Garden Notes: A Harvest to Remember (and a winner!)


If he was still alive, my Grandpa Phillips would have turned 118 today. Born in 1898, he died in 1999 just before his 101st birthday. Our Jeffrey, who carries Grandpa’s name as his middle (“I want to name the baby after you,” I told him. “What’s your middle name?” He laughed and said, “I wasn’t important enough to have a middle name.” So, Jeffrey Ray it is.) wasn’t quite four months old when this part of his namesake passed. They met only one time before Grandpa fell ill. I have a picture of Grandpa beaming, a bundle of baby in his arms. Grandpa was a stubborn, independent, loving soul. He lived alone until the last year of his life. Even when arthritis and vertigo plagued him, he resisted moving in with my aunt as long as he could. He lived life on his own terms—farmer, father of nine, lover of automobiles and babies—I still miss him sometimes. His wife—my Grandma—died when I was five years old. He lived another 25 years without his beloved. One time I asked him why he never remarried. “I didn’t want anyone but my old woman,” he said, tears in his eyes.

When I was a little girl, Grandpa had the biggest, most beautiful garden. I remember staring wide-eyed at his strawberries every summer; I remember Grandma’s well-stocked pantry of home-canned goods.

Last night, I pulled up what was left of my pole beans. They were still producing, petite white blooms speaking promise here and there. But the Mexican bean beetles had made lace out of every heart shaped leaf on the vine. I spent two hours pulling up the beans by root, searching out the beetle larvae and destroying it. Then I cleared the bed of any leaf debris, hoping to deter any overwintering beetles.

It’s been a bad summer for my garden. As I looked out over my little patch of land I wondered if Grandpa ever had such a sad harvest. Something inside me felt like I’d let him down. I’ve had little energy to nurture the tender shoots of growing things these past few months. I’ve had little energy for much other than what is required.

This week our women’s group begins a new Bible study on the life of Nehemiah. In preparation I’ve been reading through that book of the Bible, freshening my memory to the details of Nehemiah’s story. Nehemiah felt moved to leave a prestigious position in Susa to lead the Jews in rebuilding the city walls of Jerusalem. At one point, in fear of attack from their enemies, Nehemiah says,

From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah who were building the wall. Those who carried material did their worked with one hand and held a weapon in the other, and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. … Neither I nor my brothers nor my men nor the guards with me took off our clothes; each had his weapon, even when he went for water.” (Neh. 4:16-18, 23)

How does one rebuild a thing while constantly standing guard? When you can’t even take a drink of water for fear of being ambushed by one thing or another?

Did my grandfather ever stand looking out over the garden of his life and wonder if what he was building would ever hold up? He lived through the Great Depression, two world wars, the struggle for civil rights, free love, and raising nine kids. His oldest son was a prisoner of war during the Korean Conflict, for Pete’s sake. His youngest son married at age 18—to a 16-year-old girl (my mother). He lost his wife of 53 years to cancer. And remained faithful to a memory for another 25.

And yet, in my memory he is always smiling.

The word remember is mentioned frequently in the book of Nehemiah. I’m paying attention to that. Today I’m remembering my Grandpa—Ray Phillips. And remembering feels like a rich harvest.

The winner of Laurie Klein’s beautiful book of poetry, Where the Sky Opens is Dolly! Yay, Dolly :). I’ll be in touch soon :).



New York at dusk from the Top of the Rock (2008)
On a day when we remember, it seems the right thing to dream. So many dreams turned to ash on this day twelve years ago. So many stories cut short. And yet…out of the devastation new dreams have been born. And we hold the ordinary moments closer to our breast.
It’s a quiet day here today. I am remembering. But my dear friend Alicia from The Overflow has invited me to dream over at her place today. You are invited too. Let’s dream together today. 

Playdates with God: The Wonder of Late Nights

It is late and we are getting up early to run a little race and I am trying to work on a book review…but I am tired. I’m thinking about how soft our bed is when the night owl I am married to puts on some music. But it’s not just any music, it’s a dvd concert of this band—the one whose songs we fell in love to over twenty years ago. In those courtship days he would hold my eyes and sing this song to me. It was one of the songs we danced to at our wedding. And I am tired but when I hear the first chords of this song my heart remembers and picks up the beat. It doesn’t take long until I leave my corner of the couch and join him in his big chair. And he whispers in my ear the question from the song—have all these years—all these things between us been good?
And outside the moon is a lopsided smile and the sky laughs with twinkling eyes and we stay up way later than we should.   

**The winner of Michele Perry’s book An Invitation to the Supernatural is Pam from Writing…Apples of Gold! Congratulations, Pam! I’ll be in touch. 

How do you embrace the God-joy? Every Monday I’ll be sharing one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find Him. Be with Him. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us:

The Playdates button:

Sharing with Laura Barkat today also: 
On In Around button

How to Remember Well…

My Grandma and Grandpa Phillips

The day before my grandpa’s birthday I sit with another old man as he takes dialysis. He is lying flat on his back and there are tubes of red swirling and sighing around us. Life’s blood.
I remember his sharp nose and those ears—how can I forget those ears? He was tall—always towering over, even when stooped into old age. He would have been 114 tomorrow—and has it really been that long?
My grandpa lived to be 100—sharp and independent until the last. He was a farmer in his younger days and I remember those lush red strawberries in his garden. How they tempted. Red.
This gentle man is hooked up to so many machines and all this tubing and he tells me, Every time I go to the doctor they find something new wrong.
And I nod sympathetically, reflect it back, give him the gift of the presence of my body. But my mind is remembering that time I sat with my grandpa on his porch swing. How he cried that day, missing my grandma.
I feel an ache and the red swirls through those tubes and I can smell life oozing through that thin plastic. I’ve always squirmed at those Old Testament atonement passages—all that blood…it seems too gory…too much. And I wonder at the way the person offering the sacrifice would lay his hand on the animal’s head, acknowledging the exchange. Giving this life, for my sin…
I am thinking about all my regrets. How I wish I had more time with the people I love…how I never give the right gift.
The gift of me.
We used to have a big party for my grandpa on his birthday. All the family came from far away places and local politicians would sit with him as he waited for the cake to be cut. Our Jeffrey was only three months old when he passed. As soon as I could travel after birthing that child, I took my two babies up to see “Pap”—anxious to have his blessing on this new one. Jeffrey carries his name: Ray. Jeffrey Ray. When I asked Grandpa if we could use his name, he was so pleased.
I sit and listen to the dialysis machine whisper life and I miss my grandpa. And I wish for a party. And I want to do something to remember him well. My thoughts ebb and flow and suddenly I see this man that I am sitting with.
He is someone’s grandpa too.
Blood has been shed for me and atonement is a weighty thing and as I watch this gentle man receive the gift of clean blood, I think I understand those Old Testament sacrifices better. It still makes me queasy, but shouldn’t it? Shouldn’t I feel how hard it is? Life.
Why do I take it so for granted?
I remember my grandpa so I open my heart to this man before me. I ask him questions I wish I had asked my grandpa. I see him.
It helps me remember with my heart. It helps me remember well. And I marvel at the way the past and the now and the future are all spun together—tied together by the red ribbon of sacrifice.
With  Jennifer, and Emily today. Love my sisters.You should go visit them.


The sun burns the fog off slow this morning and all the world glitters in dew and my heart turns to mist. How can a moment of silence fill the gaping ache left in so many lives this morning? Is there a way for that empty to create a legacy?
It’s the only thing you get more of when you give it away…Let love fill.
The world is changed forever. Keep changing it.

And we will never forget.