I wonder how long they tried to get back into the garden.
If grief stages are any indication, Adam and Eve would have experienced shock, denial, deep sorrow, anger, and eventually acceptance, but I feel certain that at some point, they would have looked for a way back. They probably wondered how long God intended to punish them, to leave them outside, away from the glory and majesty that is Him and His garden world. And what do we do while we’re here? Surely, we hope, we won’t be here for very long.
Fear is the very first evidence of sin in that first garden.
When Adam ate what Eve gave, they were afraid. They were scared, they covered, and they hid. I cannot unravel all of that, mostly because I can’t understand who and what and where they were just a few moments before: in whole, holy shamelessness. But I know that the first thing they felt when sin’s presence made itself known was fear, and I am confident that it slunk along behind them every step of the way into exile.
For many years now, I’ve half-joked that I, too, am an exile: a stranger in a strange land of midwestern weather patterns and barbecues that don’t involve smoked pork butts. I’m from Georgia, the land of peaches, pecans, peanuts, and fire ants. It’s true that I was born in Kentucky, but I was toddling around the land of red clay before I was even out of diapers, and every childhood memory I have took place within the borders of the Peach State. When I graduated high school, I had one basic goal in looking for higher education, and it wasn’t higher education! I carefully sought out anywhere that would pay me to play further basketball. I wasn’t opposed to learning. I was just really focused on playing a sport that I loved. Four years later, however, I was finishing a major in fine arts at Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana, hundreds of miles from the Chattahoochee, Suwannee, or Savannah Rivers.
I met and married a man from Ohio, and after a slow five-year trip through western New York, we’ve been in Ohio for almost eleven years now. It’s home. Our two-hundred- year-old house and accompanying barn have held us, nourished us, sheltered us. But even now, sixteen years away from it, I still say I’m from Georgia. Roots can stretch a long way.
I think for as long as we’ve lived outside of the deep south, we’ve talked about moving back. There’s always this “should we” kind of nudging regarding parents and brothers and cousins and the like. As my grandmother ages and the haunt of sin’s curse takes its toll on her body, the southward pull has grown stronger.
The thing is, we’re not sure. We’ve been here a while, and we really love the life God has given us. We don’t feel a definite call from Him to go or stay, just a questioning of whether or not we’re willing. Still, the idea of moving has exposed questions of how to live, and especially how to garden, where we might not stay. If we’re heading south, does it even make sense to plant lettuce or pumpkins? How much less sense is it to plant apple trees and elderberry bushes? Will I ever see a good harvest from the peaches I planted last fall?
“What is the point?” seems to be the question of the hour? Labor shortages are evidence of this apathy. Students of all ages are struggling to find meaning in education like never before. There’s even a more spiritual temptation to apathy whispering in my own heart: “Jesus has got to be on the way here already, so what is so important about how I live this moment?” Shouldn’t we all just watch the skies instead of cutting the grass?
I don’t know how long we’ll be here. I don’t know if the seeds and trees and flowers I plant today will blossom and flourish under my care or be cut down and dug out by someone else. But I refuse to cower and hide from the work God has put before me. Today, I choose to plant generously and courageously, even though it means taking possession of land that I will one day have to leave. With that in mind, my husband and I planted four large (LARGE!) crabapple trees yesterday. I’ve put in eight new lilacs, about thirty columbine, and so many foxgloves. The tomatoes are looking great, and I’m planting green beans this week.
There is no room for fear inside a garden. It’s part of why Adam and Eve couldn’t stay. Gardens conjure feelings of home and comfort to me. Houses with well-tended yards, whether in a formal arrangement or not, always look more loved to me than those with barren grass. There is no such thing as a stagnant plant; every bit of vegetation on earth is either growing or dying, and in some mysterious way, they’re doing both. Gardens are by their very definition meant for growing, for trying and learning, for discovery. They are intended for wonder and magic, not anxiety or dread.
Fear whispers “what if” and breeds doubt at all times in all places. It questions all the truth we know and tells lies as easily as water flows downhill: “Did God really say?” Fear follows no rules, no logic; it flies in the face of fact and completely shrouds it. It denies access to truth and proclaims every effort hopeless.
Fear leads us out of green pastures, away from still waters, to dry and ragged places where everything and nothing lies in wait for us. How many young men, boys really, have whispered the words of Psalm 23 as they went away from gardens and into battlefields? Surely, they clung to words that reminded them where their faith was leading them: to courage.
If You Hear His Voice
Courage is a choice. It is hard-fought, hard-won, and hard-held ground. It is choosing a true and better Captain – it is looking fear in the face and rejecting its leadership.
Courage continues to fight for the true and beautiful things that were and are and will be even in the face of many foes. It plants in the soil of a world that will not be here forever; putting roots into dirt that harbors fungus and disease and proclaiming that today is a day to grow.
The small acts of fighting bug and beetle are training grounds for fighting the sin that so easily besets us (Hebrews 12:1). Drawing a line in the grass where the yard ends and careful mulch with tended blossoms begin is the preparation for drawing lines of battle against our ancient foe.
There are enough things in this world that threaten to smother every green thing. I know this because at one time or another I’ve been afraid of them! But not today. Today, I refuse to give up one square inch of the sacred ground God has entrusted to me to fear. Instead, I will boldly continue to quietly plant, to remove weeds, to tend this garden as well as my soul. Today, I will walk into the moonlit, evening dew with courage and rejoice that He who calls us is faithful. The river birches and Japanese maple must be planted by me, because I am here today, and God has put them into my hand.
This may not be Eden, and the wardrobe door to Aslan’s country may be shut, but this is the land God expects me to tend.
He desires me to fill it with nasturtiums and berries and fluffy chickens and fat rabbits.
Today, may we hear His voice calling us to keep the ground soft, the weeds pulled, the trees trimmed, and our souls nourished. May our words give courage to another who is fighting against cancer or for their marriage. May apologies and truth find favorable ground in our hearts and on our lips. May we plant reconciliation and forgiveness, even when it may not find good soil. Let us keep pressing on planting, tending, and cultivating lives of kindness and courage in a world full of anger and fear. Keep doing the quiet, brave work of a gardener, for in time, we shall reap a harvest. Someday, the door to Eden will be opened again, and when it is, let us be found growing the good fruit of the ground, the trees, and the Spirit.
The featured image is courtesy of Ellyana Moore and used with her kind permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project.
Second-generation homeschooling mom of five wee snickbuzzards, Jordan Durbin is a maker of humble pottery, fine artist, calligrapher, gardener, pickle maker, baker of all things gluten-inclusive and butter-laden, violinist, vocalist, rabbit raiser, wife of one good man, lover of her blessed Redeemer. She has a Bachelor’s degree in fine art from Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana. She is an avid coffee drinker, reader, and published children’s book author and illustrator. She aspires to proclaim the resurrection with every moment of her life.