I like a challenge.
Those who look at me with my four beautiful boys might, knowing we home-educate them might well say that it’s pretty obvious I like a challenge! But God has blessed us with those boys – and I’m glad He has. No, when I say I like a challenge I mean. When something looks hard; looks just out of reach, well then I’m up for it!
Over three years ago now I saw Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall build a little wood-fired oven in his garden. I bought his book on bread and the vision ignited. It continued smouldering in my mind for about nine months. We built a little one on the ground under the cover of some Leylandii, but the rain destroyed it that very first night before I even got to cook in it! That’s a blogpost in itself that one day I will write. But for now, all you need to know is it turned into a huge 80cm diametre Lion Cob Oven and it roars in our garden most weekends now that the weather is better. Here it is roaring for the first time with a steaming pot of Chilli Con Carne!
I built that oven with the boys, a very dear sister of mine and her two boys, together with a lot of help from various sources. Now that was a challenge. And it is done.
So ‘Grow School’.
I suppose it’s an in-house joke for us. The first kind of ‘school’ we had was ‘Knight’s School’, but then for the summer we needed to lay down our arms a little without putting the pen entirely out of action and so ‘Slow School’ was born! The first summer we studied tortoises; we even had one to pet sit for a couple of weeks. Life moved slowly, we all loved the pace and our temporary pet; Braveheart, before he ran away!
The following summer ‘Slow School’ found us lumbering after dinosaurs. Not literally of course, but we learnt lots about them, dug them out of Job 40 and 41 to examine and excavate all we could, culminating in a couple of lap books. To be honest, they were the only successes we ever really had with lap books!
Then the Lord brought across our path a precious family with whom we walked deeply. We grew so much. Friendships grew, our walks with the Lord grew, our prayer lives grew. We walked alongside them through so much pain, we laughed a lot and shared our hearts. Another kind of slow school ensued when they left for another country. We just ticked over, slightly going through the motions, it was a kind of mourning. I guess we all have seasons like that.
But now there’s something growing. One look at our new allotment will tell you that it’s not growing there. No, you can see what’s growing there:
Yes, I can see them. Lots of them! Some of them are as tall as me, and yet. I’m excited. Here is a chance to grow. I’m excited about the transformation and it seems to speak, no SHOUT out to me about so much. Isn’t this a picture of where we have been placed? In a world overgrown so much that’s not what God would have us grow. Can’t we see the weeds more easily than the fruit?
In the two visits I have made there I could not wait to pull out the weeds. Without gloves or a gardening fork, I have chosen the weeds whose roots are shallow and can be easily removed. Quite quickly little piles were made and little hands – after a little encouragement – whisked them away to the towering compost heap at the bottom of the site. Isn’t that where we start wherever the Lord places us? We can start with the little things; the places where we can make a difference. Then gradually as our eyes adjust to the dimness. We start to see splashes of bright colour hidden in the shade of the weeds:
For us it was Nasturtiums. These sweet sunny flowers undeterred by the towering docks and thistles. The bees love them and so do I! Reading up about them I find that they are so delicious that blackfly will flock to them and leave your runner beans alone entirely. You can remove the afflicted stem and flower, the plant won’t die because of it and you will be able to enjoy your runner beans free of blackfly. There’s something here that I can’t quite put my finger on yet, but I believe God has something to say about it.
Not just beauty hiding its light under a bushel, but fragrance too:
Sage. A large drought-defying bush, its large compost pot restricted root outline still visible. Sturdy and determined it occupies one of the carefully made beds. We can be the fragrance of Christ, firmly rooted and established in His love drawing deeply from our source of everlasting life, the fresh living water of Christ; his Word.
Lastly, amongst these tall grasses I came across rambling wild strawberries. They have suffered from the lack of water; their fruit has dried up and never been picked, but the plant has defied all the boundaries and straddles the paths and beds and is undoubtedly alive. I have always loved these strawberries and longed to have some of my own. Even the little things God knows.
We are not the first people to take on this little patch of earth. Others have gone before us. They have left their mark, and what they have established is a helpful structure for us. They erected a fence with two entrances and boards to establish separate beds for growing, even walkways. The more you look; the more you see.
And so it’s true of wherever the Lord places us. Others have gone before us building fences, setting out areas of land to cultivate and plant. Our job is to be faithful with what we have before us now, isn’t it? To use the tools he gives us at the right time and to uncover what has laid hidden, water it and nurture it and watch it grow.
So here begins ‘Grow School’ another family adventure into His purposes. May we grow as He would have us grow. May He open our eyes to see His wonders afresh and may we be rightly planted where He would have us be.
My prayer for those of you who read this, is that He would do that for you too.