Planting Blessings – Lessons from Childhood

Little girl tasting her first iced lolly in her nana's garden

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.

25 Comments

  1. Cindy on January 8, 2019 at 1:12 am

    LOVE this! Thank you for sharing.



    • Karen Chapman on January 8, 2019 at 9:59 am

      So glad you enjoyed it Cindy – thank YOU



  2. Kielian DeWitt on January 8, 2019 at 5:56 am

    What a delightful message. Your nana was a wise and caring woman to impart a phrase to live by…count your blessings!



    • Karen Chapman on January 8, 2019 at 10:00 am

      She was indeed. Thanks Kielian



  3. Katie on January 8, 2019 at 7:03 am

    XXXXX



  4. Mary Witt on January 8, 2019 at 7:04 am

    What a lovely memory and message. So happy for you with your growing family. It is an interesting shift when you become the "nanna". We hope to have a garden in our new home. Happy New Year!



    • Karen Chapman on January 8, 2019 at 10:05 am

      Hi Mary – I'm excited to follow all new adventures!



  5. susan on January 8, 2019 at 7:55 am

    As I said on FB, this is your best post ever. Thank you!



    • Karen Chapman on January 8, 2019 at 10:07 am

      Susan, your kind words brought tears to my eyes. Hugs xx



  6. Lois Moss on January 8, 2019 at 9:41 am

    What a lovely essay. I was curious to hear the melody that went with Nana's singing, googled the first line and it came up with a rendition being played on a church organ which made me tear up because my mom absolutely loved organ music. My mom's here in spirit just like your mum and Nana are, too. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWUSI8-st0Y



    • Karen Chapman on January 8, 2019 at 10:08 am

      I meant to link the tune but forgot – thank you for posting it. yes I think of this being played on a church organ too. We had one of those treadle organs at church that you had to pedal with your feet!
      Take care and thanks for your note



  7. Henk Rozendaal on January 8, 2019 at 10:04 am

    That is Life which you cannot buy with money. Count your Blessings.
    A few years ago I was travelling in the East and bill board along the highway saying "Count your Blessing", it was big enough that you could see it from a far distance ,as I came closer I saw something printed in smaller print " count again".
    What a lovely message from you I really enjoy it and will send it to all I know.
    May God Bless us all.



    • Karen Chapman on January 8, 2019 at 10:10 am

      Hi Henk – great to hear from you. I love that "count again" footnote – perfect.



  8. Janet Davis on January 8, 2019 at 10:15 am

    What a beautiful post for the beginning of a new year. Yes, I love the cycles and circles that life brings us — the great gift of grandchildren. I, too, am a "nana" and I think back on my own "nanny" in Victoria B.C., whom I loved dearly and who I felt understood me. She taught me to be an observer – and she took me walking in the park where I developed my love of nature. That was my paternal grandmother. My maternal grandfather came from County Down! Let us count our blessings.



    • Karen Chapman on January 8, 2019 at 10:18 am

      I love that you mention that you felt your "nanny" understood you – what an incredible gift in itself Janet, besides teaching you to observe all that you now photograph so beautifully. Yet I'm sure she had no idea at the time how such simple things would be such an incredible legacy. Thanks so much for sharing



  9. Faye O’Neil on January 8, 2019 at 11:02 am

    Karen, I absolutely loved reading this reflection. Thank you so much for sharing an important piece of your past with us, and also the important insights you have gained through experiencing the loss of your mum. Your message is so relatable on several accounts. You are a blessing to so many Karen. Thank you.



    • Karen Chapman on January 8, 2019 at 1:30 pm

      Oh goodness, Faye your comment made me all teary-eyed – again! Thank you for your kind words.



  10. DIANE M BLAZEK on January 8, 2019 at 3:57 pm

    Beautiful! I would have loved your Nana. I'm sure you are going to be all that to your wee ones. And yes, "Blessed Beyond Belief" is a good motto to live by.



    • Karen Chapman on January 8, 2019 at 4:02 pm

      You two would have got on famously Diane!



  11. Jo-Ann Guthrie on January 8, 2019 at 5:58 pm

    Thanks dear Karen for caring enough for others to share your personal insights from a childhood Blessed with the greatest of fortune a Nana and Mother whom wisely cared and tended a young seedling that we now know as our Karen. We, who know you now as a loving wife, mother, grandmother and friend, can attest to knowing the seedling has grown into the sturdiest of living things, a Strong Woman! You had the good fortune to be nurtured by strong women who imparted their strength of character and empathy for others to you.

    I, too, can relate to the hymn "Count Your Blessings." It's as relative today as when I sang it in church as a young girl. We welcome your generosity of spirit and encouragement to reflect and name the Blessings in our own lives. I believe naming a Blessing gives it credence and empowers us with the possibilities of transformation.

    You speak a truth when you note that blessings often present themselves at the most unlikely of times and in the most unlikely of places. The greatest loss one can experience, at any age, is the loss of a life of one whose heart print in our lives is equal to life itself.

    Breathing becomes an intentional act and slowly, but surely, we are once again able to breath with normal cadence. Love becomes a healing balm and we see life from another perspective. It is as if the broken heart seeks that which is needed the most, a means to take the loss of one so dear and look a little further beyond our pain. Seeking a truth, as you refer to as 'Counting One's Blessings One By One,' enables the act of a new Blessing. Sharing and telling the personal blessings we have experienced in our own lives has the power of the spoken word in reaching those we may not personally know but whose life is touched by the recognition of a common thread, abiding love.

    Your reflections became identifiable. For some of us it brought to mind our own Nannies, Moms, Sisters, Aunts, those whose presence in our lives nurtured us as a seedling and enabled us to use those connections and experiences to impart to others, the Blessing of "Count Your Blessings, Name Them One By One."
    Without doubt, your Dear Mum and Nana, beam with joy at the fullness of your life.!



    • Karen Chapman on January 8, 2019 at 6:15 pm

      Oh goodness Jo-Ann, yet again you make me cry!! Thank you for allowing me to be myself and for accepting me in that vulnerable place. I value your friendship and wisdom so much – they are indeed true blessings to me. Love to you both x



  12. Brooke Hamilton on January 9, 2019 at 8:52 am

    Thank you for your beautiful words. Brought tears to my eyes. So great!



    • Karen Chapman on January 9, 2019 at 9:04 am

      Thank you Brooke – I'm so glad you liked it



  13. Linda Lehmusvirta on January 12, 2019 at 6:08 pm

    Thank you SO MUCH for writing this! Just what I needed. Hugs!!!!



    • Karen Chapman on January 12, 2019 at 6:13 pm

      Big hugs back Linda!