Born in Ballymena, 30 miles north of Belfast, my Nana never lost her Irish brogue, even after moving to England as a young woman. By today’s standards she didn’t have much. She left school at 11 to look after her siblings “just as we were starting to learn long-division”, married the boy next door, lived in a little council house in Wallasey, Merseyside, and devoted her life to raising children and keeping the home nice.

Yet her life and her legacy were rich beyond words.

One of the earliest lessons she taught me, sitting in her sunny yellow kitchen drinking tea and eating homemade “wee buns” (translation for the non-Irish: small cupcakes), was to count your blessings. She was a devout Christian who lived her faith every day. Reminding me to count my blessings wasn’t a trite checklist but rather a way to teach me gratitude. What today, some might consider an aspect of mindfulness.

Regardless of your belief system I think you’ll agree that when we learn to practice gratitude for all that we have, rather than focusing on the things we don’t or that we have lost (people, opportunities, jobs, health), we find an inner peace. It changes our perspective. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, nor does it diminish the reality of such losses, but it helps us find a path through them.

1983. Left to right: me (age 22), mum, Nana, Aunty Edie (mum’s sister) – visiting me at a youth camp where I taught canoeing each summer

Nana taught me how to appreciate the little things; a big pat of real butter melting in a volcano of hot mashed potato, making daisy chains on her tiny back lawn, the warmth of a coal fire on a winter’s day, catching “tiddlers” (tiny fish) in jam jars at the lake in a nearby park, tasting my first ice lolly in her back garden (first photograph). Throughout my life she modeled what it meant to love by freely giving me her time and undivided attention. She stayed up late at night making outfits for my teddy bear on her old treadle sewing machine, listened to my various teenage woes with a sympathetic ear, and cheered me on at many orchestral concerts as I got older. And her hugs. She was a great hugger.

What’s this got to do with gardening?

When we plant seed, we plant hope. We don’t plant a seed expecting it to perish. We plant it expecting it to thrive. We nurture it, enjoy it, and often share the fruits or flowers with friends and neighbors. We plant the potential for blessings.

My challenge to you

So many choices

As you start to browse through all the seed catalogs and plan your garden, take a moment to pause and consider how you might be able to bless others. Can you grow a few extra seedlings to share with a neighbor? Do you have room to grow extra vegetables for your local food pantry? Perhaps find room for some cosmos or snapdragons in your garden this year, for the pure joy of being able to cut bouquets for a friend?

There will always be things to worry about, losses that we struggle to accept, health concerns that threaten to derail us.  Yet our garden reminds us that there will always be a new season.  The circle of life will continue, and we can choose to focus on all that we have been blessed with and how we can pass that on.

My recent trip to England was a significant turning point as I struggled to adjust to the loss of my mum (the linked blog post will explain why if you’re curious).  At Christmas I had another moment of clarity as I watched our little granddaughter, Anna, happily handing building blocks to my husband, while my grown up children and their partners chatted and laughed in the background. It was this. Now it’s my time to be the Nana. It’s my turn to make clothes for teddy bears, teach little hands how to bake, how to plant a seed, how to love. I am blessed beyond belief.

I think my Nana -and my Mum, would be proud to know I have finally understood their legacy.

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I can still hear Nana singing:

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

Refrain:
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God has done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will keep singing as the days go by.

When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
Count your many blessings—wealth can never buy
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.

So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

Johnson Oatman, Jr., pub.1897

May 2019 be a year of blessings for you, and an opportunity for you to share your gifts, time, and blessings with others.

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