Leota’s Garden

Editor’s Note:  The following is a book review in our “Check It Out” series about Leota’s Garden written by Francine Rivers and published by Tyndale House in 1999

by Barbara Moland

Leota’s garden is no longer a place of beauty.  At 84 years she is separated from her children by broken relationships.  At this lonely time in her life the garden that she had loved, cared for, prayed and worshipped in has gone into severe disrepair. Unable to work in the garden or keep up her home she struggles day after day to just make it.

Leota’s granddaughter Annie, always seeking God’s direction in her new post high school life, has been kept from knowing anything about Leota.  All the while seeking to honor and respect her mother, Annie decides to find her grandmother, in spite of the fear she has for what may come of finding her.

Very gradually over many months of carefully connecting with her grandmother, amid several intertwining relationships, Annie is able to turn Leota’s garden into a place of great beauty.  In fact her house and neighborhood becomes a changed place.  On her grandmother’s passing Annie is surprisingly awarded ownership of the home. Charting her course in life one step at a time, trusting God to lead her, she moves forward as Francine Rivers’ Christian fiction novel comes to a close.

Several topics involving relationships between/among people surface in Leota’s Garden:

  • parenting (parents goals for the child/child’s gifts, interests)
  • choosing a life partner
  • perils of  war and those suffering mental illness as a result
  • abortion
  • euthanasia
  • bitterness
  • misjudgments between generations, between countries/cultures, and between pastor and parishioner
  • neighborhood relationships
  • child care and nurturing…and much more. 
  • And surely again and again, the shining relationship between a believer and her Savior.

Francine Rivers, a prolific writer of Christian fiction, is very skilled in writing realistically about personal feelings and struggles. Faith thoughts which are italicized throughout the book, reveal angry feelings, yet confident freedom. For example:

“Oh, God, if Mother doesn’t come now, I’ll go and drag her by the hair to the hospital.”

Leota’s witty, somewhat tough personality was enjoyable.  It reminded me again and again of a loving, yet blunt personality of an 85 year old friend of mine.

At times in the novel’s assumptions spoke too loudly.  For example, the assumption that if Annie chose to persue art, this choice would negate the possibilities of a liberal arts education.  Also, I found the length of time and details portraying Nora’s  biases and personal hang-ups overly redundant.

Perhaps this season we who are gardeners can realize with Leota:

“… well, the garden was a refuge where I could work out my sorrows and frustrations and have joy poured back into me.”

Taking Time to Really See

by Jonni Sliver

So I was driving from Springfield, Mo. to Hannibal, Mo. and I’m afraid I might have been a bit of a road hazard –the scenery was totally distracting! Even on the interstate the road turned and curved, was uphill and down. I was surrounded by what looked like a dense forest, but the road itself was cut out from granite and amazing stone walls occasionally lined the interstate, other times the rock jutted out , in rugged beauty. As I was driving, a song was playing on the radio and the chorus was:

“You’re the reason for every good thing, every heartbeat, every day we get to breathe, You’re the reason.”

The song seemed so appropriate and it made me think about how many good things we see so often that we don’t notice them anymore. The people who drive on the I-44 every day outside of Springfield probably don’t consciously see the rock formations or the sea of trees anymore. But for a visitor, new to the Ozarks, it is amazing!

I had a similar experience less than a week ago, but in a totally different setting. I stopped at a farm in Randall, Iowa because it had the prettiest barn. Yes, driving down a county road I saw a really pretty barn. If you live on a county road in Iowa (rural Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin or a lot of other places) you see so many barns on an average day you might be surprised that one stands out from another. I know the sweet young lady that came out of the house when I stopped in her drive way seemed a bit confused. But barns are not part of my day to day landscape and this one stood out to me.

It strikes me that God has surrounded us with so many “good things”, special, precious things to bless our hearts, but we get so used to them we don’t see them anymore, and we miss the joy.

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”  Psalm 19:1  (ESV)

All around us, all the time God has something prepared to remind us of His great love. Take a minute to really see what is around you today!

Committedly Crazy

by Sarah Langness

As I wrote once before, I love to walk. Almost every day, Ezekiel and I head out on a four-mile walk. Even during the cold days of winter, we walked – as long as the temperature was above zero. I’ve gotten looks of disapproval from older ladies, countless offers for rides, and even made some friends on that walking path. I’ve been called determined and committed to my face; behind my back, I’m sure I’ve been called crazy and foolish. Today was probably one of those days I would be called either committed or crazy – take your pick. But at least it was just rain. And don’t worry – Zeke stays warm and dry. In fact, I think he’s wetter some mornings when he overflows his diaper than he is on days like today when we hit the walking path.

Today, with my hood soaked, falling over my face and making me look like some Star Wars character, I contemplated whether I was committed or crazy. And I couldn’t help but wish my walk with Christ was as much of an obvious commitment as my daily physical walk is. I mean, these people I meet out on our walk, whether they are on foot themselves or in a car, they see me nearly every day. Just the other day, a woman at a garage sale told me I was her “hero” because she drove past me every day.

But is my dedication to Christ as evident?

Do I follow Jesus with such obvious commitment?
Do those I meet in the grocery store or pharmacy know that I am not living for myself?
Do I get head-shakes from others who see me living as Jesus commanded?

And following Jesus? That happens in the little things, as well as the big. Following Jesus happens when I clamp my mouth shut when I want to participate in gossip about that person. Following Jesus happens when I respond in grace to my husband, instead of snapping back. Following Jesus happens when I go without the “extras” and the “nice” so that someone else can be given a meal.

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for the edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear . . . Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” – Ephesians 4:29, 31-32, NASB

“Let love be without hypocrisy . . .” – Romans 12:9, NASB

We don’t do it for ourselves, for our glory and praise. But for Him and for His.

“‘Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.‘” – Matthew 5:16, NASB

Stir Up One Another…

by Sarah Nelson

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”  Hebrews 10:24-25  (ESV)

Yesterday I was wrestling with a decision that my husband I were having to make.  We both knew what we needed to do, and that God was showing us that our options were gone, and truly the choice was made for us.  Yet, my heart and mind were bouncing around with all the “what ifs” and “should haves.”   I reached out to a dear friend across the miles who had gone through a similar situation.   She lovingly responded to my questions, both asked and unasked.  She affirmed that when we follow God in obedience we need to trust Him to work through, above, and beyond what we can see and understand.

While this friend is thousands of miles away from me, she continues to “stir” me up to love and good works as she encourages me and prays for me.  Our “meeting together” is not in a shared physical space, but takes place over internet connection.  I am so thankful that our prayers for one another reach God’s heart from our homes that are far apart.

Are you struggling today?   First, present your burden to the Lord.  He is the faithful Friend who is always there.   Ask that if He would have someone to come alongside you in your struggle, that He would provide that.  Do you have a friend who is going through a challenge?   Come alongside her in prayer, encouraging her that God sees her needs and is faithful to meet those needs.

Together let’s stir one another to love and good works, enjoy meeting together, and be dedicated to encouraging one another, all while we eagerly await the return of our Lord and Savior.

Showing God’s Love

by Velma Amundson

First, a Happy belated Mother’s Day to all the mom’s and grandmother’s out there. I also want to remember those women who have been like a mom to me. I’m sure we have all had a woman who mentored or helped us along the way.

I know I’ve mentioned that my husband had a knee replacement on April 9th. He’s doing very well. But we noticed something…he has a therapy kitty. Yep, this is another of the lessons I’ve learned from my cats. John has a therapy kitty. Every time he goes to do his physical therapy, our orange girl runs down with him and crawls up on his chest and stays with him. She comes out and sits with him while he works on the bike too. And, when I was sick to my stomach recently, she sat beside me, pressed up against my leg with her paw on my thigh the whole time. She obviously knows when we are not right and she offers as much support and sympathy as she can.

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”  1 Peter 3:8  (ESV)

We are told throughout the Bible that we are to help, support and have sympathy for our neighbors, our friends and families and even our enemies (feed them!) I know that we have prayer chains for those in need. In our community, when needed, we have provided meals to people who are temporarily unable to cook due to injuries or illness. We also make quilts, some of which go to World Relief, but often go to nursing home patients, people who have lost possessions to a fire, the local “boys ranch” for “troubled” youth, and several other charities. These are all examples of the charity that Jesus showed and that we are to show. Just like my cat, we are to reach out to those around us. May God richly bless and keep you, and may you show God’s love to those around you.

It’s Not Because of the Work

by Sarah Langness

I’m not a big birthday person. I’m okay with your birthday and his birthday or her birthday. Just not mine. And it has nothing to do with the fact that a birthday means I’m older. It’s all the attention. What are you supposed to do when a group of people sings “Happy Birthday” to you? Opening up presents in front of other people? That’s one of my least favorite things to do. And really, it’s just my birthday. Frankly, I didn’t do anything. My mom did all the work; I was just . . . born.

Mother’s Day, on the other hand, I like. Yesterday I celebrated my second Mother’s Day (and my little man’s first birthday- hooray!). I suppose if you applied my same “anti-birthday” logic to Mother’s Day, you’d think I didn’t care for this May holiday much either. But it’s much different in my mind. Sure, there’s attention – but it’s not all on me. There are LOTS of people being celebrated on Mother’s Day. There’s no song in which you sit awkwardly in front of a cake and stack of presents. And Mother’s Day – I feel like I earned it. Like it’s a day of recognition and appreciation for all I do as a mom. And I think it’s a pretty great idea!

I guess, what it all boils down to is this: I didn’t work for my birthday, so the love and greetings I receive seem undeserved. But for Mother’s Day – yeah, I do a lot of work. So I guess I feel like I deserve to be appreciated and loved. Make sense?

As I was sorting this through in my head last night, I couldn’t help but compare my “anti-birthday” and “pro-Mother’s Day” stance to God’s love and His abundant grace and freely given salvation.

God loves us. But not because of anything we’ve done. His grace extended towards us is not a payment for deeds completed. Salvation is given not because of the hard work I’ve put in at the church or the long hours at the food packing facility. I do not work for His love, His grace, His mercy. I am given His love. I am given His grace. I am given His mercy.

He loves us because we are His (Isaiah 43:3-4).
In fact, He loved us when we hated Him (Romans 5:6, 8)
He saved me as a gift. Because of His grace. He gave that which I do not deserve (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Because of His love – not because of anything I have done – I am a child of God(1 John 3:1)

I think that’s pretty awesome.

“But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved usnot on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” – Titus 3:4-7 (NASB, emphasis mine)