Plowing Up the Hard Road

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I LOVE sunflowers. But I have an issue with them. Every time I plant sunflower seeds in our yard, I get nothing. No sprouts. No flowers. Nada. I put those things all over the place, but it doesn’t matter. I plant many other seeds quite successfully, but sunflowers don’t care. Absolutely nothing has come out of the ground when I plant sunflowers seeds at any time in the history of sunflowers.

Here’s the issue—when my husband plants them, those things jump out of the ground. We have a bounty of sunflowers. I don’t do anything differently. But I can’t grow sunflowers to save my life. I need to stay married if only to have a source of sunflowers in my world.

Even a good seed sower can have problems with uncooperative soil.

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Last week, we talked about how good stories change us for the better so that changed people can tell good stories with their lives. When Jesus laid down that idea, he began with a story to illustrate that very thing. It’s what we call the Parable of the Soils.

TLDR version: A farmer planted some seeds. He wasn’t very discriminatory about the way he planted them or where they fell. This was actually not too far off from current farming practices for Jesus’ time. Or he just had really bad aim. Whatever.

Some of the seeds landed on the road, where birds ate those babies right up. (I imagine starlings or blackbirds, because those things scarf seeds at my feeder like there will be a worldwide seed shortage within the next hour.) Starlings and blackbirds are also rather nondiscriminatory when it comes to eating.

Some ended up in the middle of rocks, and some dropped in the weeds. Rocks aren’t very fertile soil when the drought hits, and weeds . . . well, as a gardener, I know how fast weeds grow. Crazy fast. Either way, the good seed doesn’t fare well.

And some fell in soil that was juuuust right and grew big and strong.

It’s like Goldilocks and the Three Bears for farmers.

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Of course, Jesus was talking about our hearts, not basic dirt. What kind of heart will produce big, strong, plentiful crops from the story seeds he offers?

Spoiler: It’s not the first three.

“Some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them.”

The footpath has had years to be packed down into toughness. The more it’s been walked over, the more unyielding it’s gotten. Every step has made it harder, every day has tamped it down just a little bit more. It’s hard.

Maybe you know someone like that.

The hard, hard road doesn’t feel the need to give way for seeds. It doesn’t bend. It knows what it wants to accept, and anything else bounces off into the ditch of indifference.

Hard roads don’t want to hear anything that challenges their assumptions or threatens to change their minds. That stuff gets bounced right out. They have their rules; they know what’s what. Getting soft only creates people who compromise.

It just gets you hurt.

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Yet Jesus has no use for the hard roads. He knows no true kingdom values will grow there. Not until they are tilled up, plowed and furrowed and deeply dug to allow new seed to grow. 

Hard soiled hearts have to break in so many places to allow them to be vulnerable to the seed and sun and rain God has for them.

We cannot tell good stories unless we’re willing to face our hardness.

As a kid, I responded to being an actual, real-life Ferdinand (the bull who preferred to sit alone and smell flowers) with deep cynicism and sarcasm. Oh yes, you’d better believe I could do sarcasm as an eight-year-old. I didn’t get this good without years of practice. Also, I learned years later the secrets of the INFJ door slam. (“It’s been said that when INFJs get hurt or angry, they don’t hate you, they nothing you.”) 

I pushed others away before they could declare me too weird for words and push me away. Rejection as as preemptive social strike. I wasn’t very big or very popular, but I was strategic enough to know good warfare tactics.

Except human community is not built on warfare models.

When I started to face the reasons I lacked friends, the reasons behind why I reacted defensively and rejected others first, I began to heal and dip my toes in the open water of vulnerability. I learned to go first in bridge-building. I discovered that other people were just as afraid as I was. I allowed others to see between the chain mail loops about my heart.

I got hurt. But it didn’t kill me, and I found it was better than being hard.

Jesus’ words can’t enter a heart that’s defending itself from invasion. His pleas that we put others above ourselves, show mercy as our default, forgive completely, ask forgiveness, and start over—they can’t find fertile ground in hard hearts that won’t yield to the soft foot of understanding. We have no worthwhile story to tell without vulnerable hearts.

Go ahead. Plow up the ground. Face those things that scare you about letting others in. They won’t kill you. I promise that you’re tougher than that. I also promise that the relationships you will gain, the changes he will make in you, are so very much worth the scary bit. Stop hardening up. Plow deep. Allow him to plant seeds for a story that’s unique to you.

You’re a great storyteller in the making.

all the way to Rio

I have a new Olympic hero. My old hero—who is still my main one—is Keri Strug. Because 1)—she is a gymnast, so duh, and 2)—She took that whole commitment to team thing seriously and did something really hard and courageous for the sake of others. That’s heroic behavior in my book. I will never forget watching that event. A whole lot of us could be taught a lesson from Kerri Strug about going through tough stuff for the sake of people you’ve made a commitment to. But about that new hero . . .

My new hero is Anne Abernathy, who is old news, I guess, but to me she is new. And I love her, in a non-creepy-though-I’ve-never-met-her sort of way. She has been a luge athlete qualifying in six Olympic games. That in itself is an achievement. But . . . Anne was also 53 at her last qualification.

Here are a few stats on this lady (courtesy of Wikipedia): 

  • Abernathy is the oldest woman to ever compete in the Winter Olympic Games, breaking the old record during the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics (a record she set).
  • She is the only woman to qualify for six Winter Olympic Games and one of only two female athletes to compete in five Winter Olympics.
  • In 2006, she became the first woman over 50 to qualify for the Winter Olympics.
  • Abernathy was the first woman to qualify for six Winter Olympics.
  • During the AlbertvilleWinter Olympics, she became the first athlete to compete with a camera on board–a feat that was nominated for an Emmy in technical broadcast achievement.

And oh–she dealt with recurring cancer and a life-threatening brain injury during these years. Sheesh. I will cease and desist the whining about getting off my butt and doing a little aerobic walking. (Who am I kidding? No, I won’t. But I should.)

And—deeming it unwise to continue on in luge, she is currently training in another sport with sights set on Rio in 2016. Archery. Hey, I do archery. Kind of. Maybe . . . Except I’d need lasik surgery before qualifying for the team. Still, a concerted effort and maybe 2020.

So, is this one of those posts meant to shame you and make you think you’re not working hard enough or doing enough with your life, a la that “What’s Your Excuse?” ad that enraged so many post-partum women?

No, it is not. I hope it’s encouragement. I believe Anne would hope so. Encouragement that for every barrier out there that might be real, there is one we can knock down, one that may even be strongest in our imagination. For everything that blocks our way, there is somewhere we can move forward toward whatever we dream of. And if one opportunity ends, it’s not the end. It’s a chance to try a new outlet and see where it takes us. 

Anne wants it to take her to Rio. What barriers are trying to keep you from your Rio? Where will your next step take you?