That was the voice of Ely Wakefield on Sunday morning, after church, bags in hand, vegetables on the café table; she was doing her Sharing Manna Garden Mentor duty.
Well, not exactly. Really, Ely was just being a friend, at home in the garden, sharing stuff, the thing you do when people stop by and visit. It’s what my Grandma does when I drive to her house in Virginia (although Ely isn’t my grandma’s age). By the time I’m ready to leave, I’m loaded up with jars of Grandma’s famous pickles, plastic bags full of mustard greens, and some cucumbers for my salad. It’s not a duty; it’s love. It’s home.
This vegetables-in-the-café phenomenon has been going on lately, ever since the soil and seeds in Sharing Manna Garden started doing its springtime dance with the sun and the rain. Whenever we’re at GreenTree, we now see something green, yellow, or red on the café tables or counter, and we can’t help but pick up something and turn it over. Wal-Mart bags aren’t too far away, either. That’s because we’re free to grab some things to take with us, because it’s love. It’s home.
I got that feeling Sunday morning when I saw Ely talking with some visitors. A couple of new friends had come after being part of a chess tournament that one of our GreenTree friends had hosted Saturday. There was also a mom with a cute toddler-aged daughter.
“Want some green beans?” Ely asked her, grinning and arranging the beans in neat piles.
“Sure, that sounds good,” the young mom said. “How do I cook them?”
I can’t help but think I’m correctly speaking for everyone at GreenTree when I say that there’s something nice that happens when you see piles of green stuff—food—life—on the tables and counters of a place where people come to see what’s going on with “this church group.” It says that we’re home. It says that it’s not about some kind of program, or a race to see how “successful” we are based on our group numbers. It says that life happens here, that love grows here.
Home is where we’re not just polite and only offer customary smiles, or enroll people in fix-it programs and hustle them in like cattle to be added to our herd. Home doesn’t always match the ministry brochures of what a successful church is supposed to look like. Home sometimes looks messy. Home is a place where arguments come up, because the energy it took to be out in the world all day falls away in a big tired breath of relief, and our real selves emerge, and sometimes it’s not pretty. Home is where you rest so that you can face the world again. Home isn’t where you go to get a bulleted list that outlines your life; it’s where you get a hug and a bag of green beans.
If you stop by GreenTree any time soon, you can look directly through the parking lot to the back and see how lush and full the garden has become. Ely and her helpers have skillfully cooperated with God’s natural world and brought forth results as pretty as my Grandma’s ruffled rows in her back yard. It’s not perfect; no home is. There are a couple of groundhogs that are making a pesky nuisance of themselves right now, as a matter of fact. But we hope you’ll look at it and think of home. And please stop inside: we’d love to have a good chat over a bottled water or a Pepsi, and chances are that there will be some zucchinis or tomatoes if you’d like to bag up some to take with you.
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
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.
Billy had a toy truck with a big bed in the back that could hold a glorious noise of pebbles, sticks, and marbles. The shiny yellow front and blue sides and the big grooved tires were scratched and dulled with play and love, and wherever Billy went, the truck went. He took it to church, he took it to his cousins’ house; he tried to take it to preschool; he took it to bed.
One day, when Billy was pretending that his truck was flying, it crashed, hard, on the brick wall outside the house. The top piece that fit over the body, overturned, rested dead beside the set of back wheels; and the body of the truck lay silent by the flower bed.
“Daddy! My truck! It’s broke!”
His father came outside, found the scatter of plastic beside a little wailing boy.
“Here. Hand it to me, Son.”
At first, Billy took out only the top piece and placed it into his father’s hand. “I need all of it,” Dad said. “Give me all of it.”
Slowly, one piece at a time, Billy handed the broken pieces to his father.
Billy shadowed his father into the house, into the kitchen, watched him open a drawer and take out a crinkly white tube. He saw his dad bend over, with the tube, run something along the edges, until most of the pieces sat upright, bonded, on the counter. A set of wheels still lay to the side. Dad said, “Don’t touch it, Billy,” and rumpled his hair.
Later, when the noon sun spilled in through the window, Billy saw the shine catch the plastic of the truck like a spotlight in a showroom. “He forgot about my truck,” gulped Billy. There lay the rod holding the two wheels. Billy picked up the lone wheels and rolled them along the floor. It wasn’t much, but at least it was something.
“Billy. Give it to me.” Guilty, Billy stumbled backward.
That night, dinner over and the truck sitting quiet under the kitchen light, Billy looked at it and thought, “He doesn’t want me to have fun.” So Billy climbed up and held his dear toy, turning it round and round as his father had done. He, Billy, could fix it. He, Billy, would be faster. He grabbed the rod and wheels. He lay the truck on its back, belly up to the light, and pushed, Hit, Hit, so the wheels would go in, Hit, Hit—
And the rest of the truck went flying to the floor. Crack!
The stern face of his father robbed the voice from Billy’s throat.
“You broke it more, Billy. I told you not to touch it. I’m sorry, but no more truck. You disobeyed.”
For two days the little boy haunted all the places his truck had graced—the path to the creek in back, the playroom, the place on the ground where it had crashed, the kitchen counter where it had sat like a dead thing. His truck, gone. His truck, totaled, taken from him by his father forever. Daddy took his truck because he didn’t like him, thought Billy. Daddy kept him from playing with his broken truck because having fun was bad.
Billy gave up following his father around. He gave up hope for the scratched-up truck and committed himself to silent days with his cars and Leggos and the shallow scrape of tiny Hotwheels.
“Billy. Wake up,” his father said the third morning. Billy rubbed his eyes. There, in his father’s hands, sat his truck.
“I had to glue it, Billy,” his dad said. “The glue needed time to dry. You broke it more because you dropped it.”
Billy blinked. He was too little to know anything about glue, and drying time, and broken tabs, and wheels and axles.
“Billy, next time, I need you to trust me, and do what I say. Okay?”
Billy did understand that. He nodded, and the truck was lowered into his happy arms. But that was nothing compared to the loving grin on his daddy’s face.
Billy is silly, and so are we. In our growth journey, we see the things we love fall from our hands, sometimes through carelessness, sometimes through no fault of our own. We pick up the ruins, and our Father says, “Give it to Me.” We give Him a small part because we can’t bear to let go, and He says, “Give Me all of it.” And we wait. Thinking He forgot, we snatch back pieces of what we once had, little mirages that dull the fear. Thinking He wants only second-best, we try to jam the pieces back together. And when they crack, we wonder if He loves us, and all our loves.
Then we let go.
In the morning, He comes, and all is new. How did He do it? We don’t know. We’re too little to understand.
But life holds an important task for us, as for Billy. He says, “Trust Me,” and that is the key to all the power and joy and strength we can hold. And nothing compares to His loving smile, and the promise that He’ll be there the next time we fear, and fall. “Give Me all of it,” He coaxes, and no matter how hard it is to hand over that worry, that dream, that loss, that injustice, it’s so much better when we do. For our ragged scraps only have hope when they’re in His hands.
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.