dweller by the river

sojourner of earth attempting to understand the journey home

Tag: Leadership

Look Around, Look Ahead, Now What?

So we’re supposed to have been pondering these questions for discussion tonight: Where am I in my spiritual journey? Which area in my spiritual journey do I think God wants me to focus on in 2018?

Where am I? The short (and safe) answer would probably be: At the start of a completely new phase but having to get back to the basics and relearn some things I’ve forgotten in the past couple of years.

I can’t really see how else to sum it up. The long answer requires elaboration of historical context, and the listing of a truly complex web of factors including relationship/marital issues, emotional and mental health concerns (possibly mild clinical depression), stress and fatigue. It’s not that I’m denying culpability in the decline of my own spiritual health – I’m saying that I’m probably a classic specimen of a woman who’s had to (or took it upon herself to?) carry both hers and her husband’s responsibilities for some time, and crumbled under the weight of it all.

I’m not supposed to be the leader of the household, I shouldn’t be the one pushing for a lifestyle that integrates more with what we say we believe. I’m not supposed to have to be the spiritual barometer in the household, I’m not supposed to be the one pushing for some sort of regular family prayer or scripture reading time.

I shouldn’t feel awkward singing worship songs to or praying over my child. I shouldn’t feel out of my depth and anxious about wanting to pray as a couple or a family over anything, good or bad. I shouldn’t have to feel left out and lacking, wishing that my husband would pray over me like I know other men pray over their wives. I shouldn’t be battling tension and anxiety and insecurity about whether or not I actually married a Christian in the first place, or whether being Christian really means anything real to him at all, and whether that is grounds for divorce.

But I do. All of it. And I’ve spent much of the last few years pitying myself and letting my anxiety and frustration grow to a point where I’m having trouble with resentment and bitterness and finding it hard to give him the benefit of the doubt in anything. And it was probably definitely and obviously a stupid move but I deliberately let my own spiritual discipline slide in the process, thinking that if he realised how absolutely shitty things were getting, he’d finally wake up and get his act together.

I’m struggling to reconcile the need – and the scriptural command – to submit to him (and to the grace and mercy of God), and the staring-me-in-the-face-screaming-me-in-the-ear need to hold up the crumbling foundations of what should be a God-centred, Spiritually-led household. At least, what I think makes a household a God-centreed, Spiritually-led one. I think that what we are now, is not… I don’t really think I’m wrong?

I’m struggling to reconcile “wait”, “rest”, “trust”, “hope”, and “submit” with the physical situation staring me in the face – the fact that in a lot of the ways that matter, we’re really no different from a family of atheists or agnostics.

So… what does God want me to focus on this year?

I think it means something that we’ve made the decision to settle the family in this church. I think it means something that all the signs are pointing to it being the right move to quit my job despite the risks and uncertainty. I think it means something that we feel this is the right cell to stick with. I think it means something that the cell mainly comprises families that are a little older and more experienced than us. I think it means something that we both feel a connection with the cell leaders, a sense that it is safe to trust them. I think it means something that he’s been willing to attend a 7.30am men’s meeting.

I think the sense I’m getting is this phrase: Hold on.

You’ve come so far. There’s no turning back. Hold on.

And there’s this part of a song (Eyes On The Prize) by Sara Groves that’s coming back to me now:

I got my hand on the gospel plough
Won’t take nothing for my journey now
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Ain’t no man on earth control
The weight of glory on a human soul
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

The wait is slow, and we’ve so far to go
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

When you see a man walk free
It makes you dream of jubilee

When you see a child walk free
It makes you dream of jubilee

When you see a family free
It makes you dream of jubilee

Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.

Another Round…

…of battling with spider mites (it looks something like this). And once again, it’s the oft-beleaguered T. bulbosa and T. streptophylla (yes, that original piece from FEF that went through a miraculous revival).

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Above: T. bulbosa (with 3 pups) and T. streptophylla, when healthy and bug-free.

For a few minutes, while I was filling yet another tub with soap solution (not breaking out the poison yet because the infestation isn’t that horrible), I considered letting myself get angry and depressed about the situation. Why is it that time and again, it’s the plants that hold the most sentimental value for me that get affected by pests? Why is it that it’s the little ones that always get attacked? Why is it that the plants that have fought for recovery from the brink are brought down again and again, requiring repeat after repeat of the same old nursed-back-to-health story? Why is it that I generally give all my plants the same amount of care (I water them every one to two days, and look them over at least once every four to five days), and some are perfectly happy with that while others seem to scream for attention every now and then even though nobody is being neglected, damn it?

Then I realised a few things. And figured that there really isn’t any point in getting upset. Just deal with it and move on. God is (once again) using Creation to deliver warnings and lessons pertaining to the spiritual realm.

Bugs are opportunistic. It’s their nature. They’re predators, in a way, and just as big cats on the savannah watch for the youngest and weakest animals in a gazelle or zebra herd and demons prowl around looking for handholds on unsuspecting Christian psyches, them bugs are going to be on the lookout for the smallest and weakest plants in any garden or collection. Plants that are small (more surface area to volume) or have survived previous attacks are easier pickings than big, untouched specimens. The recent weather isn’t helping, because it’s searingly hot most of the time and too-dry plants attract spider mites. I just need to step up the watering schedule and stop worrying about whether there will or will not be rain, because the intense heat is clearly posing a bigger problem than the possibility of overwatering, right now.

The Enemy attacks the young and the weak of the Kingdom, too. And those of us who have struggled with certain strongholds and personal issues know all too well how these hot buttons can be targeted again and again and again, even though we’ve picked ourselves up and gotten patched up and soldiered on countless times. It’s never-ending; we’ll have respite when we’re dead or Raptured.

And about the non-neglect that still causes (or leads to) health problems? Some plants, coming from different climes and with different constitutions (xeric VS mesic, etc.), need different levels of care, just as some people are a little more fragile and need a little more care than others. It’s an important point to keep in mind, when you have children or mentees or members of a ministry group under your care.

Community Irritants (Can Teach Us Something Too)

Recently, I got very annoyed with a member of a tillandsia-related Facebook group I am a part of. It’s a free-to-join community where tillandsia lovers can share photos and information, and ask for help, suggestions or advice on their plants and growing areas.

I joined the group in September 2013, when I bought my very first tilly, and have been rather active. I don’t post or comment a lot, but I check out what’s new every day. This is because I adopt a “don’t say anything unless you’re sure” and “listen/read first, talk later” approach to any new area of interest.

Mr X popped up just about three or four months ago with a self-announcement that he was an enthusiastic newbie. He then proceeded to dominate the group’s wall, posting long, technical spiels about his artificial growing environment (he keeps his plants in a specially constructed box with specialised LED grow lights, because after obsessively measuring the various aspects of wind/humidity/light intensity/temperature around his home, he was dissatisfied with the natural surroundings available in his personal habitat).

Quick on the heels of that came incessant posting and commenting: posting “before and after” photos of his plants (to show their significant growth in his customised environment), and answering questions and dishing out advice as though he were a long-time connoisseur.

Initially, I just took it as someone being really, really, really enthusiastic. But it got irritating because on the few posts that I chose to respond to, he would jump in immediately after I said something and make it sound like my information was half-assed and that he needed to save the situation with his superior understanding.

In the most recent incident, a long-time collector expressed frustration at being unable to prevent her tillandsias from being repeatedly infested by ants. As she’s been doing this for more than two years and has a significant number of plants at home and in her office, it’s probably safe to assume she would have already tried most of the usual remedies. In fact, she mentioned two methods that she’d used repeatedly without success.

I thought I’d share an alternative method that most tillandsia growers wouldn’t have heard of – essential oils (EOs). You see, normal oils (like neem oil or white oil that work well for growers of other species) cannot be used on CAM plants like tillandsias. Normal oils create a surface film that would smother a CAM plant. But 100% essential oils aren’t oily, and they don’t leave a surface film – they are absorbed almost instantly because their molecules are so small.

In any case, my advice was to apply peppermint EO across the ants’ trails and in a rough sort of circle around the tilly growing area – not only would it kill off ants and spiders, it would also deter them (and quite a few other pests) from returning. I have, though, tested peppermint oil both neat and diluted directly on an ionantha’s leaves and it suffered no harm whatsoever.

Mr X immediately jumped in (literally a couple of minutes after I commented) and said oh, no, ants normally coexist with tillandsias in the wild, there is no need to remove them, and anyway, oil cannot be used on tillandsias because it will suffocate the plants to death. He then proceeded to insist that the presence of ants does not harm myrmecophytes (pseudobulbous tillandsias are a sub-group), and spew out paragraph after paragraph on why cinnamon powder is the best and safest method.

I chose to say nothing in response. I sent the asker a private message to ensure that she got the right meaning of my suggestion (not what Mr X implied).

Anyway. I was just thinking that this could very well be seen as a microcosm of today’s church world. The plants are the people, and the collectors/growers are the church leaders (scripture does say we are also co-labourers with Christ in the fields and vineyards). And certain church leaders can’t seem to stop themselves from thinking that they’re the only ones with accurate insight, or clear discernment, or fresh revelation… and that everyone has to hear what they say (and be persuaded to agree).

I wonder what God thinks and feels about denominational and independent church leaders bickering and fighting, knowing that none of us has it a hundred percent right? Heck, we can’t even agree on an individual basis whether a person’s personal walk should be left as a personal walk – some pastors will tell you, for example, that you cannot possibly have a healthy spiritual life if you’re spending time praying and worshipping in gardens instead of in church. They will tell you that not being a member of a church means that you have backslided and are in danger of apostasy. (I’ll talk more specifically about church another time.)

Come on already. We’re all finite and limited, really, and our knowledge – of anything – will never be complete. That includes the knowledge and understanding of God, of what a perfect relationship with Him is like, and what true communion with the Spirit is, among others. What makes any of us think we know better than others? If we’ve happened to be in a situation that taught us something that another person hasn’t had an opportunity to learn, what right do we have to feel superior?

There are always going to be people who know more than you and people who know less than you, and there will always be people who think they know more than you. It’s just a fact of life. You can never control their thoughts or actions. What you can control is yourself – your knowledge (you can ensure that you keep on learning), your actions (be humble!) and your responses (be gracious). And even in that you need the Lord’s help, because as always, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.