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.

Rudolph and Me–Misfits R Us

I gave my life to Jesus when I was 16, and I’m a quick study. Within a couple years, I was teaching backyard Bible clubs and could exegete the wordless book right alongside the kids who’d grown up singing “The B-I-B-L-E.” (Which was also big in backyard Bible clubs.)
As a shiny new believer in an uber-liberal university, I grabbed all the support I could and was soon fluent in quiet time, servant leadership (although, as a woman, I probably should have been more just plain servant), and telling people about Jesus, whether they liked it or not.
The perfect family. 
By the time I was a young married six years later, I tuned in to Focus on the Family every day, volunteered at a pregnancy clinic, and suspected that anyone who voted democrat probably would not be standing next to me in heaven singing “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
At 32, with three kids and a perfect life, I had read all the books. I knew exactly what to do to make sure it all stayed that way, blessed by God.
Until I didn’t.
Until I looked into the face of a raging child, screaming obscenities at me, cuts on her arms and traces of drugs in her eyes. Mychild. I cried out to that God for whom I had planned this perfect witness of a life. Begging for those black and white answers that had promised so much but suddenly seemed far less clear. 

He didn’t answer. Crickets from Jesus. You know, the Jesus who said trusting and obeying were the way to be happy all the day?
Happy” doesn’t quite describe the feeling of walking up to a stranger’s door to ask if your daughter spent the night there. It doesn’t encompass the terror of wondering if she spent it anywhere safe. It never applies to watching her once-sparkling eyes turn away from yours and seeing the fresh razor marks she tries to pull her sleeves over.

I had stood on the promises, and they dropped me. Hard.

Only later did I understand that it wasn’t God’s promises that had let me fall but the words we had put in His mouth.

I was a Christian, a pastor, and alone, with a bleeding, devastated heart where faith still resided by the smallest of glimmers. A spiritual misfit? What kind of pastor has a suicidal heroin addict for a daughter? It’s a great way to avoid eye contact in meetings. Everyone avoids looking at you. If only they’d avoid talking about you, too.
In fact, I’ve been something of reverse spiritual misfit. I started out conforming, not questioning whatever “they” told me I needed to be a good Christian. A weakling who believed I was strong. I look in the mirror now at a woman I didn’t know was inside during all my years of certainty, wounded where I needed to be, questioning what I always should have, strong because I know I am weak.
My sureness that I knew how to do this Christian life thing got hit by a 7.8 quake. When things shake to that magnitude, something is bound to shake loose. Questions bubble up from deep underground. Questions like, what is certain and what’s rubble in this mountain I’ve created? If it all comes down, what will be left to stand on?
If you stripped the gospel down to Jesus, to all he’d said and done, what was surely still there? And what had we added because we needed to be sure we were on the right track to make the grade? To be quite certain we were in control of God?
If you ask too many questions.
And you kind of like gray areas.
Asking questions like these can turn you into a spiritual misfit. It can get you looked at funny in the Christian blogosphere.
So can starting to ask questions like, “Who is really my neighbor?” Not my theoretical, nice biblical neighbor. My real, complicated, dirty neighbor whom maybe I’ve never chosen to see.
Looking into the faces of kids who hurt and who drown that hurt in drugs and any other self-destructive behavior they could find made me question all the people I had been certain were “other.”
Many of those kids wandered in and out of my house over those years. Kids I would have ignored before. Kids I would have feared. Kids I would have judged. But in my house, at my table, with names and pasts and brown eyes that echoed all the hurt they’d ever been dealt and all the bad choices they’d made? They were no longer sinners who needed to get their acts together. They were lost kids. They were my kids. I was the sinner who needed to get it together. Wait–hadn’t I always had it together?
Asking questions like, Why not love the unloveable? Why not forgive the unforgivable? Why not admit there is no difference between me and the junkie in the ditch or the immigrant running the border? No difference except Jesus, and I didn’t earn that difference no matter how many points I stacked up in the rules column. Those get you uninvited to speak at Christian ladies’ luncheons. You’re not safe anymore.
I’m not safe. Thank God.
I accept risk where I once demanded safety. I don’t just accept it—I revel in it. It means I’m alive. It means God is alive in me. And anything—anything–is worth that.

It is a good feeling, this spiritual misfitism. I’m not sorry to have lost what I believed was my salvation to find who I know is. 

me, the bag lady. aka, what have you got to lose?

It’s Thursday, aka, risk-taking day. And I’ve got one no lady ever talks about. I weigh 160 pounds. There—it’s out there. Said. In public. In Bold. On the internet for eternity with no way of ever, ever making it “not there.” Like those pictures of you in college.

I talk a lot about body image. I talk a lot about how damaging it is to girls in particular for society to hold up its perfectstrange and unrealistic ideal to them and demand their worship. I absolutely believe no one should feel inferior to anyone else based on a 3-digit number that pops up when they step on that scaledemonic instrument of mental torture. That’s just dumb. And any and all other synonyms of dumb. 

Numbers don’t verify your worth–on a scale, in a bank account, or on your birthday cake. .

But how much do I believe it? Enough to tell the world (or that small portion of it that reads this) what those numbers are?

Yes. Because if I can’t do that, you shouldn’t believe me. Period.

1-6-0.

But—the risk today is not just telling you how much I weigh. Because honestly, why should you care? It’s not going to cure cancer. (Neither is anything else I say, but there is more important stuff here. I promise.) The risk is—I’m going to do something about it, and I want people to join me. And hold me accountable.

These bags are heavy, people. That smile is
totally a grimace of “I want to put this
down now!”
I’ve come up with (what I consider) a genius way to motivate me to lose the last thirty pounds I’d like to shed. Here it is. See that picture? That’s 30 pounds of food. Beans, chili, pasta, oatmeal, tuna, etc. No, I am not going to eat it. That is not the genius idea. That would be a counterproductive idea.

What I am going to do is donate five pounds of this food to the Food Pantry for every five pounds I drop. So when I reach my goal, hey—I helped myself and a whole bunch of hungry people! It’s a win-win from my vantage point.

See, I’ve tried a lot of other things. A LOT. And I have dropped 20 pounds since my transplant surgery. But that was some years ago, and it’s time to get real. The rest is not going to melt off in some Swedish sauna somewhere. It’s going to take work. I’m not good at work. Physical work, that is. Let’s just say, if gym class had been part of our high school GPA, that valedictorian speech would have been someone else’s, not mine.

But—I think this one may just be a winner, because 1) I am motivated, 2) I love to give things to people, and 3) I am risking public humiliation if I don’t at least make a respectable showing. I mean, you know now. That’s powerful motivation.

I have no idea if I can make this goal. It would represent something I haven’t seen since Lindsay Lohan was still adorable and sober. (No, I’m not dissing Lindsay. I actually pray for her. I hate seeing lost kids destroy themselves.) The medical profession is skeptical, since they say folks on prednisone can’t lose weight. But trying is better than not trying, and something is better than nothing.

And if you’re going to aim for something, why not make it what you’d really like, rather than what you think you’d settle for? 

I mean, I have three daughters. Suppose one of them comes home one day and says, “Hey, mom, I’m going to marry this guy. I’d like to do better, but I’m not sure I can, so why not take what I can get and call it good?” 

I would not say, “Oh, that makes total sense to me. Go forth and be blessed.” I would say…well, I probably should not print what I might say. Suffice it to say, it would not go over well in the Richardson household. Because we aim for what we want. So if I fall short on this, so be it. At least the goal wasn’t too short.

Here’s where you come in. I think this could catch on. I think a lot of us love to give to people. I think many, many of us would love the idea of taking our extra pounds and using it to feed people who are hungry. (NOT literally. Gross. I am not going all Sweeney Todd here.) And, I think a lot of us would like to be healthier. Not skinnier. I am not promoting unhealthy body images. Not ever. Healthy. Healthy is a worthy goal, and an attainable one, and one too many of us disregard on the way to the donut table at church.

So, would you like to join me? It’s easy.

  1. Go buy as many pounds of food as you would like to lose to be healthy (not skinny). (I weighed some cans and boxes of pasta I already had at home to get an idea of how much that was.) Look on the website of your local food pantry to find out what their biggest needs are first.
  2. Lift those bags. Feel all that extra weight? Do you want to carry that around? I don’t either. That’s an eye-opener right there.
  3. For every five pounds you lose, or one pound even, move that amount of food to another bag to donate. I’m probably going to bring mine in all at once, but you can do it any time you want.
  4. Share this post around so other people can join in the giving and the conversation.
  5. Comment here, or keep the conversation going here on my Facebook page. Tell us what your goals are, your concerns, your joys in the journey.


I would love to know how you’re doing. And I would love (seriously, I would) to have you ask me how it’s going. To keep me on track. We need each other. I do. Because let’s face it. I’m a self-control wuss who folds at the smell of a chocolate chip cookie. I NEED you. 

Let’s do healthy together. And bless hungry people. I see win all over this.

let’s go bravado something

On Thursdays in January, you were hearing a lot from me about RiskRejection, the group of fearful, quivering women who joined forces and said, “Eh, not so much. Quivering is overrated. Let’s do this risk thing!” And we did. In ways major and minor, we planned, risked (not always in that order), and bravadoed (yes, that is a word. As of now) our way through risk and fear. These women inspired me. I am excited to have a seat in the arena to watch their futures.

Soooo–move here? Would someone PLEASE suggest this?

But as the month ended, I figured, why does a good thing have to end? Why not keep it up? Why not keep finding a risk to take every week ad write about it? 

Problem being–I am not an endless fount of risk-taking ideas. I will run dry. I will start to resort to things like, “quit my job and move to Vancouver Island” because I lack creativity. And because I would really love to move to Vancouver Island.

So, I am enrolling you as my official risk-taking suggestion box. (Though you are not a box. Nor do you resemble one. That would just be . . . odd.) What risks would you suggest I take in coming weeks? What risks do YOU want to take but haven’t been able to make yourself engage in? I would really, really love to hear what dreams you have and what your fears are about them. We can encourage one another here.

But right now, offer suggestions, with these caveats:

  • I won’t risk my life and limb, nor those of anyone else, even on the days it is tempting. This rules out skydiving and snake handling.
  • I won’t do anything outside of my moral boundaries. (I fully believe it is immoral to embarrass myself. I’m sure I can find it in the Bible. Or . . . not.) 
  • I will operate under the exercise of free will. So there will be no accusations of chickening out if I don’t use your suggestion. Even if they may or may not be true.

The point is to continue to take risks with a purpose. I would love to invite you on that journey–as a risk suggester or a fellow risk taker. Join in.