Don’t Be Afraid of Taking It Slow

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When I was in fifth-grade, my class spent a day planting pine tree seedlings to fill areas of a local forest left bare by a lumber company cutting down trees. It was our Earth Day project and I was so excited to get out into the woods. I was even more excited when we were all given a few baby trees to take at the end of the afternoon so that we could plant them wherever we chose.

My parents helped me plant my bundle of pine trees on the border of our property. It wasn’t too long afterwards that we moved away from that house and that town…but my grandparents, uncles, and aunts remained there, living on that stretch of land where I’d ran so many times from my house to theirs. So, over the years, I’d go back to visit our family and always take a look at my trees, too. It felt good to have left something behind, something good that could keep growing; I didn’t live there anymore, but my trees did…so I felt like I was still a part of that land.

I remember when they were knee-high…I remember how impressed I was when they grew to reach my shoulders…I remember how delighted I felt, years later, when I first saw that they had finally outgrown me.

It sometimes feels like it wasn’t really that long ago when I first placed their roots in the ground, but since I’ve planted those trees? I’ve lived in no less than seven new towns, graduated from high school, moved out of my parent’s house to start college, got married and had three babies, watched my little sisters and brother grow up to start families and careers. My oldest baby started high school and my youngest is already 9. 

It has been twenty-four years since I planted those seedlings.

And last week, I stood in that old yard of mine and looked up in awe at those same trees. These trees of such fragile beginnings, once so carefully carried by my ten-year-old hands, are now strong and deeply rooted. They’ve survived snow and thunderstorms, the heat of twenty-four North Carolina summers. The fragile limbs I once knew are now thick branches — and they’re home to birds, to insects, serve as the playground of happy squirrels.

The same trees that I once held in my lap on the ride home from school now touch the sky.  

I haven’t been able to get those trees off my mind since I came home from that visit. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how many years have passed and all that was changing in my life while all the while, those trees were steadily digging roots into earth, drinking in sunshine and rain, stretching inch by inch, reaching higher and higher. They never tired of holding their ground. No matter how many days and weeks and years passed, they simply stood taller.

They had small beginnings, those trees. Little hands planted them and then I had to leave them, trusting them to my grandparents and to their Creator to watch over them as they grew. I can’t pinpoint when it happened, not exactly. I can’t tell you in what year they changed from seedlings or lanky adolescents into mature pines that thrive on their own. All I know is that they stand now in the fullness of what they were created to be.

It took time, and maybe that’s why I can’t get them off my mind — because it’s something I’m learning over and over again…the things that matter, the growth that matters — it all takes time and, usually, more than we expect.

It can be so, so easy to get caught up in looking for quick results. It can become a daily race to make sure we get the right numbers, the right boxes checked off, the right amount of accomplishment. There’s a feeling of urgency to succeed, a worrisome hum in the air that we’re going to get too old to matter, that there are too many people ready to take our place if we don’t out-speak and out-do them right now, right this instant. We feel guilty if we don’t finish our ideas or achieve our goals within the time-frame our culture (and our own panicked selves) expect of us…

But, most often, the truly good things in this life do take time.  The garden of nourishing greens, the caterpillar’s transformation to butterfly, a baby in the womb, a child growing day by day, long-lasting friendships, a forest filled with trees…real growth and real maturity requires time.

And while we grow frustrated with anything that feels too slow, God is patient. And although He can (and sometimes does) change things in an instant, He is interested in consequences that are eternal.  

He cares about the single seeds that are planted. He tends them, watches them grow, looks for harvest that endures.  

The earth is layer over layer, soil rich with yesterday nourishing today.

The stars go on further and there are more of them than we can imagine and not a one of them panics that their light isn’t significant. It takes a sky full to light up the night.

He tells His story through generation upon generation, never growing weary of reaching us with His love.

There is space for you, for us, for our lives. Don’t be afraid of losing your place. Don’t be afraid of running out of time.  

God has entrusted you with a dream, with the work in your hands, with the relationships in your life — be patient with these sacred gifts. Our time is in His hands…so don’t fear the passing of seasons. When we live surrendered to Him, He never wastes time. He uses it to help us grow…what He asks of us is that we follow His leading and do what He enables us to do in the day we are living now.  Offer your best while you entrust Him with the enduring and eternal harvest…He promises to finish the good work He begins in us.

When we believe that it’s all up to us and that it only matters if we get it done as soon as possible – and the sooner, the better – we will begin to live, create, and love surface-deep.

When we begin to believe that our words are important only if they’re the loudest in the room, we’ll get caught up in the clamor and miss the still, small voice that matters most.

If we believe that small beginnings aren’t worth our time and effort, then we’ll never see how beauty can grow.

When we try so hard to keep up with the pace of the crowd, we will lose step with Him.

Let’s be brave enough to get quiet and listen. Let’s be brave enough to take our time. Let’s move to the rhythm He sets for us, His melody of grace.

Let’s be brave enough to trust Him.

Day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year – keep digging roots deep into love, keep nourishing your life with Light, keep drinking in the water that you never have to fear will run dry, keep reaching out toward the heavens.

In this simple way, with patience and perseverance, we will hold our ground through every storm and the change of every season…through it all, our Creator will sustain us and we will bear the fruit He intends for us to share.  

Steadily, inch by inch, we’ll keep growing into the fullness of who our God has created us to be.

They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.-Jeremiah 17:8

Of Basil, Relieved Chickens, and Blossoms that Never Fade

Back in the auspiciously bright days of spring, I was happily gathering fresh fruits and vegetables in the produce aisle when I noticed something new: adorable little basil plants in ready-to-go pots. Since my recipes for the week called for basil, I already had the dried version from the spice aisle cozy in my cart. But why have dried seasonings when I could pick my own fresh basil leaves? I envisioned showing the kids how to gather the basil and the delight we’d have stirring it into the sauce pot. Maybe next we’d plant our own tomatoes…or even corn! Perhaps an apple tree! This basil plant could be the start of an amazing garden! We could feed ourselves all summer and I could even store canned food for the winter!

Obviously, as I was clearly ready to transform into Ma Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie, I traded the dried basil for the plant. Briefly, I considered asking someone where I could buy a chicken so that we could have our own fresh eggs. But I was pressed for time, so I hauled my cart into line and put the chickens on my mental ‘next time’ list.

My basil plant was so pretty in my kitchen, tall and proud in front of the window. I used it that very night, proudly sprinkling bright green bits over the pasta. The next morning, Kailey helped me to water it and we placed it out on the front porch for sunshine-time.

Later that day, I talked to my mom and told her all about our basil plant and the wonder of having it right there when I needed it. As she loves gardening and cooking, it wasn’t so surprising to find out that she had purchased the same plant from the same store as I had…we had twin pots of basil living two hours apart.

And, now, on this day of September…here is my mother’s basil plant.

And here? This one is mine.

If this is any indication of my farming skills, I guess it’s a good thing I never got around to buying that chicken.

So you can see that our basil twins have had different paths in life. Mom and Dad have a plant that’s thriving with such vitality that it has actually grown roots through the bigger pot they placed it in…and mine has…well…somehow grown claws. (I’m looking at the bright side. From one plant I’ve had seasoned food AND a halloween decoration. There’s something to be said for versatility, isn’t there?)

But, seriously, we both began with flourishing plants. What happened to result in such drastically different endings?

It’s simple, really. Mom watered hers on a regular basis. She made sure it had the correct amount of sunlight. When it began to grow, she moved it into a bigger pot to allow for healthy roots. The soil was maintained. She tended it to it, often, and gave it what it required for growth.

I forgot about mine.

Yes, it’s true. I didn’t intend to forget about it…in fact, as the days passed, I used the basil a few more times…but soon a morning came and I passed it by without watering it, pushing off the task until later. Later became a week later…and soon it was easy enough to wave off checking the moisture content and tending to its light/shade needs. I was busy, after all, and it took time to tend to it…it took effort, effort I didn’t always feel like giving. The next time I wanted to use it, the leaves didn’t look so happy…I half-heartedly watered it, but I also put dried basil on my shopping list. With that replacement, I thought about the plant less and less. At some point, I didn’t even notice it on the porch anymore. Yes, I abandoned my hopeful basil.

When I saw my sad-looking plant on the porch today, I thought of its happier counterpart in my parents’ yard and I thought of Paul. Looking at my dead basil, I thought of his words in Galatians. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 

Perhaps my basil (mis)adventure is a simple representation of this scripture, but there it was, right in front of me – proof that if we do give up doing what we know is good and needed, our harvest is cut off. I had every opportunity to nurture that plant and I chose to neglect it.

In grace, we have been given good seed…seed that is life-giving and forever-changing. And we have a role in how that seed flourishes…we can determine what sort of soil we are. Jesus spoke about it in Luke 8.

“As they went from town to town, a lot of people joined in and traveled along. He addressed them, using this story: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. Some of it fell on the road; it was tramped down and the birds ate it. Other seed fell in the gravel; it sprouted, but withered because it didn’t have good roots. Other seed fell in the weeds; the weeds grew with it and strangled it. Other seed fell in rich earth and produced a bumper crop…The seed is the Word of God. The seeds on the road are those who hear the Word, but no sooner do they hear it than the Devil snatches it from them so they won’t believe and be saved. The seeds in the gravel are those who hear with enthusiasm, but the enthusiasm doesn’t go very deep. It’s only another fad, and the moment there’s trouble it’s gone. And the seed that fell in the weeds—well, these are the ones who hear, but then the seed is crowded out and nothing comes of it as they go about their lives worrying about tomorrow, making money, and having fun. But the seed in the good earth—these are the good-hearts who seize the Word and hold on no matter what, sticking with it until there’s a harvest.”

Friends, I will admit that my basil plant was victim of shallow planting, enthusiasm that did not go deep. But I pray that I will remember, looking at its bare stems, to never neglect the marvelous, miraculous Word of God that has been so graciously planted in my life.

Sometimes life gets complicated. Our time is filled. We get tired. Sometimes our best intentions get side-swiped by the unexpected or simple complacency. We trade the fresh Word of God that’s alive, bursting forth from Scripture and from His presence, for bottled up and easy-to-get seasonings from the world around us. Instead of pressing forward in new growth, we convince ourselves that we already have what we need. We don’t spend time being nourished by Him, our Living Water. We allow other things to edge in, to take up the room in our hearts that is meant for Him.

We grow thirsty. We dry out. We stop bearing fruit.

To reap love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, Paul says that we must “keep in step with the Spirit”. To keep in step requires a proactive decision to follow the Spirit’s leading, to keep moving even when we don’t feel like it, to commit to putting one foot in front of the other. To reap life, we must sow life…our own lives, planted in Him. We bury our self-will, our control, our sinful nature and He resurrects new life by the Spirit…life in Him that is both eternal and abundant.

But we are not in this thing alone.

If you’re feeling tired…don’t give up. If your energy is lagging and your motivation growing short…don’t give up. If thorns of worry and fear or weeds of distraction are choking out your faith…don’t give up. If the enemy is telling you that you will never grow, that your heart isn’t good enough soil…don’t give up.

No, don’t give up — but run to our Father, the Master Gardener…run to Jesus, who longs for you to live in His love. Listen to what He said in John 15 –

“I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken.

“Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me.

“I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples. 

“I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love.

 “I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.

 “You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you.

 “But remember the root command: Love one another.”

It is astonishing to hear these words from the Son of God…from the King of all Kings…He has grafted us into His family…He chooses us…gives His joy to us…desires that we live intimately in His love…He calls us friends.

No, may we not grow weary in doing good, for the Son of God is our support system, our hope, our very life!  May we submit to His pruning, to His tender care, to His life-giving Words — in all seasons, He knows how to care for us and to bring His people back into communion with Him .  In Isaiah 55, He says:

“I don’t think the way you think.
The way you work isn’t the way I work.”

“For as the sky soars high above earth,
so the way I work surpasses the way you work,
and the way I think is beyond the way you think.
Just as rain and snow descend from the skies
and don’t go back until they’ve watered the earth,
Doing their work of making things grow and blossom,
producing seed for farmers and food for the hungry,
So will the words that come out of my mouth
not come back empty-handed.
They’ll do the work I sent them to do,
they’ll complete the assignment I gave them.”

His purpose does not fail. He is faithful…and I am so grateful that He made a way for us to be planted in Him.

May we pray for deep roots, for love that binds us to the Real Vine, for fruit that is so sweet that people around us want to taste of the Lord, to see how good He is…may our hearts seize His Word and stick with it, until the day of the harvest…until the day the Gardener gently transplants us from this world into His Kingdom…where we will have eternity to blossom in the beauty of His never-failing light.