Tag Archives: Mission Year

Tilling, Or The Great Gardener

This is a piece that I originally wrote while living in New Orleans with Mission Year. I revised it last year to appear in the Yellow Jacket (The HPU Student Newspaper), and wanted to share it with you today. I find myself returning to this again and again when I feel God working at something in my life. I hope you find some truth in it for yourself today.


“Sow with a view to righteousness, Reap in accordance with kindness; Break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the Lord, until He comes to rain righteousness on you.” – Hebrews 10:12 (NASB)

“To pray is to descend with the mind into the heart, and there to stand beforethe fae of the Lord, ever-present, all-seeing, within you.” – Theophan the Recluse

“We have to realize that here the word heart is used in its full biblical meaning. In our milieu the word heart has become a soft word. It refers to the seat of the sentimental life. Expressions shuch as “heart-broken” and “heartfelt” show that we often think of the heart as the warm place where emotions are located in contrast to the cool intellect where our thoughts find their home. But the word heart in the Jewish-Christian tradition refers to the source of all physical, emotional, intellectual. volitional, and moral energies.” – Henri J.M. Nouwen

The year I lived in New Orleans I worked in a garden every Saturday with some of my roommates and a man named Earl.

Earl used to run it as a program for teen guys to come and work, and they even made a hot sauce out of the peppers they grew that was sold, and is still saught after, all over the city. The money made from this was used to help the boys to go school if they wanted. After Katrina, and having several boys from the program killed Earl shut the program down.

When we met him, he was beginning to go back to the garden and restore it to what it used to be so he could run the program again. So, over the course of the year we went down to the garden and did whatever Earl asks of us.



Earl, Braxton, Joy, Katie, and Yours Truly


One of the things we did was till up the soil. I used to do a lot of gardening with my dad, and grandmother, so I had tilled before, but always a small area with one of those things you turn with your arms. Earl had a really sweet gas powered tiller. I loved it.

But I also liked to just watch whoever was tilling (usually my roommate Braxton) do that for a few minutes. I could see the dirt turning and turning in the rotors, and the new soil sitting on top of everything. It looked fresh and ready to take on the world.

Usually I was doing something like trimming back a tree, or taking out all but one of a plant that had over grown an area. One Saturday though, Braxton and I redid the little brick border around an area that was going to be replanted soon. As we were pulling them out of their disarray, we began to dig and find more…and more, and more buried pretty deep under the dirt.

We finally got a bunch of them up, enough to make the new border, but realized that the entire dirt area we were standing on used to be a beautiful brick walkway. It was probably a combination of Katrina and time that had covered them so deeply…but it was just amazing to know that had been under us the whole time and we had no idea.

We’re weren’t completely done with that project, and were nowhere near done with restoring the garden to the award winning state it used to be in. We could see improvement though. If you’ve read this far, that’s what I wanted to talk about. One Saturday as I sat watching Jacob, another roommate, till for a few minutes this what was going through my head:

That’s what God is doing in my life, and wants to be doing in all of our lives all the time. We’re works in progress, even though we have a relationship with Christ, we need to, as Paul talks about, work out our salvation daily. God wants to till our hearts so new things can grow. When we first come into relationship with him our hearts (in the sense that Theophan and Nouwen talk about them) are covered with sin.

God doesn’t use the gas powered tiller though, He doesn’t even use the one you turn with your arms. He digs into our heart and soul and sinful nature with His hands and begins to turn the dirt over so that fresh soil can sit on top. When He’s done with that he begins to plant seeds of change in our life. He wants to change the way we live, the way we love, the way we talk, the way we treat others, the way we work, the way we eat. Everything.

He wants to lay that new brick border, and find all the other stones buried deep that we didn’t even know about, and smile a big smile as we joyously celebrate the discovery of what we never knew was there. Then He wants us come along side Him and lay out the new walkway. He wants us to get down and dirty with Him in this as we shovel, sweep, and dig with our hands through the sin in our lives.

The things that were beautiful to the Devil in our old life God wants to wash way to become beautiful in His sight.

I don’t know exactly why God began to show me all of this in a garden, but I would imagine it’s mostly because He likes gardens. He did after all intend for us to live with Him there didn’t he? I’m beginning to see Him as The Great Gardener.

The quotes at the beginning of this post work to illustrate that. This was also what God had been doing in my life, even before I went to New Orleans. In the months leading up to me departing for that adventure I realized that I’d been saying and doing a lot of things, but not fully engaging Christ in my heart. I was finally beginning to at this point.

But like the garden I was only just beginning to see the changes. At the end of the year, the last Saturday I called that place home we layed the final large stones on the pathway through the garden. Our last project. I saw the complete restoration of that particular place. However even though we will not witness complete restoration on this side of heaven, we do get the joy of working toward it with Him.

We are dirty, but He is cleaning us up.

We are destroyed and unrecognizable, but He restoring us.

We are withered, but He is growing us.

What stage of the garden restoration are you in? Do you need to till? Are you ready to plant again?

Grace & Peace In Your Re-planting,


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How To Get Over Your Dependency Problem

In the fall of 2008 I moved to a city where I knew no one, to live with five strangers, work with an organization I’d never heard of a year before, and do who knew what kind of work. I moved to New Orleans and started my Mission Year. Those five strangers are now some of my lifelong best friends.

Central City Team

I made memories there that I’ll treasure for the rest of my life. In that year I grew in my relationship with God more than ant any point before, or since.

A Dependency Porblem

What I quickly realized, sitting on the floor of what I assumed to be some kind of abandoned house in Atlanta on my first night away, was that I had greatly depended on others to guide, grow and dictate my relationship to God.

For three years most of what I knew or believed about God had been taught to me so I assumed it to be true. I did “quiet times”, and went to Bible studies  but I had very few conclusions about faith/religion/spirituality/Christianity that didn’t first belong to someone else.

I had a dependency problem. My drug was not alcohol, marijuana, crack, or anything as exotic as all that…it was other people. I depended on other people to tell me what to believe and why. I needed it. I couldn’t function without it.

Surrounded By No One

So what did I do? I opened up my Bible and began to read. That very first night. I couldn’t sleep for hours – I was plagued by the idea that I’d just made a huge mistake – and I tossed and turned for hours. So I began to read Psalms.

I’d heard a lot, and knew a bit from personal experience, that this was a pretty good place to go when feeling sad. I love the words of David (and the other writers) that paint a picture of utter despair but the writer still finds goodness in who God is. They brought a comfort to me.

So I read from Psalms every day. I would read from Psalms, Proverbs, and then I began reading through the New Testament. This lead to so many questions and conversations that shaped the core of who I am and what I believe about who God is, who God is in my life, and who God wants to be in the lives of others that I can’t imagine where I’d be today if I hadn’t done that.

When I felt surrounded by no one I learned how close and how constant God was. After that first night I began building relationships with roommates and city teammates that I am very thankful for. Over the course of the year I learned more from them, from my neighbors, and from days and nights spent wrestling with myself, with those people, and with God than I could ever have imagined possible.

Getting Dependent Again

From time to time I find myself getting dependent on others, Bible studies, podcasts, and so many other trappings again. It’s easy, quick, and convenient to rely on some of the genuine helps that are out there to not help me, but to define my relationship with God.

And my guess is I’m not alone in that.

When I talk with students, peers, and folks beyond me I frequently hear of “dry spells”. Times where they have felt like God is far from them. Like there’s nothing new in their spiritual life. That they’re doing their devotionals and saying prayers out of a sense of obligation and not out of a desire for the pleasure that comes from communing with God.

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I’m also probably not the only person who has ever had to fully rely on God (Is F.R.O.G a thing? Can we look into that?) in a new situation, a scary situation, an unknown situation. It’s in these times that we begin to see God for who He is and have experiences that shape who we are for quite some time to come.

When I find myself opening my Bible wondering how long I should skim its pages before I can get to the next thing I have to pause. I have to remind myself of what God did in my life from September 2008 through August 2009.

When I do that I’m filled with a sense of awe and wonder at who I know God to be. I’m confronted with a bit of self dissatisfaction at how I cold forget that.

But as I think about those experiences, those people, and those places the passion I have for communing with the God who loves me is rekindled.

So here’s my question for you today. When you find yourself “going through the motions” of continuing to develop your relationship with God ask yourself this: What’s my New Orleans? When did I feel myself most growing in my relationship with God, not in spite of, but because of the seeming adversity or negativity I was in?

And then? Get there again. Remember  what God showed you to be true about Himself in that time and allow yourself to want that again.

When was the time in your life where you found yourself most relying on God?


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