Monthly Archives: July 2016

Sabra’s Guide to Hanging Baskets


Relationships are hard work, and they can be confusing.  Actually, I should be more specific: people are hard work, and people can be confusing.  But there is the potential for beauty, life, and growth.  Specifically, I have been thinking a lot about romantic relationships and marriage.  What makes a healthy romance?  What builds a lasting, thriving marriage?  But most of all, how can we be sure that we’ve found “the one”?

For those of you who (like me!) are sometimes baffled by the “other person” aspect of relationship, I hope you’ll enjoy some anecdotal analogies with me.  Let’s imagine men are gardeners and women are hanging baskets (and don’t be too smug, ladies, because these analogies can just as easily be reversed!).  Relationships can be much simpler than we’re willing to believe, so I’d like to share about a few types of gardeners I’ve come across….

The Brown Thumb by Einav Aviram

“The Brown Thumb” by Einav Aviram

The Zealous Brown-Thumb: This gardener wants a hanging basket of his very own.  He doesn’t know anything about taking care of them, but other people have them, so he’d like one too.  It can’t be that difficult, right?  This gardener really likes to keep his basket with him so he can constantly tend it.  If fervor alone could keep a hanging basket alive, his would thrive.  However, just as zealous watering means that my family discreetly replaces my 93-year-old great-grandmother’s house plants each week, so mere good intentions don’t allow a hanging basket to thrive.  No hanging basket can be hidden indoors (even if the gardener was trying to keep it safe and untouched by passersby), and no hanging basket should be driven around in a hot truck all day in the name of being carefully tended.  Soon this gardener finds his once-beautiful basket wilting and often can’t determine the cause.  His best opportunities to learn are through experience and time spent with well-seasoned gardeners of healthy baskets.

The Basket Browser: This gardener adores hanging baskets, and he knows he’d like one of his own – eventually.  Overall, he just thinks they are really great – and it’s so difficult to decide on one!  He finds one that he really likes, and he hangs it on his shopping cart.  The problem is not that he doesn’t like the one he’s selected; the problem is that he enjoys perusing the selection.  After all, there could always be one just a bit nicer than the one he’s already found.  But he doesn’t want to give up the one(s) that he already found!  This gardener will often leave baskets literally hanging on his cart, expecting them to be waiting (on his cart) when he finishes browsing and is finally ready to decide on which one he wants to hang on his porch.  He’ll be ready eventually, but every basket has a limit of how much uncertainty it will handle before being either taken home or rehung to be chosen by another gardener.

The Game-Plan Gardener: This one plans to garden someday.  He’s going to prepare the perfect porch and the perfect pot with just the right amount of sunlight, and he’ll have plenty of plant food and properly fertilized dirt on hand when the time comes.  The keyword for this gardener is “someday.”  This is the kind of gardener every hanging basket would like to have but also the kind that will not be forced into choosing a basket.  His basket-choosing will be on his own terms and only when he feels everything is just right.  When he chooses, his basket and porch will be the envy of all the neighbors – but no one can tell quite when that will be.  Patience is necessary if you’re holding out to be the hanging basket on his perfect porch.

The Innovative Gardener: Like the last type, this gardener has a strategy – but of a rather different kind.  He looked, and what he saw was a fabulous potted plant.  He thought to himself, “That potted plant could be put into a hanging basket.”  So he prepared his porch, hung a lovely basket, and devotedly spends time coaxing his precious potted plant out of its small pot to transplant it into the larger, brighter hanging basket that he has made ready.  He knows this can be done, and he’s willing to take the risk because the potted plant he found was spectacular to him.  No one else would have done it or thought of doing it.  His hanging basket will thrive – no matter how much it takes, it’s worth the effort to him.

The Bewildered Rookie: This gardener knows a bit about gardening, and he’s determined to find a hanging basket.  He hardly knows where to begin; he doesn’t want to get it wrong.  When he finds something he likes, he’s still not confident in his own abilities, so he has a question: “Are you a hanging basket?”  The hanging basket is like, “Um, yeah.  What does it look like?!”  Breathing a sigh of relief, this gardener grabs his newly discovered basket and eagerly runs home with it.  A few leaves may be lost and a few stems squashed in his mad dash to ensure that no one else gets his basket, but it’s nothing that won’t be healed with a bit of time and loving care.  He is pleased with his basket, and nothing is going to take it away from his porch – because there’s no way he’s going basket-shopping again!

We all wish it could be so simple!

We all wish it could be so simple!

The Gardener-Poet:  This gardener is a true romantic.  If there was ever anyone who would sing to his plants (it’s good for them, you know), it would be him.  No matter what happens, no matter how finicky or delicate his hanging basket, this gardener will continue to overcome every obstacle because he’s completely sold on the idyll of a porch with a hanging basket of his own.  But more than that, this gardener is completely sold on his basket – no other basket will ever be better or lovelier (even if the basket thinks itself drab or undesirable).  There’s no use trying to burst his bubble, so either you’ll go along with it or you won’t.

The Hesitant Green-Thumb: Secretly, this gardener is a true green-thumb, and a hanging basket would thrive under his gentle attentions.  His porch is ready, and he’s got a special spot for his would-be basket.  He hasn’t brought one home yet, but it’s not because he can’t decide.  In fact, he’s always wanted a hanging basket; but he would never get in the way of another gardener.  If a hanging basket didn’t seem as though it would be happy on his porch, he would never so much as put it on his cart – he would never just “try it out” to see if he liked how it looked.  He thinks flowers are precious, and he treats them accordingly; stem-squashing and leaf-smooshing are not options for him.  He’s not always confident that a basket would want to hang on his porch (often assuming that another gardener could offer a better porch), so he’s going to need a clear path to a basket lest he concede porch-privileges to a more assertive gardener.

And the point of all this is…I have met a lot of people – men who are gardeners like the ones I mentioned above, and women who are hanging baskets (or revamped potted plants!) of all sorts.

Men, consider honestly: what type of gardener are you?  What type of gardener will you choose to become?  Will a hanging basket be safe in your care?  Will it have the chance to thrive?  Are you willing to learn as you go?

I’ve often heard guys lament that women are complicated.  Therein lies a great secret of gardening: every hanging basket has different care requirements that must be met in order for it to thrive.  Some need full sun, others full shade, others part sun and part shade.  Some need lots of pruning, others need none.  Some need lots of water, others need only a bit.  Be conscientious of your own basket; you don’t need to care for your basket in the same way that another gardener cares for his basket, because your basket is unique.  Learn some gardening generalities, but take care of your own precious basket in the way that it needs.

Here’s a really important thought for you when it comes to romance and marriage: are you choosing an annual or a perennial?  Annuals are plants that bloom only for a season, and then that’s it.  They are beautiful for a time but never lasting, which means that you should buy the most stunning one you see – and the most expensive one you can afford (because greater expense means a larger plant).  Perennials, on the other hand, ebb and grow with the seasons.  They experience seasons of blooming and seasons of quietness (even sometimes looking dead during the winter); but they keep growing, keep remaining and rooting deeper.  They become better with each passing year as they are well-tended.

Women, are you a perennial or an annual?  Which will you choose to become?  Are you willing to put down deep roots and weather the seasons?  Will you endure both pampering and pruning as needed?  Are you prepared to enjoy the porch on which you are hung, or do you not actually want to be a hanging basket?  We need both self-awareness and other-awareness in order for our growing experience to be fruitful.  (Pun intended.)

I grew up playing in this lush, vibrant garden that is my great-grandparents' yard.  Over forty years of love and care have made it unsurpassably beautiful.

I grew up playing in this lush, vibrant garden that is my great-grandparents’ yard. After more than six decades of love and care, its beauty is unsurpassed.

“Love planted deeply becomes what it ought to, and hearts given freely become what they ought to be” (“Ought to Be” by Audrey Assad).  Romance and marriage are meant to be like that.  Ideally, we get to choose something that begins well.  But no matter what the beginning, we should be always seeking for love to grow richer, fuller, and deeper.  That’s the kind of love and marriage I want to cultivate – the kind in which the best is always yet to come.

When we choose a spouse, we often choose as though we are selecting an annual, looking for something that has the brightest blooms NOW and the shiniest leaves NOW.  In Christendom, we have embraced the lie of “annual love” (the best NOW).  I am sorry to say, we have a name for this false notion of love: “finding the one.”  We look for something that will be big enough and splendid enough to be rationed out for as many years as necessary.  Unfortunately, many people then find that their love “fades” or their feelings are altered with time.  Why?  Because they mistakenly assume that the best already happenedThere is, with annual love, the underlying notion that the love and loveliness of romance and marriage are “used up” over time. 

But the reality is that true love becomes better over time and with careful tending.  In light of this precious truth, we are free to look for that little nub of a perennial, a teensy starter plant, or for a plant full of buds rather than blooms.  Why?  Because, after a few years and with gentle coaxing, little starters become strong, beautiful plants – the heirloom plants that everyone envies but few are willing to wait for.  Because there will come a day when the buds, so long awaited, burst into the fullness of the flowers that they were always meant to be.  True love becomes so, so much better with time and intentional care.  And, because it is so beautifully freeing, I’ll share this wonderful secret with you as well:  your “one” is the one you choose.  That’s it.  That’s all.  There is no “one” better than the one you chose, no “one” God intended for you instead.  I know not every romance or marriage “works out”; this happens because people aren’t perfect and don’t always make perfect choices.  But be willing to choose, and be willing to cultivate a healthy garden with the one you choose.  Heirloom plants don’t simply “happen,” and neither do wonderful marriages.

Again, I remind you that these analogies of gardeners and plants can be reversed, and the same anecdotes and questions can be applied.  Some gardeners simply enjoy trampling hanging baskets or changing them out faster than seasons turn for reasons I can scarcely begin to fathom.  Some hanging baskets are afraid to show their true colors for fear that they will be judged as too much or not enough in some way.  Gardening has many joys, but it isn’t easy.

I could have readily added more descriptions of various gardeners and their hanging baskets.  My real intention, however, was not to place all people into certain categories but rather to share what God has been teaching me about romance and people and imperfection – and sometimes a bit of humor is the best mode of delivery for deep truth.  The only perfect Gardener is our good God (see John 15:1-8), who teaches us what it means to be tender plants cared for by a loving hand, being steadied by Jesus and learning to bear healthy fruit.  From our Good Gardener, we can learn how to provide similar faithful care for the precious “plants” in our lives.  Ultimately, His care alone is steady and unfailing; He alone knows all our needs, our weak branches, and our potential fruits.  So let us learn to be as fearless and wise in our gardening endeavors – be they romance or other relationships – as He is in His.  He tirelessly tends us; and now, brave hearts, it is our turn to create space for roots to grow deep and gardens to thrive.

My great-grandparents -- This is love planted deeply.  More than sixty years of love has cultivated this "garden," in addition to the actual garden pictured above.  Grandpa and Grandma, thank you for creating a beautiful love for our family to flourish in!

My great-grandparents — This is love planted deeply. More than sixty years of love has cultivated this “garden,” in addition to the actual garden pictured above. Grandpa and Grandma, thank you for creating a beautiful love for our family to flourish in!

Papa Daddy


Most of my time is spent taking care of people who are under the age of ten – infants, toddlers, young children.  (I’m a nanny, a babysitter, the oldest cousin in my family, a big sister to a precious four-year-old – I’ve always had kids around me and hope I always do!)  The thing that is always consistent among children is that they always have just one more need, one more want.  “Just one more, please” are words I hear all the time.  Just one more.  Will I sing one more song?  Give one more kiss to a scraped knee?  Read one more book before bed?  Hold you close for one more moment?  Tickle you once more or play with you at the park?  Answer one more curious inquiry?  And then, of course, there are the other tasks that come with having small children in one’s care.  Will I clean one more sticky face?  Wipe up one more spilled glass of milk?  Settle one more squabble and soothe one more sorrow?  Prepare one more meal?  Do one more of the seemingly endless loads of laundry?  Give one more reminder to “use kind words” or to be careful near fragile objects?  So many needs, these endless “one mores” that kids have.

A couple weeks ago I’d had a particularly long week, having been at one house or another each day for late nights, early mornings, and even overnight stays to take care of different families’ kids.  Just prior to bedtime on Saturday, I could sense the exasperation creeping into my tone of voice.  Particularly, I didn’t want to kiss another imagined “owie” (we were having a dramatic evening), but I did it anyway.  By the time I had everyone settled for the night, I had regained my calm.  As I rocked the youngest one to sleep, she snuggled into me and, as she drifted off, sleepily begged for one more song.  Why not?  So, while singing “Jesus Loves Me” – her favorite song – “just one more time,” I admired her sweet self, so perfectly content and relaxed in her sleep.  And I was suddenly overwhelmed by the love of my Heavenly Father.

Our Heavenly Father is never exasperated by us.

To all you parents, including my own: thank you for loving and caring for your children so faithfully, for every "one more" you've tended to! (Photo: my Papa holding my cousin, Isaac, his 8th grandbaby)

To all you parents, including my own: thank you for loving and caring for your children so faithfully, for every “one more” you’ve tended to! (Photo: my Papa holding my cousin, Isaac, his 8th grandbaby)

Your needs, your wants, your mishaps and unintentional bumblings, your hopes and dreams, your hurts – real or imagined – are all important to Him because you are important to Him.  Even the most loving parents and caretakers are exasperated at times – but our Father never is.  You are never “too much” or “not enough.”  You can never be too needy for God.  He is never put out by your neediness; He is not upset by your humanity.  He is not burdened with your care.  It is His pleasure to meet your needs because you are His pleasure.

I think there is a part of us that is always childlike.  Deep within ourselves, we crave the love and acceptance of a parent – and the only One who can perfectly satisfy these longings is our Heavenly Father.  As life goes on, our bumblings and ponderings become more sophisticated, our wounds become more complex than a scraped knee, and our desires and dreams become more expansive.  We grow older, but we will never outgrow our need for our Father to love us, to hold us, to come for usAnd it is His delight to care for us.

Sometimes we miss just how intimately and intricately the Father’s heart is displayed throughout Scripture.  While there are endless revelations to be gleaned from the Scriptures, the living and active words of God (Heb. 4:11), I am going to present a few truths with corresponding verses.  And, actually, if only for the fact that many people can’t see a loving God the Father presented in the Old Testament, I am going to take most of these bits from there.  As you read, focus on how they highlight the Father-Heart of God, His deep and relentless care for you, His precious child.  Perhaps you had loving parents as an example; perhaps you did not.  Perhaps there was someone else in your life who provided protection and nurture.  The truth is, that whether you had fitting examples or wretched examples, God is nothing but good – and He alone is the true Goodness.  He is a good, good Father, perfect in all of His ways – and I say that with utter certainty and without a hint of irony.

Your Heavenly Father wants you to run to His strong arms, to hold you close awhile longer.  You cannot and will not escape the loving embrace and watchful care of the One know alone knows you completely.

  • “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” – Deut. 33:27
  • “O Lord, you have searched me and known me….You understand my thought afar off.  You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.  For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.” – Ps. 139:1, 2-3

He longs for you to let Him come to your rescue.  He wants to sing you “one more song” and whisper His words of love over you.  You are not a disappointment to Him – ever.  He delights in you – always.

  • “The Lord your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” – Zeph. 3:17
  • “Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God!” – 1 Jn. 3:1
Be they great or "small," no wound is beneath His attention.

Be they great or “small,” no wound is beneath His attention.

He cares about your wounds, your sorrows and your disappointments.  He wants to “kiss your owies,” big or small, real or perceived, and heal all your wounds – even the ones that are incurable and impossible.  He is a Gentle Healer, whether your wounds are self-inflicted or came at the hands (or words) of others.

  • ‘“For thus says the Lord, ‘Your affliction is incurable, your wound is severe .  There is no one to plead your cause, that you may be bound up.  You have no healing medicines….I will restore health to you and heal you of your wounds…’”’ – Jer. 30:12-13, 17
  • “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” – Jn. 3:16

Because you are His precious child and He loves you, He won’t let you go without correction.  (Isn’t that beautiful?)  There is nothing you do that is unknown to Him – there’s no need to hide or worry about getting caught, because He already knows.  And more than that, He cares about you enough to discipline you and train you in righteousness.

  • “…do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor detest His correction.  For whom the Lord loves He corrects, just as a father [does for] the son in whom He delights.” – Pro. 3:11-12
  • If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?….no chastening seems enjoyable for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” – Heb. 12:7, 11

lion and cubCan you fathom such a love, this Father-Love of our good God?  And there is so much, much more that could be said about this limitless Love.  My little sister likes to call our grandfathers (or any older man whom she perceives to be like a grandpa) “Papa,” and “Daddy” has always been what we called our dad.  She enjoys combining these terms into one all-encompassing name: Papa Daddy.  There is something precious and tender about this name; it speaks to the desire of a father’s heart to protect and provide.  That is what a good father does – that is what our Good Father does.  Did you know that God wants to be your Papa Daddy?  All the good daddy things I mentioned above, all the verses I shared, He wants to do and be for you.  You are precious to Him.  You are His child, and He delights in you because you are His

My friends, I will say again: our Papa Daddy is never annoyed by us.  Even the most devoted parents grow weary at times, but He never does.  His lap is always available, and His arms are always safe.  He is always ready to sing you one more song.  He is always ready to wash the dirt off and pick you up again.  He wants you in your neediness, your crying, your laughing, your asking, your yearning – He wants you in every state.  Don’t let your need keep you distant; let it draw you deeper into the Love of your Papa Daddy.