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.

Don’t Mess with Texas

I went to a party a week ago. Really, almost two weeks ago, and really, it will have been a month before you read this. I went to a party in Austin, Texas at Jen Hatmaker’s house. For those who do not know, Jen is an author, speaker, mom, wife, and everyone’s best friend, plus she helps lead an awesome church that is basically being Jesus except with cowboy boots. 

Apparently, the house I partied at was made famous on HGTV, but since I only get to watch HGTV in hotel rooms (we watched a lot of it going to Texas and back) I would not know that detail.

She invited her launch team to a party. I am still amazed at that fact, and I am still amazed that I picked up and just drove to get there. It’s still surreal.
Everyone else involved seems to have written about it immediately. As in, they must have gone back to their hotel rooms in Austin and blogged at midnight, people, because that’s how fast some of them managed to get these reflections posted.

I did not.

Yes, we really drove there. And loved it.
I went back to my room, meandered around Texas for another two days, drove back to Chicago in another three, and spent a week returning to life and processing what had happened. Because I am All. About. Processing. And not so much about getting things done right away. Let’s assume it’s all for good reasons and not basic procrastination.

Being on the launch team has been a gift. In five months’ time, a group of 500 of us have somehow made a community online that defied Christian stereotypes. We are a people of random ages, backgrounds, political theories, theologies, and colors. We disagree. But we don’t fight. We don’t call names. We don’t compare. We do pray for one another, encourage one another, and mourn with one another. We even give one another our time, money, and coffee mugs. That’s community, people. And until the party, most of us had never met.

Now, here’s the thing. I’m an introvert. I don’t do parties. I don’t do people I’ve never met. In large quantities. E-V-E-R.

So this was hard. I loved it, but it was hard. (Most lovely things are.) Sometimes I socialized and hugged and told stories and listened. Sometimes, I sat and just watched the buzz around me. I’m not the person to sit on Jen’s porch and take selfies. I’m not the one who will approach her to talk about life, even though I feel (like so many others) that we could be bffs. I’m not the girl who will sit in the middle of a table of strangers and draw them in.

The day after the party, many of us went to the Hatmakers’ church. (I know, she would hate having it called her church. It’s Jesus’ church. But it’s easier for identification purposes.) She made a comment during the sermon about it looking like a sorority house in the congregation. And it kind of did.

Which is exactly the place on earth I would feel the least comfortable.
I am so not a sorority kind of girl.


In the book we launched, Jen talks about community. She tells tales of how we have the tools and the ability to reach out where we are, with who we are and what we have, to create the community the world craves. And I realized something about that while I was taking my dear sweet time processing what the party had meant.

I love those women, and I will continue to love them and support them and do life with them. Even those I never see again. I am so grateful for their presence and for the party and for the woman who brought us there.

But community needs to happen where I am. It needs to happen on my back porch, in my church, in my coffee shop or library or park, where I live. The point of the book was to push us out into creating that, not to make us comfortable with a safe group of people we don’t have to see on a daily basis. That is a wonderful thing too—but it’s not the main thing. It can springboard us into the main thing by encouraging us along, but it isn’t the thing itself.

Wouldn’t you know, looking again at her book today, that’s exactly what she says,

“Online life is no substitute for practiced, physical presence, and it will never replace someone looking you in the eye, padding around your kitchen in bare feet, making you take a blind taste test on various olives, walking in your front door without knocking.”


My community needs to be where I am. And that’s even harder and scarier than a strange farmhouse in Texas.

Because its up to me. Up to my insecurities, imperfections, and fears. But that’s the point.

“When your worn-out kitchen table hosts good people and good conversation, when it provides a safe place to break bread and share wine, your house becomes a sanctuary, holy as a cathedral. If you have a porch, then you have an altar to gather around. If you can make a pot of chili and use a cell phone, then you can create community. If you want to wait until your house is perfect and you aren’t nervous, then just forget it. This is an imperfect apparatus, thank goodness. It requires people with true faces, courageously being seen.” (Jen Hatmaker, For the Love)


I can make chili. (I don’t like to eat it, but I can make it. It’s one of the few things I like to make.) I have a porch falling-apart-deck. I can be seen.

At our house, we have a formula to test how well people know us. Appliance repairpersons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and salespeople will knock on the front door. Friends will knock on the back door. Real friends will walk in it.




In October, I want to focus on this idea of community. How do you create community? Please share your ideas, things that have worked, things that have been disasters, and thoughts for the future. I would love to see your creativity and questions!


Absolute proof I was in Texas.