The Garden Chronicles ~ September 12, 2010

Paint by Gender

Last summer Mark built a handsome fence for my garden.  He dug the post holes by hand. He lugged two by fours and four by fours and mixed quick-set concrete in the blazing sun. He screwed everything together so it would be sturdy and last forever, unlike our neighbour’s fence which is already warping because it was “nailed and not screwed.” He put solar caps on the four by four posts. They illumine the night with a cool blue glow. The evening ambience is worthy of Style at Home, so you know I’m happy. The fence provides structure and a sense of enclosure to the garden and is the perfect natural backdrop for the plants and trees.

It seemed only fair that I offer to apply the weatherproofing sealant. I don’t mind painting. Not so fond of digging. 🙂 But, because Mark used wolmanized lumber, I had to wait a year for the wood to weather enough to accept the new finish.

The day finally came a couple of weeks ago when I was ready to paint. I made the mistake of mentioning this to Mark. He didn’t say too much, and disappeared into the garage.

In the meantime, I got ready. I had to change my clothes, of course, and don my painting outfit, a pair of shorts and tee-shirt already covered with the spatters of previous painting projects. I had to switch glasses. I wear my old frames when I am painting so as not to get any paint on my Vogue glasses with the trendy bling. I had to put sunscreen on my nose because, alas, it’s my own personal oversized facial solar panel that attracts UVA rays and UVB rays and every other evil alphabetized kind of ray looking for a landing pad.

Then I had to gather my implements and accoutrements. I had to go down to the laundry room and find the small brush I like to use for painting because it fits my hand well and prevents me from getting a sore wrist. I had to find my gloves. Wearing a glove on my right hand also supports my wrist and prevents “wrist fatigue.” I’m pretty sure that’s a genuine syndrome. I think I read about it in Divas Don’t Paint: The Style Guide to DIY. Furthermore, gloves are necessary for brushing away spider webs, pulling weeds away from the bottom of the posts, and basically keeping the stain off my fingers. I had to find my small dustpan brush which I would need for two reasons: first, to sweep away bird droppings, crumbled and dry (not so bad), or recent (gross), and caterpillars (both the smooth green ones and the fuzzy white ones … neither of which I want to touch), and, second, to flail wildly at bees, yellowjackets, and wasps. I had to put a few Kleenex tissues in my pocket because I was going to sweat and I don’t like perspiration dripping into my eyes.  I”ve discovered that if sweat drips in your eyes, your mascara starts running and that’s not really a flattering look, especially in the harsh mid-day sunlight. So a dainty wipe of the forehead occasionally with a tissue forestalls that eventuality. (This is not my first time working outside, as you can tell). Finally, I went to the garage to find the step stool which I would need to do the top of the fence since it’s seven feet high. I couldn’t find it.

I thought the step stool might be in the shed, so I headed outside. There was Mark with the step stool, a gallon of sealant, and an oversized paintbrush that he tried to hand to me. I said that I had a brush, thanks. He pointed out that his brush would be more efficient. It would cover more area with each stroke. I politely responded that the smaller brush fit my hand better. He gave me what can truthfully only be described as a patronizing look. He then asked me what took me so long. He’d been waiting for me. I described all the things I had to do (see previous paragraph). He laughed.  Uproariously.

I got to work. After about two hours Mark came out to check on me. “Is that all you’ve got done?” he asked. There was only the slightest hint of condescension in his tone. You probably wouldn’t have even noticed, but I’ve had some practice.  “You want me to spray the fence?” he offered. “It would be quicker.”

“No, that’s OK,” I replied sweetly. In spite of the aforesaid withering glance and scornful comment, it’s best, I find, to remain conciliatory. There’s always another garden project in the future.  🙂

I certainly did NOT want him to spray the fence. The stain would end up all over my plants and the coverage on the fence would be drippy and uneven. I wanted a neat and carefully applied finish, precisely covering all areas with as consistent an application as possible.

I’m still not done.  🙂

Meadowview Message ~ August 29, 2010

A talk I gave at a nursing home. 🙂

I invite you to read along or listen to the Word of God as we find it in Matthew 6: 5-8. These verses are from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is speaking to the crowds. 

Matt. 6: 5-8

I’d also like to mention 1 Thess. 5: 16-18 where Paul gives this direction to the new Christians at Thessalonica and also to us: Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Most of us who are Christians know we are supposed to pray. Prayer is found all over Scripture. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus teaches the people the Lord’s Prayer. We know that Jesus himself prayed. He gave thanks for food. He prayed before important events. He spent the night praying to God before he chose the twelve disciples and before revealing himself as the Messiah to them. He prayed before the Transfiguration on the mountain where he was glorified and affirmed by God in front of Moses and Elijah and Peter, John, and James. He prayed with deep fervour and intensity in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prayed on the cross.

We know prayer is important, but why? We just read in Matthew 6 that “your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” How many of us have prayed for things that simply weren’t granted? How often do Christians secretly struggle with the practice of prayer? I know I have.

My teachers taught me that a good prayer should be made up of four parts: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. The first letter of these parts spell out the word Acts, like the book of the Bible. Easy to remember. But even if we know the four parts of a well-constructed prayer, does it help us understand why we should pray? God is omnipotent and Christians believe that everything is going to unfold his way in the end. Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in a human heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” So why pray?

It helps me to think of prayer as something God asks of us because it’s good for us, not because he needs it. Prayer is a spiritual discipline that has benefits for me personally. God doesn’t need my prayers, but he knows I need my prayers. He calls me to pray because it’s intended for my own growth!

Think about adoration. We often begin a prayer adoring God. We might mention his majesty, his might, his love. We praise him for his mighty acts … his creation of the world and its incredible beauty and variety. We praise him for his salvation of the world and for the wondrous gift of his Son as our Saviour. This praise delights God, but it’s not something he needs. It delights him because as we praise God, we are maturing in our faith. We are internalizing lessons, like little kids learning the times tables. God knows that every time we review his greatness in our prayers, we’re being strengthened in our faith. Every time we praise God, it’s like we’re putting on a piece of armour. Or we’re improving our spiritual health with a praise pill. The more we focus on God and his holiness, the more protected we are from spiritual depression or the loss of our faith.

Confessing my sins to God is _also_ more about what I need as a believer than about what God needs. God knows my sins. He knows about the sins I commit that I don’t even recognize myself. But the more faithfully I seek to repent of my sins in prayer, by name, conscientiously reviewing my day and asking God to forgive my selfishness or rudeness or bad language or stinginess, the more I grow spiritually in awareness and prevention of these sinful habits. By naming my sin to God, I’m naming it to myself, too. If I can recognize my sin, I can take steps to prevent it.

It’s the same with thanksgiving. As I list in prayer the things I am thankful for, my attitude is adjusted. Sometimes I don’t feel so thankful. Perhaps you have days like that, too. There might be times when you would like your family to drop by more often. Or you are tired of struggling with medical issues and frailty. Perhaps life has just been pretty tough lately. Paul told the Thessalonians to be thankful _in_ all circumstances, not _for_ all circumstances. Sometimes, when I am out of sorts, it’s hard to find things to be thankful for. But Paul’s command is sound. If I discipline myself to review the day and find things that I am thankful for … my garden, enough food to eat, the freedom I enjoy in this country, friends, books, clean water, then I see that God is still providing for me even though there are things in my life that might be disappointing. It’s like exercise… you don’t always want to do it, but when you do it, you reap the benefit. Maybe you can’t be thankful for your health, but you can be thankful for the personal support worker who is patient and gentle. Maybe you don’t feel thankful because your family members live far away, but you can be thankful for volunteers who come here to run a birthday party or for school children who come to Meadowview to sing. As we come up with a list of things to be thankful for everyday, our attitudes improve. We find that God is good… there are many things to be thankful for. And a thankful spirit brings joy and peace into our lives and into the lives of those around us.

Lastly, our prayers should involved supplication and intercession on behalf of others. God wants us to pray for others. For those who are sick. For those who are mentally ill. For those who are in prison. For those who are struggling with doubt. For those who are hungry. For those who are persecuted and oppressed for their faith. For those who are mourning. For those who are addicted. For those who are homeless. This list could go on and on. I was very struck once by a speaker who described a convent in Greece where the nuns pray around the clock for various cities. The morning shift might pray for New York.  The afternoon shift prays for Moscow. The evening shift prays for Jerusalem. That’s just beautiful, isn’t it?

But even when we pray for others, we experience spiritual benefit ourselves. Our prayers for others are like the Holy Spirit poking us.  They are like to-do lists. I can pray for someone I know who has lost a child. But the prayer will be a nudge… what else can I do? I can send a card. I can visit that person. Or perhaps I will pray for Haiti and Pakistan, countries devastated by natural disaster. My prayer will nudge me to do something concrete. Maybe I can give a more generous offering in the collection plate. I can pray for our nation’s leaders. Maybe that prayer will be a reminder that I should write an encouraging letter to my MP.

Do our prayers for others really help? Does it make a difference that there are some nuns in Greece praying for New York? We don’t really know exactly how the Holy Spirit works to build his kingdom here on earth, but the Bible gives us plenty of evidence that yes, somehow our prayers fit into God’s grand design.  Hannah prayed for a son who was eventually a leader in Israel, Daniel prayed and was able to interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, Paul and Silas were freed from prison as their friends were praying for them. 

I have a couple of pictures in my mind about how our prayers might work. Here’s the first one. You and I rarely think about the huge hydro network that powers our life. Our air-conditioning, our lights, our TV’s. That power is underground, or in the walls, or in wires strung high in the air. That hydro regulates traffic lights, and airports, and the heat in our homes. Sometimes, that hydro is used in surgery to save a life. I think of prayer that way. Prayer is like a power current that God uses to do his work.

Or prayer is like God’s own rubics cube. He can work his will without us, but it brings him joy to incorporate our prayers into the solving of his puzzle. He makes our prayers fit his perfectly organized plan.

I also like to imagine God knitting a shawl or a scarf. I bet some of you women like to knit or crochet. Just imagine that our prayers are like stitches. Here’s a prayer for our Canadian government. And God knits that prayer into a good decision made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Here’s a prayer for a friend who is distressed. And that prayer gets knitted into God’s garment of salvation.

One more example – my favourite. Sometimes I think of God as an artist painting his great salvation plan. Each prayer we pray is a colour. A yellow prayer goes here, a pink prayer goes there, a deep purple prayer is added to the background. Our prayers don’t create the painting. God does! But he uses our prayers.

We are called to pray. Prayer is a good habit like brushing your teeth or like exercise. Prayer is for our own spiritual benefit. The more we pray, the more faithful and mature we will be as Christians.

So, that’s all well and good, you might say. But why did Jesus pray, then? He didn’t have to confess sins. He didn’t need to grow spiritually. Jesus prayed because prayer, above all else, is talking to God. It’s conversation. In prayer you and God are having a cup of coffee together. God draws close to you. You tell God about how things are going in your Christian walk. Then you listen for his response. You’ll hear it. In the words of the Bible, in a sermon or a devotional book, in the comments of a friend, or in the words of a favourite hymn.

I ask you to pray. Maybe you remember a time when you could do so much more for the church. You taught Sunday school or you sang in the choir. Maybe you were an usher or a deacon. Maybe you really miss doing those things. Don’t despair. Pray. Your prayers continue to be a valuable part of your Christian discipleship. You will grow. God’s kingdom will grow.

I ask you to pray. More importantly, God asks you to pray.  Hear his words in Romans 12: Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Amen.