Sylvia rethinks Lent.

Sylvia rethinks Lent.

Sylvia sat in church the week after Ash Wednesday. She was feeling a bit disconnected, not really able to get into the stories about ashes, and pancakes, that had been part of the week. She wondered, why make pancakes and eat up all the eggs and milk, when you just had to go to the supermarket and get some more. What a silly tradition. And what if her grandchildren asked her to make her special blueberry and chocolate chip pancakes for them when they stayed the night with her? She felt that giving things up like pancakes just seemed artificial and irrelevant.

Sylvia started to wonder about Lent. The words of the opening hymn were sticking in her mind – ‘forty days and forty nights, thou wast fasting in the wild’. Well, fasting for forty days was obviously not going to work, not when she had to take her pills with food, and keep her carbohydrate intake even.

But the idea of being ‘in the wild’ for forty days, now that was appealing! Imagine a time of having none of the usual distractions, none of the shopping and the housework, or those phone calls where they said there was something wrong with the computer she didn’t have, or the noisy kids next door, none of the worry about the bills that kept coming through the letterbox, none of the doctor’s visits… Sylvia started to contemplate how she could find a wilderness to escape from her daily grind.

Well, she thought, I can get rid of the distractions. And the weather seems to be helping there – it’s getting darker in the mornings, it’s not so appealing to rush into the garden. Even the garden was winding down for autumn, flowers were finishing, leaves starting to turn..

Yes, thought Sylvia, that’s it! I’ll copy my garden! I’ll drop my leaves – get rid of what I don’t need in my life, like, like,… like chasing after friends who never call me back, and who seem content to go through their list of woes without once asking after mine. I’ll give up reading the junk mail from the shops where I never go, looking at things I don’t even want, and couldn’t afford if I did!

Yes, I’ll drop my leaves.

And then, she thought, maybe I’ll  tend myself as I tend the garden – after taking away the dead and finished  stems, I’ll mulch and compost.

How can I compost myself? She started to giggle as she thought about the last time she had turned the compost, and a shovelful had flung over her head. She remembered the worm that was still in her hair two hours later which had given her granddaughter such a fright.

Shh! Glared the couple in front of her at church.

Well, let them, Sylvia thought. They’re listening to the sermon, but I can’t really concentrate.

Yes, compost , that was it. I’ll feed my soul. I’ll read things that make me grow, I’ll listen to music that will build my faith, I’ll stop and let my roots grow deep and let God feed me. And then, maybe I’ll be like my apple tree, looking barren and lifeless but knowing that deep inside life is there, gaining strength, waiting to bring beauty and fruit.

Care for your own garden

This summer I have been caring for my neighbour’s garden. He’s elderly and frail, and can’t manage the garden any more, so when he asked me for help with some shopping, I volunteered myself and the kids to tidy it for him. That was not entirely a selfless act – while we do try and do something community-based as a way of celebrating Christmas, I was also looking forward to getting to know his garden  He had the house built himself, 60 years ago, did all the painting and the wiring, and made the garden. Every tree that was planted, my neighbour put in. He built every pergola, every fence, every gate, every step. He made all the concrete paths, the little walls, and even the bird bath. Now, the garden is mature, and grown up tall. It’s like the Secret Garden – a book I loved as  a child. There are paths under overhanging trees, secret tunnels, hidden areas – it’s delightful!

Well, I’ve enjoyed this garden a lot, but today when I was picking some feed at home for my bunny, I realised that my own vegetable garden was less-than well-cared-for! Where there had been nice healthy broccoli, now there are caterpillar-munched stalks, with convolvulus starting to twine upwards. Dandelions are sprouting among the carrots, and the whole thing looks decidedly unkempt!

I think God had a message for me and for others in this garden -I had been so taken with the pleasant and appreciated work of caring for my neighbour’s garden, that I had neglected my own thankless vegetable plot.

Often in a life of ministry we are called upon to care for others. But if we neglect our own environment, weeds creep in, things fall apart, and all of a sudden it’s a great mess!

We must attend to our own homes and families before taking on all the other pastoral needs of the community. They can be done together, but it’s very easy to take the more interesting tasks. But  remember if we neglect the boring day-to-day weeding of the vegetable garden, before we know it we  are in a huge mess.

May God bless your ministries richly this year, especially those at home.


There is a certain plant in our garden, which has very vigorous tendencies. It twines up at lightning speed, and just when you think you’ve got it all out, there’s a white trumpet flower at eye-level! Yes, it’s convolvulus, or bindweed. I discovered a huge rampant pile of this annoying plant smothering my apple tree today, and I started thinking about its tendencies.

It creeps about along the fence lines, ready to take advantage of the gardener’s inattention. It always seems to be someone else’s problem, coming through from under the fence – we always blame the neighbours for not controlling it, and they probably are grumbling about my slovenly gardening habits in allowing it to go through their fence!

It seems to me that convolvulus is a metaphor for that habit many of us suffer from, of blaming other people. It’s so easy to try and shift all blame away from ourselves, rather than stand accountable for what we have done, or why we have done it, or what we have not done. Just as we all try to blame the next-door gardeners for the weeds coming under (or over) the fence, we all try to blame someone else, rather than stand up and face the music.

But with God we can stand up and be judged, because Jesus has taken our punishment. We can pull out our own convolvulus, and instead of grumbling about it being there, we can thank God for the pretty white flowers that alert us to its presence – hopefully before it completely strangles the apple tree!

There are some blessings with this plant – the kids like to pop the flowers off, and call them ‘granny-pops’. The other blessing is that the rabbits eat them! Now all I’ve got to do is train the rabbits to climb the trees!

Have a look at my favourite song about Bindweed!

Secateurs and deacons

I’m a keen gardener. Whenever I’m outside, I’m looking at how to improve the state of my suburban paradise. Often that means chopping something back, so I pop inside to reach for my trusty secateurs.

Today I looked for them on the shelf just outside the back door. No luck. Then I looked on the other shelf, just inside the back door. No joy. Hmm, where was I when I last used them? I know, I’ll look on the shelf just inside the front door, where I keep my keys. Yes!!

I started thinking about secateurs  – just like deacons, they have a liminal ministry, in theology-speak! This means a threshold ministry – neither fully outside nor fully in, but able to operate both in and out. As my secateurs are useful in the kitchen for arranging flowers, so I can be useful inside the church. And just as the bulk of my secateurs’ work is outside, making a real difference to my unruly and exuberant garden, so my diaconal minstry really flourishes outside the church, in the community, where people are blooming, where they are straggling, where there are things that need a bit of a prune!

Feijoa_flowerBeautiful feijoa flowers.

Seek ye first the Kingdom of God

I was in my garden, looking up at the flowering cherry tree. It had lots of highly decorative red berries on it! Very pretty, but I know they’re too sour to eat.

Then I wondered, why aren’t the birds having a go at them? After all, they eat all sorts of berries that aren’t sweet enough for us.

I had another look at the tree. You see, from where I was standing, underneath the tree, the berries were really obvious, but from the birds’ perspective, flying over the tree, they would be hidden by the leaves!

I started wondering what other things we miss by looking from the wrong perspective, and got thinking about little kids and their spelling notebooks. You know, the ones they swear are at school  but then the teacher sends a note home, saying, where are they? The notebooks that Mum can find in 2 seconds flat by looking properly in the school bag, or the desk!

The kingdom of God can be like that – hard to spot on a first, cursory look, blending into the background. But when we start to look harder at the details around us, we can see God’s fingerprints everywhere, in the clouds, the plants, the weather, and in the lives transformed by the power of God’s love.

We just have to keep looking until we find it.

Unexpected glamour

I went to a wedding today – not as a guest, but to play the piano for the service. I dressed up in a nice skirt and top, tidy shoes, my pearl necklace and a bit of lipstick – quite unusual for me!  I looked quite good, I think!

When I came home, I changed out of my pretty top and skirt, into my casual clothes – I wanted to mow the lawn. I put my nice shoes away and got out the terrible old gardening shoes that have holes in the sides, but are strong enough so I won’t cut off my toes should I run them over!

I mowed the lawn. (Why I did this myself with at least 2 kids at home I’m not sure…)

When I came in after finishing to wash my hands, I caught sight of myself in the mirror.

Did you spot what I forgot to change?

Yes, I was still wearing my pearls and lipstick with my gardening clothes! I was quite struck by the effect – certainly not conventional dress!

I wondered why it seemed significant. Maybe God was trying to tell me that we can find the glamourous among the ordinary – we just have to be open to the possibility.

Have you ever looked closely at the bark of a tree? It’s amazing, so beautiful, so intricately patterend, even if the leaves and fruit might be what people expect to admire.

Have you ever looked really closely at a forget-me-not flower? They are tiny, and intricate, with a miniscule flower of yellow in the middle of the blue. Almost like a millefiori glasswork.

Be open to unexpected glamourous sights, to beauty where it may not be expected. The lined skin of an elderly person’s hand as it clasps yours – the warmth of a smile from a stranger – there are so many. God speaks to us thorugh everything around us – we just need to tune up our listening.

Pink ragwort

My favourite wild flowers

You may have seen these flowers. They are originally from South Africa, and they  seem to be spreading all over the lower North Island. They started appearing in the area I live when the first South African people settled here, bringing with them biltong – thankyou!

There has been a tense relationship with South Africa and New Zealand – when I was 14 the country was divided by a rugby tour from then apartheid-supporting South Africa, and some thought that it was just sport, no problem. Others wanted nothing to do with anything South African.

How times have changed, and many changes have happened in both countries. I often think of those times, and the strong feelings, when I see these flowers. They are for me a symbol of forgiveness, of healing, of reconciliation.

They are spreading all over Wellington, favouring the rocky cliffs where nothing else will grow. They show a tenacity which is admirable. They symbolise beauty in the rocky places.

They also join in the great chorus of wildflowers in the better soil, with wild turnip’s pale yellows, the golden yellow of gorse and broom, deep carmine and white valerian, and white daisies, all against a backdrop of green grasses. Gorgeous!

If forgiveness is part of the wildflower garden, beauty is the result.

Complicated or complex?

columbine honeywort and daisies

Columbine honeywort and daisies

I picked some flowers from my beautiful spring garden today. There are daisies, honeywort and columbine.I put them in a vase on the table, and sat looking at them really closely with my husband, and marveling at their complexity. A simple daisy flower is really lots of flowers! And the honeywort has leaves that look like petals. Strange. The columbines come in several sorts – the most basic one, that hasn’t been selected by the plant breeders for double petals, is still complicated. There are five petals like tubes, with a green spot on the end, and five others that flex backwards. All with little curvy bits on them. Continue reading

Sin and convolvulus

I’ve been enjoying getting into that garden, now that spring is finally here! The soil is dark and rich, the weeds aren’t too big to get out, except for that sneaky character convolvulus! I’ve gone all over the raised vegetable bed, removing the thick white roots, but just when I think it’s all gone, I find another bit, right in the middle! It’s always worst by the fenceline, and it’s very easy to blame the neighbours for not attending to their own weeds, but letting them infest my place.

I was looking along the weedy fencelines, and it struck me that sin is like these weeds. It’s easy to spot sin in the middle of the freshly- and frequently- attended vegetable gardens of our life – the parts of our day that come under regular and public attention. But how about around the edges? In the dark corners? In the shadow of the fences? We can blame the neighbours, or those around us, for sinful habits and attitudes sneaking in below the radar, but as Christians we have the responsibility to hold all our life under the scrutiny of God;’s holiness. It’s easy to spot obvious things in other people’s lives that we regards as sin, but how about the attitudes, the judgmentalism, the pride, that can so easily sneak in, take root and become habits of thought, and, worse, of speech?

Next time you’re weeding along the fences and spot those tendrils snaking underneath, think about what could be coming into your character from outside. I have seen the effect of television on my children’s language and speech habits – it’s an outside influence which needs to be weeded. What is there in your life? How about that drink, that turned into three drinks, that happens every day? New Zealand culture is full of excessive alcohol, and it becomes an idol, it makes people behave in ways displeasing to God, and it wastes resources.


Weed your garden, not just the obvious bits, but shine the light into the corners.


Broad Beans and Ministry

When I was a girl, occasionally Mum would put something weird on our dinner plates. Oval-shaped things, about an inch long, greyish and a bit wrinkly, like they’d been in water too long, which when you bit them were bitter and rubbery on the outside, and floury on the middle. Yuk! You’ve guessed it – broad beans, or fava beans.

When I was trying to improve the clay soil here, I discovered you could plant broad beans to fix in the nitrogen, so I bought some, and planted them, thinking that they would work as green manure but we wouldn’t have to eat them. As the plants grew, I realised that they were doing really well – fast-growing, bushy, healthy plants, with lots of flowers, and very soon, hundreds of bean pods. I looked up how to use them in one of those gardening/recipe books, held my heart in my mouth, and made a decision.

If they were so easy to grow, I would decide that I was going to like them. Gulp! I picked them small, blanched them and popped the bright green seeds out of the grey, bitter jackets, and added them to salads, and, actually, discovered that they were really quite good! (The kids are still not with me on this one.)

What’s this got to do with ministry? If you find yourself in a  ministry you didn’t think you would like, make a decision to like it anyway. Be open to finding the revelation, the good, sweet centre.

God always makes things easier if we step out in faith, trusting him for the way ahead. God will surely bless those ministries!

When I was picking my broad beans, I could smell a wonderful perfume, and looked closer at the homely plants. Under the leaves were the most gorgeous flowers, black-and-white, very decorative, with a fantastic, heady scent, which wafted across the garden.God was blessing me with these unexpected treasures, all because I had decided to embrace something new, that had the power to grow and nourish me.

1Cor 3:6 “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.”