A Sacred Space

A kitchen window with a bowl of fruit on the sill.

I live a very small life in a very huge world.

Since I love to cook, I spend a great deal of time looking out my kitchen window observing the small universe that comprises my space. I wake up early—but not too early. 6:30ish. A luxury after teaching school. I get to linger over coffee and stare out the patio door at my garden. The pond gurgles away and the birds tweet loudly–fighting over their morning meals at the bird feeders. A small breeze lifts the bells of the chimes hanging from the gazebo. Coffee cup in hand, I wander towards the garden boxes filled with strawberry plants, rosemary, lettuce, peppers, tomatoes. I never saw myself as a gardener, but I like the feel of the dirt and the challenge of making seeds grow.

It feels sacred—gardening. It feels sacred to care for the beauty around me. It feels sacred when I cut a head of lettuce or pull off an apple-red tomato for my lunch. The scent of fresh rosemary and cilantro is better than any candle from Target. Growing and tending feels like a sacred duty—after all, it was man’s first job. God asked Adam and Eve to tend the garden and take care of the animals. I’m thinking they were the first environmentalists.

In the backyard, an ornate Sun ornament overlooks some planters.
A happy sun shining on my small garden boxes.

But then came weeds—friends with the serpent of old just waiting to creep into a perfect world. Something to wreak havoc with the beauty the Creator intended. Why oh why did God ever allow Satan to enter the serpent and tempt those first gardeners? I ask God and myself that question periodically. An intense study of Genesis reaffirms that yes, everything that God created was good, which means the serpent was originally beautiful and good. And Lucifer was, too. He was a glorious angel. Beautiful beyond our imagination, and yet…he falls. (Side note—the name Lucifer only appears once in the Bible—in Isaiah 14:12. In Hebrew the name is “heylel” and means “light-bearer; morning star; shining one.” Thereafter he is Satan–Hebrew for adversary–or Satanas– Greek meaning adversary as well as prince of evil spirits and one who opposes God).

I call him “Bindweed.”

In the morning as I walk my garden, I’m on the lookout for weeds—specifically bindweed. Bindweed is an insidious weed that looks a little like ivy, but it grows and spreads so rapidly it’s almost impossible to keep out! Unfortunately, bindweed is sometimes hard to see; it wraps itself around the good plants tightly almost like it wants to strangle both their beauty and their purpose in order to replace them with its own counterfeit beauty—a pale pink flower.

No, that’s not a string! That is the root of a bindweed I pulled out of the garden. It was hard to dig it all out, but I was determined!

I see it growing everywhere—in the lawns, on the fences, around the plants in the park. And along the trails it spreads out like it owns the wild areas, sprouting little pink flowers everywhere I look.

I think bindweed is seeking world domination.

I also think it’s a tool of Satan that I must destroy! I’m  bindweed’s adversary. Each morning I search my tomatoes for even a tiny hint of it and yank it out with anger, using my ninja gardening skills to dig out the root in order to deter its advancement into my pepper plant! My fingernails are now peeling and extra short because I’m so determined to pull that weed out, I neglect my gardening gloves and little weed puller thing. Something about that weed gets my goat. I’ve even been known to pull it out of other people’s yards or in the park areas. The hubster has to physically restrain me.

That stinkin’ weed is my nemesis.

Small Kitchen Theology Moment

One day as I was knee-deep in my butterfly bush yanking out bindweed and untwisting it from my irises, I realized that bindweed is like sin, and the more I pulled the more I saw the similarities.

Weeds weren’t in Eden. Weeds came after the Fall. (So hey, I’m accurate in calling them “tools of Satan.”) We see it in Genesis when the Lord said, “…cursed is the ground because of you [Adam]; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread…” (Genesis 3: 17-19, ESV). Ouch! So not only will man now die, but he will also fight with the earth itself in order to grow food.

It sounds dismal, right? A cursed earth? Struggles and pain? Don’t get me wrong here: I strongly believe that humans were created to work from the very beginning; they were to take care of Eden and its animals. Men and women were to procreate and fill the earth. They were to take care of each other and their families. But, they weren’t to live self-oriented lives devoid of purpose.

The Fall made life a lot harder (Read Genesis 1-4 closely).

Just this morning I was out in my garden—garden gloves on and weed puller in hand. (How did so many appear overnight?) Digging my fingers deep into the soil, I kept thinking about the bindweed parable developing in my head. “God, what about this? or how about this?” And then it came to me: Bindweed sin.

How is my sin like the bindweed I was yanking out of my garden? What binds itself to us and transforms the way we look at life? What creates counterfeit life that might appear good on the outside, but is warping our view of God and our position in His Kingdom?

Bindweed Sin.

Just like the physical weed, the roots of these bindweed sins grow deep, twisting around our souls like a creepy python. The insidious thing is that they seem ok at first. They seem justified. Take negativity, for example. If you’ve ever been around a negative person, you have seen how their view of life is a bit twisted. I’ll use me for an example.

When my hubster moved me away from Oklahoma to the Ft. Collins, Colorado area, I was negative. I didn’t want to leave my family or my friends or my house or my security (Now there’s my bindweed sin!), but I felt like the Lord was pushing me to go. Hoping to find a house with a view of the mountains and an upgraded kitchen, I was pretty devastated to find that the only homes in our price range were either trashed or east of I-25 with no view of the mountains. And no upgraded kitchens or hardwood floors. (Note: you need about $450K to get a house like we had in Tulsa.) We chose one that had a porch swing and a garden. The garden is what grabbed my soul. A pond with a waterfall splashed appealingly and the mums wore such glorious colorful outfits that I overlooked the dingy, builder grade carpet and ugly linoleum and tried to thank God that we could even afford a home. I attempted gratefulness, but I was homesick and lonely. I spent days and days without any conversation with anyone except the grocery store checkout person, my dog, or my hubster. My phone calls to family were tearful and self-pitying. Depression sat in hard.

Like bindweed, my negativity distorted the life God had graciously given me. I couldn’t see the beauty around me without a tinge of negativity. And I felt so justified! Why did I have to move away from my comfortable life and come to a place where I felt alone, isolated, and unknown?

Escaping bindweed sin is a journey…a rough one!

Slowly, slowly God is shaping me and releasing me from that particular bindweed sin. He showed me that that the true root of my bindweed sin is not negativity but insecurity. I didn’t trust Him. My insecurity was resting in a place and a people instead of in God alone. Sure it was hard.

When a bindweed sin digs in next to an already weak area of your soil/soul, it takes root and flourishes. The more you feed it, the tighter it twists itself around you until you are miserable and don’t even know why. You can’t see God at work around you and instead only see unfairness.

Bindweed sins come in all shapes and sizes—tailor made for each of us. Anger, for example. Once that weed takes hold of us, a giant chip erupts on our shoulders. It’s us against the world and God plays an increasingly small role in our lives.

Arrogance and pride? Those get deep-rooted very quickly in our lives. They start with good dose of self-sufficiency manure. We did this, that, or the other…we made it happen…we are too cool for school…look at all we have accomplished…we know everything…we are always right…(and even) we love God and His Word more than anyone else! Self-righteousness gets tangled up in this bindweed sin, too.

The list of bindweed sins is as limitless as human nature. The thing is–once they get rooted in us, they disguise themselves as something good and justifiable and even worthy—and that’s when they get dangerous. Soon those seemingly ordinary weeds wrap tightly and efficiently around us, even blooming right alongside the blossoms that are part of our God-image design.

What the Holy Spirit is raising up in us is slowly counterfeited into something else—something much less. Something not Holy Spirit made, but “other” made.

Tools of Satan, indeed.

Digging out the root…

I hate easy answers to issues like bindweed sin. When I spoke earlier about my particular bindweed sin of insecurity, I didn’t say how God revealed it to me. I’m going to go a tad personal here, but it’s truth and I want folks to see that this process of digging out roots can be hard and painful.

Insecurity seems to be coded in my DNA. I was an insecure child, scared of everyone and pretty much everything. I became a people pleaser thinking I could find security in making others happy with me. I was scared of losing someone’s love or friendship, including that of my parents. I started gaining some confidence in 9th grade after attending a church camp in Siloam Springs, Ark. We had some amazing teachers during that week and I believe that the Holy Spirit “woke me up” to His presence and the essentiality of God’s Word at that age. My insecurity was still there, but I could—with the Lord’s help—stay confident about most areas of my life.

My insecurity came back full throttle in college. I discovered I wasn’t that smart, or that pretty, or that talented. I had been “made much of” back in my church in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, but that didn’t translate to a state university. I couldn’t for the life of me discover my purpose, and I married too young. The marriage was a disaster EXCEPT for my children. They were my life. Seriously. My unstable marriage fed my growing insecurity, which fed my need to find purpose.

My purpose: to be perfect and independent. To be the best. If I could get perfect scores in college (I went back at 32) and be the best teacher, maybe I could feel purposeful. Maybe someone would love me and I’d feel secure.

It never happened. I got almost perfect grades in college, but I didn’t feel more secure. Same with teaching. I was good, but I wasn’t anything special. Sometimes I felt a glimmer of security, then wham! Something or someone reminded me that I was just an ordinary person who can study and plan and communicate pretty well. But I wasn’t exceptional. Just good.

The insecurity stayed. And stayed. And rooted itself so deeply that I didn’t even see it coming. The “it”? Psoriatic arthritis and osteoarthritis. They’ve been a great team attacking my spine for the last four years. The swiftness surprised me. Within a year and a half, I’d retired from teaching, had my first fusion surgery, and moved to Colorado.

I was helpless to control my circumstances. I was isolated from family and their love and support. My husbster of 15 years had to deal with a very depressed wife whose bindweed sin was distorting her view of everything.

The root digging…

We’ve been in Colorado almost three years now, and I’ve had nothing but time. My disease limited me for most of these three years, but thankfully this last fusion in March 2017 is helping tremendously!

So how did God work in my heart to help me dig out the roots of insecurity? His Word and a great deal of prayer–plus some suffering thrown in the mix to remind me that my security rests in Him alone.

Here’s the truth: Without reading and contemplating God’s Word regularly, you cannot dig out the roots of sin.

I had plenty of time to study the Bible, so I did. I took the skills I had from teaching literature and applied them to the Bible. But the Bible isn’t fiction; it’s truth. The Truth, and when we study it, the Holy Spirit impresses us with the Truth we need for the day.

Contemplation requires prayer. More prayer than just the casual toss up to Heaven. Sure, those are part of my prayer repertoire, but I can’t let them be my only prayer practice. I’m still learning to rest and stop fidgeting in my spirit so much. It’s a constant battle.

And that’s the magic formula to digging out bindweed sins: reading the Bible and praying with urgency and fervency. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal any tiny re-rooting that starts to take place—and it will try to re-root. We are creatures of habit, and bindweed sins count on the rich, manure-filled soil of our human nature to help them take root again.

 After the last four years of “spiritual training,” I can usually tell when a bindweed sin is rooting because I get snippy and agitated. My poor hubster is usually the first to see the sin since I snip at him over something as ridiculous as weed killer.

Sometimes I start worrying (another bindweed sin of mine) and I hear the old tapes playing, “You’re not good enough. Who do you think you are?” And sometimes those tapes seem like truth and I start hiding my emotions by reading book after book or binge watching BBC detective shows. Those are my “Holy Spirit alerts.” No visions. No voice from God. No dreams. Just prayerful surrender and a grace-filled sovereign God of the universe who is patient in His teaching.

God is faithful and just. He cleanses us from all of our unrighteousness. He makes each day fresh and full of beauty. A garden reminds me of that truth. During the summer I can see the bees taking a buzzing stroll through my wildflower garden, scraping their feet on the pollen sacs and carrying them off in their little bee backpack. I watch the lettuce seeds emerge in hair-like green rows after only two weeks. I peer under heavy-laden tomato branches to catch a glimpse of the ripening fruit.

Glimpses of Eden. Reminders of the beauty God imagined.

Coneflowers! The bees love it!
Coneflowers! The bees love it!
A ripe tomato on the vine.
The tomatoes taste like summers at my Grandma Helen’s farm in Oklahoma.