Heart Gardening

Last summer we grew our first garden. My sweet husband built a couple of small raised beds in the sunniest, most out-of-the-way-of-rambunctious-children spot of our yard and filled it with rich midwest dirt. We took it easy: one basil plant, four cherry tomato plants, four Roma tomato plants, and two cucumber vines. This little garden produced enough to keep us busy eating, weeding, pickling, and watering.

Then this spring, in full Molly form, I decided small success meant I could grow by leaps and bounds (despite the fact that we did not add any square footage). My unrealistic expectations were exacerbated by the ample seedlings available at the local greenhouse, and we returned with three different tomato varieties (with multiple plants of each), two serrano pepper plants, cilantro, two basil plants, three cucumber vines, and four watermelon vines. Did I mention that we still intended to use only the original two beds?

When we placed the tiny little plants in the garden, everything looked neat, even, and promising. I felt proud of my spacing and planning thinking, I’m providing for my family! I’m basically a homesteader. However, as the summer heat grew, so did the plants. The tomatoes, overcrowded, developed a leaf fungus from the lack of airflow which destroyed the foliage and produced far fewer tomatoes than we hoped. Right after planting, the first trimester of pregnancy hit full force, and I did not find time or energy to trellis the cucumbers, leaving nowhere for the vines to grow. The watermelon vines tangled with the cucumbers and often we wouldn’t find the produce until too large and bitter to be of use.

By late summer, except for inconsistent watering, I avoided the garden. Disappointed and overwhelmed by the amount of work to be done, I simply picked and watered where needed and shielded my eyes from the chaos. The yellow-spotted leaves on the tomatoes looked hideous and vines creeped everywhere possible. Ashamed of my choices, I avoided acknowledgment and care.

Until last week. I armed myself for battle, donning mosquito spray, a five-gallon weed bucket, and a trowel. I pulled off every fungus-infected leaf, leaving the few good ones on the plant to collect sunlight. I removed three non-producing plants, leaving more room for the surviving ones to spread out, and weeded the space around and underneath. I still have more work to do, but the garden no longer looks as hideous, and the remaining plants seem grateful.

The first and biggest garden haul was much more promising than the rest of the summer.

As summer freedom turns to fall rhythm, I’ve realized how much my garden reflects my life. Afraid of insignificance, I committed to too much. I made promises to countless friends and family members. I told myself I would write more and start building a career. I looked up new recipes and planned countless adventures with my children. Outwardly we were busy and efficient, but inwardly my mind became crowded with weeds.

The more tired and overwhelmed I felt, the more I compared myself with others and came up short every time (ironically prompting me to do more and commit to more). 

How is your heart in this transitional season? Are you seeking significance? Do you say yes because you’re afraid of the consequences if you say no? Do you want to be everyone’s friend and confidante? If you nodded along to any of these I empathize with you deeply. We strive so hard, sewing patches haphazardly onto our vests. When we look over our shoulder it seems everyone else has more patches than we, but instead of the panicked look in their eyes, they’re in a happy little circle, laughing and enjoying one another’s company. We start to reflect the J. R. R. Tolkein quote, “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”

Paul writes of feeling stretched, convicted by his own striving in Philippians 3. By all outward appearances, Paul had it together. His garden was the picture of pedigreed heirloom plants, all neatly ordered in well-manicured rows. However, even though his social media accounts would have boasted #nofilter and #blessed, he writes,

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him”

This past week, after the relief I felt from cleaning out my garden I realized I needed to clean out my heart, too. Over and over I’d heard God’s nudging, telling me to lay down my ambitions, to recognize him as sovereign and holy, to see my own brokenness, to recognize that I cannot do it anything by my own strength. I asked God to reveal to me where my own selfish desires were crowding the good he had planned for me and waited.

Usually, I write these posts after I’ve learned the lesson and changed my ways, but today I’m drawing you into the weeding and pruning. I am saying no, I am laying down perfection, but I am not yet harvesting the fruit of this process. I am still waiting for God’s divine trowel to wrestle the weeds and overgrowth away. If you feel thin and stretched, overgrown or overcrowded, please join me in the blessed relief of letting go.

Heavenly Father, we know that striving is not wrong. You call us to say our best yes and to divine work. However, sometimes we strive too hard and say too many yeses instead of finding our fullness in you. Remind us that we do not have to work to receive the blessed gift of your son, Jesus Christ. Weed out our “too much” and replace it with your peace. May we always be found in Christ.

Unchanging Faithfulness

I am honored to introduce Emily Schatz to the campfire this week! Emily and I attended the same University (THE Concordia University Chicago), and I was always struck by her calm cool and devotion to the Lord no matter what life threw her way. Today, she is an incredible mom to two gorgeous girls and devoted mentor to many youth. Emily is truly a woman seeking to see and share God’s heart. Please enjoy her heartfelt words today, and may they encourage you as you live in your season.

A Season of Change

Our family has had many changes in the last four months. These changes include leaving my job, relocating our family from Colorado to Missouri, and moving in with my parents. Then I started a new job, and to add even more change, now our family is getting ready to close on our first house. Change is inevitable. We find it everywhere. We find it in every season of our lives.

Sometimes change is hard.

Sometimes change is needed.

Sometimes change is God’s grace disguised.

Sometimes change is welcomed with open arms.

Moving back to my childhood home in Missouri has felt like an extended vacation. I have lived far away from my parents for years working as a Director of Christian Education. (For those that don’t know, a Director of Christian Education is a Lutheran church work position that handles all aspects of Lutheran education in the church for all ages. Typically, many will work in youth ministry, but DCEs are a jack of all trades.) I have worked in the suburbs of Seattle, Washington and the Denver Area of Colorado, so it’s been a while since my Midwest heart has been home for any longer than a week at a time.

To be honest, it was a bit scary. My husband and I felt the pull to move back home for many reasons, but the desire to be close to be family was top of the list. This momma wanted to be by her support team. But, any big move is a massive leap of faith. What will my husband do for work? Where will we live? Can we make it work so I can stay home with our girls? All these questions arose.
So, my husband and I prayed. We prayed for an opportunity to come home. And we waited for what seemed like ages. When we visited our family in St. Louis for Christmas, there was no doubt in our minds. It was time to come home.

“God will provide.” My husband told me. God gave me a good one, this husband of mine. Always reminding me when I try to do things myself to lean on the Lord.

When we headed back to Colorado, we started to take steps to see if we could really do this. My husband’s job offered him the opportunity to work remotely from Missouri. I told my job I was leaving, and we sold our condo. Good Friday morning we headed out in the moving truck and headed toward the sunrise.

Honestly, after we moved there were weeks wondering if I would ever take another job working in a church or to even have that opportunity come up in the St. Louis area. The Lord heard many prayers from me asking what was the point? Am I supposed to be doing this youth ministry thing, because right then, I wasn’t so sure. Then, like God does, he answered my doubts with faithfulness, tender love, merciful grace, and reassurance.

Two doors opened for me to go back into youth ministry. Truthfully, I wasn’t sure how I felt about jumping back in so soon. I was enjoying being a stay-at-home momma. I had been weary and I was just starting to feel restored.

When we walked into my current church for a site visit, both my husband and I felt filled with peace that could only have come from the Holy Spirit. I clicked with the staff. I was excited about the vision the Pastors had for the church’s ministry. I hadn’t felt this excited about church in a while. After taking some time to really discern God’s will for our family, I accepted the position of Director of High School and Young Adult Ministry with this church. It’s been the most refreshing change I’ve experienced in years. Even through my doubt and being afraid to take another chance, God showed up, faithful as always.

All these changes have been full of up and down emotions. Yet, we’ve seen God’s hand in every single moment. In the low points, it’s not always easy to see why we go through certain seasons. Now looking back, we can thank the Lord for every moment that He showed our family His generosity, His love, His forgiveness, and His unchanging faithfulness.

God has placed a verse on my heart for the last few weeks as I’ve reflected on all these changes. Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Those words ring in my mind and soul as I’ve begun this new chapter in my new church.

There is a piece of fabric that I have entwined around a cross that sits on my desk at work next to my computer.

There is a piece of fabric that I have entwined around a cross that sits on my desk at work next to my computer.

Last week as I was sitting at my desk working on plans for the upcoming months, the fabric caught my eye. You see this strip of fabric has been with me from the beginning of my time as a DCE. The day I received my first internship placement this fabric was part of a larger piece. As it was prayed over, a strip was pulled off for each DCE in my class. Every time I see it I am reminded of God’s unchanging faithfulness in my life. He’s been with me through each job change, through each move, through each up and down life has brought me.
Looking at the fabric wrapped around the cross reminds me how I want my entire life to point back to my savior. Things like how I act, what I say, how I serve others, how I parent, and how I disciple my students; I want all these things to point to the one who restored my soul. The one who rescued me from sin and death and instead, through the waters of baptism, gave me faith and eternal life.

You see our Lord doesn’t just sit up in heaven and ignore us. He is active in our daily lives. He is with us through every moment. Grieving with those who cry. Dancing with those in joy. The Holy Spirit is a comforter for the heavy hearted and a cheerleader to those who spread God’s gospel message. Jesus is for all. He is active in baptism and through the Lord’s supper. Those means of grace give us a glimpse of the joy of heaven.

You will face many changes in this life, but you will face them with a God who never changes. He is always with you. He hears your prayers and God is always faithful.

Rest in the truth of the unchanging faithfulness of our risen Lord Jesus today.

May the peace that passes all understanding be upon you in whatever change you find yourself facing today. Bring that change to God and know that he is with you through it all.