My husband and I were born and raised in rural Kentucky. My closest friend lived over a mile away from me, so riding my bike to her house when I was ten years old was not an option. That was a downside. However, there were distinct benefits to living in the country as a ten-year old. I loved the wide-open spaces, plenty of yard for a large garden, pecan trees and other huge trees to climb … and even enough land for me to have my own pony. My dad made sure that we always had goats as well, and even today, they remain one of my favorite animals. Who knew that 45 years later they would be all the craze, with events like “goat yoga”.

As I grew older, my desire to see and experience the bigger world grew, too. That’s why it was a welcome change when Greg and I were recruited right out of college, by McDonnell Douglas, to move to MDC’s headquarters in St. Louis, MO. It was my first experience with “the big city” and I loved it. Access to sporting events, great restaurants, art museums, concerts, plays and musicals enriched our lives.

But … after 32 wonderful years of living the suburbia-lifestyle, we returned to our roots and moved to the country in the summer of 2017. Now when I say ‘country’, it is not how you might think of the country. It feels like the country, but I can still get to a major mall in 20 minutes!

We’ve had our own garden on this property for several years now and are happy to say we can grow peppers like nobody’s business. Tomatoes, however, have never been our forte’ and we all LOVE tomatoes. So … we recently engaged with Chris, the organic farmer next door, to help us hone our gardening skills.

What is so interesting about our discussions with him is that he spends most of the time talking about preparing the soil. How does the soil feel?  How does it smell? When the soil is rich with nutrients and minerals, the whole ecosystem of the garden will perform better. One morning as I was running in the park across from our home, Chris was walking his dog, Cooper. We stopped to chat and he asked me how the garden was coming along. I told him that we needed his advice, because our cabbage and green beans were being eaten by bugs. He said it all takes time. As the soil gets better and better, the plant will become hardier and will be able to withstand even a pesky bug. In addition, the deeper the roots of the plant are encouraged to go, the more likely it will stand firm when the storms come. Of course, the soil is not the only component to a successful garden – the garden needs water, sunshine and tender pruning, but it all starts with the soil. Taking the time to prepare the soil correctly will yield a better harvest.

This reminds me so much of our spiritual lives. The soil is like our heart. Are we cultivating our hearts daily by abiding in Christ? Are we spending time building an intimate love relationship with Jesus? Just like good soil makes for a hardier plant, a heart surrendered to Jesus makes for a stronger, more fruitful life. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”

To me, the water represents our community of believers. Water quenches our thirst. We were made for community. God never meant for us to go it alone. We need other believers in our life who will agree to “do life with us”, encouraging us when we need a lift and admonishing us when we need a little course correction.

The other part of Chris’ instruction that I want to zero in on is this – It all takes time. It takes time to prepare the soil.  It doesn’t happen overnight.  You must intentionally focus on making it richer in those life-giving nutrients.

I want to encourage you that we are all in preparation mode. Do not despair. If we stay surrendered to Jesus, He will not waste our life.  Ephesians 2:10 promises, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” However, God always matches our assignments with our character. We may need just a little more preparation before we are ready to take on an assignment. I love the following quote from Henry Blackaby in his book Experiencing God: “Is it for your sake alone that God takes the time to prepare you? No, it is also for the good of those He wants to reach through your life. For their benefit, pursue the kind of loving intimate relationship God desires with you. Then, when He chooses to work mightily through your life, He will achieve what He wants in the lives of those you touch.”

We need to trust Him with the process of preparation. Be patient … the Master Gardener is preparing our soil.