Monday, November 22, 2021

My Vinedresser

"My Father is the Vinedresser." 

-John 15:1

Life on the Farm

Never have I appreciated farm life more than I do now.

I have lived most of my life in large cities, including Atlanta and Houston, and my husband lived in New York and Miami before we met. I like big cities. I like the hustle and diversity of cultures and cuisines, the convenience and the variety. Also, as a more introverted sort of person...I enjoy the anonymity they provide at times too. 

So you can imagine what a complete shock to the system I experienced when God moved our family out of "big city life" to a literal village in Southwest Louisiana...smack in the middle of a huge rice and crawfish farm, no less. 

For the record, while it might appear to some that it's my farm because of how it's positioned, I do not work the land that surrounds me. In fact, and this will prove more humorous and ironic later, I have a black thumb. As in...succulents may be able to survive in my care. Maybe. 

So over the last two years, I've watched my new neighbors with great interest and admiration as they just do life. You wouldn't believe the huge machinery. The technology. The process. The dilligence. The patience. They probably chuckle at how this city-girl stares, wide-eyed, from my porch with my coffee in hand, as they check crawfish traps on cold misty mornings. Or how I excitedly run with bare feet out to the yard, calling to my family to "get out here and come see this!" when they start to harvest the rice. Or how I beam with community pride when I pick up a bag of rice in the store that boasts that was harvested in Morse, Louisiana. I have become a total, shameless, farm fan-girl. 

Since living here, so much of the Bible has come alive for me in new ways. I've seen the difference between the fruit-heavy, bowed down wheat and the tall-standing empty tares. I've thought differently about sowing seeds on fertile ground, and the Parable of the Sower. But most often, I think about God, who throughout Scripture is identified as a farmer. 

From what I can see, farming is an all encompassing lifestyle. It takes vision and a plan, that much I can tell. There's an intentionality, and an appropriate time for every action. Someone who takes it on must possess a brave, entrepreneurial spirit. It requires a huge investment of time and finances. It takes artistry and technical skill and creativity. You need physical endurance, problem solving skills, amazing work ethic, and discipline. And so, so much knowledge, patience and planning. So, with that in mind, as I zoom out from the acres surrounding my house to the entirety of the world that comprises God's garden, His authority, capacity and care just press into my heart differently. 

The Great Replanting

When we moved here, we had to start over in many regards. I'll never forget the shock I felt when I was told it would take a whopping two weeks to get my internet hooked up. I'm pretty sure I actually started to sweat I was so upset. And getting used to businesses closing for several hours in the early afternoons for lunch, or my water and power and phone calls just randomly going out at some point each day. I felt like I was in a constant state of agitated waiting there at the beginning. In my defense, I left a very fast-paced, work-focused life, in which time spent with friends was a luxury. The expectation for me was that things happen yesterday. It seemed no one in my new home had the sense of urgency I had been living in for a decade. 

Also, small town, small church ministry is vastly different from mega-church life. Especially for me, because I gave up my official role in ministry to become a full time mama and pastor's wife. I was warned by friends who had travelled this road before me to tread with caution. To be patient. To walk softly. But if you know me, my drive and passion and busy-bee energy make that a real challenge. I had really good intentions...I walked in the door ready to blaze trails and innovate and implement my old habits in my new environment. But that's not what God wanted me to do at all. And I know now that isn't at all what my new church family needed from me, in this place where rich relationship and time invested are the currency. I recognized pretty quickly that I had a lot to learn. 

I tried to recalibrate. I really did. But I felt a restlessness and a frustration about the new pace of my life and my new position. I just couldn't get myself to slow down to get my bearings. Actually, I just didn't want to slow down. So I often felt I simply didn't make sense here. As if God had made a mistake. As if I didn't belong. I can just see Farmer God in those early months, totally in control of the plan, looking lovingly at me, His restless little vine. "Don't worry," I bet chuckled to Himself right before COVID hit. "You're just where you're supposed to be. I'm about to help you slow way down." 

And boy, did He. 

Just months after moving to the country, everything shut down. Even after things re-opened, I can't count the number of times since that I've felt I was being "put in my place" by God. At the time, it felt like I was being limited. Stifled. Put in time-out, even. Honestly sometimes I still do. I have a head full of ideas and a lifetime of practice at gunning for it. However...I think in the last few months, I've finally, and necessarily, been humbled to the point where I understand that I am simply not here just to impart, but also to learn. Not to be seen, but to reflect. Not to be the vinedresser, but to be the vine. To grow. And to be fruitful. For my great big, capable, Farmer God. 

Let me ask you this—Do you ever feel like you're being put in your place by God? Are you somewhere you just don't want to be? Do you feel you're hitting a wall? Do you have great big plans for yourself that just keep ending up with slammed doors? Maybe you are feeling a bit underutilized. Is it making you so afraid you're going to miss it, whatever it is for you? Can I just gently and lovingly share with you what God has taught me about this on this beautiful farm I live on? It's not the plant's job to worry about its placement. Or its season. Or its pruning. All that worry belongs squarely on the shoulders of the Vinedresser...The One who invests, plans, purposes, prunes and perfects His crop with a great harvest in mind. Maybe you're like me. Maybe you just need reminding that you are not the vinedresser. Maybe it's time we start doing our job, instead of trying to do His. 

So what is my job, you ask? If I'm not planning how to maximize my own passions and life plan and skills for the Kingdom, what should I be doing? Let me illustrate it with rice. 

Wherever these little plants are placed, that's where they stay until the farmer moves them. They bask in sunlight, and they are absolutely saturated in water, soaking it all up and growing tall. As they grow, they develop fruit - the rice kernel. The more mature and fruit-filled the grain is, the more it bows low. And it yields its harvest to the use of the Farmer. When He prunes, it doesn't shrivel up and die—it keeps on growing under his direction. 

Do you see it? Do you see how we're like the little plant? We don't have to make our lives purposeful. We just need to strive to make them fruitful. We need to soak up His word, saturate in the Son-light, every day, knowing He will grow and nourish us. We need to grow in humility as we grow in stature and maturity. And we need to surrender every outcome to His leading and direction. 

Quitting My Farming Job

I feel my focus shifting slowly. More often now, I'm able to take my eyes off of my "black thumb" plan and what could be, trading it for the beauty God is growing right in front of me. Can I share what He has cultivated in me as I've relinquished the role of Vinedresser? 

The big mega churches I served in long for the kind of community I have found here. It's just a natural way of life for them here. Around fire pits with friends, on living room floors with a thousand kids running around, making drapes and filling tissues with tears, sitting quietly at my kitchen counter with a friend with a shared these places I have felt a richness and a love like never before. It's new for me.

I am learning to minister differently here. 
  • Stillness is a pre-requisite to service now. As I reflect back, so often I was doing ministry with an empty tank. Now, I soak a lot more.
  •  I no longer feel I have to wait for an official position to do impactful ministry right where I am. 
  • I'm unhinging from the belief that I need to perform in order to be valued, loved and respected. 
  • I'm (counter-culturally) embracing that increased impact does not always come with increased visibility. That great ministry is not just about great resources and activities and programming. It is about presence

I realize now, I didn't know how to be present before. I just knew how to get things done. I was always in such a hurry. So I see now that God, in His love for me, knew I desperately needed a replanting in a new field. I needed this beautiful community to help impart all this to me, to envigorate my growth. When I started, it felt like so much was being taken away. Now, I can see how much I really needed this big change. And all I can say is... I am so thankful for this displacement, this interruption, the pruning that, (while it began painfully, and I didn't always respond gracefully) has yielded some of the greatest joys and deepest relationships I've ever had. It is changing my life and my fruitfulness in ways I could not have anticipated. 

So,... if I could just sum up what it has taken me two years and counting to learn, here it is: Friend...if you feel God is trying to put you in your place....maybe it's time that you just let Him

I know it's awkward. Painful even. You want to resist it. You're exhausting yourself fighting it. But say it with me...."I am not the Vinedresser. My Father is the Vinedresser." Relax the grip. Take a breath. Let the Farmer be the farmer. Let him take away what you don't need for a season. Let Him reposition you. Let Him repurpose you. Let Him do the planning. He knows how to maximize your life in ways you can't imagine, and this season is part of that. 

You do your job. Be the fruitful vine. Soak, grow, bloom, and yield. That's enough to focus on each day. You're not gonna miss it. I promise. As I often remind my daughter, He's got the whole world in His hands. That includes you. His are the very best outcomes, and while they do tend to take time, they are definitely worth the wait.

Happy growing, little vine. You are loved. <3 Don't forget it. 

Amanda ❤️

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