What Am I Cultivating?

I sat on our patio one recent morning, enjoying coffee while watching birds and dragonflies flitting all around.  The mowed yard, the green trees, the blue sky…it was all so pretty and pleasant.  But then my eyes wandered over to our garden plot.  UGH!!  So much for looking at beauty!

Why?  Because for the second year in a row, Gary and I did not plant a vegetable garden.  Rain…two out-of-town trips…schedules – it all added up to once again, no garden.

Now our  small garden area is a huge mess, full of overgrown weeds and sad neglected old tomato cages.  What a difference to have gone from this:

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To this:

 

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Same ground, but different cultivating.

I read this verse around the time I was thinking about the comparison in our little piece of land from one year to the next.

 

“Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.”  (Psalm 37:3)

 

God’s desire for Israel was for them to dwell in the land He had promised to them.  He told them over and over that dwelling in the land successfully and fully would require their total obedience to Him.  In Deuteronomy 30:15-20, God told Israel very clearly what their choice was:

 

“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it.”  (v. 15-16)

 

God told them that disobedience would bring death and a curse.  He urged them to choose life by loving the Lord, obeying His voice, and holding fast to Him.  And not just life but life AND prosperity.

In other words, to cultivate faithfulness.

This same principle is very true for me today.  I have a choice to make.  God won’t force me to make the right one, but He has told me what the right choice is and how to make that choice.

It’s simple, really.  Choose to love God, choose to obey Him, and hold fast to Him.  Hold fast by hanging onto Him when life is crazy and tiring and disappointing.

I get really tired sometimes.  I know we all do.  Just as I began this blog, Aaron called me from his day group.  I knew he had been having a hard day, and his voice and manner on the phone confirmed it.  I ended up just picking him up early today to avoid any further meltdowns at his day group.  This change in my day was not in my plan.  His attitude today makes me angry and tired.

And guess what I saw before all this happened?  Beautiful beach vacation pictures.  When I hung up from talking to Aaron, I was wanting to just hang up this life with him too, quite honestly.  For a fleeting minute, I wanted to give in to my beach thoughts…have a pity party…and allow myself the “luxury” of wallowing in the wishes for a life I don’t have.

I just HAD to be writing a blog today on faithfulness, right?!

You see, God has put me right here where I am.  This life with Aaron is not what I had planned, but I must see and trust that this life with Aaron is what God planned…for me.

And in this life that He planned for me, I really do want to live it in victory and joy. I want to cultivate this:

 

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And not this:

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It truly is up to me which picture will be the picture of my life.  I choose what to cultivate by choosing whether to love God…obey Him…and hold fast to Him.

I love Him by praising Him even when I don’t like what’s going on around me.

I obey Him by reading His word and finding out what exactly it is He wants me to do each day…and then DO it!

And I hold fast to Him by not allowing my thoughts to digress into selfish wishful thinking and all those “what if’s?” and asking Him to give me grace to love and handle Aaron correctly.

I should know that when God burdens me with a blog, then He’s going to hammer it home to me in a very personal way!  😊

So, wherever you are today…on a public stage or stuck at home…reeling from an unexpected diagnosis…planning a funeral…facing life alone as a single…hurting from unfaithfulness…starting all over in a new life or new church or new friends…losing your job or needing a new one…raising your grandchildren…raising special needs children…

Whatever is your situation, just remember:

CULTIVATE FAITHFULNESS!

And just watch what God will grow in your life!

 

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Rising to the Occasion

Written three years ago, but not blogged…until today.  🙂

 

I had thumb surgery last week. It’s certainly not major surgery and I’m getting along very well. However, I’m wearing a bulky splint and I’m under strict instructions from the doctor about what I can and cannot do. I’m realizing how much I use my thumb in ways that I never even thought about. I can’t pick up small items very well with that hand; I can’t shuffle our Skip-Bo cards; can’t easily hold a Ziploc bag in order to open it with my good hand; can’t tie shoes; can’t keep from hitting the spacebar with that bulky thumb all wrapped up 🙂 – just to name a few.

 

Gary, as he has been so often in the past, is a wonderful help to me. For instance, just this morning he made sure to get ready for work a little early so that he had time to tape a plastic bag to my arm so that I could shower and still keep the splint dry. Gary rose to the occasion, as he always does for me.

 

Today I picked up some dog food for our big Jackson. The bag of food weighs over 27 pounds, far over the coffee cup weight limit I’m allowed to carry with that hand. Stacey, our vet’s wife and a dear friend, carried the bag of dog food to my van. Stacey rose to the occasion for me.

 

This morning I was reading Exodus 15, the deliverance song the Israelites sang after crossing the Red Sea on dry ground. The song begins with these words:

 

“I will sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted. The horse and its rider He has hurled into the sea.”

 

The words “highly exalted” carry this meaning – that God rose to the occasion. I love that!!

 

I can point to so many times that God has risen to the occasion for me as I’ve faced some hard times, frustrating times (even today!), fearful times, and uncertain times. I know that many of you, my family and friends, are right now staring at very difficult and sometimes seemingly impossible situations. I’m praying for many of you!

 

So, I just wanted to share this little nugget of blessing with you today. God really will rise to the occasions in your life. He parted the sea for Israel. That mighty God of Israel is the same God we know today. His power hasn’t changed a bit. His desire for us is that we trust His timing to know just how to rise to the occasions that we face. Whether He dramatically hurls our problems into the sea, makes a way through them, or allows us to endure them as He gives us His peace and grace – we don’t know.

 

But we can know that He will rise to the occasion in the way that’s best for each of us. Then we can also sing with Israel: “This is my God, and I will praise Him!”

 

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Sidelined

Our daughter, Andrea, is a molecular biologist specializing in genetics.  A few years ago, she was hired by a health systems company to get their genetics lab started.  In addition to their pharmacogenetics testing, they have added a new venture called My Fit Key.  Andrea developed the testing for this program.  My Fit Key tests anyone, from couch potatoes to professional athletes, in order to determine what their DNA says about their bodies…heart, muscles, etc.  It’s very fascinating!

Recently, a well-known NFL quarterback decided to send his sample in to be tested.  One of the health system’s executives was very happy about this development.  He came into Andrea’s office one day, full of excitement.

“So, Andrea,” he asked, “do you know a little someone named ______?”

Andrea looked at him.  “Hmmmm,” she replied.  “I don’t believe I do.  Should I?”

Poor Mr. Executive wilted in disappointment.

“There are just TOO many scientists in this building!!” he exclaimed.

HaHaHa!!!  Oh, the frustration of all those non-sports enthusiast scientists!!

I think each of us has a tendency to be drawn to the big names, whether it’s in sports or movies or any other endeavor.  It’s just human nature.  I know when a certain movie star is here in Wichita, whole newspaper columns are written about people’s encounters with him.  I rode in the elevator with him!  I saw him at Best Buy, where I watched him buy a phone charger!  He came in the restaurant where I was eating!  And on and on it goes.  Folks have their pictures made with him, but his assistant is rarely seen in any of those pictures that are in the paper.  Only the famous seem to matter.

We all know the star players, but no one knows the name of the water boy.  We’re awestruck with the celebrity, but we ignore the person who cleans the bathrooms.  We’re wowed by the singer, but basically ignore the ones manning the concession stand.  We want to chair the committee, but not be the cook in the kitchen.

I have seen this attitude permeating Christ followers as well, unfortunately.  It’s an attitude that seeps in to our thinking and then our conversations all too easily.  We usually don’t even mean to do it, but how often have you heard someone say,  “Well, all I can do is pray.”

As if prayer, and praying, isn’t that much but at least it’s a little something that I can do.  A minor little insignificant thing, unlike the big things like preaching and teaching and singing.

There’s nothing wrong with being the quarterback, the main actor, the beautiful singer, the preacher or the teacher.  I’m certainly thankful for some of these individuals in many ways.

But there’s also nothing wrong with being the person who does the “only’s” in life.  We’ve all felt this way at one time or another.  We’ve all heard it said – or said it ourselves.

 

“I’m only a mom.”

“I’m only the cook.”

“I’m only sitting in the pew.”

“I’m only cleaning the building.”

“I’m only sending some cards in the mail.”

“I’m only one person.”

“I’m only praying.”

 

I am especially thinking of persons who get sidelined in life.  Being sidelined is not fun.  We all know that the quarterback is devastated when he’s sidelined with an injury.  He’s forced to watch the game go on without him while others take his place.  Sitting the game out is NOT what he signed up for!

Sometimes we’re sidelined in our lives…sidelined due to illness, moving, stress, age, being replaced, or any number of other reasons.  It’s such a difficult place to be, especially when you’ve grown to love being active in the mainstream.

I was recently talking to my sister, Kathryn.  What a turn her life took years ago due to numerous and debilitating health issues!  She went from working full time and being a very supportive and active pastor’s wife to being basically homebound, unable to even go to church.  As we talked, she casually mentioned to me that she prays.  The one thing that she can do all during her days, even if she’s lying in bed, is to pray.

But that ONE thing is a HUGE thing!!!

And I told her that!

How busy my days sometimes are…too busy to always pray like I should and like I want to.  My mind gets crowded with too many other issues and my calendar is full, and if I’m not careful, my busyness and my tiredness affect my prayer life.

But Kathryn prays, all through her day at home…she prays by individual name for family and friends and church and our nation and so much more, I’m sure.

I wasn’t just trying to make Kathryn feel good about her situation when I told her what a huge thing her prayer life is.  James said the same thing!

“The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:16, ESV)

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Our power doesn’t come from our position.  Our power comes through our prayers.  It’s God Who hears us, answers us, and is delighted when we pray.

So, if today you’re sidelined, don’t see yourself as being “less than” or useless.  Grab your situation with joy and see it as a treasured time to pray.

Only in eternity will we know fully what God accomplished because of our secluded times of prayer!

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The Small Seeds

We have a large Golden Rain Tree in our front yard, just off our front porch and sidewalk.  We love how pretty this tree is, and we love the shade it provides.  Every spring the new growth is almost a Chartreuse Green that stands out against the dark green of the leaves on the older branches.  Then little seed pods start growing.  At first, they are a pretty mauve and soft green color, like little puffy pillows hanging all over the tree.    As autumn arrives, the seed pods turn a crunchy brown.  They fall off the tree in droves, covering our sidewalk and our flower beds, laying in the mulch under the tree, and generally becoming a nuisance.

Inside each seed pod are several little black, round seeds.  As the seed pod dries up and blows away, those small black seeds nestle down into the mulch around the tree or in the flower beds.  They fall into the cracks of our sidewalk.  They disappear under the Moneywort ground cover in one flower bed, or under the Salvia in another bed.  In other words, those pesky seeds go everywhere and there is no controlling them!

It’s easy to forget all about them during the cold days of winter when nothing is growing and when little attention is being paid to my flower beds.  But as always happens, winter ends and soon the warmer days of spring are upon us.  The rain falls; the sun is higher in the sky; the days grow longer; and plants are growing and blooming and coming to life.

Something else grows, too.  In the mulch under the trees; between the cracks in our sidewalk; along the edges of the landscape bricks; mixed in amongst the Moneywort ground cover…just everywhere…grow little tiny Golden Rain Trees.

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And so begins my spring and summer job of being vigilant to look for these new little growths, and when finding them, to immediately pull them up from where they are happily growing.  I can pick dozens of these beginnings of Golden Rain Trees one day, and literally the very next day find more popping through the moist soil.  They grow quickly and they grow abundantly.

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They also hide very well in my Moneywort ground cover, being nearly the same color and having very similar leaves.  It takes time to look carefully, to find them, and then to pull them out.

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These fragile miniature trees have an amazing root system from the very start of their growth.  If caught early, they are easy to pull up.  But the longer they are left, the harder they are to fully remove…root and all.  They take hold quickly in order to grow strong and to secure solid footing.

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It would be far easier to just leave them alone…to ignore them…or to even enjoy how fresh and cute they are when they are just small, harmless plants.  They won’t hurt anything, right?  Besides, who has time for all that searching and bending over and pulling and throwing away?

In the Old Testament, God chose the nation of Israel to be His people…the nation through whom He would show His plan for redemption through the coming of Jesus, the Messiah.  As God’s chosen people, the nation of Israel was given commands from God…laws to be obeyed…wars to be won…plans to be fulfilled by God through His people.

But over and over the people of Israel tired of obeying God.  They forgot God’s abundant love and His steadfast promises…promises that hinged upon their obedience.  It didn’t seem like such a bad thing to them to intermarry among the heathen nations…to worship those nation’s false gods…to join in all sorts of pagan living and beliefs…and eventually to totally forget God.

Their sins were like our little Golden Rain seeds…small, and seemingly no big deal.  But oh, when left unchecked, how huge they became!  How far reaching their impact and destruction, both on a personal and a national level!

Listen as the Psalmist describes the result of unattended sin:

“…they mixed with the nations and learned to do as they did.  They served their idols, which became a snare to them.  They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was polluted with blood.”  (Psalm 106:35-39)

 

Sin and disobedience, either personal or national, that is left unchecked will grow deeply and dangerously into actions that could never have been dreamed possible.  I’m sure Israel never thought that falling in love with the heathen people and marrying them would one day result in offering their children in an idol’s fire.  But indeed it did, as what was once deemed wrong became acceptable and condoned and fully embraced.

It’s true for us today as well.  We rationalize…we explain away…we conveniently ignore…we refuse to speak truth.  We think that “small” sins are really no big deal.  God understands, right?

I mean, your truth might be different from my truth, but what does it matter?  As long as no one gets hurt, then it’s OK.   The world has changed, and we have to change with it.  We need to be tolerant.  And on and on we go, even Christians, turning a blind eye to the small dark seeds of sin that are growing unhindered in the hearts of individuals and in our nation.

Now we’re left reeling in the aftermath of sin left untended too long.  We’re left wondering what has happened to morals and decency and the fear of God.

It’s happened because of years of ignoring God.  Years of not obeying His clear commands.  Years of refusing to teach the absolute truth of God’s word and His ways.  In our own personal lives, and therefore in the life of our great nation, we are reaping the harvest of disobedience and disbelief.

Sin is relentless because Satan desires to destroy each one of us.  Sin may seem innocent enough…such a small matter here and another one there, falling into the cracks of our individual hearts.  But sins left alone to grow will do just that, becoming rooted in our lives and then in the lives of our family and finally in the life of our nation.

God is a God of mercy and forgiveness, yet He is also a God of justice and holiness.  Sin left to grow will show itself in so many ugly ways, and finally we will face its consequences…not because God is mean, but because God is just and He, as Holy God, cannot tolerate sin.

May our hearts be tender to God’s instruction.  May our eyes see with wisdom the sin that so easily besets us.  May we uproot those sins, constantly, and live in obedience to God…as individuals and as a nation.

 

Remember When?

Aaron loves looking at a particular picture of me and Gary, taken back in the day.  WAYYYY back in the day, to be clear.  This picture was taken at Gary’s Army Flight School Banquet upon his graduation.

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Aaron has always said that he thought this photo was of our wedding, so I am often correcting him about that as I repeat over and over that this was taken four years after we were married.  Aaron doesn’t sweat the details, though, and he continues to tell us…and others…that here are Mom and Dad at their wedding.

But there is another detail that Aaron loves to share the MOST as he either talks about this picture or gets to show it to people who come to see us in our home.

“In her wedding picture,” Aaron begins (and I know exactly what is coming!), “Mom used to be skinny!!”

Emphasis on “USED to be skinny.”

As in I was…in the past…not the present…in the FAR distant past…skinny.

Aaron will randomly tell this bit of news to anyone who has ears, including people who barely know me.  He will share it within the context of any conversation, out of the blue, ignoring people’s curious looks and my rolling eyes in my red face.

Yes, Aaron, I USED to be skinny.  Those WERE the good old days.

I’m able to laugh as I tell this story, even as I constantly try to keep Aaron FROM telling it in order to hopefully teach him some manners or some tact.  Yet Aaron’s focus on the past…on MY past…has also taught me an important truth.

The prophet, Haggai, helped with this as well.  I’ll explain.

Haggai was the first prophet that was heard in Israel after the Babylonian exile.  The Israelites had returned to Jerusalem and Haggai encouraged them to finish building the temple.  Fifteen years had passed since any work had been done on the temple.  God promised to be with them as the people agreed to once again build God’s house.

Yet later, as they stood at the site of the temple, God knew that the people were very discouraged.  He also knew why they were so down in their spirits.  So, God spoke to the leaders and to the people through Haggai.

Haggai 2:3 – “Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory?  How does it look to you now?  Does it not seem to you like nothing?”

God, through His prophet, just cut to the chase.  He hit the nail on the head as He revealed openly what He knew they were thinking.  And what they were thinking was that compared to years ago, this beginning of a new temple looked dismal and ugly.  In fact, the Israelites…especially the older ones who remembered the former glory of the old temple…knew that the new temple they would build would in no way compare to the beauty of the past temple.

Who could help but be discouraged as they stood there remembering the glory that used to be, but would not fully be again?

But God didn’t just leave it there.  He continued to speak, telling the leaders to be strong, and ended by saying:

Haggai 2:4-5 – “Be strong, all you people of the land – declares the Lord – and work, for I am with you, declares the Lord almighty.  This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt, and my Spirit remains among you.  Do not fear!”

I’ll tell you that there are times and there are ways in which I am much like these Israelite Jews as they looked at their current circumstances and compared them to what used to be.  And for me it goes WAY beyond remembering my skinny days!

Ten years ago, God set Gary and I on a path of great hurt and loss.  The details are not what matter.  What matters is that God was surely with us each step of the way.  He did indeed tell us to keep working for Him in very difficult circumstances, just as He did to Israel.  He told us to be strong even when we were tired on every level.

What kept us going?  The two promises that God gave to Israel were ours as well.  God said, “I am with you…and my Spirit remains among you.”  I can promise you that God kept His promises to us.  His strength, His peace, His Spirit, was always present and enabling in our lives.  His Word was powerful!

I love what John Mackay says about God being with us: “This is what distinguishes the advice of the world, ‘Be strong.  I know you’ve got it in you,’ from the counsel of Scripture which recognizes that we have NOT got it in us, but that God’s presence with us will make all the difference.”

Circumstances can get very ugly sometimes, but I am not to focus on what’s around me.  I am to focus on God and on the fact that He is with me.  He will not fail me.  He will not desert me to my enemies or to my runaway thoughts.

God also gave Israel a simple three-word command.

“Do not fear,” God said.

Again, John Mackay: “The Lord’s faithfulness in the past and the present is the basis for future encouragement.  It is not the appearance of the building, but the presence of his enabling Spirit that will make the crucial difference.”

Not the appearance of the building.  Not my surroundings, but rather the God Who surrounds me with His protection in every way I need.

So, what’s your “Remember When?”

Remember when:  You were loved.  You weren’t alone.  You were important to that group.  You were included.

Remember when:  You had a job you loved.  You had the money you needed.  You made a difference.

Remember when:  You had your health.  You had your spouse.  You had your children close.

Remember when:  You sang.  You taught.  You were a part.  You mattered.

Remember when:  You had your parents.  You had a family.  You laughed.  You talked.

The list is endless, isn’t it?  Life changes.  Sometimes suddenly…other times, slowly.  But change is inevitable for all of us.

What doesn’t ever change is God.  His presence is with His children, steady and stable, always constant.  He’s the same yesterday, today, and forever.

When the past tries to capture my attention, I know I must look to today…to what God has for me today…to Who He is today…and to His promises that are true…TODAY!

And I can declare from experience that out of our deepest pain of yesterday will come our most beautiful usefulness TODAY!

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What Is

It happened to me again several weeks ago.  An innocent conversation…a random comment…and I found myself having to corral my thoughts into line with some principles that God has hammered home to me over and over again for years. 

I want to be honest about what happened, but I also don’t want to alienate family or friends.  I don’t want anyone to think they can’t share their life with me.  So here goes.

This person was talking to me about his upcoming retirement, and then the plans that he and his wife had.  Later, as Gary and I drove away, I shared with Gary how I had that twinge of longing as our friend talked.  And how I knew better than to dwell on it and to therefore give Satan that opportunity he always looks for, the opportunity to push that door fully open that I have allowed to crack open, even just a little bit. 

You see, our life with Aaron is a life far different from typical couples our age.  Gary and I are not fully free to do many of the things that our peers are able to do.  And that’s OK…truly OK.  But sometimes the comparisons come, and if I am not careful then I can wallow in misery, and therefore open myself to sin and defeat.

The very next day…literally…after this conversation, I was at my desk as usual in the early morning.  I opened my Bible and my study book to the section of I Samuel that I was reading and was soon amazed at how God spoke to me in those quiet moments.

I read about Saul’s son, Jonathan, and his deep friendship with David.  Saul was the king of Israel, but because of his sin and disobedience, God had told him that his reign would end with him.  His family would not inherit the kingship.  This meant that Jonathan would never be the king.  But who would be the next king?  David…Jonathan’s dear friend.

Jonathan knew this.  He knew that he would never be king.  In fact, in I Samuel 18, Jonathan gave his robe, along with his armor and his sword, his bow and his belt, to his friend David.  This act was a symbol of the fact that Jonathan was surrendering any right he had to the throne…surrendering it to David.  And not only that, but Jonathan continued to be an even better soldier and leader than his father, the king.  Jonathan certainly behaved in a godly, kingly fashion, even though he knew he would never assume the throne. 

As Dale Davis says in his book, I Samuel: Looking on the Heart: “For Jonathan, then, the kingdom was not his to seize, not his to rule, but his to serve.”

And then this, which impacted me so greatly: “Maybe a tragic life isn’t tragic if it’s lived in fidelity to what Christ asks of us in the circumstances he gives us.”

Did you catch that?  Living in loyalty to Christ IN the circumstances He gives us! 

That’s what Jonathan did.  He lived royally even though he would never in reality BE a royal.  He lived in covenant relationship to God, faithfully, IN his circumstances.

This is exactly what I am supposed to do, every day.  I thought that morning of I Timothy 6:6, of what Paul told Timothy.  Paul said that “godliness with contentment is great gain.”  The note in my study Bible says that this is “an inner satisfaction with the situation that God has ordained for him.”

But how on earth is that possible, day after day…that inner satisfaction with situations in life that are so often very UNsatisfactory?!

This satisfaction is only possible when I realize that it doesn’t come from ME.  I can’t manufacture this deep peace.  Only God can do that in my heart as I surrender all my rights to Him and then obey Him by trusting Him. 

It’s realizing that God Himself loves me, and He is the One that has given me what I have in this life, hard as some of it may be.

My circumstances are not the hand I have been dealt.  My circumstances are not bad luck…or good luck.  They are not the luck of the draw.  Nor are my circumstances due to karma, or any other such nonsense that we sometimes are inclined to believe. 

God chose me and He saved me, and as His child I know that each occurrence in my life…every situation…is entirely under His authority and in His plan for me.  I know He loves me and I know that I can trust Him, totally, to do what’s best for me and what will cause me to give Him glory.  What a waste if I don’t!!

So when the pain comes to my heart and my life…when I’m inclined to settle in the negative thoughts and desires and questions that pop up so unexpectedly…I have the responsibility to do one thing right away.  That one thing is to talk to my Father and let His loving arms surround me with His peace.  And then obey, like Jonathan did.  Just live in obedience, step by step, and know that God will honor that obedience in my life.

He may not honor my obedience by taking away my situations, but that’s not why I am to obey. 

So the bottom line in all of this is just this: 

May my circumstances not dictate my response, but may my response be dictated by God’s character.

What is…is…because God is the One in charge.

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And He is a very, very good God.

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons From the Carrot Patch

Gary and I were doing lots of outdoor work one autumn weekend, partly because it was our neighborhood clean-up time and partly because the coming winter was urging us to ready our gardens before the cold weather hit. On Saturday I had been clipping and yanking out the dead growth in the flower beds. There was plenty to do and the piles were filling up our big outdoor trash can quickly. I had decided that if I had time I should visit the vegetable garden to see what I could pull up there. It was certainly time to be done with it, tidy it up for winter, and begin dreaming of a hopefully better vegetable season next year.

 
For several days I had been thinking about what I would try to clean up over the weekend and it hit me that I hadn’t even checked the status of our carrot patch. I had walked by our dying garden several times lately and had seen the sparse, stunted growth of the carrot plants. They were very unimpressive and hardly merited a second thought from me. The familiar lacy growth did remind me of the time several years ago that we first planted carrots. I was so excited about pulling up carrots that I became very impatient and was checking every few days to see if any had grown underground. One evening Gary, the kids, and I were outside when I stepped once again in the garden to bend over and do a little digging in the carrots. I gasped when I saw a large, orange protrusion in the dirt. A huge carrot!! I scooped back more dirt, reached down to pull it out, and discovered a very large and very fake plastic carrot. And out in the yard was some very loud laughing from my very amused family! They got me!

 
I grabbed my garden bucket from the garage, stepped over our little used-to-be electric wire fence into the garden, and walked over to the small carrot patch. We had planted quite a few carrots this year but many of them had died in the brutal heat and the awful drought of that past summer. I wasn’t at all hopeful that these measly few plants would produce anything of significance. They were hardly worth the effort, I assumed. Plus I remembered the beautiful, lush potato patch from earlier in the summer and how its yield was laughable and disappointing. Surely I could expect no more from this puny little row of struggling carrots.

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I bent over and gave a pull – and was surprised to see a pretty orange carrot slip out of the dirt. Well! After several more pulls and several more carrots, I was greatly encouraged. Certainly these were not state-fair-worthy carrots, but they were far better than what I had expected to find. Gary helped finish out the row with a pitchfork and we ended up with a healthy little pile of carrots. Despite their small size and their dirty exteriors, they were a delight to us – an unexpected gift at the end of our difficult growing season. And guess what I had just bought the day before when I shopped for groceries? Yes – a bag of carrots! O ye of little faith, I thought.

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I must admit that I am so often attracted to what is outwardly appealing, like the lush growth of our potatoes that fooled us into believing we had a bumper crop of delicious spuds. In reality they were only showy to the eye but had no substance and no real growth. It can be so tempting to participate in the ministries that are evident to all but to neglect the ones that are considered menial or boring. Or to not give much time or attention to people who are marginal to us – who maybe even annoy us. Can we lend a helping hand; make a phone call; fix a meal; send a card; clean a toilet? Sometimes God takes away the up-front, public ministries to put us in a place where we struggle; where our efforts seem puny and small, unnoticed and unimportant. Everyone gathers around the public persona but the unimpressive one is rarely given a second thought. Who wants to be a little dirty carrot when we could be a big, beautiful tomato that everyone looks at with pleasure?

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But God knows the work that is being done away from the public eye, the glory that is being given to Him through the efforts of those that He is using to quietly further His kingdom work. Paul talked to the Corinthians about this in I Corinthians 1:26-29: “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.”

 
All ministry with pure motives is valuable to God, but if our lives are changed for whatever reason and we find ourselves feeling like our work is sparse and we struggle with insignificance, may we be faithful to grow and serve where God has placed us. Remember that the work God is doing underground will one day shine for His glory and praise.