What feels like forever ago (but in reality, it’s been only four years), I found myself in a new house in a new country staring at our boring, empty, plant-less yard. The problem was that I didn’t garden. In fact, I had killed almost every piece of vegetation I had ever taken on.
I wasn’t going to let this stop me! This new place would be where my luck would turn around. The island’s original name means ‘fertile soil’ after all. Did I know anything about growing things? Nope. But how hard could it really be?
I decided what I really needed was fruit trees. Food in this country is expensive and big trees would provide much needed shade. I could probably have a harvest of fruit by the summer, right?
As it turns out, most fruit trees take three to eight years before they bear fruit. I was so disappointed. What if I planted these trees, watered them, cared for them, and then God called us to leave this place before I ever got to taste their fruit? Which lead to a much deeper, and scarier, question: what if we left this place before our ministry produced any fruit?
I poured my heart out to the Lord as I turned to Jeremiah to read:
“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem: ‘Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.’” Jeremiah 29:4-7 (emphasis added)
It felt as though the words were jumping off the page at me. There was no doubt in my mind that God had brought me to this passage. It was time to get planted, and it would be worth it to cultivate new plants, literally and metaphorically.
Soon our yard was filled with neem, lemon, banana, plantain, and soursop trees. Passionfruit vines began to take over our wall. Mint and basil flourished. At the same time, we were making new friends, settling our kids into school, and launching ministry. Growth was evident, and we felt rooted and firm.
Last year we started to feel inevitable growing pains. We had to say goodbye to good friends and co-laborers. Our entire plan for the future of ministry was turned around, and I struggled to find joy in that season. When it finally seemed like we might catch our footing, the entire world was rocked by this insane pandemic.
As we entered the hottest summer since our arrival, we were exhausted, stressed, and stuck. We were supposed to be spending a few weeks back “home” with our family, soaking up familiarity, convenience, and rest – things we desperately needed. Our plants longed for refreshment as well, and the rainy season seemed to intentionally delay its arrival.
Some of the new fruits we added struggled under the intensity of the sun. One, a pineapple plant, just sat in the dirt, not dying and not growing. It felt like the perfect picture of our COVID-effected ministry – still going, but without much evidence of growth.
As I poured into both caring for my plants and the people God has allowed us to serve, I wondered if the time for growth and fruit here had ended. I went to a dark place and struggled to find motivation or purpose. I just wanted to be done with this long, hard season that seems to have no end in sight. Once again, I found myself pouring out my heart to a faithful God who led me to Colossians 1:
“We always pray for you, and we give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all of God’s people, which come from your confident hope of what God has reserved for you in heaven. You have had this expectation ever since you first heard the truth of the Good News. This same Good News that came to you is going out all over the world. It is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives, just as it changed your lives from the day you first heard and understood the truth about God’s wonderful grace.” Colossians 1:3-6 (emphasis added)
As this is a safe space, I hope I can admit something to you all: I tend to see myself as Paul when I read this passage, praying for those who enable us to be here. This time the Lord spoke these words to my heart about us. The Good News is going out all over the world and bearing fruit, changing lives, just like it did in me. I clung to those words as tears poured down my face.
Then, as if that sweet message wasn’t enough, I walked outside to tend to my plants and found a big surprise: my pineapple plant had new, bright green leaves growing up out of the middle.
Faces of friends we had grown closer to over our unexpected summer here came to my mind. Ways God was working and developing us, and those around us, filled my head. New growth out of what I thought was dead. Where I had lost hope, God was still at work bringing out new life.
What places in your life have you seen dead things come to life? What has God allowed you to harvest in this season?