The Thorns in Our Gardens

If thoughts were flowers, then beautiful thoughts would produce a garden of flowers. This is a paraphrase of a sentiment commonly misattributed to Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The idea is a lovely one though, in keeping with the admonition in Philippians 4:8 on how our thought lives ought to be.

If a well-kept garden is beautiful, that surely an unkempt garden will have its thorns. Jesus addresses this in the parable from Luke 8:4-15 (Amplified Version):

When a large crowd was gathering together, and people from city after city were coming to Him, He spoke [to them] using a parable: “The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road and it was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the sky ate it up. And some seed fell on [shallow soil covering] the rocks, and as soon as it sprouted, it withered away, because it had no moisture. Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out. And some fell into good soil, and grew up and produced a crop a hundred times as great.” As He said these things, He called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear and heed My words.”

Now His disciples began asking Him what this parable meant. 10 And He said, “To you [who have been chosen] it has been granted to know and recognize the a]”>[a]mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, so that though seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.

11 “Now [the meaning of] the parable is this: The seed is the word of God [concerning eternal salvation]. 12 Those beside the road are the people who have heard; then the devil comes and takes the message [of God] away from their hearts, so that they will not believe [in Me as the Messiah] and be saved. 13 Those on the rocky soil are the people who, when they hear, receive and welcome the word with joy; but these have no firmly grounded root. They believe for a while, and in time of trial and temptation they fall away [from Me and abandon their faith]. 14 The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, but as they go on their way they are suffocated with the anxieties and riches and pleasures of this life, and they bring no fruit to maturity. 15 But as for that seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word with a good and noble heart, and hold on to it tightly, and bear fruit with patience.

sprouts.pngIt seems fitting that Jesus uses the parable of a garden when mankind’s earliest origins began in a garden.

One of my favorite stories is about the transformation of a little girl in the care and restoration of a forgotten garden. I think that our hearts and minds are a kind of garden, constantly changing in the seasons of life and the soil which the Word of God falls upon.

For the purposes of this post, thorns represent the cares, fears and anxieties of the heart that choke out the Word of God and prevent us all from maturing. It’s crucial, I think, to not only recognize that there are thorns in the gardens of our mind, but to give them a name.

So what are thorns that might be in your garden?

The lies we tell ourselves.

The lies others tell us about ourselves that we believe.

The hard truths about ourselves that we ignore.

Longstanding suffering from an illness

(To name only a few).

Give me time, and I’m sure that I could drum up a legion of lies in my own life to share, but, if you think about it, you could probably contribute a few from your own experience. Sometimes, as in the case of Paul, some thorns are allowed by God for the purposes of keeping us reliant on Him, and in those instances, that’s where serenity comes in, but for most, I think, it’s a matter of rooting out the weeds and thorny falsehoods from our minds and hearts and allowing room for God to plant something wonderful instead.

What are you planting in your garden?

Clean

This morning I had the opportunity to hear Natalie Grant’s “Clean” (Be One, 2015) for the first time and I was struck by how much the lyrics resonated with my own life and felt compelled to take a moment and share about this beautiful song in case I’m not the only one here who hadn’t heard it before today.

Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of the song:

“I see shattered
You see whole
I see broken
But You see beautiful
And You’re helping me to believe
You’re restoring me piece by piece.”

You can hear the whole song on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ol1V-sj1gc

The idea of being “washed in mercy” isn’t new, but listening to Grant singing, I immediately thought about the idea of shattered glass making its way into the oceans and being washed by the waves over time until it was transformed into sea glass, individual shards of frosted and glossy glass that are ‘piece by piece’ unique.

The parallel of God to an ocean is movingly represented in Hillsong UNITED’s “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” (Zion, 2013).

Here are a few lyrics:

“Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now”

You can hear the whole song on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBJJJkiRukY

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This idea of immersing oneself in Christ is irresistibly attractive; that God can purge all of the filth of our past mistakes and make us clean; or take our broken selves and smooth out the rough spots, turning us into something different. I’d like to think that as we step out of the proverbial boat and begin to walk by faith, we are immersed in the mystery that is God.

And if we are, surely that is the greatest adventure of all.

 

The Complete Journals of Lucy Maud Montgomery (Part 5)

Welcome to Part 5 of  The Complete Journals of Lucy Maud Montgomery, The PEI Years, 1889-1900.

For an overview of the project, please click here.

I’ve been trudging along, trying to make time to finish reading Volume 1 of this 2-volume set. It is worth mentioning at this point that the break in the two volumes is a by-product of the editors, not of L. M. Montgomery herself.

The entirety of the text runs from September 21st, 1889 – April 1th, 1897 and this is considered the first volume of the author’s handwritten journal. The second volume runs from April 2th, 1897  – February 7, 1910.

For the purposes of this blog series, it should be understood that the text referenced below (The Complete Journals of Lucy Maud Montgomery, The PEI Years, 1889-1900) begins on September 21st, 1889 and ends on December 22nd, 1900.

As it’s been a few weeks since posting, I intend on trying to conclude this present volume in today’s post, so onward!

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1897 was a cruel year for Maud as she struggled being a schoolteacher and a string of bad news brings heartache, and a “case of the blues” as Maud would put it, during a dark period of her life.

This was also the period that Maud has her first real passionate love affair and she treds the slippery slope of impropriety more than once. Without destroying the year with spoilers, I can best describe 1898 in Maud’s own words:

Oh ’98, how much I have suffered in you! How much of good and evil you have taught me, stern, cruel, relentless teacher that you were! (430)

1899 and Maud is back in Cavendish, living with her Grandmother and reflecting upon small-town life encapsulated in sewing circles and pie auctions (the evil things!). There are several lovely photos of Cavendish reflecting on the small church where she grew up (Maud wasn’t especially religious as I understand it), and newspaper clippings.

Finally, in 1900, the turning of the century, and some of my favorite entries of Maud’s are on the total eclipse (June) and the pleasures of reading — a joy unhampered by the tragedies in Maud’s past as delivered in these past four years.

A brief listing of her publication credits during this period:

In January 1897, The Ladies World published “On Haying Time” (poem) and two short stories were published in March 1897 by the Philadelphia Times and by Arthur’s Home Magazine. The latter would go on to publisher further stories in April and July of that year. The Times published multiple stories in March, May, June, August and September. You can see how prolific Maud has become!

She recognized this in herself, beginning a separate scrapbook in April, just of the bits of writing and publication dates she was accumulating for herself. At this point, Maud considered her writing to be a bit of mad money for spending/saving, not a real solid source of income, but she would later make nearly 100.00 in one year, almost as much as she’d managed to save in a year while being a schoolteacher — not too shabby I dare say!

In the footnotes, the scrapbook is mentioned as being entitled “Stories and Poems late 1890s” and includes sixty-nine items!  Good grief! Let’s just call her prolific and put an end to it… but no, we’re been faithful to record her bibliography thus far, so we continue:

October 1897, she had a poem accepted by Munsey, and this was the last I could find for the year.

In 1898: publication credits by the Christian Herald, the Philadelphia Times, Golden Days, the Family Herald, the Sunday Republican, Illustrated Youth and Age, Pilgrim, Congregationalist, Springfield Sunday Republican, New England Farmer, Family Story Paper, Youth and Age, and The Churchman (pp. 410).

In 1900, Maud takes time to note a special publication entitled “A Pair of Slippers” in Good Housekeeping, worthy of note for the bit of verse was illustrated and highlighted on its own page, the first honor of this sort. Maud would’ve been familiar with this practice in other magazines (e.g. The Youth’s Companion) but how delightful it must have been to see one’s own work so singled out!

The century’s exeunt ends with Maud Montgomery’s determination to make her way in the world by her writing.

I am getting on pretty well in a way. That is to say, I’m beginning to make a livable income for myself by my pen. Oh, outwardly I’m getting on all right. It is inwardly that all of the tumult is. […] This grumble has done me good. I work off all my revolutionary tendencies in this journal. If it were not for this “went” [edit: her word for venting] I might fly into a thousand little pieces someday. (469)

And with that thought, Maud’s journal closes, 484 pages (including the index) covering a decade of her life from her origins “as good as an orphan” to her maturity, jaded by love and heartbreak, and steely-minded looking towards making a way for herself by her writing. Where the next decade would take her, you need only read Volume Two to find out.

If you’ve been following along with this adventure of mine, thank you for reading!  At this point in my life, I am not going to embark upon volume two as life is getting a little hectic in my corner of the world, but please DO check it out for yourselves and let me know what you think of it.

The Text:
The Complete Journals of Lucy Maud Montgomery, The PEI Years, 1889-1900, edited by Mary Hensley Rubio and Elizabeth Hillman Waterston, Oxford University Press (published in Canada), 2012, hardcover, 484 pages.

Thoughts on Being a Plain Jane

I’ve never been one of those girls who comes across as uber-feminine and frilly. I probably spend the least amount of time (in my age bracket) on my personal appearance than any of my female coworkers. You won’t see me with makeup, styled hair, skirts or dresses, or God-forbid, heels. I’ve just never been that type, at least, not since I was ten years old.
vintage-635265_1920 I remember going to the mall and getting my first (and only) ear piercings for my tenth birthday. We looked at the frilly and fun earring options but I was told the first time round, you just get a simple pair of studs.

The attendant missed on the first attempt and we had to do a do-over. The pain was indescribable. I remember being terrified and I didn’t want the second ear done but I was told that it would “look unbalanced” and so I gritted my teeth for a second round.  Sitting here writing out this blog entry, I’m pulling my ear lobe thoughtfully and they’re barren now, not closed, just more often than not, unadorned. My first introduction to the adage “Pain is beauty”.

Somewhere growing up, I learned that there was more separating me from the other girls than just the right clothes or hair style or makeup. I would never be “that girl”.  This early pragmatism was tested when I was thirteen and allowed my first makeup kit (a new type of makeup every year was thereafter introduced). By sixteen, I’d lost interest in it entirely.

If it were as simple as beauty = more opportunities in life, then maybe I might have given it more effort but I came to the conclusion that the benefits didn’t outweigh the investment of time and money. So you’ll rarely catch me out of slacks, and the fanciest hairstyle I’ll do is a low ponytail. Occasionally, a bit of lip gloss, or nail polish, or even rarer, a bit of foundation/concealer so my acne at thirty-something doesn’t scare the hell out of people.

Lately, I’m thinking that I’ve lost more than just the appearance of beauty, it’s as if folks assume that because I choose to dress a certain way, that I am not feminine and have no capacity for appreciation of beauty.  That couldn’t be further from the truth!

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I have a very feminine side, but I don’t usually collect random shiny things like a magpie. I often admire from a distance.

There is incredible beauty to be found in nature, both in the animals God has created, and in elements of science that I don’t understand — butterflies and dragonflies, dogs and kittens, starfish, nautilus, a Redwood forest, the iridescence you find in bubbles, refracted light, or sea sparkle.

I love baubles and open umbrellas, silver glitter, mermaids with floating lanterns, vintage rhinestone brooches, crystal chandeliers and prisms, Moroccan architecture, Parisian architecture, wrought-iron spiral staircases to unknown destinations, skeleton keys, picturesque sky carnival rides, cotton candy, pink roses, lit candles, old books, tulle, macaroons, white coral, glamping, old books, lazy days, dancing in the rain, and romantic period movies. (Sing with me, “These are a few of my favorite things..”)

When did it become “not okay” to appreciate beauty without desiring it for yourself or emulating it in your on life? Or is this the dispassionate argument of a Plain Jane?

Strangely, as I write this I am reminded of a conversation from Christy (TV series) between Ida Grantland and Ruby Mae, discussing Miss Christy’s beauty. Ruby Mae is effusive about Miss Christy being like a flower and Miss Ida chastises her soberly that a woman’s beauty can be like “a tree or a mountain or a river” and helps Ruby Mae to come to define beauty in one’s own terms.

It is a thought that weighs on my mind still and a tiny voice wonders what may I have missed out on in life by accepting the role of a Plain Jane?

The Complete Journals of Lucy Maud Montgomery (Part 4)

Welcome to Part 4 of  The Complete Journals of Lucy Maud Montgomery, The PEI Years, 1889-1900.

For an overview of the project, please click here.

lucymaudmontgomery_1889-19001895-1896

Montgomery begins the year cozily snug with Tennyson and doughnuts, and gets interrupted by a boy, Lou, which she laments isn’t quite as good as a fireside curled up with Tennyson and doughnuts! I adore Montgomery and hope that we would’ve been friends.

As Montgomery continues her schoolmarm years (during 1895 and 1896), her publication credits begin to pile up.

In March 1895, she receives notice that a poem, “On the Gulf Shore” has been accepted by the Toronto Ladies Journal and later, a story “A Baking of Gingersnaps”, published by the same in July 1895; in February 1896, a short story, “Our Charivari” was sold to the Philadelphia magazine, Golden Days; an article commissioned by the editor of the Halifax Herald, entitled “A Girl’s Place at Dalhousie College”;  and in March 1896, a poem called “Fisher Lassies” was published by The Youth’s Companion.

Golden Days went on to publish “Our Practical Joke” (July 1896) and “A Missing Pony” (September 1896). The Chicago Inter-Ocean published “In Spite of Myself” in July 1896. The American Agriculturist published “Home from Town” (November 1896) and “Riding to Church” (February 1897).

Maud had a tendency of submitting work under pseudonyms such as “Maud Eglinton”, “Maud Cavendish”, “M.L. Cavendish”, and once for a school contest, “Belinda Bluegrass”.

I have to wonder if Maud isn’t spinning a yarn with the reader of this journal. Apart from keeping track of her profuse writing, what I find remarkably frustrating about this point of Maud’s life, and perhaps a bit beyond belief, is how Maud casually goes around with so many boys who fancy her, and they all get their hearts broken.  How much of this was fact and how much, the author’s own fancy? I’m not quite sure whether Maud is a reliable narrator in her own story and it’s keeping me on my toes.

As Maud concludes her time in Bideford, she journeys to Halifax where she is to attend college for a year taking advanced studies at the Ladies’ College and tries to go to the opera as often as she can. She adores Faust and unluckily, catches the measles. The college term over, Montgomery is to teach school at a town called Belmont where she writes journal entries (repeatedly) about the odd neighbors she encounters and the poor living conditions of her room, including, with one snowfall, drifts of snow falling through the window sash and coating her pillow!

Reading between the lines, she’s got a wonderful sense of humour and a lively mind. I’m trying not to idolize her as I’m writing but I can tell I’m gushing (a little).

Montgomery’s purple prose is enchanting and endears me evermore to her style of descriptive writing and the word choices and colours in which she paints her canvas of words in this literary journal.

“I refreshed my wearied senses drinking in the chaste beauty of the landscape. It was very calm and still and the declining sun cast chill pure tones of pink and heliotrope over the snow. There seemed to be an abundance — not of color but of the spirit of color. There was really nothing but pure white but you had the impression of fairy-like blendings of rose and violet, blue and opal and heliotrope” (258)

Isn’t that heavenly?

At the close of 1896, Maud is still teaching in Belmont and the icy conditions make it one of the worst boarding experiences she’s encountered yet. Will summer be here soon and what adventures will the new year hold? We shall see!

The text:

The Complete Journals of Lucy Maud Montgomery, The PEI Years, 1889-1900, edited by Mary Hensley Rubio and Elizabeth Hillman Waterston, Oxford University Press (published in Canada), 2012, hardcover, 484 pages.