My Abiding and My Agenda

I find myself here every few months.  Panting.  Frazzled. Threadbare and world-weary.  Poured out and never filled up, believing it is up to me to keep the world spinning.  And with the holidays upon us, the to-do list grows even longer and the demands grow even greater.  It seems there is no end in sight.

I make a terrible god.

I’m beckoned back to re-take the test I have failed once again.  I shuffle my feet to the heartbeat of my shame until I realize the classroom is a throne room and I am simply invited to rest there.

Or maybe it is a peaceful garden like the one in my dreams, not in my back pasture. It is the place my soul longs for in the noise and hurry of my days and God has been calling me there more and more to teach me about Himself and His kingdom through the physical stuff of soil, seeds, weeds, and seasons.  He is so gracious in His promise that He will be found by us, making His ways plain to us through creation.

So I step in, letting my ears adjust to the quiet, letting my eyes adjust to the sunlight.  And Jesus whispers my life’s verse back to me, “It is to my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” John 15:8

“Right!  Yes!” I say too loudly, fumbling for the basket of scrawny, malnourished fruit I am trying to produce on my own,   “Don’t you see how hard I am working?  Don’t you see all the places I am serving, fields I am plowing, people I am loving?” All the while knowing the sad offerings of my broken down basket will never bring Him glory.

He sets it aside, takes my hand, and shows me the Vine. “I am the True Vine, and my Father is the Gardener.  I am the Vine and you are the branches.  If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15: 1, 3, 8)

I am not the ultimate gardener in this story and neither are you.

God is the Father Farmer and like all good gardeners, He has a plan.  This plan has been for fruitfulness, from the Garden of Eden to the Garden of Gethsemane, to the garden of my life.  I feel a bit of the burden lifting.

I Corinthians 3:10 speaks this truth; “For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.”  

I am not the gardener, I am the field.  We are the soil the Father Farmer desires to grow good fruit out of for a starving world.  But unlike a physical field which has no choice in what it will become, we get to choose.  A physical field may be the home of a land-fill or farm, it just lies in wait for the garbage or the seeds. But we co-labor, offering up our lives, our fields up to the hands of the master gardener.

How have I  mixed this truth up in my mind, believing that God is MY co-worker in MY service?  It is evidenced in the panting, world wearied, frazzled state of my soul.

The one and only way to co-labor with the Father Farmer and to offer up my humble plot of ground, is to abide.  It is found right there at the Vine in John 15.

Remain.

But remaining isn’t passive, it is a choice.  It’s a moment by moment choice for me.  But unlike the exhaustion of operating out of my own strength, the work of abiding fills and equips me for the very fruitfulness that will bring God glory.

And I know the biggest enemy to my abiding is my agenda.  Anyone else?

I shelf my fruitfulness over and over when I choose my agenda over my abiding.  I walk away from the peaceful, orderly garden planned perfectly by my Father Farmer towards my own path of striving and control.

An empty terra-cotta pot on a shelf will never produce something of beauty or nourishment.  An empty field, not yielded to the gardener will never be fruitful.  Neither will my life, my walk, my ministry when I place it on the shelf of my own agenda, my own to-do’s, my own ideas for the garden.  That fruit will rot on the vine and the world will think me my own disciple.

And I will re-take the test again.

Though it is simple- this remaining, this abiding- it is never easy.

My agenda is loud and bossy.  My abiding is quiet and satisfying.  “You will know them by their fruits.  Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?  Even so, every good tree bears good fruit but a bad tree bears bad fruit.”  Matthew 7:16-17. When I look at the fruit my life is producing it is obvious if it is growing from my agenda or my abiding.

So I come humbly to my Father Farmer and hand him my field once again knowing what He will grow will be for my good and His glory.  And there I choose to remain.

Accidental Pumpkins (A Story of Hope)

I have a confession to make.

I didn’t plant a garden this year.  I wanted to so badly but life has a way of forging it’s own will.  Spring was filled with so many activities, and the tiller was broken, and the chickens needed a new coop, and every weekend rushed past, leaving us breathlessly holding never finished to-do’s.

I had to let something go.

But the hard part of letting something dear go is that you have to do it over and over and over again.  I let the dream of a garden go during planting season, and I have let the reality of it go every summer day that I have walked by the overgrown, unplanted plot of earth.  No fresh okra to fry.  No oversized zucchini to surprise me.  No joy-filled gardening mornings.  No harvest.  No life.

I have another confession to make.

My hope has felt a little like that as well.  Not in everything, certainly.  The summer has been full and sweet.  But when I have gotten good and still, I have realized there is hopelessness in some areas of my life.  It’s a tricky thing to name because it doesn’t knock loudly on your heart making itself known easily.  It hides behind bigger, boisterous feelings.  Frustration.  Anger.  Jealously.  Fear.  But when I peer beyond, look closely within, I find the root of hopelessness.

It whispers subtle thoughts in my head:

“Don’t work so hard on this project.  It doesn’t matter.”

“Voicing that dream will make you look stupid eventually.  Forget it.”

“This situation is never going to improve.  Just make peace with defeat.”

“Connecting/reconciling with others is too much work, and too much risk.  It’s not worth it.”

Anyone?

So I unknowingly let go of hope in those dead, unfruitful places.  And I let it go again and again as I continued to make agreements with that sneaky hopelessness.

Now, back to the garden… only not the garden.  Back to the wild patch of ground right on the other side of the house.  This forgotten spot comes up with the best surprises in summer- wildflowers grow tall, reaping the benefits of the yard’s sprinklers while protected from the go-kart racing.  My husband’s tractor and I fight constantly- me standing guard for my daisy, sun-flower friends, him telling me there are sure to be snakes in the tall grass.  I know he is right but the momentary, wild beauty is worth the fear.

And this year, there is an accidental pumpkin.

I spotted the large leaves vining their way through the flowers in the earliest summer days.  I have watched the yellow blooms open and close with promise.  And now, there is a pumpkin there growing bigger by the day.  Not just your run of the mill, jack-o-lantern kind either….  one of those peachy, orange fancy Cinderella ones that cost $20 at the grocery store in October. An accidental pumpkin in the middle of the wildflower patch… 200 feet from the unplanted, desolate garden.

In the letting go, I had forgotten an afternoon in late November when the Fall decor was being replaced with Christmas lights, and nativities.  The children were tasked with gathering pumpkins from the porches and hearth but rather than trashing them, I let them smash them instead.  They had a grand time taking baseball bats, and golf clubs, big sticks and boots to every size, shape, and shade of pumpkin over in that forgotten spot.  I remember a fleeting prayer about all those seeds flying, finding their way into the cold ground.  But this is west Texas, after all, and tumbleweeds are the only things that grow without effort.

Tumbleweeds and hopelessness.

But sometimes God is just incredibly sweet, and surprises us with something we hadn’t even dared to hope for.  Sometimes, in the fog of discouragement and disappointment, he delivers a gift out of nowhere.  We may be focused on an area that is not producing the life and fruit we had imagined, when we see the supernatural fruit of the unexpected in a patch of wildflowers.

Maybe it’s not all on us.  Maybe it’s not all about our own agendas.  Maybe we don’t have to work so hard.  Maybe that’s what we need to let go of.

The garden may still be overgrown.  The dream still may lay dormant for a season.  But I bet if we all look closely enough, we may find an accidental pumpkin… the produce of a forgotten day, a forgotten conversation, a forgotten investment, a forgotten seed.

And so we put the focus there.  We hang our hope where there is growth.  We focus on the places sprouting life, instead of walking around the same ‘ole dusty, dried up space.  Let go of the particulars.  Let go of the results.  It will usually look different than we thought.  But hope is dredged up with gratefulness, with a focus shift, with eyes to see where life is happening, with a daily fight for joy.

So no, that prayer was not answered the way I had wanted it to be.  There still isn’t clear victory in this fight that has torn at my heart for years.  The changing of the season is coming at me with disappointments already.  And that project that I sowed deeply into may not ultimately matter.  But there is life and blessings somewhere else, I’m sure of it.  I may have to look to the forgotten spaces, beneath the tall grass of my expectations, and mow down hopelessness to get a better view.

And no, there hasn’t been any okra to fry this summer.  There have been no zucchini dishes to thrill my children with (insert sarcasm).  The summer harvest has not been what I dreamed it would be.  But hope is growing peachy orange among the wildflowers.  And I’ll have an accidental pumpkin for the fall.

“This is what the kingdom of God is like.  A man scatters seed on the ground.  Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed spouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain.”  Mark 4:26-28

Hearing the Hummingbirds

On slow summer mornings, you can find me greeting the sun at a rusted table on a vine-covered courtyard right off of my bedroom.  The kids sleep, the trumpeter vine blooms, the Texas heat is kind for a moment, and I sit surrounded by some of my dearest friends- a mason jar of colorful pens, my prayer journal, and a worn Bible.  It is my very own secret garden and it has my heart

I am never alone though.  I share the space with a couple of flop-eared pet rabbits, four creeping box turtles, and this summer, with 16 baby chicks.  They are too small to move out to the coop with the rest of the flock yet, so they are safely growing right there in my courtyard.  And I love the menagerie, it adds to the magic.  But the rabbits and turtles are quiet, respecting the holiness of the sunrise and this momma’s need for silence.  The chicks are not.  They peck, and scratch, they flap and fight over flies.  Honestly, their charm is quickly being overshadowed by their mess and noise.

 

And some mornings, I have another tiny visitor.  With a whispering whirl of invisible wings, a hummingbird occasionally sees fit to hover above as I pour over the Word, and pray over my heart.  I’m sure I have missed it countless times, distracted by the pecking and the scratching, struggling to concentrate among the flapping and fighting.  But what a blessing it is when I catch the faintest sound of its presence and look up.  In those sacred moments, I know Jesus is there.  After all, if the Holy Spirit can be represented by a dove in the New Testament, why not a hummingbird in my courtyard?

In I Kings 19, we find the prophet, Elijah, running for his life, distracted, despondent, and desperate in the face of Queen Jezebel’s threats.  He has known the victory of being used to bring a widow’s son back to life, called down fire to incinerate a drenched offering in front of the prophets of Baal, and watched his prayers turn from a fist-sized cloud to a drought-ending delouse.  But at this moment, he is tired and afraid.  God finds him, as He always does, and tells Elijah to “go out and stand on the mountain in the Lord’s presence.” (I Kings 19:11 HCSB)  Elijah obeys and a powerful scene plays out before his eyes.  A terrifying wind shatters cliffs around him, an earthquake shakes the ground beneath him, and a fire lights up the sky above him.   But the Lord was not found in any of these.  Finally, ears buzzing I’m sure, Elijah hears “a gentle whisper (19:12)” and immediately recognizes the voice of His God.

I wonder if your ears are buzzing today too.  I wonder if, like me, there are so many things on your to-do list, people clamoring for your care, and responsibilities weighing you down that you are struggling to hear God’s gentle whisper.  I am learning that distractions will grow as quickly as my chicks, in size, in volume, and in the mess, they leave behind.  They peck and scratch for my attention and soon the undertone of their clucking becomes normal and I forget what the still small voice sounds like.  

But He promises, “You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart.  I will be found by you. (Jeremiah 29:13-14 HCSB)  Like Elijah, He beckons me every day to position myself, my heart, and my agenda in the path of His presence.  He asks that I step out of the crush of my circumstances to seek Him in His Word, to search for Him in prayer, and to listen to Him in the whisper.   He is always there waiting to be found, but unlike the crowded voices of this world, it takes a bit of effort to perceive Him. 

Can you hear the hummingbird?  This summer, can you catch your breath, find your own rusted table in a secret corner, and listen?  Are there distractions that have grown too large and noisy?  Is it time to kick them out of the sacred space so that you can discern the whispering of the wings, the still small voice?  There are seasons of storms, earthquakes, and holy fires, and then there is the faintest of flutters.  He may have something important to say, and He may just want to bless you with the beauty of His presence, like my hummingbird.  Either way, I pray you fight for the sunrise, the peace, the quiet and notice Him there. 

Now, I think I need to go move some chicks out to the coop.