September 15, 2019

Raspberry Wars, Part One: Healing

The dinner dishes on the counter would have to wait. Recent events made me feel desperate for my raspberry garden. Two yellow Labradors knocked me off balance as I bent to pick up my pail outside the back door and descended the steps into the expanse of grass. The dogs rolled and tumbled across the yard right up to the garden gate. They stopped short, knowing the place was off limits.

Lifting the latch, I entered, conscious of birds arguing and a breeze rustling trees nearby. Although the sun hung only a few handbreadths above the horizon, bees still droned in and out, over the fence. There were no walls and despite the sounds of nature, it was my soundproof booth where I was no longer conscious of much beyond the confines of the garden. I needed to think.

The raspberry plants stood silently, some tall and straight, some leaning against the fence rail. A few bowed slightly from the weight of other plants entangling themselves for support. One or two lay upon the ground in their last season. I surveyed the ground. Something had happened there. Raspberries splattered the dirt like great drops of blood. It was the birds once again.

In spite of the fact I routinely fled to my garden to find solace from the day’s crisis, the place often seemed itself to be a battleground, reflective of what drove me there to start. The upset that had happened that day didn’t matter so much as the reminder I knew I’d find in my raspberry patch to help me through it. I thought back to it’s groundbreaking and considered how it had never ceased to provide me apt pictures seemingly drawn by the same one who’d also put his teachings into multi-layered parables when he walked the earth.

Twenty-four years ago, my family moved into a rural area with a bit of land surrounding our house. At the time, I was in a deep depression. A close family member was experiencing a particularly intense bout with ongoing alcoholism and had recently made an attempt at suicide. The devastation that had always saddened my childhood was continuing into my adult years.

Not wanting my young children to see me cry yet again, I escaped to the outdoors one evening after dinner to dig in the earth. I longed to make our land beautiful and productive and I found myself in a huge battle as I tried to form a garden out of previously unbroken ground. The clay soil was hard and compacted. I was weak with weariness and misery.

I dug in the earth and I cried as I dug. The unyielding ground was frustrating me, but I soon realized the anger welling up had been there all my life.

My real resentment was toward the people who continued to bring me hurt. I was shocked by its intensity. Here was an emerging blackness in a soul everyone thought was sweet. How could a Christ follower have such darkness inside?

As I continued to hack at the dirt, my tears of anger eventually shifted to tears of sadness for the little girl who’d grown into a devastated woman. It was the first time I viewed myself not from within, but perhaps as God saw me – a child who took on the responsibilities of cooking, cleaning, caring for siblings and keeping a watchful eye over the intoxicated, drugged and depressed adults in her life. In that moment, I knew God had seen every moment of that life and loved me throughout.

A patch of earth was beginning to be cleared and the next wave of emotion flowed from compassion for those I’d always thought had either meant me harm or didn’t really care. What had gone wrong in their lives? What had broken them? Suddenly, I knew they were hurt too, desperate for the same healing I needed.

I spent a long time weeping and clawing at the earth that evening. At the end of it, I was no longer a hurt child, but a woman who had hope her family could heal. The small divot in the earth, wet by my tears, was the beginning of my raspberry garden.

Plato once said, “Be kind; for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” In the years since I first dug and planted my raspberry garden, those few square feet have come to illustrate life in all its seasons, people in all their battles and a taste of how God, the gardener, views it with an overarching kindness and care.

How true I have found it to be that nearly everyone I meet is in a battle of some type. I’m ashamed at the many times I have misunderstood people in their painful circumstances – even going so far as to inflict a self-righteous judgment. Having often been distracted by my own internal struggles that others mistake as aloofness and apathy, I should know better. Yet, true God-kindness is so rare and we humans have such a longing for it, there never seems enough to go around.

Beyond kindness, however, there is a more foundational cry in the body of Christ – and that is for healing. In the early days of my garden, I did long for kindness on the surface, but what I really needed was relief from brokenness. Until that came, I was destined to be like some of my raspberry plants – weak, useless and barren. Christ said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing … You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.” (John 15:5,16) Fruitfulness is what Christ intends for us, but until we are healthy we can’t fulfill that purpose.

My family will tell you I’m more of an experiential gardener than a theorist. I don’t read books on the subject; I just do it. When it comes to garden tools and gadgets, I don’t indulge. I have an ancient bushel basket that belonged to my husband’s grandmother, a few hand tools and some gloves with holes in the fingers. I get down on my hands and knees to dig out weeds and prune plants and do the same when I pick the fruit.

On the other hand, I know a few people who have libraries of literature and well-appointed garden sheds. Some of them actually garden; some just like to talk about it and have all the accoutrements. In spite of my lack of theoretical knowledge, two decades of cultivation have allowed me to clearly understand horticultural cause and effect, especially with regard to my raspberries.

Although I planted healthy raspberry canes to start, my constant challenge is to maintain that health through good tending. Drought, thorns, thistles, attacks by birds, beetles and vicious storms all have their effects. It is not much different in the body of Christ, except that he receives us in our broken deadness at the start, with the intent of bringing us to life in the midst of our ongoing storms.

In my second or third season, I noticed a phenomenon. Regardless of my efforts, some of my plants looked puny and weak and refused to bear fruit. There was something inherently unhealthy about them. I contemplated pulling them out along with my weeds, throwing them on an ever-growing pile of refuse and igniting them during my annual garden bonfire. Instead, I increased my efforts toward them with more strident weeding, inspection against beetles and daily dousing with water.

A lot of Christians I know think it is enough to just be in the garden, but continue to languish there in all the emotional distress, soul sickness and spiritual poverty with which they entered it. I was one. Kindly, God increased his efforts toward me and led me to a discovery in the months after that painful raspberry patch groundbreaking.

One day I read Romans 5:10, “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” Two causes and two effects stood out to me. First, Christ’s death caused us to be reconciled to God. Second, Christ’s life will produce salvation.

I’m no Greek scholar, but the most superficial word study brought me to a turning point. Katalasso, the Greek for ‘reconcile’ means ‘changed to be made acceptable.’ That’s what Christ’s death produced. It changed us so that we are no longer God’s enemies; it effectively planted us in his garden. Sozo, the Greek for ‘save’ means ‘deliver, protect, heal, preserve, make whole.’ It’s his life that gives us the spiritual health and fullness of salvation that, among other things, allows us to bear fruit in his garden.

When I saw what I lacked, I longed for it. Many are familiar with the story from Luke 4 when Jesus fasted and endured Satan’s temptations in a desert wilderness for forty days. Just after that, He inaugurated His ministry in the synagogue in Nazareth. Standing and unrolling the scroll with the words of Isaiah, chapter 61, he began to read His mission statement: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…”

In ways that were sometimes literal, sometimes figurative, I was poor. I had a broken heart. I lived in captivity, especially to fears and anxieties. Understanding Christ’s mission was an epiphany for me. He didn’t come only to plant me in his garden; he wanted me healthy so I could be a fruit bearer for him.

I began to purposefully put myself before Him and ask for the restoration that has been slowly occurring over many years. During that time, I have realized that everyone, almost without exception, is poor in some way, or brokenhearted, or captive or walking in darkness. It is the human condition. Relationships go awry. Finances and jobs flee. Habits captivate. Health evaporates. Death devastates. We are all fighting hard battles.

Just as I’ve watched my raspberries through many seasons and battles, I’ve also experienced them in my life. I’ve experienced incredible kindness at times from Christ followers who helped me gain a bit of emotional and spiritual health through solid counseling, friendship and even a few kicks in the behind.

Other times? I won’t lie to you. Other times, getting healthy is lonely. People don’t always notice our need and if they do, feel ill equipped to help. Early on, my husband became frustrated by my depression. He didn’t understand it and felt powerless to help. One day, said, “Why can’t you just pull yourself up by your bootstraps?”

To that I replied, “I don’t have any bootstraps.” It was true. I didn’t, but God began extricating me from the mire. I realized I often burdened others with unrealistic expectations meant only for him.

Becoming a healthy plant in the garden can be a long process that requires diligently seeking God and the healing he wants to impart. It necessitates cooperation and standing still when he is pulling weeds from our roots and trimming our dead stems, but it is worth the perseverance for a few reasons.

First, God takes joy when we flourish. I understand this because I get a small taste of that joy from watching my garden flourish under my care. In Christ, we are God’s sons and daughters. The prophet Isaiah writes (43:6,7), “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth—everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” I have three daughters and delight when they function in good health, practice their unique giftedness and face their circumstances with strength and dignity. It’s not so much pride that motivates this desire, but the pleasure of seeing them well equipped for life.

Second, God’s mission is to restore his creation to its original goodness. In the same way, I take great pains if even one plant in my garden is struggling. I want it all to be right. Luke, chapter 15 tells three stories (of a lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son) that demonstrate how God will move heaven and earth to reconcile us to him. The same principle of relentlessness applies to his desire that we experience the fullness of our salvation. Remember Romans 5:10?  If he was willing to die to get us into his garden in the first place, how much more will he do to help us get well and stay well once we are there?

Finally, God wants every member of Christ’s body to be spiritually healthy. Similarly, if one of my plants becomes diseased or infested with bugs, I have to worry about the effect on the whole garden. Paul said of Christ’s body in 1 Corinthians 12: 26, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it …” Two years ago, the car I was riding in got hit from behind at a stoplight. As a result, I have back pain that is fairly minor some days and intense on others, but it never completely goes away. Otherwise I enjoy health that is close to perfect, but my back hinders the rest of my body from enjoying it painlessly.

By God’s grace, I have overcome much of what caused so much pain earlier in my life. Once in awhile – now for instance – I’m surprised when a deeper layer of brokenness becomes exposed, and my tendency toward fear surfaces. It’s an old captivity that has raised its ugly head and demands I deal with it. That will probably continue to happen as long as I still breathe.

However, I now know that God’s intention is for me to have the broken parts of my heart bound up, to have me released from anything that holds me captive and to find comfort when I mourn. It gives him joy to do so.

It gives him joy to do it for each of his beloved children. He is continuing to work wholeness in us for his higher purposes, to conform us to the image of Christ and to present us to himself, radiant and without any stain. It is desperately important that we heal – so that we reflect God in all his glory, so that we experience the full beauty of his salvation and so that we each contribute to bringing the kingdom of heaven to a creation that groans.

(Part 2 will discuss shifting paradigms, practicing kindness and rebuilding ruins.)

Comments

  1. “I have realized that everyone, almost without exception, is poor in some way, or brokenhearted, or captive or walking in darkness.”

    I think we can delete the “almost.”

    Lisa, this is wonderful meditation and prayer material. Thank you.

    • Lisa Dye says

      Thank you, Chaplain Mike. I’m in the heart of another raspberry season, so I’m seeing this decades old lesson anew.

      • Jane Schaefer says

        My life changed forever the first time I realized this to be true. Today my heart swells upon being reminded of this truth. Thank You.

  2. Plato once said, “Be kind; for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

    That’s a great motto to live by, Lisa.

  3. David Cornwell says

    Lisa, thank you for sharing all of this Christ truly has become our companion in suffering. And we really don’t come to the garden alone.

  4. Lisa, being an experimental gardener is the only way to really know the garden in my opinion. Really enjoyed this.

  5. Thank you. I agree with the other comments. The garden is such a great place to work these things out because it is a safe place. Just like my Saint Bernard. She will always adore me, no matter what I struggle with and how much I’ve failed. I pray that we may all find churches which are “safe” . . . in the correct way.

    • j. Michael Jones…I like a little prayer I read somewhere that goes, “God, let me be the person my dog thinks I am.”

      It is amazing how much our dogs love us. I haven’t had a dog in my life since I became an adult, but remember twith great fondness the two that were part of my childhood. And since so many relatives have dogs, I can enjoy theirs!

      One thing about gardens is that you can learn what it is that they like and need to grow and if you provide for their needs, they flourish. But people are so different…sometimes you can do all that you know is good for a person and that person can still choose to live destructively. It must be so devastating for parents when their children get mixed up with drugs and die at a young age. My sympathies are for all the people dealing with great sadness, addictions, abuse and more.

    • AMEN to the “bark-out” to our doggies: my big goal in life is to grow up and become as christian as my dog….. this may take quite a while, but my dog is very patient with me

      Greg R

  6. Lisa — I admire the faith you show in believing that you — we all — will change and grow and heal. So many Christians seem to have given up on this life and think that God’s promises will only be fulfilled in the next. Certainly we won’t be made perfect yet, and there will be hard struggles, but we must have faith that we are growing and healing; if not, our faith is not in the God of life, but just in the ticket we hold toward some other place where things will be better.

    I pray that you will continue to heal — and what a grace, that the process of your healing brings life not just to you but to the world around you! God is good.

    • Lisa Dye says

      Damaris, I like the way you’ve explained that if we don’t have faith that we can heal, “our faith is not in the God of life, but just in the ticket we hold toward some other place where things will be better.”

      It’s by the stripes of Christ that we are healed, not only from sin but every affliction that sin causes. The law of the spirit of life sets us free from the law of sin and death. Life is a superseding law and God wants so much for us to apprehend it. He is good.

    • So many people believe that God’s promises will only be fulfilled in the next life, because that’s where so many of God’s promises of healing and life abundant will be fulfilled.

      God promises that in this world, we will share in his sufferings and we will have trouble.

      Any healing or blessing or joy is just a taste of the wholeness and life that is to come. Jesus’ healings and miracles were a sign that he had the power and authority to do what he promised: to forgive our sins and be saved from the wrath of God, to give us eternal life to the glory of God.

      My hope is not focused on life in this world.

  7. Jo Ann Peterson says

    Thank you Lisa. i can really relate to your garden analogy. I am also an experiential gardener and boy, have I been out in the garden alot this season! (You know what I mean?) By the way, I put the Plato quote up on my refrigerator…awesome!

  8. Oh so many thoughts coming to mind after reading this. That line from Plato is a keeper, one that I have copied and will no doubt use on my own blog one of these days. I’m a gardener myself and seeing how incrementally things change and then, all of a sudden, you’ve got a fully blooming plant has been a source of encouragement to me before now.

    “I have no bootstraps” is another keeper. Again, I could go on and on. Just…thank you.

  9. I don’t have a garden, but wild raspberries grow abundantly around here: my experience is all on the harvesting side. In theory it’s wonderful: raspberries like to grow at the edge of the woods, so they’re often found along the roadside. In reality, there are an amazing number of nasties -brambles and thorns and prickly vines and poison oak – that crowd the same enviroment. The best bushes involve a quarter-mile trek up a steep hillside, through waist-high weeds. Once there, coated with weed seeds, burrs, and the occasional tick, I still need to be careful: if I stand in the wrong spot, there’s a nest of biting ants. (Sorry, but those berries aren’t going to be picked any time soon.) Another good patch is right along the main road, after a curve, where the shoulder is narrowest. The time of day matters, there. Still other bushes that bore well last year are this year’s disappointment, with berries that are hard and bitter for lack of water; there’s nothing for them but to hope for better years to come. Half the work of picking is weaving together raspberry canes so as not to hurt them, in case they bear fruit next year, so that I can stretch in for the berries hidden behind. When I reach in past the thorns, I have to keep my pose just so and pull my arm out exactly as I stretched it in. It’s a careful maneuver that doesn’t always allow for a good grip on the berry, sometimes I drop those ones. Sometimes they’re recoverable, more often they’re lost beneath impenetrable thorns. All in all, it is tedious, thankless hours of sweat and sunburn and scratches, all for one tiny berry after another. In two years, I’ve only seen one other person out picking, and small wonder – who wants to bother with such a harvest no matter how abundant it is? Who, come down it, really wants to be the laborer sent out to that sort of work?

  10. “A lot of Christians I know think it is enough to just be in the garden, but continue to languish there in all the emotional distress, soul sickness and spiritual poverty with which they entered it. I was one.”

    So was I, until very recently. I was very blind to my own soul sickness and spiritual poverty, so unhappy but fooling even myself. Thank you for this essay. I look forward to part 2.