The following is a sample of my work-in-progress, Growing Faith: Lessons God Taught Me in the Garden. My hope is that you will enjoy it and find it encouraging. May God bless!

Introduction: In The Beginning

The more time I spend in my garden, the more I believe it was no accident the Creator first placed man and woman in the Garden of Eden. Genesis gives the account of creation for us that says, “The LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there He placed the man He had formed.” (Genesis 2:8) Again in Genesis 2:15, the Bible says, “The LORD God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.”[i] The first time the word “placed” was used in Genesis 2:8, it is the Hebrew word sum or sim, meaning “to put, to place, to set” This word draws a picture of Divine intentionality. It expresses God’s authority over creation in determining the exact place where Adam and Eve should live. The second time the word “placed” is used, however, is the Hebrew word nuach, meaning, “to rest, or rest.” This word paints a scene of perfect peace; of the restfulness of God’s intimate covenant relationship with His human creation. He made them, He placed them, and He gave them rest.[ii]

It was here in the Garden God intended to walk with His children; to spend time with them, developing the covenant relationship and revealing Himself to them. But paradise didn’t last and soon that covenant relationship was broken by sin.

Before sin entered the world, mankind enjoyed the harmony of an unmarred relationship with the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe. Once that relationship was broken by the disobedience of the Fall, Adam and Eve received the consequences of disobedience to God.

“. . . The ground is cursed because of you. You will eat from it by means of painful labor all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you and you will eat the plants of the field, You will eat bread by the sweat of your brow until you return to the ground, since you were taken from it.  For you are dust and you will return to dust.”[1]

 

Because of sin, Creation was broken, and we left the garden. Throughout history, humans have been toiling and laboring for food to eat, fighting wars to obtain peace, and failing to see God at work in their lives. It was during a season of personal toil and spiritual warfare God led me back to the garden, and there, He taught me about His character, and drew me back into beautiful fellowship with Himself. It was there in my garden I found peace, rest, and strength for daily trials. Most of all, I learned that God is the Master Gardener, and only He can supply the growth.

Chapter 1: The Soil

            The hobby gardener doesn’t always think of the soil as a crucial aspect of gardening. The typical American mindset regarding soil quality tends to focus on soil amendment and preparation over soil building and enriching. What can I do to this dirt to make it healthy and life-giving? When I first began gardening, I did not know there was a difference. All I knew was that plants grew well in that dark black stuff they sold in 3 cubic foot bags at the DIY stores.

There is a sense of instant gratification and consumerism even in the way Americans relate to the soil; I can’t possibly spend the time enriching this myself, so I’ll just buy what I need to get started. That’s how I started. I planted a small herb garden along the walkway of my Southeastern North Carolina home.  I tilled up the ground (by hand with a shovel and a rake), bought about 12 bags of potting soil to add on top, and some heirloom seeds. That first year, I grew basil, tomatoes, parsley, dill, and cilantro with abundant harvests and success.

It wasn’t until I moved to Tennessee that I started to question my methods of soil preparation. This tilling business was a lot of work. My home region of East Tennessee is affectionately and aptly named “Rocky Top.” The soil is hard, compacted, clay and limestone. How was I supposed to afford to bring in all that gorgeous, rich, topsoil and compost each year? Let alone balance the pH levels to grow anything. What was worse, it seemed to take more and more each season! I collided with frustration as I attempted to spade into heavy clay soil, rife with rocks. How was I supposed to grow anything in that stuff? I started praying about it, asking God to supply my needs of fresh organic vegetables. I was led to the online “homesteading community.” These were the folks who were living on the land, and not only producing for themselves and their families, but they were turning a profit! I began to dream of a life in which I could grow most of my family’s produce. God gave me a hunger for more and more gardening knowledge. I watched video after video online, taking notes, and planning my future garden.

At this point, my dreams of homeownership were on hold after our purchase fell through in the spring of 2015, so I was mostly dreaming of the future and thinking about how to put all this practical knowledge to work. What I didn’t realize was that while I was shifting my focus to literal soil, God was also at work in my life spiritually. He had been tweaking, fixing, shifting, moving, changing, and working on my heart and mind. I began to hear His voice more clearly, spending more and more time in His Word and in prayer. God began to reveal more and more things in my life that had to go if I was going to serve and follow Christ the way He wanted me to. There was a profound softening of my heart and suddenly, God was speaking to me more powerfully than I had ever known before. Somewhere in all this, God led me to Paul Gautschi, a master gardener and life-long arborist in Washington state, and the Back to Eden film. The film completely changed my mindset. I remember watching the film with tears streaming, thinking, “Yes! God’s way has got to be easier than this spading and tilling and raking.” My soil seemed so useless and tough, but what I learned from the film was that it needed a covering. By covering the ground with organic material (in this case, woodchips), a diverse biome would form in the soil below, transforming it into rich, fertile, organic topsoil. A few months later, I started a compost bucket in the basement of our rental home. I shoveled in a handful of worms and fed them on all our veggie scraps, eggshells, and coffee grounds. We had also gotten an angora rabbit for fiber spinning practice; Her manure started being hoarded like jewels or precious metals. We had Rubbermaid tubs full of rabbit droppings. After about 2 months of having the rabbit, I layered out my covering. First, I put down newspaper over a small six by three-foot area, then covered it with my collection of rabbit droppings, hay, and paper bedding. And because I was still skeptical, and far too focused on immediate results, I topped all that with a couple bags of potting soil. I transferred my potted tomato plants into that rich bed about a month after that, and by June of 2015, I was astounded by the growth! The tomato plants were the largest I had ever seen! Nothing like those spindly things I had grown and supported with cages in North Carolina. I had to know what had happened with the soil. I got down on my hands and knees and pulled back the top soil. I kept digging, and digging, wondering when I would hit the orange, Tennessee clay, but I never did! The soil had been completely transformed. The covering had allowed moisture to settle in the area, attracting earthworms who had thrived on the decomposing rabbit waste. There was an entire ecosystem at work, all because I covered the bare earth instead of tilling it up and spending hundreds on artificial additives.

God showed me the spiritual significance of that moment in the garden. He showed me that I could run myself ragged participating in enriching ministries, spend hundreds of dollars on Christian study materials and Bible resources, but that nothing was going to provide the same degree of transformative growth and spiritual nourishment as simply covering myself with Christ. The grace, mercy, love, forgiveness, righteousness, holiness, and purity found in Christ is incomparably greater than anything I could add or buy for myself. Romans 13:14 says, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no plans to satisfy the fleshly desires.” That phrase, “put on” is the Greek word, ἐνδύσασθε (endysasthe). It occurs three times in the New Testament, and it means to clothe or dress oneself. I clothed the soil with a covering that would feed, protect, nourish the earth and transform it from rocky clay to rich, luscious soil. When I began to clothe myself with Christ, with each passing day, He would reveal more and more of His Word to me, and convict me in various areas of my life. I started to see a change in my attitudes, my relationships, and a strengthening of my faith. God didn’t change my heart with a trendy program or church ministry. He didn’t penetrate my heart with a best-selling Christian book. God changed the condition and nature of my heart by covering me in His grace, His love, His blood. His transformative power did not simply add to or amend my life; it entirely transformed it, and that transformation is still an active work in progress.

I learned that if the soil isn’t covered, it is vulnerable. In the same way, if I go a day without covering myself- or putting on- Christ and resting in the Gospel, I am vulnerable to the attacks of the enemy. I am vulnerable to the lies of Satan; I am vulnerable to the slander of others; I am vulnerable to my own destructive thought patterns. ἐνδύσασθε (Endysasthe) is the same word used in Ephesians 6:11, when Paul instructs believers to “Put on the full armor of God,” It protects you, keeps you from being vulnerable, and the Word of God is your weapon of defense against the attacks of the enemy. The very best soils are built not by what we do, but by the simple act of applying a covering.

 

Chapter 2: The Seeds

            My journey into gardening had come as a result of compounding health issues, which I truly believe stemmed from compounded spiritual issues. When I aligned myself with Christ, He brought spiritual healing, as well as physical healing. My husband’s parents also aided me in that journey. They’d had a garden for years, planting a few tomato and pepper plants, flower beds, herb beds, and so on. But the thing they really taught me was that the kind of seed you used mattered.

I hadn’t given it much thought before; I figured if you plant a tomato seed, you’d get a tomato plant. If I planted a pepper seed, I’d get a pepper plant. I learned a word that was relatively new and unknown to me in gardening terms: heirloom. To me, an heirloom meant some old shawl great-great-grandma had crocheted back in the good old days, that sat up in a box of moth balls in the attic. I had no idea that seeds could be heirlooms! Something precious, kept and passed down through the generations, just like great-great-grandma’s shawl. I also learned that seeds have a relatively short shelf life of only about three years. If these seeds were heirlooms, how were they still viable seeds?

I came to find out that heirloom seeds came from heirloom plants, meaning simply, that they had not been tampered with, hybridized, or selectively bred for certain characteristics. The heirloom seeds were those which had been saved from heirloom plants which were true to the variety’s standard and had remained true to the parent plant for generations. By growing only one type of vegetable, let’s say tomato, people were able to avoid the cross pollination that occurs between various varieties of tomatoes, and the result was fruit containing seeds genetically identical to the parent plant. This raised a lot of questions for me.

How was I supposed to know which kind of heirloom tomato I liked best? If I can only grow and save one kind, I had better make sure I really like it. For a few years in a row, I toyed around with several different varieties, seeing which ones I liked, which ones stored well, which ones gave the best fruit. I kept purchasing seeds. And purchasing seeds. And in the end, I did finally settle on one variety. Because of that decision to only grow one variety each year, I get annual diversity- I can choose a different one each year and save the seeds for future planting. Additionally, I end up with enough seeds to store, plant, give, and sell. With the amount of seed I had saved from the 2018 season of gardening, I was able to plant a garden for a friend. Not just a couple plants, but a full garden! God provided from those few little seeds innumerable other seeds that will result in plants identical to the parent. Not only that, but I found I don’t have to spend so much money on seeds each year anymore. Sure, it’s fun to buy something new to try. But the most gratifying part of gardening for me is opening up my green tackle box of seeds and seeing the percentage of store-bought seeds decreasing as they’re replaced by seeds I’ve saved myself.

It took me a good long while to translate that gardening epiphany into a spiritual lesson. God spoke it to me in a few ways. The first was in my pea harvest of 2018. I had SO many Oregon sugar snap peas that year! I had planted 30 seeds and had harvested bags full of peas to freeze. God had given me a tenfold return on my investment. I learned that God can do a lot with very little. I also learned that He provides for my needs, and sometimes, uses me to provide for the needs of others. The simple act of planting the right kind of seed is an act of faith. I found myself identifying with the farmer in Mark 4:27, “He sleeps and rises night and day; the seed sprouts and grows, although he doesn’t know how.” Not only did God provide the seed, he supplied the growth as well.

But seeds unplanted do not grow or produce fruit. I came to understand that if I wanted to see spiritual growth in my life, I was going to have to discipline myself to plant the seeds. I would have to set aside daily time to read God’s word. I would have to be disciplined in prayer. I would have to put forth the effort to serve people in my family, Church, and community. God can do a lot with a very little, so I made the commitment to give Him the first fruits of my harvest to be saved for next season’s seeds. I also committed to give God the first fruits of my time– the best parts of my day, which is usually the afternoon while my children nap, and the house is quiet. I make the concerted effort each day to sit down and read at the very least a small chapter or passage of Scripture, and to really allow that seed of Scripture to germinate in my heart and mind. If it is true in the garden that we reap what we sow, and the same principles apply in our spiritual lives, I had to come to a point where I understood that if I wasn’t planting spiritual seeds, I wasn’t going to see spiritual growth, let alone gather in a harvest for God’s Kingdom. Scripture says, “His divine power has given us  everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.”[iii] God has supplied me with the seed of His Word, the Bible, and with the seed of relationship with Jesus Christ, and with the seed of the Holy Spirit who gives the growth. I simply must sow.

God also taught me the importance of leaving an heirloom legacy of faith for my family. Having grown up in church most of my life, it still astounds me that I never really came face to face with the Gospel and my need for a Savior until I was married and in college. Being on a church membership roster hardly counts as a legacy of faith. If anything, I saw how my family had treated church membership like membership in a country club. We touted the social benefits and perks, but rarely committed to the service or obligation of active ministry. I left my childhood home and entered the real world with no practical faith or working knowledge of Scripture, which led to apathy and a sense that while there might be a God, He certainly didn’t seem relevant or powerfully at work in my family. This was the conclusion I drew from watching my parents’ tumultuous marriage, and eventually shattered relationship. I never saw a functional example of a marriage relationship and I determined in my own heart that I would never treat my spouse the way my mother and father treated each other. I vowed never to be a “doormat” for a man to control or manipulate. “Submission” was the ultimate dirty “s” word.

When my husband enlisted in the Marine Corps in October of 2010, only six months after we were married, I felt an indescribable loss of control. My entire life’s context was shaken by the realization that I had no real power over any of the circumstances in my life. Everything I had banked my life on- my education, my marriage, my family- it was all falling apart. It was then I felt the tug of the Holy Spirit on my heart, drawing me back to God through the meager knowledge of Bible stories I had learned as a child. God called me to Himself and I believe at that moment, weeping over my newly purchased Bible on the kitchen table, I was saved as I admitted my need for Christ to be my Savior. I confessed my sins of pride, arrogance, and idolatry, and finally, I submitted my life fully over to Christ.

Throughout my husband’s active duty service in the United States Marine Corps, my faith continued to grow and flourish, and I understood the value of all those people who had spoken God’s word into my life throughout the years. I hadn’t necessarily received the Word or appreciated the significance of their ministries at the time, but they had been planting seeds which God germinated and sprouted at the proper time- when I was at my lowest, most humble point- just when I needed Him most. Because of those brothers and sisters in Christ who were faithful sowers of the Gospel, I came to give my life to Christ and to commit my future to living a legacy of obedient faith for future generations. I owe them a huge debt of gratitude, and one day, when we all reach perfection in sanctification and Christ calls us home, I hope to express to them my sincere love and gratitude, as one of the likely many fruits of their labors for Christ.

[1] Genesis 3:17-19

[i] Unless otherwise noted, all scripture references are drawn from the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation. Emphasis added.

 

[ii] Strong and Vine’s

[iii] 2 Peter 1:3, HCSB

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