Are you like me? When spring rolls around, and the cleaning of all that winter muck in the garden is done, do you make immediate haste to the garden center? Is there a spring in your step as you bound out of the car and buzz a beeline to the swath of greens and creams, yellows and corals, purples and fuchsias that wave their greeting to you? “Over here!” they
call out in cheerful, perky harmony. “Pick me!” “I’ll do you proud!” “Smell me!” “I’m perfect for that spot beside the balcony!” Coming! Do you wander through the garden center, with eyes wide and excitement building like a little kid who sees and smells that tantalizing dessert buffet laid out in ceremonious and dignified splendor before hankering eyes? And do you keep on buzzing right through each season to fill your outside and inside with the cheerfulness and hope of plant life?
My garden has changed over the years. In my early beginnings, I would cram my fledgling beds with nothing but wonderfully colorful annuals. Mixed Impatiens and Vinca. Zinnia and Pansies. Marigold and Snap-dragons. Verbena and Geraniums. A glorious mix of heights, colorings, appearances and scents. Ongoing enthusiasm infected me. As time progressed, I decided to cut new beds, and transform our whole garden with gorgeously spreading multi-season perennials, leaving room for a few annuals to fill in any bare spots.
Have you ever ignored your present garden’s plantings and leapt ahead to buy more than you have space for? I have. Many times. I seem to keep stocking my trolley for some imaginary country estate, not the modest city garden I have. I have one eye on that first memory of summertime lushness, another to the future on reproducing it in harmony with a hardy mix of perennials. Yet all this visioning occurs without taking into consideration that I have beauty in the present that needs tending, with perhaps only a little room for more. My eyes are bigger than my garden. My glance too quickly jumps to what could be. My eagerness crowds out what is already planted. I allow my lust for lush to guide my eyes, and in that rush I thrill and run ahead of myself.
Correction. I run way ahead of myself. My excitement becomes the excuse for crowding out with willful blindness the perennials that have well taken root and are growing in stunning beauty and with healthy ease. Whoa, girl!
Oh, how I often run ahead of the Gardener too! I fill my future with visions that are ahead of their time. Premature visions based on past “trend” that will be very likely tweaked and pruned at regular intervals to fit the more glorious, the more exquisite Gardener’s landscaping. Too often I have forgotten to savor what I have, and where I am in the present. The now. All too often. One way or the other, just as I am compelled to stop as I try to figure out where these new plants go, sooner or later, I will be stopped in my tracks by the Gardener. Sometimes I have the wherewithal to recognize where I’m headed, and with his help, I reign myself in. And then, he and I recall together when words of kind discipline and grace-filled vision were showered upon me, and the vines of innocent enthusiasm and truth untangled…..
The pathway was as bright as a cloudless summer’s day in this vision, and the Company was just as radiant and warm. It was sublime. The air was soft and gentle as he and I walked together. He was calmly listening, a smile across his face. I was as a child with their dearly cherished parent, eagerly and enthusiastically jibbering and jabbering on and on about hopes and wishes, dreams and visions. As we walk side by side, I could feel my attention being drawn away from his warmth beside me to the many wonderful things themselves. My eagerness and enthusiasm enwraps and propels me further ahead, unbeknownst to me leaving him further behind with each step. Hopes and wishes of what I’d like to be and have, and what I’d wish and hope those I love to have and be. With head now down, I count out these dreams and share visions of what I’d like to accomplish and live out, and an action plan on how to much better inwardly attune myself and truly partner with him. I seemed to be concentrating on the path, attention divided between its surface, and the rapid-fire of thoughts swirling around in my head. Something within me seemed to snap me to attention as I noticed it was a little cooler than when I first began my prattling on. The day and path seems to have gotten darker, and quickly too, I think to myself. I suddenly realize that the light that had surrounded us in the beginning has faded. In fact, there is no us. I am walking alone headlong and headstrong into near-full darkness.
The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous runs to it and is safe and set on high [far above evil].
(Proverbs 18:10, Amplified Bible)
I turn around in a bit of a panic, and there he is surrounded by that familiar light, waiting for me. So involved I was with my own ideas and wishes and dreams that I had run ahead. Well ahead. Without him. Into a future that was deliberately shrouded from me. O Jesus! What am I doing?! I say to him. I run back to him, and he smiles warmly. He puts his arm around me and draws me in, as he seems to say …
Erin, how I delight in your sharing with me your hopes and dreams! How you tickle me with your infectious and unbridled enthusiasm! But child, do not run ahead of me, for you don’t know the dangers on the road ahead, nor the destination. Stay close. Take hold of my hand. Keep your eyes on me. Share your enthusiasm face to face with me! Rather than looking to the glittering hum of the little of what could be, dividing your attention between path and perhaps, keep your eyes on me for I know the glory of what will be. Stay and remain by my side as my light illumines the present. Erin, I allow you to see only a little ahead of you, for too much would overwhelm you, stress you and distract you from what I call you to do in this present moment: present light-filled moments that pave the way toward that place that is now shrouded, just as this moment was so shrouded in the past from you. Stay close beside me where you will find light, warmth, safety, refreshment, encouragement and strength to handle each step along the pathway. I will provide everything you need, for you are so very dear to me. You are my beloved! Walk with me, as I bless you with my storehouses of abundance and raise you toward your future.
There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.
(Proverbs 23: 18, New International Version)
Rather than run ahead, I need to run to him to linger and listen. Rather than plan in seclusion, I need to power with the One who knows every bend and stretch on the road ahead. Rather than assuming I need to fill in bare spots, I need to leave room for the Gardener’s much more. Rather than suffocate what has been planted, I need to allow it to spread and swell in the Gardener’s care. Rather than looking to the tempting flashes and sights of what could be, I need to turn my face to what is, and the bright light of his all-consuming love, safety, assurance and care. I need to live in the now, not choke out a glorious future, the steps to which I do not yet really know.
Jesus, help me to live alongside you and savor the lushness of each moment of beauty of today, your gift to me. Help me to keep in step with you, and not run ahead. Help me to lay all my todays and tomorrows in the safety and security of your presence.
“So never worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
(Matthew 6:34, International Standard Version)
I will chase after Your commandments because You will expand my understanding.
(Psalm 119: 32, The Voice)
Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies.
(Exodus 32: 25, New International Version)
Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.
(2 John 1: 9, New International Version)
Soil and Seed
Doesn’t it delight and surprise you when, amidst a vast vista of concrete, steel and glass, a lone perky flower unexpectedly and bravely peaks through? It can’t help but make you smile! Even if it’s a dandelion! When you consider that all our communities, large and small, are built upon a garden of some kind, I guess it makes sense that we should see evidence of its life sprouting up once in awhile. But, what more could be under there? Have you ever wondered? Life surely bustles underneath: worms still burrow, ants still march, roots still strain and spread. There is vibrancy that whispers from below, and if we were to remove what covers, it would surely spring up with energy and enthusiasm, a fertile ground that takes in, and stretches with gleeful purpose. That little flower is but a hint to tickle our imaginations to what lies below, and its defiance to the nature of its strength.
One of the first steps we undertook in our new garden was to remove the ocean-liner of concrete slabs that cut a path through our back yard. Fledgling but fainting wild daisies that dared to slip around its fortress walls were gingerly transplanted. Hunks of concrete were heaved and removed to stacks elsewhere. No glamour here. Muscles were pulled. Mud was flung. Colorful expressions discovered. Hot, hard and heavy work! Phantoms of what had been were manifest in the bleached strip of shriveled and starved limp grass, its pale and frail roots bare to the unrelenting and blistering sunshine. We quickly pulled out the dead, liberally scattered grass seed, covered the raw wound with cool and soothing enriched soil, and saturated it with refreshing water.
Hard and heavy work too for the Gardener of my heart and soul, as he removes the weights and rigidity that afflict and burden heavy upon the growth he has nourished, upon growth he further envisions. But he has never stopped, nor ever will, working in the underneath. That little flower only hints at the much more that he wants and anticipates to carpet the world with. More. Our God has and wants more for his children. Splendiforously more. More within and outwardly to be extravagantly seeded, to be nurtured and grown, to be spread beyond in the tag-team of relationships to light up the world. If only I would agree to remove the slab to expose the effervescent glory, to absorb his much more! Thankfully, he is not one to stand aside and watch me do it alone. Nor is he one to stand on top to make it an impossible task. No. He helps. Whether the soil, the fainting flower or the limp grass beneath the weight, I can be encouraged that he is actually willing to get hot and sweaty and do some heavy lifting. But he won’t do it alone.
As we work, I can be assured that I am the love of his heart, that he is eager to lift that little bloom out from under, to uncover others ready to push upward, to scrape away the lifeless, to lavishly scatter seed for new. But for goodness’ sake, Erin, let’s lift that comfort-zone slab off of all this potential! I can choose to believe and know that he will soften and break the surface that has been hardened by my ego and pride and their thorny relatives, to uncover, to scrape away the deadwood of my own misguided doings, the misguided doings of others upon me, and my chosen reponse to their misguided doings. But for heaven’s sake, Erin, let’s get this slab of hurt, resentment, anger, fear, snap-judgements, hopelessness and faithlessness out of the way to let the sunshine in to truly heal, and render this patch fertile soil for new seed! I can choose to believe that these very difficulties are his affirmation that there is always something glorious, surprising and persistent deep beneath to be sown, watered, and ready to push through resistance in perky bloom. Will I get out of my own obstinate way to let him in?
Can I muster the strength to push aside my ego, hurt, fear and stubborn willfulness, to invite the Gardener through the gate, to survey together and to begin? Will I agree that a condition rarely stays the same but is always dynamic, and when I look back, grows into something good? His good? And when I do, will I trust his hands to bring me there, trust him to judge whether the slab needs to be gently lifted, ripped in whole away, or given a good, hard wallop to smash it into a layer of dust that serves to somehow fertilize future growth? Can I find hope that he could choose to open floodgates of tenderness and love to wash over the ossification and wear it down to powder?
Will there be pain? I don’t care for pain. I’d rather not. But have you found like me that avoiding pain only seems to prolong and actually intensify it, propagating like a poison? That it takes little to unexpectedly trigger it and send you into its dizzying spiral all over again that seeps into everything you think and do? But what if I were to turn it on its head, to use it as an opportunity to tune into a truth – that it can be a whistle and wink to the truth of our Gardener’s pure nature and heart and his desire to see a change in me? Could I lean into his heart, to agree that he wants only what is best for me, that he will accompany me through these moments into a healthier, new direction? What if I held a vice-grip on that assurance that he will face it with me, prescribe according to the condition of my condition, and take my heart into his own and move me ahead? If today is a living and breathing testament to his past work in me, I will live to tell of that day, and tomorrow will yet again. In fact, I think he delights in each moment of victory right along with me!
“Let’s do it,” whispered with unexplained and newfound determination. Erin, keep eyes on the well-equipped and deftly skilled Gardener, no matter his prescription and method. Eyes on him who grieves deeply out of love over my hardness, and to spare me its outcome. Eyes on him through the pain, and as he and I work together, uncovering the shriveled seedlings and starved roots of dormant resplendent beauty. Eyes on him as he gently removes the deadwood, soothes with the rich soil of his love, seeds with his lavish abundance, waters with his tears, and cools with his grace. Eyes on him as he softens and tenders, transplants and prods growth to infuse and spread across his masterpiece creation. Eyes on him as he rejoices with me, with us, at each interval!
“Study this story of the farmer planting seed. When anyone hears news of the kingdom and doesn’t take it in, it just remains on the surface, and so the Evil One comes along and plucks it right out of that person’s heart. This is the seed the farmer scatters on the road.”
Matthew 13: 18,19 (The Message)
All the days of the poor are hard, but a cheerful heart has a continual feast.
Proverbs 15: 15 (New Revised Standard Version)
Jesus was angry as he looked at the people. But he felt very sad because they were stubborn. Then he said to the man, “Let me see your hand.” The man put his hand out for Jesus, and it was healed.
Mark 3: 5 (International Children’s Bible)