Friday, October 22, 2010

The Pin Oak in Autumn

pin oak
In 2006, we planted a 15-foot pin oak in the Gethsemane Prayer Garden in recognition of the Founding Pastor J. Lee Simmons. The tree was presented as a living memorial by the first graduating class of the Living Faith School of Ministry. It was a beautiful tree then, and is an even more beautiful tree today standing at 22- feet tall. While the leaves on some pin oaks are deep red in autumn, this one has a very attractive orange color that compliments the yellows, reds, and purples that are prevalent this time of year.

The soil in our area is heavily laden with limestone, which means that the pH is very high, around 7.3 or so. Oaks typically require a low pH such as 6.0, so we had to make some drastic adjustments. First came the backhoe that dug a hole 4-6 feet deep and 18 feet wide. We brought in 40 yds of lower pH soil which we mounded three feet above the ground level. As the soil was placed, we spread 8 pounds of sulfur acidifier into the soil to help reduce yellowing of the tree (iron chlorosis). We did not use aluminum sulfate, as some are prone to do, because of the long-term toxicity of aluminum to the oak. The tree was planted in the center of that mound.

Why the oak? Pastor Simmons has stated that the pin oak is his favorite tree, partly in memory of his childhood near Philadelphia, and partly because of what Isaiah wrote, "They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor" (Isaiah 61:3).

In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus states that he is the fulfillment of Isaiah 61, "... the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor ..." Jesus, in his grace to the downtrodden, is to bind up the brokenhearted, free the captives, release the prisoners, and comfort those who mourn. The effect is that these otherwise hopeless people will become like oaks of righteousness. Therefore, the oak with its strength, size, and beauty, represents the how these people have changed, a "display of his splendor."

******************
End Note: The overall theme for this series of articles is flowers and plants, showing how they point to love. Sometimes I write 'how to' do something, other times the emphasis is a status update, or the article will be about how a plant or flower touched my heart. All of these writings are based on plants from the Gethsemane Prayer Garden in Syracuse, NY. Please consider some of the other blog articles: Index of Articles About the Gethsemane Prayer Garden.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Listen and Heal Ministry's Prayer Garden

As the caretaker of the Gethsemane Prayer Garden at Faith Chapel in Syracuse, NY, it was with a great deal of interest that I learned of another prayer garden in our area. The founding pastor of my church had sent me a Facebook posting that this dedication was to take place on October 3rd. So today, my wife and I drove to Canastota for the dedication of this new prayer garden at Believer's Chapel.

What I saw was a wonderful new beginning of a garden for those wounded in life, a place of rest and recovery. Many from this church had helped construct this garden that began construction in May. The dedication's program identifies forty-six people that helped in one way or another, all under the direction of a visionary named Bonnie Caswell.

The garden was developed by Listen and Heal, a ministry that focuses on hope and healing, offering a way for people to stand together and start healing from the wound caused by abortion. More about that ministry may be seen at Listen and Heal.

The dedication tickled my heart – a woman with no landscaping experience was led by the Lord to build the vision. Being at truly charismatic person, she assembled many people from her church and the surrounding area to help put together this first phase of their work. The dedication was a fun-filled reminder of the hard work by everyone.

A gazebo is the center of the garden with paths throughout the garden. A number of ceramic statues are carefully placed around the garden to help remind us of our purpose in visiting there. The flower beds are small, but that will likely change as the garden grows in subsequent years. Clearly the garden is a labor of love.

But developing a garden is different from maintaining a garden. Before I even saw "The Garden of Grace", I was reminded of Joshua 24. Here, Joshua stated the often quoted verse, "But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." (v 15). But Joshua knew the hearts of the people, so he accused them of not being able to serve the Lord. Three times, the people vowed their service and obedience to the Lord: "We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God" (v 18), "No! We will serve the Lord." (v 21), and "We will serve the Lord our God and obey him." (v24). Yet a quick look at the book of Judges shows that they did not live up to their vow.

I believe that this story of Joshua and the people is related to "The Garden of Grace" in that Joshua had just taken over the majority of Israel and had assembled all of the people at Shechem. In a sense, it is similar to this celebration that happened today. Now the Israelites had to develop and maintain the land, and so it is with this garden. It seems that people often drift off to other areas of interest once the mountain has been conquered. What the leaders of Israel (if there were any leaders at all) failed to do was hold the people accountable to their vow. The vision that Moses and Joshua were given for the land was not to be forsaken.

Maintenance work for a garden can be considered drudgery by many. The goal is established in the beginning, the enthusiasm builds as the vision takes place, and then the celebration takes place when the first phase is completed. But then the winter sets in and the on-going weeding and care can become tedious in the spring. Somehow the negative momentum must be overcome.

The solution lies with community involvement, continuing the enthusiasm, and keeping an eye on quality. Where I was the lone caretaker of a much larger garden for many years, it became apparent to many that the joy had to be shared. Soon people were calling it "Tom's garden" when it was really the church's garden, and that was not good. This year, by the grace of God, we have had fifty people help out as volunteers, each one assigned to just two or three hours per month. Under my direction as the caretaker, the congregation came to understand what an effort the maintenance work had become.

The visionary has the responsibility for maintaining the enthusiasm. As caretaker of the Gethsemane Prayer Garden, I attempt to encourage everyone that helps, and that is part of my job. But the real visionary for this garden is the founding pastor, J. Lee Simmons. I am so grateful that this Barnabas is part of my life as he encouraged me and the others with all of the enthusiasm that he carries with him.

Quality is a subtle but essential aspect of a garden. When people come to visit, I have learned that piles of mulch or open trenches or obvious weeds or unkempt lawn can severely distract a person. That is true of the garden helper, and that is true of the person visiting for the first time. One of the more subtle aspects of quality is the walkways. It intrigues me every time someone rakes the walks in our garden, removing the mulch that has spread onto the soft stone dust and removes the weeds and leaves that may have accumulated – each time this maintenance work is done, the garden suddenly looks far better. It is just like walking into a woman's kitchen to see litter on the floor – the sweeping of the floor helps immensely.

I truly hope that "The Garden of Grace" continues to develop and be maintained properly. It has a lot of potential: shade trees are needed, more flowers will help usher the sense of grace in the garden, and visual protection from the street will help give the garden a greater appearance of intimacy. Considering what was done in the first year, it is a great start. Our garden at Faith Chapel does not look at all like what it did in 2003 because that too is part of keeping the vision alive. I wish them well.

******************
End Note: The overall theme for this series of articles is flowers and plants, showing how they point to love. Sometimes I write 'how to' do something, other times the emphasis is a status update, or the article will be about how a plant or flower touched my heart. All of these writings are based on plants from the Gethsemane Prayer Garden in Syracuse, NY. Please consider some of the other blog articles: Index of Articles About the Gethsemane Prayer Garden.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Psalm 63 Applied to Gethsemane Prayer Garden

There have been times when I've received questions something like, "This garden is beautiful, but why a 'Prayer Garden'?" Honestly, I have pondered that myself. Yet part of me wonders if they have experienced the garden, not just a lovely walk through the flowers. There is a peace, a serenity, in this garden. Psalm 63 begins,

O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
(Psalm 63:1 NIV)

There is so much spiritual dryness in our stores, our schools, our places of employment, our roadways, our government, our neighborhoods, and sometimes even our houses. In response, we open our Bibles for a spiritual retreat, or turn on some wonderful worship music, or diligently seek our Lord in our prayer closet. David said it very succinctly, "my soul thirsts for you."

To me and to others, the Gethsemane Prayer Garden is more like a sanctuary than just a pretty garden. David continued in the second verse,

I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory.
(Psalm 63:2 NIV)

Truly, we don't need a prayer garden to experience God's power and glory – after all, David is reported to have been in the Judean Desert when he wrote these words, a land parched with just inches of rain in a year. Yet in the same way that David found a personal sanctuary in the desert, so this garden is offered as a sanctuary in a spiritual desert. The flowers help remind us that this is a special place, a meeting place with God.

Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.
(Psalm 63:3 NIV)

In the second verse, David was experiencing God's glory; now, in verse 3, David's presence with God's love has enabled him to turn this glory back to God. That's what this outdoor sanctuary can do: get our eyes off of the desert, get our eyes off of ourselves, and then give the glory back to our loving Lord.

******************
End Note: The overall theme for this series of articles is flowers and plants, showing how they point to love. Sometimes I write 'how to' do something, other times the emphasis is a status update, or the article will be about how a plant or flower touched my heart. All of these writings are based on plants from the Gethsemane Prayer Garden in Syracuse, NY. Please consider some of the other blog articles: Index of Articles About the Gethsemane Prayer Garden.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Visitor to the Prayer Garden

I will call her Helen but that is not her real name. She stopped her car behind mine as we were about to begin work in the garden. Visibly crying, she mumbled, "I'm just going in the garden for a while."

That, I thought to myself, is what this garden is all about. We all can have difficult times in life, be challenged in some way, or hurt by words or actions that come to us as a huge offense. This garden is a refuge, a place of recovery, a place of solitude, and a place to ask our Lord for some help.

While I am the caretaker of the Gethsemane Prayer Garden, I can no longer do all the work myself. We schedule Tuesday and Thursday evenings, 6PM to dark, and Saturdays from 9AM to noon to help with the garden chores. In August, there are 30 of us that are scheduled to work, and each person is assigned to one of those Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday slots. In addition, if people just want to stop by to help, they are certainly encouraged to do so.

A lady that I will call Linda was one of our workers tonight. When she saw Helen go crying into the garden, she asked me if she should go comfort her. "Of course!!" I replied.

Linda talked with Helen for a while and then left her alone. Ten minutes later, a changed woman came out of the garden. She asked what we were doing, to which I explained we were straightening out the edge of one of the berms. Soon Linda and Helen were working side by side, sister next to sister, laughing and listening to each other.

Tonight I saw an event that should be a pattern in our Christian walk. One person, reaching out to the Lord for help, and another person reaching out to the hurt one. I believe it was an appointment that was orchestrated by God.

If you are looking for a refuge, a place where you want to seek the Lord, please know that the Gethsemane Prayer Garden in Syracuse NY is open and available for you. The address is Faith Chapel, 4113 West Seneca Turnpike, Syracuse, NY. For details about the garden, see Gethsemane Prayer Garden.

******************
End Note: The overall theme for this series of articles is flowers and plants, showing how they point to love. Sometimes I write 'how to' do something, other times the emphasis is a status update, or the article will be about how a plant or flower touched my heart. All of these writings are based on plants from the Gethsemane Prayer Garden in Syracuse, NY. Please consider some of the other blog articles: Index of Articles About the Gethsemane Prayer Garden.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Poison Ivy Fight

There is a small stream at the far end of the Gethsemane Prayer Garden where I and many others just enjoy sitting. Unlike the more heavily flowered sections of the main garden, this shaded area is beautiful in its own forested way. But it is not beauty that I seek here, but tranquility – peace from the rest of the world, left to dream and let my thoughts go from excitement to quietness.

There is a bench next to the lawn that looks over this area. I sit there, oftentimes not long enough because I have other work in the garden that must be done. And sometimes I get up because I see some of that dreaded poison ivy on the ground in front of me.

Many black willows protect this area from the heat of the day, but also give the birds a place where they can eat their food. Sometimes their food is the berry from the poison ivy, yet they spit out the seeds to the lightly mulched ground below.

The battle never seems to end with the poison ivy. I use the Round-Up that is labeled "Poison Ivy" because it is more powerful than normal Round-Up. The oil that is on the top of the poison ivy leaves are not permeable by the normal Round-Up that most people buy. I use the "Poison Ivy" bottle so it will cut through that oil and allows the other chemicals to work. Many times I must apply a second coating a few days later because it has not killed it all.

On that day, poison ivy was the distraction that took me away from the tranquility. It could have been a loud noise, a person walking nearby, or just some random thought that passed through my head. But I know this, "God wants to return us to that place of tranquility and rest. The poison ivy events can come and go, but awareness of God's presence is where we find the depth of His love."

******************
End Note: The overall theme for this series of articles is flowers and plants, showing how they point to love. Sometimes I write 'how to' do something, other times the emphasis is a status update, or the article will be about how a plant or flower touched my heart. All of these writings are based on plants from the Gethsemane Prayer Garden in Syracuse, NY. Please consider some of the other blog articles: Index of Articles About the Gethsemane Prayer Garden.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Daisy-Like Flower Bed in Memory of Gino

I must admit that I am not much of a fan of the color yellow in a meditative garden. Long and hard I have put off the urging of others to add yellow to our otherwise softer colors of pink, purple, white, blue, red, etc. To me, if we are to be listening for the voice of God, we should be still, or as least not excited – and that is what yellow can do, excite us, or at least it excites my thoughts.

I have a number of yellow flowers around my house, and we have yellow potentilla and yellow lilies around the church building, but not so much in the Prayer Garden. Even when I selected daisies for the garden two years ago, I purchased the shaggy ones that don't have a yellow center. I'm not against yellow per se, I just want us to have that experience with the Lord.

Gino's Daisy-Like Flower Bed
But this year it has changed. Thanks to a $125 donation to the garden in memory of a man named Gino, his mother and I both felt that it would be best to remember him with daisies. Actually we planted a daisy-like bed that includes various types of daisies as well as other flowers such as white coneflowers, light yellow coreopsis, spurge, and a dash of Gaillardia (blanket flower).

Then a $50 donation came in for some yellow roses, and these were planted adjacent to the daisy-like bed. I selected the light colored yellow 'Knock Out' rose that is very disease resistant. Due to the summer heat, all of the flowers had died off at the nursery where I purchased them. Yesterday I noticed that one new bud has just opened and the colors go very well with the various white and yellow flowers in the adjacent bed.

I can't explain why I have now allowed yellow when I was so fanatical in other years. This newest bed is in an area that is somewhat isolated from the rest of the garden, and is visible from only one of the benches. Yet there is enough white in this flower bed along with softer yellow tones that the combined daisies and roses look very good. Will it disrupt hearing God's voice or sensing His peace and love? I don't know, but time will tell.

******************
End Note: The overall theme for this series of articles is flowers and plants, showing how they point to love. Sometimes I write 'how to' do something, other times the emphasis is a status update, or the article will be about how a plant or flower touched my heart. All of these writings are based on plants from the Gethsemane Prayer Garden in Syracuse, NY. Please consider some of the other blog articles: Index of Articles About the Gethsemane Prayer Garden.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Beautiful 'Bonica' Roses

In June, the roses in Central New York come into their glory. Whatever the type, hybrid or not, roses seem to peak around Father's Day each year. Some last until the first heavy freeze, while others last just a few weeks. But it seems appropriate that the rose, in some ways representing the deep and profound love between God the Father and Christ the Son, would be seen best at Father's Day.

As Caretaker of the Gethsemane Prayer Garden at Faith Chapel, I often have the opportunity to tell and show people about how the flowers can take on special meanings. Many times, people encouraged me to write this down, so finally in the fall of 2009, I wrote "A Garden of Love." The following is an excerpt from that book which uses the 'Bonica' rose for its subject:

Oh the exquisite rose! I take such pleasure in how the hue changes on each flower as it matures – intense colors when they first open, leading to muted but still beautiful tones over time. Through the rose, possibly more than with any other flowers, God's awesome love extends, reveals, and touches us in greater intimacy with him.

Bonica rose The Jackson-Perkins catalog describes their roses as stunning, striking, luscious, fragrant, elegant, graceful, dramatic, captivating, fabulous, vibrant, exceptional, long-lasting, delightful, and irresistible. These same words could be applied even more to Jesus.

The roses are the stunning centerpiece of the garden: the pink ones remind us of his softness and gentleness; the white ones bring to mind his purity and elegance; and the red roses remind us of his unfailing love for us. Our perfect rose, "crucified in weakness" (2 Cor 13:4), without spot or blemish, was jeered at, mocked, beaten, flogged, and tortured. He loves us that much.

He is also loved by his Father that much. Immediately after Jesus was baptized, a voice from heaven said, "This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy" (Matthew 3:17). The same words were spoken at the Mount of Transfiguration where Peter, James, and John heard God's voice from a bright cloud: "This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him" (Matthew 17:5). God spoke of his great love of Jesus, his Son. Here are some other verses to consider:
"The Father loves the Son and shows him everything he is doing" (John 5:20).

"The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded" (John 10:17,18).

[Father,] "you and I are one – as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. … you loved me even before the world began!" (John 17:21,24).
Collectively, these verses assure us of the true and deeply intimate love relationship between God the Father and Christ the Son, even before the world began. The love relationship that was established between God and his people began as he created the world – the profound love between God and his Son began even before that.

Love is contagious – this love does not end with the Father / Son, for it includes us:
[Father,] "I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me" (John 17:22,23).
Bob Sorge, in his marvelous book "The Fire of God's Love," describes God's love:
The most sublime theme in all of Scripture is the love of God. There is nothing higher or nobler toward which we can direct our meditation. God's love is altogether wonderful, beyond our complete comprehension, and entirely inexhaustible in its scope and intensity.
Many of the attributes of the rose help remind us of these same attributes in Jesus. He is infectiously beautiful and his love is contagious beyond all measure. His love is profuse and his love is profound.


Copyright © 2009 Bible Discernments


******************
End Note: The overall theme for this series of articles is flowers and plants, showing how they point to love. Sometimes I write 'how to' do something, other times the emphasis is a status update, or the article will be about how a plant or flower touched my heart. All of these writings are based on plants from the Gethsemane Prayer Garden in Syracuse, NY. Please consider some of the other blog articles: Index of Articles About the Gethsemane Prayer Garden.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Start of the Gethsemane Prayer Garden



The Gethsemane Prayer Garden was first envisioned independently in 1999 by two people: Pastor Lee Simmons, founding pastor of Faith Chapel, and Alice Soule, a member of the church body. The garden was seen to be a quiet place of refuge and peace; a place similar to the garden in Jerusalem where Jesus offered his cup before the Lord in prayer; a place to have an encounter with the Lord.

Four years later, under the direction of Pastor Lee Simmons, the garden began development as a result of an initial bereavement gift. First, the gentle 'Bonica' roses were added, followed in subsequent years with a stone altar, then several privacy berms, the addition of a trellis, and finally the relocation of a large number of shrubs and trees. As each area was developed and as finance permitted, perennials were brought in and walkways were added to create a cohesive and flowing effect.

Today, this two-acre site has expanded to include twelve beds (12,000 sq. ft.), sixty perennial flower varieties, and several hundred shrubs and trees from forty species and subspecies. This prayer garden is open to the public and has no admission fee. While this garden presents the beauty of the landscape, many have commented on the serene peace that this garden offers.

******************
End Note: The overall theme for this series of articles is flowers and plants, showing how they point to love. Sometimes I write 'how to' do something, other times the emphasis is a status update, or the article will be about how a plant or flower touched my heart. All of these writings are based on plants from the Gethsemane Prayer Garden in Syracuse, NY. Please consider some of the other blog articles: Index of Articles About the Gethsemane Prayer Garden.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Layout of the Gethsemane Prayer Garden



Some gardens start with a grand scheme, a vision, a great idea, a landscaped scheme that appears beautiful on paper. Some have no apparent purpose or plan as they seemingly place plants arbitrarily here and there, like a five-year-old artist that throws paint onto the easel. The Gethsemane Prayer Garden in Syracuse is neither of these, yet there are aspects of each.

Pastor Lee Simmons, a visionary pastor with grand ideas, approached me with a fresh opportunity in 2003. Someone had donated a large sum of money to the church in memory of his wife that had just gone home with the Lord. The two men agreed that the money would be used to start a landscaped garden for the purpose of meditating with God – it was to be a prayer garden.

With the help of many from our church, I had coordinated the landscaping around the church building in the spring and summer of 2000. It was a new building, and we planted two hundred shrubs and trees around the property. The foundation plantings were simply placed with a mix of varieties based on a the limited budget, and most were commonly available shrubs.

This garden was to be much different. We had planted a pin oak and a cutleaf purple beech in the lawn with no particular plan in mind, and it was decided to turn these into the corners of the first section of the garden. A professional landscaper was selected; soon we had two beds of lucious pink 'Bonica' shrub roses along with many other July and August flowering plants: stately purple coneflowers, flowing Russian sage, and pinkish autumn joy sedums.

The next year, I was asked to be the Caretaker – so it has been for the last seven years. The garden has grown in size each year having expanded from 800 to 8,000 square feet. There are nine flowering beds that are intermixed with shrubs and trees.

Each time we expanded, the Lord gave me a planting scheme for each bed with the interweaving of fine sand gravel walkways that curve between adjacent plantings. First would come the center plant or plants as the extremities of the bed were developed in my mind. If a sketch was made, it was never exactly followed.

I am well convinced that plants, both large and small, are best placed by careful examination by eye. The sketch may be helpful and can sometimes avoid problems down the line, but we don't really know until that plant is stood up in its proposed location. By considering the ultimate height of all the plants, sometimes significant adjustments become obvious. Looking from many angles, pacing off the size with our feet, soon we begin to see it come together. We plant it, and then move on to the next largest or next most showy.

******************
End Note: The overall theme for this series of articles is flowers and plants, showing how they point to love. Sometimes I write 'how to' do something, other times the emphasis is a status update, or the article will be about how a plant or flower touched my heart. All of these writings are based on plants from the Gethsemane Prayer Garden in Syracuse, NY. Please consider some of the other blog articles: Index of Articles About the Gethsemane Prayer Garden.