Learning to garden: A repentance from laziness

A couple weeks ago, while listening to Wendell Berry, I decided to stop waiting for the ideal situation and start planting a garden.

I’ve realized something about myself since that day. I like to do simple things. Tasks that require hands on practice. And not much research or technical skill.

Gardening seems like it should be pretty straight forward. Take a seed. Put it in the ground. And water it. But it turns out there’s more to planting a productive garden than simply pressing a seed into the earth.

There’s a need to know about the climate where the garden is planned. There’s a need to know what grows in that climate at this time of year. There’s a need to prepare the soil. And to learn what preparing the soil means.

And so, I suppose like anything one is new at, gardening requires learning new skills. And I think that’s why seriously undertaking planting a garden scares me off. I’m lazy. I don’t want to have to research what the soil is like in the “low desert” of Arizona. ( I had know idea the area I live in is called “low desert” until I started researching how to plant.) I don’t want to have to spend weeks preparing the soil.

But I don’t want to be an expert couch potato either. And so today is week 2 of my repentance from laziness.

Last week I researched and asked questions. Planted herb seeds in a little indoor greenhouse tray. Marked the 12 x 5 foot area in the earth where I decided to plant. Shoveled goat and chicken droppings and scattered them on my garden plot. Watered it daily. And didn’t plant anything.

This week, I tilled the soil. And took my neighbor’s advice (she’s an expert gardener), added more goat droppings and covered the area with wood chips from her yard. Watered. Put up a chicken wire fence around the garden. And planted nothing.

Through the week I’ll keep watering. And maybe on Saturday or Sunday I’ll plant the seeds the experts say grow well in Arizona’s low desert this time of year.

I’m tired now. My back is sore from bending and hoeing and digging and raking and squatting. I’ll sleep well I’m sure.

Laying here about to die to the day. I can’t help but think about the grace that gives us God’s work to do. Seed planting isn’t the only or even the first work. The labor is observation, learning, asking questions, listening, praying, caring, and waiting. Then the seed is planted. And then it’s God’s turn.

“I planted the seed of the teaching in you, and Apollos watered it. But God is the One who made the seed grow.”

1 Corinthians‬ ‭3:6‬ ‭ICB‬‬

The gift of conversation between generations

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When I was little, pre-school, I would hop off the wooden pews every Sunday to make my way over to the place where Clarice Lemley sat. Clarice, was in my mind, exactly Aunt Bee from The Andy Griffith show. She was plump and grey headed and wore flowered dresses. And she always had gum to give to kids who asked for a piece. She also had a beautiful garden and made a mean pot roast with gravy and mashed potatoes for Sunday dinner.

Clarice is one those women who influenced my life without trying. She was just her kind self. She made me feel welcome. And she evoked a desire to make something delicious and beautiful.

Today at church, a smiling, silver-headed woman, asked me about my week and listened as I shared my current struggle with the transition into mothering young adults. She shared some of her experience and hugged me.

This kind of modeling and engaging conversations between generations is something I value and deeply desire. When I experience it, I feel built up. I feel connected to something greater than me and my circumstances. I’m part of a one-anotherness. A community. I need the elders and I need the young-ones too. And they need me.

I hope to be a Clarice to children growing up in the church where I teach them in Sunday school, and sing with them on the front row. And I want to be the woman who hugged me and encouraged me today from her place a few years up the road in motherhood.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing.

– 1 Thessalonians 5:11

How one American suburbanite is trying to foster a healthy local economy

This is my neighborhood. We are people trying to get away from the city just enough to escape the rules and regulations, but not so much that we have drive too far to get to Target. We’re American consumers, blue-collar workers, homemakers, nurses, police officers, small business owners, veterans and retirees.

Listening to Wendell Berry this evening got me thinking about the culture I live in. The culture I’ve built. The economy I’m part of.

I buy clothes with tags that say they were made in Taiwan, Indonesia and China. I buy milk, ground beef and chicken thighs at Sam’s club. My neighbors, like me, probably give little thought to where our food and cloths come from. But we’re also a people trying to take the dirt on our little 1-2 acre plots of desert and produce something good from it.

My neighbor has a wonderful garden, milks dairy goats, makes cheese and all kinds of wonderful dishes from her small homesteadish place.

We, like most of our neighbors, have chickens, and very rarely have to buy eggs from the grocery store. We also have goats and make soap from the goat milk we’ve stored over the years.

In Berry’s essay, “Total Economy,” he writes how I, and those in my neighborhood have given proxy to corporations to provide ALL of our food, clothing and shelter, even our entertainment, education and care for our children, sick and elderly. And he’s right.

But I am seeking to live in a repentant posture from this proxy.

Why? Because I believe I was made by God to, “fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28) and be my brothers keeper (Genesis 4:9), and love my neighbor as myself (Matthew 22:39), in a way that reflects God’s goodness.

I don’t believe I was made to let corporations do all of the subduing for me, do all the caring for my children, the sick in my community and the elderly in my life, so that I can do all the consuming.

I believe God made me to do the good, small and local work of all those efforts.

I can’t, of course, produce everything I need to live in this time and place on my little one acre lot. I can’t do all the caring for my children, or tend to the needs of al the elderly and infirm in my life. But I can do what I can do.

My next effort to push up through the concrete proxy I’ve given to corporations is to learn to plant something my family and I can eat, visit my neighbors, and humbly give thanks for those who make my clothes, package my chicken and care for my children and elderly neighbors.

Accepting silence

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I took a long walk with my German Shephard, Lukas, this evening. The sun is setting earlier. The sky glows with shades of orange and pink and the world seems to cover itself with a honey-kissed filter. I’m drawn out of the house easily on these fall evenings in the Sonoran desert.

Usually I take Lukas down our suburban neighborhood streets, earbuds in, podcast or audio bible or audio book, but tonight, I walked in silence. I listened. I noticed how much I wanted to hear something. Something meaningful. Something insightful. Something I could write or share that might give another struggling soul, courage. But I heard nothing. Nothing but the sound of my steps pressing gravel into the earth. I heard kids playing in the alleyway, hollering to each other working out the rules to the game they were playing. I heard the swoosh and vroom of cars and trucks and motorcycles driving down the main road around the corner. I caught myself reaching for my phone. Wanting to scroll to find some Yoda-like tweet or inspiring instagram story.

As I walked home, noticing the changing colors in the darkening sky, accepting the noises of dusk in Phoenix, Arizona suburbs, I thought about how the daily activities of life fill my days and I very rarely accept silence.

I have no special insight to publish tonight. No word from God. No inspirational quotes.

I don’t like a lot of my circumstances. I long for God to do something new in the lives of those I love, in my own life. But tonight I’ll just quietly wait. And walk. And listen. And pray.

Lessons from my marriage: Three practices to build compassion when we disagree

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I listened to Ashley Hales podcast, Finding Holy, the other day. Tish Warren Harrison, the guest, shared her desire to help the Church find a way, “…between capitulation and combativeness,” in relating to those who see the world differently than they do.

I’m always drawn to discussions about how Christians should relate to those whose worldview is different. Not because I’m trying finally find the right answer, but because that is my life. My husband is not a Christian. As he puts, we have different loves, “You worship Jesus and I don’t.” Those are his words.

My worship of Jesus and my husband’s resistance to worship has been a source of pain between us for 28 years. And like Tish discussed on the podcast, I’ve swung between capitulation and combativeness, or in my case, capitulation and comatoseness, in our 28 years together. I’m an enneagram 9. So I don’t tend toward combativeness. In fact I’d rather go numb than combat anyone, over just about anything except my kids. Come for my kids, and I’ll turn Rambo on you. But I digress. What Tish said caught my attention because I have experienced the hand of God continually guiding me to walk the path of vulnerable and fearless love on the solid ground between joining my husband’s unbelief and fighting against it, or in my case, going numb to it.

There is a way to love between capitulation and combativeness…or comatoseness.

The temptation to surrender to unbelief, to give up on being involved in church, reading my Bible, praying, singing songs of worship, giving generously, serving others and teaching my children about Jesus is always there. I don’t even need my husband’s unbelief to be tempted to give up on those things. My own self-centered desires beckon me to take up the life Christ has called me to lay down. As though I would be a better god than He.

The other option would be to fight against my husband’s unbelief, berating him with Bible verses, well-thought out arguments, pointing out all his moral failings. Or in my case, saying nothing. Withdrawing. Going into doormat mode. I am guilty of both. The temptation to check-out whispers, “It doesn’t matter what you say. You might as well disappear. Nothing you say or do is going to change anything.”

Jesus has been pulling me out of the ditches on either side of loving my husband well for 28 years. And he’s kept my husband’s heart turned towards his family, despite all the siren songs that have tried to shipwreck our life. When I find myself veering towards one ditch or the other, I’m helped by being honest about my own brokenness, being vulnerable- willing to bear the pain that comes with speaking the truth, and by taking a posture of service.

Don’t get me wrong here. I fail at those three practices all the time. Like I said, Jesus has been pulling me out of the ditch on either side of this trail following him in learning to love well. But I am learning.

One of the things I’m learning is a key to fostering healthy relationships with others, whether they share your faith or not, is acknowledging that we both have brokenness. Part of learning to love another well is facing your own problems and lack of faith. I can’t easily turn towards combativeness or comatoseness with my husband if I acknowledge that I too struggle with lust for power, self-centeredness, and pride.

When the differences between what guides my decisions and desires and what guides my husband’s seem to pit us against each other, being willing to be vulnerable, to speak the truth in love, even if it’s not received, puts a cruciform posture in my part of the relationship. That posture speaks Christ. It’s says, “This is wrong. And I love you. I’m not going to abandon you even though dealing with this hurts.” To be willing to suffer the pain of addressing the problems we have with each other and not abandon the relationship simply because we don’t agree is a Christlike posture that deals in a currency of compassion rather than combativeness or comatoseness.

When I think about what I believe-that the Jesus of the Bible is God in the flesh, come to live a fully human life and take the form of a servant. Touching the untouchables. Reasoning with the proud and argumentative. Healing the sick. Delivering the demonized. Teaching the stubborn. Washing the feet of those who would abandon him. When I think about this Jesus, I can’t take a posture of proud distain of even the most corrupt combatant who disagrees with me. Much less my own husband or neighbors, coworkers or friends who don’t see eye to eye with me. Jesus compels me to take a posture of serving these. How can I help you get what you need? What can I do to bring joy or blessing to you? What can I say that would encourage you? These are the questions Jesus brings to these sometimes awkward and strained relationships

This man I love, I wish he would embrace the Jesus of the Bible as his savior and God and follow him with me. I wish that for my family, friends and neighbors and those who think I’m nuts.

But if they never do, it will not be a waste of my life to let Jesus spend my life teaching me to love them well.

Remember the hope of glory

I’m pretty sure I’m one of the most forgetful people on the planet.

I joke that I think I have early dementia, but it might not be a joke. I forget the names of people I’ve known for a long time. I forget what I was doing when I walk into a room, and have to go back to where I started to try and jog loose some clue that will send me back to the room to do what I set out to do in the first place. And I forget about God.

I have this nagging ache for Jesus to break through in my life in a visible, tangible way. I want so badly to see the evidence that he is alive and changing the hearts and lives of those I love. Even my own life. I want to see that I have an actual desire to love those who I feel unloved by. And I forget that he is here, with me, unseen, and working to transform me. I also forget this means I will actually need to make intentional changes and stop in the parking lot at the grocery store to tell God out loud in my car how angry I am, how frustrated I am, how tired I am, and then thank him for the promise that He won’t leave me or abandon me. I forget that Christ lives in me. In ME.

So tonight, I’m intentionally remembering the miracle that it is in me, even now.

 “To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” – Colossians 1:27 ESV

I read somewhere recently, or maybe I listened, I don’t remember, that the meaning of glory in the Bible has to do with substance or weight. Glory isn’t just getting attention or honor or being at your peak in performance or potential. Glory is weight. Glory is substance. (Oh, I remember now, it was the book God Of All Things by Andrew Wilson). As Wilson put it, “To speak of God’s glory, in biblical terms, is not just to speak of his splendor and beauty (though that too) but also to speak of how weighty, heavy and substantial he is.”

The lyrics to the song by Switchfoot come to mind here.

I can feel you reaching
Pushing through the ceiling
‘Til the final healing
I’m looking for you

In my restlessness, in my longing to see God’s substance, his glory in my life, my changed life, and in the lives of those I love, I forget Christ in me.

This is why I need the Church. This is why I need the disciplines of meditating on scripture, praying, all the time. Or like the Bible says, “without ceasing.” This is why I need to remember.

Father, it’s quite miraculous that I wake up still being held by you. Jesus still has hold of me. I still love Him whom I have never seen. It’s a miracle. Please, let me see your glory. Let my children see the weighty substance of your actual life-changing reality. Don’t let me forget you.

Remember the mystery

There’s a handmade wooden sign in the hallway leading to my bedroom with these words in black:

” And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:20

I walk by that sign daily and don’t give it a thought, but the other day I stopped and read it over and over. I considered whether I really believed what it said. I mean, Jesus told his followers to go out and tell all kinds of people all over the world about him and what he has done and taught. He told them to baptize them and teach them, make Jesus-followers out of them. And then, he said, “Hey, pay attention (which is what I take “Behold” to mean). I know what you all are thinking. I know this will feel, and is, impossible for you. So get this: I WILL BE WITH YOU. All the way to the end.”

Do I believe that? Do I believe Jesus is with me? The Jesus of the Bible. The Jesus who told a storm to stop after being woke from a nap, and it did. The Jesus who touched untouchables and healed them. The Jesus who suffered the torture of Roman execution and the rejection and abandonment of his friends and came back to life after three days of rigor mortis in the grave. Do I believe this Jesus is with me?

I am surrounded day in and day out with people I love who don’t turn to Jesus as, “…the way, the truth and the life.” And I can’t explain my belief to them. I just know, even in the midst of my own lack of faith, that he’s with me.

In Colossians, Paul wrote that there’s a mystery going on in those who follow Jesus, the mystery is: Christ is in us. I can’t explain this mystery. I can’t even get my own mind around it. But I know, something greater than me and my tired pea-brain compels me to, cry out to a God I’ve never seen but love, reach out to a people who look at me with condescending sighs (because I’m their mom) and constantly seek to love God and love people better. For Jesus’ name’s sake. Because he’s worth it. That is happening in me. And it’s a mystery.

So today, I’m remembering this: The God who said, “All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word,” is the God who said, “Behold, I am with you always. To the very end.”

Christ is with me. In me.

I need to remember.

Remember, God can replace anyone’s heart

Today I got in my car and drove away from my house alone. Again. However many Sundays there are in 28 years, that’s how many Sundays (minus a few Christmas and Easter Sundays) I’ve been going to church alone.

Almost every Sunday I have to fight the numbness that threatens. Going to church every Sunday can become so routine that you forget exactly why you’re going. It’s just what you do. Going to church every Sunday alone, while the man you love stays home to work on his latest project, throws pain at the numbness that won’t let going to church become a routine. It’s like arthritis of the heart flares up every Sunday, but I’ve gotten used to the pain.

My life circumstance lie to me week after week. They tell me God’s not there. And if he is, he’s can’t reach my husband and sons. And if he does, they wouldn’t embrace him. And at times I find myself lost in complaints, bitterness and blaming like the dwarves from The Hobbit did when they lost their way in the Mirkwood forest. I need to remember what God told Ezekiel to tell the people of Israel when they were generations deep and poisoned in their own Mirkwood forest.

 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

– Ezekiel 36:24-28 ESV

God promised to give his people a new heart and new spirit. And he has. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I’ve experienced it myself.

I’m not a Bible scholar, so I won’t go into the when or how the fulfillment of this prophecy happened or will happen for Israel. But I know there was a time in my life that I didn’t care about God. I cared about me. I didn’t want to walk in God’s ways, I wanted God to give me my way. And I don’t know how he did it, really. I mean I know the right theological answer, but I can’t tell you how he made what beats inside of me every day long for Jesus. All I know is, I have a heart I didn’t have sometime before age 16 when I heard Jesus call me to follow him.

And I’ve seen it in my sister’s life. God took out her heart of stone and gave her a tender heart that loves Jesus and people.

I need to remember. I need to believe. I don’t know when or how, but my God is a heart transplantor. He takes out hard hearts like the one I’ve seen resist the gospel for 28 years, and replaces them with hearts that love Jesus.

He’s the only one who can.

Join me to remember

I remember things that seem to have zero importance. Like the smell of the small stairway that led to the attic-level Children’s Ministry classroom in my childhood church.

I remember the smell. I remember the stairway being narrow. I remember the small window from which I could look down and see the church sanctuary. And I faintly remember dark cabinetry and a flannel board.

But when my son is obsessed with his appearance and I fear that I didn’t do enough to instill God’s word and the hope of the gospel in his life, I seem to have total amnesia to the eternal, historical and experiential truths of God and Christ. I forget what God has done. I forget what he’s promised. I forget how he redeemed and is still redeeming me. 

When I am scheduled to teach kids at church on a Sunday, or speak to a group of people on a specific subject, I’ll do the work needed to prepare myself. So I decided to give myself an assignment: a blog series on remembering God. My goal: to write on one eternal, historical or experiential truth of God in an effort to deliberately remember. 

Maybe like me, you’re a married mom of kids in the launch-out phase of development, working full time and involved in your local church, trying to balance work, rest and play. Or maybe you’re in a completely different demographic. Whatever your lot, if you’re a Christian, intentionally remembering what God has done and promised has got to be good for you, and me.

I did a little bit of google research on remembering and ran across this 2019 article in Nature magazine titled: The forgotten part of memory by Lauren Gravitz. The article proposes that our brains deliberately forget things in order to make room for new memories and to help us adapt and change with life’s often traumatic circumstances. Forgetting is a survival-of-the-species mechanism. 

To prevent this intentional forgetting our brains do, we have to intentionally remember. According to the researchers, The more often a memory is recalled, the stronger its neural network becomes. Over time, and through consistent recall, the memory becomes encoded in both the hippocampus and the cortex. Eventually, it exists independently in the cortex, where it is put away for long-term storage.

God knows this about our brains. (Surprise!) And throughout scripture, he tells his people to intentionally remember what he’s done and said. This is one of the functions of the third person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:25:26 ESV)

So, if you find yourself struggling with the day to day of life, or the crisis that has hit you, join me here every weekend to remember some of the eternal, historical and experiential truths of God.

How four flawed churches helped me love Christ more

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I’ve been in a church since the week after I was born. Every church I’ve been part of has impacted my life in a unique way. Like an arm is different from the liver, these churches were all very different. Among them were bad teachings. But at each church I grew. I learned. I love Christ more because of them all.

It seems there’s a reckoning happening in the American church. There are good reasons why some have left titles or denominations behind. The Church is in need of washing and pruning, discipline and rebuke. But She is also the source of health and growth for the Christian. See 1 Corinthians 12:12-31.

Where I learned the hymns that saved me

From birth through fourth grade my parents brought me up in a non-instrument, no classes Church of Christ. I didn’t realize it until I was in my late teens, but the church of my childhood believed it was sinful and a show to use musical instruments in the church gathering. We were to “sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to one another” in the church gathering.

My childhood church also prohibited classes of any kind. Not for kids. Not Sunday school. No classes. But they loved to sing well. Since there were no instruments I guess they honed in on making sure we were all in tune. 

I remember seeing the man leading us in hymns blow on his tuning pipe, then humming to tune his own voice, then putting his arm in the air to conduct the congregation in the right tempo of the song. We sang, “Some glad morning, when this life is o’er, I’ll fly away,” and “There is power, power, wonder working power. In the blood. Of the Lamb.” The women harmonized with the men. The heart rumbling tone of the baritone men, singing their part, is forever in my memory.

My childhood church’s doctrine on water baptism, women being silent and submissive, singing strictly acapella, and classes being prohibited made a huge impression on me. And not for the good. But despite the bad teaching, the Holy Spirit reached me there.

At age sixteen, listening to an acapella singing of Amazing Grace at a Bill Gothard conference, I heard the Lord call me to follow Him. At my childhood church I learned to love the hymns. And I learned to love the simplicity and commonness of the gathering of God’s people. My childhood church taught me to receive the reading of scripture, engage in the singing of hymns to each other, and to partake of the Lord’s Supper in memory of Jesus.

Where I learned to love the Bible

In my early adult years I looked for a church alone. My husband and I were newlyweds and I was newly aware of his lack of interest in going to church. I was also a new believer. I was hungry for God’s word. And I found a church that fed me. Calvary Chapel.

I remained in a Calvary Chapel for more than ten years. During those years I learned about the Holy Spirit, prophecy, spiritual gifts and the power of the Bible. The pastors and teachers at Calvary Chapel showed me that anyone, in the context of the church, under the authority of elders, could open a BIble and teach God’s word.

In those years at Calvary Chapel I didn’t realize how the emphasis on a certain interpretation of the end times was impacting me. I would later come to see this over-emphasis on a pre-tribulation interpretation of scripture as distracting from the gospel and discipleship. But in my years at Calvary Chapel I learned to pray, listen to God, and study my Bible.

Where my childhood beliefs were challenged and I was loved

When my sons were just entering elementary school I began attending a Bible church. In this small Bible church I learned about church history and the words church people have for different theological stances.

I learned about Calvinism and Armenianism. I learned about cessationism and dispensationalism. And I learned that there are churches that don’t baptise people in water.

This was a source of wrestling for me. I grew up with a theologically heretical teaching that said you had to be baptised (emersed) in water at a Church of Christ to be accepted into those pearly gates we sang so well about in our accapella hmns. I knew that teaching was off, but no water baptism at all? The Bible church’s pastor challenged me to examine the meaning of baptism. 

Even though I don’t agree with the reasoning for no water baptism, that Bible church showed me what it means to love the members of your church. That church supported me when my marriage was about to end. They bought me a car. Gave me a bed. And sent me to Oregon to visit my family. They also whet my taste for church history.

Where the gospel was held high and I learned to lead

This brings me to my current SBC affiliated church. This church, I love her. The pastor and leaders in my church have made the preaching of the gospel powerful and applicable. They’ve taught me the importance of discipling others, making friends about Jesus with open Bibles and open lives in small groups. They’ve taught me to lead, which has filled in a void from my childhood where I was taught women were never to lead anything. But mostly, they’ve taught me to respond to the gospel as a believer with faith and repentance on a day-in, day-out basis. 

The Church has sin that needs to be confessed and repented of. Wickedness that needs to be purged. Abuse that needs to be exposed and condemned. But She also has the truth that builds up the Christian, deepening her roots in the love of Christ and helping her to produce fruit for the glory of God and the good of the kingdom. I’m grateful for the Church. I love her.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” – Ephesians 3:20-21