In addition to his woodworking craftsman skills my father was a detailed gardener–nothing too frou-frou but tasty essentials that he preferred–rows of collards and other greens, tomatoes, peppers, squash, Kentucky Wonder beans, cucumbers, beets, black eyed peas, you name it. Some days toiling in the east Texas sun were joyful; others seemed to be a dance between scratching one mosquito bite after another while cultivating the vegetables. Our garden was a necessity–it provided much needed nourishment for our family–but it was also my father’s baby. He’d cultivate tiny seedlings in the house weeks in advance and always “soaked” his seeds, which he’d carefully line up on damp paper towels, before planting.
He prepared the soil in early Spring using a gardener’s fork to break up the fallow ground. He’d turn the soil clod by clod until it was loamy; he wasn’t a fan of the Rototiller which destroyed aerating worms as it cut through the soil. We’d manually break up the dirt clods, add nitrogen if it was needed, and fertilizer to the soil.
He was so precise that after he prepared the soil he used twine to line up perfectly straight rows then create little mounds to receive each seed or plantlet once the concern for frost has passed. He often wrapped the roots of tomato plants in aluminum foil to safeguard them from early predators.
We watered carefully. I still recall his lectures on not dowsing the rows with streams of water, but to pinch the hose nozzle so a gentle rain showered on his vegetation. Sevin dust was a must otherwise the ravenous insects would pillage each plant. Day turned into day as the hot Texas sun, careful pruning, and consistent watering caused our garden to produce shiny peppers, huge scratchy squash leaves, and colorful beet greens. Neighbors would come around and comment on each other’s gardens–what you planted, didn’t plant, how you fertilized, and best methods. Dad always planted more than enough so he could share. In a way, it became a ministry and teaching opportunity for him.
He often shared Biblical references to gardening–we thrive in obedience, Job 8:6, and our leaves wilt under the curse of walking in disobedience, Isaiah 1:30. We are described as grass: grass withers and flowers fade under the breath of God. Jesus is the vine and his Father the gardener; we, the branches, are cut off when we do not bear fruit. John 15:18
Although gardening had its moments of pleasure, our labor was primarily in expectation of the vegetables and the tasty meals inherent in each crisp pepper and purple streaked turnip. My father, in particular, loved his collards and anticipated a nightly plate of them doused in his favorite homemade ranch dressing. Every evening he’d water and check each plant as a mother examines her growing newborn for developmental markers. The years where our produce was delayed due to late frosts or ravenous insects our hope was deferred.
Now as an adult and long removed from those Texas beginnings, I am again in a season of HOPE deferred. Some dreams have been long delayed and waiting has occupied much of my time. I’ve been meditating on how to flourish and enable others to flourish when I feel like a seedling still wrapped up in a paper towel on someone’s kitchen counter–I have life but feel as if my potential is dormant in the seed. How does a helpless seed, one that must be planted to produce, flourish? How do we maintain hope when the frost keeps delaying our planting season?
Abigail Dodds, a contributor to desiringGod.com shared a profound thought the other day that immediately caught my attention by referring to Elisabeth Elliot, a longtime bookshelf mentor of mine. Dodds wrote, “In God’s economy, we flourish when our need for him is met in him. Dear brothers and sisters, there is no circumstance under heaven that God isn’t using to grow us into oaks of righteousness. There is no need that he won’t fill with himself.”
It became clear to me! I need a paradigm shift for these deep longings and needs. Regardless of my circumstances, He is more than enough. He is my sun, my soil, my water, and even my fertilizer and pest control. I am planted in His garden. I’ve been looking at the wrong indicators to define flourish–my health, my bank account, my present circumstances, or even relationships. He plants me. His timing is impeccable. I’ve hypocritically looked at other people and assumed they weren’t flourishing by external indicators. Oh God, forgive us for judgmental spirits towards ourselves and others. Forgive us for assuming the mom “stuck” at home raising rowdy kids has insignificant blooms compared to the mom who’s already published and appears to be making a greater impact in the Kingdom; or the pastor of 20 versus 2000. I would encourage you to examine the indicators you have upheld to define flourish. Promotions, publications, placement, progeny? Join me in allowing the Holy Spirit to examine our hearts.
The psalmist tells us,
The righteous flourish like the palm tree
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
13 They are planted in the house of the Lord;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
14 They still bear fruit in old age;
they are ever full of sap and green,
15 to declare that the Lord is upright;
he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.
Follow my logic: I am righteous because of Christ alone–His blood and sacrifice–nothing in my flesh. His Word declares that the righteous will flourish. That’s a declarative statement. I have been planted in His house.
Note, I will flourish in the courts of God; hence, by lingering in the presence of God I will thrive.
Psalm 84:10 records David declaring, “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” Doorkeeper is a lowly position, along the lines of a servant, one without much gratitude and often curses. But, he’s in the court of his God and flourishing. Oh, we serve a glorious master. His graciousness allows even the seemingly insignificant doorkeeper to bloom. In Isaiah 41: 9-10 we are told,
“You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off; fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
If I have been upheld by His right hand then I can bloom and flourish in the Spirit. He knows I need mulch, water, need sun, even pruning. Those necessities can only be found fully in Christ. He is the vine–my nourishment must come from the Vine. We were created to need Christ.
My circumstances may be unaltered but, if I submit to the Master Gardener, I can flourish. I am reminded of the fruit of the Spirit– love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness. Regardless of my circumstances love can bloom, I can joyfully engage those around me, be at peace while I wait, and allow the fragrance from patience, kindness and goodness to caress my neighbors. The bloom of faithfulness unfolds as I wait on the Lord and his perfect timing. He is perfect in all his ways.
Just as my plants “need” water, soil nutrients, and sun, so I “need” Him. I will flourish when my needs are met in Christ. The Master Gardener knows how to water–to gently hold the hose nozzle and bring much needed nourishment to his plants. Who am I to tell Him how much and with what velocity I need to be watered? If every hair on my head is numbered; He keeps a record of every petal that expands under the warm rays of His sun.
My hope deferred may be hope misapplied. I do believe God put these desires in my heart, but I cannot idolize them. A dear friend of ours, JoAnn, has been a gardener to us–she has come alongside me to first listen, offer wise counsel, and whisper words of encouragement. At times she’s brought correction. Most encouraging, however, she prays and tells me “Be Still and Trust.”
My encouragement to you is to be planted in Christ first–allow yourself to linger in His courtyard. Biblestudentsdaily.com gives us a crystal clear description of the biblical courtyard. The courtyard surrounded the Tabernacle and represented justification through faith. Interestingly enough to me as a jewelry designer, the metal most used was copper, which represented human nature justified or perfection. The Israelites offered a daily sacrifice in the courtyard–a lamb in the morning and evening. As Christians, we acknowledge Christ as the perfect lamb. He sees us through the blood of this sacrifice–perfect. Our daily lingering is acceptance of our justification in Christ. We were created to praise. We can lift up our voices and worship. I still remember my father painfully grunting, “Well, praise the Lord,” after a shop accident. So too, I am choosing to lay aside complaint and offer the sacrifice of praise to God in all my circumstances knowing
That for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
He is perfect in all His ways. In His exquisite timing HOPE will be met and fulfilled.
Bloom where you are planted. And flourish!
The beautiful featured image is by Julie Jablonski and is used here with her generous permission on behalf of The Cultivating Project.
Mary has cherished life-long literary dreams coupled with a passion for ministry, all of which lead her to study English literature and later theology and counseling in seminary. She has been designing artisan jewelry for eight years while homeschooling son Ian and daughter Julianna. She and her husband Mark Miller have been in ministry for the past thirteen years in San Diego and temporarily moved to Washington with their cat Lord Peter Wimsey while Mark finalized his dissertation. Dr. Miller is now pursuing ministerial opportunities nation-wide. Mary enjoys off-the-wall humor, gardening, cooking, and curling up with anything penned by Dorothy Sayers, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, or Jane Austen.