Choosing Hope

The world seems a different place than it did a week ago doesn't it? My community is like a ghost town as stores, schools, churches, the library, gym, restaurants, and bars have been mandated to close with minor exceptions. I have had multiple speaking events either cancel or reschedule and perhaps most heartbreaking of all – yesterday I had to notify the guests on our tour to England that we had made the decision to cancel. It has been one gut-wrenching disappointment after another.

As I was texting my latest list of woes to a friend, I swear I could hear Mum's voice reprimanding me gently. "Now Karen, didn't your Nana always tell you to count your blessings?" Yes she did. And that in turn reminded me of a blog post I had written at the start of 2019, which having read it again seems remarkably timely for our situation today.

So without apology, but rather in the spirit of encouragement, I am re-posting it again today with just a couple of minor modifications:

tasting her first iced lolly in her nana's garden

Tasting my first iced lolly in my 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, my Aunty Edie

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. 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 the pandemic or  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 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  trip to England in 2018 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).  The following 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.

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 you choose hope, not fear as you share your blessings with others.

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  1. Diane Faust on March 17, 2020 at 4:15 am

    Thank you so much Karen! I am sowing seeds today, planning for replanting in our tropical dome and we are in the midst of a annual bulb show in our temperate room that is gloriously in bloom yet anticipating for the notice from Michigan State University campus that we will have to close the gardens down. This time will pass. "He is my refuge; My God, in Him I will trust."
    Praying for all.
    I am hoping and praying you will not have to cancel the September trip. I will count my blessing in the meantime. His grace is enough. 🙂 And yes, it is not easy!!

    • Karen Chapman on March 17, 2020 at 4:29 pm

      Great attitude Diane. I'm looking forward to meeting you in September.

  2. Liz Schwartz on March 17, 2020 at 7:13 am

    Oh Karen!
    Thank you for this early morning gratitude moment you share! My heart is filled back up for another day! One day at a time!
    We are enjoying seeing families stop in to the garden side of the store picking seeds for Spring gardens! It warms my heart to see the wee ones joy twirling the seed rack!

    • Karen Chapman on March 17, 2020 at 4:37 pm

      As gardeners we are fortunate to be able to navigate season this by nurturing the promise of tomorrow – it's wonderful that your work puts you in the position of sharing that with others. Take care –

  3. Anna Smith on March 17, 2020 at 7:45 am

    Thanks Karen, I can remember my mom singing that song and what a good reminder to choose hope! So grateful that you shared it!

    • Karen Chapman on March 17, 2020 at 4:30 pm

      I'm so glad it spoke to you too! Long distance hug x

  4. Mary Witt on March 17, 2020 at 8:39 am

    So nice to read your positive thoughts this morning! We think of all our friends and family in the Seattle/Woodinville area constantly and praying for you all. David and I are indeed blessed and weathering just fine here in Coeur D Alene. I am excited to be planning my large garden, and think of you often. (Your granddaughter is adorable!). Stay safe and healthy, and keep counting those blessings!

    • Karen Chapman on March 17, 2020 at 4:31 pm

      Hey friends! Great to hear from you and so glad you're enjoying your new life. Take care x

  5. Mary B Perez on March 17, 2020 at 10:09 am

    Hi Karen, thanks for the good advice. After waking up at 3:00 AM and thinking _ _ _ _ing virus, realize I need a reset. Am so grateful that I have my love of gardening. Laughed at myself because, in the picture of you with the ice lolly, I was checking out the plants in your Nana's garden. Best wishes for you and your family to be safe and healthy. Mary

    • Karen Chapman on March 17, 2020 at 4:33 pm

      That is so funny about the plants LOL! I can tell you, that out of the picture on the right side against a fence was a passionflower vine. Nana explained the symbolism to me even when I was very young. Other than that I remember roses, sweet alyssum and daisies in the lawn! Take care

  6. Sue Montgomery on March 17, 2020 at 10:13 am

    Thank you for this touch of beauty this morning Karen. 😌💗

    • Karen Chapman on March 17, 2020 at 4:33 pm

      I'm glad it helped in some small way. Take good care Sue.

  7. Suzanne Kalish on March 17, 2020 at 12:57 pm

    just a lovely reminder as to what is really important– go Nanas of the world! we can do this.. hard but we will not give up.. Meanwhile we love…. thank you for this posting! air hugs galore..

    • Karen Chapman on March 17, 2020 at 4:34 pm

      Suzanne you are one in a million – air hugs galore indeed xx!

  8. DAWN ROBINSON on March 26, 2020 at 8:44 am

    Thank you for posting this it is lovely.

  9. Paula Crockett on April 1, 2020 at 8:30 am

    A beautiful, inspiring post, Karen. The circle of life. It made me cry remembering my own dear grandmother, who also taught me many lessons in life. Grammie had a lovely garden, which she tended until she was about 90, when she moved to assisted living, and finally, long term term care. She lived quite happily in a long term care facility until she was just shy of 104.
    I’ve been working in my yard most days, even in the rain! Time to plan my containers!
    Take care.

    • Karen Chapman on April 1, 2020 at 6:41 pm

      Lovely to hear from you Paula – thanks for sharing your memories

  10. Donna Conner on April 9, 2020 at 8:02 pm

    Love Love Love the Blog. But not surprised as you are pretty amazing yourself. But as one Nana to another these are the best of times for us. Thank you for sharing and putting things in perspective.

    • Karen Chapman on April 10, 2020 at 7:54 am

      Thanks Donna