It's always the tulips that start the party. They begin appearing on magazine covers around the middle of February, usually coinciding with a big Nebraska blizzard. For some reason, I receive an assortment of magazines I do not pay for. Mostly they are chock full of bizarrely dressed models whose average age is certainly 12; their bodies noticeably void of curves from last week's food choices. These magazines are not for me, and someone needs to stop killing trees and sending them to my mailbox. Last year's desserts and I are working on things, and we do not need your models to tell us how far we have yet to come.
But "Better Homes & Gardens" has recently been delivered, and I spent a good amount of time yesterday tearing out pages and dreaming about what kinds of plants I will tear out or transplant, and what I will hunt the nurseries for this year. I always have a moment in February and March, when the magazines start blooming, that I think, "Dang it! I forgot to carry out my autumn strategic bulbery!" (that's the planting of bulbs in the fall. i make up words because it's fun. you're welcome. also you don't need to capitalize words when they are in parenthesis. i made that up too.) The strategic bulbery never happens because usually because in the fall I'm so ready for the frost, I do not care anymore. But when the magazines come in February, I begin dreaming of what I will do this year - tending to my mind gardens, which in a few months will be my actual gardens.
The hunger is fierce. The longing palpable. As I walk through the pasture, ice and mud still reign supreme, but just underneath....just beginning to push up through the tough sandy soil are tiny, brave little hints of spring. These courageous little optimists are my squad. Their very presence like a fix for an addict. Because deep inside of me, there is an anticipation and a readiness for some new growth. Some new green.
I don't remember a year when I was so ready for Spring, and it is surely because there are some parallels on the inside of my heart. My faith community is in a season of healing and waiting and anticipation. I am so excited for the future. So I have jumped at the chance of tilling up some things; of calling some people together to plan our plots for the season that is coming. And unfortunately that has resulted spiritually, in what would in the physical world, look like stumbling around smacking my head against the wall. Repeatedly. The desire for a spiritual spring has made me drunk. Twitter-paited.
As frustration has mounted with the process, my prayers have been increasingly full of questions and statements of trust. "God what am I supposed to do with this stirring? What exactly do you want?" and singing, "I am hidden, in the safety of your love. I trust your heart and your intentions, I trust you completely, I'm listening intently. You'll guide me through these many shadows."(lyric credit to United Pursuit, "Hidden" i'm pretty sure it's illegal to put lyrics in writing without permission so sorry United Pursuit. i like your song and i capitalized your band name even in parenthesis. cut me a break.) I've been making phone calls. Talking to people. Listening to people. Getting unexpected feedback that throws me for a loop. So yesterday, I got down on my knees and put my forehead on the floor and just cleared the stage of my mind from the Ringling Circus Acts that had been dominating it for awhile. And I was just quiet for about five minutes.
I didn't hear much.
So I took my dogs for a walk. And breathed in some fresh air. And slowly, the Spirit of the Living God began to show me things in nature, like he often does. Earlier in the day, I had read, without intention and without gleaning much, about the parable of the sower. (Read the three different accounts in Matthew 13, Mark 4 and Luke 8.) The sower casts seeds on four different types of soil - the path where it gets snatched up, the rocks where it grows for a minute and then gets scorched by the sun, among the thorns where it gets choked out by the worries and pleasures of life, and then in the good soil where it produces a crop, which vastly multiplies in quantity from the original seed. The seed is the word of God. The soils are the places where the word flourishes, or doesn't: in human hearts.
Upon further examination of the recorded parables, I have thought carefully about growing conditions. I live in an agricultural community, and I know by looking out my window that regardless of the condition of the soil, I cannot walk across the road in February and harvest corn from the field. In the cold months, the land is healing and it is waiting. In a few months, it will be an ideal place for seeds to be cast and for corn or beans to grow, but the time has not yet come. Even after the cows are hauled away, even after the tractors come and disc up all of last year's left over stalks, even after they plant...I will still have to wait to see mature plants producing a mature harvest. It takes an entire season.
I began to visualize the kind of gardening I had been doing. I confess my short-comings regularly, at least the ones I know about. My Savior Jesus intercedes for me and we begin again. But sometimes it's not my shortcomings that cause me to smack my head against the wall; sometimes it's my passion. In John 13 when Jesus washes his disciples feet, my homeboy spirit animal Peter says to his Lord, "No! You shall never wash my feet!" He is anxious to prove to his Lord his faithfulness, his submission to his reign, and his position as his servant. He wants to be different, better and more extremely devoted than his fellow disciples. He wants to win the "Survivor: Disciple Edition" episode that is playing out in his mind; to take his love for his God a step further. Peter wants to be the best and fastest runner the race God has asked him to run. Oh Peter, please come have coffee with me.
But Jesus never asked us to outrun him. Jesus replied to Peter, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." Jesus makes it clear, gently and lovingly, that it's only by allowing Christ to set the pace that we will truly be able to do his work.
And so. That gardening I'd been attempting - was a little too rushed. A little too frantic. A little too ramming my battering horns into problems and then turning in another direction and ramming again. Picture me out in my flower beds, kneeling down in snow, hacking away at the frozen ground and digging up bulbs and wondering, "Where the heck are those tulips?"
On the very next page, in John 13, Jesus predicts his betrayal and his death. Again, Peter is ready to show Jesus how loyal he is; this time a little hurt that he is about to be left behind. In verse 37, he asks Jesus "Lord, why can't I come with you? I will lay down my life for you." Then Jesus answered, "Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!"
And in the margin of my bible, just a few weeks ago in my very own handwriting, it says this: "Peter's zeal is admirable, but Jesus knows how far he has yet to come. Sometimes when we are ready to jump for God, he rebukes us in order to further prepare us."
A little later in John 15, Jesus says - I am the vine, and my father is the gardener. Oh God, forgive me, for once again, trying to be you. I'm really not qualified for the job. You know just what to plant, what to prune and what to grow. You know the seasons and times that things will grow and bloom. Remind me that I'm the soil, and not the master gardener.
Sometimes God answers our prayers with a resounding, YES! and sometimes with a definitive NO. As God has taught me in this season, he is doing it with seeds and soil in his Word, and with dreams of gardens filled with beautiful flowers. But this time, he is saying gently, accompanied with a beautiful bouquet- "Wait, beloved. Just wait. You have not been buried, you have only been planted. And Spring is coming."
Come, Lord Jesus. Come.