felt miserable. He had been very quiet, not moving much, and that worried me. I spent the weekend in labor, having pains run from 10 minutes apart down to 3 minutes, but never consistent. And, then just when I thought it was time to go to the hospital, the contractions would stop. Three days in a row I suffered like this, three days. On Monday morning, I went in to see my doctor. He told me to come over to the hospital if the contractions started again in the night. Sure enough, they did. I went to the hospital around 9 p.m. Monday evening on September 20th, and my beautiful baby boy was born at 2:37 a.m. on Tuesday morning.

As I think about that experience, I realize that God had His hand upon me. My birth story was traumatic and difficult -- both of us nearly died -- but God be praised, we came through it and we survived it. The next weeks and months were a big blur, and then before I knew it, my boy was turning 1, and then 2, and then 10, and now 22. Time has flown by, and the memories I have of my son are sweet and soothing to me. I have enjoyed being a Mom more than anything else in this world, and even today, when my adult son looks at me, I see my baby, my little sweet bundle of joy. He is still so very precious to me.

Thank you, Jesus for giving me the joy of motherhood, for blessing me with this beautiful child-man, and for allowing me the privilege to raise him to manhood, to guide and direct him through the difficult teen years, and to witness his growth and maturity as he comes to learn what your express will is for his life. You are good, so very good, and I thank you today for this blessing.

Last night I had a good conversation with my special friend. I enjoy these conversations immensely, especially since I know that they are made-with-sacrifice. What I mean is that our time spent on the phone is intentional, it is not just happenstance. He calls me knowing full well that I am in the middle or finishing up some project for school. I talk with him knowing full well that he has other projects, other tasks that are sitting on his to-do list. We are both busy individuals, busy with school, and so to make time for one another means that we are committed to seeing our relationship flourish. It is a choice to spend time together. We could simply say "not tonight" because we have too much to do or we are tired or we simply want to chill out, veg-out, and do nothing. Instead, we say "Yes" to one another, and we engage in conversation that at times is silly, and at other times, serious. This intentionality is something that we both believe strongly in, and it shouts out the truth, "You matter to me." You see, since both of us have been in relationships where commitment was lacking, where the sentiment that says, "I need you. I want to spend time with you. And you are important to me" was not verbalized or demonstrated, we both want to make sure we do not fall into the habit of ignoring the other person. It happens, it does, and while it shouldn't be the case, many long-term relationships suffer from this same malady, what I call "invisibility." You see, after a time, no matter how good the relationship may be, how solid it is, how invested, it can become easy to look past the other person, to no longer see them the way you first did when you were courting, dating, or just hoping to date. Yes, it is easy to take that person for granted, to assume they will always be there, that somehow because they once said they needed you, that they will always say they need you. The problem with this attitude is that it is predicated on the false assumption that you can neglect a "thing" without causing any harm to the "thing" or the relationship.

Gardening and Relationships

We all love the beauty and wonder of plants. Whether you garden indoors or outdoors, plants are a lovely thing to look at and behold. They filter the air we breathe, and they bring their colorful show to brighten up our gardens, yards or tables. They are living things, created by God, and as such, they require certain elements to grow healthy and live long lives. They need good soil, plenty of sunshine, and ample water, just to name three. They also need shelter from the elements because harsh winds, hot sun, and depleted nutrients in poor soil will cause the plant to wilt and die. They also suffer from neglect, especially when they are not found in nature, but have been transplanted into our yards or brought indoors into our homes. You may not have been blessed with the proverbial "green thumb," but I am sure you have been blessed to have plants, either the flowering or green foliage kind, in or around your home. You know what a healthy plant looks like, and you know, unfortunately, what a sick plant looks like.

Plants die for many reasons, but often they die from neglect, disease, or improper care/handling/transplanting. I think these reasons are easily relatable to most on-going relationships. If you think about plants and how easily they can be damaged by neglect (lack of attention, water, nutrition) and how they can die simply by rough handling or poor treatment of their root system, you can see where I am going with this line of thought. Moreover, plants die from disease, from pests that infest them or from the transmission of fungus and other biologicals that we introduce into their soil.

In human relationships, we often treat our spouses, family, and friends, without much thought and care. We neglect them, and we care for them in rough ways. I don't think we realize how our handling (our treatment) of our relationships is so tenuous and fragile. Moreover, we don't realize that we bring outside influences into the relationship -- attitudes, behaviors, and even sinful practices that can all cause disease within our relationship. If left unchecked, disease will bring illness and can even lead to death. Furthermore, words, actions, and even nonverbal behaviors can cause damage to the tender root system of a developing relationship. Neglect, withholding of affection or the abandonment of a person to a harsh climate, will do damage to the internal consistency of the person's psychology. We often treat our friends, family, and most intimate relationships without care, thinking that our actions will not have consequences, our words will not matter, and our nonverbal behaviors will have no influence on the quality of their life or the life we share with them. But the truth is that our actions, our words, and our nonverbal behaviors cause reactions in the same way as with the gardener who withholds water, uses improper handling, and refuses to give nutrients to the plants he has transplanted in gardens, yards or pots in his home. Thus, the axiom is true: without proper care, all living things will die.

As I think about my relationship with my special friend, this is what comes to mind. We live in two different states. We have never met personally (face to face). We have shared aspects of our life with one another. We have enjoyed each others company, mediated by technology (email, chat, phone, and video). We have come to respect one another, to serve one another, and to love one another. All of this has happened without even meeting one another. How is this possible? How can that be? I mean "don't you have to physically meet a person to fall in love with them?" I used to think this was the case. I used to believe that the only way you could really know a person was to see them in action, to see them in the "real," the here and now. I have come to change my mind a bit, because over the past 16 months, I have experienced a true friendship with a man whom I have never met. I have experienced quality of care, the kind that the good gardener gives to his plants, from this person who lives far away from me. He has gently watered me, handled my emotions with care, and seen to it that I have been feed with proper nutrients (such as the Word of God). All of this has helped my roots grow deeply into the soil of a new relationship. I have tried to do the same thing for him, to care for his needs, to show him my intentions, and to be considerate of his feelings and his experiences. This behavior is intentional, it is not random. It is designed for one purpose and that is to clearly articulate intention, to show the other person, to tell them really that they matter, that they are important, and that we need each other.

Being Intentional

In relationships, so often people enter into physical intimacy without ever spending time preparing the soil of their new garden (relationship). They jump into bed with one another, spend inordinate amounts of time physically connecting -- all before they have even started to get to know the person well. They think that physical intimacy (sex) equals a personal relationship. What they forget or they simply do not understand is that no relationship can be developed without proper planning and care. Sex, in and of itself, is a selfish pursuit that seeks one outcome and that is, satisfied desire. Satisfied desire is not a relationship, it is more like plucking an apple from a tree. It tastes good, it feels good going down, and it satisfies hunger for a moment. Caring for the apple tree, however, that is relationship because when you care for the thing that has produced the fruit, then you showing true care, long-term care. Plus, you are cultivating a life-long way to satisfy desire, you are investing in the future of a tree that is going to produce fruit for many, many years to come.

I can remember how much time I would spend preparing my garden for planting each spring. I would start to look through my seed catalogs in early January. I would sketch out plans for changes I wanted to make in the garden boxes or around the perimeter of my garden. I would choose the plants carefully, deciding which ones would be best, most needed, the coming year. Then I would purchase the needed materials to "prep" my soil in late February/early March. Spring came early in Northern California so I didn't have to wait too long before I could begin turning over the beds for planting in late March. I would add fertilizer to the soil, rich compost from my compost pile, and begin to work the soil, tenderizing it so that when the time came, it was ready to receive my tender seedlings. I took great care with my seedlings, and I made sure their little roots were not damaged by rough handling. Once planted, I put shelter around them (plastic rings from Pepsi 2-liter bottles) to keep them safe. I watered them well, and over the course of several weeks, I was fastidious at keeping pests and weeds away. With all my tender care, come summer, my garden would be in full bloom, and I would have beautiful produce to enjoy. I would can some of the vegetables for fall use, but mostly I would enjoy the bounty of my harvest. When fall would come, I would remove the plants that were spent, chopping them up, and placing them into the compost heap. As they decayed, their life would be returned to the heap for use next year. It was the cycle of life in the garden, and the more attention I paid to it, the more success I had each year. The key for me as a novice gardener was to study gardening, to learn as much as I could about the subject, and then practice with intention, with the desired outcome of seeing my efforts produce good crops. If I was intentional, studious, and a good worker, I would see those results. If I neglected my garden, my plants, well -- I would see poor results, decay, and eventual death.

Commitment to Seeing Results

As a novice gardener, I made a commitment to seeing good results. I took a very bland backyard and I turned it into a mini-Martha Stewart show place. Of course, my garden didn't look like hers in reality, but many of the things I did do were similar to what she would show on her television show each week or in her magazine. My goal was to create a working garden, a place where I could relax each day, and where I could see the fruit of my labors come to pass. I remember thinking that once I started gardening, and once I dug up my back yard, I was committing to keeping my garden a live. For sure, I made an investment. I remember spending my hard earned money to buy the materials needed to build garden boxes. I started with one box the first year, and then the second year, tore everything out and rebuilt the back yard to include four boxes. I created compost pile that year, and I planted grapes with a trellis. It seemed that each year, I added something different, new to my garden. After six years, I had transformed the front and back yards (and side yards), filling them with flowers and plants, and making my home inviting and lovely to look at and enjoy. I invested heavily, I lifted rock, poured stone, laid foundations, and I planted, watered, weeded, and tended my garden with enthusiasm and care. I was so sad to leave my garden behind when I moved to Arizona, but I hoped I would have the chance to garden here. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to garden in Arizona. It is not impossible, but it is very, very difficult. The hard soil here requires great effort, and the burning heat almost always kills the plant. It is a challenge, and after several good attempts, I finally gave up. I miss my garden, for sure, but the life lessons I learned while planting and harvesting have remained with me to this day.

As I consider the nature of my new relationship, I see how intentionality between me and my friend has paid off. We have chosen to invest in each other, and in doing so, we are experiencing the blessing of love and friendship that is devoted to one another. I pray that some day soon we will be able to meet, finally, so that we can begin to develop that other side of our relationship, the more intimate side that only happens when you are face-to-face. But until then, I will continue to invest in his life, in the way that I can, and hopefully, he will continue to invest in my life. Together, we can build a solid foundation by each working in our shared garden - he tenderly cares for my life, and I tenderly care for his. It is mutual, life-affirming, and dedicated to the pursuit of establishing that life-long attachment that says "I need you today, and I will need you tomorrow."

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