Apr 5, 2009


I walked into my sister’s house today and saw a big box, wrapped in Williams Sonoma paper, complete with the little pineapple on top. Two days ago I’d discovered an item from their store that I really liked, and had posted it on my birthday “wishlist”. Ahhh…cake plate with dome, that turns into a punchbowl when needed. Hooray! I smiled happily to myself and promised to make nary a comment. I would pretend to be blind…

I slipped to a seat at the table where Judah, happily scarfing mac and cheese, extended his 2 ½ year-old-arm, fork clutched, and waved generally in the direction of the box.

“That’s your present because it’s your birthday coming,” he said. “But you can’t have it until then. Because, it’s the plate for a cake. For your birthday. But, because you can’t have it until then.”

“She’s not supposed to know what it is,” piped Ariel from beside me.

“Ok. You can’t know it – that it’s the plate for a cake. For your birthday,” he clarified.

“Ok, I won’t know what it is,” I agreed, joining the toddler world where all one has to do to make something real, is say it. What a delightful world! I remember it, and how shattered it seemed if something said didn’t solidify.

I’ve been tense for a few days – have woken up in the middle of the night, and have felt the tightness in the morning of having clenched the muscles in my jaw all night long. It is very unrestful. But it wasn’t until today in prayer I asked the Lord why. Why am I tense? It was a surprise to me to think to ask Him, and it was a surprise how clearly I felt I heard the answer – one which He illustrated to me with this recent imagery:

I’d planted a garden a while ago, and yesterday when I went out to put a few more seeds in, I searched for a sprout – any sprout – in the ground. Spinach? Not one. Chives? Scallions? No. Snow peas? None. I went back into the house and pulled out the packets I’d used, searching for the instructions.

“Germination time: 5-10 days.”

I stepped to the calendar and counted the days from planting. TEN. Oh no!

It felt like the bottom had dropped out from under me – like the roller coaster ride where suddenly a downward motion happens at high speeds and you feel there is no stomach, no body, no carriage, no track, and no earth beneath you. Just emptiness. Screaming, black, earth-disappearing emptiness.

My little seeds! Are they all dead? Will they not come up? I did everything for them I knew to do. I double-dug the ground, down a foot. I fertilized it. I put fresh, ready topsoil over it all. I planted on the right date. I covered the beds with leaves and black plastic when it snowed (and in the process finally understood why being wet and cold makes you die so much faster than just being cold). I’ve never planted my own garden before; my mother always did it when we were young. Greenery magically sprouted under her touch. But I suddenly began questioning the reliability of the entire process, of the whole system. Why did I think those ugly, tiny bits of flotsam would turn into green, living, edible plants? Perhaps they wouldn’t – perhaps for me, when it comes to my efforts, that little part of the universe is broken.

I seriously did doubt whether it’s really going to work. After all, I’ve seen others do it, but this being my first time, have never actually experienced it before myself. And today, today is day ELEVEN, but still no sprouts. I used organic, heirloom seeds, which means they haven’t been treated with chemicals and don’t say “guaranteed to grow” on the seed packet.

Lord, nothing might come of all this.

This is what you’re tense about. This is your life right now. You’ve voluntarily (and sometimes involuntarily) given up thing after thing, desire after desire. You’ve let every seed I’ve given you die and enter the ground. You’ve spent a life, now, consistently and willingly enduring loss. Suddenly, with only My promises to go on but no prior experience to assure you, you notice nothing has germinated yet, and the bottom drops from your stomach and you wonder – is it broken for me? I’ve done everything I could, but maybe it won’t work for me. Maybe it will all stay this way – dead, brown dirt. Lord, what if I have no happy ending?

There is only one life. Reincarnation is ridiculous; no one gets to have a trial run and then come back and do it again. Which means, not one of us gets to know for sure, from past experience, that things will really work the way God says they will. We have to take it on faith, and do all the hard things – put in all the hours of back-breaking work, let the deepest hopes die, give up all the things we could grasp in our own strength, and just believe that fruit will come – just believe that the end will be worth the horrible beginning. I know we’ve seen other, older saints do it – or at least have read about them. But somehow that doesn’t translate fully into real faith when it comes to our own little plot and seeds that seem to be taking an awful lot longer to poke their heads through than they should.

I grew up in a huge city where the streetlights were always on. When, in my young twenties, I first drove through winding, mountainous roads on a two-lane highway in the pitch black of night, I discovered the difference between head knowledge and heart knowledge. My head knew road engineers don’t just stop when they feel like it. My head knew the road I was on wouldn’t suddenly end over the edge of a cliff. But my heart couldn’t see farther than my eyes and the 10 feet in front of me the headlights were illuminating. Beyond that -- utter blackness. The unknown. The potentially roadless unknown. My hands shaking, my blood pounding, I finally had to pull over and let my friend from the country drive.

In the incident-by-incident sense, we are seeing God keep His promises, and our faith is built. But in the entire-direction-of-a-life sense, it only happens once. There’s not going to be a “first time” that gives us more courage for the second time. That once is now.

So, He was right; and the reason I’ve been tense?… I wasn’t believing Him. I’m turning 34 in a few days and it’s the first time I’ve had difficulty with a birthday. There seem to be so many things I’ve spent my life losing and giving up, and not even a sprout to show for it all yet.

(Well, if I was being entirely circumspect and reasonable, there actually are some sprouts, and a few half-grown plants as well. But I’m not being entirely circumspect and reasonable, obviously.)

Why did I tell you about Judah? (Hopin’ Suz doesn’t read this blog until after my birthday!) Because Jesus is a lot like Judah. He has a big boxed-up gift, but He just can’t keep the secret. He has all the fruit and harvest and happy endings right there, ready and wrapped, and He’s dancing around us with clear, honest eyes and blurting it all out ahead of time:

But as it is written, "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard," nor has it entered into the heart of man, "the things which God has prepared for those who love Him."

[Don’t stop there. Have you always stopped there?! This is the next sentence: ]

But God has revealed them to us by His Spirit…

1 Corinthians 2:9-10

What’s coming is TRUE. Whether or not I’ve driven the road before (or can even see the road), it does continue until it reaches the destination. God’s ways are not breakable, and if the seed falls into the ground and dies, it will produce fruit.

How can we be sure? Because the end results are not dependent on us. We happen to be breakable, and fallible, and unfaithful, and too weak to do our tilling and our sowing and our weeding and our harvesting 100% perfectly. But the scripture doesn’t say the growth comes from any of those things. It says this:

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.

So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything,

but only God who gives the growth. 1Co 3:7-8

We certainly can be sure that the growth will happen, precisely because it’s not up to us. I have yet to see whether my heirloom seeds will germinate their sweet little heads above that soil, but I’m resisting the fear that they won’t. After all, God's been doing this for centuries. And I have yet to see the full resurrection of all the life I've laid down, but I’m believing God that I will. King David knew all about this. He said he would have lost hope unless he had believed that he would see the goodness of the Lord while he was in the land of the living (Ps 27:13).

God's birthday box for us contains more than Judah's does, much as I'm going to enjoy the "plate for the cake". It contains joys and fruit to be experienced in this Old Earth, and exponentially more joys and fruit to be experienced on the New Earth. Whichever Earth I receive them in, I'm super, super grateful. And how freeing to know that while sweat and prep and sowing and watering is part of my job, the germination and growth of it all is up to Jesus. That's why its
His box, and will be given to us in His time.


Alison said...

what a gorgeous post. my tendency is to be the same way--assume disappointment so it won't surprise me. I need to trust God more and trust Him for good things.

I have the cake/punch stand. It's adorable and sits on my kitchen counter.:)

Erin said...

Amy, I found your blog through Suzanna's! I loved reading your post and seemed to be so timely for me as well. I too turn 34 at the end of the month and as well, for the first time, am struggling with this birthday. Thank you for the real-ness of your post and know that it encouraged another single, soon-to-be-34, life-losing (in a good way) gal.

Suz said...

Ha! I read it! It's all out in the open, now. What am I gonna do with that boy???

P.S. That wasn't your present at all. It's for our OJ and it's actually a big supply of "Dutch Baby Mix," which sells for $9.50 per smallish canister. Guess what must be added? Eggs and milk. Ha!

Masha said...