Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Watched Pot Never Has Its Baby

Having watched many labors that have been allowed to proceed on their own course, I can tell you this - there is no "normal," no "textbook." But yet, obstetrics revolves around the idea that there is, and anything outside of what they consider normal is a problem labor, which needs to be reigned in and forced to conform.

In the 1950s a physician named Dr. Emanuel Friedman studied labor progression and came up with a graphical analysis of how normal labor should proceed. His analysis found that woman with labors that followed a certain pattern were less likely to need intervention to deliver their baby safely. Fast forward 6 decades and the Friedman's Curve of Labor is still regarded as the standard by which the obstetric field decides what normal labor looks like. Women who "fall off the curve" are considered to be having abnormal labors and to need interventions. There are several problems with this. Dr. Friedman created his curve as a compilation of patterns that varied, not one single curve that all normal labor followed. And the (ir)rational with using the Friedman's Curve is basically: women who don't follow this pattern are more likely to need intervention, so we intervene to make them follow it. Most importantly, the Friedman's curve does not address or account for the way routines in the modern hospital birth system create abnormal laboring conditions as soon as a woman walks in the door. Routines that set women up for what we who believe in the natural process of birth term "the domino effect of intervention." The births I attended last week both ended up with a cascade of interventions. However, one of them was a striking example of another thing The Friedman Curve doesn't account for, and which obstetrics refuses to acknowledge: the effect emotional stress and lack of peace can have on labor progress.

My client, whom I'll call Jane, had her husband call me about 9:30 on Saturday night. She had been having contractions for about 5 hours, was working well through them, and wasn't ready to go to the hospital. I thanked him for the heads-up and mentioned they should watch for signs of late labor - extremely strong contractions that are less than 4 minutes apart, lasting over a minute, combined with a serious attitude in mom, and possibly chills, vomiting, and/or mild bleeding. Around 1am, she was experiencing all of that so they decided to go ahead and go to the hospital. When I arrived at labor and delivery, Jane and her husband were waiting to be taken back to triage to be assessed. I timed her contractions using a very handy app I have on my iPhone. They were 3 minutes apart, lasting over 60 seconds. She was handling them well but obviously needed to focus on them, blocking out the disturbance of people and noise around her. They took her to triage to assess whether she was actually in labor enough to stay (they used all their fancy equipment; I could tell just by watching her for 10 minutes).

In triage her contractions started to space out to about 5 minutes apart and lessen in intensity (this is not uncommon for when a woman changes locations during labor). But she was 4.5 cm so they blessed her with a room. The other changes with her body - I'll spare you the details - all indicated her labor was progressing well. I figured it would be 6-10 hours tops. Jane and her husband had prepared for an unmedicated labor and worked extremely well together to achieve a state of relaxation and calm within which Jane could focus on handling her discomfort and allowing her body to do what it needed to. The problem was that in the hospital setting, Jane was not allowed to have what she needed most: a calm environment free of distraction. More than almost any woman I have ever worked with, Jane's emotional state, and by way of that her labor, was profoundly affected by her environment. Let me paint a picture:

At home: Jane spent hours in a dim, quiet house, her husband talking softly to her and rubbing her back through contractions. They listened to relaxing music and slow-danced together in the living room. She moved around freely how she felt she needed to and ate a little bit of protein and sugar periodically to give her strength for the work her body was doing. Working with her body to have that baby was all that was on her mind. Quiet, peaceful, focused work.

At the hospital: Jane is hooked up to monitoring belts, one to record the baby's heartbeat, one to record her contractions. She must stay hooked up to them for 20 minutes of every hour. Moving around during this time is difficult because it can cause the bands to shift and stop collecting their important data. When that happens, the nurse comes in to lecture Jane about how she'll have to stay still for the monitoring period. She is told she can not have anything but clear fluids - broth, popcicles, apple juice... lots of sugar, no protein or complex carbs. (You wouldn't hike for 16 hours with only lollipops and water to fuel you, would you?) The nurses come in repeatedly to take her blood pressure, take her temperature, take her on and off the monitors, readjust the monitors, fiddle with things in the room, or just ask if she needs anything (isn't that what the call button is for?). They come in, flip the lights on, and start talking without checking to see if she's concentrating on a contraction. They leave the door open, sometimes even forgetting to close the curtain. The light and noise come in from the hallway. There is a nurse's station just outside of Jane's room and the laughing and chattering of hospital personnel floats in.

What we quickly discover is that each disturbance by the nurse, the doctor, or even loud talking from the hallway causes Jane's contractions to space out again. Once the room is quiet again, it takes her 10-15 minutes to get fully relaxed again and have her contractions return to their prior frequency. If we factor in only the fetal monitoring, every hour was about like this: monitors put on (5 minutes), monitoring causes decreased mobility and increased discomfort (20 minutes), monitors taken off (5 minutes), period of time it takes her to readjust and get back into a good labor pattern (10 minutes)... which leaves just 20 minutes an hour during which she is having strong, frequent contractions. With this contraction pattern, it is not surprising to me that it takes Jane 5 hours to dilate from 4.5cm to 5.5cm, then 4 more hours to dilate to 6.5cm. Jane and her husband try to explain to the nurse and doctor the effects the constant interruptions are having, but they aren't buying it. The conclusion of the doctor is that the labor is not progressing normally and they might have to intervene. After 6 hours at 6.5cm, the doctors do intervene, putting her on an IV drip of Pitocin.

Pitocin is a synthetic form of Oxytocin, the hormone responsible for causing contractions. I have too many issues with Pitocin to fully cover here; the main things to know are that Pitocin causes extremely difficult, abnormally strong contractions and is risky enough for mom and baby that hospitals require continuous fetal monitoring when a woman is on it. Since the problem with Jane's labor was not a lack of natural Oxytocin but rather her stress hormones counteracting the work of the Oxytocin, the Pitocin she was being given did not fix her labor pattern or help her dilate. After 5 more hours with no progress despite incremental increases in the amount of Pitocin they were giving her, the doctors were talking c-section and it was time for me to pull the last trick out of the bag for my clients. I knew that they wanted a natural birth and avoiding an epidural was extremely important to them. Jane had even worked through hours of very painful Pitocin contractions with that goal in mind. This is the hard part about my job - trying to convince a client that they need to give up an important aspect of their desired birthing experience. But here's what it came down to: Jane was not progressing because she was the proverbial watched pot. Her body was responding to interruptions, distractions, and stress by trying to shut down her labor process. At this point, exhaustion was starting to compound the problem. And she was facing a c-section. The only thing that might help Jane now was to set aside her initial plans and get the epidural. The pain relief would eliminate the need for her to work through each contraction. And without needing complete focus and lack of distraction to work through her contractions, the interruptions from the nurses became more irritations than barriers to progress. It would also allow her to sleep, which she desperately needed. As I suspected, after her epidural, Jane progressed relatively quickly to full dilation while sleeping. She delivered her baby about 27 hours after she entered the hospital.

What if Jane had planned a home birth instead? She would have stayed in her dim, quiet house, focused on nothing but having her baby, eating when she wanted to, moving around however she wanted to. A midwife would have periodically listened to her baby's heart rate with a hand-held doppler device or stethoscope and taken her blood pressure and temperature way less frequently than the hospital did. Jane's labor process and her needs would have been acknowledged and honored. But here's the thing... Jane didn't want a home birth. She felt much more comfortable with the idea of being in a hospital. Many women feel the same way, especially with a first baby. So my question is - why does the difference between having a baby at home and having it at the hospital have to be so night and day? Is it less safe to monitor the baby every two hours instead of every hour? Since she had no health issues or risk factors, did she need her blood pressure and temperature taken so often (laboring women aren't sick after all)? Can the nurses not be trained to go into a room quietly and respect the mother's desired atmosphere?

I can't tell you how many of my clients' doctors have told them that if they don't want all the routines and interventions they should stay home as long as possible. So... it's safe for a laboring woman to be at home where their temperature, blood pressure, contractions, and baby's heart rate aren't being monitored; where they don't have an IV; where they can still eat and drink if they feel like it... but when they get to the hospital, suddenly they are a tragedy waiting to happen. Makes no sense.

Jane was more fortunate than my other two clients this month. They both had c-sections which were the result of the domino effect of intervention. Sadly, this is the state of our hospital birth system. When I did my follow-up with Jane and her husband, they said that they were pretty sure they would have a home birth for the next one. That's a strike for the obstetric community. If they want women to be in the hospital where it is supposedly safer to have a baby, they are going to have to start addressing the issues that make women want to birth at home in the first place. Getting rid of all the unnecessary routines would be a good start. Then people like Jane could labor in relative peace, with emergency care nearby in the rare event something goes wrong. This is something I keep fighting for, and like all causes where the activists are up against a Goliath, it is an exhausting, emotional draining fight. But worth it.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Reminder to Serve

Serving involves taking what is yours (your time, your energy, your money, your unconditional love) and gifting it to someone else. To graciously serve, we must take our gifts and package them in the finest of wrappings - a cheerful spirit, a hug, a kind word.

This necklace was hand-made with love by a dear friend of mine. I wear it daily as a reminder of what God put me here on this earth for - to serve. You can see more of Janine's jewelery at

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Kefir-Making 101

I decided to drink raw milk. Raw. It was fresh, from an impeccably clean source, and kept cold from the moment it left the cow... but still. Raw. At the point I put that first 1/2 gallon into the fridge, I had done so much research that my logical mind knew for a fact that this milk had less potential to make me sick than my local restaurant. I knew this for a fact. But my emotional side - the side that we all cultivate from years of media hysteria over the latest public health crises -was screaming in my head... no, don't do it... you can't drink that bottle filled with dangerous bacteria waiting to kill you. Step. away. from the unpasteurized milk. But I did drink it, and I loved it. And, no, I haven't gotten sick.

Then I decided I was going to make kefir. It's a fabulous fermented drink full of healthy probiotics and immune-boosting enzymes. It takes the health benefits of raw milk to a whole new level. When I found out about it, I thought, Cool. I could make that since I have a source for fantastic raw milk . So I ordered kefir starter grains from the farm where I get my milk. They sent the grains, along with instructions. I start to read the instructions. Kefir starter grains. Check. Raw milk. Check. Ceramic container. Check. Cover it only with a dish cloth?....Leave it on the counter for 24 hours?... What?? Milk? On the counter? Raw? Raw milk on the counter for 24 hours? Umm... I've seen, and much worse, smelled the results when milk is left for an extended period of time out of the fridge. Lumpy, clumpy, oozy, knock-you-over-dead smelly. Gag. But that's what the directions said. So I pressed on. May I present, Kefir-Making 101, with pictures!

Step 1. Obtain kefir starter grains. They aren't really grains, they are... well, I'm not sure what they are, just like I don't know what in the world is really in that gross friendship bread starter that you almost have to treat like a pet to keep it alive. I'm just kidding... I've looked it up. From

"Kefir is a unique fermented milk drink, more correctly healthy food, used for generations in Asia and revered for its health promoting properties. Real kefir can be produced only by traditional methods at home and only from original grains. These original grains, slightly yellowish "cauliflower" like things, are cca 5000 years old bacterial culture originating either from the Caucasian Mountains or monasteries in Tibet. These real kefir grains are complex symbiotic colony containing more than 35 probiotic bacteria proven highly beneficial to humans."

Note: the kefir you can buy in the store is NOT the same as homemade kefir.

Step 2. Get your milk. Buy the best quality milk you can possibly find. It should be raw, from a trusted source. Can you make kefir with pasteurized milk? Sure. There's lots of people on the internet that say you can (so it must be true, right). But pasteurized milk is a dead food. There are no enzymes or good bacteria to work in harmony with the starter culture. Keep feeding your starter culture dead milk and they will die. If you don't have a source for raw milk, I'll pray for you. In the meantime, if you really want to make kefir at home, and you must use pasteurized milk, for the sake of yourself and everyone else that will be drinking your kefir, make sure it is rBGH-free. Preferably organic.

I am blessed to have access to raw milk produced by pastured cows on an organic farm - The Family Cow in Chambersburg, PA.

Step 3. Put Kefir grains in the bottom of a 1.5 quart or larger ceramic crock. Add 1 quart of fresh milk. Mix gently with a wooden spoon.

Step 4. Cover with a dish rag and set on the counter out of direct sunlight. Leave it alone. A good fermenting time is 24 hours. I have to admit that I went every few hours to lift the rag and see what was going on in there. Admittedly there wasn't much to look at for many hours. But what really stood out was that there were no obvious smells either. I found that if I put my nose so close it was almost in the kefir, it smelled faintly like yeast. I've since learned that raw milk doesn't really spoil like pasteurized milk. The presence of enzymes and good bacteria will change the form of the milk (ie, buttermilk, sour cream, cottage cheese, etc.) but it will take awhile before raw milk actually starts to smell putrid.

Step 5. At about 12 hours, you can check the progress of your kefir. Stir again with a wooden spoon.

Step 6. After fermentation, stir again. place a strainer over a container and pour the kefir through, straining out the grains. You can gently move the grains around, scraping the bottom of the strainer, to allow the thick kefir to go through. At 24 hours, when I declared mine finished, there was still no discernible odor unless I sniffed really close.

Step 7.
Either return the kefir grains to the crock and start the process over, or store them in the fridge for later use. For best results, if you store them in the fridge, let them come to room temperature before starting your next batch. I placed mine in a small plastic container, covered them with fresh milk, then covered the container with a paper towel held secure with a rubber band.

Store your finished kefir in an air tight container in your fridge. It will keep for a couple of weeks. Note: During that time, the kefir will continue to ferment very slowly. This continued fermentation will increase the tanginess of your kefir the longer it sits.

You can, if you are weird and like the taste of plain yogurt and other really tangy things, drink the kefir as-is. Since I'm not weird (ok, that's debatable), what I do is make fruit smoothies. Combine kefir, frozen fruit, and honey to your liking. This is an amazing drink which has the ability to, literally, cause euphoria in the drinker. I have no idea why, but it seriously makes me giddy thinking about it!

So that's it! It's really simple. Since getting my kefir, my grains have multiplied to about 3x what I had to begin with. I shared some with my sister and still have more than I need. So, if you want to try your hand at making kefir, let me know!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Appalachian Trail On My Mind

I have a dream. I'm standing with my husband on the apex of Mount Katahdin in Maine: Baxter Peak, elevation 5,258 feet. It's taken 9 hours of brutal hiking to get here and the view is awe-inspiring. I look out over an incredible panorama of mountains and valleys, breathe in the crisp, thinning air...I can't believe I made it. It's not just that I made it to Baxter Peak that's amazing. It's not even that I did it in my late 40s. What hiking to the highest point on the highest mountain in Maine means to me is the end of a 5 month, 2,150+ mile hike that started at the top of Springer Mountain (elevation 3,782 ft) in Georgia and ended here.

The Appalachian Trail.

I've walked somewhere around 5 million footsteps, taking me to elevations as high as 6,625 ft (Clingmans Dome in Tennessee), to a low of 124 ft (near Bear Mountain in New York). My emotions and physical stamina have seen as many ups and downs as the trail itself, but I have spent time with Russ, God, and nature in the experience of a lifetime that, it feels in my dream, has left me forever changed.


It started with a movie called Southbounders, in which a young woman takes some time off before heading to medical school to hike the AT from Maine to Georgia, by herself. It's an Indie film, contemplative and beautiful. A lot of the draw of the movie is what is not said, the sheer magnitude of the quiet, the unmatchable ever-changing landscape, the abrupt contrast when hikers leave the trail to head into a nearby town for supplies, good food, a shower, and a night in a motel. As a person wanting to commune with God in nature, I couldn't help but feel that I would certainly run into Him out there. For me, the idea of 5 months of literally living in the green cathedral, with only periodic necessary interruptions back into civilization, coupled with the opportunity to spend that much time with my husband without the distractions of modern life, is intensely appealing.

After watching Southbounders, I started reading A Walk In The Woods, by Bill Bryson. He set off to hike the AT almost on a whim, although he did take the time to properly plan and outfit for his trip. Irreverent and funny, Bryson does not sugar-coat the AT experience: "Nearly everyone I talked to had some gruesome story involving a guileless acquaintance who had gone off hiking the trail with new boots and come stumbling back two days later with a bobcat attached to his head or dripping blood from an armless sleeve and whispering in a hoarse voice, "Bear!" before lapsing into unconsciousness." Bryson and his friend logged a little over 1/3 of the total miles, doing a section here and there, before deciding in the middle of Maine's "100 mile wilderness," that they were done. Interestingly, despite Bryson's record of every difficulty they had, and tale of every tragedy that could happen and has happened along the AT, A Walk In The Woods stoked the fires of my growing interest in actually hiking it.

There are many eccentric and amusing hikers portrayed in the movie Southbounders, and talked about in A Walk In The Woods. I have since confirmed that even the most bizarre stories about "weird" hikers are likely true, through a book written by Winton Porter, purveyor at Mountain Crossings store and hostel on the AT in Georgia. His book, Just Passin' Thru, is a delightful true story of: A Vintage Store, The Appalachian Trail, and A Cast of Colorful Characters. Even if you would never even consider hiking the AT, I recommend you read this book. It will either make you change your mind and plan the trip, or reinforce what you already thought - people who do that must be crazy. In either case, it's laugh-out-loud entertainment!

A thru-hiker is a person who completes (or is in the process of completing) the entire Appalachian Trail in one year. Eleven people have completed a thru-hike over the age of 70. The record-holder is a man named Lee Barry - trail name Easy One - who, in 2004 reached Katahdin at the age of 81. A woman in her early sixties - trail name Lorac - hiked the AT with terminal ovarian cancer, a pharmacy stuffed in her backpack. Will I actually hike the whole AT, and join the esteemed "2,000-milers club?" Maybe... I don't really know what God has planned for me. If I ever get to give it a try, and then make it all the way to Katahdin, it will be because God has chosen to heal me of all my physical ails. Or, like Easy One, Lorac and numerous others, I have been granted the gift of being able to press on through and despite them.

I'm holding on to this dream for now... because it makes me smile at the thought of a different me - a person that is, by God's grace, beyond being limited by a battered and uncooperative body.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Pursuit of Health

Today I'm asking a question that I have been asking myself for awhile now. Does our moral obligation to be stewards of our bodies require that we constantly pursue health?

A sick person wants to get well. It is normal for us to track down the causes of our illnesses, and then do whatever is necessary to cure what ails us. It might be an antibiotic, chicken soup, a spine adjustment, exercise, or just some rest. We see a doctor, a chiropractor, a nutritionist, or an allergist. We read articles and ask friends. Once we are well again, we go about life until the next time we get sick.

But for a chronically-ill person, achieving wellness becomes a much more complicated task, which can sometimes seem impossible. Often doctors can't get us to the level of health we need or want. Sometimes they can't even tell us what's wrong. So then we choose...either we just live with whatever is wrong, or we continue to seek answers from other sources. Is one of these choices more Godly than the other?

Start doing some research and you find that there are so many things that can wreak havoc with your health. Vit D deficiency, iodine deficiency, fluoride and chlorine in the water, bromates in food and the environment, artificial sweeteners, mercury, MSG, GMOs, aluminum cook ware, microwave use, plastic bottles, chemicals in shampoo, pesticides in our foods, exposure to mold. We can try curing ourselves with elimination diets, acupuncture, colon cleansing, spirulina, raw milk, juicing, making our own detergents, buying organic produce, giving up sugar, getting more sun, avoiding hot showers, taking supplements. Seriously, this list doesn't even touch the surface of all the things that could be culprits or cures for feeling yuck. It's absolutely overwhelming... Where do I start? But, even more importantly, when do I stop? At what point does the pursuit of health replace the pursuit of God? I've had this discussion with some friends recently and I have some ideas, but I'd love to hear what everyone has to say. Post your comments!!


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Consider the Daylilies

NOTE: This article was originally printed by Creation Illustrated last summer... sort of. I feel like the editors' good intentions of adding a few things here and there really ruined the rhythm and flow of the writing. Needless to say, that was extremely disappointing. So I am sharing it here as I submitted it to them.

A Garden of Worship

In a creative Bible study I was attending, I was asked “what does worship smell like?” An avid gardener, I was able to answer without hesitation – worship smells like dirt. By dirt I mean soil and along with that the sweet mingling scents of summer air, leaves, damp grass, and blossoms.

After God created Adam and Eve, He placed them in a garden. It was their home, their place of work, their house of worship, and where God would teach them about Himself. They were naked and unashamed and walked in close fellowship with the Creator. Sadly, their sin caused them to be banished from the Garden of Eden. But God in His mercy did not remove the magnificence of nature from the Earth. Even though muted by the Fall, the plant life on this Earth is still incredible, and my garden is one of the places where I feel closest to God. Just as with Adam and Eve, there I learn about my Creator and there I worship Him.

God has given us a vast variety of plant life on this Earth. In my garden, I grow only a miniscule representation – from the evergreen Vinca vine that scrambles aggressively through the border, to the Red Twig Dogwood that stands unpretentious most of the year but then becomes a star in the garden as its leafless branches turn scarlet in the winter. All of my plants teach me something about God. But there is one type of plant in particular that, more than any other I grow, demonstrates to me the truths of my Creator: the Hemerocallis. While very hardy and versatile in the landscape, it is its incredible beauty that reminds me that God will take care of all my needs and is capable of making me into a beautiful creation. And by caring for them and through the growing process, I am reminded that God cares for us through our spiritual growth process.

...Let us, together, consider the Daylily.

God’s Mercy
…since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made… (Romans 1:20)

The daylily is so-called because each bloom stays open for just a single day. Each plant is a group of individual sword-like fans of foliage growing from a structure called the crown. Each fan sends up multiple stalks (called scapes) that have multiple buds on them. With a garden full of a variety of daylilies, the possibilities are endless as to the number and type of blooms that will be open on a given day. The garden landscape is new every morning. Like God’s mercy. Because He is merciful, God wants to know us and make Himself known to us, despite our sin. He has chosen to reveal Himself in creation and the magnificent daylily takes its place among all the things that He has made so men may understand Him.

Created for Beauty
So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? (Matthew 6:28-30)

The word Hemerocallis is Greek for “beautiful for a day.” The person who wonders how a flower could be clothed in more splendor than Solomon has never seen hybrid daylilies. While not actually related to the lily, their amazing “attire” and the fact that they are literally here today and gone tomorrow makes daylilies the epitome of the flowers Jesus spoke of in Matthew 6.

Modern daylily hybrids are a far cry from the species daylilies that are still growing wild beside roads and in clumps in front of old farm houses. Often referred to as “ditch lilies” and classified as invasive in some areas, species daylilies multiply rapidly and produce orange or yellow blooms that are pretty, but not extraordinary. Over the last 75 years, hobby and professional hybridizers have been breeding in desirable traits and breeding out unwanted ones, just like with dogs or horses.

I have over 30 different daylily cultivars growing in my smallish front yard gardens. Thirty may seem like a lot, except when you consider that each new seed produces a plant with a unique bloom, and that there are over 60,000 named and registered daylily hybrids. Mine include ‘Spacecoast Sharp Tooth’ – pink with jagged gold edges; ‘Derrick Carr’ –purple so dark it’s almost black covering petals the texture of velvet; ‘Adam Eaton’ – a creamy white that reveals a dusting of tiny sparkles when the sun hits the bloom; and ‘Siloam Doodlebug’ – a cute 3 inch lemon-yellow blossom with a purple-black eyezone.

Is all this variety and good looks a credit to God or to the hybridizers? Hybridizers do the physical work of fertilizing the flowers, planting the mature seeds, waiting a year or more for the seedlings to bloom, and then evaluating the blooms. They then keep the promising ones for further refinement and get rid of the rest. But God created the genetics; He put all that code in there in the first place and then gave man the mind and the ability to work with it to bring out the beauty.
There are two spiritual lessons to be learned here. The first is what Matthew 6:28-30 means on its surface: If God clothes flowers in such glory, of course He will meet our physical needs. With so much potential splendor packed into the genetics of the daylily - a flower that dies after a single day - how can I look at it and doubt God will take care of my needs?

The second lesson grows from that. Just like the daylilies, we were created for beauty – spiritual beauty. If God cares that much about our physical needs, how much more will he care about our spiritual needs?

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD,
My soul shall be joyful in my God;
For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
He has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
As a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments,
And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. (Isaiah 61:10)

Like a hybridizer constantly working to coax the beauty out of the flowers, God is working at every moment to transform us – His bride - into the image of Christ. But our Creator doesn’t have to wait until the seed grows into a mature plant and shows its first bloom. He knows what our blooms will look like and what the next step is to continue our make-over. And we can be sure that God won’t give up and toss us onto the compost heap, unlike the hybridizers sometimes do with the daylilies. As Philippians 1:6 tells us: He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.

Dug up, cut apart, and moved around.
Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11)

A master gardener considers not just a single plant and all that is necessary to care for it, but also how the one plant relates to and enhances the entire garden. At times, caring for my plants means doing things that will stress them in the short term but highly benefit them and the entire garden in the long term. For a daylily, it often starts with an uprooting.

Sometimes no matter how careful I am in choosing the spot for a new daylily I realize later that I made a bad decision. When everything is blooming, I sometimes find that the colors clash or the new plant is blocking the one behind it, the plant isn’t thriving in that spot, or just that the overall harmony of the garden is off. So I have to dig up plants to move them around.

Another reason I might dig up a daylily is to divide it. A clump of daylilies in full bloom is a breathtaking sight. But as the clump gets bigger, eventually the fans start to crowd each other and the whole plant suffers, producing weak foliage and few blooms. For the health of the plant and the beauty of the garden, it must be divided. After lifting the entire root ball out of the ground, the clump is cut apart using a sharp garden tool. The smaller clumps can then be replanted throughout the garden, given away, or sold.

While God does not make mistakes where He places us, He may need to dig us up from where we have comfortably put down roots because our current location (physically or spiritually) is no longer beneficial to us or to His garden. Perhaps we need to move to a new house, a new church, a new city or country. Maybe He needs us to change jobs, separate ourselves from a connection that is not allowing us to bloom our best, or adjust another major aspect of our lives. This uprooting may be difficult and stressful but God would not have us do it if it weren’t the best thing for us and the Body of Christ.

Far more threatening to the plant than the reasons it may need to be transplanted or divided is the problem of crown rot. The crown is like the heart of a daylily; it is the place from where the roots, leaves and scapes all grow. If the crown is damaged the whole plant will suffer. Symptoms of crown rot include poor growth, yellowing of the leaves, wilting, and mushy tissue on the crown. Once the rot starts to eat away at the crown, it can swiftly kill the entire plant and infect adjacent plants. The infected section of the crown must be cut away from the healthy part or the daylily will die.

Things like unrepentant sin, idolatry, addictions, gossip, etc. cause rot in the heart of the believer. Because God loves us and is committed to making us over into the image of Christ, He has no choice but to uproot us and sharply cut away the rot. Whatever form this takes in our lives, it is not likely to be pleasant at the time, but is done by our Creator out of love.

Like a gardener that does whatever he has to do to take care of his plants, our Master Gardener will do the same, taking care of us so that we will grow healthier in Christ and continue becoming more like Him. As we are uprooted, cut, shifted around, or dispersed we need to remember that God does these things to bring about His purpose “for good to those who love God.”(Romans 8:28)

Greeting life
The daylily blooms have one day to show themselves - one single day to be a part of the creation that reflects who God is. What do they do with it? Some greet the sun as it’s rising, open and happy and ready to give life their best for the time they have. Some slumber a little longer, sleeping in and refusing to open fully until the light and warmth of mid-morning beckons them. And some, obstinately, refuse to open at all, or maybe only a little so the others will think they tried. Our lives on earth are fleeting. We can slumber thinking we’ll get started later or maybe just barely give it an effort. Or we can take that brief time and give it everything we’ve got as a beautiful reflection of Christ in this world.

God is the original Master Gardener. I cannot fathom how perfect and awe-inspiring a garden planted by Him would be. No clashing colors, crown rot, or noxious weeds. No slugs or aphids eating the Hostas and Roses. Because I’m not God, I do have problems controlling things in my garden (my perennials will not live in harmony with the Dandelions) and making sure my plants survive. But as in many areas of our lives, God uses these problems to evidence His mighty nature. As I consider my daylilies and the rest of my garden, I look forward to the day when we can again walk side by side with our Creator and worship Him in a garden of perfection and as perfect beings. Until then, I enjoy what we have here on earth, trusting in my Master’s plan.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Green Cathedral

In the movie Faith Like Potatoes, the main character - a farmer who has just found the Lord - lays in the middle of his corn fields, reads his bible and prays. He tells his pastor it's his "green cathedral." The term resonated with me because I worship in my garden; it is a place that I feel very close to the Lord. Many of my friends have heard me relate the smell of soil to worship. When we have nice weather, I like to take my coffee out there in the morning. And no matter how many times I sit there looking at the exact plants I looked at the day before, I am still in awe of my Creator.

If you look around... really pay attention... you will see God in every leaf, every snowflake, every bug, every flower. The world is His cathedral... worship wherever you are.

Monday, January 4, 2010

New's Year's Resolution

I bought myself a Christmas present: a copy of I’m Just Here for More Food, by Alton Brown. The man can make the chemical process of creaming butter and sugar so fascinating you just have to keep reading! So, as I got more into the book, I had visions of myself getting up at 5am to make a fresh loaf of bread – the old fashioned way, by hand. I’d let it do a slow rise all day like Alton suggests and then bake it late afternoon, just in time for dinner. This so excited me that I actually found myself thinking those dreaded words, “New Year’s resolution.”

New Year’s resolutions bother me. No, stronger than that: I hate them and I hate thinking about making them. No offense if you participate in that tradition. What is it about day 1 of a new year that has the magical power to give me the strength to do things I don’t have the strength to do on day 127 or 243? Why do I think I am more likely to get up at 5am starting January 2nd then I am starting April 3rd?

While pondering this question I was also daydreaming about fresh-baked, non-bread-machine bread… as well as a clutter-free house, morning quiet time, and a perfectly scheduled routine in which all my homeschooling endeavors are carried out flawlessly according to my well-laid plans. Along with that, I envision the proper diet, perfect mothering, and laundry that is always kept up with. It’s only January 4th and I’m already tired of my would-be new me in the New Year.

I can’t even guarantee I will keep up with this blog (it's probably more likely I will not keep up with it). I’d like to write deep, inspiring things that are worthy of others taking the time to read them. I can’t be sure I will. What I can be sure of is that I can take life one day at a time, slowly working toward the concrete goals I have set… not a promise on the first day to, this year, by sheer will power, change the way I have been for the last 32 years. My January mantra is, “Just do the next thing [with God’s help].” Because before I can actually order my life, I need to get into the habit of DOING my life. One foot in front of the other, just keep swimming (I know...mixed metaphors, sorry).

God’s green cathedral is brown and cold right now – the peaceful slumber awaiting the Spring when all things are made new again (why don't we make Spring resolutions?) But my heart is warm with hope. As Scarlett O’Hara was fond of saying, “tomorrow is another day.” Thank the Lord that His mercies are new every morning… because I need a lot of mercy! Not just this year but every year until He calls me home.