Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Working in The Harvest

This week has brought summer's bountiful harvest indoors.

"What's that smell," my daughter asked. This child who picks her fruit straight from the garden vine, who prefers her tomatoes be eaten like apples and who turns up her nose at them when sliced for civilized folk...even she was overwhelmed by the sweet, pungent aroma of a kitchen filled with four five-gallon buckets brimming tomatoes so ripe, they burst like water balloons when dropped.

My knife pierced the paper-thin skins, finding little resistance as I sliced through juicy pulp, quartering them for the hand-turned press. Then came several labor-intensive hours, arm muscles aching, sweat dripping, even inside air conditioned house.With so much ripe fruit at once, my daddy and I took turns cranking. Our left arms repetitively pressed wooden plunger against the fruit while the other cranked the handle round and round, pulling the quarters through, straining out peelings and seeds while squeezing lycopene-rich pulp and juice down the chute.Once poured into jars, lidded, and ringed, we took them outside to arrange double-decker inside the big pot that sees more boiled crawfish than tomatoes. Daddy fired up the propane burner, and we sunk in the shade forty-five minutes until the first batch was done. With his elbow-length "fire" gloves, he used specially-shaped tongs to gently remove them from their hot bath, careful not to tilt them lest they not seal.

The late-afternoon sun shone golden through the clear Ball Mason jars, red pulp separating from the liquid and hiding out at the top. We started boiling the second batch of 21 quarts while listening for the "pop" from those already finished, an indicator that the jars had sealed in the fruit, sealed out everything else.

Monday evening, I could look back on the fruits of my labors--42 quarts of tomato juice, all after my morning of baking and freezing four and a half dozen bran breakfast muffins.

Tonight, I went out and harvested first crop of basil. My feverish (yes...again) children and I stripped the leaves from their stems, the breaking releasing a spicy aroma that still lingers hours later. Husband washed and spread the leaves out to dry so tomorrow, I can make a dozen or more small jars of pesto to freeze for the upcoming year. When all was finished, we had twelve tightly-packed cups worth--with the severe drought we've had this summer, I was amazed, overjoyed at the abundance.
Canning tomatoes with local fruit found right on our farm, making my own pesto--this more "organic" closeness with our food is all the rage right now. I read just last week of some city couple converting their front lawn into a raised-garden, square boards surrounding their three beds of vegetables.

But around here? This is just ordinary life.

It's the way I remember all the summers of my youth--my daddy in his wide-brimmed straw hat as he worked in the garden full of row after row of snap beans, sweet corn, field peas, dinner plate tomatoes, yellow squash--all constantly needing to be picked, washed, eaten, or brought to my mother to be blanched, frozen, or canned.

Nobody ever wrote a newspaper article about him, computer salesman by day, vegetable gardener on evenings and weekends. Now, as his daughter, nobody will write a newspaper article about me either, college professor by night, farm woman by day.

And that's ok.

Eating what we grow, what we harvest, what we store for those months when the land is barren--it's not a trend. It is life, working with the land, seeing God give the increase, and thanking Him for the harvest, however plentiful it might be.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Second Time Around

I sit in worship service, enraptured, not by the sermon that I'm trying so diligently to focus on, but on the couple two rows ahead. Their body language illuminates the newness of "we", this Sabbath day marking eight in their life together as one instead of two.

It's not his shining face that captures my attention, although the glow is apparent even in his shy silence. It's not his arm wrapped tightly around her, pulling her close in physical oneness.

It's his left hand.

Unconsciously, he removes the platinum band his bride slipped on fourth finger in forever promise. It is mesmerizing, watching him continuously slip it off and on, off and on, sometimes twirling it 'round his fingers, other times trying it on another to see if it fits better there.

With each movement, the ring's newness catches the lights overhead, flashing out in Morse code that this circle of cold metal against warm human flesh just doesn't feel right.

I remember this.

The band. The union. It's still unfamiliar, comfortable ruts from years of togetherness not yet worn deep enough to make him feel naked without this symbol of eternity.

Watching them took me far away from the sermon, not to my wedding when I shyly slipped a circle of gold and joyfully spoke loving vows of for better or for worse, but to another day five years later when in the deepest pit of despair, I placed that band on his hand a second time.

There I was, sitting at my office desk, trying valiantly to grade student portfolios as I waited for the phone call from an attorney whose name I didn't even know a few weeks ago.

I had received my instructions--wait. Don't come. It could take hours. Just. Wait.

And so, I waited. At one point, I walked next door to my colleague's office, shut the door, and the solid woman she knew turned liquid as I spoke of horrors that had been unfolding in obscurity over the past few days.

My husband, a man whose constant faith is lived out in deed rather than in word only, whose heart knowledge of quiet grace has shamed me at times for my lack, who has not received so much as a traffic ticket since he was a teenager--this man was now accused of fraud after submitting falsified medical records that a client had dropped on his desk a few weeks before.

The law demanded that someone had to pay the price. With the client denying any knowledge of any wrongdoing to save herself from prison time, my husband was the only one left to blame. In a society that believes all lawyers are crooked anyway, it wasn't much of a leap.

He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And there was nothing I could do but wait.

With our attorney by his side, my husband turned himself in at the State Police's headquarters. In a scene unimaginable to me still, his hands were cuffed behind his back before the officer placed him into the back of a police cruiser, husband's arms and hands numb by the time they reached the parish prison for "processing."

All the while, I waited for the call to come. Come for the other part of myself.

When it finally did, I found the interstate completely shut down due to a wreck. A thirty minute drive turned into an hour, then two.

Now, he waited for the eyes of the law, a worthless, numbered criminal in orange jumpsuit to be housed in a single cell with other criminals behind ignorant bars of steel.

Once there, it was too much to process, too incomprehensible that this level of injustice was possible, to terrifying, this being on the wrong side of the razor wire. How could I be here?

Filling out the paperwork, signing whatever our attorney told me to sign, sitting on the well-worn wooden bench against the far wall, I tried not to make eye contact with the tattoos, the rough attire, the bad language flowing freely around me. I didn't belong here, me stupidly dressed for work in burgundy organza blouse, black pencil skirt, and heels while stories of being picked up for illicit drugs spun around me.

Our attorney acted more like a father figure than a paid lawyer, quietly telling me he wouldn't let me "back there" to see my husband, saying I didn't need to see him like that. I could have told him it didn't matter--the image is still stamped in my mind five years later. I would swear I did see even though I know I didn't.

The man who walked out of the prison that day was not the same man who had risen from my bed that morning. With a bag of his personal effects in hand, he opened the passenger door, a broken man who was just starting on this path that would break him again and again until he withered from a 42 to a 34 inch waist.

There were no words for this moment. In that gravel parking lot, engine running, we leaned across the center console, foreheads together, clinging to each other as one clings to a tree in the windy spirals of a hurricane, simply breathing in and out the ragged breaths of emotions that could find no expression through human words.

It was then that he pulled open the paper bag and removed his wallet and wedding ring. He just held it there, halting words speaking of being stripped of this part of himself.

As I had five years earlier before God and family, I took it once again, felt the gold's coolness in my palm. This time, though, the ring was less shiny, marked by time and life's battles.

For better, for worse. Once more, I placed on his hand the symbol of our covenant. This trial would break and bend us, but it would not divide what God had put together.

(A couple months ago, I asked husband permission to share this part of our life's story. He asked that I wait until after the event's "anniversary" in April. While we live in victory through Christ, each Spring brings its own sadness in reminders of these ever-present wounds, all we have lost...and all we have gained.)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

I'm No Theologian, But...

I had just finished an overview study of Revelation, one book that, quite frankly, I've avoided over the years because it seems to cause more diversity than unity. Like most Christians, I had read it, and yes, I had my own theories, but unlike the foundations of my faith like the holy trinity or Christ as the only way to salvation, my opinions on John's Revelation weren't worth dying for.

But Scripture it still is, so I dove in headfirst with my ladies' group this past spring to learn theologians' major interpretations of the various symbols, images, etc. locked within its pages.

Eleven weeks later, I still don't know too much about what's exactly coming our way, but I at least now understand where the different camps derive their interpretations from.

With the coming apocalypse fresh in my mind, I read about Leonard Sweet and Lori Wagner's newest science fiction novel, The Seraph Seal, and I immediately wanted to read it. And now? I'm disturbed by what I perceive to be another example of universalism taking root in modern day Christianity.

The year is 2048, and the world is on the brink of destruction. Two main characters--Angela and Paul--work to decipher an ancient manuscript, uncovering clues a la Divinci Code to learn the role they must play at the end of days. At the same time but unbeknownst to the pair, evil US president Matthew Serafino also seeks to maneuver into position so that when the earth is destroyed, he can lead humanity into his version of a new age.

Sound neat, right? Yes and no. (Spoiler alert--do not read further if you like surprises).

Sweet and Wagner develop an intriguing idea that the four horsemen of the apocalypse mentioned in Revelation are not angels but humans. In the authors' idea of balance and unity, there are four "good" horsemen and four "bad" horsemen, and whichever group of four unifies in the end at the proper location will determine what new age is brought to the earth. Even if you disagree with mankind having any impact on the coming judgment, this idea was interesting and well-developed.

The novel is also quickly paced and a page turner in its description of a world literally falling apart in correlation to the bowls the four horsemen are supposed to pour upon the earth ( all marine life dying, waters becoming poisoned, sun blowing up, radiation poisoning, etc.).

The first flaw that makes the novel less than it could have been is that it just doesn't quite measure in terms of the chase. The clueless main characters--Angela and Paul--keep happening upon clues, but instead of revealing more of the puzzle along the way, almost all the clues point to the same thing--the place they must be at the end, Bashan. The reader is literally beat over the head with this place's name. We get it! Day of the Lord. Bashan.

The second flaw is the ending. Evil, maniacal, can-be-wherever-he-wants-at-a-second's-notice-because-of-holographic-technology President Matthew Serafino doesn't get his hands on the manuscript (although I'm not sure why because if his hologram could teleport inside the building where it was located, it could surely teleport inside the vault ten feet away where the manuscript lay). He has worldwide power, access to all information, manipulates people and places with unlimited resources...but without the manuscript, he concludes incorrectly about the place where the "rapture" into the new age will take place. Really!?

Concluding the book is a 70-page dictionary, detailing all the different organization, names, etc. the authors created for the future? Really!? For a work of fiction? It was interesting, but if I weren't writing this review, would I have read it? NO.

That's the problem with the literary text. But what I find more disturbing is the problem with Sweet and Wagner's Christianity which seems anti-Biblical and to support Universalism instead.

While the novel bases itself on the four horsemen of the apocalypse and all of God's ensuing wrath, that is it as far as parallels to any version of a Christian end times. There is no Jesus returning in the clouds. There is no judgment day. Instead, those who have "faith" that they're supposed to be in Bashan when the earth explodes (not faith in Jesus, mind you, but faith in a place as a portal to the new age) are raptured to another dimension or alternate reality (not sure which). Selling this as science fiction would be fine. Selling this as a Christian apocalypse? No.

One quote from the book really emphasizes the universalism theme. The main character says, "Many of them wouldn't even know who the Lamb in the center is, who the Christ is, who has been the saving mediary of all humankind for centuries. many of them have never heard of him. They're coming, most of them, because they have nothing else to believe in. But, they're coming. And that is the beginning step of faith" (p. 355).

All those at the portal are swept into a New Age--a new earth. There is no Jesus in this new earth. There are tears. And the main character Paul (who was a believer) doesn't make it through the portal into the new age because he is not in the exact location when time expires. Again, really!? Like our God is bound by the space of a circle around a portal!?

Instead, Paul shoots back in time 150 years, as he says, "the Lord's way of always providing new chances to begin again, perhaps." What happens to the evil men, the unbelievers? Are they, too, given another chance at life, another chance to change the world? The reader doesn't learn. But just the fact that one character not in the portal gets another chance implies as much for God's judgment being final and for all.

I have never said this before, but if you are a Bible believing Christian, don't raise your blood pressure reading this book. It touts universalism and is a slap in the face to the eternal finality of God's judgment of this world.

*Thomas Nelson provides me with a complementary copy of the book, and I receive no compensation for my review, positive or negative.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Every Little Hurricane

They never begin as anything noteworthy. A white puff set against aquamarine. Without an audience, the cumulus accumulate, stacking wider and higher over warm ocean depths. Winds hover, sucking up warm moisture as earth's Creator dips His finger in them, swirling the invisible round to add more white to this study in blue.

The warmth of this open-air, boundless womb continues to give life, an invisible cord connecting water and sky, providing nurturing energy to a formless shape not yet named. As it grows, it hovers, always circling, forming bone, adding moist sinew and flesh until more white than blue fills a camera's lens.

With each heartbeat, its winds grow stronger, pulling more sea into the sky. By now, the satellites note its existence, sending blurry sonogram images to weather doctors who measure its shape and size, their computers predicting its chances of making it to term, searching its growing environment for clues to predict its path in life.

The naming is ever-clinical to make the discarding ever easier. "Tropical Depression #1."

It is, yet is not.

Some never make it, dying at sea and buried in unmarked watery graves, sighs of relief accompanying the deaths of these unwanted children of the earth.

Then, there are those who rush forth across charted waters, as yet unborn but rotating ever faster in labor pains as powerful as its churning winds. Over land, the center will not hold. But over sea, this life gathers strength, is born through agony of wind's tearing, howling.

Finally, it is named. Katrina. Gustav. Andrew. Betsy. Those who await their first and last meeting with this child born of water and of sky hope and pray they will be able to forget its name.

With a life cycle of days and weeks rather than years, it consumes like the locust all the warmth and moisture in its path. Gaining in height, breadth, and strength, its solid cloud bank carries with it a wall of water and winds that make mankind's strongest structures appear as mere Tinker toys.

All the while, it hurtles headlong towards land, without emotion or will, mindless of the damage it is about to wreak on those who have watched its birth and growth.

None will mourn its passing.
While June 1 came and went without notice, it marked the start of hurricane season. Those of us on the Gulf Coast who have lived through the likes of a Hurricane Katrina in 2005 or a Hurricane Gustav in 2008--we have a healthy respect and fear of tropical activity. This season is predicted to be more active than usual: the birth of 15 named tropical storms, 8 of which will mature into hurricanes, and 4 of which will become major hurricanes.

My prayer is that you join with me over the next six months, praying to the Creator of the storm to show undeserved mercy...and if not mercy, then the grace to stand firm in the storm's wake.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

In Drought and In Rain Storm

Last Thursday, I pulled out the hoses once again, trudging across several football fields worth of ground to complete a task I've undertaken since February, one that is monotonous, strenuous, and frustrating when death still comes overnight to the plants and trees I've tried to maintain.

This time, though, my task was different. The usual 5:00 blazing red sun was missing overhead. During the children's nap time, the ceiling had been painted a marbled gray while a burst of cooler air had moved in to replace the heavy heat we had endured just that morning.

To the west, dark clouds were gathering. More were forming to the north and east, loud claps of thunder surrounding me. Surely today it would rain. Surely today, our prayers would be answered.

To stack up my prayers, my children's prayers for rain would be no small task. In a drought the likes of which our State has not seen in over 120 years, this prayer has consumed my family, words passing through our lips repeatedly, sometimes unconsciously, from the breakfast table to the bedside, every day.
By last week, husband and I were looking at the forecast, both of us saying it was just a matter of time before God responded with a "yes." We even joked (if joking can be serious) that with all those prayers for rain piling up before the throne, when God finally answered and poured them back on us, it might just be a bigger response than we expected, like in the form of a tropical depression or a hurricane.

With the premature darkness encroaching, the thunder increasing in strength and frequency as it sounded in every direction around our house, I thought this was the big one we had spoken of. But still, I stood, watering the sod, the trees.

I wanted to be standing out in the middle with no roof overhead when the water started coming down from heaven. I wanted to raise my face to breathe in the aroma of life-giving drops from the Life-giver, to feel the touch of His blessings wash over me, to experience with all my senses the answer to my prayers.

With ears plugged full of praise music, hands and flowing water occasionally lifting to the sky as I felt in my spirit the words, I sang praises to the one enthroned on high.

A few drops fell on my skin, and I gave thanks, asking for more but telling Him I would praise Him even if He didn't send the rain today. As if in response, the winds picked up speed, whipping through my curls and bending the tree tops, littering the dry earth with verdant leaves.

The two dozen purple martins roosting at my mother-in-law's house soared stiff-winged on the strong currents over the barns. A circle of the birds spiraled upwards in a column surrounding an invisible center. Others crossed overhead, swooping, gliding, jubilant.

And then the rushing winds began to subside. The individual drops stopped falling. The hammering crash of cymbals turned into the far away rumble of a bass drum.

While I stood in the cleft of the rock, God had passed me by.

We watered the grass and trees again on Thursday, then Saturday. Sunday night, then Monday, the storms rushed through again, rain falling in sheets upon our neighbors. My mother called to say an inch fell at her house, fifteen minutes away. Even the highway less than two minutes away from us was soaked.

But here? The drought continued. No. Rain.

Then came Tuesday. And Wednesday. And today.

Three straight days of cooling, precious rain. Life-giving water to us who are so thirsty.

There are so many other ways that God is working in my life this week, but how can I not write of this?

How can I not stop and praise my God who has blessed us with a drought so severe that it has saved much of our State from the flood waters that came down the Mississippi only to be swallowed by the waiting, parched ground? How can I not stop and praise the One who has blessed us now with long-awaited rain?

He is the God of drought and rain. In famine and in harvest--He listens, He speaks, He shows His love.

Photos: Husband roofs the red barn after the rain against a backdrop of fleeting gray skies.
Oldest son tries to "save" tadpoles from an almost dried-out mud hole.

To See the World a Bit Differently

It wasn't something I intended to photograph. I didn't even know where I had left the camera.

But when I bent at the waist to weed a flower bed, I felt like an hour glass that had been turned over. Flowing water hose in one hand and tight fist-full of trespassing alicia bermuda in the other, I just stood there. Had I really never seen the world like this before?

Could I have done a headstand to take in the same view, I would have looked much less odd, but crazy woman I was with my feet planted shoulder width apart and head now intentionally hanging close to the ground as I looked upwards at the sky through the trunks of my legs.

Sure, I've seen the sky before. I regularly tilt head upwards and gaze at its broad expanse. Yet for flatlanders like me, when standing upright with face sun exposed, one's entire vision is filled with sky--not mountainous earth and sky--just wide open sky. With only openness, vibrating sun, a few birds, and treetops in the frame, the heavens lose their vastness because there is nothing in the mind's viewfinder to instantly compare its size with.

Even when I look across the field from my normal perspective standing on dry earth, the wide open sky overhead seems quite small when compared to the broad expanse of hay field, close enough to touch as it stretches around my feet and far out before me.

Proximity gives the appearance of great size...and of importance.

But here, with world turned upside down as I stood on my head, sky filled the bulk of my vision while still keeping in view the grassy earth, what looked like a thin green and brown pancake from which hung the rest of the world.

It was then that the vastness of the heavens really shook me.

What is daily close enough for me to touch, smell, hear--it seems so big, so overwhelming at times. But, it is nothing. We are just grains of sand in the largeness of God's broad expanse, our problems so, so, so meaningless and small in relation to Him...even if they are big to us in that moment of time carved out of eternity.

This change in perspective determines how I react to life itself.

Reacting to the big and small unexpected unwelcome matters that make up my days--this is where God has been working in my heart. It's so easy for something small to occur and bury me in overwhelming feelings of frustration, anger, or hopelessness.

I don't like having to dig myself out from that self-made grave. It is exhausting. It harms my relationships with my loved ones, not to mention my relationship with God. Lately, I've been intentionally short-circuiting the cycle, consciously stopping and asking "Why?" Why would God allow this? What does He know that I don't?

Somehow in the speaking, in the naming of the trial as one that is God-ordained, as one that is a blessing from God, the sparking emotions are diffused, and faith increases. It's one thing to say you believe God controls all, that He works all for your good. It's quite another to apply this theology to every trial that crosses your hearth.

Most recently, I tried this approach when, on the first day of summer classes, I realized one of my classes wouldn't launch. Uh oh--problems...what else was new. Later that day, I discovered whoever typed the class information into the registration computer typed in a "7" instead of a "6" for the class start date, July instead of June. The powers that be ruled the error would stand.

One single digit, one slip of a finger on a keyboard turned an 8-week class into a 4-week class. It's not what I signed up to teach. It's not what my boss expected me to teach. But it is what God wanted me to teach.

When I called husband, I told him this was no coincidence, that I was actually a bit afraid of what God knew was coming down the pipe, something that would consume enough time that I would appreciate less work now versus later.

I didn't have to wait long--a confirmed case of mono for my daughter and an identical checklist of symptoms for me, something we just started to overcome last Friday. Then came the unexpected out of town trip for husband...including an extra 24-hour delay due to airline troubles.

God knew. My acceptance of this fact in the beginning didn't change God in the slightest. But it did change me.

Now if I could only learn to adopt this attitude with each and every part of my life....perhaps I should learn to do that headstand to remind me.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

When Doing Without is a Blessing

The bloodless battle begins each evening around 5:30 when black wingtips walk through the door, wide heels tapping loudly against shiny hardwood planks before pausing at the thermostat, then continuing to their resting place on bottom tier of husband's childhood bookshelf.

Around midnight, we wordlessly call a truce until moon and sun rise and fall once more to begin another few hours of battle, progressing through this weekday cycle until the weekend when the back and forth volleys are continuous.

Each time husband comes in out of the Louisiana heat, he walks a ruler-straight line to the digital thermostat and presses the down arrow until the number 75 appears. After re-hydrating, stopping the sweaty hemorrhaging of water from the body, he goes back outside, air conditioner still compressing the air to refrigerated temperatures best used for hanging meat.

Minutes later, I am feeling the need to pull out my winter jacket or, at a minimum, take refuge in heavy jeans and a long sleeve shirt. My feet follow in husband's footsteps to check if it's just me (it rarely is).

Back up to 80 it goes.

Unlike some battles where angry words are like poisoned darts, aimed precisely to do the most damage possible, then regretted in the damaged aftermath, our battle over the thermostat is filled with more humor than anything.

Most Saturdays, we wordlessly pass the box on the wall. He presses the down; I press the up --back and forth, up and down, an endless tennis match with little emotion and even less thought.

Sometimes by the end of a day's match, husband will speak of it, eyes twinkling as he exclaims it's sweltering in here, then smilingly claim there must be a ghost in our house. Other times, I will refer to our house as the arctic and bundle up in a blanket for great effect.

This past weekend, husband and I worked together past the noon hour when it is prudent to go indoors. As we two mulched trees and flower beds to protect tender roots underground, the fiery sun finally got to the point where it seemed to be aimed like a stage light inches from my skin.

I asked him how he could stand it, this heat, when he was constantly turning our thermostat to frigid. His response came easily. "I was raised in the hayfield. And I promised myself that if I ever had a house of my own one day, I wouldn't have to sweat in it."

His insistence on a cold house--I finally understood...and I could relate.

For six years of marriage before this past year, husband and I sweated in houses that lacked any shred of insulation, where window units were only turned on when rare company came over or at night for sleeping.

I remember coming home from work to a mercury reading of 90 degrees, when it was hotter inside than out in the yard. I know what it's like to wake up to a 38 degree house where I can see my breath in frost as I rock and feed my babies, me shivering in layers before the living room's undersized propane heater.

This being uncomfortable, though--it's been such a blessing. I am shaking my head, knowing that only through the lack have husband and I both come to appreciate what many take for granted.

I honestly feared I would forget, grow complacent once we moved here into our sealed, climate-controlled home. But, that hasn't happened.

One year later, I still remember. And I am still thankful.

Photo: Saturday afternoon worn-out husband enjoying central air while loving our newest addition, Hannah.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Why a Flower Can't Stop Growing

Growing up, my mother would often times go upstairs before daddy would come in from work around 4 in the evening. Sometimes, she would change into clothes less marked by the day's labors. But more often than not, she would simply fix her hair a bit more. Even if she hadn't worn make-up the entire day, she might put on a little blush or eyeshadow for him, something special to show she loved him and was happy he was home.

I've been reminded of this image quite a lot over the past few weeks, not for how I am like my mother but how I am so far from the bar she set. I want to be beautiful for my husband, too, the perfect woman to come home to, but June Cleaver I am not.

Twice a week when husband comes home from work in the evening, he gets to see me at my absolute worst. Any make-up I might have applied has long ago melted off or is smeared from the corners of my eyes and across heat-stained cheeks. My hair is either pulled back in a severe bun or wild and free, windblown corkscrews collecting and dripping glistening sweat onto damp, dirt-encrusted clothes.

That's exactly how he found me this evening, looking the part of a farmer's wife two-hours into watering the sod. Still, I think he likes to find me blooming this way--a different kind of beauty he sees in my living, growing, and working with the land he loves so much.

Like always, he came out to meet me, me clothed in dirt and him in pressed white shirt and tie, black wingtips weaving a path around sod puddles, all to kiss his bride hello and relay the evening weatherman's news that confirmed what I already knew--this spring has been anything but ordinary.

At 103 degrees, today was the sixth hottest day in our state capital's recorded history. It's only June 2, and the land is acting like it has a fever that only a heavenly dose of Ibuprofen will cure. The stifling heat only puts more pressure on already parched land, with 2011 being the second driest year on record in 121 years for our State.

As a child born over a decade after the drought of 1963, this earth literally shrinking from lack of moisture is something I've never experienced before. To try and keep up with watering the sod, trees, shrubs, flowers planted this past winter at our new home is a 6-9 hour a week job...and even with my efforts, it's not enough.

Three days a week, I pull hoses the distance of a football field and a half (500 feet says husband) to water trees at the back of the property. But still, I've lost a blackgum, a loblolly pine, and a river birch over the past two weeks. We won't talk about the sod.

My mother came over earlier in the day, her voice lilting in surprise. "Your lantana looks wonderful!"She was right. Huge mounds of the heat-resistant vine are coated with the clusters of snow white flowers. With just the little water I give, the plants, the trees--they want to grow, blossom, send forth new growth. I imagine they, too, want to be beautiful for their Creator.

But with each tender red leaf or bud that forms, I want to scream, "No! Stop! Don't grow!!! Don't blossom! Not now! Just live like you are! Don't you know it's dangerous to grow right now!?"

These plants and trees would survive the drought so much better if they would just stop growing, stop trying to produce fruit, stop trying to be beautiful, and just maintain.

But it doesn't work that way. It wasn't designed to.

In God's economy, there is no way to simply maintain. When even the smallest bit of the life-giving water is applied, creation tries to grow...or it fails in the process and dies.

There is no middle ground, no lukewarm life here to spit out. There is death. Or there is real living, growing,