I still marvel at it… the way that dreams can take twists and turns and dump you right out in a spot you never knew you wanted. That is how I feel about my little Rancho among the tumbleweeds and sandstorms of west Texas. Yesterday, as I pulled up to the gate, the old Dixie Chicks’ song “Wide Open Spaces” came on the radio and I began to cry. I have loved that song since college (now I’m dating myself!!), but back then I didn’t even recognize the longing it was speaking to inside of me. But yesterday I knew. I saw it with my own teary eyes. My very own wide open spaces, with my childhood cowboy, a herd of cow dogs, a flock of silly hens, and a bunch of free-ranging kids (and tumbleweeds and sandstorms). The Ranchito really is my “unexpected promise land,” the one that little southern co-ed in the Dixie Chicks hat could have never imagined.
But do you want to know a secret? My very favorite spot on these seven acres is not a wide open space at all. It’s not the garden sprouting in the Spring, or the sunset porch showing off every evening. It’s not the swimming pool filled to the brim with friends all summer, or the pasture where we pull the hayride every Fall Festival. In fact, most visitors will never see this enchanting nook at all. It’s a little patio enclosed by vine covered brick walls located between our bedroom and our daughters’. We call it the “Bunny Courtyard” because in it our 3 pet rabbits run (hop?) free. It also happens to be home to 2 turtles named “Cooper” and “David,” an accidental rooster named “Chickaletta” (long story for another day), quite a large family of not-so-shy mice, some free-loading dove, and unfortunately, the occasional slithering visitor. (One day I am going to write a children’s book entitled “The Adventures of the Bunny Courtyard” because they are many- but for today, there are your introductions.) And in the warm Summer months, when the rush of school mornings are a memory, and postponed bed-times mean sleeping children, you can find me in the Bunny Courtyard as well… Bible, journal, countless books in hand… a mason jar of pretty pens, a cup of coffee, and. a sunrise. Yes, and Amen! So Jesus and I join the menagerie every morning, seated at the old garden table. And sometimes He sends a hummingbird too, just to let me know He sees me… it’s kind of our thing.
Sounds dreamy, right?
It is. I feel like Cinderella many mornings out there holding a bunny in my lap while the turtles chomp a fresh leaf and the mice scurry behind the veil of vines, writing in my journal and reading my Bible. The flowers bloom, the rooster crows, the bees buzz gently. It is dreamy.
It is also a heck of a lot of work.
You see, those adorable little bunnies and I go round and round.. Literally. They go around the edge to the dirt perimeter of the courtyard and they dig. They dig and dig and dig. And I go around behind them and I fill in the holes. And I fill and fill and fill. And that rooster, well, he poops. He poops and poops and poops- usually on my pretty little table. And I clean and clean and clean. And the turtles are messy eaters leaving a trail behind of leftover tomatoes and old lettuce. They munch and munch and munch. And I sweep and sweep and sweep.
Every day. Every single morning.
Seriously. And I have to do it all before I can sit and enjoy Jesus and the coffee and the dreamy and the hummingbirds. Please get the very real picture in your mind of me at sunup, either in PJ’s, or sweaty workout clothes, slippered feet and a shovel, filling in holes, an old towel cleaning off poop, the push broom sweeping up the mess. Cinderella for sure. The dreamy Bunny Courtyard mornings are very real. The bunny petting and praying, the Bible studying and hummingbird watching – it is alive and well. And so it the daily push back of dirt and poop and mess.
One could never be enjoyed without the the other being endured. Every day.
I guess I don’t know any part of life that gets all cleaned up, all accomplished, all checked off and then it is finished. I don’t know any aspect that stays beautiful and dreamy without the shoveling and sweeping. Marriage? Try shelving communication for a season – even a dreamy season- and see if you don’t have a mess to clean up. Friendships? Try just participating in the pretty and not the dirty and tell me how deep those relationships go. Jesus? Just show up in your Sunday best and ignore Him during the mid-week muck and mire and tell me if victory seems far off. .
Here’s the thing: Rabbits were created with digging in their hearts. If I am shocked every morning when I join them on their courtyard, that they have once again dug a makeshift den, then shame on me. Chickens poop. It’s what they do. I know this and am prepared- why waste the energy on getting exasperated? And the enemy of your soul, then enemy of all that is good and peaceful and dreamy in your life? Well, he steals, kills, and destroys. It’s what he does, it’s what he has always done. It says so right there in John 10:10 so please don’t be surprised when he attempts to do just that- steal your joy, kill your relationships, destroy your dreams and peace and testimony. The question is not if he will try to make a mess of things, the question is if you will push back. Every day.
The truth is, we can get comfortable with the dirt and poop. We can get so used to it, we forget there is something better, something beautiful underneath. If I take a few days off from the Bunny Courtyard push back, do you know what happens? The area shrinks. That dirt takes over more and more space and I forget where the pretty patio is supposed to start. I can’t find the boundaries, the part that belongs to me, belongs to beauty. A part of my promise land is lost. The work increases when it’s not done daily. It’s harder that way.
We can get hopeless with the prospect that we will have to fill the same holes tomorrow… fight the same fights, take back the same territory, invest in the same broken people. Romans 5:3-5 speaks to this very thing. “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment.(NLT)”
You see, we are not hopeful that the dirt and poop will not be there tomorrow. We do not put our hope in a task finished, a situation conquered, a burden released. a win. We put or hope in the one who gives us the strength daily for the push back. And this hope “will not disappoint.” This life takes endurance, the kind of endurance that builds strength of character. The kind of endurance that picks the shovel up again tomorrow and takes back truth, hope, and the beauty underneath the mess. Every time I pick that shovel up, PJ’s and all, I get stronger. Every time you push back the darkness from your promise land, you get stronger too.
Galatians 6:9 encourages, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” We will reap a harvest. That harvest just may be some spiritual muscle and strength of character rather than a tidy bow on the situation. The Bunny Courtyard can be beautiful but it will never be tidy. James 1:12 tells us, “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” He will reward our perseverance in this life or the next… that’s the win.
I wish we could see what God sees. I wish, instead of seeing the young mom hanging on by a thread, we saw the spiritual strength it takes to do it all again tomorrow. I wish instead of seeing the unhappy wife, we saw the mighty prayer warrior she is, fighting in the heavenliness for her marriage. I wish, instead of seeing a burnt out man, we saw the solider he is as he stands guard for his home and his family, daily taking back any territory lost. I wish instead of seeing an aging generation weakened by time, we saw the ferocious band of grandparents handing over the legacy of strength of character and perseverance. That is real. And that is only attained in the daily push back.
I don’t know where you have been called to daily push back… fighting for hope as you believe the best for your marriage, pushing back the lies that you are less than in your singleness, filling in the holes the enemy is trying to dig into your identity and security in Christ, cleaning up the mess of other’s expectations as you parent that special needs child, taking back the territory of a dream, that promise you know was from God, finding your purpose under all that dirt. But I do know the hard work, the daily work, is worth it. When God looks at you He sees the muscle you are building by doing the work today, and tomorrow, and the next day. There is no short cut to perseverance, to endurance, to strength of character, to the crown of life. It takes the daily push back. It takes getting your hands dirty. It takes hope placed in the things that will not disappoint.
So, do it again. Love him again. Forgive her again. Get in the Word again. Pray again. Speak truth again. Get up again. Be vulnerable again. Believe again. Wade though the poop again. Shovel the dirt again. Take back your territory again. The daily push back matters. He sees you too. He may even send a hummingbird to tell you so.
Now I have a few rabbit holes to fill in…