When Praying feels like Watering Dead Roses

Only a hopeless optimist — who is also an amateur gardener — would water a rose bush for as long as I have. I believe it was dead even before I pulled it from its terracotta pot and planted it, much too late. Still, I persist in watering the wilted blooms alongside the snapdragons, in a flailing aspiration that the muted green will revive into pink blossoms again.

I don’t recommend this kind of false gardening hope, but as I stared at the faded remains of roses, I thought of the unfaded faith I desire to apply to my prayers. Sometimes my pleas to God feel too cliché to reach beyond our ceiling. They feel like tired words, as I request a glorious outcome from the same old verbiage. They feel like I’m watering a rose that can never come back to life.

But God. He is mercy. He hears our weakly worded prayers, and His spirit utters groanings too deep for words on our behalf.

When my prayers feel about as useful as watering dead roses, He is listening, inviting mustard-seed faith. Speak to Him in confidence and trust, for nothing is harder for God than something else. NOTHING. There are no levels of impossibility for Him. He can make dry bones come alive.

A few pages ago in my prayer notebook, Roe V. Wade stood at the top of my list for prayers for our country. Completely surprised at God answering like He did, now I wish I would have pushed into deeper prayer for the fight for life in the womb. Why didn’t I ask with greater expectancy, knowing God could indeed choose to work in this way against the odds? My praise and excitement would be more personal now if I had labored more in prayer with hope and trust. The prayers never felt like frontline work, but prayer is always battling where it matters most.

“With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.” Ephesians 6:18

When all around appears wilted, and you have only the strength to utter a few overfamiliar sentences to God, remember WHO you’re sending them to. He moves mountains for His children. His graciousness is always on display. His Sovereignty holding all things as we:

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”

Romans 12:12

Seeds are to Plant

I am not much of a gardener, but I hope to become one, a good one, eventually. First, I must cut through the fog of intimidation at trying something new.

Talk of soil, zones, timing, and types of plants can cause overwhelm for the ones who haven’t pursued a green thumb. Questions prick like thorns.

Have I missed the window for planting my favorite flower? How much money should I invest in annuals and where should I place the perennials? Will the mint take over? What if I change my mind about landscaping? Is it worth all the weeding?

Overhearing garden talk everywhere, I’ve begun to realize nothing can go too terribly wrong if I just plant a seed. Seeds are to plant. I can’t design their sprout, but I can put a little earth on top and pour water on it.

We poked little holes in our soil boxes, and I wasn’t sure how many to put in each hole, or if the sun would be too harsh, or if I’d be faithful to follow up. But I had to try. Humbled at my lack of knowledge, I appreciated the fact I had no control as to whether this tinsey seed would germinate where I attempted to place it. It all seemed like a shot in the dark, but a profound one. Then it occurred to me how biblical the planting process is.

God requires a similar faith in obedience of missional seed planting. I Corinthians 3:5-9–

“What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.  So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.”

As I sprinkle water on the tiny creations I’m caring for, I hope I’ll remember the real seed-planting partnership I’m called to. The Lord graciously gives opportunities to obey and speak the gospel in season and out of season, planting and watering seeds like Paul and Apollos. But God alone will determine the future of each one’s growth. We each will receive our own reward, and it won’t depend on the outcome of the seed’s growth, but on our obedient response in faith.

We may not ever see the results. In Barbara Cooney’s picture book Miss Rumphius, she tells the story of the “Lupine Lady” who cast seeds throughout her town in order to make it a more beautiful place. From her seeds, lupines delighted generations after she was gone. She simply scattered seeds along her pathway.

This summer let’s pray for chances to drop seeds in the gaping holes of emptiness we come across on our own pathways. To have His Word ready on our tongues, to labor in the heat of the desert, to plant where it seems barren. Work with our fellow forgiven workers, understanding the significant insignificance of our actions in the light of God’s sovereignty.

Everywhere we look is the field. At the park, at the thrift store, at the neighborhood bbq, at our front door. As the Lord’s servants, let us not freeze up in overwhelm that it may be too early or too late for planting. Let us not fear if we don’t know the right amount of seeds or the science of the soil. Let us not doubt the seed may be too microscopic to even produce a blossom.

Because God owns the field. We are fellow gardeners with Him, and what a privilege. The time is now to share about His goodness and the need to be saved from sin. There is a peace (and a reward!) in obedience, knowing we plant and water, but God controls the weather, the soil, and the fruit.

Waiting for Tulips (the March gifts)

driving home for the first time

daffodils saying hello

Indian butter chicken

friends who love us enough to clean the showers and every other inch of our moving mess

. . . and haul all our earthly belongings

quilt spread in the backyard grass

first sunburn at a luncheon

waiting for tulips…wondering their color

my sister’s carrot cake with citrus notes

“is anything too small for a child to talk to his father about?” —Anneliese

small prayers answered, as well as big ones

first package on the doorstep, containing a treasure (The Sugar Mouse Cake by Gene Zion)

dressing our new sturdy bookshelf with picture books

cold-brew and premarital counseling

the first grilled chicken of the year

finding an empty cupboard in the kitchen, days into unpacking

meeting the neighbors while bearing spring monster cookies

singing “Safe Am I” to my little one

brave sunshine and a little stroller

shire songs

These Happy Golden Years

baby’s first steps

marco polo conversations with friends from childhood

thrifting finds

1,000 piece puzzle owning our kitchen table

“Home is everything you can walk to.” –Jerry Spinelli

exploring our new home by walking

more thoughts, On Walking from Bethany’s blog

petitioning the God of the impossible, our Defender

–Who never tires of our requests

“How great is Your goodness which You have stored up for those who fear You.” Psalm 31:19

The Good about the Bad

The sky hung weighty and pale. Backyard held a foggy hush, but inside the whole household glittered with candlelight and beamed with courage.

Christmas togetherness circled a long table laid with evergreen. The year had been mostly good, aside from an unwelcome medical diagnosis in the midst, and this could have disheartened the season.

But . . . joy and light and great news for all people.

In Psalm 112, the ones who fear the Lord are described as blessed and fearless. Light arises in the darkness for the upright, those who delight in His commandments (vv. 1,4).


For he will never be shaken;
The righteous will be remembered forever.

He will not fear evil tidings;
His heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
His heart is upheld, he will not fear . . . “

Psalm 112:6-8

The reason we’re not cowering in fear of more evil news, tonight or next year, is because:

“…The gospel makes genuinely good news out of every other aspect of my life, including my severest trials.” ― Milton Vincent, A Gospel Primer

Are you clothed in Christ’s righteousness? Be steadfast in heart, trusting the Lord; there’s nothing left to fear.

Think about the shepherds, faced with a reason for terror.

When the sky split, it wasn’t Christmas-pageant, Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy imagery. An angel army began shouting in the sky.

I, too, would have been stricken with fright. I think the shepherds anticipated evil reports, judgment, or end-of-the-world pronouncements. Perhaps their sheep scattered.

No wonder the angel declared “do not be afraid” first of all. Their presence necessitated it.

And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people. For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

The shepherds’ fear of bad tidings was overwhelmed by good news in a manger.

The shepherds had sinful souls destined for wrath, and so do we. It paints the bleak night stage, set for the desperately needed good news/great joy of Christ’s birth, His death, and His resurrection.

Still today we have no need to be afraid because the light arises in the darkness. Sinners are called to hear and know the gospel, which changes everything about everything. We are considered “the righteous” because Jesus bought us. Each medical diagnosis is about glory to God in the highest. And He leaves peace with us, but not the kind the world gives.

Nothing can truly shake the righteous one’s position before God. No terror of the night can steal the peace promised that surpasses all understanding.

It’s why my family doesn’t need to fear evil tidings but can rejoice in the knowledge of our eternal security, the goodness of God’s perfect plan, and the desire for gory to the Prince of Peace, come what may. This is the good about the bad.

Unfiltered Christmas

The eagerness mounted last year as I watched people all over the world bring Christmas to their hearths in golden creams and woodsy sparkle. I couldn’t wait to capture all I had learned about decorating into my first Christmas in a new home.

After Thanksgiving, I sat amidst the Walmart bags and bubblewrap wrapped around my ornaments and nativity set. My collection of childhood ornaments and hand-me-down castaways stared at me, as my vision for coco-bombs and neutral threads met . . . . what I had to work with. How could I make any theme out of mismatched snowmen, a painting of a cardinal, and ornaments chipped from my childhood? My taste in style had changed with the trends, but my decor bin hadn’t.

The feeling of unmet expectation peaked when we pulled out our sparse four-foot tree. What perched cozy and perfect in our apartment, now the most Charlie Brown tree that ever Charlie Browned.

We stood it on a table to keep it from being swallowed in our new space. “It looks like it’s trying to be something it’s not,” my husband pointed out, and then we burst into long laughter. So I made the best of our Christmasy mess and enjoyed it all December.

But I made mental notes for next year.

First, truth be told, I found a much grander tree, and today I decked the thrifted 7.5-footer with strands of red beads. It fills the room with announcement of light and honor brought to our humble ornament-shaped memories.

Secondly, remembering my decorating despair of 2020, I’m choosing to admire the lovely Christmas-card moments on “the ‘Gram,” but also pray a guard of contentment for myself. May I rejoice in my gifts of my own home and my Savior.

Material beauty will never be enough. The best of earth will never meet the deepest longing of our brokenness. We long, like pining Bethlehem, for our Mighty God to do great things for us. And He has.

I see it in the shiny gold letters that spell out the names of Christ, draping our tree. Prince of Peace. Emmanuel. Savior. Mighty God. Wonderful Counselor.

I see it in my little elfish helper, who will fully enjoy his first Christmas if cardboard boxes and people are involved.

I see it in how our Charlie Brown tree from the apartment days (now gracing the back room) reminds me unmet expectations are a mercy because they can set our eyes on God’s wondrous light. Each seasonal disappointment, shattered ornament, or sickness gives another reason to joyfully worship a perfect God who meets all our true needs.

I wish you an unfiltered, real Christmas where real truths, like “veiled in flesh the Godhead see . . . born to give them second birth” are the brightest theme of this season.

“Christ, by highest heav’n adored,
  Christ, the everlasting Lord:
Late in time behold Him come,
  Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,
  Hail th’ incarnate Deity!
Pleased as man with man to dwell,
  Jesus our Immanuel.

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
  Hail the Sun of righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
  Ris’n with healing in His wings:
Mild He lays His glory by,
  Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth;
  Born to give them second birth.”
“Hark the Harold Angels Sing,” Charles Wesley