Plowing Up the Hard Road


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.


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.


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.


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.

(Don’t) Clean up Your Mess

Hey, what’s wrong with messes? We look great, right?

The more I live with people instead of just coexisting in proximity, the more I recognize something—there are a of of messed up people out there. Even more messed up than I am. Yes, true story.

The other thing I’ve come to recognize is that being messed up is not necessarily a bad thing. Neat lives are often a sign of lives so carefully curated that they are museum dioramas, not lives. And the thing about museum dioramas? They’re full of dead things. Stuffed dead things. This is not appealing to most of us as an environment.
A little bit of mess signals a life that’s lived in, like a couch with graham cracker crumbs welded to the underside of the cushions. That life has taken risks, known joy, and has the stains to prove it. Some messes are dangerous, toxic spills that needs to be cleaned up out of our lives. But others? We need them to prove we’re alive.
I never wanted or imagined the mess of a loved one with mental illness and attendant self-destructive behavior. Given the choice, I’d have picked the carefully curated life. Having chosen that, I would have missed out on a lot that has made me alive.
I had no idea I was living amid dead things.
Sometimes messes just mean something better is coming.

Because of that experience, I’ve been able to share a lot with people whose lives are broken in various ways, and similar variations on a theme keep returning. It’s hard. It hurts. But we have learned so much. When you’re in the slime and mud of the mess, though, you really want to know what exactly people have learned. What could possibly make this worthwhile? What could anyone tell me to make me appreciate this wrenching time of uncertainty?

I’m not sure. I suspect that when people are slogging through those times is not always the best opportunity to offer sage advice. Most of us aren’t ready to hear it when the pain is shrieking louder than the wisdom. But people ask. What do you find out about life, and yourself, when your world is a mess? How do you even survive?
The answer to the second question is easy: God’s grace and insistent love. Nothing more or less.
The answer to the first could go on a while. But here are a few thoughts.

I learned that grace was a choice I didn’t make often enough. 

I had theoretically believed in grace, but operationally, I extended it mostly to those who didn’t look like they needed it. For those with rough edges and incomprehensible, annoying behavior? Maybe when they got themselves together. My reality of grace was not even close to God’s dream of it for me. I had no idea that grace looked a lot more like hugging a drug addict than praying for lunch at Panera.
Grace got out of hand the moment the God of the universe hung on a Roman cross and with outstretched hands looked out upon those who had hung him there and declared, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ Grace has been out of hand for more than two thousand years now. We best get used to it.” (Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday)

I never understood that before. I didn’t really want to. Now, I don’t want anything else.

I learned that love is always a good thing to decide. 

You might get hurt. You will be taken advantage of. But love reserved for those who deserve it and won’t tamper with it is not love at all. It’s a calculated investment. CS Lewis said, To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.”
I didn’t understand that until I had to choose to love not only my loved one in a mess but the people it brought into our lives. It seemed God put them there despite what I wanted, so the only real choice was to love them. And they did, indeed, break my heart. But broken hearts are the best kind for letting others inside.   . God’s dream for me was to lavish unconditional love, as He did. My reality had been fearful half loving.

I learned to honestly believe that He loves us. 

He loves our messes. Really.
He can handle them.

Driving with a loved one to a potential prison sentence is about as messy as it gets. Until in the middle of praying you hear those words on the radio, “If His grace is an ocean we’re all sinking; oh, how He loves us so.” And you realize for perhaps the first, or at least the most profound, time that they are true. Not just for you but for the person sitting next to you. And all those other persons out there who have messes in their lives and need that grace like an ocean. He loves. Beyond our imagination.

He takes care of the messes, beyond our imagination. All the worries and terrors and anxieties about them do nothing helpful, while putting the mess in His hands and leaving it there always does. Because He Loves are the most needed and true words you will ever hear, and they are bedrock when life feels more like a mudslide than a picnic.
I don’t know if you’re feeling messy right now, and I don’t know if it helps to be told those things. Maybe you have to learn them yourself in the fire. I think, though, that at least it helps to know someone else has been in that mess, and it has not won.
Something better is still coming.
We still have not finished this mess.

Have you seen the sign some people hang in their kitchen that reads “God Bless This Mess”? Yeah. That’s about right. Ask Him to. He will.