Last weekend, Sharing Manna Garden was vandalized. Which means, in our case, that someone had mashed down the fence, pulled up stakes and thrust them forward in an angry heap, and sprayed a toxic chemical on the zucchini, green beans, and other vegetables and flowers that left them yellow and brown and full of holes, as if locusts had made a feast of it. Flower pots that had held happy things in bright reds and whites now held sprays of wispy stuff that looked like chewed-up paper. It was a sudden portrait of anger, or mischief, or maybe even hate.
When I found out what had happened to GreenTree’s garden, my first question—maybe it’s yours, too—was, naturally, “Why would someone do this?” The person whom this act probably had the potential to discourage most was Ely, our garden mentor. This cruel act could not have, of course, been meant for Ely, the cheerful, gentle Ely whose Portuguese accent soothes every conversation in which she engages….Ely, who leads a team of workers who quietly and happily dig, plant, gather, and bag up veggies for the community with unpretentious contentment, week after week. But the question still begs for meaning…why? Why would someone do something to satisfy some self-focused primal urge, and not, for one minute, stop to consider who is being hurt?
But Sunday morning, as I walked to the back of GreenTree’s property and surveyed the damage and used my trusty friend the camera to make some pictorial sense of the chaos in front of me, and as I trudged through the dry mess along the drooping fence that held the sad, bowed-down tangle of dead vines, I dropped my cell phone.
And my cell phone reminded me of something. Something about me.
Just days before, in an already testy mood, I’d gotten irritated at someone I hardly knew. I’d misunderstood something someone had texted me. My sensitive pride had been jabbed in a very bruised spot and I lost all rational thought—and do you know what I did? In a matter of seconds I held my breath and deleted the person from my contacts list. Then I stuck my phone down onto the table as if it had been exposed to something poisonous. My pulse was racing as if I’d just stepped on a big spider and barely got it.
I tore down. In a hasty moment, I did something very stupid. I tore something down.
(Minutes later that day, I got another text from the same person, and my wild misunderstanding vanished when I realized my fears were entirely unfounded. I laughed at myself, and I added the person’s contact information back into my phone. But not without some disappointment. I had been so hasty to wipe out a person’s name, as if it had never existed.)
Now, on a Sunday morning, I was standing in the middle of a garden, torn down by a hasty act of anger, or perhaps wounded pride, or a completely crazy and irrational act based on some horrible past. Another example of a very sad fact:
WE TEAR DOWN.
The very first garden in the history of mankind, extravagantly and infinitely more beautiful than this one, did not last, because two hasty humans did one thoughtless act. Now plants die, they become yellowed, bugs eat them, trees fall, we dig, dig, dig, and sweat, sweat, sweat, for a few measly meals that keep us alive before we have to do it all over again.
I went inside with enough pictures in my camera to mark a memory for a year, and I spotted, seated in the main room, Ely Wakefield and Chryl McWilliams—two hard-working and loving women who were a little quieted by the messed-up garden but not angry. I stashed my camera away and joined them.
“I talked to my sister on the phone,” Ely remarked. “She said, ‘God will take care of it.’ It’s going to be all right.”
Ely said that she wasn’t angry. Neither was Chryl. “What would we accomplish by retaliating?” she asked. And with the lack of surprise that comes with maturity, Chryl pointed out that, although the original plan for the end of the summer was to prune everything back in hopes of having it reproduce foliage (instead of starting again from seed), this setback came near the time set aside for re-working anyway (near the end of August). They have a garden work-day set for August 18, a day when the workers will start over and move forward.
Both women understand something important. Sin is not surprising, and we all do it. Maybe we don’t ransack property, but we can tear down one another with our words. Maybe we don’t destroy plants with chemicals, but we could easily kill a day of productive work with a bad attitude. Maybe we don’t mangle pots of tender flowers, but we sure can extinguish a friendship with an unforgiving spirit.
The conclusion of both women: God will work it all out. “It’s God’s work,” added Ely. “This wasn’t against us, it was against God.” Tearing down the garden is tearing down God’s work, and He will take care of His work. “God will work it out”—not because we at GreenTree are some kind of righteous, do-nothing-wrong group of holy people who wear the white hats and deserve special treatment as members of the God-Team. No . . . God will work it out because He is loving, and merciful. And the same God who forgives us daily for our bad attitudes and hasty words and short tempers is the same God who will restore the damage from an act of mischief or anger strong enough at the moment to enflame a vandalism storm.
“He will take care of it,” as Ely Wakefield’s sister said. He’s the only one who can be trusted to do so. We may feel torn, and we may tear down, but He will build up.
Last night I had a wrestling match with regret. I don’t know where it came from, but after a simple conversation with my husband and a few minutes of thinking, regret jumped up out of nowhere and grabbed me by the neck like an intruder set on putting me out for good.
In the space of minutes, I saw in my mind a picture of myself with a loved one: how easily offended and selfishly sensitive I had been around a struggling, God-loving friend for years, when robust love and patience were what I should’ve given.
That led to another one (as the brain often goes). I regretted always letting my easily-upset, childish tendencies show with the person I love most: my husband.
That led to the if-onlys. If only I had started intentionally obeying God like the young facebook friend whose blogs I like to read, who harnesses her heart to praise God while in great pain. When I was her age, I only wanted to build a better life for myself.
If only I’d worked hard and helped save money when Tim and I were younger, maybe Tim wouldn’t have had to work so hard now. If only.
I got myself so upset that I ended up crying, “God, let me make up for it. I’ll be cheerful and encourage Tim every day. I’ll be more patient with the ones I love. I’ll stop whining. I’ll stop being negative.” I had visions of a transformed Scrooge running through the street after his bad night, spilling out money to the poor, sending a turkey to Bob Cratchit’s house, showing up at his nephew’s door a changed man. Not being Scrooge anymore.
But in the space of a minute, I knew it just didn’t work that way. So, after leaving my drama-queen tear-pond, I ended up whinnying, “Lord, just help me,” as I fell asleep.
That was my little trip into regret.
Now, this is my little trip out.
This morning I woke up and the first word that came into my head was, “Abortion.” What?
I sat straight up, and a picture came to mind, that of a strong and godly woman I admire, who never lets her younger friends sit around with otherworldly illusions about her—she has told us more than once, “When I was younger, I had an abortion. Now I wish I hadn’t. I deeply regret it, but I do not stay there. God has a perfect plan, I will see that child one day, and I live in His grace, and I move forward.” She has a job to do, she shows peace, strength, and love on her face, and she does not embody the destruction of regret.
“Okay,” I thought. “Not looking behind, pressing forward. The words of the Apostle Paul.” And although abortion is seen as a controversial topic, terrorism is something we all hate. Paul had been a terrorist. Okay.
But what about the lost time we all live with? How can we have the heart to move on if we can’t make up for it?
What do I tell my older friend who didn’t receive Jesus until he was 65, who left behind a long vacuum of wasted time? What do I say to the mom who alienated her children and who never hears from them now? What do I tell myself, for that matter? All of us get tangles of regrets in our laps that beg to be unknotted. All of us at GreenTree, to different degrees, have memories that spell I-F-O-N-L-Y. I hear many stories of wasted time among the members of our group. Many of us have been too passive; some of us have been in jail, some of us have destroyed another person with our words, used other people for their bodies, let our children grow up with wounds we inflicted, cursed God for years with our destructive behaviors. What about the lost time?
If the lost time could be magically redeemed somehow, maybe then we could have the heart to press forward.
I was talking to my dad on the phone today about this very subject. He pointed out two things that can completely obliterate regret over lost time:
“We don’t have to start well. We just need to finish well.”
He was thinking of the Parable of the Generous Employer in Matthew 20, in which a landowner paid those he’d hired in the morning the same wages as the people he’d hired later in the day. My dad said, “It seems like God doesn’t count how much we do or when we got started. It’s just what we do with the time we have now. So we don’t have to have regrets.”
It’s another example of the backwards math of the kingdom, I guess. Kingdom Math seems weird, unfair, and encouraging all at once. Sometimes it’s our only hope.
“God can do great and mighty things in a short time.”
That’s what someone told my dad once when he was discouraged about lost time. God isn’t bound to time. He binds Himself to forgive and completely forget when we repent, and He can stop time and stretch it if He wants to. He loves doing what we aren’t capable of. Ask people who have walked with God for any length of time, and you’ll begin to hear story after story of growth spurts and sudden opportunities.
Maybe our tales of regret aren’t so different from those Old Testament stories in which God whittles down His armies to small numbers. He does seem to favor downsizing the human-credential phenomenon we Americans tend to like so much. Maybe mistakes, sins, and lost years are only opportunities for God to show off. Maybe if it’s not about us, we’re free.
It’s a new day, GreenTree friends. No regrets.
This guest blog is written by Laura Goodman. Laura is a teacher at Community Bible Study, which meets at Pinedale Christian Church on Thursday mornings. Leaders at Community Bible study yearly write a personal devotional piece to share with the group; this is part of Laura’s devotional writing, about her personal experience with the desire to grow in relational closeness with Jesus. If you wonder what it means to “grow closer to God,” and want to know how that’s done, take this refreshing blog post as an inspiration and encouragement to begin with God right where you are.
As I look back, I realize that I was stuck in a spiritual rut for years without knowing it. I was stagnant. I would give God whatever time I had at the end of the day, right before bed, sometimes ending up falling asleep within a few minutes of opening my Bible. Worship at church on Sunday mornings was great, but only if we sang the songs I liked. The pastor’s message was moving, but I mostly thought it was just what everyone else needed to hear.
I was a fairly new youth pastor’s wife at the time and I wanted people to know that I had it together. That worked until I volunteered to teach a High School girls’ Sunday School class. What a challenge that was. Did I mention that my co-teacher was the most godly woman and the most gifted teacher I knew? I was put in my place, and I quickly figured out that I could do NOTHING without Jesus. It was a huge lesson learned as I realized I didn’t know quite as much as I thought I did and not nearly as much as I wanted to. God was so gracious to me, and through much humility, He gave me such a hunger and thirst for the Word that I had never experienced. It proved to be a pivotal moment in my walk with Christ.
But something was still missing. During a sermon our pastor asked the question, “If Jesus was all you had in heaven (no mansion, streets of gold, no reuniting with loved ones, etc.), would you still want to go? Would Jesus be enough?” Fear gripped me as I sat there, and I knew the answer was, “No, Jesus was not enough.” I had what I thought was a strong faith and a hunger for God’s Word, I loved Jesus for what He did on the cross for me, but I did not have a deep intimate love for Jesus that, in my human mind, would last for eternity. I think we can have great faith but still miss our True Love, and that is where I was. As I wrestled with that, I was determined that I would love him more, seek him more.
In the book Pilgrim’s Progress, the character Christian and his friend and fellow sojourner, Hopeful, go through numerous depressing and hindering trials, almost costing them their lives at times on their way to the Celestial City. When they finally get near the City, this is what they experience:
“. . . The beauty of the City and the radiance of the sunbeams coming from it were such a glorious sight that Christian became sick with intense longing. Hopeful also was stricken with the same affliction, and because of their pangs they lay there for some time crying out, ‘If you find my beloved one, tell Him that I am sick with love.'”
That is the intimacy I desired, and I immediately knew that my quiet time was the first thing that was going to have to change. The core to any relationship is quality time. In my previous quiet times I was not being silent before the Lord to listen, confess sin, to worship Him, and meditate on what I was learning and what He was teaching me. But where was I going to find the time when I wouldn’t be distracted by kids or fall asleep? I decided I would have to get up, exercise to get myself awake and then do a quiet time.
The first week was so hard. I would start off feeling great, but by midday I was tired, which made me cranky and tired for the rest of the day. But I stuck with it and now I don’t function well without it. It is a habit; it is a part of me. I enjoy that part of my day the most.
But not every day do I feel like worshiping Him early in the morning. On those tough days, my quiet time starts like, “God, I will praise you today even though I don’t feel like it because you alone are Worthy and if I won’t, the stones will cry out.” That very statement helps bring me into a worshipful state, and I am blessed even more those times because it puts me in my place. It helps me to see how much I need Him and how I really can’t do anything successfully without Him.
So now my daily prayer is that I would fall more and more in love with Him every day. I still am processing what that looks like by asking the question: “What is your part, God, and what is mine? You have to do the revealing and fill me with your Love if I do the seeking, right?” For I have figured out that surprise, surprise, I can’t do it on my own!! Although it has been a steady and somewhat slow process, I feel so much closer to my Lord and Savior than I have before, I have a growing love for Jesus that I have not experienced before. The greatest part about it is that I am never satisfied; I just continue to want more.
Maybe you have struggled with this too. Maybe I am the only one, and that’s okay. I am so thankful that God did not leave me where I was. May we be constantly humbled to have the experience of being drawn close to and loved by a sovereign and intentional God. May we all love Jesus as deeply as we see in Song of Solomon:
“For your love is better than wine.” Song of Solomon 1:2
“My Beloved is mine and I am His…” Song of Solomon 2:16
“…If you find my Beloved tell Him I am lovesick.” Song of Solomon 5:8
“Look,” John says, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Christ is the Lion of Judah, but the Lamb-ness of Jesus resonates with us this time of year. The rich symbolism throughout the old stories of the Law, the heart-tugging sense of injustice we feel when we see pictures of white, sweet lambs being killed as sacrifices for the wrongdoing of people—this is, perhaps, why the symbol of the Lamb so grabs our attention when we look ahead to Easter.
The picture of the Lamb teaches us of the unthinkable act of love. We see images of a soft, white creature slashed with a knife, blood blazing against the cloud background of wool. Our hearts hurt when we look at the sweet little animal. And we wince when we see, beside it, a blood-smeared leftover of a man we recognize as our Lover, our Friend. Such images feel appropriate to the ashen, cloudy face of a Good Friday.
Then on Sunday, the sun explodes in gold. The burst of sweet candy in our mouths instead of eggs for breakfast. Lilac and yellow, blue and pink, splatter in crazy happiness all around us as we celebrate in our churches, practically yell out worship melodies….He is risen! From Good Friday to Easter Sunday, from complete dark to dazzling light, we’ve vicariously felt the manic-depressive roller-coaster that Jesus’ poor followers must have ridden. Utter black bleakness one day, confusion the next, then blinding delirious happiness the third day. Lamb on Friday. Lion of Judah on Sunday.
But wasn’t the Lion always there?
Maybe there’s a lesson for us in the disciples’ (and our) inability to see any spark of Lion before Sunday, whether it’s in the Easter season, or during a time of loss, confusion, or stress, where no windows show themselves. In those intervals, we might feel the lamb-like softness of God’s love pillowing our heads, and we’re glad. But what we also want, for some sense of hope, is a hint of Lion. We want to see, in the hollow pit, a divine wink.
We already know that Jesus wasn’t total Lamb during His ministry. He’s the one who sat kindly on a donkey on the way to Jerusalem, then slammed the money-tables in the temple with a furious roar.
The same gentle Rabbi, who softly prepped His learners about his upcoming death, growled, “Get behind me, Satan!” when Peter protested the idea.
In that beloved Lion story by C. S. Lewis, Aslan quietly makes an arrangement with the gleeful White Witch: with a lamb-like quietness, he plans the sacrifice which will save Edmund at Aslan’s own expense. Yet when the witch asks, “But how do I know this promise will be kept?” Aslan roars with such thunderous authority that “the witch, after staring for a moment with her lips wide apart, picked up her skirts and fairly ran for her life.”
The same Jesus who kept meek and mute at His trial muscled his Lion-strength to take on both body-torture and spiritual abandonment. C. H. Spurgeon remarks, “To us, sensations such as our Lord endured would have been insupportable, and kind unconsciousness would have come to our rescue.”
His Lamb-like love gives us comfort. His Lion-strength gives us hope.
If I’d lived back in time when He was here in the flesh, and watched Him die, I think I’d have suffocated in the ink-black despair that comes when a small faith lets itself be deafened out by silence. Maybe there were some who had that spark of faith in the corner of their eyes, even in the confusion of unfathomable tragedy.
It’s a lesson they all had to learn. It’s a lesson we still have to learn, in our own witching hours. The lesson of the Lion in the cave.
It’s not faith in nothing. It’s not faith in faith itself. It’s faith in Someone who promised something, faith that strains itself, trains itself to see in the gloom that tiny pin-light that hints, It’s not over.
Like the end of a morose movie where we’re struck dumb by the tragedy we just witnessed on screen…the Hero is dead. But just before the credits start rolling—what is that?—one eye opens. Then whoosh—the picture blacks out, and we’re in our seats, waiting in hope, knowing there’s going to be a sequel. One tiny glimpse and we’re given the hint—in an almost playful, teasing way—that this is not the end.
Then our agonizing question is answered, after the silence is so long that we don’t think we can last through it any longer. The Lion breaks out of the cave with a Roar-Call that catches us up and out of the water with a huge gulp of oxygen and a burst of relief that makes it all seem as if it were only a bad dream—
And we cheer, as loudly as we can, “HE IS RISEN!!”
This is our Lion, and our Lamb.
As Mr. Beaver says to Edmund and the other children,
Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.
From Friday to Sunday and every day, may we be fed by His Love. May we be allured by His Power. May we remember, when we’re happy and singing in the radiance of light, that the Fire never really went out.
I hope you are enjoying the sights and smells and warm weather of spring as much as I am. It does seem we are having warm weather unusually early this year, but I like it. We may complain about the weather, but the variety and unpredictability it brings to our lives is a good thing. God knows just what we need even when we don’t. His timing is perfect.
Our lives are a bit like the weather. Some days we are overwhelmed with joy and other days it seems like the storm will never end. We never know exactly what is coming next, but we can count on some predictable seasons. God sends each day what we need no matter how random or even cruel it may seem at the time. Don’t get too grumpy to stop and smell the rain.
From time to time, we’d like to include personal stories from some of the members of our spiritual family who want to share what God has done in their lives through GreenTree. This testimonial is from Ben, who has been with us for several years now and who has been a blessing to us here.
After Jesus had mercy on me, and I was reborn by the power of His blood that He chose to shed to redeem me from the debt of my sin, I struggled mightily. I was a shaking nervous wreck. One morning, having no place to be, I sat alone at Panera Bread. A disciple of the Lord had the kindness to ask me if I was OK. I received the grace to swallow my infamous pride and say, “No. I’m not OK.”
This man introduced me to Tim Gross, the pastor of GreenTree. Instantly I knew myself to be in the presence of a man who passed no condemning thought in my direction. He made no mention of my trembling hands. He did not draw any attention to my near-total ignorance of the Bible. Obvious as it was that I would be a labor of love in his effort to disciple me, still he invited me to church that Sunday.
I have never regretted my decision in these last three trying, wonderful years of growth in the Lord’s capable and supremely forgiving hands.
We are a small church—a diverse church. The unofficial elders of the church are there for even the most difficult person, without reproach or recrimination. These people, trained in godliness, know from decades of study and experience that Jesus came to save sinners, and they are sinners too.
The rest of us have issues, too. Sometimes we get frustrated; sometimes we are hypocritical. But when push comes to shove, it is my experience that the Love that dwells within us wins out over the inferior stuff that every human must deal with. As we grow, we are accepting that we don’t have to be perfect: we just have to be forgiven.
Children are not tolerated. They are WELCOMED as an important part of our church. I think we all learn from these little saints, as Jesus told us to do. We have plenty of kids for our size, and a rising youth ministry.
It is an exciting time to join GreenTree. We are working together to reach out into the surrounding neighborhood. Pastor Tim leads a congregation of willing disciples eager to apply God-given skills and talents in this work. From festivals to Bible studies, and informal game nights and such, God is moving as only God can do in the hearts of His beloved creatures.
I was fit for the eternal fire. Now I am living in God’s grace. He loves me so much that He led me to a church that is a second home and family to me. We would love to meet you.
This poem is written by our own Frank Hartwig, from his collection entitled: Or When I Sing. Just as lovers have need-love for one another, our whole being needs God and His Love that transcends all loves. Throughout scripture, God compares His relationship with His little humans to the deepest love-ties, including the marriage bond. Whether Valentine’s Day finds us with that human “special someone” or not, let that famous day serve as a symbol for God’s passionate love for us, and of the soul-hungry need we have for Him.
Could a flower be a flower
Without the brush of pollen-laden bee?
Could the tree be a tree
Without the bath of frequent rain?
Could a thought be formed
Without the need of sentient man?
Could my love live
Apart from your need of love and of me?
Without the bee—
As do bees without honey.
Without the rain—
As does rain without the mist tossed
skyward by a hundred million trees.
Thought cannot form
Apart from brain of man—
Nor is man man apart from thought.
My love would die
If you would cease to need me,
As would your love without my need of you.
I need you.