CONTENT STREAM FOR Sandy Vavra

About Sandy Vavra

Sandy Vavra serves as the Elgin Ride Event Director for the Ride for Refuge, as well as Resource Development Coordinator for International Teams.

New growth is tender

Every spring, I sound a bit like my dad as he prepared to ‘go to the field.’ I pay attention to the falling rain, the thawing ground, and warming temperatures. I get excited to dig my fingers in the dirt and plant some new life outside. While my livelihood doesn’t depend upon whether my flowers live or die, I baby them as if it did.

And State Fair zinnias are among my favorite flowers to plant. For those who don’t know the magic of State Fair zinnias, they are about 36″ tall, brave, study, and absolutely brilliant! They can hold their own all summer with the best of the perennials!

ZinniasObviously their secret got out because last year, State Fair zinnias were no where to be found. I called every local nursery and every one said the same thing, “They sell as fast as we can get them.” I resorted to something just short of pleading, but they didn’t seem to care when I whined that my garden wouldn’t be the same without them.

So, this year, I was NOT going to pass by these little packs. The little conversation I had with myself in my head went something like this.

“They’d be strong in a frost, right?”

“What exactly is too early anyway?”

“What if I can’t find them later?”

“I could always cover them up!”

“The weather seems to be a bit messed up anyway. It won’t freeze.”

After I planted my pots, I tucked my tender prizes in the garden. I quieted my nagging feeling that the timing was a bit off. After all, I was sweating up a storm!

I think we all know where this is going.

The frost warning, well, actually the severe frost warning, came just a few days later. Even though I walked barefoot through my chilly yard late Mother’s Day evening, I fought my urge to get a sheet and cover them. They’d be fine. They’re strong. They’ve got perennials surrounding them.

When I came downstairs the following morning, I knew immediately I’d let them down.

Frosted ZinniasThe grass in my backyard was white and stiff with frost. Wearing my flip flops, I gingerly made my way to the zinnia bed. Sure enough, they were covered with white. Already their green was turning to brown. They were hanging their tender heads. I felt like I needed to apologize.

In that moment, I learned a very important lesson about the season of spring.

New growth is tender.

I’ve always focused on the sprouting and the blooming and the greening of springtime.

I’ve overlooked the fragility and the tenderness and the vulnerability of that same season.

Knowing that God was showing me something very important as I stood over my stunned and dying zinnias, I listened more closely.

It is true. Most life starts out tender and vulnerable. We touch a newborn baby as if he or she might break.

We see a baby lamb struggle to stand. We wince when we see another aqua blue robin’s egg smashed on the sidewalk. We hope the neighbor’s dog doesn’t trample our new sod or run through the springtime garden.

All creation shouts that new life is tender. Does it stop there?

I’m beginning to think that whenever we begin something new, our hearts are uniquely exposed. Tender. Vulnerable. We aren’t quite rooted enough to withstand any untimely ‘frost.’

A new position at work. A brand new friendship. Words written and seen by others for the first time. A new marriage. A new baby. A new school.

The list could go on. I’ve got a hunch that in the newness of most things, we are strongly in need of encouragement. We need “You can do it!” instead of the “Do you have any idea what you’re doing?”

How many times did someone I love need a kind and considerate word and instead I callously covered them with icy, damaging words? Have I damaged far more than State Fair zinnias? I so long to avoid that damage in the future.

The good news is that the local nursery got another shipment of State Fair zinnias in yesterday. I have a flat of them in my backyard, and I’m ready to plant again.

That’s the glory of grace. We get a new chance every day to speak words of encouragement to people around us. Let’s be on the lookout for someone who is tenderly entering into something new and see how we can be a small part of their growing and blooming.

What tender new growth are you seeing where you are?

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A garden’s impact

Short-term teams are having lasting impact in integrated community transformation through partnership.  Here’s one way a short-term team impacted a community by creating and launching an urban garden as they worked alongside our team and the immigrants who live there.

The opportunity arose unexpectedly. Instead of traveling internationally, this short-term team found themselves heading to a small community in a US city. They discovered that they came at the perfect time and were able to serve in a simple, yet encouraging way.

A leader of this community’s local mosque had recently purchased a house in the community for a dollar. The area surrounding this building was riddled with trash and garbage making it impossible to imagine this being used for anything meaningful.

Our team envisioned this area being used for something of value within the community, so with the help of the short-term team, together they cleared the ‘dollar’ house and surrounding area of its debris.

This set the stage for increased partnership among the people that our workers were bringing together in this community. Because of the hard work of this short-term team to clear the land, the local ITeams field staff were given the privilege to use this property for anything they desired. They launched an experiment in urban farming, and subsequently, the growing of peppers.

Peppers were chosen because one of the time-tested ways to combat homesickness is through food. Simply smelling or tasting familiar food can remind anyone of home. They knew that these peppers would represent home to the immigrants, and they were eager to grow something that would encourage them. That’s one simple way our team can express the love of Jesus for these people.

After an abundant growing season, ITeams field staff were able to give away these peppers to the local immigrant community. Because of this simple garden vegetable reminded them of home, opportunities for deeper relationships have flourished.

Our team in the community hopes to build upon the impact of this garden by expanding the gardening to become a source of income and microenterprise for this immigrant community this summer. This garden, cleared by a short-term team, has helped set the stage for transformation.

To learn more about how you can be a part of a short-term team, contact stteams@iteams.org or visit our website http://www.iteams.us/short-term-teams-2/

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