Excellent fertilizer

Sh*t makes excellent fertilizer. That’s what I thought of after a friend I had not heard from in a long time wrote to me and apologized for being a sh*tty friend, not returning my phone calls or texts. I was happy to hear from her and responded that she is a friend, period, without qualifiers. Was I disappointed that I had not heard back from her earlier? Yes. But that didn’t mean that I didn’t want to hear from her whenever she was ready to reach out! In that moment the story of the Prodigal Son became real in my life. I was happy to hear from the person who I thought was lost, but now was found.

Then I read a terrific blog post by Jen Hesse, titled “God never wastes the space between.” It got me thinking about my own in-between spaces – those times of waiting for the next step, of wondering what the next step will be or what it will bring. It is wonderful to celebrate the end of the waiting – the joyful reunion of friends or family members, the new relationship, the new job, the return of good health – but sometimes, unfortunately, we have a long period of waiting. The season of Lent in the Christian church is a season of waiting, remembering the decades that the Jewish people spent wandering in the wilderness, following Moses, before getting to the promised land. The season of winter feels like a season of waiting for the sun to return to prominence in the hemisphere, waiting for leaves, grass, and flowers to emerge in springtime. Waiting can be a lonely, dark, dispiriting time. I am a person who loves to have a plan. Waiting for a plan to emerge has been difficult.

Fortunately, the seasons of Lent and winter also bring the assurance that the waiting will end. God’s people did not wander in the wilderness forever, it just seemed that way to them. Winter does not last forever, spring does return. It does not return in the same way that it did last year, and my future will not look the same as my past, but I will not be stuck in my present state of waiting forever. It is reassuring to be reminded that God is with us in the waiting, in the wilderness, when it is hard to hold onto faith and hope. I am thankful for friends and family members who reach out, for writers who share their stories of struggle and faith, and for my church community. Even when I cannot see what is ahead, I can take comfort in the knowledge that I will be surrounded by faith and by opportunities to live out my faith.

And what does fertilizer have to do with any of this? With the emergence of spring it is time to turn over the earth, dig into the dirt, and prepare the garden and flower beds for planting! If you’ve ever lived near a farm you may know that cow manure (sh*t) makes excellent fertilizer, much in the same way that vegetable scraps make excellent compost. But cow manure and vegetable scraps do not become excellent fertilizer or compost overnight! They need a lot of time to decompose and change their physical properties into something that will provide nourishment to other plants. Something that is a waste product can, over time, become a new and valuable commodity, contributing to our well-being. Similarly, the parts of ourselves that we fear are used up or out-of-date can be renewed over time.

Reading the scripture verses about the “parable of the prodigal and his brother”, as it is called in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, I am reminded that there are two brothers in the story. These days we could call them siblings. One has stayed at home caring for the family farm/property, the other has left home with his/her inheritance money and wasted it on decadent living. When the prodigal returns after years of no contact the father rejoices but the other sibling is annoyed, feeling unappreciated for the years of loyal work that they have provided. The father’s words to both of the siblings can provide comfort to us, whether our period of waiting has seemed productive or not. To the first he says, “You are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” (Luke 15:31.)  You are always with me. How much I need to hear that in my times of darkness and waiting! Then he goes on, “But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this [sibling] of yours was dead and has come to life; s/he was lost and has been found.” (Luke 15:32.) In God’s world the old becomes new, the dead come to life, the waiting ends in rejoicing.

Lord, thank you for being with me always – in the waiting, and in the rejoicing to come. Amen.

 

 

 

A new shoot

The thermometer outside my kitchen window read 0.9 degrees (F) this morning, well below the average for January in New Jersey. And it’s not just in the northeast; much of the U.S. has been gripped by severely cold weather since Christmas. Although it was sunny and bright yesterday it was the coldest day yet this winter, barely getting out of the single digits. The start of the new year has been bleak from that perspective.

How happy I was to look closely at my orchid later in the morning and to see a new shoot! This orchid was given to me by the Deacons at my church in June last year as a “thank you” for the three years I had served as a Deacon. The white flowers lasted for months and when they died off I cut the stem short and put the plant, pot and all, into a clear plastic dry-cleaning bag to preserve the humidity, then placed it out of direct sunlight. More months passed without any sign of new growth yet here it is, the little piece at the top of the old stem, pointing to the left! What a timely reminder that new growth is happening even when it cannot be seen. What a timely reminder to have patience even in times of darkness and cold.

new shoot - orchid

This brought to mind the prophesy that a king would be descended from David: “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit” (Isaiah 11:1.) A stump may not look like fertile ground for the future beauty of an orchid, or of the Lord, but a stump is almost all that is needed. Add a trace of water, don’t burn it out in direct sunlight, and be patient. Even when I cannot detect any movement, a new thing is happening!

Lord, thank you for signs of new life and growth. Amen.

The soaker hose

The soaker hose

“But the Lord said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ ” 2 Corinthians 12:9

Recently I was debating about whether to turn on my soaker hose in the front yard. It has been extremely hot and dry for the past month so the plants definitely needed water. But I thought about how the soaker hose might not be enough because it doesn’t get close to some of the geraniums I’d planted this spring. I didn’t want to spend the time to water those separately, so I caught myself thinking that maybe I wouldn’t turn on the hose at all.

What?! I may not be able to do all the watering so I wouldn’t do any?? That makes no sense, yet that’s what I was tempted to do. Tempted, as in temptation, as in a lack of resistance to the voice of doubt (the voice of laziness?) telling me not to even try. And it almost sounded logical! Why start a job if I may not be able to complete it? Why put forth a bit of effort if it may not be enough? Thankfully, I caught myself entertaining this bit of twisted logic and I went outside and turned on the hose.

Where else in my life does this thinking show up? When I think about exercising or house cleaning, or on a larger scale when I think about how I can make a difference in addressing the issue of poverty, or trying to influence our political process. Will my five dollar donation make a difference? Will an email to the Senator make a difference? One thing is for sure – no action will not make a difference.

Where do you stop yourself before you even get started? What action can you take today to push back at the temptation of inaction? I encourage you to shut down the voice in your head that says it won’t be enough. For today, it will be.

Lord, with you all things are possible. Help me to take one step toward what you want me to accomplish today. Amen.