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.
LIE: It’s impossible to START FRESH or move FORWARD
TRUTH: I can move FORWARD by digging in and BREAKING up the lies
Casey, Lara. Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life (p. 79). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
We often make plans for our lives before nourishing our growing ground first. We look at the surface because we don’t want to get our hands dirty or we don’t know where to begin. Under the surface, though, in the mess of the dirt, is where new life takes root.Casey, Lara. Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life (pp. 80-81). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
I find this to be true far too often. I love to fix the surface, I love to tend to the easy things, but tending to the roots is hard. When I was new to living the chronic illness life, I faked my relationship with Christ. Deep down though I was so angry with God and what He was allowing to happen to me. It was much easier to go to church every sunday, play worship music in the car, and tithe every week than it was to dig into my bible or pray. When I was ready to go back to hearing from God, I started by reading a proverb and writing my prayers down in a prayer journal. This was my beginning. Some days my bible felt like a block of cement, and it was hard. Even now some days I struggle to dig deeper into the word- but by continuing to do the “hard thing” new life is growing.
Q Have you had a similar life experience? How has it helped you dig in the mess of the dirt and create new life?
My younger brother-in-law and I were talking a couple weeks ago and he was explaining to me why flowers wilt (we were talking about planting) and he said there is a loss of nutrients (fluid) and oxygen- I joked that I must be like a flower as I go into the hospital for infusions and extra oxygen once a week. As I was reading this I couldn’t help but think of that conversation. I started thinking about my soil and that no matter how well I nourished it by eating well, stayed as hydrated as I can, resting as often as my body needs, and even by taking my medications, that sometimes I can’t control the outside environment. I can’t control the storms that are coming, only God can, but flowers do not worry about there being too much rain or a heavy frost that is about to come- they bloom where they are planted and rest in the peace that God is watching out for them. Our lives would be so different if we didn’t let fear and “what if’s” run our lives.
During my hustle-hard days, my soil was depleted. It didn’t take much to knock me down. A discouraging e-mail could send my entire day into a tailspin. I had put all my hope in things that easily faltered: what others thought of me, the amount of money in my bank account, and the false idea that reaching my business goals would make me whole. My emotions were in constant flux, depending on the state of the shifting sands. I had been rooted in fear—fear of what others thought of me, fear of not being enough, fear of failure. Fear ruled every part of my life. When everything began to crumble, God caused me to rework my soil. He poured grace on every bit of my fear and sin, redeeming the dirt and giving me nourished soil in which to grow an intentional life. Before, when challenges would come, I only had one mode: anxiety. I’d cry, complain, distract myself, escape, or just try harder, thinking I could fix it all. Now I know I have an alternative: trust in Someone bigger than I am.Casey, Lara. Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life (pp. 81-82). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
Do you ever feel rooted in fear? On low spoon days especially, I find myself being knocked down when tests don’t come back the way I had hoped, treatments fall through, and appointments get cancelled or worse- they end up being a waste of my time. I fear all of the areas that Lara talked about but also, fear that doctors won’t take me seriously, fear of being stuck in bed for the rest of my life, fear that I will be forgotten and my life won’t be purposeful. These are the fears I am laying down at Jesus’ feet.
Rich soil is transformed soil. Hand over your boulders of stress, worry, and fear, and God will crush them to fine sand with His love and forgiveness. Give Him the thorny remnants and roots of your past, and He will till them up and make them into nutrient-rich growing ground. Lay down your fruitless striving and dry soil, and God will pour out His transforming grace to make you new. Your life may not look like you thought it would, but you’ll be so grateful it doesn’t! Redemption is messy, but it’s the only way to cultivate what lasts.Casey, Lara. Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life (p. 82). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
Q What fears do you need to lay down at Jesus’ feet?
Like rich compost, the best soil is filled with transformed remnants of the past. In the same way, your past challenges and mistakes can be transformed by God’s grace. Even when everything on the surface of a garden dies, the soil remains. It changes over time, but the soil is what continues. Things on the surface—such as our circumstances, dreams, and health—change over time and through the seasons, but the soil remains.
Q If everything on the surface of your life were to fall apart, what would remain? What is your foundation? Where does your hope come from?Casey, Lara. Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life (p. 83). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
A for most of us with chronic illnesses we have had our surfaces fall apart and we have learned what will and won’t remain. When I have fallen apart my family and my faith remain. In the past I have crumbled because Jesus was not my foundation and I had other worldly things as my foundation. Now I know that He is where my hope needs to come from because even if I lose everything, as long as I have Him, I don’t need to worry.
3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.Matthew 13:3-8
The hard ground represents someone who hears and knows the right path to follow but chooses not to. She keeps living life her own way. She has it all under control on the surface, but underneath the surface is dry and immovable. The seed of God’s Word can’t sprout and grow fruit in her hardened heart.Casey, Lara. Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life (p. 84). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
The rocky ground depicts someone who has fleeting faith. She talks about wanting to cultivate what matters, but she’s more concerned about what others think than actually following God.
The thorny ground symbolizes someone whose heart is focused on gaining things here on this earth instead of what lasts forever. She is distracted, perhaps by money, pleasures, or status. Her time and attention are focused away from the Word, and she ends up having no time for it.
The good ground is a picture of the one who hears, understands, and does something about what GOd says in His Word. Her heart is set on what lasts longer than she will. Her life is messy but meaningful. She is imperfect and covered in grace. Her life is faithful and fruitful. She is a cultivator.
Q What type of soil describes you in this season of life?
A After looking at all of Lara’s descriptions I think I have a little bit of everything in this season. I am very stubborn like the hard ground and sometimes make it seem like: She has it all under control on the surface, but underneath the surface is dry and immovable. I, at times, let my heart fall into rocky ground and forget that what He has promised to me will come true. Sometimes I am like thorny soil and get distracted in the pleasures of this world. I take great pride though in knowing that over the past year I have worked very hard to grow my roots into good ground with a messy but meaningful life in Christ.
What is so great about looking at where our roots are growing is that we can change that soil AT ANY TIME! There are seasons where our soil needs more watering to keep from being dry, times where we break up rocky ground in order to let the roots advance deeper, and there are even seasons where we don’t just break up hard things but we take out the thorny bushes despite how hard that can be.
As you begin to uncover your answers, practice an essential cultivating skill: letting dirt be dirt. Cultivators share their hearts without fixing what feels messy in the same sentence.Casey, Lara. Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life (p. 85). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
How FREEING is that?! Let the dirt be dirt. We experience this often with a chronic illness. Sometimes we need to let our reality just be- because in all reality more often than not there is nothing to fix. There are times where I will be talking to my husband and we discuss that I want to vent, but do not need or can process coming up with a way to fix the situation- I just want to talk about it and let it be. I feel like I have gotten good about letting dirt be dirt.
Q do you feel like you have gotten good at letting dirt be dirt?
A I think I have, but I don’t always allow that to seep into other areas of my life. I also find that sometimes it can have a negative impact as well if I leave the dirt to be dirt for too long. There has to be balance. Have you had similar experiences?
Just because we are good at letting certain things be what they are doesn’t mean that we are rooted in all the right things.
Q Let’s look at the big picture. What are you most rooted in. Here are some possibilities. Circle those that describe what your foundation is made of right now:
-Fear of the FutureCasey, Lara. Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life (p. 86). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
-Anxiousness or worry
-A sense that there is more to life than this
-Expectations from others
-Contentment (Embracement of each day)
-The belief that my illness defines me
-Thinking I can’t move mountains from a hospital bed
-The belief that because my health is unstable that my whole life is
A Right now I am personally rooted in anxiousness, hope, contentment, thinking I can’t move mountains from a hospital bed, and the belief that because my health is unstable that my whole life is untable. Now when I say contentment I want to be clear- I do not love my life the way it is, but I am able to recognize where my body is and what it is at. I am working hard to embrace each day because each day of life is a gift- even with a broken body.
If you feel like you just released a dump truck of dirty, messy imperfection, what I about to say might surprise you: I am excited for you! The more lifeless soil you have, the more opportunity there is for God to nourish your soil and to grow new things… Don’t get stuck in the mud. I was there once too. I felt like my mess was so big that it would take decades to dig through it… But my soil started to transform when I let the dirt be dirt, and saw it for what it was. I saw the hard parts that needed to be tilled and broken up, and I saw the jagged rocks that needed to be tossed right out of my garden! God’s transformation of my heart didn’t happen overnight, but little by little, the soil of my life went from nutrientless to imperfectly full and rich with life. There is hope around the corner for you too.Casey, Lara. Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life (p. 87). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
Sometimes it can be hard to not immediately create a plan to “dig out the rocks” that we see but we can’t just let dirt be dirt where our illnesses are concerned, we have to see things for what they are in other parts of our lives. When you live the chronic illness life it can be hard to separate parts of our lives, because for most our illnesses run our lives. Little by little, I learned to embrace each day and sometimes just minutes at a time- and you can too.
We looked at the big picture of our soil; now let’s get more specific.Casey, Lara. Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life (p. 88). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
Q What froze over in your life in this last year? Remember: let the dirt be dirt. Write how you feel and move forward.
A (refer to your list from the question about what your foundation is made up of):
1.Anxiousness/Worry: This past year I worried a lot and spent so much time stressing out about my illness and treatment options. I dealt with a great deal of anxiety with my doctors and worrying if they would believe me or not. As Lara says, “worrying is like praying for what you don’t want.” My mom and I have a self reflection question that we challenge each other with, “have you prayed about it as much as you’ve thought/talked about it?” I found so much peace in laying everything at His feet. I promise He can handle your fears.
2. Hope: This year God showed me that He wanted me to know, declare, and wait on His promises. This gave (and still gives me) great hope for the future.
3. Contentment (embracement of each day): This has been a battle all year long, but it has taught me so much. I have been working hard to find three things a day that I am grateful for, and to embrace the crazy each day holds. There are good moments to be found in every challenge, victory, failure, and situation.
4. Thinking I can’t move mountains from a hospital bed: This was something I discovered in my powersheets that I needed to let go of. God has called me to do big things, and a hospital bed CANNOT stop His plans for me.
5. The belief that because my health is unstable that my whole life is untable: I don’t even know where to begin with this one. I found myself second guessing myself this past year and allowing my illness to run my life. Yes it requires lots of attention and time, but my God is stable and He never fails. He has given me the strength to balance all this life holds.
If it matters to you, you’ll cultivate it. But here’s the rub: it has to matter to you. Real change comes from deep below the surface, where action is first ignited. If what you are longing for really matters to you- if that seed has been planted at your core- then you’ll risk stepping into the mess to nurture instead of neglect. You’ll stop doing things the way you’ve always done them and start breaking new ground. During the uncultivated days of my marriage, if you were to ask me what my priority in life was, I likely would have told you it was healing my relationship with my husband. But based on my actions, my business mattered more. Since everything else felt beyond repair, work is where I placed the majority of my attention- so that’s what grew. My work became my worth. Our actions follow the desires of our hearts. My heart can feel pretty messy some days. I want to do the right thing and make meaningful progress, but I mess up or don’t know how to do it. I want to do it all and do it all well, but I’m human. I’m flawed. And I need help. So how do we grow what matters when we are flawed and forgetful? Jesus tells us the answer: “for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:34) We choose God as our treasure, no matter how many times we mess up along the way, and by His grace, the desires of our hearts will transform our own hearts; we just have to surrender them.Casey, Lara. Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life (p. 89-90). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition
We cultivate what we pay attention to.
Wow. Let that all sink in. The five areas that I listed above cannot and will not be cultivated unless they matter to me. They may be important things, but unless God has called me to rip out those weeds I won’t be able to do it. I may want to embrace each day, but if I complain all day, am I really embracing each day? My actions and words wouldn’t say so. Lean on Jesus and ask Him what needs cutivating, and just take a few SMALL steps towards each goal. Remember to still let the dirt be dirt. Little by little progress adds up and small steps is how we cultivate and see success especially when we live the chronic illness life.
A cultivated life isn’t grown from rules or a timetable; it’s grown from a relationship with the One who transforms our soil and our souls.Casey, Lara. Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life (p. 91). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
Q If you were to remove the barriers that are holding you back from flourishing, what positive possibilities would have room to sprout? List those possibilities.Casey, Lara. Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life (p. 93). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
A A big “hedge” in my life is thinking that I can’t move mountains from a hospital bed. I fear not being able to make an impact. If I were to let this go I would find more peace, contentment, and it would open my heart to be able to see the opportunities God has given me- just like this Bible Study! This Bible study happened because I ripped out that hedge and starting planting new seeds.
Whatever is needed, know that removing barriers will be worth it, no matter how long it takes or how hard the process is to get there… Remember that in choosing to dig down and examine what soil isn’t working, we are going to have to get our hands dirty. It may be challenging and humbling to name our mistakes, our past, and our broken pieces. But, friend, there is such power in exposing what is buried in the dark depths of our souls and bringing it into the light. God can redeem and refresh your soul. His grace is waiting to grow something new out of what feels messy. You can look at your flaws and fears as impossible roadblocks, or you can see your challenges as opportunities for grace to cover everything. Every little bit of lifeless earth in your heart is a pocket of purpose that God wants to completely transform.Casey, Lara. Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life (p. 93). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
Cultivators nourish their SOIL with TRUTH and let God redeem their dirt.Casey, Lara. Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life (p. 94). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
SEEDS OF GRACE AND TRUTH
-Letting God break up the lies, shame, and sin in our lives transforms us from the ground up
-Perfect soil doesn’t exist; the goal is plantable soil
-Let the dirt be dirt
-Let God redeem your dirt. Read Ephesians 1:7 and the surrounding verses. Where does redemption and new life come from
Rich soil is transformed soil it’s packed with grace.
Until next week!