The Homesteader of My Heart

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I remember my first glimpse of our new backyard, the way that my heart (and my feet) sunk a bit as I surveyed the gray sludge covering what we hoped to make a garden. The clay soil was packed so tight, so impenetrable to the delicate roots of new plants. Could a garden ever grow there?

Over the spring and summer and even into the fall, though, I worked with the soil. Before planting anything, I added a thin layer of compost and tilled it in. I planted seeds and seedlings, watching as their roots slowly broke through some of the clay. I mulched around all my plants with straw, sprinkled chicken manure fertilizer, and dug in more compost. Our house faithfully saved all our fruit and vegetable scraps, lugging stinking buckets of them to the compost bin and mixing them with straw and leaves. At the end of the season, I pulled out all of our old plants and tilled in the straw by hand. We drove around the neighborhood one Sunday afternoon, filling our little car with bag after bag of our neighbor’s leaves, later spreading those leaves in a thick blanket over the whole garden. In the spring, after rain and snow and time have broken them down, I’ll till those in, too, along with more compost.

It has been a process of adding and tilling. Of adding some more and tilling some more. Of waiting.

As I look over the resting winter garden (barely recognizable now under its blanket of snow), I am so aware of the slowness of this process. In just one season I saw definite improvements, a gradual loosening of the soil, better growth in the second planting than the first, but it’s just the beginning. A garden like this needs long-term commitment. It needs a gardener who will faithfully, slowly, work to amend it over the course of years, not just days or months. It needs a homesteader who is willing to claim it and say, “This is my land,” before they see any fruit.

The process of healing and growth in my heart right now feels equally slow, marked by a similar pattern of digging and adding and pulling things out by the roots. But my heart has a homesteader, the Homesteader. He lay claim to this territory long before it bore any fruit, naming it as His own while it was still tight-packed with the mud of fear and hurt and striving. He knows just what this soil needs. And He is committed to it for the long haul, for years, not just days or months. As I feel my boots sinking into the mud of this messy healing process, that reality feels so comforting to me.

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“Beautiful Things”

All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all
All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground at all

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in You

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

You make me new, You are making me new
You make me new, You are making me new

– Gungor

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Gungor in Concert

This evening we drove out to Lenexa with some friends to see Gungor in concert.

I’m generally not a big fan of concerts – they tend to be an overwhelming mix of big crowds, head-throbbing noise levels, and flashing lights. This one was so good, though (flashing lights and all). Song after song I found myself catching my breath, at the edge of my seat, as they skillfully wove together sweet harmonies and poetic lyrics. They alternated between energetic beats and soft melodies, mixing the light notes of a xylophone with heavy drumbeats, amazing guitar picking with smooth cello, soft piano with resonating voices.

Each of their songs rang with the deep beauty of the gospel. I remember first hearing of Gungor when we sang their song, “Beautiful Things,” at the Boiler Room but only recently began listening to a bit more of their music. Their songs speak eloquently of the God who brings life out of death and beauty out of brokenness, who longs to see His beautiful bride, the Church, become who she was created to be. As I am learning to walk with the Lord through the places of my own pain and loss, these songs touch on the beauty of that process. They acknowledge the pain, even the disillusionment, but remind me that the story does not end there, that at the cross Love has already won.

“Dry Bones”
by Gungor

my soul cries out
my soul cries out for you

these bones cry out
these dry bones cry for you
to live and move
only You
can raise the dead
lift my head up

Jesus, You’re the one who saves us
Constantly creates us into something new
Jesus You’re the one who finds us
Surely our Messiah will make all things new

(From their album, Beautiful Things)

Birthday Beauty

This weekend I celebrated my twenty-fifth birthday.

To be honest, in recent years my birthday has carried a certain sting of heartache. That one day somehow tends to magnify any already-present feelings of being unseen and uncelebrated, perhaps because I have seen some amazing birthday celebrations here that embrace all the unique ways that a person reflects the Lord’s heart.

So this year I approached my birthday with some tentativeness, trying to guard my heart by not expecting much. But lately God has been taking me on a journey of discovering that He never designed me to protect myself or to live in lack. Throughout the weekend, He wove that truth all through dozens of small celebrations of the things I love:

– A sunny fall day
– Brilliantly colored trees
– Dinner with Derek
– A double portion of one of my favorite foods
– A small gathering of friends
– A house full of candlelight
– Words of blessing spoken over me
– A lovely scarf, full of deep rich colors
– Fresh flowers in reds, yellows, and oranges
– Apple cider
– Dancing with one of my favorite little girls
– A baby in my arms
– A few thoughtfully written notes
– A tiny succulent plant, wrapped in yellow
– A fragrant heart
– A phone call with my mom

All of which crooned the Father’s love over my heart: “You are seen. You are loved. You are beautiful. It is good that you exist.”

Shed Your Shoes

This weekend over a hundred of us from the Boiler Room caravanned out to Prairie Star Ranch for the annual spring retreat, a refreshing blend of vacation, family reunion, and deep times with the Lord. We had sweet moments of worship together, powerful clusters of prayer for one another, large meals together, a bonfire every night, and hours of free time to wander through woods and along lakes. My sunburned neck bears witness to the hours I spent outside, surrounded by beauty. My heart, likewise, was deeply marked by the personal ways that God reaffirmed my identity in Him over the weekend and highlighted several places in my heart He wants to sift.

After lunch on Saturday, I found myself with a large chunk of free time, so I meandered down around the lake. To be honest, I was grumbling to the Lord a bit about how I just wanted to feel loved (more and more lately I have been aware of this desire rising up in my heart – and recognizing the ways I tend to respond to that desire – so the Lord and I have been working through that together).

Eventually, still grumbling a bit, I moved away from the Lake and into the woods. As I wandered down the path, I remembered how, as a child, I had loved exploring the words around my grandpa’s cabin in central Michigan. I spent hours there, wading in the creek, balancing on logs, and collecting colored stones, wildflowers, and tiny frogs, treasures of the woods. As I recalled those memories, I felt God encouraging me to explore like a child again.

So I rambled down towards the stream, where I found a pile of shoes discarded along the banks. I could hear children’s voices and laughter from around the bend. Remembering the Lord’s encouragement to explore like a child, I shed my own sandals and waded into the stream. I followed it until I found the cluster of Boiler Room children, feet submerged in the water as they scooped up tiny frogs. There were hundreds of these frogs along the stream. They hopped into the leaves and jumped into the stream every time we took a step, the patter of dozens of tiny bodies launching and landing sounding like raindrops. I marveled with the children at the frogs’ tiny webbed feet, the mottled brown and green of their backs, and the kicking motion they made as they swam away through the water.

It was while we waded through the stream, collecting frogs, that we saw them: mushrooms. Not just any mushrooms, though. Morel mushrooms. We spotted just a few at first, their spongy tops jutting out from the bank of the stream by an old dead tree.

I pointed them out to the children and one exclaimed, “Those are the ones my dad likes!”

When we went closer, scrambling up the muddy bank to reach them, I saw that there were more than just a few. I could see dozens of them scattered around the tree, peeping out from under leaves and barely hidden behind logs.

We picked a few to bring back with us, carrying them like fragile trophies as we waded back down the stream. As we splashed back through the water, the Lord began to speak to me about how this is the way we treasure hunt with Him, when we become like children. We cast aside our shoes and our grown-up agendas to simply explore, delighting in even the simple things: the slippery brush of moss under our feet, the flutter of frogs’ feet on our hands, a crayfish scuttling through the water. In the midst of this, we find treasure.

Later that afternoon, I returned with a friend to collect more of the mushrooms. We filled a produce box and had still only gathered about half of them. The following day, a group of us returned again and collected the rest, filling more bags and boxes to carry back home. I felt like this treasure, though a personal gift from the Lord, was meant to be shared, so I set aside a few for Derek and I and invited people to come take what they wanted of the rest.

When we came home Sunday afternoon, I cleaned my mushrooms and soaked them in salt water for a few hours, then sautéed them in butter with asparagus and tortellini. They were incredible, so tender and full of flavor. Delicious.

When I Was Sick You Visited Me

This afternoon I went to the hospital to visit a friend who was shot in a drive-by shooting this weekend. She’s alive (thank God) but the bullet went through her side and her bladder. The doctors don’t think there should be any long-term damage, but she had surgery and will be in the hospital for a while.

I grieved a lot for her when I heard, for the pain that she’s in and the violence in her life. It mixed in with grief for another dear friend who, along with her young kids, is currently homeless and living in a hotel because of the spiraling cycle of self-destruction she has been careening down for a while, and grief for a family member who just announced, mere days after her daughter’s birth, that her husband no longer wants to live with her as her husband.

These are heavy things. They make me want to cry. To kick something. To shake my fist at the devil. Most of all, they make me want to do something, to fix everything. But I am powerless to fix any of this.

As I was talking to the Lord about all this yesterday morning, He reminded me of Matthew 25, specifically verse 36 where the King says to the blessed ones, “When I was sick you visited me.” With that reminder came the tender invitation to come and be with Him in this place, to visit Him in this place of suffering, to be His friend in these places where He grieves, too. I don’t even know what that looks like, really, but I was overwhelmed with the reality of His nearness to me and to them in these places.

And I realized that the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46 has nothing to do with a list of religious “do’s” to gain God’s favor; it’s a sweet invitation to be with Jesus in those places, with “the least of these”, because we are blessed by the nearness of God in those places.

Abba, bring me face to face with You in all this!

"You make beautiful things, You make beautiful things out of the dust...You make beautiful things, You make beautiful things out of us..."

Beautiful Things Out of the Dust

“Beautiful Things” – Gungor

All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way?
I wonder if my life could really change at all?
All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found?
Could a garden come up from this ground at all?

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in You

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

Oh, you make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

You make me new, You are making me new
You make me new, You are making me new
Making me new

You make beautiful things
(You make me new)
You make beautiful things out of the dust
(You are making me new, making me new)

You make beautiful things
(You make me new)
You make beautiful things out of us
(You are making me new, making me new)

Oh, you make beautiful things
(You make me new)
You make beautiful things out of the dust
(You are making me new, making me new)

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust

You make me new, You are making me new
You make me new, You are making me new

(Listen to the song here)

This has become one of my favorite songs since we first sang it in the Boiler Room a few months ago. It’s a declaration of hope. And it’s so true. God does make beautiful things out of the dust. He is making beautiful things out of us. I see this over and over, particularly in my own heart lately.

These past four years or so I’ve cycled through so many seasons in my life, both exhilaratingly profound and heart-wrenchingly painful (sometimes both at the same time). I’ve watched things fall aside and fall apart in my life. Communities that surge together in joyful anticipation of God’s work among us, only to scatter. Young believers rejoiced over and drawn into life, who have slipped back into old lifestyles again. Friendships gone awry or simply faded away. Each and every time I wrestle with the disintegrating of relationships I valued so much and spent so much time cultivating.

And yet, I’m discovering that these experiences have become like compost for my soul, the bits of experiences disintegrating over time (and yes, sometimes stinking in the process) until they settle into a layer of good soil in my life that wasn’t there before. Though sometimes it feels like chaos, a scramble to make sense of the transitions and situations, and often it feels fruitless, I’m beginning to see new life springing forth, fresh shoots of green pushing their way through the jumble of experiences and losses that somehow became that good soil. Good, rich soil can begin to bear fruit.

In particular I’m finding faith springing up all over my life in a measure that was never there before. Faith that I am loved, that I am provided for, that I am called, that I am able (or rather, that He is able), that His redemption is a reality we can experience, that His plans are beyond what I ever hoped or imagined, that His promises are sure.

Thank You, Abba, that you do make beautiful things out of the dust, that in Your faithfulness and love, nothing is wasted and You use all these things to create good soil for us to grow more fruitful in You.