Preparing for the Banquet

I was never the child who had to be told to clean her room, I prefer neatness and organization, a false sense of control deeply ingrained. I remember at the beginning of each season rearranging my bedroom, pushing my bed against the window, moving my dresser closer to the closet, the new space always feeling much better, wondering why I had waited so long. I loved the change, the fresh outlook even as I used the same pieces, pretending to have a window seat as I piled blankets atop my cedar chest to create a cozy area for reading. The sudden cool air, school supply shopping and apple picking have all brought on the old tickle, the need to move furniture around, to freshen up the rooms and alter our seating arrangements. More rooms to play with, heavier furniture to push, I still search for the right combination, looking for control but noticing evermore the empty areas of my life. We have too many rooms, to many chairs and tables, too many beds. I notice what is missing, what once was, forget past layouts and remember who once laid in.

This bedroom, now the toy room, was my daughter’s. The walls have a stucco finish, always a problem as we rearranged her bedroom and sought to avoid putting her bed anywhere she might inadvertently scratch her arms as she moved through the night. A huge window that looks over the backyard and brings in beautiful light was often  another obstacle. At one point her room was painted with clouds in a blue sky, a warning of her desire to fly away that I didn’t recognize. Later this room became Mama’s when she joined us, multiple times, a full apartment where she ate and hid and studied and grew into her own. Now it contains the playthings of her child, games and trucks and costumes, rocks and stuffed animals and spy gear. The room where identifies grow continues.

Across the hall was my son’s, maybe containing the most transformations. Originally a little boy’s room, then walls covered in quotes to encourage him as he began playing football, later as his substance abuse took over, the door was removed, privacy denied. After one stint in rehab, Stella and I decided to create a more grown up room, a mini apartment. Outfitted with a dorm fridge, a tv and stand for his gaming devices and paraphernalia, we sought to bring him comfort and usher him into responsibility. We gave him isolation instead, a place for his first suicide attempt. Years later, after a full sweep of the room to find hidden pills, we painted and purged and this became the nursery, my Plum’s room. Decorated still with the colorful giraffes and monkeys wearing hats alongside his own posters of Minecraft and Pokemon, this space daily brings healing of old memories as I watch this sweet child drift off to sleep, as I see him clumsily clutch his blankie and wander out in the morning. I pray often that the demons that haunted my son leave my grandson alone in here.

The spaces can be recreated into whatever we need, whatever we want. The front room has been the playroom, my office has been a bedroom. This home carries memories of children come and gone and come again, bringing friends and new loves and leaving children behind as they continue on their journey. I move the furniture and try not to count the extra chairs. The tables could tell of weekly parties and dinners for Stella’s friends and my nephew’s roommates as they touched base here during college years. The entry way could tell of police visits when our son was taken away, our desperate cries for help. I have been avoiding the front porch this summer, a place my Arrow and I sat long and talked after he came home from prison, my real son with no substances clouding his judgement, a man full of humility and gratitude. The house has too much furniture during this season, not enough bodies. Yet I wonder at what the next season will bring. We have opened our home more times than I can remember to families in need, to teens who are lost, to those who are traveling thorough. Just as surely as I move this table over there and push that couch by the window, I know I have 5 grandchildren who will someday come to play and read all of these books just waiting on the shelves for them. I can control where the lamps go but not the children. The space is ready, it is freshened. This time of preparation is surely leading to big dinners and searches for more blankets, counting pillows and bringing in chairs from the garage.

I know that my Stella remembers hours of silly talks as I lay in bed, when she would wander into my room with dinosaur hand puppets and taunt me over my door until I agreed to delay sleep and listen as she chatted just a bit longer. I know my Arrow remembers the welcome he received as he returned home with nothing, to a full fridge and closet, to a phone and the saved boxes of letters and pictures, all reminders of where he had been and who had supported him through it.  I know that just as I seasonally move all these pieces, God is move us as well, preparing our hearts for the next banquet. I take comfort in flow, in the tugging on my soul to make ready. As I listen to that urge, I know God is telling me to be obedient, stay faithful to this home, to creating hospitality. One day I will entertain my angels again.

Why I am Afraid to Say No

A friend told me the other day that I need to learn to say no. On the face of it, great advice for any of us but I resisted. My gentle reply that I am in a season of “yes” after a long one of “no” was understood. I have fully swung from a time of deep depression and inactivity to such busyness that I search for that free moment on the calendar to just rest,  seeing that it might be days or even weeks out. Yet as a woman who has struggled to be heard most of her life, his admonishment still echoes. When I agree to any request, do I give it full consideration or just jump in, eager to please? What are my motivations, what am I hoping for? Such simple words, yes and no, but carrying power and repercussions and implications.

Matthew 5:37 tells me: Let your yes be yes and your no be no. While the passage is speaking to integrity, not relying on an added oath to reinforce your word, I understand also that it is encouraging me to look at the decisions I make. If I say yes to anything and everything, I have abandoned discernment, no longer hearing the calls to do what GOD is asking but rather what EVERYONE is asking, exactly how we find ourselves on every committee, making cookies for every bake sale, driving all the carpools and then over  extended, snapping at the kids and our spouses, eating too much fast-food and searching for joy. What are we missing when we forget to say no, forget to pause and listen to the inner voice that says maybe not this request? I know the adage of asking the busiest person when you need something done, they are the one who will make it happen. Yet who are is being robbed of the chance to serve as well? I certainly know of the years I hung back in the shadows at our church, waiting for my chance. Longing to be asked, looking for a role in the ministries. The earth shifted, things changed, new ideas and avenues emerged, now I find my gifts are valued and sought. Suddenly, my season of “yes” is upon me.

Yet, the advice echoes and I wonder. Who is quietly waiting in the back row, feeling not quite good enough to volunteer, praying to be found worthy of an invitation to serve?  As a new leader my role is not merely to lead but to replace myself and move along, not hoard all the positions like new treasures that reflect my value. My first thought whenever a request comes in, “I am honored to be asked.” Excluded, walking in the desert for too many years as I wondered how God could use me and what purpose I really had, I now feel a glow, the redemption, the joy of worth that comes from external acknowledgment of my very existence. Who is suffering that same lonely wandering while I am too busy to notice, to caught up in meetings and meals and ministries? Who else listens as the pastor preaches week after week that we all have a purpose yet aches as no one sees them? My friend’s words opened my eyes, convicted my heart. It is time to begin recruiting others to join the work I am doing and see what else God has for me, a matter of trust between God and I.

Having wandered and wondered all those years, if I say no do I jeopardize my own visibility, my sense of worth?  What are the risks involved in truly allowing discernment to guide my decisions, to allow time for the whisper of God to lead me rather than  my need to have gifts and talents be recognized by others? More scripture comes to mind, one that often is so convicting I try to ignore it unless things are going beautifully in my world. Paul told us he learned to “be content in all circumstances.” (Phil 4:11) I am excellent at being content when all my chicks are around, when my Plum is playing happily in the back yard, when Chef is cooking on the grill on the back porch, when my identity as mother and nurturer of all is being validated. During this season of estrangement, and I am willfully trusting it is merely a season, am I seeking that validation elsewhere? My contentment coming from activities, a chase that may provide some balm but will never heal the hurt, rather than leaning into my relationship with God, the words of my friend carry truth. The truth is my soul is filled with discontent and  my calendar is full, no time for reflection penciled in.

Saying no might mean I have time to say yes to God, making space for some uncomfortable conversations and deeper prayer time that I have been avoiding. I love when God says YES to me, I don’t want to hear his NO. Skipping out on discernment time, filling my schedule with good works, all with an eye on the calendar as I await the big reveal of my hopes and dreams, I see now I have been bargaining with a God who doesn’t trade. None of my efforts will bring my daughter home, not letters or emails or Amazon packages, or yeses to good works. Listening, rather than merely talking might bring answers I don’t want, a fear that propels me into activity. I charge forward, a bustling, hurtling pursuit that steals blessings from others and separates me from God.

I may have been in a season of yes, but seasons change. As much as I try to block out my friend’s words, I suspect he may have been whispering a bit of holiness to me.  If only I had time to consider them, if only I were that brave. Still, I promise to notice those around who are waiting for an invitation. Whether I trust myself enough to listen to God, I can’t say yes to that yet.

We Are All Mooches

My Plum is heading into 1st grade, into more social situations and ever increasing peer relationships that will shape his choices and his thinking. Yet, for these last few moments of summer, he is under the sun as he rides his bike through the neighborhood streets, racing from one sprinkler to the next, a place I considered safe from bullying and “bad behavior.” The kids roam from yard to yard, a pack of suntanned wild creatures seeking cookies and slushies and new adventures from somewhat tired activities after 2 1/2 months of exploration. They know each other well. The intricacies of who is in and who is on the fringe changing on an hourly basis, coalitions established by age and fastest bike and coolest trampoline stunt, yet all still gather each morning to begin fresh, like the evening bath that removes sweat and bug spray and sticky streams of popsicle juice that somehow find a path from chin to armpit, disagreements are washed away. A perfect symphony of chaos, except one little girl, who brings drama and anger and name calling, who doesn’t join in, who seeks to divide and doesn’t like the unity. She may be our biggest summer lesson of all, our greatest preparation for the return of the school bus.

As we drove down the street, the backseat covered in carseats and singing children, she stood with arms crossed and gaze steady, disapproval emanating. Not allowed to join as we headed to a local water park, she didn’t want anyone else to go either. The kids remarked, “Oh no, Faith is mad again.” (No, her name is not really Faith, but she does carry a moniker that I pray she will one day fully live into.) The kids were acutely aware that she was disapproving of their choice and that there would be consequences, even as I tried to minimize the FAITH EFFECT. They sang, loudly, along with the CD of Vacation Bible School songs that blasted from the stereo, rejoicing in messages of God’s love for all and in His strength, but worried about what Faith would say when they returned. Throughout the day, her name popped up, such is the hold she has on the group, such is the oddity of one child who is outright mean and filled with anger rather than laughter. The children don’t know what to do with her. Already at nine, she is infecting a group with worry, undermining confidence and creating fear. One child.

Her payback was to call the little girls in the car “mooches.” Three bicycles raced up, proclaiming this insult and asking what it meant. Such an ugly concept, a particularly pointed jab hurled at two little girls who have so little and bless my Plum with friendship and giggles. Girls that come from a family with not quite enough food and broken down cars and clothes that haven’t carried a price tag in many years, these girls are the epitome of “inside focused.” This insult is not from a child. I just cannot believe that a 9 year old thought that one up alone, rather, a parent surely supplied some assistance. Dodging, weaving, I reminded them that we share what we have because none of it is really ours, it all comes from God, thus there can never be any “mooches.” Wondering allowed what they each share with the other, a list was generated, the insult minimized and play continued. Still, my heart hurt for them all, Faith included.

I don’t allow Plum to talk badly about her, we continue to invite her to play. His preschool instilled the message that all children are his friends and we never save seats, yet how do you also allow a sense of safety when a child is not being nice? Snuggled on my lap, ready for a literal heart to heart, he asked me why I thought she says mean things. I asked him why he doesn’t. My best boy was able to point to God, to all the people in his life who teach him about God’s love. Oh church, you came through at a critical moment. Yes, my boy, yes! You have a soul filled full of God and you know you have extra to share, without losing any for you. We decided maybe Faith doesn’t know that yet, that her soul is filled right now with jealousy and worry so she acts out of fear. That her focus is on outsides instead of insides. Plum decided he was most upset at her mom for not teaching her about God and how insides matter more, that her soul and heart belong to God and that everyone should be friends.

If we can take credit for giving Plum the tools for a fun-filled joyful summer, where memories are made and friendships strengthened, all within the construct of his growing faith, can we not hold accountable the parents of this child who creates disharmony? As long summer days are edging closer to early morning school bus pick ups, as we begin to think of crayons and pencils and new binders, I pray these kids remember that insides are most important and friends are everywhere, regardless of color or income or gender. I pray that Faith finds joy, true joy in relationships that include honesty and silliness, that her soul becomes filled with the One who made her. She is more than this, more than a summer lost to being on the outside, judging those who have little but laugh so much. Further, I pray that her parents find the One who created them, it is never too late. Teaching our children to love begins with accepting our own lovability. God loves even the ones who don’t know it yet, ones who name their child   after something they are seeking and is right within their grasp.

Really, maybe we are all mooches, taking more than we can ever give, forgetting to be grateful for all the gifts we receive so freely. Maybe it isn’t an insult but a reminder to keep centered on our insides. Maybe today we will all make thank you notes to God and sign them “your loving mooch!” A little glitter, some stickers, lots of paint. Maybe Faith will join us.

Symphony

Cleaning Out Soul Space

When I had nothing, my very survival depended on my relationship with Jesus. In prison, surrounded by strangers who neither cared about my brokenness or my sanity, separated from my babies in the most cruel of all punishments, I could only breathe and walk and put food into my body because I trusted God with my life and the lives of those I loved. It became simple, minimalistic, when all my possessions fit into a tiny foot locker and my material wealth consisted of Little Debbie snacks and Ramen noodles. Powerless in every aspect of my life, clothing, visits, schedules, I could only control whether to believe or not. I relied with the full force of my body and soul on Paul’s words to the Philippians,”I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Phil 4:13. Not just those words, though, I read the bible completely over and over, I underlined and made notes, I consumed it. God’s Word saved me, when I could not save me. I promised myself I would not let go of that dependence when freedom came again, when the gates opened. Twenty-five years later, I realize I have broken my promise.

These days and weeks and now years of estrangement from my daughter have become a new prison, gates invisible, guards non-existent but a prison no less. I am locked away from her again, the excruciating pain of old resurrected as I watch the clock and long for a visit. The intervening years of memories accrued are meaningless as she evaluates my worth and determines my sentence, will I ever be granted release? Yet, more than adding a home and furnishing and clothing and trips to schools and a prom and even around the world, I have added material goods and a self-reliance that separate me from my promise, from my utter dependence on He who gives my breath, gives me life, gives me hope and the grace of forgiveness that is so absent with my daughter. How could I have added so much and left what was crucial behind?

I sat on the steps in the jail pod after realizing I would have no visits with my children until transferred to the larger prison, a promise from my lawyer, the reality of my situation fully settling on my soul. I wanted to die, I begged to die, I would have died had the means been available. Instead I had to pray that my Creator take me. A desperate prayer to end unspeakable horror, a pain that I knew I could not bear, that would drive me to insanity. Jesus met me there on those steps and lifted me up, brought the “Footsteps” poem to me with a promise to carry me through what was ahead. A year later when my sentence modification was denied, another promise my lawyer had given but couldn’t keep, I gave up again. I laid on the prison bunk and refused to move for meals or activities, risking further punishments. I no longer cared. An angel in the guise of a correctional officer visited and spoke words I no longer remember but pulled me out of my depression and gave me the strength to keep going. I do remember she spoke gently of Jesus and light and a world outside of my current existence. She told me to get up and I did.

When my pain overwhelmed me, Jesus  brought relief. When I couldn’t breathe, wouldn’t breathe, Jesus brought me air. When I had nothing, Jesus was enough. Now, I have more. A husband, a home, pets, cars, fully stocked pantry and I no longer call on Jesus with desperation. Maybe I never did really but I made room for Him. Now I allow a corner, a smidge, a bit but rely too heavily on myself, on my own ability to affect change and the stir the universe to my liking. Having lost it all and found Jesus, must I really find myself there again to discover what is truly at the heart of my existence? Noticing my own prison gates again, I see that only God can bring me through this estrangement, only God can rebuild the bridges I want to erect today. Scripture floods my mind this morning as I find comfort in words of hope and past longing, as I remember that I have survived events I will never share and I will survive this as well.

I grow impatient, I teeter on bitterness, anger erupts. I am too fully me and not enough Jesus. Today I am opening the gates of my soul once again to the One who saved me, time and again, saved me for more than a life of hurt and struggle and time behind bars. Just as we celebrated my release with joy and thanksgiving long ago, one day we will again. Until then, I am cleaning out my soul space, removing extra furnishings of self-dependence and importance. Truly, today I remember He is the air I breathe. Freedom has come.

 

How God handled My Rage

Many of this year’s slogans have become my inner voice, whispering chants that empower me and push me to be braver. I hear reminders to speak up for those who often aren’t heard, to show up for those who often aren’t seen. “Speak truth to power” is one of my favorites, encouraging honesty and integrity in all situations. I discovered yesterday that I had been holding back, though, on my truthfulness to my ultimate Power, in the most important relationship I have. Exhaustion combined with life events disabled my defense system until I no longer hid behind proper attitudes of patience and reverence. I spoke truth to God. What happened next was a discovery of God’s truth to me.

Something was different even as I woke, my emotions were too close to the surface, not how I normally walk through my day. Keeping feelings at bay, I survive, I carry on and no one is the wiser that my heart is in tatters. All looks good. My friend shared that when her house wasn’t as clean as she wanted it to be and company was on the way, she would put a bit of Pinesol in all the toilets and do a quick swipe at the sinks. The smell of the pine created that sense of just freshly cleaned, like the maid was only moments out the door. The problem she said, “It was all fake.” I have been “pouring Pinesol” on my wrists like an expensive perfume, distracting myself and everyone from the dirty truth, I simply ache at the estrangement with my daughter. I miss her with every breath, how can I keep breathing like this? Helpless to effect change, unable to build any bridges or reconnect with her, I am forced to wait on God to do the work that I want to do. I have to trust God to repair what is broken and bring reconciliation, in His time. Dab, dab, more Pinesol, see how strong my faith is? Watch me place my trust in the most Powerful, the Almighty…until this day when I snapped and talked to God before I could get cleaned up and hide behind propriety. Honesty happened.

The truth? I am angry at waiting a moment longer. My heart is so broken I can’t imagine how it still pushes blood through my body. I don’t understand what He wants from me, what I am supposed to do. Why isn’t He doing something about this, I have been faithful, right? I sat at the dining room table where she never sits anymore and raged with the ferocity of a dragon at God. First I raged at Chef who was opening cereal bags too loudly, building up my anger, practicing the release that would bring tears for the entirety of the day. I gave God my truest pain, my deepest doubts, my open wounds, and asked for something NOW. What did I receive? No lightening bolts, no texts from my daughter, my table remained devoid of her presence. Still, I cried all day. The tears would not stop. Water rolled down my face as memories long tucked away ran through my mind. After hours of crying at home, at church where I laid it out while asking for prayers, then again back at home, finally God showed me that a different bridge to my daughter was being reconstructed, showed me that He hasn’t forgotten me and is always working on my behalf. I wish I could say I saw this for the gift it was but my initial reaction was jealousy and more anger. Too fully into my humanity, I missed the God moment. Blessedly, today the tears have gone and I can see how He showed up in the most show- offy way, words that would only make sense to me but create connections undeniable to my daughter. I can only wonder at how often I am begging for SOME SIGN and miss it completely, reminiscent of the Bruce Almighty scene, where evidence of God’s presence is all around me yet my stubbornness and frustration refuse to see it.

My soul got a deep cleaning, no need for fake dabs and drips and dots of pine-scented cleaner to pretend I am fine. Refreshed with the salty waters of my own pain, I can face a new day knowing God met me in my anger and didn’t blink, didn’t shrink, didn’t abandon me. The God who wants my truth and doesn’t strike me dead for questioning His plan or ability to get things done remains with me today.  I sit with certainty at the same dining room table and can say I spoke truth to power, and power spoke the same to me. “I am with you child, my dirty messy aching child.” A promise given, a promise heard.  Truth spoken to the powerless. God accepted my rage and handed me back love and peace and grace, a new day with a fresh start. The pine cleaner will stay in the cabinet today, the truth is, I am messy and hurting and God knows it. Together we are working on truly cleaning me up.

One Bowl of Jesus at a Time

“If you girls are staying for dinner, you need to go ask,” I called as I do seemingly whenever Plum is here. His little friends join us almost nightly, certainly everyday for lunch and all the snacks in between. Partly because Plum barely stops playing to eat but also because the girls are hungry. They are always hungry. Without a clear picture of their family situation, I am left with only the result: when food is offered they eat. Last night I learned a bit more though, as I readied three plates to take to the patio only to discover that their dad had come to collect the girls, after permission had been “granted.” I think I may have been deceived all these nights. Little girls may not have ventured the entire distance to their home to do the asking, rather, just out of my sight, returning with the yes they wanted. Plum saw the irritation on my face as I scraped the extra plates and we sat down inside to eat. “Are they in trouble? Are you going to tell their parents?”

Chef and I locked eyes over our full plates of food in our mostly secure home, where we have never felt hungry, never worried about how to obtain our next meal or feed the kids. No, Plum, they are not in trouble.”But what about next time?”  I owned that I was frustrated because I set up extra plates but really it wasn’t too much extra work and next time if they were hungry we would give them food. He was puzzled, seeing in black and white that children had lied to adults. Skimming over that part, his friends deserve dignity instead I asked if we ever have run out of food or not had enough to share. His focus came back to the God who provides, not people who decide the rules. Indeed the details of who sits at the table and how often and why is not really our business.

Every morning while drinking my first cup of coffee, before I begin sudoko to waken my brain, I eat up Twitter.  Always a news junkie, going back probably to my high school days of journalism classes and my volunteer shifts in the school library where I put out the new magazines every week, these days I am voracious.  The events of September 11 kept me glued to the tv for hours, as is true of most Americans. I crave current events, not the celebrity variety but real stories from around the world. I love to know how we are connected, who has achieved some greatness against long odds, learn of new discoveries by scientists in far off labs. My morning coffee ritual lately though just brings pain and anxiety as I wonder how so much hate is running amok, how the name of my loving Jesus can be used to marginalize more and more people. My coffee grows cold as I retweet, retweet, fire off my own. I long for a point of entry, a place to stop the madness and show just who Jesus is. I worry about this child asleep upstairs coming of age in a world that mocks disabilities and encourages others to shout slogans that denigrate women and people with cancer and those who love differently. In a country where the focus is ever more becoming about MINE, I fear we have forgotten what it means to share. Soon enough though, two little girls come knocking on the door, asking Plum to play, snacks are prepared, communion happens.

As we read our books before bed, I randomly picked one we hadn’t touched for quite some time. Little did I know God was working to bring our blessings message home to this child. “Last Stop on Market Street” is a beautiful telling of a child and his gran who take the bus to a soup kitchen where they serve. Along the way the boy interacts with many people who might be on the fringes, yet he is being taught to see their worth. As we finished the story, Plum pointed to the illustration of the main characters serving up the food as others stood in line. “That’s kinda what we do, right gran?” Yes, child, we dish up bowls of our blessings and share them with whoever comes. That is how we are healing our little piece of the world. We are going to love our neighbors at meal times and snack times without questions that may cause distress. Communion means not checking to determine worth but instead serving up some Jesus when dinner time rolls around. Maybe I don’t need to worry about him so much after all. Maybe the point of entry is my kitchen, one plate at a time.

Hidden

Returning to the Garden

The Old Testament, rife with snippets of a single person making all the difference, little vignettes that are taught in Sunday schools and preached from pulpits to inspire us, to remind us that we may not know our role in the greater flow of God’s plan, yet when we answer the call, amazing things happen, begins with a garden story. A garden full of riches but then left too soon, a garden we are left seeking still. Anyone who works with the soil whether in a tiny garden plot or acreage as far as the eye can see, a collection of pots on the porch or hanging from a window sill, or borrowed space in a community garden, whatever level of gardener or farmer, all know that God is in the growing. No where is our dependence more clear than when we dig up dirt and push a seed into the ground, waiting, waiting, tending, only to have food come forth, as we watch the heavens provide rain and sunshine, as the seed produces more and more and we are able to share from our efforts. Yes, God meets us the garden. Thus the story of our Tithing Garden at church has felt holy from the beginning, a space set aside for several plots where folks can grow as they please with the old requirement that they donate 10% of the harvest to the local food bank. I thought I knew all about this garden, the full story of how it almost wasn’t this year, and then I heard the bigger story. A telling from a longer view, a deeper knowing, that convinced me that we never really leave gardens, that God will keep bringing us back.

Writing for our monthly church newsletter, I described all the people involved in making these small spots available and robust again. The Tithing Garden had been around for several years but almost didn’t happen this season. The man who had led this ministry told our director last fall that he was not feeling that call anymore, he needed to step away. Folks had not been tending their gardens, they were messy and ignored, filled with weeds and empty of produce. The director thought maybe the money our church spent on plowing and fertilizing and publicizing would be better spent in other directions, it may be time to let this go. Confession time: I had one of those horribly neglected plots. I wanted to tend it, I wanted to do good, yet it just wasn’t the right timing. Our world came to a screeching halt and we were barely able to tend to ourselves, but still, we hadn’t cared for the soil and the plants long before that event occurred. I think I was also a bit mad at God and had no desire to meet Him in the soil, to watch anything grow while my life had just been painfully pruned. Yet I championed the garden anyway. Several conversations over donuts and coffee, bugs in the ears of those who I know like to harvest and who are dedicated to putting seeds into the soil, I just knew maybe the right people hadn’t gotten involved yet. I had the opportunity to help a friend who owns her own flower shop during her busiest season, Valentine’s day, as a rider who jumped out of the car while someone else did the driving to deliver flowers all around the city. This gave me the chance to talk at length with a master gardener, maybe not an official one, but someone who has a deep passion and a house full of seedlings before winter has ended. The right people began to talk to each other, I gave names to the director.

Our Men’s group was looking for a project, they built new raised beds to enable more folks to access plots. The driver and the lead builder took over leadership of the garden. It is thriving this year. And the leader from last year? His faithful acknowledgment to back away was exactly God’s timing, his wife was diagnosed with cancer this spring and is benefitting from all of his attention. I thought this was the beautiful story, the way so many different people rose up at exactly the right time, to create food for themselves and for those in our community who are not as secure when dinner time hits. It is a powerful story in the life of our church but it is woefully incomplete.

Our church is nearing the 10th anniversary of our big move from the landlocked too small building we left to this new structure in the middle of fields, out in the country. Since our relocation, developers have followed, we are getting 700 new neighbors with many more to come. As we look back on our history and wonder at what lies ahead, the very first pastor of our congregation was asked to speak, a man I didn’t even know. When He first facilitated the unification of our Methodist congregation in 1969, land was purchased for a future church. Until it could be built, he and a fellow parishioner decided to each use it for gardening. One acre apiece, they plowed, planted, weeded, tended. Before he could harvest though, he was called to serve a different congregation, as is customary in the Methodist church.  Many families benefited from the work he began. He has since retired and come home to this area again, he worships now at the church he helped found. When he learned we had a Tithing Garden, he quickly claimed a plot and now donates not just 10% of the harvest but all to the local food bank. Once again he is gardening with our church, once again he is giving it all away.

We are truly actors in each other’s stories, connected across decades and lands and interests.  Sometimes we can see those little bits of goodness, those sprouts of our efforts.  Other times it is difficult to find our role amongst the weeds and the winters.  Without the wide angle view, zoomed out to include both the past and the coming days, it is impossible to know the impact of our “yes” and “no” to any question. A garden story that began almost 50 years ago is finding completion, a man who dug up soil and pulled away weeds is finally harvesting his beans. I think we have been faithful to the vision this first pastor had for us, as well as to what God has asked of us. He certainly has been faithful to God’s call to move and move and move again. Now he is back home to his first garden with our church.  With hundreds of choices and decisions and little conversations and the faithful listening to calls to become His hands and feet, I can see now we are all working our way back to the garden.

Traditional