Sunday, April 22, 2012

Weekend Gratitude: On Seeds, Soil, and Listening Well

Dear friends,

This morning, our little Presbyterian church ( had the honor of hearing from an internationally known guest speaker, Gordon MacDonald.  Many of you will have no idea of who he is, but he is the author of Ordering Your Private World, which I read while in college, and many other books.  He was also at one time the national president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, the campus ministry I was a member of at UCF.   Some of his many other roles are seminary chancellor, Christian magazine editor, and pastor of over 40 years.

I didn’t know what the sermon would be about when I came, and even the church bulletin didn’t have a title for it.   I figured I would find out as I listened.  And, indeed, that’s what it was about: listening.  It is my habit to take very detailed notes of sermons, since that is about the only way my ADD mind can focus on listening.  I’d like to share a few thoughts from my notes since his message this morning was, as I expected, both a blessing and a challenge to me.  Besides, recapping  information in a blog post is another way to sink it deeper into the mind.


Why are people still so interested in the Titanic, one hundred years later?  Back in 1912, a sense of optimism pervaded society, with hopes of world peace, prosperity and prosperity.  The supposedly unsinkable Titanic represented security and success. When it sank, in many ways, that hope sank with it.  So did 1,500 passengers.  World War I came shortly after that, shattering any illusion of peace on earth.  What does this have to do with listening?  Apparently, there were three certain people on board who were not listening very well.  One, the owner of the Titanic, was extremely proud of his ship, and had ignored a telegram warning him of icebergs.  The second, the captain, was about to retire.  He had a lifetime of experience and confidence, but didn’t even send out a distress signal until 15 minutes after the Titanic struck the iceberg.  Third, the radio operator had been repeatedly warned by other ships about icebergs, but apparently told them to shut up because he was busy listening to a race on the radio.  This is what happens when people full of their own plans, distractions, and confidence refuse to listen and respond.

In Matthew 13, Jesus, halfway through his earthly ministry, boarded a boat (a wee bit smaller than the Titanic!) so he could speak to the crowd gathered on shore, with the water serving as a natural amplifier.  He spoke in parables, of which the story of the sower, the seed, and the soil is one of the most well known.  In those days, many kind of rabbis roamed around teaching.  Some were revolutionaries, who wanted to overthrow the Romans.   Jesus’ disciple Simon the Zealot may have originally been one of their followers.   Other rabbis were more philosophical and intellectual, such as the Sadducees. Still others preached a more formal, institutionalized method. 

Jesus uniquely focused on the hearts of the people.  He was not impressed with appearances, wealth, or social connections.  He is the explorer of inner space, our hearts.  And what if that inner space is as large as outer space?  That’s an intriguing thought.   Our souls are much deeper than we think.

Beneath the cheerful surface many of us wear to church on Sunday mornings, our actual mood often doesn’t match.  Some don’t want to be there, some are heartbroken by crises and conflicts, some had a tough week and are fearful about the days ahead.  Yet Jesus knows what is going on.  He also knows if we are listening to him or not.  Let’s look at the parable of the seeds and the soil in Matthew 13 and think about how well we listen.

1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 He who has ears, let him hear.” … 18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. 22 The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. 23 But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

What about the four kinds of soil?

The soil on the path is so hard that the seeds which fall on it are snatched by the birds before they even have chance to take root.  This soil represents those who allow failure, bitterness, and apathy to make them cold toward what God has to say.  They just don’t want to hear it.

The rocky soil is so shallow that even though the seeds sprout quickly, there is no place for the roots to go.  The scorching sun and lack of moisture wither the plant.   Easy come, easy go.  This soil is like people who experience God’s message only at an emotional level.  They are enthused and revved, but the novelty fades when trouble comes along.  They aren’t willing to devote their lives.  They don’t count the cost of discipleship.  They are like the crowd in John 2 who wanted to make Jesus their king.  Jesus didn’t trust them because he knew what was in their hearts: hype and not commitment.

The thorny soil chokes out the seeds that take root there, just like people who get distracted by wealth and worldly amusements and end up with no time or energy left for God.  The rich young ruler refused give up his stuff to follow Jesus and missed out on the true treasure.  Yet nothing should compete with the claim that the gospel, the good news of salvation and redemption, lays on our lives.

Yes, there is finally some good soil: beautifully prepared, nurtured by nutrients and water, plowed up.  This soil represents the person who knows how to listen to God, who takes the time to pay attention.  Growth doesn’t just happen.  It is cultivated intentionally. 

Rev. MacDonald noted that he used to think of this parable as only referring to what happens when a person initially hears and responds (or not) to the gospel.  Yet he reminded us that we can be like any of these soils on any given day of our lives.  There are times when, even after being Christian believers for decades (as I have) that we wander into apathy, distraction, temptation, bitterness or confusion  -- and we just stop paying attention.  We don’t go deep.  It is a good practice to evaluate our own hearts each day, asking, “Which of these soils represents my heart right now?  What condition am I in?  How well am I listening?”  We can pray along with the Psalmist,Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting”  (Psalm 139:23-24).

I could try to write more of my own thoughts, but instead I’ll leave you with links to two of my poems about seeds, one about quieting our hearts to listen, one about God's grace leading us home even through the trials of life, and one about sticking with God's word over the long haul.
You may also be interested in a few of the articles that Rev. MacDonald has written for the Leadership Journal, where he as been editor-at-large.

This weekend I am grateful for the opportunity to listen and learn.  I know I need to take some extended time soon just to be still and hear from God.  How about you?

For grace and growth,
Virginia Knowles

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Not-So-Extreme Makeover: The Front of Our House

Dear friends,

Last week I posted Easy Spring Decorating on a Dime on this blog, and promised to do one on thrifty decorating outside the front door and along the walkway.  Here it is!

I used to have a spring wreath for the front door,
but somehow misplaced it. I priced out new wreaths
at Olde Time Pottery, but didn't want to spend $20.
I was in a dollar store today and saw these baskets for wall mounting.
I bought two bunches of the white silk flowers,
borrowed the silk pansies from my dining room table,
and mounted my creation on the door using a wreath hanger and some ribbon.
So it wouldn't bounce as much when the door is opened,
I attached a magnet to the back of the basket, which sticks to the metal door.
I can change the silk flowers as often as I wish, such as for different seasons.
Total cost for new supplies $3. 

The front door was extremely grimy,
especially near the door knob.
I cleaned it with one of those white generic brand versions of Magic Erasers.
I also cleaned the stucco walls near the door with

Krud Kutter spray cleaner and some hot water
Since they are in an alcove, they aren't washed off by rain.
They were getting pretty cruddy!  I also had to scrape off a wasp's nest.
The door frame is still badly stained.  I'll have to repaint it soon.

I am so proud of my "new" mailbox!
You can see the "old" one below, with the pitted lid,
the broken plastic doodad, and the hooks on the bottom.
It's really the same mailbox, with a makeover.
I had my husband remove the hooks, I snapped off the doodad,
and then I really went to work. I sanded the mailbox to remove the rough spots.
Then I attempted to spray paint is dark blue, but it came out lumpy and runny.
So I decided to give it some real texture by marbling it with some leftover white spray paint.
I swirled it around with my fingers to give it a vintage metallic porcelain look.
Then I borrowed the WELCOME magnet from above my stove.
Sweet, huh?  Total cost for spray paint: less than $4.
(I actually painted our large street side mail box when I was a teenager,
a mountain scene on one side, and rainbow colored flowers on the other, with the sky on top.)

The unsightly old black mail box.
Corroded mail box lid!

I priced out new mail boxes at Lowes.
You can buy magnetic covers for street side mailboxes
at Olde Time Pottery.
Just under the mailbox,
a decorative sculpture on a small table.
It is just the right height for my
six year old daughter to enjoy.
Next to the door,
an artificial tree
purchased for a few dollars
at a yard sale
a while back.

I bought this garden flag at yard sale a few years ago for $2.
I couldn't find my old beat up flag pole,
so I replaced it with a $6 one at Olde Time Pottery.
This bird house,
hanging from the flag pole,
 is from my late mother-in-law.

I'm not sure where we got this mini-garden flag,
but it's getting worn out!

I may replace my old flag with one from Olde Time Pottery
since they are less than $4.

More pretty stuff to come,
 but I want to talk about eyesores for a few minutes.
Our house numbers are SO ugly!
They are black plastic with metal bolts.
I have hated them for years,
made worse since someone decided to scratch them up.

We are replacing them soon.
I've already been pricing them out at Lowe's. 
Plaque for mounting house numbers.

I removed the two concrete balls
from our garden walls.
One was broken at the base,
and both were all dinged up.
I put flower pots over the post holes.

Another eyesore: broken window blinds.
We will eventually replace them.

Flowers are a wonderful way to decorate
your front walkway!
I have two large pots on wrought iron stands.
I potted three dianthus plants.
Total cost for plants in this pot: $2.25 
There was a stray lantana plant, with beautiful little
composite blossoms, growing in the backyard.

I replanted it along the front walkway.
I hope it survives!  Welcome, butterflies!

Coordinating with the orange and yellow lantana,
I purchased four moss rose plants,
also known as portulaca, as Lowes for 77 cents each.
They thrive in full sun, and are succulents.

Potted begonia on garden wall.
Price at Walmart: 75 cents

Sign by Mary Engelbreit.
The black stand is left over from
my first daughter's outdoor wedding.

Time for weeding, too!  New trowel, hand hoe, and gloves,
all from the Target dollar spot.

Unfortunately, the thumbs of the gloves
wore out within a half hour.
Good thing I only spent a buck on them!

The strip right in front of the house looked horrible!
It took me a really long time to get it cleared out,
then move some of the mulch to cover up sandy spots.
I also put some kids to work:
my own daughters and some neighbors.
Yes, I paid them!
There is still much to do down
by the curb and along the terraced wall.

 Big eyesore: the overgrown palm (?) bush outside the front window.
It was taller than me and getting quite gangly with a lot of dead spots.
This is the "before" picture.
Here is the "after" picture.
First I pulled out all of the dead brown stalks,
and was amazed by the huge pile of debris.
Then I started cutting off whatever else was dead or sticking out.
I think I removed about a third of the bush.
I also cut down some other small invasive bushes from the same area.
I had to avoid two wasps who were disturbed
that I removed their nests from the bush.

This is the view from the street.
My husband put in this terraced wall and the star jasmine bushes
many years ago, along with the African lilies.
I will buy some more portulaca to plant at the top of the wall.

The bird bath, from my late mother-in-law,
badly needs cleaning.  Another thing for my yet-to-do list! 
Note the big ugly hole in the yard from where we lost
a small elm tree in a wind storm.

We used to have three orange trees,
but all of them had to be cut down.
I'm thinking of planting a new one
in that ugly hole in the front yard.
These are several feet high and cost about $20 at Lowes.

My mother made these three stepping stones
with my kids several years ago.
Those are stained glass birds and flowers
set in concrete.
She poured the concrete in the molds and had the kids lay out the glass pieces like a puzzle and press them in.

You can see more of my mom's 
stained glass in my
spring decorating post.
One final picture, the view from the front walk way.
Still some work to do, but I've made a lot of progress!
I tried to be resourceful and use what I already had.
My total cost for new items was less than $20
for live flowers, silk flowers,
a basket, spray paint, and gardening tools.
Results? Priceless!

I hope you enjoyed my little decorative tour of the front of our home!  What have you done at your house?

To recap, my best hints for making the front of your home look nice:

  • Walk around outside and make a list of what you think needs to be done. I kept mine in the notepad of my iPod, so I could revise it as I went along.
  • Talk to your other family members about what they would like, what they don't like, what they are willing to do to help, and what everything will cost.
  • Use what you have!  Check your back yard, your back porch, your storage bins, and even your indoor decorations.  You can rotate items for variety and to suit the season.  
  • Price out new purchases before you buy.  You can do some of this on the web, but I like to go in the stores and take pictures for later reference.  Keep your eye out for good deals at yard sales, but only buy it if you really like it and will use it.  No need to collect junk!
  • Plant live flowers in pots or in the ground.  I bought mine in individual pots, but they are cheaper if you buy them by the flat.  Even cheaper yet is planting from seed.  Research what grows in your area, and which plants need full or partial sun. If you plant out of range of your irrigation system, make sure you water as needed.
  • Use silk flowers where live ones are not appropriate, such as for a wreath or basket on the door, or in cold weather.
  • Keep everything clean!  Grime is so unattractive!  Check your walls, your door, your fixtures (such as an outdoor lamp), your mail box, etc.  Sweep your walk ways with an outdoor push broom or rinse with a hose.
  • Make sure to pick up little bits of trash as often as I you can.  Get your kids to help!  I am always finding candy wrappers and paper towels around our walkway.  I usually stash them in an old flower pot behind the garden wall until I throw them all away.
  • If at first you don't succeed with a project, try again!  Learn from your mistakes, and let them lead you to other options.  If you're really stuck, ask a friend for advice (or help) or look for instructions on the web.  Keep at it, and you might end up with a funky looking mail box!
Blessings of beauty,
Virginia Knowles

P.S. This blog post is linked to...

Equip & Encourage Blog Carnival

Equip & Encourage Blog Carnival

Project 52!  The photo theme this week is Things that Grow.
project 52 p52

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Easy Spring Decorating on a Dime

Dear friends,

Welcome to my home!  It's springtime now (and has been for a few weeks) so I thought I'd do a post on decorating.  I did one a couple of years ago about Easy Autumn Decorating on a Dime that was quite popular, so here's to another season of pretty penny pinching!  I've picked out many of our spring decorations to show you.  Yes, we have a lot more, but no, we haven't spent much at all on it.  Some of our heirlooms came to us via my parents and grandparents, some were brought home from other countries by my daughters or myself, some were gifts from others, some were picked up at yard sales, one was salvaged from someone else's trash pile, and a few were even homemade.  

Oh, before we begin, a little disclaimer.  I am not a professional decorator.  I'm just trying to make my home look attractive for my family.  To be truthful, I was decorating and photographing around messes, a fact of life when 10 people live in one house. :-)  Decorating for the seasons not only reflects the time of year, but also helps break up the boredom of seeing the same things all the time.  Of course, there are certain "anchor" pieces that are on display all year, too.

Ready?   Let's start with the front hallway, since that's the first place guests to our home see.
Blue vases and antique frame on top of
an antique radio cabinet  ~~
The lace covering is a pillow sham made by
my husband's grandmother.
The frame is from my grandmother's attic,
and once held a photo of my great-grandparents.
Now it features a picture of a vase of flowers
that I found on the web years ago and printed out,
along with a few words of welcome.
(You can see it better in the picture at the top of this post.)
The vase on the right was a wedding present.
The vase on the left is from a yard sale (50 cents)
and the silk daffodils are from who-knows-where!
Hanging over our front door,
this plaque was a wedding gift from
my husband's grandparents.
It has been in our radio cabinet for years,
but I decided it deserved to see the light of day again.
Speaking of the antique radio cabinet,
I store many of our decorative items in it.
I was trying to put back some of our wedding crystal after Easter dinner,
and realized it needed a good cleaning out.
Thus started my decorating adventure that day.

Following the advice of organizing experts,
I removed everything from the cabinet so I could start fresh.
I brought in a card table to hold much of it for sorting.

The hallway table is always a good place
for decorations, but I try to make sure
they aren't breakable since my kids will sometimes
plop down their stuff when they come in the door. 
There are still shoe bins underneath this table,
which I bought last summer when I did a hallway redo.

The miniature watering can votive holder,
blue and tan basket on doily,
and potted wooden flower,
all fit with a country blue theme
that matches the powder blue walls.
The doily, most likely made or bought
by my husband's grandmother, had gotten stains on it, 
so I soaked it in tea it to camouflage the spots.   

Flower photos by my daughter

Stained glass dove and rainbow hanging over the hall closet.
made by my mother as our first anniversary present.
It matches the one in the reception hall of the church where we were married.
Moving on to the kitchen...

Beauty in a bowl ~~ fresh strawberries!

Utensil holder

Over the stove, there is a magnetic back drop.
I hung the wreath from a magnetic hook,
but first I had to rinse it off since it had some grimy dust on the silk flowers.
The "Welcome" decoration also has a magnetic backing.
On the back of the stove, salt and pepper shakers and
a small ceramic house that my mother gave me when I was in college.

Another greeting card in the kitchen

Greeting cards make great decorations!
I taped this one to the kitchen cabinet.

I found this wall hanging at a church rummage sale.
It goes so well against the green walls in my kitchen.
Though it is particularly suited for spring with the birds and nests,
it hangs year round near the back door.

And now to the dining room!

I bought a pansy tea set (6 cups and saucers, sugar bowl, creamer, and cookie plate)
 for my mother while in Scotland n a mission trip in 1979.
She gave it back to me many years ago after I had five little girls in a row.
I store it safely in a kitchen cabinet, but I really need to get it out a few times
this spring to have lemonade and cookies!
More pansies!
My aunt Kathy painted the pansies on the cookie jar.
The green vase is from the same yard sale as the blue one in the hallway,
and the pansies are silk.
My daughter is studying with a fellow nursing student via Skype.

Did you spot this painting in the background of the last picture,
hanging over my husband's work area?  (Yes, we have a second table
in the dining room for him to do paper work and help kids with school work.)
Until a few days ago, this painting was on the wall on our laundry room.
(I believe in art in mundane places.)
Can you believe that I salvaged this from our neighbor's trash pile many years ago?
One mom's trash is another's treasure!

Flowers from the yard, floating in a bowl

Easter lilies from church!

Display the front of a pretty book by propping it up with a plate holder.
Yes, this book is in my dining room, which doubles as a school room.

Books are a great source 
of seasonal decorations!
I picked up these 
Ideals Mother's Day books
at our library bookstore 
for 50 cents a piece.
I could cut out some of the photos and art work to frame,
as I have done with magazines.
 The living room....

Our living room has light yellow paint,
with dark red couches and curtains.
I don't tend to think of red as a spring color,
but these red silk tulips and vase fit the scheme!
I carried these tulips in my sister's wedding thirty years ago.

More red! My daughter brought this tile back
from a mission trip to the Dominican Republic.
It is on top of the DVD player.

The tea cart belonged to my husband's late mother.
If I don't keep it decorated, it collects clutter!
The scarf is from my trip to Israel as a teenager.
The book stand is from my husband's aunt.
The Bible was my grandfather's.

Same stuff, close up!
The silk flowers in a pedestal bowl are from a yard sale.
My sister-in-law Beth gave me the bird dish,
which she painted.

I always keep a basket of books
on an end table in the living room.
Birds nest books are great for spring!

The computer room....
Another wedding present,
a plaque with 1 Corinthians 13 on it.
We always need the reminder to love well.

More detail from last picture
Master bedroom....

I made this flying geese quilt square
pillow about 25 years ago.
The pink and purple don't show well in this picture.
I rescued the rocker-recliner chair from a neighbor's curb; it had a free sign on it!
Tapestry that my sister made for our wedding

You can make decorative plaques using materials from a craft store.
I made this one about 20 years ago for my grandparents.
When they moved in with my parents several years ago, they gave it back to me!
Even though my last name has never been Hess, I always will be a Hess at heart!
Why did one of my kids feel the need to stack these?

Miniature vases brought by
a Japanese exchange student

Ceramic box and bird ornament

"Two Sisters on the Terrace"
by Pierre Auguste Renoir
I like this tin because I think a copy of this painting
hung on our wall when I was a child.

Next up, the master bathroom...

A garden flag re-purposed as a bathroom curtain

Stained glass camellia

Stained glass magnolia

My mother asked what I would like her to make for me.
I chose the camellia and magnolia since they both grow in our backyard.
Fortunately, they bloom at different times,
the camellias at the beginning of the year in Florida (already gone here)
and the magnolias later in the spring (I see buds on our tree)!
So there you have it!  I mini-tour of spring in most of the rooms of our house.  (I have spared you the kids' bedrooms.  Trust me on that.)

Pretty soon, I'll do a post about sprucing up your front doorway area on the outside.  I'm fixing to do a mailbox makeover and more!

Meanwhile, think about these concepts as you are decorating for spring:
  • Rotate your decorations seasonally so you have something different to see.  
  • Flowers and birds make great spring themes.
  • Decorate with things you already own, especially family heirlooms and thoughtful gifts.  Be sure to tell your children the story behind each item, so they can appreciate the heritage of love, beauty, and generosity.
  • Group related items together into a pleasing arrangement.  Play around with what goes where.
  • Create wonderful aromas with candles and potpourri!
  • Use baskets for a homey look, especially since you can put things in them.
  • Gather new items little by little, and you will have quite a collection after several years.  They may need to be cleaned each year when you get them out of your storage bins or cabinets.
  • Make your own decorations using materials from a dollar store, Walmart, or a craft store.
  • Keep your house tidy, since clutter distracts from beauty.
  • Frame family photographs, greeting cards, magazine photos, or nature pictures that you take.
  • You don't need anything fancy or expensive! Simplicity is beautiful!
Virginia Knowles

P.S. Update on 4/19: My post on decorating outside, including my mail box project, is here: Not-So-Extreme Makeover: The Front of Our House

Related Posts with Thumbnails