Welcome Everyone! For those who do not know I am leading a Bible study for women with chronic illnesses, and each week we read a chapter, answer chapter questions, and do a live stream on instagram about the book Cultivate by Lara Casey. For more details on the study and how to join click here. Please note that this blog post is essentially the written version of the live stream that took place yesterday and will also be available tomorrow on IGTV.
As we start the Introduction, Welcome to the thick of it, we quickly learn about how Lara was craving “quick fixes” and was an unlikely gardener. We jump right into her marriage and see that it was not all the she had imagined it would be. She compares her life to the orchid that was dying on her desk- it needed sustenance.
When you have a chronic illness you understand that there are no quick fixes, but yet we still in different ways create our own surface solutions.
Q What surface solutions have you created?
A I know that quite some time ago I believed that if I had a large instagram account that would make up for all the lost friendships I encountered while living the chronic illness life. What gets to me on a deeper level than creating surface resolutions myself is all the surface solutions people give me.
Q What surface solutions have people given you to “cure” your chronic illness?
A The number one for me is always diet. I hear about how if I went vegan or tried paleo or only eating apples that it would cure me. These surface solutions took up space in my heart and mind- space that I desperately needed to use to put energy towards getting as well as I could.
Lara continues on to the topic of stillness. Oh how we hate to be still because being still allows us to feel everything.
With stillness I find my brain overthinking, I jump to all sorts of conclusions and feel guilt and shame just like Lara. Most of the things I feel guilty about I cannot control, yet they still take up space in my mind. I want to be very clear though, talking about these things does NOT mean that you are at fault for any of these things, but by talking about them we can let them go.
Q What guilt and shame from living the chronic illness life do you need to lay a Jesus’ feet that are taking up precious space in your heart?
A I feel guilty over cancelled plans due to my healths standing. I feel shame over goals that have not been met in the timeframe I wanted/expected them to be done by.
I don’t know your current situation or what’s going on in your heart, but I know that there is grace—God’s transforming gift of new life—for your heartache, your restlessness, and whatever it is that’s keeping you from flourishing. There isn’t a mess you’ve made that God can’t make into something new and beautiful.Casey, Lara. Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life (p. 4). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
Q GRACE OVER GUILT: How can you choose God’s grace over these areas of restlessness?
A There are so many lies we tell ourselves when we feel shame or guilt. The chronic illness you are fighting does not make you unlovable, unworthy, a lost cause, or a waste of space. When I cannot complete goals in the timeframe I planned, I will ask God to bless this goal and help me complete it in HIS timing. When I have to cancel plans, I will remember that if the people who I was going to meet with refuse to understand that they are not worth my hard-to-come-by energy.
I was tired of living in a state of lack—lack of time, lack of peace, lack of confidence, and lack of meaningful connections with people. I was tired of working hard but feeling like it wasn’t getting me anywhere that mattered. I needed a new way of living, from the ground up. When we are faced with something that isn’t working, we get two choices: stay where we are, or redirect and consider a new way forward. Staying isn’t bad. Waiting can be fruitful. But sometimes we stay where we are because of fear, don’t we?Casey, Lara. Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life (p. 5). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
I think sometimes when we look at our life our identity starts to be consumed by our illnesses- it happens to everyone who walks through life the way we do. It can be scary to be known for something other than the illness that steals all of our time and energy. When I was with a dear friend we were catching up and we had talked about my illness for a while then onto her life and then she asked me, “so outside of your illness what is going on in your life?” and I paused as I didn’t even know where to begin answering this question. What I found through answering this question is that it is OKAY to want to do normal things like bake an apple pie or planning a photoshoot with friends.
Q Outside of your chronic illness what is your identity made up of? By answering this question we can begin to start living our fullest life.
A My identity is found in Jesus and is made up of everything that makes me- me! Here is an example from my #powersheets of what my identity is made up of:
We are quick to also see what we are lacking rather than all we have gained. I am so much more because of what I have fought for and continue to fight against. Through Lara’s discovery, she starts to work on her heart little by little. She started living for the long term and for the meaningful. She tells us about the miracle of her orchid- that after all that time it blossomed and was growing! God was growing! God was moving! Hallelujah!
I was discovering an essential truth: good things didn’t grow all at once but rather little by little. Little by little, God was changing my life. He was showing me real grace: an invitation to experience new life in my brokenness and undeserved forgiveness in my mess.Casey, Lara. Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life (p. 8). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
And it’s this essential grace that gives me the freedom to cultivate—embracing little-by-little, imperfect progress, because I know I don’t have to be perfect to grow what matters alongside Him.Casey, Lara. Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life (p. 8). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
Lara asks us what in our life needs to be revived or given a fresh start, this can seem like an impossible question to answer when chronic illnesses are involved. So lets reframe the question:
Q What little steps can I take daily to cultivate what matters in my life? Go back to your identity page and think of a few actions you can take to cultivating the things that matter to you most!
When we lean into our doubts, seeking truth where we feel restless and unsure, God leads us to greater faith, and sometimes to unexpected new paths.Casey, Lara. Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life (p. 9). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
Q What unexpected new paths has God brought you to because of your illness?
A This Bible study- for instance: I avoided becoming friends with people with chronic illnesses for years because I believed that (like most facebook groups I saw) it would turn into a pity party all the time and I would become negative and bitter about what has happened to me. I needed friends who understood my battle though so I started slowly reaching out and allowing myself to become friends with people who messaged/followed me on instagram. This lead to lots of great friendships and eventually to this Bible Study!
In fact, it’s in the imperfect—the dirt—where things grow. Not despite the mess and tension, but right smack in the middle of it. In the parts of your life that feel dry, lifeless, and messy. In your weakness. In your broken places. In your hard conversations. In your fears and failures. In do-overs and boo-boo kisses. In I love you and I’m sorry. In leaning into what feels unkempt. In deciding that done is good enough. Even in that thing that you haven’t told a soul, that feels too ugly and painful to admit. I’m learning that there is magic in the middle ground. There’s good stuff for us in the tension of the in-between. Growth happens in the wait.Casey, Lara. Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life (pp. 9-10). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
Q Think of one situation where you grew in the wait and take a moment to thank God for that growth that you wouldn’t have had without that tough time
A When I almost died, I lost everything that I felt made up my identity. Over the year and half that God used as my “time in the wilderness,” He showed me what life was all about- Him. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t gone through the grueling process of being stripped down to my core and forced to evaluate my life.
The Hebrew word used for “cultivate” in Genesis is the same word translated “serve” in Joshua 24:15: “As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” Cultivating an intentional life is about serving the Lord for His purposes and growing what matters with Him. CULTIVATE IT One of the following definitions of cultivate may stand out to you more than the others. Circle or underline words or phrases that jump out to you most.
To cultivate means to
loosen and break up hard ground
care for what you’ve been givenCasey, Lara. Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life (pp. 10-11). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
Q What definition of cultivate stood out to you the most?
A For me prepare, encourage, improve, refine, and foster growth stood out to me but the one that hit my heart hard was “care for what you have been given.” We are given these imperfect bodies that take up out time, energy, and life BUT our broken bodies are still temples that we need to do our best to take care of.
So often we want to cultivate an intentional life, but something is in the way. What do you feel has been holding you back lately?
Mark the words that grab you most in the following list. The opposite of cultivating is
abandoningCasey, Lara. Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life (pp. 11-12). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
Q What opposite definition of cultivate stood out to you the most?
A for me it was neglecting and ignoring, thinking back to caring for what you’ve been given I tend to neglect and ignore my body at times. Whether that is by not participating in self care or choosing not to take my meds one day because it is a lot of work or even putting off important appointments I need to book.
Neglected was what stood out to Lara the most. She talks about how its easy to make purchases, create new products, and even just replying to emails- but mending her heart was going to be so much work.
Q What areas of your life feel neglected right now?
A My self care, I feel so worn down just trying to manage my body that I don’t always take care of my skin or paint my nails- really just doing things that make me feel better about my body. Just because my body requires a lot of maintenance does not mean that it is not worth extra forms of self care.
Q What have you been choosing to nurture instead and why?
A I have been choosing to nurture my relationships with my husband, family, and friends and that is NOT a bad thing! Choosing to nurture one area of your life over another is not always a bad thing, we just need to find balance in everything.
”For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest. A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones. A time to embrace and a time to turn away. A time to search and a time to quit searching. A time to keep and a time to throw away. A time to tear and a time to mend. A time to be quiet and a time to speak. A time to love and a time to hate. A time for war and a time for peace. What do people really get for all their hard work? I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.”Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 NLT
Each chapter will be focused on a lie and we will discover the truth to that lie.
Lie #1: I have to do it all.
Lie #2: I have to be perfect.
Lie #3: My life needs to look like everyone else’s.
Lie #4: It’s impossible to start fresh or move forward.
Lie #5: I have to know all the details of the path ahead.
Lie #6: Waiting is not good or productive.
Lie #7: Small steps don’t make a difference.
Lie #8: I will be content when I have it all.
Lie #9: I can do life by myself.
Lie #10: The past isn’t valuable; it’s all about the future.Casey, Lara. Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life (p. 14). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
Q Which lies stand out to you the most?
A For me, lie #3 takes the cake. I am always catching myself comparing myself to others and I do not need to. God created me to be unique and individual with different challenges and victories than everybody else and that is perfectly okay!
Well, welcome to the thick of it my friends! I can’t wait to explore the rest of this book with you! See you next week as we explore chapter 1!