When Debbie and I lived in Columbia we bought our first house. It was located on Wofford Ave. In our backyard was a beautiful collection of oakleaf hydrangeas. They made for a beautiful side yard, especially when they were in bloom.
My mother-in-law, Laura, and her husband Dave both had green thumbs. Dave primarily used his in the vegetable garden, Laura in the garden and with flowers. She did not, however, have any oakleaf hydrangeas.
She wanted some oakleaf hydrangeas. Hydrangeas are easily reproduced by cuttings so we made several cuttings and Laura planted them in her back yard. They did well. Very well, under her green thumb! Soon the backyard along the left hand fence was covered with oakleaf hydrangeas.
When we left Columbia in 2002 to move to Murfreesboro, we left the first home we owned and our prized hydrangeas.
We decided that what our yard in the ‘Boro needed was some oakleaf hydrangeas. We tried it so many time. Time after time we dug up small plants from Laura’s backyard, wrapped the roots in newspaper, wet the newspaper, put the newspaper covered roots in plastic bags and carefully brought them from Rock Hill, SC to Murfreesboro, TN. Then we carefully planted them, watered them and cared for them. Each time they simply dropped their leaves and became simple sticks stuck in the ground. We finally gave up and decided that we just couldn’t make it happen.
Laura passed away in May of last year after a brave battle with cancer. Debbie’s father, Dave a godly man and elder in the church passed away in 1981 on the day I graduated from seminary. I graduated but Debbie and I were not there at the ceremony. We were with Laura and family. Laura had lived as a widow for 29 years. She was a remarkable woman. A strong woman. A delight to be with.
God was very gracious and she suffered little pain except at the very end and was always aware of what is going on around her. Yet she is greatly missed. For many “my mother-in-law” can be the punch line of a joke but for me, I could not have asked for a finer mother-in-law. Her faith was strong and her love for all of her family was and is inspiring for me. She was a picture book of what a grandmother should be.
As for the oakleaf hydrangeas we decided to give it one more attempt. It would not only be a link to our first home but more importantly to Laura. We also took one root cutting from a regular hydrangea. We again wrapped them, watered them and brought them to the ‘Boro. This time it was different. They did very well. God has graced us with small gifts of grace from the glory of his creation that help keep the truth of covenant families in our minds and hearts
This little patch may not look like much but often in times of difficulty and times of trial, it is the small reminders that God sends us to gently whisper in our ear that he is with us and to remind us of his love for us.
Debbie and I recently saw a stage production of Shadowlands ( and saw another small gift of grace as we sat behind two friends who have over the past few months shown their great love and support for us). If you know the movie you know that often times it has C.S. Lewis quoting his famous words for The Problem With Pain,”God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world” and I believe that is often true. I also, however, believe that God often speaks through the small actions of his creation and providence all around us, it is a still small voice and you must pay attention to hear it. Usually I am to busy and non-observant to notice it.
But in the glorious gift of these struggling plants I heard him talking about his grace and the important things of love and family
Like so many things that God is seeking to do in our lives and often in this world, these plants do not seem like much. You may even chuckle that I post them at all but if you know hydrangeas you know that this is only the beginning, once they get started like this there is no stopping them. So it is with the small gifts of grace and mercy, they start small but they grow and grow. Much like what Jesus said about the mystery of the kingdom of God. It starts off the size of a tiny mustard seed but eventually grows to fill the whole garden and in the case of the kingdom to fill the whole world.
We are not expecting that of these plants. We will be satisfied with a good row of oakleaf hydrangeas along our border with our neighbor. But as for small gifts of grace and family? We expect them to grow and fill the whole yard, to grow and fill the whole world.
I have some unusual habits. One is that each morning I have a specific prayer based on what coffee mug I use. This morning I picked one that says “Gourmet Presbyterian Coffee, Almost Good Enough to Make Me Smile”. It reminds me to pray for my friends Charlie and Ruth Jones who minister through theater arts. I have mugs from Africa that remind me to pray for missionary friends in Uganda, Sudan and some now in Kenya. I have one from the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Odessa, Ukraine
Gifts can be reminders, reminders of God’s grace and mercy, reminders to pray, reminders for thanksgiving. These small plants that will soon be branching out in so many places are good reminders of me. They are reminders that Debbie and I have lived in many places over during our 36 years together but we area always “at home” in the place where we are living.
I do not know that I will think of Laura every time that I look at these plants. So far most of the time I do think of her and as I think of her I think of her three sons (I live with her only daughter and think of her all the time!), my two wonderful and beautiful sisters-in-law and especially her wonderful grandchildren, all 9 of them (Will just in case you read this, I did not forget you this time), three of them my own children.
When it comes to “looking” at things like mugs and hydrangeas I am reminded of some words by Bruce Cockburn in his song Child of the Wind:
Little round planet
In a big universe
Sometimes it looks blessed
Sometimes it looks cursed
Depends on what you look at obviously
But even more it depends on the way that you see