Yesterday, the day after Sharing Manna’s fall planting, we had a special word of encouragement from Mary Jac Brennan, the Community Gardening Coordinator of Forsyth’s Cooperative Extension Service, where Sharing Manna Garden is listed. Here’s the transcript:
Thank you Ely, and thank you all for allowing me to be here and talk to you for just a few minutes. I’m not going to talk long, but my role at Cooperative Extension is to help community gardens get established and to continue. That’s my “official” role of working with Ely, although Ely is a friend of mine. I have enjoyed that relationship, and it’s certainly blessed my life, both Ely and Alfred.
When Ely came to me and talked about wanting to have a garden here, she did it in the very best way. She went out and trained herself, got herself educated about gardening; she volunteered in another community garden for a whole summer and saw how that worked. She was a hard worker in that garden that happens to be a garden I participated in at a church I go to in Kernersville. And the people in that garden came to love Ely and Alfred and were very concerned about what happened to your garden too.
So she did it in all the right ways. She helped, you all started [GreenTree’s garden] last year, and this year she went to Master Gardener training. That was a tough, long period of classes where you have to go and study and take tests and then you have to serve, it’s volunteer; you have to give back. Part of what she’s done with that is to enlarge this garden. What I’ve been really impressed with your church is how the garden has become such a part of your outreach. And that’s wonderful, because it’s not just serving the people here, but it’s serving the people in the community.
It was so unfortunate when, a few weeks ago, the damage happened to the garden. I was out of town at a conference when I got an email from Ely, saying that the garden had been damaged. When I got back to town, I came over the next day, and I was standing in the garden with her, and it was very sad. It was really, really sad, because I know how much love has gone into that garden. I was telling her, “Well, now, you can do this, and you can do that,” and I had this awareness that . . . you know what? This is a time when we need to reach out, not just in the good times, but in the bad times too. So we decided that we would reach out to the community and ask for help.
I’m a Christian, and I believe that that’s when, [in] our spiritual path, the rubber hits the road. When things are good, it’s easy to be loving, and caring, and do for others. But when our lives get tough, when we get those bumps in the road, or somebody damages a beautiful garden that has been such a source of love and giving, it would be easy just to say, “Well, we quit.” Some churches, some groups, would’ve said, “Well, we can’t have a garden anymore, because it’s just going to be a place where people come and do vandalism.” I don’t think that’s what the Christian life is about. I think it’s about moving forward even in those times of tribulation and the hard times.
So, my hat is off to you all, as a group, as a community, for moving forward with this. It’s been an amazing experience for me to be on the sidelines and watch the community come together and support this garden. I know that there were twenty-eight people who came to clean out the garden, and many of them had never heard of GreenTree before, didn’t know this place existed, but were happy to come and help. Then you had more people yesterday with the fall planting. I run into people all over the place just in my job about community gardens, and everywhere I go, people are saying, “Oh, that was so bad what happened in that garden; what can we do to help? Is there anything we can do to help?” I was telling Ely this morning, people at my church (because they’ve read the story in the newspaper, and they know Ely from working in the garden last summer) said, “Ask her what she needs, ask her what we can do to help.”
And so a very traumatic experience that has been handled very gracefully by your community is going to lift up the message of community gardening and probably lift up your community of GreenTree as well. I’m just thrilled to get to be on the sidelines and watch this happen, because it’s amazing what happens when people come together in one spirit. And of course, as a Christian, I know that there’s a major Power involved that we have no control over, and it’s just wonderful to be able to be a part of that. So thank you so much for the moment to speak to you; and keep up the wonderful gardening work. If you want to know more about gardening, Ely is a wonderful teacher, and she can direct you to some of us at Cooperative Extension: that’s our role, to teach people how to garden as well.
For more information about Master Gardening and the Cooperative Extension, visit http://www.co.forsyth.nc.us/CES/Gardening/ or contact Mary Jac Brennan at (336) 703-2850.
For Sharing Manna online, visit http://www.forsythcommunitygardening.com/SpecificGarden.aspx?GardenID=28
Last weekend, Sharing Manna Garden was vandalized. Which means, in our case, that someone had mashed down the fence, pulled up stakes and thrust them forward in an angry heap, and sprayed a toxic chemical on the zucchini, green beans, and other vegetables and flowers that left them yellow and brown and full of holes, as if locusts had made a feast of it. Flower pots that had held happy things in bright reds and whites now held sprays of wispy stuff that looked like chewed-up paper. It was a sudden portrait of anger, or mischief, or maybe even hate.
When I found out what had happened to GreenTree’s garden, my first question—maybe it’s yours, too—was, naturally, “Why would someone do this?” The person whom this act probably had the potential to discourage most was Ely, our garden mentor. This cruel act could not have, of course, been meant for Ely, the cheerful, gentle Ely whose Portuguese accent soothes every conversation in which she engages….Ely, who leads a team of workers who quietly and happily dig, plant, gather, and bag up veggies for the community with unpretentious contentment, week after week. But the question still begs for meaning…why? Why would someone do something to satisfy some self-focused primal urge, and not, for one minute, stop to consider who is being hurt?
But Sunday morning, as I walked to the back of GreenTree’s property and surveyed the damage and used my trusty friend the camera to make some pictorial sense of the chaos in front of me, and as I trudged through the dry mess along the drooping fence that held the sad, bowed-down tangle of dead vines, I dropped my cell phone.
And my cell phone reminded me of something. Something about me.
Just days before, in an already testy mood, I’d gotten irritated at someone I hardly knew. I’d misunderstood something someone had texted me. My sensitive pride had been jabbed in a very bruised spot and I lost all rational thought—and do you know what I did? In a matter of seconds I held my breath and deleted the person from my contacts list. Then I stuck my phone down onto the table as if it had been exposed to something poisonous. My pulse was racing as if I’d just stepped on a big spider and barely got it.
I tore down. In a hasty moment, I did something very stupid. I tore something down.
(Minutes later that day, I got another text from the same person, and my wild misunderstanding vanished when I realized my fears were entirely unfounded. I laughed at myself, and I added the person’s contact information back into my phone. But not without some disappointment. I had been so hasty to wipe out a person’s name, as if it had never existed.)
Now, on a Sunday morning, I was standing in the middle of a garden, torn down by a hasty act of anger, or perhaps wounded pride, or a completely crazy and irrational act based on some horrible past. Another example of a very sad fact:
WE TEAR DOWN.
The very first garden in the history of mankind, extravagantly and infinitely more beautiful than this one, did not last, because two hasty humans did one thoughtless act. Now plants die, they become yellowed, bugs eat them, trees fall, we dig, dig, dig, and sweat, sweat, sweat, for a few measly meals that keep us alive before we have to do it all over again.
I went inside with enough pictures in my camera to mark a memory for a year, and I spotted, seated in the main room, Ely Wakefield and Chryl McWilliams—two hard-working and loving women who were a little quieted by the messed-up garden but not angry. I stashed my camera away and joined them.
“I talked to my sister on the phone,” Ely remarked. “She said, ‘God will take care of it.’ It’s going to be all right.”
Ely said that she wasn’t angry. Neither was Chryl. “What would we accomplish by retaliating?” she asked. And with the lack of surprise that comes with maturity, Chryl pointed out that, although the original plan for the end of the summer was to prune everything back in hopes of having it reproduce foliage (instead of starting again from seed), this setback came near the time set aside for re-working anyway (near the end of August). They have a garden work-day set for August 18, a day when the workers will start over and move forward.
Both women understand something important. Sin is not surprising, and we all do it. Maybe we don’t ransack property, but we can tear down one another with our words. Maybe we don’t destroy plants with chemicals, but we could easily kill a day of productive work with a bad attitude. Maybe we don’t mangle pots of tender flowers, but we sure can extinguish a friendship with an unforgiving spirit.
The conclusion of both women: God will work it all out. “It’s God’s work,” added Ely. “This wasn’t against us, it was against God.” Tearing down the garden is tearing down God’s work, and He will take care of His work. “God will work it out”—not because we at GreenTree are some kind of righteous, do-nothing-wrong group of holy people who wear the white hats and deserve special treatment as members of the God-Team. No . . . God will work it out because He is loving, and merciful. And the same God who forgives us daily for our bad attitudes and hasty words and short tempers is the same God who will restore the damage from an act of mischief or anger strong enough at the moment to enflame a vandalism storm.
“He will take care of it,” as Ely Wakefield’s sister said. He’s the only one who can be trusted to do so. We may feel torn, and we may tear down, but He will build up.
Drawing together as a community. Sharing resources. Sharing relationship—not just in our little church circle, but in the surrounding society that forms our city—this is the vision of GreenTree and the work of the Community Center. The sense of a “community church” and “community center” started with our move to downtown Winston-Salem in the spring of 2006, and since then we’ve seen story after story unfold with opportunities.
At GreenTree, we are passionate about getting close and involved in our immediate society and even connecting the people of our region together as we have opportunity. This drawing-together, we have come to believe, is central to the heart of Christ and the vision of the Church. The early church shared everything: their material means such as food and money (Acts 2), and their spiritual resources—encouragement, inspiration, wisdom, and help (I Corinthians 12).
In a little building on Broad Street, with two additional buildings and some land, we are able to share that biblical model and the outgrowth of a long-developing dream. We are now able to know what it feels like to experience togetherness in our city. Not only with one another as a church group, but in our interactions with our community and the neighborhoods around us.
For instance, Beautiful Things, a creative arts sharing group, meets once a month in the café of the community center. Each person in the group is invited to share a creative work (such as a poem, song, painting, drawing, dance, story, etc.), while the other group members offer encouragement and feedback.
Then there are the Zumba classes, taught by Eva Rieco. The parking lot gets filled up quickly every week as Zumba enthusiasts come in for a lively dance workout set to fun music and peppy encouragement from Eva. Chris Weeks, a Kung Fu instructor in our area, teaches a rigorous training class at the community center as well.
Sharing Manna Garden, overseen by Ely Wakefield, sits in a lush, green area in the back of the property, a ready place for all who want to share in the work or resources the garden offers.
Recently, a mental health advocate with a heart for those who have been stereotyped by mental illness labels has found in GreenTree’s community center a place to provide education, assistance, friendship, and encouragement. Laurie Coker, leader and founder for this group for recovery and support for people who struggle with mental illnesses, has now begun to hold meetings once or twice a week.
For the article from North Carolina Health News, with more information about Laurie Coker’s group at the community center, visit the following link: http://www.northcarolinahealthnews.org/2012/07/23/winston-salem-center-will-provide-support-for-mentally-ill/
Birthday parties, GED classes, baby showers, wrestling teams, church meetings, support groups, gardening days, coffee breaks with friends, game nights—there’s no end to the number of ways the people in our town can help one another and work as a team. And since we’ve been blessed at GreenTree with a multi-purpose building that’s useful for many different functions, we have the opportunity to share our space and to see a bit of “community” happen right in our little corner.
Last night I had a wrestling match with regret. I don’t know where it came from, but after a simple conversation with my husband and a few minutes of thinking, regret jumped up out of nowhere and grabbed me by the neck like an intruder set on putting me out for good.
In the space of minutes, I saw in my mind a picture of myself with a loved one: how easily offended and selfishly sensitive I had been around a struggling, God-loving friend for years, when robust love and patience were what I should’ve given.
That led to another one (as the brain often goes). I regretted always letting my easily-upset, childish tendencies show with the person I love most: my husband.
That led to the if-onlys. If only I had started intentionally obeying God like the young facebook friend whose blogs I like to read, who harnesses her heart to praise God while in great pain. When I was her age, I only wanted to build a better life for myself.
If only I’d worked hard and helped save money when Tim and I were younger, maybe Tim wouldn’t have had to work so hard now. If only.
I got myself so upset that I ended up crying, “God, let me make up for it. I’ll be cheerful and encourage Tim every day. I’ll be more patient with the ones I love. I’ll stop whining. I’ll stop being negative.” I had visions of a transformed Scrooge running through the street after his bad night, spilling out money to the poor, sending a turkey to Bob Cratchit’s house, showing up at his nephew’s door a changed man. Not being Scrooge anymore.
But in the space of a minute, I knew it just didn’t work that way. So, after leaving my drama-queen tear-pond, I ended up whinnying, “Lord, just help me,” as I fell asleep.
That was my little trip into regret.
Now, this is my little trip out.
This morning I woke up and the first word that came into my head was, “Abortion.” What?
I sat straight up, and a picture came to mind, that of a strong and godly woman I admire, who never lets her younger friends sit around with otherworldly illusions about her—she has told us more than once, “When I was younger, I had an abortion. Now I wish I hadn’t. I deeply regret it, but I do not stay there. God has a perfect plan, I will see that child one day, and I live in His grace, and I move forward.” She has a job to do, she shows peace, strength, and love on her face, and she does not embody the destruction of regret.
“Okay,” I thought. “Not looking behind, pressing forward. The words of the Apostle Paul.” And although abortion is seen as a controversial topic, terrorism is something we all hate. Paul had been a terrorist. Okay.
But what about the lost time we all live with? How can we have the heart to move on if we can’t make up for it?
What do I tell my older friend who didn’t receive Jesus until he was 65, who left behind a long vacuum of wasted time? What do I say to the mom who alienated her children and who never hears from them now? What do I tell myself, for that matter? All of us get tangles of regrets in our laps that beg to be unknotted. All of us at GreenTree, to different degrees, have memories that spell I-F-O-N-L-Y. I hear many stories of wasted time among the members of our group. Many of us have been too passive; some of us have been in jail, some of us have destroyed another person with our words, used other people for their bodies, let our children grow up with wounds we inflicted, cursed God for years with our destructive behaviors. What about the lost time?
If the lost time could be magically redeemed somehow, maybe then we could have the heart to press forward.
I was talking to my dad on the phone today about this very subject. He pointed out two things that can completely obliterate regret over lost time:
“We don’t have to start well. We just need to finish well.”
He was thinking of the Parable of the Generous Employer in Matthew 20, in which a landowner paid those he’d hired in the morning the same wages as the people he’d hired later in the day. My dad said, “It seems like God doesn’t count how much we do or when we got started. It’s just what we do with the time we have now. So we don’t have to have regrets.”
It’s another example of the backwards math of the kingdom, I guess. Kingdom Math seems weird, unfair, and encouraging all at once. Sometimes it’s our only hope.
“God can do great and mighty things in a short time.”
That’s what someone told my dad once when he was discouraged about lost time. God isn’t bound to time. He binds Himself to forgive and completely forget when we repent, and He can stop time and stretch it if He wants to. He loves doing what we aren’t capable of. Ask people who have walked with God for any length of time, and you’ll begin to hear story after story of growth spurts and sudden opportunities.
Maybe our tales of regret aren’t so different from those Old Testament stories in which God whittles down His armies to small numbers. He does seem to favor downsizing the human-credential phenomenon we Americans tend to like so much. Maybe mistakes, sins, and lost years are only opportunities for God to show off. Maybe if it’s not about us, we’re free.
It’s a new day, GreenTree friends. No regrets.
That was the voice of Ely Wakefield on Sunday morning, after church, bags in hand, vegetables on the café table; she was doing her Sharing Manna Garden Mentor duty.
Well, not exactly. Really, Ely was just being a friend, at home in the garden, sharing stuff, the thing you do when people stop by and visit. It’s what my Grandma does when I drive to her house in Virginia (although Ely isn’t my grandma’s age). By the time I’m ready to leave, I’m loaded up with jars of Grandma’s famous pickles, plastic bags full of mustard greens, and some cucumbers for my salad. It’s not a duty; it’s love. It’s home.
This vegetables-in-the-café phenomenon has been going on lately, ever since the soil and seeds in Sharing Manna Garden started doing its springtime dance with the sun and the rain. Whenever we’re at GreenTree, we now see something green, yellow, or red on the café tables or counter, and we can’t help but pick up something and turn it over. Wal-Mart bags aren’t too far away, either. That’s because we’re free to grab some things to take with us, because it’s love. It’s home.
I got that feeling Sunday morning when I saw Ely talking with some visitors. A couple of new friends had come after being part of a chess tournament that one of our GreenTree friends had hosted Saturday. There was also a mom with a cute toddler-aged daughter.
“Want some green beans?” Ely asked her, grinning and arranging the beans in neat piles.
“Sure, that sounds good,” the young mom said. “How do I cook them?”
I can’t help but think I’m correctly speaking for everyone at GreenTree when I say that there’s something nice that happens when you see piles of green stuff—food—life—on the tables and counters of a place where people come to see what’s going on with “this church group.” It says that we’re home. It says that it’s not about some kind of program, or a race to see how “successful” we are based on our group numbers. It says that life happens here, that love grows here.
Home is where we’re not just polite and only offer customary smiles, or enroll people in fix-it programs and hustle them in like cattle to be added to our herd. Home doesn’t always match the ministry brochures of what a successful church is supposed to look like. Home sometimes looks messy. Home is a place where arguments come up, because the energy it took to be out in the world all day falls away in a big tired breath of relief, and our real selves emerge, and sometimes it’s not pretty. Home is where you rest so that you can face the world again. Home isn’t where you go to get a bulleted list that outlines your life; it’s where you get a hug and a bag of green beans.
If you stop by GreenTree any time soon, you can look directly through the parking lot to the back and see how lush and full the garden has become. Ely and her helpers have skillfully cooperated with God’s natural world and brought forth results as pretty as my Grandma’s ruffled rows in her back yard. It’s not perfect; no home is. There are a couple of groundhogs that are making a pesky nuisance of themselves right now, as a matter of fact. But we hope you’ll look at it and think of home. And please stop inside: we’d love to have a good chat over a bottled water or a Pepsi, and chances are that there will be some zucchinis or tomatoes if you’d like to bag up some to take with you.
On Sunday, June 3, in his sermon based in Romans 12, Pastor Tim challenged GreenTree friends with an important opportunity. This invitation also applies to anyone who hasn’t found his/her niche in a church family and ministry outlet. If you haven’t heard the challenge in the sermon or would like to refresh your memory, we’ve adapted it here in blog form.
I have a question: where are you in relationship to your church? Every now and then we need to stop and draw a map in our minds of where we are in life. I’d like to say some things to three different age groups in relation to our church. These ages aren’t a clean-cut division; these categories are meant more to reflect where you are.
Age 18 to 35.
If you are age 18 to 35, you may very well be single. You may be a student; you may be considering a career or starting a career. If you are married, you haven’t been married for very long. It’s quite possible that you don’t yet have any kids, especially if you’re on the younger end of this age spectrum…or you may have young kids. There’s a good chance that you’re nearly broke because you’ve just started out in life. It’s possible that you’re renting; maybe you’re still living at home, or maybe you are just now buying a house. You’re still asking and answering a lot of big life-questions, especially if you are still in your 20’s: you’re still becoming who you are going to be.
Ages 36 to 55.
There aren’t very many of us in this age bracket at GreenTree. We have more people who belong to the upper and lower end of the age spectrum and not as many in the middle. But if you’re in this middle age bracket, you’re probably married or you’ve been married; maybe you’re divorced or even remarried by this point. You may have a career established. You probably own a home now, if you’re ever going to.
If you have children, they are probably already teenagers or young adults. You could even have very young grandchildren. You’re probably dealing with aging parents. You’re beginning to accumulate some wealth by this point—or if not, you’re becoming very concerned. But all in all, you’re probably much more settled than you were in that 18 to 35 bracket.
You may be re-thinking long-held beliefs; this is a time in life where you’ve already pretty much settled what you believe but now you might be saying to yourself, “Wait a minute; maybe not.” Maybe you’re having a mid-life crisis; you’re starting to wonder, “Am I ever going to amount to anything?”
Age 56 to Heaven.
Of course, an 80 year-old is in a different place in life in life than a 56 year-old, but if you’ll just humor me, we’ll group you into this general stage in life if you fit in this age category. You are established financially by this point, or (as Dave Ramsey says) you’re thinking about buying a copy of One Hundred and One Ways to Fix Dog Food and Like It. Your marriage is in the golden years. Or perhaps you’re a widow or widower. You’re most likely retired, or you’re working and really feeling it. Maybe you’re playing with hobbies, playing with grandchildren, or playing with great-grandchildren. You’re advising your adult children (or trying to and pulling your hair out). You’re not likely at this point to make any big life changes that you’re not absolutely forced into.
The Oldies: Your Great Opportunity
Many of you in this final age bracket have shown great loyalty to me over these dozen years I’ve been the pastor here. And you are, except for a few exceptions, the ones who are giving the significant amount of money that goes into funding the church, and we appreciate that greatly.
We want you to engage the rest of us. I don’t mean nag us; I don’t mean preach at us; but we want you to interact with us. We need some advice. We need some direction; we need, sometimes, even some rebuke. And we want you to show some leadership, while letting us take some leadership.
The Youngers: Your Great Opportunity
You have unique resources here. Those of you in the younger category have incredible opportunity in terms of your church. You have a church, with older people with a unique quality here: they have withstood great changes. Many people in the older age bracket just don’t do it. They can’t take it when a church goes through the metamorphosis that GreenTree has undergone. What’s more, you have a group of older people willing to fund the church and willing to help you move forward. And you have a church that has no debt, and small utility bills, even though it has a small budget. It’s very workable. You have the best of both worlds: the freshness of a church plant and the facilities, people, and structure of an old church. You have a pastor who is willing to maintain a good relationship with the older people while looking forward. You have the opportunity, young people, to make this church whatever it needs to be to reach out to your generation.
But the older group has something to say to you, and they’re saying it kindly:
We want you to get some skin in the game. We know you don’t have very much money; give a little bit. Take some leadership. Show up. Commit to doing some things. Dream up something that you love: bring it to us. We’re willing to fund it for a while if we see you making an effort to take some ownership. Now, we know that might mean we’ll have to put up with some things that are just a little bit “too young” for us. But we’re willing to do it if you will take some ownership. Young people, you have an incredible opportunity.
Now, all of us need to get “skin in the game,” don’t we? All of us need to make some commitments, to make church life what it ought to be. And you have an opportunity to take a small church that’s wide open to all different kinds of ideas, and make it into what will be necessary to meet your needs, to have you involved, and to meet the needs of those that are your friends and your peers.
If you’d like to learn more, go to the Sermons Page and explore with us in Romans 12, learn a bit about the kinds of commitments that God asks us to make. And let’s ask and answer this question, in relationship to your local body of believers: How will your church impact your life, and how will your life impact your church?
This guest blog is written by Laura Goodman. Laura is a teacher at Community Bible Study, which meets at Pinedale Christian Church on Thursday mornings. Leaders at Community Bible study yearly write a personal devotional piece to share with the group; this is part of Laura’s devotional writing, about her personal experience with the desire to grow in relational closeness with Jesus. If you wonder what it means to “grow closer to God,” and want to know how that’s done, take this refreshing blog post as an inspiration and encouragement to begin with God right where you are.
As I look back, I realize that I was stuck in a spiritual rut for years without knowing it. I was stagnant. I would give God whatever time I had at the end of the day, right before bed, sometimes ending up falling asleep within a few minutes of opening my Bible. Worship at church on Sunday mornings was great, but only if we sang the songs I liked. The pastor’s message was moving, but I mostly thought it was just what everyone else needed to hear.
I was a fairly new youth pastor’s wife at the time and I wanted people to know that I had it together. That worked until I volunteered to teach a High School girls’ Sunday School class. What a challenge that was. Did I mention that my co-teacher was the most godly woman and the most gifted teacher I knew? I was put in my place, and I quickly figured out that I could do NOTHING without Jesus. It was a huge lesson learned as I realized I didn’t know quite as much as I thought I did and not nearly as much as I wanted to. God was so gracious to me, and through much humility, He gave me such a hunger and thirst for the Word that I had never experienced. It proved to be a pivotal moment in my walk with Christ.
But something was still missing. During a sermon our pastor asked the question, “If Jesus was all you had in heaven (no mansion, streets of gold, no reuniting with loved ones, etc.), would you still want to go? Would Jesus be enough?” Fear gripped me as I sat there, and I knew the answer was, “No, Jesus was not enough.” I had what I thought was a strong faith and a hunger for God’s Word, I loved Jesus for what He did on the cross for me, but I did not have a deep intimate love for Jesus that, in my human mind, would last for eternity. I think we can have great faith but still miss our True Love, and that is where I was. As I wrestled with that, I was determined that I would love him more, seek him more.
In the book Pilgrim’s Progress, the character Christian and his friend and fellow sojourner, Hopeful, go through numerous depressing and hindering trials, almost costing them their lives at times on their way to the Celestial City. When they finally get near the City, this is what they experience:
“. . . The beauty of the City and the radiance of the sunbeams coming from it were such a glorious sight that Christian became sick with intense longing. Hopeful also was stricken with the same affliction, and because of their pangs they lay there for some time crying out, ‘If you find my beloved one, tell Him that I am sick with love.'”
That is the intimacy I desired, and I immediately knew that my quiet time was the first thing that was going to have to change. The core to any relationship is quality time. In my previous quiet times I was not being silent before the Lord to listen, confess sin, to worship Him, and meditate on what I was learning and what He was teaching me. But where was I going to find the time when I wouldn’t be distracted by kids or fall asleep? I decided I would have to get up, exercise to get myself awake and then do a quiet time.
The first week was so hard. I would start off feeling great, but by midday I was tired, which made me cranky and tired for the rest of the day. But I stuck with it and now I don’t function well without it. It is a habit; it is a part of me. I enjoy that part of my day the most.
But not every day do I feel like worshiping Him early in the morning. On those tough days, my quiet time starts like, “God, I will praise you today even though I don’t feel like it because you alone are Worthy and if I won’t, the stones will cry out.” That very statement helps bring me into a worshipful state, and I am blessed even more those times because it puts me in my place. It helps me to see how much I need Him and how I really can’t do anything successfully without Him.
So now my daily prayer is that I would fall more and more in love with Him every day. I still am processing what that looks like by asking the question: “What is your part, God, and what is mine? You have to do the revealing and fill me with your Love if I do the seeking, right?” For I have figured out that surprise, surprise, I can’t do it on my own!! Although it has been a steady and somewhat slow process, I feel so much closer to my Lord and Savior than I have before, I have a growing love for Jesus that I have not experienced before. The greatest part about it is that I am never satisfied; I just continue to want more.
Maybe you have struggled with this too. Maybe I am the only one, and that’s okay. I am so thankful that God did not leave me where I was. May we be constantly humbled to have the experience of being drawn close to and loved by a sovereign and intentional God. May we all love Jesus as deeply as we see in Song of Solomon:
“For your love is better than wine.” Song of Solomon 1:2
“My Beloved is mine and I am His…” Song of Solomon 2:16
“…If you find my Beloved tell Him I am lovesick.” Song of Solomon 5:8
GreenTree’s Sharing Manna Garden is underway! The content here is almost the same as what you’d see on our new brochure. Feel free to look through the information and enter any questions into the comments section and they’ll be directed to Ely Wakefield, our community garden mentor.
Mentoring. Personal Empowerment. Sharing.
The vision of Sharing Manna Garden is to encourage sharing together by mentoring others in the knowledge and skills they need, which will empower them in their own lives and in giving to one another and the community.
“Anyone can garden,” says Ely Wakefield, our community garden mentor. “Children, middle aged people, and older people can garden.” Sharing Manna Garden is for you, no matter your age or level of experience. In volunteering to help with the work of Sharing Manna and receiving its benefits, you’ll be part of a mentoring program which will help you develop your gardening education. Sharing Manna Garden is also part of the NC Cooperative Extension’s Forsyth County Center on Fairchild Road in Winston-Salem, which provides resources such as Master Garden classes and gardening resources. Ely Wakefield, who teaches Sharing Manna gardeners, has received her training from the Master Gardening program of the Cooperative Extension.
We don’t just want volunteers or recipients of vegetables. We want those volunteers to learn the skills that will empower them to expand their personal lives, work with others as a team, and realize new opportunities. When you share in the work and resources at Sharing Manna, you’ll be broadening your education and your awareness of the needs in your area, growing in relationships, and strengthening your ability to provide for your loved ones and your community.
The spirit of sharing lives in each aspect of the Community Garden. Your mentor shares invaluable insight with you; and as you learn, you share your knowledge and help with others. By working together, the team shares friendship, the workload, and the common goal of sharing resources with the community. Join Sharing Manna Garden today and experience the beauty and joy of gardening!
How Can I Help?
DONATE! You can give seeds, plants, or money via GreenTree between 6:00-9:00pm on Wednesdays, 10:00am-1:00pm on Sundays, or call Ely Wakefield (336) 577-1539 to arrange a drop-off time. Seeds and money can also be mailed (see back for address). Other needs are tools, water hoses, and a storage shed.
DIG IN! Each Saturday, between the hours of 9am-4pm, you can give of your time and energy by cleaning, weeding, watering, planting, or harvesting.
The Story of Sharing Manna Garden
In the spring of 2011, the dream of a garden began to take shape when a big group of members and friends of GreenTree shared the work of pulling out rocks and pavement behind the Community Center. What resulted was a 20×12 ft. patch of garden which produced peppers, zucchini, squash, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and other ripe vegetables. It was nice to see vegetables at our café counter, but we soon began to learn of needs in our community group and began to experience, firsthand, what it felt like to share food with others, straight from the ground of our property.
Now the garden has expanded in size and the opportunity has expanded with it. A year later, we’ve been able to remove trees and allow more space, making room for both raised-bed gardens and in-ground gardens. There is now room for a larger vegetable garden in the back area, an herb garden behind our adjacent building which will contain raised-bed and container gardens, a flower garden that fringes the front and sides of the Community Center with color, and a rain garden which will catch runoff from the gutter in the back of the building with water-resistant plants.
- Wednesdays 6-9 pm
- Sundays 10am-1pm
- Saturdays 9am-4pm
- Saturdays 9am-4pm
Benefits of a Community Garden
- Beautifies the area
- Helps the environment
- Encourages teamwork
- Inspires sharing with the community
- Contributes tangible food resources
- Teaches life skills and personal independence
- Provides opportunity for physical exercise
- Offers potential for friendships
- Saves money
- Grants opportunities to teach and involve youth
For More Information Contact Us!
Sharing Manna Garden
Ely Wakefield, Community Garden Mentor
GreenTree Community Center
930 S. Broad Street
Winston-Salem, NC 27101
(336) 692-3237 (Pastor Tim Gross)
Forsyth County Cooperative Extension
1450 Fairchild Road
Winston-Salem, NC 27105
~God Almighty first planted a garden.
And, indeed, it is the purest of human pleasures.~
Last week I was sitting with my beloved group at GreenTree, listening to prayer requests and jotting them down, and I began to smile when I looked at all the faces. Some I haven’t known very long; some are as familiar as relatives. Something startled me. A question, flashing in color, as I saw everyone in that moment. Do we—whether we’re fresh young spirits, steadily growing lives, or seasoned believers—really know, or remember, the pulsating power we have when we get together and pray?
Do we have any idea?
My cat offered me some thoughts a few days later.
(For the better parable, read the story of the persistent widow and the grumpy judge in Luke 18, told by the Master Storyteller. God just happened to use this one for me because it (or she) was in the house, in my face.) And if you like cats, you’ll appreciate my plight. If you don’t like cats, that’ll work too; you’ll feel my predicament even more.
Andrea isn’t a perfectly well-behaved cat. Really, she probably isn’t even an average-behaved cat. When she gets aggravated from too much handling, or simply feels grumpy, she does this ninja move and scratches my leg, leaving a long, red zipper-line. Then there’s the regular cat stuff: asking to go outside, then pawing at the door two minutes later because she’s changed her mind and wants to come inside; nose-bumping our elbows at the dinner table; stepping right in front of our feet when we walk through the house so that we’re in danger of crashing face-first onto the floor at any moment.
Yet, her most annoying cat trait of all might be worse than the scratching. It starts every day around 3:30pm and does not end until 4:45.
I’m sweeping the floor in the middle of the afternoon and I hear a familiar ring—whiny like an alarm clock, confident as a veteran salesperson. I hardly notice at first, for its very ordinariness. Minutes later, I’m putting the books in the shelf, and again it rings. Down the hall I go, sit at the computer, and the sound follows me, slicing the air with that round, tinny wail.
I swivel my chair around, look down at the ball of black fur with those large and glowing green eyes and reply, as I do every day around 3:30, “Andrea, it’s not time.”
I’d rather feed her at 6:00, when the family eats—or maybe 5:00 if that won’t do, since that’s at least a nice round marking-off-the-hour time. But long ago, through kitten-hood up to now, after long days of persistent begging, failed cat-diets, and behavioral training, the little thing wore me down to 4:45pm. And we’ve been there for quite some time.
Ten minutes later, I wince.
Really, I think cat meows are cute. I like little kitten yelps, I like to imitate cat-growls, and I get a kick out of the way our neighbor’s Tabby mutters to himself when he walks around in our yard. But like the story of those water-torture methods where the victim starts to feel each drop as a hammer on his skull, my cat’s meow turns, with each repetition, from cute to exasperating.
I love animals, I do. I’m not exactly an animal rights activist, but I have a compassion for the feelings of my Furry Americans. Even the deepest motherly love, though, can wear thin if stretched far enough. And so, my commitment to keep Andrea on schedule, despite her begging, changes from a quiet tolerance to a jaw-clenching resolve to hold on until 4:45.
Honestly!—Sometimes it reminds me of labor pains. At first there’s a good bit of time between contractions; then, they get closer and closer until you wonder when the full-blown symphony orchestra is going to just get on with it. This cat starts off small and ends up sounding just about like one of those big loud beeping hospital machines. And there it goes again—
Jesus uses an unjust (and cranky) judge in His parable, a man who is continually pestered by a widow who pleads with him for justice against her enemy. He doesn’t even have the tolerance and kind intentions toward the woman that I have toward my cat. Yet his resolve is growing thin too, with each knock, with each determined question. And, though he’s not the nicest guy on the planet, he finally gives in and helps her.
The One we pray to, in our circle at Growth Group, hears each knock, each repetition, the same ones, every week, the silent pleas, said in every prayer session:
Please heal my friend who has cancer.
Please help me to see hope in this. I feel like I want to give up.
Please keep my granddaughter safe as she leaves China.
Please help the families of the students who were killed.
Ra-eeeooooooowr . . . .
That rhythmic calling-out, and learning to be daring enough to continue, are as important as a baby’s growing awareness that his needs get met when he cries. It shows us our dependence. It reminds us that the very fact that our hearts are beating and our lungs are breathing is caught up in God. Through crying out, and practicing the faith not to give up, we learn who we are, and who God is. With a need as continual as a knock, metallic as a cat’s meowing, steady as an exhale—we are the abused widow, the impatient cat, the weak humans with our human days and cravings.
Yet there’s one very important difference: God is no cranky judge. God is no over-busy cat owner. God is no tired parent. God is Love. God is Wisdom. Jesus says, in His superior story, “to always pray and not give up.” To always pray and not give up—that is the nourishing breath we can take in, before we exhale our plea, our prayer, our cry that we have cried every day until now.
And so, when I get tired of working on my computer, and I glance over at the cat with the big moon eyes, and try to imagine what it must feel like to be a small creature, I finally forget my urge to whack her on the behind and I smile a little bit.
I look at the clock; it’s 4:41. I turn toward her; she jerks her body up in a burst of hope. When I stand up, she flies off the bed and skurries down the hall toward her bowl, delirious with joy that relief is finally coming. “Mreep! Mreep!” she sings in little joy-screeches; and I say, laughing at her silliness, “I guess four minutes early doesn’t matter.”
To always pray,
is the echo of Jesus throughout the world,
and not give up.
“Look,” John says, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Christ is the Lion of Judah, but the Lamb-ness of Jesus resonates with us this time of year. The rich symbolism throughout the old stories of the Law, the heart-tugging sense of injustice we feel when we see pictures of white, sweet lambs being killed as sacrifices for the wrongdoing of people—this is, perhaps, why the symbol of the Lamb so grabs our attention when we look ahead to Easter.
The picture of the Lamb teaches us of the unthinkable act of love. We see images of a soft, white creature slashed with a knife, blood blazing against the cloud background of wool. Our hearts hurt when we look at the sweet little animal. And we wince when we see, beside it, a blood-smeared leftover of a man we recognize as our Lover, our Friend. Such images feel appropriate to the ashen, cloudy face of a Good Friday.
Then on Sunday, the sun explodes in gold. The burst of sweet candy in our mouths instead of eggs for breakfast. Lilac and yellow, blue and pink, splatter in crazy happiness all around us as we celebrate in our churches, practically yell out worship melodies….He is risen! From Good Friday to Easter Sunday, from complete dark to dazzling light, we’ve vicariously felt the manic-depressive roller-coaster that Jesus’ poor followers must have ridden. Utter black bleakness one day, confusion the next, then blinding delirious happiness the third day. Lamb on Friday. Lion of Judah on Sunday.
But wasn’t the Lion always there?
Maybe there’s a lesson for us in the disciples’ (and our) inability to see any spark of Lion before Sunday, whether it’s in the Easter season, or during a time of loss, confusion, or stress, where no windows show themselves. In those intervals, we might feel the lamb-like softness of God’s love pillowing our heads, and we’re glad. But what we also want, for some sense of hope, is a hint of Lion. We want to see, in the hollow pit, a divine wink.
We already know that Jesus wasn’t total Lamb during His ministry. He’s the one who sat kindly on a donkey on the way to Jerusalem, then slammed the money-tables in the temple with a furious roar.
The same gentle Rabbi, who softly prepped His learners about his upcoming death, growled, “Get behind me, Satan!” when Peter protested the idea.
In that beloved Lion story by C. S. Lewis, Aslan quietly makes an arrangement with the gleeful White Witch: with a lamb-like quietness, he plans the sacrifice which will save Edmund at Aslan’s own expense. Yet when the witch asks, “But how do I know this promise will be kept?” Aslan roars with such thunderous authority that “the witch, after staring for a moment with her lips wide apart, picked up her skirts and fairly ran for her life.”
The same Jesus who kept meek and mute at His trial muscled his Lion-strength to take on both body-torture and spiritual abandonment. C. H. Spurgeon remarks, “To us, sensations such as our Lord endured would have been insupportable, and kind unconsciousness would have come to our rescue.”
His Lamb-like love gives us comfort. His Lion-strength gives us hope.
If I’d lived back in time when He was here in the flesh, and watched Him die, I think I’d have suffocated in the ink-black despair that comes when a small faith lets itself be deafened out by silence. Maybe there were some who had that spark of faith in the corner of their eyes, even in the confusion of unfathomable tragedy.
It’s a lesson they all had to learn. It’s a lesson we still have to learn, in our own witching hours. The lesson of the Lion in the cave.
It’s not faith in nothing. It’s not faith in faith itself. It’s faith in Someone who promised something, faith that strains itself, trains itself to see in the gloom that tiny pin-light that hints, It’s not over.
Like the end of a morose movie where we’re struck dumb by the tragedy we just witnessed on screen…the Hero is dead. But just before the credits start rolling—what is that?—one eye opens. Then whoosh—the picture blacks out, and we’re in our seats, waiting in hope, knowing there’s going to be a sequel. One tiny glimpse and we’re given the hint—in an almost playful, teasing way—that this is not the end.
Then our agonizing question is answered, after the silence is so long that we don’t think we can last through it any longer. The Lion breaks out of the cave with a Roar-Call that catches us up and out of the water with a huge gulp of oxygen and a burst of relief that makes it all seem as if it were only a bad dream—
And we cheer, as loudly as we can, “HE IS RISEN!!”
This is our Lion, and our Lamb.
As Mr. Beaver says to Edmund and the other children,
Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.
From Friday to Sunday and every day, may we be fed by His Love. May we be allured by His Power. May we remember, when we’re happy and singing in the radiance of light, that the Fire never really went out.
I hope you are enjoying the sights and smells and warm weather of spring as much as I am. It does seem we are having warm weather unusually early this year, but I like it. We may complain about the weather, but the variety and unpredictability it brings to our lives is a good thing. God knows just what we need even when we don’t. His timing is perfect.
Our lives are a bit like the weather. Some days we are overwhelmed with joy and other days it seems like the storm will never end. We never know exactly what is coming next, but we can count on some predictable seasons. God sends each day what we need no matter how random or even cruel it may seem at the time. Don’t get too grumpy to stop and smell the rain.
A couple of weeks ago, a group of garden enthusiasts at GreenTree met and discussed expanding and improving our community garden this spring. They envisioned a place where our Winston-Salem friends could gather food for their families. They looked forward to the possibility of making new friends who wanted to help embrace and love our surrounding neighborhoods by digging their fingers in the soil and helping volunteer.
Ely Wakefield, a GreenTree member who’s doing an internship at the Master Garden Volunteer Program of the Forsyth County Cooperative Extension, is heading up this group of gardeners and helpers and setting the pace for the gardening project. Ely introduced to the group the concept of “our garden” by encouraging an anyone-can-garden mentality.
“Everyone can garden,” Ely said. “Children can garden, middle aged people, and older people can help with this garden. A lot of people are busy and work, and they might say, ‘I don’t have time to garden.'” But, Ely asserted that there are numerous ways we can help, even those of us with a lack of abundant time or physical energy.
Imagine children coming to drop seeds into the ground on a work day. Or someone dropping by right after work to do a few minutes of assigned watering. “Mrs. Peggy,” Ely added with a smile, referring to one of our GreenTree folks, “gave me some money for the garden. Zoyia said she was going to buy a rosebush.” Picture a friend bringing a few plants to church on a Sunday morning and handing them to a garden worker. Not only does a little money go a long way, but a little water and a plant sprig will make a new plant for free. Plant propagation, a strange and fancy term for some and a household phrase for others, is something that several GreenTree members are already involved in in preparation for the upcoming planting. Carol is in this propagation process, rooting a Wandering Dew whose branches she snipped about three weeks ago and placed in water. Pretty soon those little snips with new baby tangles of roots will go into the soil at GreenTree.
Tiny acts of sharing, like the gifts mentioned in Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12, add up to a complete and multifaceted picture. In this case, a few rumpled, weedy patches of land behind a community building and along the winding paths of trees can become a bright-colored source of nourishment to hungry or busy people stopping by, and a lovely haven where segregated groups can work together in friendship. Sometimes we just need to know someone has open, vulnerable and liberal hands.
The name of this newly-improved, quaint place we’re hoping for? Right now, it’s just GreenTree Garden. That’s the name that’s listed for the time being, under the Forsyth County Gardens of the Cooperative Extension. GreenTree members were encouraged to come up with an agreed-upon name that can reflect the spirit of community and beauty that we’re hoping to show through this project. The chosen name will be announced on Sunday, March 25.
Four different types of gardens will grow on GreenTree’s property. A rain garden will catch the runoff from the gutter in the back of the building. According to information from the Cooperative Extension program, rain gardens are useful for preventing the pickup of pollution as well as beneficial in absorbing nutrients and some metals. What sits in the back of our building at the moment is a dry and cracked patch of earth that becomes a dismal waterhole during damp weather. This area will be filled with water-resistant plants, establishing a pretty and nourishing spot.
We’ll also enjoy a vegetable garden, filled with possibilities such as cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, squash, potatoes, okra, eggplant, greenbeans, melons, onions, and more. A garden for fresh herbs will be a plus for GreenTree cooks as well as neighbors who want to flavor up their meals; and of course, the idea of beauty in sharing would be incomplete without a flower garden. Flowers will garnish the front and sides of the community center and provide its color.
Unlike our activity in the past few years of our community center’s gardening projects, our garden now will be directed with the generous help of the NC Cooperative Extension’s Forsyth County Center. The Community Gardening program has allowed us to receive services in the form of education (such as the Master Gardener classes) and resources such as seeds and plants. For more information about the Forsyth County Cooperative Extension, visit their website at http://www.forsyth.cc/ces.
GreenTree’s first order of business will be Community Garden Cleanup Day on Saturday, March 24, from 9am to 12pm. The cleanup day will be a time of tilling, weeding, digging, sharing, laughing, getting dirty, and pigging out on the free dough-nuts inside GreenTree’s cafe. Who would want to miss out on that?
From time to time, we’d like to include personal stories from some of the members of our spiritual family who want to share what God has done in their lives through GreenTree. This testimonial is from Ben, who has been with us for several years now and who has been a blessing to us here.
After Jesus had mercy on me, and I was reborn by the power of His blood that He chose to shed to redeem me from the debt of my sin, I struggled mightily. I was a shaking nervous wreck. One morning, having no place to be, I sat alone at Panera Bread. A disciple of the Lord had the kindness to ask me if I was OK. I received the grace to swallow my infamous pride and say, “No. I’m not OK.”
This man introduced me to Tim Gross, the pastor of GreenTree. Instantly I knew myself to be in the presence of a man who passed no condemning thought in my direction. He made no mention of my trembling hands. He did not draw any attention to my near-total ignorance of the Bible. Obvious as it was that I would be a labor of love in his effort to disciple me, still he invited me to church that Sunday.
I have never regretted my decision in these last three trying, wonderful years of growth in the Lord’s capable and supremely forgiving hands.
We are a small church—a diverse church. The unofficial elders of the church are there for even the most difficult person, without reproach or recrimination. These people, trained in godliness, know from decades of study and experience that Jesus came to save sinners, and they are sinners too.
The rest of us have issues, too. Sometimes we get frustrated; sometimes we are hypocritical. But when push comes to shove, it is my experience that the Love that dwells within us wins out over the inferior stuff that every human must deal with. As we grow, we are accepting that we don’t have to be perfect: we just have to be forgiven.
Children are not tolerated. They are WELCOMED as an important part of our church. I think we all learn from these little saints, as Jesus told us to do. We have plenty of kids for our size, and a rising youth ministry.
It is an exciting time to join GreenTree. We are working together to reach out into the surrounding neighborhood. Pastor Tim leads a congregation of willing disciples eager to apply God-given skills and talents in this work. From festivals to Bible studies, and informal game nights and such, God is moving as only God can do in the hearts of His beloved creatures.
I was fit for the eternal fire. Now I am living in God’s grace. He loves me so much that He led me to a church that is a second home and family to me. We would love to meet you.
At GreenTree’s first community gathering in our new building, there was a ditch several feet deep beside the piano, a hard concrete floor, and a drafty front door that blew in shivery air every time somebody opened it.
It was our Thanksgiving meal, on a November night in 2008. There was no bold and stylish “GreenTree” lettering on the face of the building. There were no bright daffodils and purple pansies fringing the front in color, no fireplace nestled in the corner, no café tables. No, on that first community meal, there were gray walls smudged with old shop dirt, and a few brown termite tracks climbing halfway up the cinder-block like little vines.
We’d bought the building earlier that fall; and now, on a chilly Sunday night, clusters of us treaded through the grass with steaming casseroles or pies toward the old Yates Aluminum building, like merry Pilgrims about to place a milestone. When we walked in, the entrance was an office section littered with scraps of paper, piles of screws, and drill bits. Replacement windows leaned in piles against the walls; siding samples in different colors shadowed the place; and the big shop-room, where all the tables, food, and chairs waited, was a gray, cool, basement-like place with muddy old pads of insulation at one end and cinder-block on the other sides.
You could say that we were at the end of something—the end of the geographical journey. We felt like the children of Israel, having wandered to an unfamiliar realm; and here we were, talking and laughing and marching up to the door of our haven. We were at the beginning of something too: our relocation and re-naming, the fresh, clean slate of a new era, the era of GreenTree.
When you’re at the end of something and the beginning of something else, you could say that you’re really in the middle. And life has many middles in it.
It’s like a story. Our English teachers always told us that a story was supposed to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. The middle usually involves the war, the problem, the waiting, that uncertainty that gives any good narrative depth and drama. When we’re reading a good tale, we enjoy that dark, murky middle. When we’re living our own story, it’s not so much fun.
Why not? The difference amounts to a simple but powerful little word.
Hope is when we’re settled in our soft seats at the movie theater, with a fizzy Pepsi and some buttery popcorn. Hope watches the characters on screen, in their dangerous middle. They’re worried; they’re sad, they’re climbing Mount Doom. But not us, the viewers. We know it’s just a middle. We don’t know what’s going to happen exactly, but we know it’s all going to resolve somehow. And with a buttery crunch and a sparkly sip, we whisper in the dark (with a tiny smile), “Wonder how it’s going to turn out?”
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could treat real life like this? Step outside of it all, look at the losses and betrayals and aggravation and bad news and pain and cock our heads quizzically and ask (with a tiny smile), “Wonder how it’s going to turn out?”
The apostle Paul tells us that we can. That we absolutely can.
“We . . . glory in tribulations,” he says. “Knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
Hope says, “Bring the popcorn and the Coke, and sit awhile. This is only the middle.”
Those of us on that chilly night, in the old Yates Aluminum building we’d bought, could drape the tables with snow-white covers and place on them hot, steamy food surrounded by the iron-cool shop-room air, and be merry about it, because we had hope. In fact, the whole unfinished face of the big dingy room, the echo and the dull grime against the bright chatter of old and new friends, made the whole thing seem only like anticipation.
The GreenTree building did get renovated, into an inviting place with huggy warm-green walls, cozy corners, crisp lights and smooth edges. And we’re in some kind of middle again. GreenTree is; I am; you are; there is always a middle somewhere. Dare we ask, with a timid trust in the Writer of our stories, “I wonder how it’s going to turn out? I wonder what He’s about to teach me? I wonder what surprising magic will sail in by the very waters of this sinister thing that is flooding our world?
If we dare ask, the Wisdom of the Ages may teach GreenTree, and you, and me, to settle for a bit, make lemonade out of the proverbial lemons, get out our paper and pens, write down the lessons, watch the story. Watch and pray.
And I wonder how it will turn out.
Always, always for good, He whispers, with a grin. The most complete, wonderful, delicious meaning of the word good. That’s the Story Maker Whose name is also Love.
“Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:5 NKJ)
Billy had a toy truck with a big bed in the back that could hold a glorious noise of pebbles, sticks, and marbles. The shiny yellow front and blue sides and the big grooved tires were scratched and dulled with play and love, and wherever Billy went, the truck went. He took it to church, he took it to his cousins’ house; he tried to take it to preschool; he took it to bed.
One day, when Billy was pretending that his truck was flying, it crashed, hard, on the brick wall outside the house. The top piece that fit over the body, overturned, rested dead beside the set of back wheels; and the body of the truck lay silent by the flower bed.
“Daddy! My truck! It’s broke!”
His father came outside, found the scatter of plastic beside a little wailing boy.
“Here. Hand it to me, Son.”
At first, Billy took out only the top piece and placed it into his father’s hand. “I need all of it,” Dad said. “Give me all of it.”
Slowly, one piece at a time, Billy handed the broken pieces to his father.
Billy shadowed his father into the house, into the kitchen, watched him open a drawer and take out a crinkly white tube. He saw his dad bend over, with the tube, run something along the edges, until most of the pieces sat upright, bonded, on the counter. A set of wheels still lay to the side. Dad said, “Don’t touch it, Billy,” and rumpled his hair.
Later, when the noon sun spilled in through the window, Billy saw the shine catch the plastic of the truck like a spotlight in a showroom. “He forgot about my truck,” gulped Billy. There lay the rod holding the two wheels. Billy picked up the lone wheels and rolled them along the floor. It wasn’t much, but at least it was something.
“Billy. Give it to me.” Guilty, Billy stumbled backward.
That night, dinner over and the truck sitting quiet under the kitchen light, Billy looked at it and thought, “He doesn’t want me to have fun.” So Billy climbed up and held his dear toy, turning it round and round as his father had done. He, Billy, could fix it. He, Billy, would be faster. He grabbed the rod and wheels. He lay the truck on its back, belly up to the light, and pushed, Hit, Hit, so the wheels would go in, Hit, Hit—
And the rest of the truck went flying to the floor. Crack!
The stern face of his father robbed the voice from Billy’s throat.
“You broke it more, Billy. I told you not to touch it. I’m sorry, but no more truck. You disobeyed.”
For two days the little boy haunted all the places his truck had graced—the path to the creek in back, the playroom, the place on the ground where it had crashed, the kitchen counter where it had sat like a dead thing. His truck, gone. His truck, totaled, taken from him by his father forever. Daddy took his truck because he didn’t like him, thought Billy. Daddy kept him from playing with his broken truck because having fun was bad.
Billy gave up following his father around. He gave up hope for the scratched-up truck and committed himself to silent days with his cars and Leggos and the shallow scrape of tiny Hotwheels.
“Billy. Wake up,” his father said the third morning. Billy rubbed his eyes. There, in his father’s hands, sat his truck.
“I had to glue it, Billy,” his dad said. “The glue needed time to dry. You broke it more because you dropped it.”
Billy blinked. He was too little to know anything about glue, and drying time, and broken tabs, and wheels and axles.
“Billy, next time, I need you to trust me, and do what I say. Okay?”
Billy did understand that. He nodded, and the truck was lowered into his happy arms. But that was nothing compared to the loving grin on his daddy’s face.
Billy is silly, and so are we. In our growth journey, we see the things we love fall from our hands, sometimes through carelessness, sometimes through no fault of our own. We pick up the ruins, and our Father says, “Give it to Me.” We give Him a small part because we can’t bear to let go, and He says, “Give Me all of it.” And we wait. Thinking He forgot, we snatch back pieces of what we once had, little mirages that dull the fear. Thinking He wants only second-best, we try to jam the pieces back together. And when they crack, we wonder if He loves us, and all our loves.
Then we let go.
In the morning, He comes, and all is new. How did He do it? We don’t know. We’re too little to understand.
But life holds an important task for us, as for Billy. He says, “Trust Me,” and that is the key to all the power and joy and strength we can hold. And nothing compares to His loving smile, and the promise that He’ll be there the next time we fear, and fall. “Give Me all of it,” He coaxes, and no matter how hard it is to hand over that worry, that dream, that loss, that injustice, it’s so much better when we do. For our ragged scraps only have hope when they’re in His hands.
This poem is written by our own Frank Hartwig, from his collection entitled: Or When I Sing. Just as lovers have need-love for one another, our whole being needs God and His Love that transcends all loves. Throughout scripture, God compares His relationship with His little humans to the deepest love-ties, including the marriage bond. Whether Valentine’s Day finds us with that human “special someone” or not, let that famous day serve as a symbol for God’s passionate love for us, and of the soul-hungry need we have for Him.
Could a flower be a flower
Without the brush of pollen-laden bee?
Could the tree be a tree
Without the bath of frequent rain?
Could a thought be formed
Without the need of sentient man?
Could my love live
Apart from your need of love and of me?
Without the bee—
As do bees without honey.
Without the rain—
As does rain without the mist tossed
skyward by a hundred million trees.
Thought cannot form
Apart from brain of man—
Nor is man man apart from thought.
My love would die
If you would cease to need me,
As would your love without my need of you.
I need you.
When we think of that fancy word Discipleship, let’s not picture learned men in crisp suits, or bored hours spent bowed over a table with a checklist. Let’s think of Pooh and his friends. Do you remember the story of Pooh eating too much and getting jammed in Rabbit’s front hole? It’s the one with that quaint picture of a grassy hill and the top half of a yellow bear, who joins paws with a blond-haired boy who’s pulled elastic-tight by a long line of rabbits, squirrels, and mice.
Wait. That’s the way things are?
That picture doesn’t seem to match up with the time I lent someone an ear and got gossiped about a week later. I’ve taken on jobs I didn’t really have time to keep up with, I’ve acted stupidly, nursed bitter memories; I’ve been misunderstood, used; and frankly, I don’t know if I have the energy, nerve, or desire to try again. I see no lovely forest and cute animal friends.
But upon closer inspection, we’ll find something else in the tender Pooh stories. If we look, we can see ourselves in their Forest, and perhaps we’ll discover here what’s holding us back from the freedom and joy of giving Love.
If we walk with Pooh through the forest, the first thing we’ll see is a large hole in a grassy bank. Pooh bends over and calls, “Is anybody home?”
Do you hear the “sudden scuffling noise?” Then all is quiet. Sudden scuffling plus quiet equals—inconvenienced.
Then for good measure, Rabbit calls out, “No!” and tries to disguise his voice. Pooh prods, Rabbit pretends. Pooh prods, Rabbit hems and haws. Finally, Rabbit has to invite Pooh in, or else he’ll look rude. Pooh stays until he’s emptied Rabbit’s honey and milk. And Rabbit is polite. Rabbit is very polite. Rabbit is so polite that we can almost feel the pressure of his breath while he’s holding it in. But Rabbit tries his best.
Sometimes I do try my best. Or at least I try to try my best. Sort of. Then my daughter spills paint all over her favorite book and yells, “MOMMY!” Or my husband’s car breaks down and I have to go and get him. Just like Pooh gets himself jammed in Rabbit’s hole on his way out. And there’s a funny little picture in the book that shows Pooh’s round backside bulbing out of the hole from the inside, while Rabbit is still holding up his empty can of condensed milk with a very round-eyed and disbelieving look on his face.
Then we have the stuck-scene. Pooh fumes that it’s because Rabbit’s door isn’t big enough. My daughter laments that I should have reminded her to put the cap on the paint jar. A person I’m befriending asks why, why can’t I pick her up in ten minutes?
Then Rabbit hops away to get help. That wonderful word that feels like a sigh and a yell at the same time. Help.
We often slap that label onto our foreheads: We think we are the Help. The Savior. Is it any wonder that we expect so much of ourselves?
But Rabbit hops away and gets Christopher Robin, who makes everyone feel better, who croons to Pooh that he’ll slim up soon, who reads to Pooh from a Sustaining Book. And Rabbit? Rabbit is inside, hanging his laundry on Pooh’s dangling legs. He is making use of the situation. Is Rabbit really being a friend?
That question can be answered with another question: What about the guy in Jesus’ Story of the Talents, the one the master only gave one talent to? The others got more stock to invest than he did. He only had one unit of currency. And that was okay. But then he crept away from the others who had more to give, because he was scared to death of his master’s expectations, and he didn’t do anything with it at all.
And Rabbit? Rabbit was given the one small talent of Creativity. He doesn’t hide: he trades it in and gains Patience and Energy. His heart relaxes from his satisfied need to be industrious in his housework. And thus we see a bunny grow from a hesitant friend to a cheerful helper who calls his “friends and relations” to join Christopher Robin, in that well-remembered picture of the tug-of-war rescue effort which swells to a high and glorious POP! and a very happy, freed bear.
Maybe we only have one unit of currency. Maybe we don’t have much maturity yet. Maybe we have a selfish streak. Maybe we don’t have much time or energy. Maybe more than a half hour of picking through a Bible study booklet with an argumentative new friend would send us to the bathroom cabinet for a sedative. Maybe taking that younger guy for a ride every time he wants one would make us lose our already short tempers.
Grace and Truth says it is better to listen to a person for ten minutes than to not listen for three hours.
Jesus delights in reading to our Pooh, untiring, while we hang our laundry on those fur legs and accomplish little more than keeping our mouths closed. And that’s okay. Like Rabbit. Rabbit won. Rabbit passed the test. Rabbit, as well as our other dear friends in the Wood, got the blessing of participating in the most important gift in the world: Love. Without it we have nothing. With it, we have everything.
You can do it. Your Teacher is delighted with your ten minutes, your three-inch temper. Leap into the air, Rabbit. Your Christ will make you fly, and your friends will be many.
Discipleship is the passion of GreenTree and our goal for the New Year. Are we even sure what it means? It’s a word that sometimes sounds boring, always sounds theological, and is in danger of making us wince.
When Jesus tells us that His commands are not burdensome, we humans strain over weighty church-words that don’t seem to have anything to do with us, and we scratch our heads. We do feel burdened, and we sometimes wonder what Jesus meant with the yoke-is-easy thing and the abundant-life stuff.
A few days ago I was looking at cute Winnie the Pooh pictures in my daughter’s collection by A. A. Milne, and I chuckled at myself, and my grown-up plans and adult stresses. Here are a bunch of little talking animals in the Forest that have more sense than I do. They even do discipleship, but they aren’t bogged down with check-lists and guilt trips. This lovely story, told by a father to his son, gives me a picture of the D-word that changes everything.
All the animals in the forest are simple, with a child’s crude understanding of how things are supposed to work in their world. Rabbit manages to keep an image of having his wits together but can’t always feel completely generous; Owl, sitting high up in his tree house and offering wisdom to the animals who pass by, doesn’t know how to spell; and Pooh himself, ever-ready for adventure and ever-hungry for honey, lives under the identity that makes him perhaps the lowliest of them all: “Bear of Very Little Brain.”
But this little bear, for all his slowness of brain, has a Friend who lifts him up to the highest stair of his love and esteem. That Friend is a human boy named Christopher Robin. He’s the son in the beginning of the book who listens to his father tell the story of all the animals, and he’s also the boy inside the story, sharing in each part.
The presence of Christopher Robin is felt in a quiet way everywhere. He’s the sort of Big Brother of the forest. The door signs and notices among the homes in the woods show his handwriting. It’s Christopher Robin who comes to the Six Pine Trees and helps in the search for the lost Pooh, Piglet, and Rabbit. And in the very first chapter of the book, it’s Christopher Robin whom Pooh goes to for help when his lust for honey lands him in the gorse-bush. That honey-hunger always makes Pooh’s tummy too pudgy and gets him into all sorts of messes. From the very first, Pooh sees a bunch of bees in a tree, climbs straight up, cracks a branch, and crashes more than sixty feet into a prickly bush.
Pooh says, “It all comes of liking honey so much. Oh, help!” And naturally he goes to Christopher Robin’s house.
Pooh’s Friend and Guide throws no accusing stones, gives him no outline to follow for fixing his silly behavior. When Pooh asks Christopher Robin for a blue balloon with which to disguise himself and float up to the honey-laden tree, Christopher Robin asks Pooh, “Wouldn’t they notice you underneath the balloon?” but gives Pooh the balloon anyway.
The boy watches, and smiles, and encourages, while Pooh reasons and figures with his little mind and then rolls himself in the black mud so that he can pretend to be a dark cloud under the sky-colored balloon. Of course, the bees start stinging poor Pooh and he needs help getting down. Christopher Robin laughs in his heart, muttering, “Silly old Bear!”
But he loves Pooh, through all Pooh’s proud songs and falls and scratches and honey-searches and his crashes into holes. Pooh is cute and lovable and important, for one reason: he glows from the light reflected in the boy’s loving eyes.
Those of us who have accepted the gift of God’s Son are being discipled at this very moment, by One much greater than any Christopher Robin. He sits outside our little world, there with his Father who wrote our history, talking together about us, chuckling over us, holding us. He lives, too, inside our stories, always ready to help, letting us try and fail and picking us up when we land into a thorn-bush. Sometimes he waits for us to run to the other end of the forest to find him; and he is there. Many times he shows up alongside us as we are hurling pine cones at each other or trying to figure out what to do about our problems. Always he teaches us. Never does he leave us. Forever he is patient with us.
So, while we’re trying to figure out whether to camp on Jesus’ command to “Go into all the world and make disciples” and take on this elusive Discipleship Project, we might not realize that we’re part of it, already. The Teacher is here, with us, in our own Hundred Acre Wood. In the end, it’s not some project. It’s just life. The life he shares with us, and the love he teaches us to give as we share with each other, learn together, and bumble through the forest on each new adventure. The D-word is as important as life itself. The call from Jesus is real. The practice is hard work, but simple, as natural as breathing and having children. The reward is life, and love. The Example is the One who wrote history and lives within it. We can just ask Pooh, and Rabbit, and Piglet. They’ll get Christopher Robin and help us go and catch a Heffalump, and we’ll receive much, much more.
by Anne Gross
When we think of the end of Christmas and the coming of New Year’s Day, probably the most common thought that taps the heads of the human population is that highly-charged, highly inspiring, often iron-heavy phrase called New Year’s Resolutions.
Just now, as I typed that phrase, I smiled but then sighed.
I don’t believe in them much, but I still like to make them. I just tend to carve a pair of quotation marks around that phrase anymore. I haven’t looked on Wikipedia or Answers.com for any definition help, but it seems easy to see New Year’s Resolutions as a hearty list of plans and equipment for climbing (this time I’ll do it, I know!) that Mount Everest called the New Year.
This year left me a bit dazed, though, and my brain is a little too fried to tell me what my plans are. I’m tired from figuring out the family dinner menus and homeschool twisty-turnings and ministry dreams and crashes and joys. I’ve been shell-shocked from the loss of a family member. I’ve grabbed the tail of a kite and sung a thousand songs from a thousand feet up, and I’ve landed in the bushes and forgotten what the point was. I’ve prayed for friends this year who have had loved ones suddenly die, or marriages that smashed up their trust in human beings.
I need something more than a resolution.
A few days ago, I thumbed through the book of Job a little, since Job had had more trauma than just a dazed system or a blue mood. Whenever I think of the story of Job, I usually think of the challenges of a hurt and angry man, a sharp rebuke from God, and the restoration of property. But this time, I saw something I had never seen before.
Job had no to-do list or resolution. Job had no determination to get his ducks in a row. Job had a New Beginning. And his New Beginning started, not with restored property, but with something shocking yet strangely familiar. A character I recognize.
There it is. He’s there, the silhouette on the page. It’s the indulgent father of the Prodigal Son, and he comes running before his boy has hardly confessed anything.
Right there it is, in Job 42. After Job challenges God to a day in court and gets God’s thunderous slideshow of wonders, then repents and says, “Oh, I didn’t understand . . . You’re right,” God stops, looks at Job’s friends, and says something that absolutely blasts my mind.
“You have not spoken of me what is right, as My servant Job has . . . My servant Job will pray for you.”
Job, in a brief moment, changes his mind, says one true thing about God; and God forgets all about everything else. He holds Job up as His trophy. That simply.
The only thing I can think of that even comes close is a gullible little kindergärtner who completely forgets his fight with his bullying playmate and instantly becomes best friends again; and away they skip to the monkey bars, hand in hand, as if nothing had ever happened.
And in Job’s New Beginning, God is more extravagant than said kindergärtner, who brings his friend home and gives him his remote control Hot Wheels in one impulsive swoop that will likely get him into big trouble with Mom when she finds out. God gives Job as many children as he’d had before, comforting friends, and an avalanche of wealth . . . just because.
Once again, I repent in dust and ashes for my dismally distorted way of seeing God. I have not one clue how loving, strong, and wise He is.
I still have my little things I’d like to see changed in 2012 . . . habits I’d like to break, things I’d like to get done. But what I need most is a New Beginning. What my soul needs is Grace. What I need to hold in my hand is the liberating truth that God is for me, that He will stop at nothing to help me grow into the thing of beauty He planned for me to be all along, that He is in charge of me, that He loves me. Really, really loves me, in the craziest way.
That truth will make everything possible. That Grace will make us fly.
We are wound-tight, near-sighted ultra-conservatives compared to what is real. We’re like Job, who starts to think our Father doesn’t care that much. We’re like Job’s friends, who think the bad stuff must be happening because God doesn’t approve of us.
And all along, God may be bragging on us. He might be showing off our picture from His open wallet, whether we think we’re flops, or whether we’re a little too proud of ourselves. At this moment any one of us might be feeling like losers, red-faced with shame, doubled over with weeping, or picturing God’s frown. In reality, we might be making a laughingstock of the Devil and proving him wrong once again.
Job’s story is not an exceptional case, though. Sprinkled all throughout the Old and New Testaments are little stories of people who have their faces turned away from God; then, when they make feeble attempts to confess, He comes running. Fast.
This is the kind of God we have. The Maker who has the right to direct the paths of His creations. The Father who loves His creatures with a velvety passion. The Genius who turns around fear and pain and evil and draws the math to add up to a good that makes a cynic sing. This is what changed Job. Not the wealth, children, and livestock added back to him. And certainly not a list of resolutions. Job got a new beginning, and a new hope, because he saw God for who He really was.
May we see God as He really is in 2012. The magical Genius, the affectionate Father, the powerful Whirlwind, all in one. And the One who is for us. He has a story, a wonderful story. And no matter how 2011 went, the story isn’t over.
Merry Christmas to you! I hope this holiday season is turning out to be a great time for you. God has blessed us in so many ways, but one of the greatest ways is the gift of friendship.
Some people think that family is automatically closer than friends, but some of you know from personal experience that that is not true. Often a family member will be one of our closest friends because of our history together. However, many people are very disconnected from family and have found a substitute family among friends.
I think everyone needs a family and a place to belong. Being a family to people who need one is part of the strength and beauty of Greentree. Maybe you can find someone who is alone this Christmas and make them a part of your family for, at least, a few hours. After all, starting a family is really what the celebration of Christmas is all about (Eph. 2:19). The Son of God became a son of man that sons of men might become sons of God.
There’s a bird’s nest on the parking lot end under the awning of the community center, likely left behind after cold-weather migration, packed in a drain hole. Not one of those Hallmark-card-like little cup-shaped nests, but more like something hastily assembled for basic function. Imagine little birds taking twigs, fluff, leaves, and all the do-dads birds use to establish the comforts of home, and just clapping together a homestead within a metal opening under the awning of a hard cement building. There are lots of nice trees around here, and surely many of the neighbors have pretty, painted birdhouses on their front porches: so why do they pick buildings? Don’t they feel a bit cheated?
One of our friends who’d looked up at the nesting spots several times, told me, “Oh, that’s not the only nest. There have been others up there.” He pointed to several places up above where, sure enough, there had been a small neighborhood of bird homes tucked around. Apparently it’s been a prime area of real estate in the bird housing market. Maybe, when spring comes, the little builders will come in and business can boom again.
It’s funny and nice to think about: birds’ nests at GreenTree. It’s a nice picture of the Parable of the Mustard Seed.
The parable is found in Mark 4:30-32, where Jesus says that the kingdom of God “is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth; but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade.” Theologians differ in opinion about the meaning of the plant (which grows as tall as 12 to 15 feet in just a few weeks), but one thing is certain: Jesus wanted to describe the kingdom of God to us because we, His children, are part of it. And the kingdom, and Jesus’ path, is often littered with paradoxes and opposites. The greatest in the kingdom is the servant. The meek shall inherit the earth. The poor in spirit get the kingdom of heaven.
We long to be a church in which the vulnerable and the unsettled will find a home. Already, God is teaching us how to love outside our safe haven, and we are becoming a blended family of “birds” of many “different feathers.” It is our prayer that GreenTree will become more and more effective at enlarging its borders. May we be that place in the kingdom where people—no matter how much or how little money they have, how settled or messy they are, how successful they are or how far they have fallen—will find in GreenTree a home where they can nest.
Our Fall Festival was a fun and festive event as well as a wonderful opportunity to meet more members of our community. Some came back to spend time with us on Family Fun Night, and some even wanted to become involved as volunteers for future events.