December 30, 2010

The Rest of the Story

Just four days after Michael's car was stolen, we got a phone call. This morning I had to write another poem to tell "the rest of the story".

On Christmas Eve, they stole his car—
And as crazy as this might sound;
I was praising God for the loss;
Never thinking it would be found.

God has taught me many things
Through the loss of this earthly treasure.
How Michael dealt with this loss,
Was a blessing beyond measure.

He was sad—that is true;
But, he handled it with grace.
He never once doubted God
No anger—Not a trace.

I got to see, through this, first hand,
What Michael views as “treasure”.
The man I married, has it right,
And this brought me great pleasure!

How he acted; what he said;
Touched me to the core.
His faith was never shaken
Which makes me love him even more.

For I hold things with open hands
For things will come and go.
The only thing that I hold dear
Is the One I’ve come to know.

God has taught us many things
Through this unfortunate circumstance—
As long as we have our Savior
We can always sing and dance.

For joy comes not from what we have—
Possessions that mold and rust
Joy comes from knowing Jesus Christ
In whom we put our Trust.

Not for earthly treasures—
That thieves break in and steal;
But, for the souls true pleasure
Our Savior Who is Real!

Hallelujah and Praise the Lord—
For as crazy as this might sound
Just four days later, we got a call.
Michael’s car had been found!

There was no damage to the car;
Nothing in it had been taken.
We are not sure exactly why
The car, they had forsaken.

Just two point four miles, east of us,
On the corner of “Butterball”
We rushed down to the towing yard
As soon as we got the call.

The car was still on the truck
CHP had called it in.
They charged us for a storage fee.
Please run that by me again?

A storage fee of fifty dollars;
For a car stored on their lot.
The car hadn’t even touched the ground
The trucks engine was even hot.

We were also charged the towing fee--
Six point three miles to be exact.
One hundred eighty dollars
Was added on top of that.

Two crimes have been committed--
Two kinds of thieves involved.
The first one stole our Honda;
The second? Our savings dissolved!

But, all in all, we can rejoice
For we see His hand in this.
He has used it for His Glory
And we feel our Savior’s kiss.

Not because we have our car
For that might be gone tomorrow.
We should feel sad when things are lost
But, lost souls should bring more sorrow.

God opened so many doors through this
For Michael to share Christ with others.
The claims adjuster; a CHP dispatcher;
“O’ Lord, make them our brothers.”

If we could have a hundred cars
Stolen; one each year.
In exchange for just one soul redeemed
We’d dance, we’d sing, we’d cheer!

So, thank you Lord for reminding us
On what and on Whom to cling.
And how You bring great blessings
Even out of wicked things.

December 26, 2010

Not the Christmas We Would Have Planned!

As many of you know, this was our first Christmas together as a married couple, and it is a Christmas we won't soon forget. Not for the reasons one might think. I sat down early this morning (Sunday) before getting ready for church and wrote a poem to express my thoughts. After reading to Michael, what I had penned, he took pen to paper and wrote the last seven stanzas. We will let the poem speak for itself:

“What did you get for Christmas?”
Some fudge, some socks, a cigar?
Or did you get something really neat
Like a vintage acoustic guitar?

When I return to work this week
That is a question they may ask.
They’ll want to know just what I got
And on what pleasures I did bask.

I’ll have to answer honestly
It’s not about wrapped things.
It’s not about what we get
But what our Savior brings.

Our hearts are filled with joy this year
And nothing can change that fact
No matter what the world might do
To tempt, to entice, to detract.

From all we hold so great and true
In our minds, our souls and our heart.
If all our “things” were taken away
Our joy would not depart.

We did not exchange a THING this year--
No boxed gifts or wrapped guitar.
In fact, a thief, on Christmas Eve
Stole my husband’s car.

He had just spent tons of money
To get it registered and “smogged”
It cost him all his savings ‘cause
The catalytic converted was so clogged.

Once it passed all the tests;
The plates cost even more.
Taking care of all the required things—
Became a costly chore.

But, one we had to take care of
So Michael could use his car.
He’s looking for work in the coming year
And most jobs are pretty far.

So there it was in the parking lot
With a brand new license plate.
We also got liability insurance
Before the expiration date.

We were covered for “Collision”
For that was all we could afford
“Comprehensive” might have allowed us--
To purchase a used Ford.

But, alas, we cannot complain.
You may wonder how we are.
We can still rejoice and thank The Lord
All they got was Michael’s car.

Imagine that, on Christmas Eve
A rainy, cold, dark night.
A thief broke into Michael’s car
And drove it out of sight.

Not only did he get the car,
This was auto theft first class!
His Christmas bonus for his crime?
We had just filled the tank with gas!

I wonder if he did exclaim
As he “drove it out of sight”,
Merry Christmas to myself this year—
It’s been a real good night!

But this is not the end of matters
We trust that God, with fear,
Will draw this thief unto Himself
And help him know true cheer!

He could not touch our joy or song
As God so good and gracious
As chosen to secure for us
All things so efficacious.

That in His pleasure, we be found
To walk the narrow way,
And guardeth every step we take
Till blameless on that day—

When Jesus comes, whose love abounds
In us yet more and more;
With knowledge and discernment
As to Him we shall then soar.

And things that seemed at times
To weigh upon us as a loss;
Will be found, unto His praise
Who gave upon the Cross—

His all that we may apprehend
His love Whom in all things
Worketh for eternal good
As over us He sings.

Delighting in the goodness
And the mercy He has shown
That all through life He carried us—
That through Him, we are known.

"It is (indeed) A Wonderful Life" when you know the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Michael's Honda Accord when it was safe and sound back in North Carolina.

Post Script: On Wednesday, December 29, 2010 at approximately 2:00 pm, we received a call from the California Highway Patrol. They had found Michael's car! It had been abandoned just 2.4 miles from our apartment. We picked it up at the tow company's yard (where we had to pay another couple hundred dollars) and had it back home by 4:00 pm. Praise the Lord! Nothing was damaged; nothing was stolen from inside the car; and it still had nearly a full tank of gas. I had given it up for gone. Now we deal with how to best protect it from being stolen again. I suppose we could sleep in the back seat everynight until we can afford a car alarm (tee hee)--perhaps if we were still 23 years old we might consider that an option--but, we're not, so we won't.

December 22, 2010

It's a Wonderful Life!

As much as we enjoy the film “It’s a Wonderful Life”, we did not set out to create Christmas cards fashioned after the VHS movie jacket. Many providential things took place that inspired this design. Michael had the idea to make a collage of photos that would give a glimmer of our life here in California. We worked on that card together picking four pictures: 1) our new family member “monkey” the cat from the Secret Garden who adopted us in October; 2) The winter snow scene on the highway from Reno to Sacramento; 3) Sacramento in the Fall; and, 4) the Wandering Jew from Michael’s grandma’s porch in North Carolina that is now growing here in California in our little apartment.

We needed one last photo—a current picture of the two of us together. So, we decided to do an impromptu photo session. We were already in our night clothes. Michael threw on a sport coat and I a red sweater; set up the tripod; and took a couple dozen photos. While viewing the photos, to decide which photo to use for the Christmas collage card, we came across the one where Michael was goofing around—he had grabbed me and kissed my cheek right as the camera was flashing. I loved the picture and after completing the Christmas collage card, I started playing with that one on my computer. I cropped it and then changed the colors to a sepia tone to give it a vintage look.

We sent the finished Christmas Collage print to Walgreens to have copies made for Christmas and thought that we were done with our Christmas cards for this year. During the week, I showed the vintage picture to a lady at work, whose name is Melanie, and she commented, “It’s a wonderful life where you are right now! Share that moment and bring a smile to people’s hearts…”

When I got home, I shared with Michael what Melanie had said and we both reflected back on how we had just watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” together the previous week. I took the VHS movie jacket to the computer and went to work attempting to recreate it using our vintage photo. It took a few hours for it to all come together, but after it was completed, we both decided that this year we would send two Christmas Cards.

For us, it is indeed a wonderful life right now and we are very much enjoying the love that we have for one another. However, we are under no delusion that life on earth is always wonderful—as the world defines wonderful. As we reflect on the birth of our Lord this Christmas season our hearts are warmed and our souls delight in knowing that whatever may befall us during our life here on earth the thing that brings us the most happiness is knowing that He was born a man, lived a perfect life, paid the penalty for our sins by suffering the wrath of God on our behalf, so that we might have life everlasting through His atoning work on the cross at Calvary. What joy it is to know the One who came so that all who would believe on Him would have life everlasting. Now that will truly be “A Wonderful Life” for all that know the Savior.

With Love for You this Christmas Season and Throughout the Coming Year
Dianna Wood

“And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”

The Story of This Card (As told by Michael)

Dianna had set up the tri-pod in our living room to take some pictures with the intent of using one to make our own Christmas cards. While reviewing the nearly thirty pictures,
We happened to come across this one which reminded us of an old vintage movie poster. Dianna showed the picture to Melanie, one of her friends at work, explaining how it came about. Her response was, “It’s a wonderful life where you are right now.” Little did she know that the previous week we had watched the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life” starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed released in 1946.

For those that may not be familiar with the story line, Stewart grows up with anticipation of following his dreams to see the world; but, because of a number of circumstances stays in his hometown, doing good to others, and marries his sweet heart. By chance a large portion of the money from his business turns up missing. With false accusations arising and the impending closure of his business, he goes to a bridge on Christmas Eve with strong consideration of jumping over to end his life.

An angel is sent to earth and appears to him. The most dramatic thing the angel does is show him what effect on others would have been had he never been born.

The Bible tells us that Job underwent such calamities that he came to the place in which “he opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth.” And yet, through the life of Job, countless numbers of believers have been encouraged by the Word of God to see that God is sovereign in working all things together for the good of His children and for His own glory.

The Bible, on the other hand, tells us of Judas in Matthew 26:24, “…It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” All of us fall into one of these two categories of men. Apart from the free grace of God through the merit of the finished work of Christ at Calvary, we would all fall under the category of the latter rather than the former.

All of life must be viewed from an eternal perspective rather than the mere temporal, as it is not by works of righteousness of which we do but according to the mercy of God that we are saved. This He does for His glory that all may know that He is God and God Alone! And thus, the idea to make this card and the following poem was born.

How wonderful is all of life
When redeemed from sin and strive.
But greater than you may perceive
The truth of Christ, you must believe.

And though the movie was not real
There were great truths in it concealed
As in this life you’ll never know
The impact of His love you show
Until with Him in scenes of glory
All creation sings His Story.

Rejoicing in Jesus,
Michael Wood

“…the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God…Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life…“Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.”
Excerpts from Ecclesiastes 9

December 19, 2010

Okay, the matter has been settled (in case there was any doubts) – We are definitely NOT cat people and this has been confirmed over the last several weeks of taking this cat into our home (he adopted us). He tricked us into thinking that he was different then most cats; but, he is not. After just two weeks, he started showing his true colors. He is moody, self-focused, self-centered, and unpredictable! He has made it clear that we do not own him, he owns us.

After reading up on how to understand cats and how to properly “meet a cats needs” – we realized that he needed something other than our heads, hands, face, feet and slippers to attack, so we got him his own monkey. They were introduced last night.

In addition, we went to see The Chronicles of Narnia in 3-D this week and when I got home I made a little “Movie Poster with Monkey as the star instead of Aslan. Aslan, the “Great Lion” and Monkey “The Demon Boy” have absolutely nothing in common. That is crystal clear!

December 16, 2010

November 27, 2010

Well, it's official. "Monkey" has got a clean bill of health and Michael and I have resolved to keep this little creature.

November 17, 2010

You're Fooling Yourself

This has nothing to do with the "Secret Garden", but, this is really, really, good and I wanted to retain a copy on this blog.!

You're Fooling Yourself

There's loads of knowledge to be found, but wisdom is a rare commodity. Why? Because wisdom is one of sin's first casualties. It's hard to admit, but true none the less: sin reduces all of us to fools. And the fact is that no one is more victimized by your foolishness than you are.

You see the empirical evidence of the foolishness of sin on almost every page of Scripture. For example, you see foolishness in full operation in the tragic story of David and Bathsheba. This is why David says, "Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place" (Psalm 51:6 NIV).

You read the story of David's sin, and you say to yourself, "What was he thinking? Did he really believe that he'd get away with this? Did he completely forget who he was? Did he think that God was going to stand idly by and let this happen?" But David is not some extreme case of foolishness gone wild; you see evidence of the same foolishness in each of our lives daily. People could say of us again and again, "What was he thinking? What was she thinking?"

What does foolishness look like? Here are four of its most significant aspects.

1) The Foolishness of Self-centeredness

We were created to live for something, someone bigger than ourselves. We were designed to live with, for, and through the Lord. God is meant to be the motivation and hope of everything we do. His pleasure, his honor, and his will are the things for which we are meant to live. But the foolishness of sin really does cause us to reduce our lives to the size and shape of our lives.
Often our living has no greater purpose than self-satisfaction and self-fulfillment. Does this sound harsh? Well, ask yourself, "Why do I ever get impatient with others?" "Why do I ever say things I shouldn't say?" "Why do I get discouraged with my circumstances?" "Why do I give way to anger or give in to self-pity?" The answer is that, like me, you want your own way, and when things don't go your way or people are in your way, you lash out in anger or you turn inward in discouragement.

2) The Foolishness of Self-deception

We're all very good at making ourselves feel good about what God says is bad. We're all very skilled at recasting what we've done so what was wrong doesn't look so wrong to us. I'll tell myself that I didn't really lash out in anger; no, I was speaking as one of God's prophets. I'll tell myself that that second look wasn't lust; I am simply a man who enjoys beauty. I'll tell myself that I'm not craving power; I'm just exercising God-given leadership gifts.

Foolishness is able to do something dangerous. It's able to look at wrong and see right. Had David been able to see himself with accuracy and if he'd been able to see his sin for what it really was, it's hard to imagine that he would have continued to travel down that pathway.

3) The Foolishness of Self-sufficiency

We all like to think of ourselves as more independently capable than we actually are. We weren't created to be independent, autonomous, or self-sufficient. We were made to live in a humble, worshipful, and loving dependency upon God and in a loving and humble interdependency with others.

Our lives were designed to be community projects. Yet, the foolishness of sin tells us that we have all that we need within ourselves. So we settle for relationships that never go beneath the casual. We defend ourselves when the people around us point out a weakness or a wrong. We hold our struggles within, not taking advantage of the resources that God has given us.
The lie of the garden was that Adam and Eve could be like God, independent and self-sufficient. We still tend to buy into that lie.

4) The Foolishness of Self-righteousness

Why don't we celebrate grace more? Why aren't we more amazed by the wonderful gifts that are ours as the children of God? Why don't we live with a deep sense of need, coupled with a deep sense of gratitude for how each need has been met by God's grace? Well, the answer is clear. You'll never celebrate grace as much as you should when you think you're more righteous than you actually are.

Grace is the plea of sinners. Mercy is the hope of the wicked. Acceptance is the prayer of those who know that they could never do anything to earn it. But the foolishness of sin makes me righteous in my own eyes.

When I tell my stories, I become more the hero than I ever was. I look wiser in my narratives than I could have been. In my view of my history, my choices were better than what they actually were. Often it isn't my sin that keeps me from coming to God. Sadly, I don't come to him because I don't think I need the grace that can be found only in him.

Here is what all of us must face, sin really does reduce us all to fools, but happily the story doesn't end there. The One who is the ultimate source of everything that's good, true, trustworthy, right, and wise is also a God of amazing grace.

You don't get freed from your foolishness by education or experience. You don't get wisdom by research and analysis. You get wisdom by means of a relationship with the One who is Wisdom.
The radical claim of the Bible is that wisdom isn't first a book, or a system, or a set of commands or principles. No, wisdom is a person, and his name is Jesus Christ. When you and I are graced into acceptance with him, we're drawn into a personal relationship with Wisdom, and Wisdom begins a lifelong process of freeing us from the stronghold that the foolishness of sin has on us. We aren't yet completely free, but there will be a day when our every thought, desire, choice, action, and word will be fundamentally wise!

It makes such sense then, that a repentant man (David) would reflect on his need for wisdom. Sin, in reducing us to fools, causes us to do foolish things, even though we think we're wise. And for this we need more than information, education, and experience. We need exactly what we find in Christ—grace.

Wisdom is the product of grace; there is simply nowhere else it can be found.

November 17, 2010 by: Paul Tripp

November 16, 2010

First there were "galls" and now "conks"

My goodness, I am learning a whole new vocabulary! Had you ever heard of "galls" before reading my earlier posts? Have you ever heard of a "conk"? Me either. So what exactly is a conk? Well, let me share:

On my way through the parking lot on Monday evening, after stopping to get the mail, I drove past a large oak tree that grew next to the recycle dumpster in the parking lot of the apartment complex. Just about 3 feet off the ground, in a hollow out dead portion of the trunk of the tree, there was something jetting out that looked like layers of 12" golden clam shells. After parking the car and going upstairs, I asked Michael if he wanted to take a short walk. I explained that I had seen something very odd and wanted to get a closer look. So we grabbed the camera and headed back to that tree.

It was amazing. They seemed to be some sort of mushrooms. I had seen smaller versions on trees before, but nothing like this. It felt cool to the touch almost like wrinkly old skin or rubber. The largest one was at least 12 inches wide.

I took several pictures. I was not satisfied that these were mushrooms and wanted to find out more about them. So I did a little research only to discover that what we had growing inside the hollow section of the trunk of that old oak tree was actually:

"Fruiting bodies of the sulfur fungus, Laetiporus sulphureus."

The fungus causes a brown heart rot on living trees but will also decay dead trees. Can enter trees through bark wounds and dead branch stubs. Fungus is one of the most serious causes of decay in oaks and one of the few fungi that cause decay in yew. The soft, fleshy, moist conks range from 2-12 inches wide and are bright orange-yellow above and red-yellow below. Conks are produced annually and appear singly or in clusters, usually in fall; they become hard, brittle, and white with age. Conks do not appear until many years after the onset of decay and indicate extensive internal damage.

Unfortunately, what this means is that giant oak tree is in dire straits and will probably be the next one to fall in the garden.

November 13, 2010

Remember that kitty that the Fireman rescued?

It was raining hard last weekend and early Sunday morning, Michael heard something at the front door. He opened it only to find a wet kitty looking up at him. It was the same kitty that we had rescued from the oak tree just outside our balcony (see earlier post). We were getting ready for church, but couldn't just leave that little wet kitty outside. We went and got a towel, dried her off and brought her into the warm apartment as we finished getting ready for church. All we had was a few boiled eggs, so we warmed one up; cut it into bit size pieces and fed it to her.

It was still raining pretty hard so before leaving we fashioned a waterproof box and placed it facing the front door on our front porch, which was out of the rain and wind; put a towel in the box; put the kitty in the box and left for church. We left around 9:00 am and arrived home about 2:00 in the afternoon. It had stopped raining and as we walked up our stairs to our front door, there she was stretching a paw out of the box and yawning. We laughed and let her in for another boiled egg. What were we going to do with this kitty? We didn't really know. We let her stay in the apartment over night and put her out the following morning. The rain had stopped and we assumed she would go home (wherever that was).

On Monday night, Michael kept going to the front door and peeking out. At 11:30 that night, on the last "peek" there was the kitty and we let her in again. We talked about what we were going to do with this cat. I am not a cat person. On Tuesday, we talked more and bought a small bag of cat food and a small bag of kitty litter. If she was going to be in the apartment, "Visiting" I wanted to make sure she had a place to go. She took to the litter box right away. Michael let her stay in on Tuesday and things went from there...

Thursday was Veteran's Day and I had the day off. We ended up in Auburn, a small town approximately 26 miles north of our apartment up interstate 80. I had spent the week researching veterinary clinics in our area, only to discover that even an exam would cost nearly thirty dollars--add to that; vaccinations, rabies shot, testing for leukemia, Frontline for fleas and drops for mites in the ear and we would be out a couple hundred dollars; not to mention the going rate for spaying a cat--another hundred to hundred and ninety dollars.

Forget it!

But; we did want to (at the very least) find out the general overall heath of the kitty and, if need be, have her spayed. That is how we ended up in Auburn. I had found a non-profit spay and neuter clinic there that would exam the kitty for five dollars, spay her for thirty and administer all the other vaccinations at a very low cost. Michael had a softer heart for this animal than I did, and yet I was growing somewhat fond of her. I could tell Michael wanted to take care of this kitty and on Tuesday night he had asked me, "Do you want to keep this kitty?" I answered, "Yes, I suppose I do" and he smiled and said, "Okay".

We fashioned a carrier out of a plastic file crate, using an oriental tea tray for the lid and one of my stretching black belts to secure the lid to the crate. It was a half hour drive and she never meowed a single time, which amazed me. We arrived just as the clinic was opening and the lobby was already full. We told the lady at the front counter why we were there; that we knew nothing about this kitty, and that we really just wanted to have her examined and then decide where to go from there. While filling at the chart, she asked us what the kitty's name was and we looked at each other and said, "kitty" as that was what we had been calling her since she arrived last rainy Sunday morning on our front porch.

We had only been in the lobby for 5 minutes before we were called into the exam room. The doctor was a tall woman with a rather serious disposition. Of course, all the doctors working there do so on a volunteer basis, and must see hundreds of cats and dogs and also perform surgeries during their shifts. Personality is not a requirement when working with animals.

She looked at the kitty's teeth, checked her ears and felt her tummy. I asked how old she thought she was, and was told that the cat was approximately 10 months old. The Vet than asked Michael to hold the kitty's front paws and she check her "private" parts.

I asked the Vet, "can you tell if she has been spayed already?" The Vet smiled and said, "Actually, she has not been spayed because she is a he. You have a neutered male cat here."

Michael and I were thrilled! We had not wanted to put out the expense of spaying the cat nor go through the recovery process in our little apartment; so, needless to say, we were thrilled, indeed.

She then ran the scanner over the kitty and low and behold, the kitty had a microchip. We were told that any animal who had been neutered and micro chipped, would undoubtedly have already been vaccinated and had their rabies shot. We left there having to pay only for an exam, some Frontline and some ear drops. Of course, we also had the microchip number and the phone number to call to find out if the chip was registered.

To make a long story short, I spent quite sometime on the phone with the company. I was told that the original owner had given the cat to a "caregiver" but they were not sure what the status was. The owner indeed lived in our apartment complex, but we were not given the name or phone number; instead the company took our number and told us that she would call the original owner and have them call us.

On Friday, the owner called and left a message. She said that she no longer owned the cat; that she had given it to a neighbor. There is more to that story; but, I will spare the reader of the details and simply end this post by informing the reader that we now have a new member of the family. By the way, Michael has named him "Monkey".

Who would have thought that after just 6 months of marriage I would now be a mom to a monkey!

Well, here is our little "Monkey"

November 7, 2010

Fall has arrived in the Secret Garden and with it a new litter of wild kittens. Michael took a few pictures of them (from afar). They were born under the fallen Oak tree and come out in the warmth of the afternoon sun. The mother cat does not let anyone near them; so, getting a picture was a rare treat. I am enjoying turning his photo's into little "watercolors" and making small greeting cards out of them.

October 31, 2010

I am not a "cat" person; however...

some cats are not typical cats.

To tell the story of the latest "happenings" in the Secret Garden, I will begin with a bit of background information.

This is about a cat. There are many cats that roam around in the Secret Garden. Some are wild, being born and raised without a human caretaker. These cats are not "people friendly"--which is just fine with me. Some are pets of the residents of Copper Creek and will occasionally approach you (the way cats do when they want something). I have not been interested in either variety.

One morning, upon rising, Michael and I were sitting out on the balcony enjoying our morning cup of coffee, when we heard a faint "meowing" coming from the giant oak tree that grows alongside our balcony. As we looked through the branches, we saw a small yellow tabby cat (perhaps a teenager) sitting in the nook of the tree. This tree had a trunk that grew straight up (at least 15 feet) before the first branches sprang out. This poor little cat was just staring at as and crying. He kept climbing up higher into the branches and then coming back down to the lowest area to rest. He would look down the 15 foot trunk, cry, and then climb back up again, only to return to the lowest area. We guessed that a critter must have chased him up the tree the night before.

Well, we needed to get going on our day and hoped that by the time we got home that afternoon, he would have found a way down out of that tree. But, alas, at 5:00 pm that night, he was still in the tree. By this time, however, all the "climb" was out of him. It had been in the 90's all day and he had been in that tree all day. He was no longer attempting to even try to find a way down. He was just laying in the nook where the trunk met the first boughs, with his legs hanging down in exhaustion and panting and crying. There was no way we could help this cat and we didn't know if he was a wild one or a tame one. Even if we could borrow a ladder that was tall enough to reach him, we figured that he might tear us up out of fear of humans. What to do?

We really could not tolerate the idea of sitting out on our balcony and waiting for him to die of starvation or dehydration. So, I said to Michael, "Do you think Firemen still rescue cats out of trees?" "I don't know", was Michael's reply.

We decided to call. There was no "non-emergency" number listed for the fire department and we knew this "emergency" would not qualify for a 9-1-1 call; so, I called the non-emergency police dispatch instead. When they answered, I explained the dilemma to her and asked, "Do firemen still rescue cats out of trees?" She laughed and said, "I doubt it". She did provide me with a non-emergency number for the local fire station. I called and "Guess what?" Firemen do still rescue cats out of trees. Of course, that probably depends on what else happens to be going on at the time.

Within 6 or 7 minutes, we had a huge fire truck and three fire fighters with us in the Secret Garden. It was delightful to watch them go to work. The one that climbed the ladder, had the same fear we had, "What would that cat do if I grabbed him?" He went up the ladder with a thick coat on, his helmet with the face visor down, and thick leather gloves. When he got to where the cat was, he hesitated--not sure just how to proceed. His buddy on the ground yelled up, "Don't be gentle - Just grab him by the scuff of the the neck"-- so he did. To his surprise and ours, that cat just snuggled up to the firefighter and went limp in his arms. We stood on the ground, clapping and cheering.

With a grin from ear-to- ear the firefighter descended the ladder and placed the cat safely on the ground.

Well, since that day, we still do not know who owns this cat; but, we are pretty certain that he has an owner as he smells good, has no signs of fleas or ear mites, and appears at the base of our stairs often or appears out of no where and joins us on our walks in the garden.

Yesterday, I decided to pick him up and carry him in my arms as we went on our journey through the garden. Since I had my camera with me, we could not help but take some pictures of this amazingly sweet cat. He seems to love being held and sniffs, kisses and nuzzles up to us. Well, I'll let the pictures speak for themselves. Enjoy!

And, finally, the "I am not a cat person" picture. Like I said, this is no typical cat!

October 10, 2010

In A Different Garden Today!

It was Saturday morning, October 9, 2010 when we arrived in the parking lot of the Covenant Reformed Church in Sacramento. We were there to hear Joel Beeke speak on the topic of the (forgotten) doctrine of assurance. Dianna knew of Dr. Beeke from the books he had written and published and had also exchanged a few emails back in 2001 regarding the Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and potential church planting in California.

As we parked the car, a small older black lady was strolling by on a morning walk with her little dog. Michael (as is his customary way) walked over greeting her with a "Good Morning and how are you doing. My name is Michael. I would like to share with you a short poem that I have written?" as he handed her the small accordion folded paper with the title, "His Wrath Satisfied" printed on the top of the 2 1/2 by 3 1/4 inch square.

As a side note: The Lord used a sermon by Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Romans 3:25-26 as an inspiration for the words of this poem. Since writing the poem, (which is just one of hundreds) Michael has passed along well over 700 copies of this poem to people he meets.

As she took the poem, she thanked Michael and said, "One of these Sunday's I'm going to attend a church service at this church." "What is your name?", Dianna asked, “and how about tomorrow? There is a guest pastor who will be preaching tomorrow and I am certain what he has to share will be a blessing to you. We will be here again tomorrow. We hope you will seriously consider coming.”

"I just might do that" she said as she walked off. "Lillie Mae is my name". "Okay, Lillie Mae. It was sure nice meeting you--hope to see you tomorrow" we said as we waved goodbye and walked towards the front of the church.

The morning zipped by, as it often does, when one is swept away by Christ exalting preaching of God's truths. Before turning in for the night, we thanked the Lord for the encounter with Lillie Mae and wondered if she would indeed show up Sunday morning.

Before leaving out for Sunday morning Worship Services, we spoke briefly of Lillie Mae and prayed again that the Lord would draw her to the church.

Between the Sunday school session and the Worship Service there was a short break. As I was walking back towards my seat, there she was talking with Dr. Beeke. Apparently, she had gone right up to him and shared with him that she had been back-sliding for quite sometime and had felt the tug to come back to the Lord. Michael and I were filled with joy to see her and invited her to sit with us.

She opened her bible and pulled out Michael's poem. We all smiled and she took her seat to the right of me.

During the sermon, while we were instructed to turn to Romans, I glanced down to see little "x" marks in the left margins of many of the passages in Romans. As Dr. Beeke would read passages, she would mark the left margin with an "x" if it did not already have one. As Dr. Beeke spoke about Chapter 8 of Romans, I glanced down to see Lillie Mae circle the chapter heading and write "READ THIS" in big letters next to the chapter heading.

What a sweet morning it was. Here we were with Lillie Mae sitting right next to us, a woman we had but met for a brief moment in the parking lot the morning before. After the service, we got to know more about Lillie Mae and prayed with her. She again had tears of joy rolling down her face. Turns out she lives behind the church in an upstairs apartment. We exchanged phone numbers with a promise to check in with one another in the coming weeks.

We are amazed a we marvel at God’s providence in all of this. The timing of our arrival on Saturday; parking were we did; Dr. Beeke's presence at this church on this weekend; and on and on it goes. What a true and profound blessing to witness how the Lord had moved providentially over the past days and to witness how the message Dr. Beeke preached was clearly used by the Lord in a mighty way in the heart of this woman. She was moved to tears (as was I) many, many times.

Lillie Mae spent most of her early years in Atlanta, Georgia attending baptist churches. We are not sure how long it has been since she attended church services here in California; but, it has been a long, long, time.

After conversation and prayer; we trust that the Lord is drawing her back to Himself in a mighty way. She is a sweet and precious flower to us and we will include her as we walk together through the garden of our morning and evening prayers.

Thank You Lord for the sweetness You showered upon all of us today!

September 7, 2010

The Other Secret Garden

This weekend we spent sometime in the "other" Secret Garden. Which isn't so secret, at all. In fact, millions have discovered it over the years. It is where we were betrothed a year ago. If you have never been--Go! It is (in my opinion) the most beautiful place on earth--Point Lobos State Park just south of Carmel, California.

I took Michael there on his first visit to California in July 2009.

It was not only our one-year "betrothal" anniversary; but, my 50th birthday also happened to fall on Labor Day this year; so, we decided to make it a double celebration. I decided to attempt to recapture my youth by performing a few cartwheels and handstands on the beach. Michael snapped a few pictures.

It worked while I was in the midst of it; but two days later I felt as though I had been hit by a train and dragged a mile along the tracks.

I have concluded that "Because the soul is ageless; the mind has difficulty reconciling that the body is not!"

It was a wonderful time!

August 30, 2010

The Dragon Fly Wand

What joy a simple thing can bring!

Remember me telling of my bamboo walking stick, aka: "vine and branch pulling" tool? Remember me telling you of how a bright red-orange dragon fly decided to lite upon the end of it and then did so again while picking wild blackberrries with Deni?

Well, it is now officially known as my "Dragon Fly Wand". Yesterday, after church, I placed a rhinestone hair clip on the end of it, and look what I caught!

August 29, 2010

Well, "GALL"-Y!

Remember Gomer Pile? He used to use the expression, "Well, GAAAAALLY".. This post has nothing to do with 1960's sitcoms or Jim Neighbors; but it does have to do with "Galls". You may be asking, “And what on earth are “Galls”? You wouldn’t be alone in your inquiry.

I can't help but to conclude that few people know what a gall is. After all, I have lived almost 50 years without knowing what a "gall" is and yet there are tens of thousands of galls and they are all around us.

It all started with the "oak balls" or "oak apples" . There were thousands of them hanging on the branches of the oak trees in the Secret Garden. There were big ones and little ones; dark brown ones and light yellow ones; round ones and kidney bean shaped ones. We discovered these during our first week at the apartment. I had seen oak balls throughout my life, but never really knew what they were. My aunt actually incorporated a few of them in the wreaths he would make during the Christmas holiday. She would make wreaths from different varieties of pine cones and acorns that she had gathered throughout the year and give them as gifts to family member and friends. The one she gave Grandpa and Grandma had an oak ball glued in among the other varnished items.

Michael and I decided to take one of the oak apples, that had fallen to the ground, back to our apartment. The idea was to cut it open. We had no idea what we might find. Had I known what we would discover, I probably would have rather cut it open outside on the porch than on the kitchen counter. eeeeeuuuuuuuu!

In addition, had my aunt known what was inside that oak ball, I have a feeling, she may have decided that it was not a good choice for a Christmas wreath. Yes, that little white think in the middle of the oak gall, is a living larvae.

The oak ball discovery was just the beginning. After researching oak balls "Galls" we felt very educated. This education came early on in the Secret Garden. It did not, however, prepare us for what we would discover months later.

Just recently, during one of our evening walks in the garden, Michael stopped near an old Blue Oak and exclaimed, "Wow, what on earth are these?" I hurried over to see the most beautiful and unusual little pink crowns growing on the underneath of a blue oak leaf.

We took the leaf home, took pictures, and placed it in a jar. I tried to find something similar on the internet; but could find nothing. So, I decided to send a picture to the Botanical Society of America asking them what these beautiful things were.
Yes, you may have guessed, these were also a type of "gall". Here was the answer I received:
The structures on your oak leaves are Spined Turban Galls and are caused by a tiny, gnat-sized wasp, Antron douglasii . This is a gall we don’t see here in the Midwest, as it occurs primarily on Blue oaks (Quercus douglasii) in California. As far as the tree is concerned, the galls are harmless. I agree they are beautiful, but I only know this gall from pictures. It’s a great find on your part.

You can find additional information about this curious insect by Googling “Antron douglasii”. Click on Google Images to see more pictures.

There is a Bay Area resident and naturalist by the name of Ron Russo who has extensively studied plant galls and written the field guide “Plant Galls of California and Other Western States” (UC Press, 2007). You can also find several articles online that he has authored, including and
Here is the little wasp that will eventually crawl out of those pretty pink crowns.
How wonderful! We have since discovered numerous other types of galls in the Secret Garden. Next time you are out among trees, I might suggest you take a closer look. There is a banquet for the eyes out there of God's magnificent creation and yet so many of us our are starving simply because we do not open our eyes to the feast all around.
More to come....

August 28, 2010

The Blackberry Massacre

Not only did we discover mulberries on a tree growing right along our second story balcony, but we also discovered that there were all kinds of fruit and nut trees lining the creek that ran behind our apartment. Wild plums (three different varieties) figs, walnuts, cherries, and what we think may be hazel nuts. Among all the fruit and nut trees are also giant eucalyptus, redwood, palm, Japanese silk, and lotus trees; and, of course, three or four varieties of oak trees. All of these trees are extremely old, and are not cared for by anyone. They grow wild in a protected area which is bordered by a cemetery, a major highway, and the apartment complex where we live.

We discovered that this area was once called, "Foothill Farms" and was primarily orchards and gardens prior to being developed. The trees and all the plants lining the creek were all part of Foothill Farms and are the only ones remaining since the area was developed.

Well, while out walking in the garden, we also discovered wild blackberries! The mulberries were good, but they were very tiny and limited to one tree. The wild blackberries, on the other hand, were everywhere and they were ripe. The hunt was on!

I invited Deni over, early one Saturday morning, and greeted her at the door, dressed for the hunt!
Deni and I went out determined to find and pick every ripe blackberry that we could find. We spent, probably, two hours walking from one end of the secret garden to the other. Deni did most of the actual picking of the berries. I used my bamboo stick, which had a large hook on the end, which I had fashioned from a large bobby pin and secured with gold jewelry wire wrapped tightly around the base. I would use the hook on the end of the stick to pull vines that were out of reach, or so they thought. Deni would then pluck the juicy berries off the vines and place them in the basket that I wore around my waste.

As Deni I were walking along, she noticed a dragon fly following us. I shared with her that, one late afternoon, while Michael and I were out walking along the creek, a giant, bright orange dragon fly had landed on the end of my stick. Well, guess what. He decided to land on my stick again to both of our delight!

The most fascinating thing we discovered were berry vines growing up in old trees. We could hardly believe our eyes, as we glanced up to find wild black berries hanging 10 feet above us from the trees.

Well, the hunt was exhausting and it was getting warm. We couldn't decide who got massacred worst: the berry vines or Deni.

Up the stairs we went to wash: both Deni and the berries. Here in California, people pay a pretty steep price for certified organic blackberries. Well, we figured that we picked at least $40 worth (at fair market value) and were determined to eat them all.

After a thorough washing, I made blackberry and cream cheese stuffed pancakes, with warm blackberry topping drizzled over them and sprinkled with powdered sugar.

We ended up having enough to freeze at least enough for two more meals. In fact, Michael picked up a pound cake and tonight we will be smothering it will warm blackberries and blackberry syrup. Probably will add fresh whipped cream topping, as well.

More to come...

What are those miniature blackberries growing on a 40 foot tall tree anyway?

During the first week here in California in our little apartment; one of our favorite places to spend time was on the balcony. The trees where so close that we could have reached out and grabbed them if it wasn’t for the bug netting that completely enclosed the balcony from any outside unwelcomed visitors, i.e. wasps and bees. It seemed to us that the bug netting; although we could see out clearly, must have been almost like a two way mirror to the birds and the squirrels, as they would come within a foot from us while perching in the branches of the trees.

This, of course, delighted both of us. We felt as though we had our very own private nature arboretum. We could sit for hours watching the squirrels play in the trees, while occasionally stopping to munch on the little berries. However, with the bug netting enclosure, we felt, at times, that we were the ones in a cage, and they were actually watching us.

Back to the tree. This tree with its liitle berries fascinated both of us. Neither one of us had ever seen such a tree.

My best friend Deni stopped by for a visit and the three os us spent a great deal of time out on the balcony; visiting and enjoying God’s creation. She noticed got to witness the squirrels in the trees and commented on the berries as well; but, without her glasses, she seemed to think they looked more like blueberries. We told her that the actually looked more like little blackberries and then the conversation turned to other things and she departed for home.

The next day, as we were leaving the apartment, Michael noticed that some of the lower branches, near the bottom of the stairs, contained plenty of ripe berries. He remarked, “Hey, let’ bring one over to Deni’ house, so that she can see the berry close-up. He pulled on off the tree and placed it in a bottle cap. As this was a spontaneous, unplanned trip, we did not find Deni home upon our arrival. So, we left the little bottle cap on her kitchen counter.

Before leaving, I told Michael, “Knowing Deni as well as I do, I think I better leave a note”. I took a post-it note from the desk and simply wrote, “DO NOT EAT!” Deni can through caution to the wind at times when it comes to experimenting with the unknown. I on the other hand, am too caution at times; but, I have not yet died from the ingestion of an unknown wild plant food.

Deni called later that day and left a message saying, “Wow, is that one of the berries from the big tall tree? Up close, it does look more like a blackberry—Oh, and don’t worry, although I was tempted, I didn’t eat it.”

Well, that got us thinking, “What kind of a tree is this? Are those berries actually edible? If the squirrels and birds eat them, they must not be poisonous.” So, I goggled, “Tree with miniature black berries?” and the first hit in the search was a post from someone else who was asking the same question. Well, come to find out, that tree is a fruiting mulberry tree. And, yes, the berries are edible. I was amazed. I had heard of mulberry bushes. In fact, as children, we used to sing a song, “Here we go around the mulberry bush” every time we were in the car with grandma and she was getting on or off a freeway entrance that looped around. However, I had never heard of a Mulberry tree and here we had one right outside our apartment.

We researched mulberry trees and recipes for mulberries. That evening we decided to “go-a-harvesting”. The berries were in different stages of development- light green, light pink, red, and, of course, black ones being the ripest. Because of their size and the limited number of black ripe berries, we did not come away with a bushel. Instead we ended up with maybe a cup of mulberries to work with.

That night for dinner we had oatmeal mulberry pancakes, topped with fresh mulberry syrup. That was just the beginning. That was what sparked our interest in exploring the rest of the wilderness area which we now call “The Secret Garden”. And yes, the mulberry tree, with its tiny berries was just the beginning of the wonders that we would find in this most enchanting place.

More to come...

How It All Started...

On May 18th, 2010 we were married and would spend the following week driving from North Carolina to California where we would begin our life as a married couple. I had procured a small one bedroom apartment and had spent the month prior to the wedding preparing our new dwelling. The apartment was an upstairs unit with a balcony that faced a County owned wilderness area. My desire was to make that balcony space into additional living space; but, that would entail a great deal of creativity.

The balcony was outside the sliding glass doors, and the idea was to create an enclosed, bug free room, which would allow us to keep the sliding door open.

I purchased bug netting, a large rectangular market umbrella, and a sea grass area rug. After an entire day devoted to this room, it came together.

Growing near the balcony, to the right, was a large oak tree; and to the left a beautiful tree that the squirrels loved to play in. The tree to the left had, what appeared to be, miniature black berries on all the branches. Before leaving for North Carolina, I would watch the squirrels balance themselves on branches while eating the juicy morsels. I had no idea what kind of tree it was; but I could hardly wait until Michael would be here with me to enjoy our little oasis on the balcony.

After our week-long journey across the United States, we arrived late afternoon on May 26th. The next day would begin our adventures and discoveries in what we now call “The Secret Garden”. It all started with the strange and lovely tree filled with (what could best be described as) miniature black berries.
And thus the adventure begins...

August 13, 2010

The Secret Garden and Dry, Dead Bones!

In Ezekiel 37:1-14, we are told of the vision given which speaks of the Israel of God as being like a valley of dry bones. The prophet is asked the question by the Almighty, "Son of man, can these bones live?" To which the prophet answered, "O Lord God You know."

God, in His infinite wisdom, has given two kinds of sight to most of us whom He has raised from the dead. The first is of a natural order of which most are partakers of to see the beauty of the glory of God in creation and the ugliness of this fallen world. I say most, because some are born physically blind or lose their natural eye-sight in this life for the glory of God. The second is of a spiritual nature, to see beyond the natural into the realm of God Himself, of which all of His children are partakers of; so that even in objects which speak to most nothing but death and decay, He brings His Word to mind by the power of His Spirit, because of the finished work of Christ at Calvary, for the express purpose of His glory, our enjoyment of Him, and to be the means through which others will be brought to know the glory of His grace, to know that He alone Is the Lord as one generation commends His works to another.

Recently, Dianna and I made a discovery in the "Secret Garden" of which some may think to be absurd, but it happened to be the skull of what we believe to be a horse or a mule.

Where it came from, how old it is, or how it got to be under a bush by our door we have no idea. It had become a little hotel for snails, as the hollows were full of them. Deni, our friend, upon Dianna's request, took the skull cleaned out the snails and then soaked it in Clorox for several days. The skull was so old, it broke in two as a result, but the teeth remained in tack. Dianna began to take pictures of the remains, blow them up, adding color with contrasting light shadows, and then low and behold these images appeared.

As I pondered this vision of dead men seen in these teeth, I thought of how Samson by the power of God had slain a thousand men with the jawbone of an ass, and then from the same bone there came forth a spring of water to quench his thirst. Oh How mighty and awesome our God is to slay all of our enemies through the death of Christ and to give us fountains of living waters through his resurrection.

The vision of Ezekiel also came to mind, and the following poem came as a result.

Can God breath then life
Into dead and dry bones,
And raise for His glory
In those He now Owns,
A great congregation
By His Son to His praise,
And show forth His power,
The Ancient of days?

Look closely and you will
Then see in this image,
The semblance of life
Through these, then the visage,
Of men who are dead
With no hope in this life,
For judgment is sure,
O' remember Lot's wife!

And yet if you breathe
Though dead while you live,
The power of Christ
Can give life to forgive,
And raise you to praise Him
By the power of His blood,
His child by God's mercy,
You'll be understood.

A new threshing instrument
Made then with teeth,
To show forth the power
Of His Spirit underneath,
His watch care and grace
Which comes from above,
Through Christ He gives life,
Who answers in love.

So if you have eyes now
To see in this art,
The faces of doom,
Then from judgment depart.
Through Christ for His glory
Who only bestows
New life from the dead
By His Spirit to know,

On the sure day of
God's great resurrection
Some will be raised
By the cross to perfection.
Others will also be
Raised then in gloom
And show forth the judgment
Of God in their doom.

That He for Your sins
By His blood He did pay
The judgment of God
Meant for us on that day,
And yet for His glory
He'll show in that hour,
There's no other Name
Like Jesus in power!

Michael E. Wood
August 11, 2010

July 29, 2010

A Second Sighting?

We truly thought that what we experienced was a once in a lifetime thing. To see a river otter in the creek that runs through our Secret Garden, was unbelievable in and of itself; but, for Michael to have actually got a few pictures was even more incredible (See previous post).

The evening that followed that eventful first sighting was somewhat low key. As we sat on the balcony, I tried not to look down at the creek with any expectations. However, I secretly was hoping that the little river otter would visit us again. I even hoped that perhaps he lived in our secret garden. In an attempt to keep myself from constantly staring over at the creek, I said to Michael, "In all my 49 years, I have never seen a river otter in the wild and I don't personally know of anyone who has. I should be content with the fact that we got to see him at all and that you even got a few pictures. I have to move on and stop spending my time starring at the creek or I am not going to get anything else done."

He agreed. We laughed and then both turned our heads towards the creek.

The following evening, I went down to the creek to visit the dragon flies. As I peered into the water, I could see just the tip of the tail of the red crayfish, (the one we had spotted the previous evening) and I moved some of the algae away from the rock he was hiding under. He quickly buried himself deeper into the muddy silt and was gone from sight.

I was delighted to have the wild turkey's join me and the neighbor's little cat. They both decided to climb up into the oak tree which lay across the creek. (The mother turkey seems to tolerate the curious teenage cat. At one point, the cat was attempting to get a sniff of the turkey and she turned around and actually touched his nose with her beak. What a shot that would have been! Unfortunately, my camera was still zipped away in the camera bag that I had hanging on my shoulder.)

I went back upstairs, quite content, and joined Michael for some delightful conversation. About an hour or so later, Michael came in from the balcony and said, "Guess who's back?" as he rushed around to put on some shoes and grab his camera. I was fast behind him, and asked him to head down the path along the creek and see if he might be able to keep the otter from leaving the area. I went down to the spot where he was sighted and he had already headed south down the creek to where Michael was stationed. After about 5 minutes, I heard Michael calling from quite a distance, "He should be coming back your way".

I waited, what seemed like an hour, and finally saw the water moving under the fallen oak tree. He was indeed coming my way! My heart was pounding, as I got my camera ready. (It seems rather funny that a grown woman could get so excited and nervous about the idea of seeing this little otter; but, I was. I could barely breath. )

"There he is! There he is!" I said to myself. I wanted to let Michael know that the otter was with me, but, I was afraid that if I yelled loud enough for Michael to hear, the otter would swim away and I didn't want to do anything to scare him away before I could get a good shot of him. Surprisingly, he was not afraid of me. He was swirling around in the water--creating quite a murky mess of things. I could not get a clear shot of him, as every time I got him focused in the lens, under water he would go. I followed him along the creek as he hunted for his dinner. He would occasionally stop and pose, just long enough for me to think that I might get a clean shot. (I'm not sure if it was the excitement of seeing him so close-up or if I was just to nervous about trying to get a good picture that caused my fingers to be so jumpy that every time I took a picture it was either horribly out of focus or the camera would malfunction.) I must have taken eight or nine pictures, but none that I felt were going to really do him justice.

I followed him down the creek (north) away from where Michael was. He disappeared under the roots of a large tree that was growing close to the bank of the creek and then reappeared. "Perhaps he has a little den under that tree" I thought. When he came out from under the tree roots, he paused in a shallow area of the creek, and there was the picture that I had been waiting for. The water was like a mirror and reflected in it were the bows of the trees that loomed above the creek and the blue sky.

Ah yes, I was blessed by our second sighting and believe that there is a strong possibility that this little otter actually lives somewhere in the Secret Garden--possibly in a den under the tall tree that is growing on the bank of the creek.

If we never see him again, that will be okay--but, I have a feeling that both Michael and I will still look into the creek each evening before the sun goes down with some (perhaps unspoken) hope that he will visit us again.

By the way, Michael has determined that "he" is a actually a "she" (based on her size) and has named her, "Mehemiah".

July 24, 2010

Two Very Unexpected Visitors

There are so many stories to be told since moving to our little apartment that I have found it difficult knowing where to start. Because, the events of this past Wednesday are still so unbelievable to me, I have decided to start with the most recent and then work my way back. But, before I begin, it is important to share a bit from the beginning.

When we first moved in, our Secret Garden was visited daily by dozens of wild turkeys and their almost countless chicks. Each mother turkey had between 6 and 12 little ones following her down the path that winds between our balcony and the creek. As the weeks passed, we noticed fewer and fewer families coming through; and the ones that did, had fewer and fewer little ones with them. In recent weeks, there have only been two females; one that may be part albino and one that is a typical female wild turkey in color. They each have only one little one remaining.

Every morning and every afternoon they appear in the Secret Garden. They usually walk down the path towards the creek and then roost for a time in the 100 year old oak tree that came crashing down about 2 months ago and now lies lifeless and dry across the creek (That's a story for another post). We always enjoy watching them as they stretch their wings and groom themselves as the sun starts to set behind the buildings, casting shadows and rays of light through the trees lining the creek.

Wednesday was different. As we were watching the turkeys, we noticed the albino mother suddenly stop her grooming. She stuck her neck out really, really far; peering intently down into the creek, and pointed her wings behind her in a most peculiar fashion. Michael noticed something moving in the creek directly below where the turkeys were sitting. It was a little larger than a cat and it was swimming around in a rather playful way. The balcony is approximately 50 feet from the creek and up on the second story of the building, so it was difficult to see exactly what type of creature was in the water.

Before I knew it, Michael was out the door and down the stairs with his camera in hand. I had already changed into a floor length sundress and sandals (upon arriving home that afternoon). I was not dressed for chasing a creature down the creek in hopes to get a picture; but, I wanted to be part of the adventure. So, I quickly pulled my long dress up between my legs; tied it at my waste; pulled on my knee high garden boots; grabbed my camera and followed after Michael. By the time I got down to the spot were we spied the creature, Michael was no where to be found.

I surmised that the creature had been startled, and had taken off down the creek with Michael fast on his tracks. I stayed where I was; hoping that Michael might scare him back down my way. I waited for what seemed like 10 minutes and then decided to go looking for Michael.

As I walked up the little hill from the creek, I saw Michael coming from the south; waving his camera in the air and yelling, "I got him, I got him!"

"What was he?" I cried.

"Just look", said Michael as he handed me the camera. As I looked at rather unfocused and blurry picture, I could see a little whiskery face looking up at me. It was a river otter! That's right. A river otter, in the creek of our Secret Garden.

Michael had snapped three pictures. He wasn't able to get very close and so the pictures were rather out of focus and blurry--almost reminded me of those pictures you see of the Loch Ness Monster; but, the fact that he got pictures at all is amazing.

If you look closely you can see his little whiskered face and one eye looking up at Michael as he snapped the shot.

After Michael took the above picture, the little otter got out of the water and ran across a sand bank; heading as fast as he could away from the man with the camera.

Ah, But the evening doesn't end there.

Michael and I were so excited by the experience, we went back to visit the very location where the river otter first appeared. As we were glancing down at the water in the creek, Michael noticed something else moving. He said, "Ah, perhaps that is what the otter was after."

As I looked down, I could hardly believe my eyes. Crawling among the green algae which coated many of the smooth rocks on the bottom of the creek, was what appeared to me to be a miniature lobster. It was not a miniature lobster, of course, but that is what it looked like. I had seen crayfish before, but all of them had been grey or brown in color. This one was about 5 or 6 inches long and lobster red. What an evening it was in our Secret Garden.

July 17, 2010

A New Theme for Dianna's Old Blog

As you can see, the name has changed and so will the content.

Michael and I have discovered a Secret Garden right in our backyard. Although it is nestled between a major thoroughfare and a busy freeway; by God's providence, our little apartment is at the very back of a large apartment complex and our balcony overlooks a county owned parcel of untouched wilderness. There are squirrels, birds of all sorts, wild turkeys, butterflies, bright red dragon flies, and, unfortunately even an occasional skunk. There is also a small creek that runs through it which is lined with old oak trees; huge eucalyptus trees; and, all different types of wild fruit trees and berry bushes.

We have had the most wonderful two months; more wonderful than I can ever remember having. I will be sharing some of our explorations and adventures in this blog, as well as, writing personal notes around shared experiences.

This is a huge change for me; but, one that I look forward to. My little brain is bursting already with several absolutely delightful stories to share.

Check back on occasion. The first post will be about the mysterious 30 foot tree with miniature blackberries growing right along side of our apartment.

May 5, 2010

We are apt to think, if we had but such a minister among us-how much good would be done!

The design of God in all his works of creation, providence, and grace—is to advance and secure the glory of his own name; and, therefore, though he makes use of secondary causes as the instruments of his operations, yet their efficacy depends upon his superintending influence. It is his hand that sustains the great chain of causes and effects, and his agency pervades and animates the worlds of nature and of grace.

The agency of his Holy Spirit is as necessary to fructify the Word, and make it the seed of conversion, as the influences of heaven are to fructify the earth and promote vegetation! A zealous Paul may plant the Word, and an eloquent Apollos may water it; one may attempt to convert sinners to Christianity, and the other to build them up in faith—but they are both nothing, as to the success of their labors—unless God gives the increase! That is, unless he affords the influence of his grace to render their attempts successful in begetting and nourishing living religion in the hearts of men.

We are apt to think, if we had but such a minister among us—how much good would be done! It is true, that faithful and accomplished ministers are singular blessings to the places where they labor, because it is by their instrumentality that the Lord is accustomed to work: but still let us remember, that even a Paul or an Apollos are nothing, unless the Lord gives the increase.

One text of Scripture, one verse, will do more execution, when enforced by divine energy, than all the labors of the ablest ministers upon earth without it! For this divine energy therefore let us look; for this let us cry, "Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD!"

When we depend upon the instruments, we provoke the Spirit of God to leave us! If we are fond of taking ministers in his stead, we shall make the trial, until both they and we wither away for lack of divine influences. This provokes the blessed Spirit to blast the gifts of his ministers, to allow them to fall into sin, or to remove them out of the way—when they are set up as his rivals—that their idolaters may see they are but men. This provokes him to leave the hearers fruitless under the best cultivations, until experience sadly convinces them that they can do nothing without him! Therefore let not ministers trust in their own abilities—nor people in their labors; but all must trust only in the Lord.

That we should ascribe all the success of the gospel to God alone, and not sacrilegiously divide the honor of it between him and the instruments of it, or between him and ourselves, the ministers of Christ are ready to answer you, in the language of Peter. "If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed!" Acts 4:9, 10. Why do you look so earnestly upon us—as if by our own power or holiness we have done this? chapter 3:12. It was a very shocking compliment to them—to be accounted the authors of your faith.

Good ministers love to be humble, to be in their proper sphere, and would have God to have all the glory, as the great efficient cause; and when we ascribe the work of God to the instrument, we provoke him to withdraw his influence, that we may be convinced of the mistake.

Let us also take care that we do not assume the honor of the work to ourselves. Alas! we had no hand in it—but opposed it with all our might; and, therefore, "Not to us, O LORD, not to us—but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness!" Psalm 115:1. The Lord has done great things for us in this place, for which we are glad. One can name one person, and another another person, as his spiritual father, or the helper of his faith; but still remember, these only planted or watered; but it was God who gave the increase; and therefore to him alone ascribe the praise for his own work!

To read the entire sermon click HERE

The Success of the Ministry of the Gospel, Owing to a Divine Influence
Samuel Davies, November 19, 1757

May 4, 2010

On Apostasy

Dr. David P. Murray, Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan writes:

What would you say to a church where two of its most promising young “Christians” had not only left the faith but had turned against it with mockery and hostility? That’s the very real scenario I was asked to address recently at a small gathering of pastors and elders. It is undoubtedly one of the most agonizing and disturbing experiences in the Christian life when a dear friend or family member, abandons his/her profession of faith. I’ve known this very personally and painfully, both among my relations and in my pastoral ministry.

I was asked to give some guidance to these pastors and elders on how to deal with such situations in their own congregations. I assumed that every attempt had been made to recover the lost “sheep,” and that the members had been excommunicated. So my advice was really limited to how to minister to the hurting and puzzled sheep who remain. Leaning heavily on John Owen’s epic work on apostasy, I suggested a series of sermons on the following themes (the same subjects should also be emphasized in pastoral visitation).

1. The perseverance of the saints

Some Christians will be shaken by the apostasy of another professing Christian. “If he can fall then what hope is there for me?” So, preach God’s great promises of eternal security to His true people (John 6:39, 40; 10:28, 29).

2. Apostasy is to be expected

This should really be preached before apostasy occurs, to prevent people being taken by surprise when it does happen. The whole Old Testament is a story of Israel’s apostasy. In the New Testament, we have individual apostates such as Judas and Demas. Some in Corinth denied the resurrection, and some in Galatia went back to the law as a way of salvation. No wonder the Apostles urged the churches to expect apostasy (Acts 20:29-30; 1 Cor. 11:19; 1 Tim. 4:1; 5:8; Jude; 1 John 2:19).

3. The danger areas of apostasy

John Owen highlighted three areas in which apostasy usually begins: doctrine, lifestyle, and worship.

Owen traced doctrinal apostasy to a lack of Christian experience. He said that when someone has no experience of personal need, no sense of God’s righteousness, no spiritual sight of Christ’s glory, no submission to the sovereignty of God, and no trembling at God’s Word, then doctrinal apostasy is just around the corner.

Owen actually regarded an unholy lifestyle as more likely to produce apostasy than abandoning some Christian doctrines. He saw both legalism and lawlessness as leading eventually to apostasy.

Owen also argued that if we neglect, refuse to observe, or add to God’s instructions for worship, apostasy will not be far behind.
Pastors should highlight these three danger areas of doctrine, lifestyle, and worship, and urge watchfulness upon the flock.

4. The causes of apostasy

Owen went on to list particular causes of apostasy, so that pastors and their congregations will “watch and pray.”

-Deeply-rooted and unremoved enmity in the minds of many against spiritual things

-Pride and vanity of the mind which refuses to bow before the authority of Scripture

-Sloth and negligence

-False assurance and groundless self-confidence

-False sense of security due to neglect of the Spirit’s warnings about apostasy

-Love of the world and its passing pleasures (Demas in 2 Tim. 4:10)

As the first “apostate” Satan draws many into apostasy and forces others to apostatize through persecution

-Persons in high positions in the church leading evil lives (Jer. 23:15; 1 Sam. 2:12-17)

-Unrepented national sins that influence the people

-Divisions in the church

-The uselessness of many Christians

5. The distinction between a stumble (Peter) and a fall (Judas)Pastors need to skillfully distinguish between a Christian’s stumble and an apostate’s fall. Every Christian errs in doctrine, falls into sin, and offers faulty worship from time to time. That does not make them an apostate. Owen defined apostasy as “continued persistent rebellion and disobedience to God and his word,” or “total and final and public renunciation of all the chief principles and doctrines of Christianity.”

6. The abomination of apostasy

Hebrews 6 describes apostasy as “crucifying again the Son of God and putting him to an open shame.” By declaring they have tried Christ and His Gospel and found no truth or goodness in them, apostates do exactly what the Jews did. In fact, Owen says Christian apostasy is worse because the Jews did it in “ignorance.”

7. God’s judgment on apostasy

In addition to reminding the professing Christians in the congregation of how abominable apostasy is in God’s sight, they also need to be shown from Scripture the temporal, spiritual, and eternal judgments that fall on apostates. God uses His descriptions of how he abominates and judges apostasy as a means of grace to keep people from apostasy.

8. The need for perseverance

God’s great promises of the perseverance of the saints are given to those who persevere in the means of preservation that God has provided. Christians need to be reminded of the incalculable need and value of the Church, the Word, the sacraments, and fellowship.

9. How to avoid apostasy

John Owen wanted Christians to know that apostasy could be avoided by heart-cure and heart-care (Prov. 4:23). Keep the Gospel at the very center of our hearts; love its truth and experience its power there. Keep sin out of our hearts, especially the highly-dangerous sins of spiritual pride and a censorious, judgmental spirit.


When apostasy occurs in a congregation, it is often tempting to ignore it and put up the “business as usual” sign. However, this does not address the deep needs of Christians and non-Christians who are hurt and perplexed by such events. It also misses the opportunity to prepare the church for future disappointments. So, I would encourage pastors and elders to focus on these nine themes, both in public and in private.