31 July 2007

Farming Update

The gardens are in full swing, and I won't be recording every time we go outside to pick, since it is now every day. But today was significant, even though I didn't take any pictures. (These are from last week.) I picked a lot of beans, and a couple of tiny zucchini because they were literally growing under the plant and I wanted to let the plant work on growing other zucchini located more favorably. And here's the big deal: I picked thirteen Anaheim peppers from one pepper plant, and there are more on the way!

Our tomato plants are taking over the garden, and are as high as the pole beans--between 5 and 6 feet tall. Enoch also found 5 cucumbers ready to be picked today, and I had just picked 2 yesterday!

Last week we had a couple of days with heavy rain, and by the time we got out to harvest, there were 3 giant zucchini, which yielded nine quart-sized bags full of shredded zucchini by the time I was done with them (roughly 18 cups). I'll gladly accept any good zucchini and green bean recipes anyone has! I have a wonderful recipe for basil-zucchini muffins with Parmesan cheese--maybe I'll post that some time. We have a lot of butternut squash growing, and the plant has left the confines of the raised bed and is trying to root itself in the grass between it and the driveway. (The more the merrier!) I'm looking forward to when the sunflowers bloom and when we begin to harvest carrots.

This last picture is of our poor little cherry tomato plant, which was planted in a red container. It looks so pathetic, all dried and withered, but it has a good number of tomatoes on it, and seems to want to keep surviving and producing; it is still putting out new flowers! I can't quite tell if it is a happy plant or not. It must feel so inferior to it's bigger, bulkier brother tomato plants that are in the ground, but I am very pleased with it's production. (I'm sure there is a lesson here--and perhaps a future blog bible study about the four soils and their outcomes or about the branches that get pruned because they don't produce any fruit!)

30 July 2007

True Rest for your Soul

Do you feel overwhelmed sometimes? Tired, but not exactly sleepy? Unsettled in your heart, unsatisfied with your life? Ever wonder why? Is it just a physical problem, just based on our circumstances, or is it more than that? Consider these words spoken by Jesus Christ:

"Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light." (Matthew 11:28-30 NASB)

It seems a contradiction to rest, putting on a yoke and bearing a load, doesn't it? Didn't He just refer to all those who would come as weary and heavy-laden? How can He possibly promise to give us rest while at the same time putting on a yoke and bearing His light load? How does that work, anyway? Let's look at what Jesus is telling us to do.

1-Come to Me. Three words which mean so much! Come. Implies that you are not near, and must move in order to be near. To Me. It is Jesus to whom we are to come. James 4:8-10 says,

"Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you."

Why is this passage talking about such "downer" feelings of gloom and doom? Those feelings don't seem to bring about rest! What's going on here? To come into the presence of a holy God, we must also be holy, perfect, and without sin. God hates sin, and has no tolerance for it. How can we, who are sinners and double-minded, possibly cleanse our own hands and purify our hearts and come to Him? Scripture says in Revelation 21:7-8:

"He who overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."

Coming to Him sounds impossible, since we all could be described by one or more of those things on that list! Now that's a reason to be miserable and to lose sleep! Our own conscience nags and accuses us because we know that we fall short of the glory of God (see Romans 3:23), and we have to face God some day to be judged by Him (see Hebrews 9:11). Consider what it says in 1John 1:8-2:3:

"If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments."

So how do we come to God? We can only come to Him if we have Christ as our Advocate, knowing that we deserve God's wrath and punishment for our sin. And so we come. We come from a position of distance, separated from God the Father because of our sin, knowing that we deserve His wrath, yet trusting in Christ as our Advocate to get us through to Him.

-2 Take My yoke upon you. Of all the things you've heard about that Jesus wants to give you, why this? Why not love and peace and fulfillment? What's a yoke anyway? Isn't that what a farmer puts on the necks of large animals in order to pull a cart and to work? Didn't slave-owners put them on slaves for the same purpose? That seems to be an act of gearing up for hard labor, not for rest! To take a yoke and put it on yourself is an act of willing submission. You accept it being given to you, and you put it on. Christ doesn't tie you down and wrangle you into submission. You willingly accept Him as the One in control, trusting that He knows what is best and will lead you in the way you should go. In order to do this, you must trust Him with your life, be willing to give it to Him without reservation, and allow Him to be the Master. Then you must let Him lead. Christ describes Himself as gentle and humble in heart, and assures us that His yoke is easy and [His] load is light. What better description of a master can you find? And what is it that He wants us to do?

-3 Learn from Me. How do we learn from Christ? What does He want to teach us? We can learn from Him by observing who/what/where/when/why/how He lived, what He did, what He said, and what those who knew Him personally said about Him, even those who made scathing claims against Him. We can know Christ by studying the Scriptures. Evidence that we have come to know Him: if we keep His commandments (see above reference in 1John). It's that one idea that we tend to harden our hearts to: obedience.

Keep the mental picture in your mind of the yoke on your shoulders. Imagine the yoke as a double yoke, with Christ as the one beside you, sharing in your trials. You see, He lived a life of perfect submission and obedience to God the Father. He was tempted in every way that we are, and yet He never rebelled against His Father's will. (see Hebrews 4:15) When a younger, weaker animal is yoked together with an older, stronger animal, it learns to do what it is supposed to do. Its tendencies to be easily distracted, frightened, or strong-willed become diminished over time, and eventually, the animal becomes more and more like the one he is being trained to emulate. Since it is Christ we are to emulate, consider what the Scriptures say of Him in Hebrews 5:7-10:

"In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation, being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
Did you catch that? Right there, in the middle of that paragraph: Christ learned obedience from the things which He suffered. He learned to obey, and so can we. And if we obey Him, we are obeying the One who is the source of eternal salvation! He learned from suffering. Suffering? Wait a minute. That's not what you signed up for, was it? Wasn't it just an easy decision to accept the love, forgiveness, and eternal life that Jesus wanted to give to you freely? There was no mention of suffering, was there? And when do we get to rest?

I will give you rest. Jesus. God. The great I AM. The gentle humble Master. Will give you rest. When you come to Him, weary and heavy-laden though you may be. First come to Him, then He will give you rest. Submit yourself willingly to Him as the Master of your whole life, and learn from Him how you are to walk, then He says

You will find rest for your souls.
Is that what you are longing for? Is that what is always evading your grasp? Rest for your soul? You cannot find it anywhere else, or from anyone else. Only through Christ, who said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me." (John 14:6)

Eternal Rest. There is more to be learned about the subject of rest. Hebrews 3:12-4:16 talks specifically about rest. It is not only a temporal thing (a break from doing labor or a sabbath day off from work), but it also refers to an eternal rest which God does not allow unbelieving disobedient followers to enter into, referring to heaven. The Israelites in Exodus were an example of those who were followers of God, and yet because of their unbelief and disobedience, He did not let them enter into the Promised Land. If you are unsure whether you are a true believer and not just a follower of Christ, I want to hear from you, and help you to understand how you can know for certain where you will stand on the day of judgment. You can contact me by e-mail at Merrilee.Stevenson@gmail.com. I don't claim to have all the answers or know all of Scripture and what it all means, but I do know the One who created all things, and who has given us His Word as a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path, and I have found my rest in Him!

19 July 2007

Harvest Report

Happy Harvesters

Today we did a little harvesting. Here's what we gleaned:

A platter full of vegetables

36 string beans, 4 zucchini (each 9-10 inches long), 2 beautiful bell peppers, 7 Anaheim peppers, two end-of-the crop radishes, and a beautiful bouquet of basil. We didn't pick any pole beans, so it's likely we'll have more beans when Enoch gets home from work. (Let the bean pole pick the pole beans!)

Here's a look at the front garden:

From l to r: basil, parsley, carrots, green onions, cucumbers, sunflowers.

There's a small basil plant near the steps, then some parsley, some very happy carrots, some green onions being overshadowed by the very bossy cucumber plant, which is also trying to attack our family of 5 sunflowers. We'll have to do some re-organizing for next year, for sure.

Rosalind in her overalls

The sunflowers have stretched above their heads

Proverbs 15:17 "Better is a dish of vegetables where love is, than a fattened ox and hatred with it."

Late-in-the-day Update: Enoch returned home this afternoon, and although we didn't get any more beans, he did find 3 big (7-inch) cucumbers hiding out under the big leaves. Why didn't we see those earlier?

Three cool cucumbers

05 July 2007

Fishing on The Fourth of July

Rosalind's always ready to rise and shine
"A-fishing we will go,
a-fishing we will go,
I'll catch a trout
without a doubt,
a-fishing we will go."

I cannot take full credit for this new song I made up, sung to the tune of "The Farmer in the Dell." Many years ago, my brother taught this version to his children when they were going deer hunting in Oregon:

"A-hunting we will go,
a-hunting we will go,
I'll shoot a buck
with my good luck,
a-hunting we will go."

I taught the fishing version to my boys when we all went fishing on the Fourth of July. We got up early (5:30--which is "normal" for Rosalind), and arrived at our destination by six.

The rest of the gang still waking up

The perfect fishing hole
It was wonderfully overcast and gray, and actually began to sprinkle a little: perfect fishing weather. We met up with one of our good friends, Dale, and walked the quarter-mile from the freeway underpass to a rather secluded spot on Darby Creek in the outskirts of Havertown. We had been there once before, and I proudly showed the men the prize fishing hole I had discovered: over the flood bank at a nice elbow turn of the water, under a large tree, the creek bed drops like a giant shelf, and the deep dark water hides the bottom of the creek. Looking in, it was easy to see three or four large trout, one which appeared to be some kind of albino that looked to be easily 18 inches in length.

The kids' fishing area, on the other side of the log

The best fishing hole was at a great location, but rather difficult to manage with a baby and young aspiring fishermen with Disney-brand fishing poles. So while the men and boys surveyed the area and baited hooks, I waited with the baby on the main path, partially protected by a large tree, hoping the raindrops would soon pass. But the rain kept coming. After looking around I decided to take cover under the base of the tree, and I realized that it was accessible to a different area that would be a perfect place for the kids to practice their casting--shallow enough to walk in with no worries, and no obstacles to get snagged on, but unfortunately, not a single little fish in sight.

I schlepped all the stuff under the tree, and convinced the boys to help me set up "base camp" (to give the men a chance to catch the whoppers). Then we did a little "fishing," and had a few snacks, found some fresh deer tracks (I had seen a forked-horn there the time before), and had a grand old time. The "camp" was close enough that I felt safe to leave the kids there while I walked over to check on the fishermen, and even was able to sneak in a couple of casts before the typical yelling and crying started up again.

Happy "campers"

Rosalind enjoying her adventure
Once the rain cleared, we moved everything back over to the bank, and ate lunch on the purple blanket. After lunch as Rosalind slept, I got a few more chances to cast in a line.

These Cheerios are good, Mom

Two keepers
The men were using worms, and had switched to power bait, yielding two good-sized keepers. I decided to be different and baited my hook with frozen corn from Rosalind's lunch. After a lousy first cast, my second cast was a winner.

I could see the flash in the water as the fish violently swam in all directions. I felt the intensity and tension on the line, and my instincts from childhood flooded me with the rush of adrenaline. I pulled hard, hoping to not snag the line on the rock shelf, and reeled in as fast as I could. I was thinking, "land, land, get it onto the land," and "don't get caught on the rocks" at the same time, while Dale was encouraging me to take it easy and not reel it in too fast. No sooner had he said it, before I could adjust my reactions, the tension broke loose, and the line was calmly drifting again.

Rosalind being particularly photogenic
My ears faintly throbbed and my arms tensely shook as I closed my eyes, shook my head, and whisper-shouted, "Oh, oh, man!" I could hear Enoch and Dale asking me questions and telling me what I should have done differently while I reeled in a naked hook. Thankfully the hook and line remained intact, and I could quickly re-bait it with the corn I carried with me. I was eager to get my line back in the water before some small person had some personal crises that required some parental intervention. This time I would let the fish have a swim first before I landed him and made all the serious fishermen admire and envy me at the same time.

If only fishing with pre-schoolers were that easy. I did get a couple of more casts before being called away to my motherly responsibilities, and was a bit satisfied to see that the other fishermen were beginning to bait their hooks with my corn as I left.

Ready to go home and fry 'em up
By the time the problem was resolved, the men were coming up the bank, ready to gut the two keepers and call it a day, while I was thinking, "I only need about 10 minutes of uninterrupted time to catch that big sucker. Maybe the men could keep the kids happy for 5 minutes or so..." It was not to be.

gutting the fish

Fishing with the boys

I am thankful: everyone had a great time, we did have fresh trout for lunch that day, and I did catch a fish, even though it got away. All the rest of the day, Enoch kept reminding me of how beautiful that fish on my line was. "You should have seen it, Honey. Oh! It was so big! It was bigger than the biggest one. Probably at least 18 inches, at least! It was a beautiful fish..." In my mind's eye, I remembered it's flash, the vigorous and heavy pull on my line, and the brevity of the moment was gone.

That night as I lay in bed, all I could see when I closed my eyes was that deep, green water, and four or five large fish, one of them white, calmly waiting for something irresistible to come floating down off of that rock shelf, preferably attached to my hook.

2 fishermen under a tree