In my family, cottage clean up is a mandatory, all-hands-on-deck kind of thing. We get the house looking all cute for summer because summer means visits from friends and grandparents, and that means appearing a touch tidier and more normal than we actually are. My task was to resurrect the garden. There were no flowers to plant. I was simply asked to yank out the weeds, mess up the soil, and spare the rose bushes that were somehow alive after a northern Michigan winter.
So, pretending I had a green thumb, I started attacking the gnarly weeds and old plant roots with my mini shovel. I yanked, raked, and dug until I ached all over. For those of you who are gardening newbies like me, don’t try this at home unless you’re prepared for a full-body workout! There were many, many weeds and they dove real deep into the ground.
Then it hit me: THIS IS MY LIFE, or what God has been doing in it this past season.
Just as the garden had spots that were chock-full of convoluted weeds and dead plant roots, earlier this year, there were aspects of my life that were no longer life-giving. I had plunged head-first into a wedding engagement only to find that the relationship’s foundation was built on quicksand, fractured by fabrications. And when everything was said and done, it cut deeply. Something ordinary, like cleaning up a garden to make room for new blooms, is painful but equally vital in our own lives.
As I worked, I envisioned God combing through the pieces of me from His high and perfect vantage point. He carefully severed what no longer served His ultimate plan. He arranged the combination that would drive me to entrust myself wholly to Him, to proclaim His name above anything or anyone else. When I was wrestling with the extra-deep, seemingly endless weeds, my mind flashed to my first night up at the cottage this summer. It was late. I was looking at the stars and reminiscing on the dock. I understood, mentally, that this summer would look very different from the past four. But it was then that my feelings caught up. The glitter-filled sky turned to a dark, wet blur through my tears. Turns out growing pains aren’t limited to childhood.
A fantastic sermon by one of my favorite pastors, Paul Rasmussen, got me through some of the darkest times this year, the ones we all have but keep to ourselves. His message unpacks a classic: Psalm 23. It’s so good, in fact, you should probably stop reading and go watch it here.
Paul speaks to our natural tendency to panic when a hole threatens to sink our ship. There are many types of ships: relationships, internships…I can’t come up with any other words ending in “ship” …jobs, health, dreams, homes, or anything else we hold dear. But sometimes God says, “I like the boat, but I don’t need it where I’m headed.” I don’t know about you, but that makes me uncomfy. Unfamiliar is hard to get used to, especially when the past held something precious. Sinking ships force us surrender our dreams and plans back to God asking, first of all, “WHAT IS GOING ON?!” But more importantly, “What do You want me to know right now?”
In the sermon, pastor Paul also works through Acts 27:42-44, in which biblical Paul is on a ship that is literally sinking. Acts 27:44 says, “The rest were to get there on planks or on other pieces of the ship. In this way, everyone reached land safely.” This point flipped my thinking. Despite my all of hopes and dreams and faith and neurotic planning, I was not going to sail in smoothly on the ship this time. And that is okay. That is biblical. By scrap wood or life boat or swimming or dolphin, we will all reach the shore. The real shore.
When things fall apart, we have to persevere and trust God. Goodness can coexist with pain and loss. I gain perspective and see life springing out of what I was sure would always be ashes as I continue to place my faith in the Lord. Even if I had to go back and do this whole messy, downright devastating year over again, I would because I love knowing God on this deeper level. I have experienced His faithfulness and ability to comfort, heal, and be my hope when nothing else made sense anymore.
In his message, Pastor Paul recounts a time when his wife asked their son, “What are you going to do if your hover board catches on fire?” (Apparently this is a legitimate concern. Fire aside — kids, try walking.)
Their son shrugged, “No big deal. You’ll get me another one.”
Just like that, the Kingdom reveals itself through the eyes of a child. There’s Psalm 23:6:
“Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Are you on this level? Do you believe that good things are following you like this little boy does? This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be grateful for the blessings that God has already provided because we think He’s going to just keep on giving. Rather, it’s a way of helping us to understand God’s character. Because He is such a good, good father, He pursues us with blessings every day of our lives. He will never give up on us. Now that’s incredible. Of course it hurts when our ships sink and the plants we lovingly nurtured shrivel up, but God works all this together for the good of those who love Him.
When I started gardening, I was moving hastily, trying to get the task done as efficiently as possible. But the thick thorns on the roses kept stabbing my knuckles (through my gloves!). It was then that I could sense God whispering to me, “Healing is a delicate process. It takes time, effort, and trust. We are going to do this right to prepare your spirit to produce new, abundant, and beautiful fruit. I am here with you.” I surrendered my agenda. I dug deeper for the stubborn roots and worked methodically around the feisty roses.
Meanwhile, my young brother sprinkled me and the garden with Preen weed preventer and Miracle Grow plant food. As he doused the soil with magic dots, I connected them: who and what you choose to surround yourself with have a huge impact on the fruit that grows in your life. You are responsible for protecting your heart, and that’s verrryyy important to do (Proverbs 4:23). Plug into people and activities that bring you closer to Jesus. Seek the Lord with everything you have and you will find Him, and and all of the beauty He radiates (Jeremiah 29:13).
The takeaway is this: help your parents with the gardening. You may get more out of it than you ever anticipated. Really it’s that God is unfailingly faithful. He gives us with strength to release what used to be good and readies our hearts for blessings to come. He walks with us through the essential, healing seasons in between.
Preparing the garden was hard and took longer than I hoped, but day by day, it begins to grow new life.