Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Incredible Montauk Daisy

I remember asking my wife, "Have we had an unusual summer or fall? That looks like a daisy that's blossoming." I had to investigate.

The Montauk Daisy is a late summer and fall blooming perennial. The plants that I saw are mature, five-feet wide and possibly three-feet tall. The flowers are roughly the size as the more familiar Shasta Daisy. The leaves have the same vein structure but they are thicker and more shiny, like a sedum.


I did some internet research. Originally from Japan and China, the Montauk Daisies are named after Montauk, New York, a town on Long Island approximately 110 miles east of New York City. In Montauk, they have naturalized and are now very common. They are not as common in upstate New York but they should be.

These simple but hardy perennials offer roughly the same bloom cycle as chrysanthemums, first opening in late summer and continuing until the first hard freeze. That could easily mean two months of flowering or possibly more.

When I took the above photo yesterday, October 31st, I was surprised that none of the petals reveal insect damage or other signs of deterioration. Unlike the mums that often start looking brown by this time of year, none of them revealed that same dieback problem. If you look again at the photo, you will see that all of the petals have remained clear white.

To me, the daisies are a symbolic representation of hope and simplicity – what we currently endure will have its season for the Lord will simply take care of us. That is trust, for hope and trust belong together.

I don't know what you are going through – for some I am sure it is not easy. But what I do know is that Jesus already knows whether you've been praying or not. If you are a believer in Him, then He is within you and wants to take you through this period in your life. It's as simple as a daisy yet as beautiful as all of creation. That is your hope.


Monday, October 19, 2015

Landscaping at Believers' Chapel in Auburn NY

Last week I completed some landscaping for our new church, Believers' Chapel of Auburn. The tree in the center is a Weeping Norway Spruce. The five brilliant blue shrubs are Dwarf Globe Globe Spruce. All the plants were selected because they are supposedly deer resistant.


The goals of this spot garden were to:
  1. Attract the eye of people as they drive on a major road in Auburn
  2. Find plants that should be resistant to herds of suburban deer

Although the church building was constructed in the 1950's, Believers' Chapel has owned this facility for only three years. As we started to build a reputation in the community, many improvements were needed. Regarding the landscaping, the only plants were some very large and prickly Alberta Spruce, a cluster of daffodils, and some mature trees. Most of the foundation plants were either not planted or had been removed because of the deer.

The location of the building, 3141 E. Genesee Street Road, is in a more-affluent neighborhood where good landscaping is respected. By attracting the eye of people, we are making a subtle but substantial statement: "We are a new church, not the same as the old."

The Weeping Norway Spruce is the key plant in the design. The plant seems to suggest gentleness and humility, an important statement to the community. Our expectation is that this tree will grow fairly wide over time but remain about five feet tall.

The five Dwarf Globe Blue Spruce have a most amazing color. Contrast is key to good color selection – the brilliant blue is a year-round attraction that should not be easily forgotten. In the early years we should be able to maintain its shape through pruning; as the Weeping Norway Spruce grows, we will probably have to move the "blues" away from that tree.

Red Chrysanthemum and purple-leafed Barberry add contrast to the Globe Spruce. They help draw the eye to the blue spotlight. In the spring and summer months, other annuals can replace the effect of the Chrysanthemums.

Not visible in the photo are three Honeysuckle vines. These are the 'GlobeFlame' Honeysuckles which will grow over a trellis near the entrance. As mentioned in my A Garden of Love book, the Honeysuckle Vine heralds a message of peace to all who enter.

The last landscaping item in this fall 2015 effort was to remove many lower branches from a King Crimson Maple. While I like this tree, its massive shape hid much of the church building from view. Now that they have been removed, the dominant effect is the church building and not this tree. The primary effect from cutting these branches is that it adds more sunlight to this spot garden.

Next year's efforts should be to plant landscaping along the side of the church that faces the road. This too should add more softness to the otherwise cold-looking building. At that time we can also see what plants survived the deer browsing during the winter.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Gethsemane Prayer Garden is Now Closed to the Public

In an email yesterday to me from Jim Tuttle, pastor of Faith Chapel, he stated, "Tom, I am totally fine with people using the prayer garden from the public. My concern is that it is no shape to show publicly. It would likely be a big disappointment if someone traveled a great distance to see the garden. It is wise to remove it as a public garden."

Therefore, because I am no longer the Caretaker of the Gethsemane Prayer Garden, I have removed the garden's website, http://www.prayergardeners.com/gethsemane/index.html. I retired from that Caretaker position in December 2014. The garden has since gone to the weeds.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Question Regarding Photographs of Garden Bouquets

I have a quick question if someone would like to comment. In the photograph below, what is a good background that shows off the beauty of the flowers? I am thinking of using this photo, or one like it, in a future publication. I appreciate your input. Thanks, Tom

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Rethinking Your Landscaping: Developing a New Design

This week I completed the landscaping redesign for the front of our house. Sometimes the changes we make in a garden is a response to our impulsive nature: purchase some little gem because it looks so adorable. And sometimes our changes involve the transplanting flowers or shrubs because they have outgrown their space or would simply look better somewhere else. And sometimes it is time for an overhaul.

Since retiring from the Gethsemane Prayer Garden, I still have a yearning to get my fingernails dirty. Now they are.

Whether you are designing a new prayer garden or tackling a redesign of your landscape, the principles should be the same: develop a vision of the big things based on your overall objectives. Initially, do not be very concerned with the little plants, "Where will I plant my special peonies?" for the time will come where that will become more obvious. Instead, focus on what must go and what cannot change. And look for those features that will make the big impact on the new plot that complement your objectives.

Here is how our house looked in August of 2013.


Click photo to enlarge

What Must Go
I had been so consumed with my full time secular work, the responsibilities of the Gethsemane Prayer Garden and my writing/publishing assignments that I had largely neglected the look of our house. Kind of like the gobbler's shoes.

Our biggest problem was the seven steps that led to the front door: they were deteriorating and someone could get hurt. My wife could no longer negotiate these concrete stairs. I feared someone stumbling at night.

The house is over forty years old and the concrete walkway from the driveway to those steps had started to heave from the severe winters and was too narrow because of overgrown yews.

The third problem was the overgrown burning bushes that covered the front door and bay window. There were three beauties that turned luscious red in the fall but their size made the house seem uninviting. The visitor had difficulty feeling comfortable with what may be behind those shrubs.

What Cannot Change
There are four trees that had to remain – everything else was negotiable. The two birch trees were planted there to provide nighttime protection from our neighbor's spotlights. I was hoping for more visual protection from those birches when I planted them twelve years ago, but they certainly were not going away now. And my wife has made it very clear that the two maples, seen on the far left and far right of the photo, were to remain. End of discussion.

The Big Impact
I pondered how to treat the sidewalk and stairs for several weeks. I used rope to lay out the two sides of the walkway but each time I tried, the vision of the existing plants got in the way.


Click photo to enlarge

Finally I called a contractor. He removed the steps and stairs, and he transplanted the yews and burning bushes with his excavator. If the shrubs lived, great; if not, oh well.

Landscaping is not like carpentry. With landscaping, you can design part without having a complete vision of the final product. With carpentry, you don't want to relocate a downstairs wall because your plumbing just does not otherwise work – you must thoroughly plan ahead. I consider it an honor and privilege to own a shovel.

At that point, I received the vision of a raised walkway that is embedded in the ground. When given a choice between an obtuse wooden walkway that can rot away and one that is placed in the ground, I will always choose the later. Now my wife, who walks with short steps because of her limitations, can get to the front door without climbing any steps.


Next
In the next article, I will discuss design objectives when rethinking your landscaping.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Prayer Rooms in the Gethsemane Prayer Garden

There are eight outdoor prayer rooms in the Gethsemane Prayer Garden. The prayer rooms use shrubs and trees rather than wood or concrete to separate each area. A bench has been placed in each prayer room for personal intercession with God and private viewing of the beautiful flowers and plantings.

As I stated in my article Design Garden Prayer Rooms With Inviting Paths, I believe that pathways can create a sense of curiosity and intrigue. By positioning the shrubs and trees closely together, each room is secluded from the next – the larger plants also form garden hallways connecting one prayer room to another.

The article below is not new. At the end of 2014, I stepped down from my position as Caretaker of that two-acre garden. Subsequently I removed all webpages from the Gethsemane Prayer Garden website and moved that information to this blog thinking it might be helpful for some people.


Grace Prayer Room

Grace Prayer Room The wooden cross stands eleven feet tall and majestically hovers over this prayer room. Naturally this is the most popular of the rooms. The infectiously abundant love and grace of Jesus Christ is readily apparent here.

Along one side of this prayer room, a series of shrubs, trees, and rocks retell the story of Exodus 33 and 34. The pillars of fire and cloud, Moses, the Israelites, and the two stone tablets are all seen in this reenactment. As the plants mature over the years, this depiction will be more easily seen.

Abiding Love Prayer Room

Abiding Love Prayer Room There are four large prayer rooms in the Gethsemane Prayer Garden; the Abiding Love Prayer Room is the oldest and some suggest it is perhaps the loveliest. At the center of the room are two beds of soft pink and brilliant red roses; these roses blossom from June to November. A plethora of other pink, blue, red, purple, and white flowers help make this room a favorite.

Roses are often used to symbolize love and these roses certainly do; to sit here is often an encounter with Christ's agape love.

Intimate Prayer Room

Intimate Prayer Room Prayer gardens should, when possible, have both large rooms for the eye to roam and smaller rooms with fewer distractions. The Intimate Prayer Room is a closely defined space that is particularly good for focusing on the Lord.

For two weeks in the spring, a redbud tree blooms above the bench with showy magenta flowers without the competition of its own green leaves. When the heart-shaped leaves emerge, they provide excellent shade for the bench that sits below it. The summertime shade of the redbud is often a welcome respite on a hot day.

Reflection Prayer Room

Reflection Prayer Room Located under the shade of some tall willows and nut trees, the Reflection Prayer Room overlooks a 20'x25' pond that we call the 'Pool of Siloam.' Directly above the pool is a bed of local and commercially-available shade loving flowers, a soft blend of light and dark green foliage with colorful suggestions of pink, white, and blue.

The quiet ambiance of this area is captured by the pond's reflective character, a small dam with the sound of falling water, and refreshingly cool air as it passes over the water. It is a place to reflect on what God has done, is doing, and is going to do.

Joyous Celebration Prayer Room

Joyous Celebration Prayer Room The Joyous Celebration Prayer Room, unlike the other prayer rooms, is filled with flowers that are yellow and white. There are some blues, pinks, and purples, but predominantly it has a cheerful yellow theme.

The emphasis on joy is based on the remembrance of several loved ones – while it can be very difficult to loose a parent, spouse, or child, there is comfort in knowing we can celebrate their permanent home with Christ. This prayer room can accommodate a larger number of people that can joyously sit or stand in agreement and support.

Worship Prayer Room

Worship Prayer Room When people visit the Worship Prayer Room they often ask, "Why are those rocks there?" The story goes back to 1999 when the first phase of the Faith Chapel building was completed. This 530-seat facility was constructed by volunteer labor in 22 months, never borrowing any money from anyone. That debt free status allowed the church to support missionaries and develop facilities such as this prayer garden.

Joshua created an altar of remembrance after the Israelites miraculously crossed the Jordan River on dry land (Joshua 3 and 4). Similarly we created this stone altar in remembrance of how God helped us complete this facility.

Wind and Spirit Prayer Room

Wind and Spirit Prayer Room Many people are not familiar with the flower gaura, but what a joy it is! The singular purpose of the Wind and Spirit Prayer Room is to observe the uniqueness of the gaura as it sways back and forth.

Also called the "wand flower", each cluster of blossoms sits on top of a long wand-like stem. The top-heavy gaura seems to dance in the breeze, even when there is seemingly no detectable wind. In the Bible, the Hebrew word ruwach can be translated as both Holy Spirit and wind. As this flower dances, the gaura reminds us of the wind, the ruwach, the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Peaceful Waters Prayer Room

Peaceful Waters Prayer Room Water is somehow soothing to the soul, especially when under the shade of a tree. Minimal landscaping has been done to this area yet it offers its own sense of serenity. The simplicity of this location is a draw to many prayer garden visitors.

The only flowers in this area are the bright yellow marsh marigold in early May and the tall mauve-colored Joe Pye weed in August; both of these flowers are natural to this area and were placed along this streambed by God many years ago. Frogs, wild ducks, chipmunks, and many birds also draw young children to this peaceful spot.

Conclusion

The result of these eight prayer rooms is an integrated garden with flowered areas that seemingly flow from one area into another. When one sits on any bench in the garden, there is privacy in that prayer room – that is, the other seven benches cannot be seen and it belongs to them unless someone passes by.

A path in the center of the garden

Thursday, December 11, 2014

In Review: 2014 in the Gethsemane Prayer Garden

As has been done in previous years, this is a review of 2014 for the Gethsemane Prayer Garden. From my perspective on a wintery morning in December, this is also my last review.

"The flowers danced
To the beat of the wind,
Sometimes gently,
But no one knew.

The woodland birds sang
As the woodpecker knocked,
And the Canada geese glided,
But no one knew.

The sun moved slowly
Replacing the morning dew,
And the rainbows called,
But no one knew.

The Lord waited patiently
Hoping to see,
A woman praying,
Or a man on his knee.

Then one came to visit,
She heard it was nice,
But she did not stay,
Something not quite right.

A chipmunk scampered
About here to there,
No one to bother it,
No one seemed to care.

The gardener stopped by,
To tend to the plants,
Admiring something new,
God's creation at best.

The peace of the garden,
As few only would know,
Would be seen with the cross,
Yet our Lord does know.

Goodbye to my friend,
To a special place,
Where you my Jesus,
Met my heart and we danced.

I toiled and toiled,
For what, I do not know,
Except the hope that more
Would stop by to pray."
Thomas B. Clarke, December 11, 2014

There have been some people that have used this garden for prayer, but they have been few in number. Despite the size and the beauty of this garden, it is hardly known and seldom used.

In September of this year, my wife and I decided to start looking at other churches. We now feel comfortable at a new church plant in Auburn. Therefore, 2014 is the last year I (Tom Clarke) will be maintaining the Gethsemane Prayer Garden. I am now retired from this prayer garden.

For several years, I had been asking for water and electricity to be extended from the building to the prayer garden. Praise God, this was accomplished prior to our decision to leave – I did not want the next generation of caretakers to have to lug those heavy hoses across the parking lot. The conduit for electricity into the garden has also been installed – if money becomes available for lighting, then the conduit is in place.

What will happen to this garden? Good question and one that I don't have an answer to. The church has decided to use a volunteer staff to maintain the garden under the direction of one key volunteer individual.

The effort to maintain this one-acre garden is fairly labor intensive. So how does a group of volunteers maintain this garden's tranquility? My recommendation is to plant large amounts of ground cover, possibly myrtle, in the mulch beds. If planted bare root in April, these ground covers typically take 3-4 years to become fully established. The advantage is that the mulch would not need to be refreshed every two years, weeding would be dramatically reduced, flower maintenance would be restricted to those few flowers that remain, and the tranquility of the garden would largely remain.

Some have asked what will happen to the flowers, shrubs and trees that have been dedicated to others. Again, that is up to Faith Chapel. I know, for there is a large tree in memory of my dad, a shrub as a prayer reminder for my older daughter, and seven flowers as a prayer reminder for my other daughter. There also is:
  • a tree dedicated to the church's founding pastor,
  • another tree in remembrance of one of the elders,
  • a third tree to remember the husband and son of a distinguished church member, and
  • a pair of trees to remember a set of twins that passed shortly after they were born.
In addition,
  • a flower bed was prepared in memory of a son,
  • the rose bed was inspired by the passing of a man's wife,
  • a rose planted for a deceased mother,
  • some benches purchased to honor loved ones, and
  • the metal trellis to show respect to a man's mother.
The stone altar, as has been previously published, was placed there by many church members as a remembrance of what the Lord did in helping build the initial church building.

Through this garden, God has revealed a deeper understanding of love to me. That is my most important memory, and it is documented in my book A Garden of Love. As a Christian author, I now will have much more time to write and I am encouraged by the thought of doing so. My hope is to devote the time spent in this garden to writing/publishing.

More importantly than my writing is the increasing care that I am giving to my wife. Nancy's legs are weak and she is having a difficult time standing. She can still drive but she has limited strength and stamina. I no longer can spend long hours in that garden. I would appreciate your prayers for her health.

Thank you, Faith Chapel, for allowing me to develop and maintain this prayer garden. It was truly an honor that you would allow me to express this hope and peace for all to enjoy.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Becky Lynn Daylily: A Sequel

Yes, God does answer our prayers. On July 21, 2013, I posted a blog article entitled Becky Lynn Daylily: A Picture of God's Restorative Process. I wrote:
This is a true story, a story of hope and a story of how our loving God restores what the devil has taken. It is a story about my two adult daughters that have been estranged from me for far too long. It is a story about love.

God does answer our prayers, and does so suddenly:

The little one that I am holding is my two-month-old grandson Luke Joel.

My wife and I had a wonderful meal at Becky's house with her husband – all was well, as if there had been no time of separation between us. Praise the Lord!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

In Review: 2013 in the Gethsemane Prayer Garden

With nearly a foot of snow on the ground, I realize that gardening may be one of the last things on your mind. I developed a year-end summary for 2011 and 2012, so why stop now?

We did several things that were not on our list for 2013, and we made some progress on the two things that were on our list:

What We Did
2013 began with our neighbors, the Delaneys, clearing a large amount of plant debris on the south side of the garden. Some of the dead tree trunks were 42-inches in diameter and 5-feet long. The pile of debris was 140-feet long and 20-feet wide, so having its removal was a tremendous God-send. See my blog article entitled Delaney Farms: Thank You for Your Effort for more information on that.

The eleven-foot tall wooden cross was placed in the ground in November 2012. This spring the landscaping around that wooden cross was completed. In remembrance of the "cloud by day" in the book of Exodus, I went to a wholesale nursery to purchase five purple smokebush; instead I came back with four and an assortment of evergreens. The following morning before planting them, I opened my Bible to re-read Exodus 33,34 where Moses watched the Lord pass by him. Instantly I had the revelation on how to plant them. If I get the opportunity this spring, I want to develop a YouTube video that explains that story as told through a combination of plants.
The Exodus 33 and 34 plantings are in the foreground;
the lawn area behind those plantings is where the Delaney debris was removed

The third major addition of 2013 was the completion of the 'Pool of Siloam.' In May I was sitting on a bench overlooking the stream, asking the Lord what to do with a difficult area between the shaded flower bed and stream. It was prone to flooding, the continual weeding was very time consuming, and frankly it looked ugly. Instantly I had a vision and a word at the same time: I saw a 25-foot pond with the words, "You don't have to weed a pond." Thank you Lord!

The pond was dug in August and completed in October. The pond spans property owned by the church and the Delaneys; it was a joint effort of both to prepare it.
9/14/2013 photo of the pool's reflective qualities

While not directly related to the prayer garden, a large buckthorn and wild grapevine patch was removed this fall. As you drove towards the church and prayer garden from the road, this thicket would have been on your left and intermingled with the neighbor's tall spruce trees. Like the eyesore that the Delaney's removed in the spring, we made a similar effort on our joint property with the Delaneys. Some final cleanup work should be completed in the spring.

Volunteers
Each year I like to get a young man who can work with me on the garden. Over the years, there has been Donald, Lukas, Jesse, Scott, Jonathan and Dorian. I try to mentor them as well as teach them basic landscaping principles. This year Kasson and Bill were among the 29 volunteers that helped the most, but it was a college student named Aaron Reau that really assisted the most in the garden; Aaron was a tremendous help and he has a great eye for aesthetics. Thanks to all of you! Collectively this year you logged 660 hours. You are great!

Thoughts for 2014
Last year I wrote about a large wooden gazebo, similar to a 12'x20' gazebo that I saw at the Treadway Inn in Owego NY:

In the fall I was introduced to Jim Marsh, a graduate student in the School of Architecture at Syracuse University. He used Google Sketchup to design a prototype of that structure. Someday I hope to get a copy of that design which I will post on this blog. It is truly awesome! Jim and I are thinking that the construction cost may be around $10,000.

I also wrote last year about the continuing need for water and electricity in the garden. Work was scheduled to start last fall but weather and other complications have delayed the start of that effort. Electricity is needed so that work on the gazebo can begin.

We hope to start moving to a better style of benches in 2014. The problem with the current benches is they are require a considerable amount of sanding, staining and other repair work on a regular basis. Our hope is to obtain log benches for the vicinity of the large wooden cross, and long-lasting resin benches for the other locations.

Blessings to you all for 2014. Prayer, that is regular two-way communication with our Lord, should be an essential part of each believer's walk; that is why this garden is available to the public.

In His service,
Tom

Thursday, December 12, 2013

What Does a Flower Mean to You?

How do flowers take on a special meaning? How did the rose first become associated with 'love'? Or who selected the white carnation to represent 'remembrance'? Or the black-eyed Susan to symbolize 'encouragement'?

The rose is barely even mentioned in the Bible – if the rose was in the Garden of Eden, certainly it went to extinction by the flood during Noah's time. The bride in the Song of Songs states she is Sharon's rose (S of S 2:1), but that is the only reference to the rose.

Throughout the western hemisphere and perhaps around the world, the rose seems to be the most popular flower. Perhaps it began something like this fictional account:
One day the queen's granddaughter found a lovely little flower along a multicolored path of pinks, red, and white blossoms. She picked one for the queen as an expression of her love for this elegant woman. Soon the king picked one for her as well, as did all the queen's attendants. Within a matter of days, the rose went viral within the palace – everyone was selecting a gorgeous rose as an expression of their adoration of this gracious woman. Even palace visitors picked up on this beautiful representation of love.
I believe that the beauty of flowers is in the eye of the beholder. When I gave my ex-wife a large bouquet of chrysanthemums immediately following the court's ruling on the divorce, I suspect it had a different meaning than you might suggest (the bunch of flowers were not in a vase and were not discovered for several days). To me the chrysanthemums will always represent reconciliation which in this case never happened; I am now happily remarried.

A Garden of Love In my book A Garden of Love, I attempt to describe the symbolic meaning that the Holy Spirit inspired me to see, using thirty spectacular flowers. This is an endearing gift book and devotional that Christian women greatly enjoy. Written from my perspective as a gardener, the flowers provide a symbolic look at what it means to be a Christian that loves.

On a related note, have you seen that I moved those blog articles not related to flowers to a new blog named Bible Discernments? If you particularly enjoyed one of the Bible-related articles that do not discuss flowers or gardening, you will find them there – you may also enroll in an eMail subscription at that site. My article today is entitled What Would You Do?

The flower that is shown as a background on the Bible Discernments blog is the gaura. In my personal life and my writings, I often use the gaura to symbolize wisdom. In the A Garden of Love book, I associate the gaura with how The Holy Spirit Helps Us Love. As a Christian author that thoroughly enjoys gardening, the association of flowers to Biblical truths seem somehow only too natural to me.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Installing Deer Protection Around Arborvitae

Normally each fall, sometime in late November or early December, we place protective devices around the arborvitae in the Gethsemane Prayer Garden. We use protective netting on the smaller plants and metal fencing around the larger ones – both have done an excellent job over the last 10 years. Historically the deer have walked through this two-acre garden every winter day yet did not damage any of the arbs.

The protective netting is a thin black plastic that orchards often use to keep birds away. These are tied to metal fence posts and wrapped around the smaller plants which retains their shape and aesthetic beauty – from a distance, it is hard to see that the netting is there.

For a large cluster of arborvitae, we install fencing that does not have the same aesthetic beauty:

Photo from January 2013

Today, with six inches of snow on the ground and temperature in the 20's, I attempted to install that thin black netting. It was too cold – after an hour, I gave up with frozen fingers as I thought, "Why didn't I listen to the voice of God?"

Last week, when there was no snow on the ground and temperatures were in the low 40's, I had time to put it up. That Friday morning I knew the Lord was nudging me to get out there, but instead worked on some other things at home that I thought were also important. Wrong again – I was able to spend an hour that Friday afternoon, but distraction again kept me away from the deer protection work. When will I ever learn?

God does speak and it is always for the good. I, like others, need to be more consistent about listening and then obeying our Lord.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Oak Tree: A Place for God's Redemptive Process

Have you ever tried to prune the bottom branches of an oak tree? If you have, you know how each branch twists and turns in seemingly unpredictable ways. My clothes, and most particularly my hat if I am wearing one, always seems to somehow get caught in these branches. Later in this article is a description of how the oak tree caught me in a different way.

Absalom in the Bible had the same problem. The story in 2 Samuel 18 describes how he was pursued by David's army, was caught "under the thick branches of a great oak" (2 Sam 18:9). The verse continues by explaining that his head was "caught fast in the oak, and he was suspended between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on."

If you are familiar with this story, you will recall that his father David wanted the army to be gentle with his highly rebellious son. When a soldier found him, he protected Absalom from harm – Joab then was informed, offered no mercy, and had him killed. When David was eventually told Absalom's fate, he cried, "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!" (2 Sam 18:33).

The vivid imagery in this story helps us put it into a New Testament perspective – a perspective of God's grace and His redemptive process. Absalom was the rebel; he did not pursue God in any way but attempted to persuade Israel to follow him as king instead of his father David. Absalom is a typological picture of who we are before coming to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

David is a picture of Christ in this story. He wanted mercy for his son but none was given. In a chiastic sense, David wailed in grief over his son, "Would I had died instead of you" (v33). Just as David would have substituted himself in death for his son, so Christ gave himself in death for the world. (See my article What is a chiasm? if you don't understand the chiastic structure).

The oak tree, that very gnarly yet tall and strong plant, represents the place of change. Remember how Absalom was "suspended between heaven and earth" (v9)? The oak is the place of truth: he either lived or he died. The wicked Absalom no longer had any say about his fate, for that was left in the hands of others. He would either receive grace or get what he deserved. Joab, representing the executioner, gave him what he deserved.


In 1996, I met my oak tree. It was Easter Sunday and I had just returned my daughter Becky to her mother, for we were now separated from each other. I had not been the husband or the father that I should have been, and it was pay-up time. My blue Honda Accord suddenly died about 30 miles from her house; I had the car towed to a service station and then took a motel room where I could wait until morning. I had come to the oak tree.

In that motel room, I opened my Bible to 2 Samuel where I had been reading. I read many chapters that evening; one that I particularly remember was the story of David and Bathsheba which was followed by the prophet Nathan's rebuke. Another that I recall was the one described above where David would have died for his son Absalom. In each of the many stories that evening, I was confronted with who I had become. I made a decision, a very conscious and personal vow, that I needed to get my act together.

Like Absalom, I found myself "suspended between heaven and earth". Absalom did not have a choice that day but I did – I choose life and I'm so very glad I did. The Promise Keepers event was later that same year which gave added reinforcement to this new way of living. My wife unfortunately either did not see or did not believe the change, so we were divorced that fall.

I am now a new man in Christ, thank God. I am remarried and I trust in the salvation that I have received. Life is a process and the life with Jesus is well worth it. Amen.

********************
If you enjoyed this analysis of 2 Samuel 18, you should also appreciate the many Biblical insights in my book Joshua's Spiritual Warfare: Understanding the Chiasms of Joshua. You can also see this book on Amazon.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Preparing a Rose Bed for Winter in Zones 4 and 5

It has been a disappointing year for the roses in the Gethsemane Prayer Garden. The 'Bonica' roses opened in mid-June as usual but the blossoms were not nearly as abundant as previous years. From the second week in July until the beginning of October, there were only a few buds on these normally gorgeous pink-flowered plants. The red 'Knockout' roses which are intermixed with the 'Bonica' in the center two beds were also fairly sparse. Only the yellow 'Knockout' roses in another flower bed were very prolific and wonderfully fragrant.


The difference I believe between the two pink and red rose beds and the yellow bed is the previous winter's treatment. In recent years I have not been protecting the roses from the winter elements, and last year the deer found the first two rose beds. The deer did not find the yellow bed of roses so they abundantly flourished. The deer first ate the leaves on the pink and red roses, and then progressed down the plants to where only 6" stubs were left.

Ten years ago when we first planted the roses, they were pruned in November to 12-18" and then heavily mulched so that only a few stems were visible. This worked well to keep out the deer, but in the third and fourth years, the voles (I thought they were moles but have since been corrected) girdled some of the plants. Also the plants did not reach their maximum potential size – the 'Bonica' roses were never taller than twenty-four inches tall.

On the advice of a local nursery, we stopped pruning and mulching the roses; they suggested that the shrub roses did not require the same finicky care that tea and floribunda roses demand. The damage from the voles was much less and the deer that regularly pass through the garden had for some reason stayed away. But not last winter!

Today I came across an article prepared by a member of the American Rose Society named Jack Falker. His blog entry http://jack-rosarian.blogspot.com/2013/09/voles-and-castor-oil.html offers hope that these tiny Pacman-style creatures will be brought under control while using traditional pruning and mulching techniques. He recommends a treatment of castor oil on the roses! I'll be giving that a try. (Jack also offers a blog article on winter protection: http://jack-rosarian.blogspot.com/2013/09/winter-protecting-your-roses.html.) Based on Jack's advice and my previous experience, we will cut the roses back to 12-18" when the first hard freeze arrives (usually in November) and then mound them with mulch.

There is some debate as to when to stop dead heading: some years we stopped in September and other years we stopped in late October. My sense is that if we are cutting the roses back to 12-18", then we can continue to optimize flower production; but if the drastic pruning was not part of our plans, we should have stopped our pruning much earlier so that the plant naturally prepares itself for winter.

This summer, rather than the normally prolific 'Bonica' and 'Knockout' roses, we had a vigorous production of "blind shoots." A blind shoot is a cane that produces lots of leaves but no flower buds – hence it is blind. I had been attributing the blind shoots to the very unusual weather patterns: sometimes very rainy and sometimes very hot. I also suspected that we may have over-fertilized the plants which released too much nitrogen. Possibly both of these reasons contributed, yet that does not explain why the yellow 'Knockout' roses were so vigorous.

I now suspect that the blind shoot problem had three contributing factors: the deer from last winter, the extra application of fertilizer to compensate for the severe damage, and the irregular weather. I pruned the canes in September that had no buds, finding the first branch with five leaves. Now we finally are getting some gorgeous flowers once again.

And Lord willing, we hope to have better results next year.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The 'Pool of Siloam' is a Place to Reflect on What Our Lord Has Done

This is a follow-up to my earlier blog entry from August 13th entitled Jehovah Jireh: The Lord Will Provide, and He Did. At that time, the Pool of Siloam was under construction in the Gethsemane Prayer Garden. The pond is now complete.

9/14/2013 photo of the Pool of Siloam in the Gethsemane Prayer Garden, Syracuse, NY

Since the above photograph was taken, some rockery around the dam has been added and the soil around the pond was planted with grass seed.

Why the name 'Pool of Siloam'? While it is true that the Pool of Siloam is located in the Kidron Valley in Jerusalem, not too far from the Garden of Gethsemane, that is not the reason. Rather, it is because of the encounter that the blind man had with Jesus at that location, based on John 9:1-39.

This should be a familiar story to many: after Jesus miraculously gave eyesight to a man who had been blind since birth, the man told the Pharisees during a series of questioning, "One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see" (John 9:25 NASB). On one level, this brief story is an example of how Jesus is the healer. Many people today seem to be looking for a healing – I hope they do not wash themselves in these waters with the hope that they will receive a healing.

9/14/2013 photo of the pool's reflective qualities

In several different ways, the man told the Pharisees that Jesus opened his blind eyes. However, the man was not able to state the authority that Jesus manifested for he did not know him. He had received a significant healing, he was able to state who performed the miracle, but he could not reflect on where that power came from – he had not received a personal encounter with Christ.

Jesus asked the man, "Do you believe in the Son of God?", to which the man stated, "Who is he?" Jesus then explained that he is that Son of God, to which the man's spiritual eyes were opened. "Lord, I believe," he exclaimed.

When asked by the Pharisees, the man had been unable to identify the source of the miraculous power. After his encounter with Christ, the man was able to reflect properly. By itself, healing does not lead to knowledge of Christ – it takes an awakening or revelation to begin that personal relationship.

Therefore, the Pool of Siloam is dedicated as a place of reflection: what Christ has done, is doing, and is going to do.