Seedlings and the title: Thinning My Garden

One of my favourite parts of gardening is seeing the first sprouts pushing their heads through the ground. The newness and anticipation of a coming harvest is exciting. How big will the beets grow this year? How many zucchinis will come? Will we be able to harvest the tomatoes before the first frost?

(A quick disclaimer before I continue. I am not an experienced gardener, so please do not take this post as gardening advice.)

I love seeing those little seedlings grow bigger each day. Seedlings sprouting

Soon, however, comes a stage I don’t like so much: thinning the garden.

Often gardeners plant more seeds than they will let grow to full maturity. Because of this, the seeds are too close to each other.

As the seeds grow, they become crowded and begin to fight for sunlight and water. If not thinned, none of the seeds will grow strong and healthy. They will remain half-shrunk and weirdly shaped as they strain for more light.

So, the morning comes when I slip into my gardening sandals and head out for a closer look.

First, I pull the weeds. I mercilessly yank them from the ground. They don’t belong. They won’t bring value or a harvest. I don’t want them. They only serve to get in the way of the plants I want to grow.

New sprouts in a garden

Then I look at the radish row. They’re often quicker to grow than the others. The plants are far too close. I know I have to thin them if I want large healthy radishes.

I crouch down and take a deep breath.

I pull a radish seedling. Looking at it, I feel bad to have had to pull a perfectly healthy and good plant that could have grown excellent food. Still, if I didn’t pull that seedling out, the others wouldn’t grow well.

Looking again at the row, I pull another seedling and then another. Pretty soon I have a pile of radish seedlings. Thankfully I can eat these sprouts for lunch. Yet something inside of me remains sad that they will never reach their fullest potential.

When at last I sit back and look at the radish row, I smile. These remaining plants will now be able to grow strong and healthy. It was painful pulling the sprouts, but the reward will be worth it. No half-grown radishes for me.

On to the next row of plants I go, and then the next. Pretty soon the garden is looking far more empty, yet I remind myself that it now holds more chance of reaching its fullest potential. The harvest will be bigger and better because of the thinning I did today.

What about in my life? Do I need to do some thinning there?

Raddishes

Having grown up attending church, I have long known the parable of the sower. The part about the seed that fell among the weeds seems fitting to consider now.

“Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it didn’t produce fruit. … these are the ones who hear the word, but the worries of this age, the deceitfulness of wealth, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” (Mark 4:7, 18-19 CSB)

Okay, got it. In order to be fruitful for God, I must get rid of the weeds in my life. Weeds are bad things, right? Don’t covet wealth, don’t worry, don’t pursue other bad worldly things. If I get caught up in those, my life won’t reach its fullest God-given potential.

Take out the weeds in my life, and I’m good to go, right? My experience in the garden says there might be more to do.

Maybe there are other things I need to thin out of my life in order to thrive in what I keep.

Jesus, after having a powerful night of ministry did just that, as recorded in Mark 1:35-38 (CSB).

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, He got up, went out, and made His way to a deserted place; and there He was praying. Simon and his companions searched for Him, and when they found Him they said, ‘Everyone is looking for You.’  And He said to them, ‘Let’s go on to the neighboring villages so that I may preach there too. This is why I have come.'”

I can so easily read those verses and think, “Everyone was looking for Him. He could have stayed and taught them so much more and done more miracles. They were ready to listen.”

Jesus, however, knew the task His Father had placed before Him. If He was to fulfill His mission on earth, He had to move on.

Sometimes I get caught up in all the good things I have opportunities to do. When a door is open, that means I should go in, right?

I must remind myself that this is not always the case. As with my garden, if I am involved in too many good things, none of them will thrive. They will be half-nourished and straining for light.

Instead, I need to prioritize my life intentionally. Sometimes prioritizing includes pulling out good healthy things so that the rest can thrive.

What do I need to thin out of my life so that what remains can grow? I’ll have to follow Jesus’ example and pray about that.

In the meantime, here are some valuable quotes to ponder.

“Good is not always God’s will, but God’s will is always good.” – Watchman Nee

“Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at something that doesn’t really matter.” – D. L. Moody

Blue carpet with title

One morning, not so long ago, I spent some time praying before my day got started.

As is my habit, I brought before the Lord my family and friends and those whom I know have heavy burdens just now.

I glanced at the clock, it was time to get moving. I had things to do and breakfast to eat.

To close my time of prayer, I took a moment to kneel as I asked Him to be Lord of my day.

It was at that moment, as I knelt, that I saw them.Bugs on a carpet

First, I saw one little red-ish speck on the carpet, then I saw another. Leaning closer I realized they were bugs.

To my dismay, one careful survey of the surrounding area revealed several more bugs of the same type.

They weren’t fast bugs, nor terribly scary ones. It had surely taken them quite some time to get to where they were now. They looked almost like mini caterpillars, so small that, had I been standing, I likely wouldn’t have noticed them.

If there were so many of these bugs scattered across the floor, then naturally I had to assume there was a source of food nearby. Clearly they must have a well-fed flourishing colony.

I surveyed the carpet again. The scattering of bugs appeared to radiate from one particular cabinet.

Bugs on a rug

Immediately I could guess their food source. That cabinet had previously spent many years as the cat food place. While we had a dog, it was necessary to place the cat food on top of this cabinet to keep the dog from eating it.

My cats, unfortunately, were rather messy eaters. When they ate dry cat food, they always left large amounts outside the bowl. Despite our greatest efforts, some of that cat food fell down the back of the cabinet.

There was little doubt in my mind that it was that old spilled cat food that nourished these little bugs. To them, it was a feast allowing them to multiply. To me, it was an old unreachable space that had not fully been cleaned out.

Later that day, the effort was made to move this heavy cabinet so as to reveal the hidden and unreachable places behind it.

After a thorough vacuuming and cleaning, the spot was declared good and the heavy cabinet put back in place.

So what? Why do I share this morning’s adventure? Because it got me thinking.

Do I have hidden and unreachable places in my life that need to be revealed and cleaned?

It is a convicting question. I can recall times in the past when God has brought to light things I hadn’t dealt with, which in turn had begun feeding bugs. Things that I didn’t realize or remember were there until I started seeing bugs and, with God’s help, found the source – a process which sometimes took months or years.

No matter how many bugs I got rid of, if I never found the source – the thing that was feeding them – I would forever find more bugs.

The cabinet in my house behind which the old cat food lay was heavy and hard to move. When I trace the bugs in my life to their source, I may find something similar. The source may be blocked by something I can’t move myself. Often only God can clean and heal those areas.

How then, am I to notice these bugs in my life?

More often than not, it must be God who enables me to spot the bugs in my life.

I believe it is primarily when I walk closely with the Lord with a humble heart that He reveals these bugs to me and guides me to their sources.

When did I spot the bugs in my house? When I knelt to pray.

Had I walked through the same room remaining on my feet and busy going about my day, I would never have noticed them.

I believe there is a lesson there for me. Yes, I need this reminder.

More often than not, it is when I take time to pray that God reveals to me the bugs that must be dealt with in my life.

May I more often join David in praying:

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns. See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the everlasting way.” (Psalm 139:23-24 CSB)

Indeed, “may the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14 CSB)

Road disappearing into dark night

Not long ago, I was driving through the Canadian prairies where the world seemed to stretch out forever, with only the occasional farmhouse to break the endless fields.

It was night, and the highway had no street lights to guide me. Beyond what my headlights illuminated, I had no idea where the road led as it wound through the darkness.

The road had many long straight stretches, then suddenly it would turn.

I glanced in my rearview mirror – pure blackness. There was no one in sight behind me.

Not too far in front, the taillights of a truck guided me onward. I appreciated his presence.

His lights showed me when the road ahead turned to the right or left. His continued progress reassured me that there was good paved road for me to drive on. The journey felt less lonely knowing that someone else was driving the same route.

Gradually, however, the truck increased the distance between us. Being on the flat open prairies, I could still see his lights, but he was a long way in front of me now.

From time to time, as I watched his lights so far ahead of me, I was surprised to see him turn sharply in the darkness. In such vast prairie, shouldn’t the road continue straight? But, no. When I finally reached the place where he’d turned, I found that the road did indeed turn.

I was sad when the truck finally outdistanced me so far that I could no longer see his lights. I felt more alone and the road was far more unknown.Left turn road sign

As I continued along, I quickly became grateful for the road signs warning of upcoming turns. Without those bright signs reflecting the beam of my headlights, driving at such speed would have been dangerous. I don’t know if I would’ve spotted the turns soon enough to steer safely around them. They would have come so unexpectedly that I would have continued straight off the road and into the nearest field.

Eventually, as I drove along, I glanced in the rearview mirror again. This time I spotted headlights! No longer was I the only one driving that way. Now it was my turn to be the one venturing into the empty darkness to show the vehicle behind me where the road led. 

What can I learn from these observations, I wondered. Is there a life lesson for me here?

Yes, I believe there is.

More often than not, as I go about my life, I do not know where or when the road is going to turn. I can see no further ahead than the few meters my headlights show me.

Thankfully, in such times, God provides guidance. He has said, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye.” (Psalm 32:8 NKJV)

One of the ways He guides, is by planting road signs along the way. Those road signs reflect especially brightly when I have my headlights on, or rather, when I am being intentional to stay in the Bible and prayer. 

Sometimes those signs are black and white in clarity, screaming, “turn now or you’ll end up a wreck!”

At other times, those signs are harder to understand. “What is the best way to love God in this situation?”

Thankfully, there are many times when God brings someone into my life who has gone ahead. Someone who is further along on the path I am currently driving and whose example, or taillights, helps me know when and where to turn. 

Paul understood that God brings people into my life to help guide me. He said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1 NIV)

Having said that, I must be careful who’s example I follow. It is possible that someone may ignore the signs and veer off the road, continuing straight through the fields. Or perhaps they might turn left when I need to take a right to get to my desired destination.

Ultimately, it is Jesus’ example I must be led by. As Hebrews says, “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…” (Heb. 12:1b-2a NIV) 

Through all life’s twists and turns, He guides me. He will never leave me.

Praise the Lord that He has gone before me, and that He sends people and warning signs to help guide me along the way!

Picture of moon and clouds

As I stepped into the cool night air, I was thankful to be living where I could walk alone in the evening with no need to fear.

I strolled a path well memorized.

Yellow lights from the windows reminded me that friends were not far. Yet I was alone enough to pray aloud.Moon and stars at night

I paused on the path and looked up. Glittering stars twinkled down at me, and the moon beamed so brilliantly that the night was not dark.

I smiled at the night sky and thanked God for its beauty. I sang a song of praise.

Then I looked up again. I noticed this time a blank spot. One section of the sky had no stars.

As I watched, the blank spot travelled across the sky. It was a cloud. I spotted several other clouds as well.

How mysterious that the stars can seem to vanish, though indeed they do not leave at all.

Then, as I watched, the moon began to fade. I saw a thick cloud slowly overwhelm its brilliance.

Something within me tightened. I didn’t want the moon to leave! Yet it did leave.

The cloud entirely blotted out the moon. The night was thrown into deep darkness.

Suddenly, I felt very alone. No longer could I see the dim outline of the path I’d been strolling. No longer could I see my own hands in the moonlight.

It seemed the moon had vanished – disappeared. At that moment, it seemed impossible to believe that the moon was there at all!

Thankfully, the cloud passed on, but a thought hung in my heart.

Sometimes in life, God seems to have vanished. Would I trust Him even when I can’t see Him?

When God’s presence is clearly seen and felt, trusting and rejoicing in Him seems nearly natural. Yet, when the clouds blot out His face, will I still trust that He’s there? Will I still rejoice in Him?

Jesus warned me that “in this world you will have trouble.” John 16:33b NIV

I don’t know what seasons of dark clouds this life will hold. I don’t know when they’ll come, but one thing I can be sure of is that:

“He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you or abandon you.'” Heb. 13:5 CSB

I also know the end of John 16:33 in which Jesus tells me: “Be courageous! I have conquered the world.” John 16:33c CSB

Will I trust Him? Will I believe that His promises are true, even when I cannot see or feel Him?

Father, help me to trust You even in the seasons of dark clouds!

Paint covered hands and the words: My Hands Have Too Much Paint

I need to wash my hands first

“Are you finished?” I ask a preschooler as I point to the bright picture in front of him.

His hand pauses mid-air, still holding his sponge.

“Um… Yes.” He puts the sponge back in the paint tray and smiles up at me.

“You did a good job on your painting.” I remark. “I like how hard you worked on it.”

His smile brightens as I lift the wet painting and move it to the drying rack.

I glance at his hands. “Looks like you need to wash your hands.”

He looks at his red and green fingertips. “Yeah.”

“Come on over,” I invite, “I’ll help you wash.”

As he moves toward the sink, I glance at the other preschoolers to ensure they are still fully engaged in painting.

Satisfied, I hold his hands to help him climb onto the stool without touching the walls.

I turn on the water and encourage him to wash his hands.

He lets the water run over his hands. The paint is still there.

He looks at me. “It’s not working.”

“Here, I can help you.” I take his hands in mine and start rubbing.

Immediately, his hands look more coloured. Rather than just red and green, his hands now have black and blue as well.

I frown, then look at my own hands.

Sure enough, I’d forgotten that I had accumulated a thick layer of paint on my own hands.

“Uh oh,” I say, “I forgot to wash my hands first. You rub your hands.”

Releasing his hands and moving my own hands underneath, I quickly rub the paint off them.

A glance at my hands tells me they’re paint-free now.

I take his hands once more. “Let’s try again.”

This time, as I rub his hands, the paint easily comes off. It takes a little longer because of the black and blue paint I’d inadvertently added, but soon his hands are paint-free too.

I hand him a paper towel and help him climb down.

“You go play,” I say.

“Ok,” he calls as he hurries off.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done that. So often, when helping my preschoolers paint, I get paint on my own hands. Rather than wash my hands every few seconds, I simply rub the paint until it’s dry so I can continue helping other children.

This wouldn’t be a problem, until I try to help them wash their hands. The water restores the paint on my hands and, suddenly, I’m making their hands worse rather than better.

This reminds me of something Jesus said.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:3-5 NIV

I needed to wash my hands before I could be of any use in helping the child wash his hands.

The same is true when we’re trying to help someone. My heart has to be right with God before I can effectively help anyone else get their heart right with God.

Does God use imperfect people? Absolutely! I’m one of them.

It is not that we must be perfect and have everything figured out. No, but we must have our hearts right with God.Hands with paint on them

As David said, after he’d sinned,

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me… Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will return to You.”   Psalm 51:10,13 ESV

Paul, too, talked about something similar when he said:

“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.”  Galatians 1:6 NIV

With these verses in mind, I must be intentional to seek God first. My relationship with Him must be right in order for me to be effectively able to help those around me.

Oh, that I would keep my hands continually washed clean so that I can be useful for helping others.