"Perennial Gardens"    [ 16 ]   
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Aug 2016
 Garden Painting
I seem to be entering a season of profound learning in my life right now. I cannot say why. I'm not studying more aggressively than usual, not fasting like a zealot or hammering at heaven's doors with prayerful petitions. But life-transforming lessons are rolling into my understanding and reshaping my paradigm like never before. Some of these precious insights I desperately wish would have arrived some 30 or 40 years ago — this entry describes one of them. The best way I know to explain it here is by submitting to that age-old Writers Creed to "just cut open a vein" and bleed right onto the page, as it were, revealing an admittedly private aspect from my life .. but I believe it is appropriate in illustrating the poignancy of this narrative. What follows is an excerpt from a recent travel journal entry (8·14·16) —
 world notebook
 I wonder if my life could really change at all — 
       Could all that is lost be found?
 Could a garden come up from this ground at all? 
It was really good to be back in our church this morning after so much travel over the summer.  :-)

One of the songs during worship was "Beautiful Things" containing this lyric in verse one...

For some reason, my imagination immediately framed the lost territory of my two failed marriages, that earth which is so battle-scarred and hard for having suffered untold corruption. I feel in my heart that such a lovely, refreshing, life-giving garden will not —( cannot? )— grow from this ruined war-torn terrain . . but as the focus verse of today's message poured through my wounded soul, which seems destined to hover over this broken and forsaken ground, a new image formed in my mind and heart...

  We KNOW that in ALL THINGS God works
for the GOOD of those who love Him, who
have been called according to His purpose!
  —  Romans 8:28  


  He is perfect in LOVE
  He is infinite in WISDOM
  He is unlimited in POWER


“Everything is necessary that God sends our way;
  nothing can be necessary that He withholds.”
John Newton  


I believe the kind of FRUIT I have always hoped for and longed to produce in my life — namely a loving, vibrant, and successful marriage — is not the kind of fruit God is interested in cultivating in the soil of my years here on earth. He seems quite adamant on nurturing other fruit in my life instead of that which I have always hoped for and admired...  So .. what, then?  I would do well to yield my feeble gardening plans to the MASTER who knows what · and why · He's doing what He's doing!  :-)


This has always been a bit of a sore spot for me, especially after years of hearing well-meaning professional counselors who, having assessed my approach to adult relationships and social constructs, routinely observed how "ideally wired for marriage" I am... Their affirmations are nice, but do not seem to matter much. As of this writing, I have been unexpectedly single for 12 years with no prospects for marriage in sight and, frankly, a waning desire anymore to even worry about such contrivances. Not to say I'm living as some swinging single in a world full of ready partners. Nothing about that sort of lifestyle has ever struck me as sensible — it's not healthy, or wise, or conducive for developing any kind of real, trusting, long-term relationship. Sure, I may be free to pick up smoking, but that doesn't make it a good idea, or even a reasonable option. ~ So I opt not to smoke.

Someone may ask: "So how's that working out for you, Tom?"

A bit lonely at times, but I will not compromise the soil of my life's garden by making concession for weeds.

Yes, my best attempts to grow a lovely crop of tomatoes or corn or watermelon over the years have only yielded heartbreaking results. But in the meanwhile, other bountiful crops have sprung up without my direct planning — exhilarating and lively crops that have made very real and positive, lasting impacts upon the lives of countless others... like raising three strong and independent-but-God-fearing daughters, leading a number of Bible study groups over the years, continuing to grow as a musician through ministries spanning three decades, even developing this website (along with a host of other professional creations). Please do not mistake this as bragging on my part, as I am probably more surprised by these developments than anyone else! For me, all of this ancillary 'other fruit' grows in light of John Lennon's sweeping observation how life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans ("Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)"). And this 'alien fruit' is not just growing — it is flourishing!

The image at the top of the page (commissioned artist: Jessica Stigsson) dropped into my mind's eye, clear and complete: approaching my protected garden with a basket full of seeds I hope [again] to plant and nurture only to find this bizarre but amazing (and clearly luscious) fruit sprouting up from my carefully tilled furrows. Another Gardener has obviously been at work here . . .


“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit,
  while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. Remain in me, as
  I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you  bear
  fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you
  will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch
  that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned — [it is]
  to my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. I chose you and
  appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit — fruit that will last!”

—  excerpts from John 15:1-16    
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
    and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
  because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
—  Hebrews 12:5b-6 
  My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,
   and do not resent his rebuke,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
   as a father the son he delights in.
  —  Proverbs 3:11-12 

The Bible is full of these sorts of metaphors, like 'the Potter and the clay' (see Jeremiah 18:1-6, Romans 9:19-21, Isaiah 64:8) but I have never experienced it like THIS before.. so personal, so vibrant, so redolent with color and meaning. Most everyone can point to specific moments and circumstances when God may have pruned away major sections of what we took to be our most precious 'produce'. He does this not to harm us, but to strengthen that which He intends to develop in and through us, all for His Glory and ultimately for our Best!  Everyone who knows me and my little family can testify that the most severe 'pruning' we suffered 12 years ago turned out to be, in the long run, the best thing ever for our health, safety, and general well-being .. dire though it was to lose such a limb at the time. As a physical parallel, submitting to invasive surgery for the purpose of removing cancer will certainly cause some distress in anyone, maybe even terror, but would (hopefully) lead to more a stable life and, in time, complete relief and restoration! This 'garden vision' (for lack of better term) secured within me, for the first time ever, a deep sense of PEACE regarding this most perplexing of subjects in my life. So I share this account in hopes that it may encourage others who may also be inspecting their own wild gardens these days and wondering what is going on. As for me and all the surprise bounty evident in my life, I do not mean to boast in myself - far from it!  For I see in my own mirror an uprooted, patched-up and pruned-away mess... But I also see such extraordinary fruit growing along the periphery of my gaze. A much more qualified Gardener than I is at work here whose labor, not my own, is resulting in the most astonishing beauty and bounty!

 pumpkin  tomatoes  cornstalk
 cucumbers  pruning shears  watermelon
(2016)  17