Dear Mr. McGregor, I’m Sorry…

Do you remember Mr. McGregor from the Peter Rabbit stories?  He was the crotchety old gardener who continued to chase all the adorable bunnies out of his cabbage.  When they got caught in his shed, they feared for their lives because he was not kidding around about his garden.  He was the “bad guy.”  In the end, the poor bunnies were saved and made off with Old McGregor’s veggies.  As a child, I was obviously in the palm of Beatrix Potter’s hand and rooted for the hungry rabbits wearing precious English coats.  As an adult, I’m so annoyed at those little thieves.  So, let me take this opportunity to express my sincere apologies to the fictional gardener Mr. McGregor.  I feel ya Man.  My little garden is not doing too well this year and I’m in the worst mood about it.  I have bought and planted so many squash, zucchini and pepper plants this season that I have spent more than I EVER would at the store on actual squash, zucchini, and peppers.  I mean, there isn’t a male in my family that will even touch anything from the squash family.  But week after week I head back to the nursery to buy another fresh, healthy plant just to have it devoured less than 24 hours after it is in the ground.

tomatoes

Stupid, stinking, thieving rodents.  (Around the Ranchito I think mice and rats are the problem more than bunnies in coats.  Destructive none the less.)

I have tried everything.  I have used the “Repel” spray and the stuff you shake around the perimeter of the garden.  I have bought netting and cages for the plants.  I have read every article about cinnamon and cayenne pepper.  There have even been late night stake outs and BB Guns (It’s Texas y’all.).  I have even researched the possibility of setting up owl roosts because they are supposed to be rats’ greatest predator.   Unfortunately we don’t have any trees tall enough (It’s WEST Texas y’all).  Nothing is working.  No matter how many rodents we kill, there are always 10 more waiting to munch my little veggie plants.  It’s not only the tender stems and leaves they are destroying… It is all of my hard work and toil. It is the possibility of the fruit (or vegetable).  Gone.  In a bite.  The thing that really kills me is that there are 7 acres worth of plants to eat.  There is a pasture full of lovely long grass.  There are wild flowers in huge bunches all over this place.

flowers

In fact, I’m so mad about the garden right now that there are plenty of weeds lining the rows of half devoured plants.  That’s not what these little thieves go for.  It’s not what they want.

So God is showing me something in all of this which is good I guess.  I mean if I can’t have zucchini bread I might as well have a little wisdom.  The first lesson I am learning as I watch my garden being destroyed is about the “little foxes.” (I know, it’s rats not foxes.  Stay with me).  Remember the little foxes from Song of Solomon?  In chapter 2:15 it says, “Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom.”  The reference to the vineyards here is probably made in regards to the relationship between King Solomon and the Shulamite woman.  He is giving her a warning that they need to be aware of the “little foxes” that can destroy their love.  So rats are even smaller than foxes, right?  And yet they can ruin my entire garden in one night.  It makes me think about all of those little things, little distractions, little sins, little places of rebellion that I am letting destroy the fruit of what God is wanting to do in my life.  Is the distraction of busyness eating up my peace?  Is the sin of comparison destroying my joy?  Is there a root of bitterness that is devouring my contentment?  Are my words, my witness, my ministry being nibbled to nothingness because I have allowed a little fox of pride to reside too long in my heart?  To catch them I have to be aware of them.  After all, John 15:8 says, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”  If I am not bearing the fruit, showing myself to be a disciple, then I better get to fox hunting.  They won’t go away on their own.  There will have to be a plan, and equipment, and maybe I’ll need some help.  Focus, the Word of God, a community around that is always calling me to be a better version of me, who can see the fruit God intends.  We’re coming for you, you stupid little foxes.

Next, it strikes me as, ummmm, let’s say interesting (infuriating, exasperating) that the weeds are thriving next to the failing vegetables.  No one went out to buy the weeds, no one loaded them in their car, no one prepared the soil for them, dug a hole, and gingerly placed them in the ground.  No one has fertilized them or watered them.  And yet, there they are; tall, strong, healthy.   Weeds are the default.  If nothing is done, it is the weeds that will grow, not the nutritious, beneficial fruits and vegetables we desire.  I have to think, “what is my default?”  What is yours?  What will grow in us if left to our natural state?  What attitudes will flourish?  What words will be produced?  What sin will thrive?  What will come out in a crisis, when my feelings are hurt, when I am stressed or worried or tired?    Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?”  So, that’s our soil to start with.  That is our human flesh, our natural selves.   It reminds me of the good ‘ole Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:16-23:

“So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh.  They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.  The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like.  I warn you as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.”

The works of the flesh, the default, the weeds… they are easy to spot, they grow without effort, they are easily rampant.  The fruits of the spirit, well they are a bit more time consuming to cultivate.  I always think about Daniel and his buddies after they had been taken into captivity by the Babylonians.  When they were given the opportunity to partake in the king’s richest of fares it says, “But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself…. (Daniel 1:8)”  He had resolved to stay faithful before the temptation had come, therefore purity was his default in the face of defilement.   Pulling weeds is boring and tedious and really, a never ending task.  But to give what we have resolved in our hearts room to flourish, to make the fruit of the Spirit our default we have to get rid of them.

Healthy, yielding gardens don’t just happen.  There may be seasons of rodents and weeds.    My prayer of late in several difficult situations in my life has been, “Lord, find me faithful.”  When I cannot control my circumstances, when I cannot make wise decisions for others, when my heart is broken or anxious or confused… find me faithful.  Find me faithful in prayer.  Find me faithful in the Word.  Let the words of my mouth reflect the Truth of God rather than my own deceitful, weedy heart. Find me faithful to take every opportunity I am given to point people to Jesus, rather than to myself.  Let it be my default rather than the weeds of this world.  Show me the little foxes, the rats, the distractions, sins, or places of apathy and find me faithful in the hunt.  God intends an abundant harvest in my life, in yours.   But if we ignore the rodents and the weeds the crop will be meager.  Let my life, my witness, my marriage, my motherhood, my friendships be more productive than my little vegetable garden is this year.

So, poor, dear Mr. McGregor, I am truly sorry for my childhood ignorance.  I know now that you are not the “bad guy” but a faithful gardener.  I envy that lush patch of earth you cultivated.  Well done, Sir.

And now, I have to go put another zucchini plant in the ground.  Lord, find me faithful and persistent!

yellow-plant

 

 

It’s Always a Sprinkler Project

Spring is upon us at the Ranchito and it is my favorite! The pasture is popping with wildflowers, the hens are laying a dozen eggs a day (still in the same box, you know), the vegetable garden is planted (crooked rows and all).  We have even added fruit trees this year!  I am planting pots of flowers, replacing herbs that didn’t make it through the winter, and watching to see if my lantana and hydrangea come back.  The tiny Mexican Hat plants of last year are bushes full of bright blooms this year and the roses promise to be stellar! I love all the things.  Obviously, all projects are focused outside as the constant West Texas wind blows in the warmer weather.  A light bulb is out in your closet?  We’ll get to that in October.  The puppy ate the blinds again?  It’ll be fine until Fall! Your potty doesn’t flush?  Ummm….. ok, but spring is here!

Here is how most conversations go around here on a springtime Saturday morning:

Hubs: “What are you thinking you want to get accomplished this weekend?  What are you going to work on?”

Me: “Well, I need to hoe the garden, buy the veggies, and get them in the ground.  We need to get the fig tree planted next to the others.  I want the kids to clean the pool and scoop the poop.  I’ll clean out the coop.  I’m going to get some flowers for the hanging baskets and transplant some into the wheelbarrow.  I want to get the sweet potato vine going in the courtyard too so it’ll be awesome and everywhere sooner!  What about you?”

Hubs: “I need to go to Lowes and get stuff to fix the sprinklers.”

It is always a sprinkler project.  There always seem to be one or two zones acting up.  With four kids and four dogs running around, there is always at least one sprinkler head that is broken.  And all of my pretty flower beds, my veggie garden, my apple and pear trees would die very quickly without a working sprinkler system.  I know.  But no matter what I need done around here, it must get in line behind the sprinklers.  It’s like GO on the Monopoly board.  You have to pass it to get anywhere else.  Sitting here at my computer on a quiet Tuesday morning I’m not mad about it…. But sometimes on a Saturday afternoon?  Yeah.

We have a few “sprinkler projects” in our marriage too. Do you know what I mean?  There are a few areas that I know will always need attending to.  There are a few zones that may never work perfectly.  There are a few heads that seem to get knocked loose often and easily.  I can see it coming from a mile away.  I know the conversations that will do it.  I know the subjects that will cause the gusher.  I know the places that we have never seen eye to eye on.  I know the things that we have always stood at opposite corners on.  Maybe it is because of the families we grew up in, maybe it’s the Florida/Texas culture chasm, maybe it’s a Mars and Venus thing , maybe it’s our unique personalities, maybe it’s just our own sin and junk,  It’s probably all of those things.

My hubby always says, “We’ll never have an immaculate 7 acres.”  We concentrate on the front and back yards.  We tend to the flower beds.  We water and weed the garden.  But, he is right.  Way out here in the high desert we will never have all 7 acres landscaped and groomed.  It will never look like an English countryside (my secret dream.) It will also never look like my parents’ lush land on a lake in Florida where it rains every afternoon at 3pm sharp.  If you were to come to the Ranchito today you would be greeted by blooming white geraniums by the sidewalk and a cute little bench with a pillow that reads “home” on it.  There is a wreath straight from Magnolia Market on the front door.  If you were a tribe-member you would know that the front door is locked and no one has come in or out of it in a week and you would come through the courtyard to the sunset porch and in the kitchen door.  There you would see the herb garden, hanging baskets, tiny hydrangea making their spring debut, and friendly blue rockers.

ranchito-spring

I blow the leaves off of that porch every single day.  I keep it pretty.  If the wind died down enough and we decided to have a meal outside I would lead you to the backyard, past the rose bushes, to a long white table under a pool-side pergola.  If you left at night you would drive out of the gate with trees full of year-round lights in your rear-view mirror.  Here’s the deal, I wouldn’t invite you to sit and have a glass of wine with me behind the shop where we haul dead branches and debris. We’re not chatting it up in the school-room closet next to the litter box and papers strewn everywhere.  I’m not asking your kids to play way out in the pasture where there are stickers and cactus and possibly rattlesnakes.  But, just because those are real places doesn’t mean that all I just described isn’t beautiful.  We will never have an immaculate 7 acres.

Our marriage is the same.  Maybe there are some zones we should just leave alone.  There may be some areas that are never going to be blooming and beautiful.  After 16 years and a lot of redemption and work I can tell you that those areas are less and less, but there are still a few. But, we don’t have to live in the stickery, snake-filled pasture.  We have cultivated so many lovely areas that bring life and joy.  Just because there is a pile of debris out there doesn’t mean that there can’t be beauty right here.  We are two sinners, living together everyday, raising 4 little sinners, all under one loud, chaotic roof.  I once heard Beth Moore talk about her marriage and she said something like,  “Does it really always have to be great? Can’t it just be good?”  At the time this offended my 20 something, romantic sensibilities as I was sitting in a hot mess of a marriage.  Now, 16 years later, sliding into 40, I say, “Yes, Bethy (that’s my pet-name for her.  I’m sure she loves it)!  Yes, it can be good.  It can be really good.  Please don’t hear me say you should not work on things.  By all means, read a book, go to a retreat, get away together, don’t be afraid to have the hard conversations, pray. But at the end of the day know that no one has an immaculate 7 acres.  The areas in your marriage that have a perpetually busted sprinkler head may look perfect in someone else’ but they have their pile of dead branches too.   Does your hubby have a temper? Do y’all go round and round about budget?  Are in-laws a source of constant strife?  OK…. but is he a good provider, a hard worker, a hands-on dad that is doing the best he can? Maybe he is a huge help around the house but is terrible at community. Or maybe he has jumped head-first into your tribe but he never pursues you spiritually.  I get it.  But does it all have to be great?  Can we let it still be good?

chris-les-kiss

We had a big “sprinkler project” issue this week.  We tip-toed around the leaky head for awhile.  We knew it had potential to be a mess.  We could have headed on over to a pretty, manicured spot in our relationship…. We didn’t.  I finally just reared back and kicked the thing as hard as I could.  It was a gusher.  My husband came to me a little while later and wisely said, “this is just one of those areas where we will have to agree to disagree.  We’ve come so far, let’s not do this.”  I wish I could tell you that I was gracious and mature in that moment.  Confesh… in the gushing emotions I wasn’t.  But he was right.  We will never have an immaculate 7 acres but we have so many beautiful spots in our marriage.  That is real.  That is good.

Marriage isn’t the only place we can apply the “sprinkle project principle” (so scientific, don’t you think?).  Do you do it with your kids?   Guess what your kids will never be good at?  EVERYTHING.  They will be really good at lots of things.  If you are a wise parent you will find their giftings and give them ample opportunity to soar.  But every single thing they try?  Everything that is ever asked of them?  Nope.  There will be some stickery patches and places that will never look neat and tidy.  Do you have a child that is super smart and goes through school with flying colors but will never get picked first for the baseball team?  What about a super talented artist who can’t seem to pass a math test?  Maybe you have a star athlete that has a hard time with relationships. Maybe you just have some normal kids that are ok in a lot of areas and less ok in others. No one’s child is perfect.  No one has an immaculate 7 acres.

What about yourself?  Do you do it to you?  Are you a great housekeeper and cook but you are a less “fun” wife and mom?  Are you the always willing “room mom” but can’t seem to get the laundry put away?  Do you and your husband have great communication and intimacy but you can’t stop looking at all your imperfections in the mirror?  Can you throw a Pinterest-worthy party but have a hard time engaging other women in real community?  Are you a leader in some areas and a failure in others.  We all have busted sprinkler heads, but look how beautiful that sunny patch is right there.

I think there is some peace and freedom in recognizing all of this.  I’m certainly not trying to hide our rough spots, or hide from them.  I just acknowledge they are there, work on them when we can, and focus on the areas that are life-giving.  That is really what it is about, isn’t it?  Focus?  If we are always looking at the weeds, at the debris, at the problems, we will never notice the wildflowers.   So, why don’t we all take a deep breath…. let’s grab a glass (I have plenty, you know), and go sit in the rocker on the courtyard instead of stomping around in the same ‘ole stickers.  Yes, there is a sprinkler head that is broken but it is lovely over here by the roses.  We will never have an immaculate 7 acres.  You will never have a perfect marriage, a perfect husband, a perfect child.  Guess what?  They will never have a perfect wife or mom either.  There is always a sprinkler project… But it can be so very good.

Country Strong

Sometimes I send romantic little texts to my husband throughout the day like, “Hey, where is the chainsaw?” or “I need the BIG ladder.” At times I may get a “What are you doing?” response but most of the time it is merely the red-faced mad emoji or the more popular complete silence.  Like most married couples I suppose, we sometimes differ in the priority of projects we feel need to be attended to around the Ranchito.  To be fair, there are a lot….. My husband’s favorite projects tend to be the kind in which he can put headphones in and work on alone… sprinklers, spraying weeds, driving the tractor,  something for a million hours out in the shop.

country-strong-tractor

And to be fair, he is at the office most of the week while I am here… starting at the dead limb until it is LITERALLY MAKING ME CRAZY.  I want to be able to till the garden, get the truckload of mulch, build onto the chicken coop, cut down the branch for the love of Pete.  The truth is, I have a hard time with the 50 pound bag of dog food.  And it makes me so mad.

Let me paint a little picture of myself for you…. I am 5’4″ (and 1/2???).  I was a cheerleader in high school AND COLLEGE (go ahead, I know)!! And although 4 kids in 6 years added a couple of dress sizes on, I am in no way a large, brawny girl.  My idea of a good workout is a little candlelight and yoga or maybe a hip hop step class (cheerleader!!).  Now, I did birth a 10lb 11oz baby boy all natural so I don’t care how much you can lift… I win.  But, my physical limitations, even in my strong, healthy, relatively young body are frustrating so much of the time.  I will probably never be as strong as my husband.  I will never be as tall as my 6ft.tall  sister-in-law who is super handy to have around by the way!!  I have yet to be loading chicken feed or potting soil into the back of my SUV where a nice gentleman doesn’t notice the obvious struggle and offer to help.

These limitations mean that I have to ask for help.  A LOT.  I am a hard worker and will put in the sweat and long hours but nothing I do is going to transform me into someone who can accomplish all that I wish I could.  My husband jokes around with me often and says, “You’re country strong Babe! You can do it.”  But here is the thing…. there are times I really can’t.  It makes me so frustrated… and as I have thought more about it I am so frustrated that I am frustrated.  Is there anything we value in our American culture more than independence?  It sounds so strong and right and good.  But then I look to the Word of God and He says something very different, doesn’t He?  In John 15:5 Jesus says, “apart from me you can do NOTHING.”  Ouch.  In light of an omnipotent Savior are we anything BUT limited?

It’s weakness, isn’t it.  Weakness is what we are talking about.  We hate being weak.  I hate being weak.  It seems everything in our culture revolves around being strong….Workout and eat right to be strong of body.  Put your kids in the best schools and bombard them with learning so they will be strong of intellect.  Work hard at your job and climb the ladder to be of strong power, wealth, and influence.  Post only the very best of yourself to be strong of admiration and popularity.  Strength.  We love it.  Paul says something shocking to our “pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps” sensibilities in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10: “I will BOAST all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why for Christ’s sake I will DELIGHT in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.”    Boast in weakness, not hide them?  Delight in weakness, not try to overcome them?  Not be frustrated in them?  Not see my weakness as weakness but strength?   Man, Jesus likes to flip things upside down, doesn’t He?

One aspect of my walk with Jesus that I simply love is that He invites us to be co-laborers with Him here on the earth.  1 Corinthians 3:9 says, “For we are God’s fellow workers,” or, “co-workers.”   In 2 Corinthians 6:1 Paul says, “As God’s fellow workers (or partners) we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.”  Just like there is always work to be done around my Ranchito, there is Kingdom work to be done here on earth.  We are called to share the gospel, love one another, pray for one another, to care for the widows and orphans, to resist the devil, to fight the good fight.  In Luke 10:2 Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.”  In Isaiah 6:8  Isaiah tells us, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’  And I said, ‘Here am I.  Send me!”    You see, the moment you make Jesus Lord of your life you do not just sit back and wait in line to get into the pearly gates.  N0! In fact, you receive marching orders, really, divine assignments here on earth.  We are to be hard workers. Did you know that God instituted work in the garden before the fall.  I’m all in for a little hard work, some dirt on our hands, some spiritual sweat on our brow, a little eternal muscle being built.

But, just like I have to depend on my much stronger and more able husband to do certain things around here, we will ALWAYS have to depend on our Rock of a Savior to come along side of any and all of our efforts for His glory. He is like the kind gentleman at Tractor Supply who can lift effortlessly what I cannot with all my might.  The things that I worry and fret I will never be able to do on my own are but a whisper of His mighty will.  All I need to do is ask for His help.  All we need to do is boast in our weakness, delight even.  And our work will become rest at His side.  After all, he tells us in Matthew 11:30, “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  We don’t have to be country strong.  We have a Savior who can command the wind and the waves, who beat death, who can’t wait to lend you a hand.  Rest in this and be encouraged Sisters, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  (2 Cor. 12:9) Thank goodness for that!