I’ve been spending a few minutes each morning in a devotional called God Calling. Two British women in the 1930s wrote down comforting and encouraging messages they believe God gave them as they faced great difficulties in their lives. One of the book’s major themes is finding joy, which all three of my devoted readers know is one of my favorite topics. Several days ago, a passage in the book told how our burdens distract us from joy, and how Jesus died so he could carry those burdens for us:
How foolish is any one of My disciples who seeks to bear his own burdens, when there is only one place for them – My Cross.
It is like a weary man on a hot and dusty road, bearing a heavy load, when all plans have been made for its carriage. The road, the scenery, flowers, beauty around – all are lost.
Reading this, I had the same kind of “Aha!” feeling I got in college when I’d finally understand a complex theorem. Wouldn’t it just take a road metaphor to help me understand?
I was sorting through my photographs recently looking for a few I might enlarge and frame. I was surprised by how many flowers I had photographed last year, many of them at the roadside as I explored an old highway. I felt pretty good as I realized just how often I stopped to take in the beauty around me.
I still lived in the church parsonage last spring when the bulbs on the grounds began to sprout. I wondered what they were – I can name only a few flowers, mostly the ones I like. I’d been a member at that church for three years but had never noticed the spring bulbs coming up before. I guess living on the church grounds focused my attention.
I had just bought a digital camera and took the opportunity to see how it would perform. I think it did a remarkable job of capturing the colors and details, as you can see in the three photos I’ve included so far.
Many kinds of weeds grow along the narrow creek that runs behind the parsonage. One had a vivid yellow flower that grabbed my attention even from the kitchen window fifty feet away. During the time these flowers flourished along the creek’s bank, I explored the orignal path of State Road 37. Wherever I stopped to take photographs, I was surprised to see entire farm fields full of this weed. It was quite arresting.
Elsewhere on this trip I was walking along what I thought was an abandoned section of State Road 37. There was a bridge along this secluded segment, typical of bridges built on Indiana highways in the 1920s and 1930s. I enjoyed the cool shade as I took photos of the bridge, which was overgrown. The flowers in the photo at right are a weed, I’m sure, and they were going to town here where nobody was keeping them in check.
About the time I snapped this photo, I noticed a hovering police car. I noticed a No Trespassing sign on a tree behind me. Whoops! I drove off, and fortunately the officer let me be chased off.
On my trip along the National Road in Illinois last July, scraggly plants with bright blue flowers, chicory, could be found growing along the road for several miles. We encountered these flowers on many stops.
The National Road’s path just east of Marshall is uncertain. The flowers in this photo are growing up a signpost along US 40, which lies between two potential National Road alignments. I wonder if all the flowers have 13 petals as the flower inset.
When we reached the National Road’s end in Vandalia, the city had placed big cement planters around the courthouse there. I’m drawn to all things purple, including the petunias they planted. Vandalia was the state’s capitol before Springfield, and the courthouse was previously the Statehouse.
Later in the summer, the catalpa tree on the church grounds bloomed. The flowers looked delicate but felt thick and sturdy. I especially liked the purple stretching along like veins from the flowers’ centers. The flowers didn’t last long, though. I first saw them the day I took these photos. When I mowed the grass the following weekend, most of the flowers had fallen, and the grass was blanketed in white petals.
This tree has got to be well over 100 years old. Its branches have grown twisted and knurled like the fingers of fifty old men all brought together. Its leaves grow large, thick, and heavy, but wither to nearly nothing before falling to the ground at autumn. The flowers come and go, of course, but its long seed pods, which remind me of giant green beans, last for weeks before they open and drop their seeds.
I came to feel a lot of affection for this old tree during my time in the parsonage.
Ask my mom and my ex-wife, both successful and prolific gardeners: I have never before given two shakes about things that grow out of the ground. But I’m sure glad that I’ve finally slowed down enough to enjoy the colorful scenery that rolls out before me as I go.
What about you? When you slow down, what things do you notice that bring you joy?