Have you ever struggled to write a Manifesto for your big idea? I did. For months. I tortured myself over it. I delayed launching my new blog because I couldn’t get it just right… and I finally turned it inside out.
Instead of writing my beliefs, I wrote the questions I’m most intrigued by. It felt totally authentic, not forced, and not preachy.
Head over to the new blog and check it out. Then try it for yourself. I’d love to read what you come up with.
Last weekend we celebrated my Dad’s retirement at the family farm. Around 2oo people came to celebrate his 45 year career. He could have kept at it, but he wanted to finish strong. It was staggering to see the impact he’s had on so many lives in rural Minnesota and beyond.
As a little kid, I didn’t understand his work, or appreciate how important it was. I just saw how much time it took. So as an adult, it was amazing to hear lots of stories of how much his work meant to his clients. So many people depended on his insights, trusted his counsel, and valued his friendship.
And that’s why I’m retiring. Of course, I still have decades ahead of me in my working life, so I’m not retiring completely. But I am retiring from my role as writer of this blog.
I started Toward Abundant Life a little over a year ago. This little experiment has allowed me to connect on some level with thousands of people from over 60 countries. It’s also been a tool for healing and self-discovery beyond anything I imagined. Writing these posts not only gave me a written account of past redemption, it gave me a deeper understanding of who I am and what I have to offer.
I’ve gotten amazing feedback from several of my readers, and I even won some great prizes in a blogging contest this week. But if I want to have the kind of impact that’s worth celebrating decades from now, it’s time to stop dabbling and go pro. The tagline for this blog is ‘deep down, you always knew there was more’ and it’s time for me to live that belief.
I’ve sensed for a few months that God was prompting me to start a new blog. I hesitated because this new project feels so important, and I was afraid I’d get it wrong. I spent months getting training, brainstorming, hesitating….
Next week, I’ll be launching a new blog on my new website. I’ll pop back over here to invite all of you to join me, and I’ll leave these posts up for now. But I know it isn’t realistic for me to keep up with two blogs, and I want to finish strong.
But before I go, I’d like to leave you with one more question: What’s the thing that you need to stop doing so you can have the impact you were born to make?
8 years ago, I had a patch of gravel and a dream. I dreamed of growing as much food as possible, in the healthiest soil possible. Clearing the gravel by hand was tedious, but I have a habit of asking God to teach me things while I’m doing mundane tasks, to make the time feel more “productive”. I reasoned that since the patch of gravel was pretty small, I could clear it relatively quickly.
I reasoned wrong.
I barely made any progress that summer. Between my new baby, my 3 year old, and work related travel, I only managed to make the area more hospitable for weeds.
The following year, work kept us away from home the whole growing season. The year after was the same. When we finally had a spring at home, I tackled the project with renewed determination. I was studying permaculture, an approach to farming (and civilization in general) that was all about doing more with less by taking advantage of natural patterns. I had seen what was possible, and now I wanted to make it happen in our yard.
But we live on a small, heavily shaded lot. The more gravel I removed, the more I doubted anything would grow there after all. We had a raised bed of spindly salads greens, some raspberry bushes our neighbors had mowed over, and a potted basil plant that desperately wanted to be in Italy. I somehow made it my fault, and compared myself to friends that had thriving vegetable gardens. In our yard, nobody was thriving.
That summer I read a book by James Greene, a respected herbalist. He said growing herbs is one of the best ways to experience their therapeutic benefits. Even if you don’t make medicine per se, just seeing, smelling, and tasting them can greatly improve your health.
I was skeptical, but intrigued. I learned to identify and appreciate the plants that already grew in our yard, the superfoods and medicines we dismissed as weeds. We had family rock picking parties in the back yard. We talked about the different bugs we found, and celebrated every earthworm. They were our allies in repairing the dead soil. We needed all the help we could get.
The following summer we hauled in dirt to fill the shallow crater where the gravel had been. I began getting perennials from other gardeners to fill the void. Even though nothing would set fruit in all that shade, I wanted to grow things that served a purpose. So I got a clump of oregano from one friend, a clump of mint from another. The next year I got thyme, sage and lemon balm. I got tarragon, catnip, and bee balm. My husband put in a stone path days before our daughter was born.
The next year I found a tiny wormwood plant growing out of cracked pavement. I carefully dug it out and took it home. My father told me my grandmother used to grow it, and sometimes put it in her tea. I never met her, but I feel closer to her just smelling the feathery silver leaves.
Several days ago, just out of curiosity, I made a list of the edible and medicinal plants growing in our yard. I counted 35 different species. Unlike vegetables, we can harvest most of them throughout the season. They come back every year stronger and more beautiful. They never need weeding. They smell phenomenal, taste amazing, and spare us countless trips to the doctor. I was surprised, and for once, I felt proud of what I’d accomplished in our yard. But, most amazing of all, it felt good just to be there.
And that’s when I knew my little patch of gravel had healed me.
Just like I asked, God had worked on me while I picked through the dirt. Eight years ago I was an orphan. I was impatient and compared myself mercilessly to other people. Everyone else seemed to be doing morefasterbetter. Everything seemed to take too long.
Now I look back and see the family we’ve made, the woman I’ve become over the last eight years. I see my comparisons as the funhouse mirror distortions they were. I see how my impatience slowed me down. I see how, without knowing it, I was true to myself this whole time. I thought I wanted to grow food, but I needed to grow medicine.
Have you ever started a small project and later realized you were the one being worked on? I’d love to hear what you learned in the comments below.
Last week I set the stage to share my biggest mistake by writing about the first half of our recording odyssey. If you missed it, you can read about it here. Today, I’ll wrap this story and share what my big mistake taught me.
2006– My family is sent to France for work while Jeremy continues to recover in Minnesota. For me, leaving the album unfinished is the hardest part about leaving for France.
2007– With Jeremy’s cancer in remission, we gingerly discuss resuming recording after I’m back in the States. We are both fiercely committed to the project, but still gun shy.
2008– I have a baby in January, and Jeremy’s wife has one in June. We hold off.
2009– We finish all the recording. After years of laboriously slow going, Jeremy and I record “Ruth” together in a single take. I savor it (but seriously regret not doing a live album). Jeremy finishes the mixing and mastering, and I finish the design and packaging. “Return to Sender” is a reality. Our 2 families quietly celebrate together in late autumn.
After all we went through to get here, I want to shout about it from the rooftops! But I don’t. I’m newly pregnant and nearly incapacitated. And while completing the album was a REALLY BIG DEAL for us, it (understandably) wasn’t for anybody else. Most of our friends at the start of the process weren’t in our lives by the time we finished. We had disappeared off their radar, in part because of the years we spent away. Most of our new friends had no idea I sang, let alone wrote songs. Through all the years that we worked (or didn’t work) on the album, I imagined sharing this story in the liner notes of the disc jacket, but by the time we finished the album, nobody does that anymore. So I often just sheepishly hand people a CD and mumble something about “We made this…it’s a long story…”
2012- I realized this wasn’t enough and released the album digitally in April. I launch this blog largely because I think I’ll be talking about my music. But Jeremy’s cancer is back, and he’s going through a bone marrow transplant. Promoting my music seems distasteful at a time like this. I write about my own brush with death instead.
Jeremy dies in June. It feels like there’s no tasteful way to promote the album after that. Everything feels petty. I know that God still had plans for the music, but nothing had gone as I planned.
2013- Almost a year later, I realize my mistake. Not promoting this music wasn’t gracious, or tasteful, or anything that I want to be. It’s cowardice. The fact is, God entrusted me with gifts to share. Not sharing them is a huge disservice to the people they’re meant to bless. It’s also a disservice to Jeremy, to myself, and to God. From now on, I’m gonna shamelessly promote everything God’s given me, because that’s truth . False humility is just false.
I have an album of songs I wrote and recorded, but maybe you already knew that. Recording “Return to Sender” is one of my biggest creative accomplishments, but my mistake is what you probably didn’t know. I’ve never really told the story behind the album, which is perhaps more remarkable than the album itself.
These days, you can retreat into someone’s basement with a few instruments, mics, and a laptop, and you can emerge with a completed album in a weekend. That’s what I did, but in my case the album emerged…8 years later. What took me so long? Here’s some of the story:
2002– I’ve written songs for over 5 years, but I feel called to share them with a wider audience. I want to make sure the message of the lyrics isn’t obscured by technical glitches, so I need a high quality recording. It feels like a major stretch financially, but we sign a contract with our friend Jeremy to produce an album. We meet to pick songs and set the overall mood for the project.
Our church leadership chastises us for not consulting them about recording an album. They accuse us of being selfish and not fully committed to the church. We back off for almost a year, second guessing our motives (now it seems sillythat I viewed this as such a set-back, but at the time we were young, prone to people-pleasing, and desperately wanting to do things “right”). Finally we get a second opinion, and the project is on.
2003– I record my first vocal tracks in Jeremy’s basement studio. When I’m behind the mic, it feels like I can do no wrong. Singing takes everything I have, and yet it’s effortless. Clearly I was born to sing these songs.
Jeremy’s carpal tunnel pain slows the recording of the instrumental tracks. We’re getting anxious to finish.
I lose my voice. I can’t sing for almost a year, and even talking is torturous. There’s no diagnosis, and no progress on the vocal tracks. I can’t stand knowing I’m the one holding up the show. I’m also angry with God, who I felt sure was leading us to do this recording. So why can’t we do it?
Jeremy is diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. The instrumental recording grinds to a halt.
2004– Our spirits are deflated. Singing isn’t effortless, and I feel like a shadow of my self in so many ways. But we’re still compelled to bring these songs to life. We tentatively venture back into the studio and manage to eek out a couple more songs.
2005– We have our second son. Jeremy has cancer. We stop even talking about the album.
2006– Months into his chemotherapy, Jeremy calls from his hospital room. He sounds so weak, but he’s eager to discuss a new idea for the album. I have no words.
Here’s where I’ll press pause on the story for now. I want to ask you: Have you ever felt called to do something, only to confront one roadblock after another? Where did those roadblocks come from?
Tuesday night marks the beginning of Shavuot, also known as Pentecost, or the Feast of Weeks. Like all of the Biblical Feasts, it’s known by several names and has at least as many layers of meaning. On one level, we’re celebrating the giving of the Law (it is cause for celebration, trust me!) We’re also celebrating the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the same holiday years later.
In the physical world, Shavuot is a harvest festival, and it coincides with the Barley harvest in Israel. The whole Biblical calendar is deeply connected to the land and climate in Israel. And the calendar is a picture of redemptive history as a whole. There’s always a spiritual harvest going on in tandem with the physical one.
It may be harvest time in Israel, but I’m living in Minnesota, where the snow is still melting from our especially long winter. I haven’t been able to plant anything yet, much less harvest. And speaking of harvest, why is is taking so long for so many of our prayers to be answered? We’re looking forward to a spiritual harvest, but the “ground” has yet to thaw. How can I celebrate circumstances that don’t match my reality at all?
Shavuot is an exercise in faith for me. Celebrating the harvest when the snow hasn’t melted yet is a little like celebrating the birthday of a child that has yet to be born. It’s like celebrating your anniversary when you’re still single. You can do it, but it takes faith and imagination.
But my family and I relish the chance to celebrate, irony and all. I’m looking forward to feasting together, singing together, reading the story of Ruth (which takes place during Shavuot) together, and maybe acting it out. I hope to spend at least part of the day gardening. There is a harvest coming, and I want to be part of it…
What about you? What area of your life is hard to celebrate right now? What promises can you celebrate today?
I did a guest post from a friend’s blog this week, and you can read it here.