How does your (spiritual) garden grow?

By Erika Rizkallah

Got a brown thumb? Happily, spiritual planting is all about growth! We can learn so much about growing our faith by applying lessons from the garden.

I inherited my gardening passion from my dad. I also come from a long line of farmers and joyfully remember the summer weeks spent with my grandparents. My brother and I explored fields planted with corn and soybeans and hunted for wild asparagus growing near a ditch in front of the farmhouse.

When I moved into my forever home I inherited the previous homeowner’s garden. I was thrilled with the yard until I learned she practiced Ikebana (Japanese flower design). On closer inspection, I discovered it contained all sorts of heinous invasive plants. I spent hours weeding, only to find them sprout again, trying to strangle plants I wanted to keep.

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But I was patient, and after pulling them by the roots, I planted my favorites in their place. Now I have a gorgeous yard that fills me with satisfaction and peace — though it’s still a work in progress.

Tending to my little corner of the world connects me to God in a more meaningful way. Adam and Eve’s first home was a garden and many of Jesus’ teachings took place outdoors and reflect his love of nature. Themes of harvest, sowing and reaping feature prominently in the Bible.

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Growth and spiritual fruit production are imperatives for anyone seeking maturity in Christ. Here are five ways our earthy and spiritual lives are similar:

Great soil: All gardeners know the key to a productive garden is great soil. It’s the primary ingredient for flourishing plants and must be healthy. Conditioning is often necessary because let’s face it, almost no soil is perfectly healthy in its natural state. If it’s too sandy, wet or filled with sticky clay, plants wither and die.

The soil of our spiritual life is the heart. Biblically speaking, the heart – kardia in Greek – represents our whole inner being. It’s not just a blood pumping organ, but the source of life, made up of mind, soul and spirit.

Nourishment: We can’t simply plop flowers and plants into a garden and expect it to grow. We must nourish it. Sunlight, the meticulous watering and protection from the elements are critical. We often need to amend soil with fertilizer and emulsifiers, which come from surprising sources. We apply dead fish and poop to feed our plants — this used to gross me out.

In spiritual matters, our fertilizer is prayer and scripture reading. And just as manure provides nutrients, trouble (the poopy parts of life), also benefits us. Adversity strengthens and causes us to seek God, to rely on him and his word for our inner health.

 

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Maintenance: Here is where many gardeners begin to falter. The first part, getting the soil and feeding right, is relatively easy. The hard part is keeping up with it. Regular maintenance includes weeding, pruning, pest control and deadheading — a fancy term for removing spent flower heads.

Spiritual life requires maintenance too. We get this by spending intentional daily quiet time with God. Enjoying friendship with fellow believers can help us weed out sin and discern the parts of life God’s wants to prune. While painful, pruning — cutting off dead and unproductive stuff — helps us grow and flourish. Regular maintenance gets rid of pests, slugs and worms threatening to devour us.

Patience: Waiting is the truly difficult part. After all the time and energy spent on the early part of the process, it’s not unusual to see little result. We live in an “instant” society and gardening is anything but immediate. It can take months and even years for some plants to thrive and grow. So it goes with faith . . .

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But hidden under the dark surface and seemingly dormant areas, God is always working.  Patience is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit and our Father is generous to provide for our needs. Though often boring, waiting is necessary and active.

Being still, standing firm in our faith and trusting are active habits. Even though we sometimes can’t see it, God is ever-present and cares deeply for us.

Produce: This is the good stuff — our hard work has paid off! Beautiful, bountiful flowers bloom and we pluck fruit from the trees. We bite into the luscious apple, craft a bouquet and feel satisfaction and accomplishment.

God wants this for us. He wants fruit production and for us to enjoy that fresh fruit of our labor.

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Take a bite out of the juicy peach and thank him for his daily tending!

Your Turn: Our earthly and spiritual lives are a work in progress. There’s always work to sow and benefits to reap. Where are the areas your spiritual garden needs tending most?

Bloom: living and thriving in God’s great garden

Pressure. We all feel it at one time or another. It’s the feeling of being squeezed, suffocated and ultimately stagnating.

Stagnating is a fancy word for being stuck.

I almost wrote that I’m not sure why I’ve felt this way lately but that’s a lie. As women we can inadvertently become potbound. Being potbound looks like this . . .

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I hate when I see this in one of my plants because it means that as the gardener, I’m not paying attention. I’m not giving this girl room to grow (all my plants are girls).

If I’d taken better care of her she wouldn’t be in this mess, so now I have to tease her roots a little – I call it tickling. Then I have to move her into a different pot.

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When I do this she will thrive and bloom.

It’s important to note that as a human, I’m a flawed gardener. But God is never flawed. He never forgets to water, prune and tickle the roots of his precious children. Sometimes he keeps us in one season as preparation for another.

Now I realize that God’s been doing this for me. After living potbound for a season he’s moving me into a new place where I’ll blossom, bloom and flower – and ultimately produce fruit for his kingdom.

Oh how I love spring and the changes it brings!

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Your turn: Do you recognize the season God has you in? Are you potbound, growing or blooming?

“But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want and it will be granted! When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my father.” Jesus (John 15:7-8)

Help for houseplants

If there’s one place that gives me houseplant envy, it’s the conservatory at Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina. My family and I visited Biltmore last week and I always come home inspired and determined to take better care of my own plants.

I hate to admit this, but sometimes I can be a neglectful gardener.

I see the many plants around my home and become numb to them. I pass by and don’t take action until I begin to see signs of neglect. For example, this is one of the leaves on my anthurium. Brown tipped leaves on this type of plant means they’re not getting enough water. I can’t show you the flowers because there aren’t any.

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I believe that just as God loves people and animals, He feels the same way about plants and the rest of His creation.

This is one of Biltmore’s anthuriums.

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I promise to do better!

As the weather turns cooler and activity in my outdoor gardens decrease, I hope to be able to turn things around with my indoor garden. I discovered a great site to help with houseplant care – Houseplant411.com. I love the Popular House Plants page the most; it helps identify plants and gives care instructions.

Here’s a gallery of a few of Biltmore’s many houseplants. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Are you worth your salt?

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“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” Matt 5:13

This passage is often used in conjunction with the next one that talks about believers being “light.” But I’d always been curious to know what on earth Jesus meant about us being salt.

Just as an aside, I love salt. I salt almost everything I eat (gasp! even Chinese food), but I especially like it in chocolate!

The Greek word for salt is halas and it was precious in ancient times. It was a condiment, preservative and was used on sacrifices. Because the people’s diet mainly consisted of vegetables, it was necessary for life. It was also used to make alliances and to buy and sell people; it’s where we get our word “salary” and the phrase, “She’s not worth her salt.”

Here’s the part I like the best. Salt was lightly applied to soil as a fertilizer. It was used to stimulate the soil and was valued for its purity. Commentators often refer to it being used as a preservative in this passage, but in context with the part about us being light, scholars believe it’s more likely that the proper translation is, “You are the salt for the earth.”

 We are salt for the earth!

Really, think about that. Our world stinks and we’re here to make it better. Our society is decaying and we’re to be used for its preservation. We’re here to make the world healthier for others.

Also, salt was often mixed with impurities like gypsum dust and when that happened, it became worthless. When we’re impure – when we lose our saltiness – we become worthless in the same way a hidden light does no good for those who need to see. We can fail to be stimulating for others.

Helpful Garden Tip:

Salt can still be used in the garden today. Simply dissolve two tablespoons of Ultra Epsom Salt for every one gallon of water and substitute it for normal watering. You can do this one or more times a month to boost the soil in your potted plants.

So I have a question for us to ponder: What’s one way we can be salt for another person today?

Outdoor Jesus

By Erika Rizkallah

For the last twenty years, I’ve been on a spiritual journey as a follower of Jesus Christ. Living as a Christian woman in the 21st century can be confusing and conflicting. We’re taught to live and love like Jesus in a world filled with sin, danger and hatred. It sounds kind of crazy to think that we can have a relationship with a man who walked the earth over two thousand years ago.

Jesus knew it would be hard and that we’d need strength to help us remain faithful to his calling. But he promised to be with us and sent the Holy Spirit to help. He knows the trials we face and the difficulties we have to overcome.

One time, when he was alone with twelve of his followers, he cautioned them by saying, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd (wise, wary) as snakes and as innocent (harmless) as doves.”  (emphasis mine)

He was a storyteller and often spoke in parables using common language and word pictures for the ordinary folks living in the Ancient Near East. Luke 8:10 explains why, but I won’t go into that right now. Just trust me when I tell you that his stories had purpose; they were his way of weeding out those who believed what he was saying, and those who didn’t.

And speaking of weeding, Jesus also loved nature.

He taught on the side of a mountain near Jerusalem and prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. Gethsemane means “oil press” and though I didn’t see it during my trip to Jerusalem, I had an Arabic taxi driver take me to an olive grove when we were in the West Bank. It looks familiar because it’s my blog header. This was such a peaceful place and I wish I’d spent more time roaming around.

Olive grove in Ramallah, Palestine

Olive grove in Ramallah, Palestine

Our Lord enjoyed spending time with people outdoors and I connect with that aspect of him. I adore being outside and am most at home when my hands are gritty with soil. I’m an avid gardener and I hope to share my passion for flowers and gardening with you. Since we’re not ancient farmers, I’d also like to clarify some of those tricky agricultural scriptures for us.

This is going to be fun!

Peace to you, Erika