Gardening and Why It’s Worth It.

I’ve always loved the dance flowers and plants annually bring to our world. I get excited when Spring arrives and new buds start forming; when the Summer heat causes plants to explode with growth and color; when Summer fades into warm Autumn hues; when the winter cold strips almost every plant bare except the lush evergreen trees, contrasting berries, and solitary mistletoe. Once I start seeing the shift from season to season, I admittedly become giddy knowing a change is coming. And it is such a delight to take part in that dance through my very own backyard, thanks to my parents’ hard work.

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Both of my parents are retired. Lucky ducks, right? They have the blessing and joy of spending many hours together shopping, taking impromptu road trips, and simply being in each other’s presence. One thing that they enjoy doing is gardening. Who knew that somebody in my family could plant something and actually keep it alive?! Our backyard has turned into a miniature nursery, full of flowers, plants, colors, and scents. Daily household conversation consists of phrases like “potting soil and vitamins,” “transplanting the double knock outs,” and “don’t forget to water the new guys.”

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In the still of the morning, heat of the afternoon, and cool of the evening, I see how my parents spend time outside observing each individual plant, smelling the sweet scent of each flower, checking in to make sure bugs aren’t gnawing away at the leaves or branches aren’t dying. They tap the ground around the roots to ensure there is enough water and joyfully trim off roses that they bring inside for us to enjoy. There is always a tenderness about my parents when they work in the garden. They never step on a plant. They never run the hose over a bush. They never trim or cut without purpose.

Yet, when they see that bugs have been munching on the roses for a snack, my dad quickly marches to the garage and returns with a determined face and a bottle of some plant-eating-bug-destroying-mechanism-and-unknown-concoction in hand. Or when an ant pile forms near the base of the tree, you better believe it will be gone within 24 hours. When something tries to attack the garden, my parents do whatever it takes to make sure nothing gets destroyed to the point of death.

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I can’t help but watch this and reflect on my sweet Father in heaven who takes pleasure in watching me grow, tending to the pieces of me that need to be cut, protecting me from destruction, and presenting me to the world as a pleasing and fragrant aroma to His glory. And in case you’re wondering, He does that for you too. If you are planted in His grace and goodness, then He gives you satisfying water, He feeds you with mercy and love, He leads you in the path of holiness, and He even trims up the pieces of you that He knows will kill you. Why? Because He delights in you.

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Will you go to the Father today who knows why you’re planted where you are? Will you drink from His waters and feast on His food? Will you let Him cut off the parts that lead you to harm and will you let Him rejoice over you?

And though it’s not always easy and sometimes hurts, I promise you that living in His garden is always worth it.

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The Power of an Influence

The 60s and 70s were such powerful years to transforming America into the way it is today. Post-World War I and II, things had shifted, catapulting America into JFK’s short-lived presidency, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, and numerous voices desperate to be recognized and heard through literature, entertainment, and music. Citizens outwardly questioned American government boldly than ever before, seeking their true independent rights, among other things, that were divinely ordained centuries before. It rightly was a pivotal time of inspiration and change.

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If somebody were to ask me If you could live during any decade in America, what would it be, and why, I would immediately tell them either the late 60s or early 70s, mainly because of the music. Through the hurt and pain of war and cultural challenges, music was a radiating theme that kept people sane, or justified their insanity. The lyrics of those songs carry such weight and speak of immense vulnerability and rawness to society’s struggles. Personally, I’m a huge fan of the British Invasion (aka the Beatles), CCR, and Jimi Hendrix, just to name a few favorites. And who doesn’t love playing air guitar or air drums to Somebody to Love, The Joker, Free Bird, and American Pie?! Regardless, these artists created music during a time that walked on a shaky glass fence, easily broken upon the strongest gust of blowing influence.

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In high school, I was so fascinated with this era that I read a 560-page book called Can’t Find My Way Home: America in the Great Stoned Age, 1945-2000 by Martin Torgoff. A book that portrays the influence of drugs on American culture (including music), and visa versa, it was then I was first introduced to such personalities like Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, and Jack Kerouac. Reading how these men spoke with such persuasion affected me, and after finishing the book, I realized that every person, regardless of age, religion, or path in life, is influenced by others and an influencer to others.

My 11th grade U.S. history teacher, an outspoken Jewish woman from the ghettos of New York, told our class one day that the single thing she regrets in life is never going to Woodstock in 1969. Fast forward to this weekend and the beginning of a six-stop, modern-day, Woodstock-esque festival called the Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC) opens for 2013. Starting in 1997 in Los Angeles, the EDC has transformed into an multi-national music event, attracting over 300,000 people just last year. The EDC website wets the palette by describing the festival as “an interactive playground…a weekend beyond your wildest imagination.” Thousands of people will flock to locations around America and beyond to experience a few days of what the electronic-music industry describes as PLUR: Peace, Love, Unity, Respect. Sound familiar?

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Just as music inspired an event like Woodstock in the 60s, the same is happening today. For an event to hold such persuasion and draw such crowds can only mean that the pains and realities of this age parallel the ones of over forty years ago. Influencers like war, drugs, abuse, and death continue. And this weekend, thousands of Americans will flock to New York for two days of escape and pleasure.

They’ve been influenced.

We’ve been influenced.

I’ve been influenced.

You’ve been influenced.

Before loosing sight of reality, there are some things that influence us which are actually good. Like eyes that listen, arms that hold, and voices that speak truth. It can be a thing, a person, or an action, CNN, Instagram, or a teacher, that influences your path in life. I think that we, myself included, should take time to step back and evaluate what influences us and how we influence others. In all actuality, it could be life or death for someone. Because who and what we allow to influence our lives is a reflection of our hearts and an overflow of Him (or lack thereof) radiating from within.

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Chapter Zero

Social media is a key avenue in our society that allows me to know someone’s life of whom I don’t really know at all. I read on Facebook or Twitter of friends who are getting married, having babies, and working jobs that appear so beautiful, so clean and pristine. They have graduated from college and carried on with the stereotypical path that people in their mid-twenties are assumed to walk down. I talk about them as if we just grabbed coffee yesterday afternoon, while at the same time wondering if they even remember who I am or how we met. They attend bridal showers or baby showers, and I tear up thinking about how excited I am for them, yet how different our lives actually are.

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Here I am, sitting in the room I grew up in, without a ring on my finger or a job to my name. I wake up, head downstairs, and kiss my mom on the cheek on the way to the coffee pot I share with my father. I then proceed to head back to the room I locked myself in during my high school days and enjoy some peace and quiet before the busyness of the day ensues. I’m not planning an engagement session. I’m not calling wedding venues. And I’m definitely not registering at Babies R Us. Even though the seasons that people my age are walking through are exciting moments in life, I, of course, ended up down a different path. I prefer to call it Chapter Zero.

Thinking back to 9/11 and the aftermath that remained, the area that was devastated by the attacks is so famously known as ground zero. While some people think that parallels to the fact the buildings no longer exist, I prefer to think of it through a more hopeful lens. Through the odd and unknown divine sovereignty of God and without disregarding the lives that were tragically lost, I believe that ground zero needed to be created for something greater to sprout forth. Things were too safe, too unblemished, and too crisp. Lives needed ruffling up. Ground zero existed because of the necessity to lay the foundation for hearts to change, relationships to be restored, and perspectives to be kindled afresh. And I believe that moments of zero are vital to people becoming more of who they are called to be in the kingdom of God.

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Though this doesn’t seem fair to those who walk through these seasons, to whatever extreme, God calls us to moments of zero so that we can step forward into a deeper understanding of God and our role in His work.

I look at my best friend and sister, Leah, who just moved to the Philippines to start long-term ministry with street children. I sometimes think, How did she get to go before me? What am I still doing here? Why am I still stuck in chapter zero?! My life may come across as one that is wandering around, searching and seeking for what’s next. I’m not getting married and having babies, but I’m not moving overseas tomorrow.

This season, this chapter zero, is a time where I have needed to trust God even more intensely than ever before because my life doesn’t look like everyone else my age. I knew this year would be a time of learning, of foundational work to prepare me for what is to come. To serve in ministries that teach me aspects I would never have otherwise learned. To mentally and spiritually prepare for future atrocities serving in the realm of human trafficking. To walk hand in hand with those who need to be believed in and telling them that they can do it. And it is because I am in this season of zero that, in the future, I will be able to look across the raging river and trust in God’s hand to guide me through the waters. I will know His ways more deeply. I will understand His words more clearly. I will hear His voice more intimately. This chapter zero is actually a blessing in disguise.

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While it may look like I’m lagging behind in chapter zero when others are already in chapter four or seven, I’m ok with that. I trust that I am walking in a season where God wants to specially prepare my heart and lay specific foundations for what is to come in the future. I know that this chapter is so important to building something that is abundantly greater than I could have ever asked or imagined. And for that, I am beyond grateful.

So I ask, What chapter are you in? Are you trusting God in the midst of it? Are there towers that need to be torn down so that you can rebuild a foundation based on a deeper, more intimate faith? Are you willing to let God tear them down for something greater He has called you to?

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Read more specifics about chapter zero here and learn how you can partner with me as I walk through this season of foundational work. I am forever thankful and humbled for this time and for those of you who believe in me in the midst of it all.