Hope For When It Seems Like Nothing's Growing

I stood at the back door watching the rain, light but steady. I put down my coffee, turned the knob, and stepped outside, bare feet on cold concrete. I walked to the middle of the yard, rain falling on my shoulders, dropped to my knees, lifted my arms and prayed until rivers ran down my cheeks, tears and rain twin tributaries, indistinguishable…

-

About a year and a half ago my daughter London turned five. We threw a storybook party. Twenty kids—a unicorn, a wizard, knight, viking, ballerina—all sat at one long table, their Peter Pan celery boats and If-You-Give-A-Mouse-A chocolate chip cookies on mismatched china plates.

Precious.

I’d planned to set that table in my own backyard. But the day before the party, stacking pieces of a twenty-five-foot fallen tree, spraying ant killer on every square inch of “lawn” (pokey, crunchy weeds cut short) my husband and I came to a realization: Our yard was not fit for humans.

We sent an email the night before London’s birthday: Party moved due to ants. We spared everyone the full details.

Not long after that our friend Matthew asked about the yard. He asked, “So how bad is it?”Justin, private-by-nature and not super excited about sharing the extent of his lawn troubles, mumbled something about the tree and the ants.

Matthew said, “I have ant killer and weed killer. Let’s go spray.” Justin smiled. “Sure.” But then Matthew got up and grabbed his keys and went to the backyard to get the supplies and Justin realized he meant right now.

Matthew was a new friend. Justin had been studying about Jesus with him for two years at that point, and Matthew had just decided to follow Jesus. It had been a long two years, but when Matthew finally decided to jump, it was a canon ball in the deep end.

Our yard became an initial exercise in selfless service.

Over the next three months he and Justin (and a team of others gathered by Matthew) would uproot every weed, every growing and not-growing thing, in our backyard. They hauled in a dump truck’s worth of new dirt. They planted seeds. They installed a sprinkler system. They spent weekend after weekend covered in dirt and sweat.

When the work was done, the seeds planted, we had a giant square of pregnant, milk chocolate dirt.

And we protected it with our lives.

I remember standing on the patio one day brandishing a tree branch, yelling at a murder of crows eating my grass seeds.

I remember our water bills as we pumped water into earth, earth that drank greedily, parched every morning, cracking as if we’d never offered it a single drink.

And I remember the weeding, full days spent yanking new weeds up by the roots, piles of weeds taller and wider than me. I remember pushing my hands forearm deep into dirt, trying to pry loose those pesky bulb roots.

I took to calling that year “the season of seeds.” Because we couldn’t see a thing.

I’d lay on my belly on the patio and wait for the grass to sprout.

-

Saul Bellow said, “A ‘symbol’ grows in its own way, out of the facts.”

And that’s right. Because God does the heavy lifting with symbols. We don’t make them up. We find them.

My yard is, of course, a symbol—a picture of the life we’ve lived these past few years, a life full of seeds and largely lacking grass, a fight against chaos, a fight to impose order and beauty.

I think of the seeds we planted in people, people who became friends, friends coming to know God, friends struggling through adversity.

I think of the seeds we planted with our children, the weeds we pulled, the water we lavished upon them, all the while waiting to see something, anything good growing in their hearts, watching them throw fits and disobey, wondering when the purposeful parenting would pay off.

I think of the seeds I planted with this blog, hoping something beautiful might grow from it.

The seeds planted in difficult relationships.

The seeds planted in the well-tilled soil of a small but eager church.

Seeds planted in our bank account, after very, very much weeding…

Last year was hard work, hard work after years of hard work. Every day we would walk out to the patio and stand, my husband and I side by side, watching tiny little sprouts of green dotting our dirt, and we would pray—pray that God would multiply our small efforts, pray that God would do the magic of growing our seeds.

-

This past Easter my husband and I hosted an Easter communion meal in our backyard. We invited several friends, among them Matthew and his wife Natalie and their three children. We invited Justin’s sister who lived with us for most of the “season of seeds,” a woman we watched blossom under the protection of our roof, a woman even more lovely now than she was when she came. We invited my friend Lisa who came back to God this year, Lisa who’s seen God light her darkness with stadium lights over the past few months. And we invited our friend Ken who’s being instated as an elder this month, one of five new elders our growing church will add.

We all sat at a single table stretched across the width of our backyard. I sat at one end, my husband at the other, and we listened to friends offer toasts—toasts to new life, to transformation. Our daughter London stood on a chair and thanked God for her blessings. She lifted her glass and said, “Cheers!”

During dinner I took off my shoes and put my bare feet on the thick grass under my chair.

Holy ground.

image

-

The grass is growing. It’s thick and green. For a while we’ve had one big swath where it hadn’t filled in, but yesterday, standing at the back door I looked out and saw dozens of new grass patches, hope polka dots.

It was raining. I walked out into the rain, thankful for it, knowing how powerfully God works in storms, and I knelt beside the new grass.

I spent the next twenty minutes praying and crying as the rain turned from light shower to downpour.

I thanked God for the hard times. I thanked Him for the helping me pull the weeds. I thanked Him for walking with me when I didn’t feel like any of my work would ever pay off.

And I thanked Him for the grass. So. Much. Grass. Growing all around us. Growing in our hearts and in our friends’ hearts. Growing in our girls who are suddenly and beautifully showing fruit—kindness, generosity, compassion. Growing in our ministries—people who’ve never known God coming to faith, people seeing God more clearly because of words on a computer screen. 

I thanked God for making the unseen seen, for giving us the chance to watch the seeds grow, and for giving us the patience to work and wait.