The Growth Process
The Truth: The first major revelation God gave me came from observing the simple plant fact that gourds are monoecious, which means they have male and female vines and flowers. I saw the male vine as representing judgment/thinking ability and the female vine as representing grace/feeling ability. Interestingly, when the vertical male runner vine is circumcised or "cut around", the plant redirects its energy into growing lateral, female and fruit bearing vines. And true to the word, the female vines bud from the sides of the male vines, just as "Eve came from Adam's".
Intrigued by this plant study, I started to examine the intricate connections between intellect/thoughts and emotion/feelings. I saw that good thinking (judicious and wise decisions) tended to produce positive feelings over time, whereas good feelings (highs resulting from instant gratification) didn't necessarily produce more good feelings over time.
In fact, making decisions based solely on short term gain leads to all kinds of dangerous addictions and destructive behaviors. Conversely, making decisions based only on long term gain leads to a perfectly safe, stale, routined existence. The key, then, to making the very best decisions seemed to be balancing these opposites with an accurate scale.
As I meditated on this revelation more, I saw that judgment (represented in the Old Testament) and grace (represented in the New) are actually two arcs that fit together to form a perfect circle. I realized that this circle creates a boundary, which functions as an outer wall of protection, an inner compass, and even a scope of spiritual discernment to look through. I saw that it took the shape of a healthy human cell on the micro level and that of a healthy planet on the macro level. I instinctively knew that this circle was a key hole that opened the door to health, wealth and vitality and that Jesus was the key. I knew that it was a circle of love – of conscience – that worked internally and externally to discipline and/or "teach" us to love one another. And I knew that the process of becoming whole would produce "the fruit of the spirit".
The second major revelation came from observing how a calcium deficiency in the soil – a vital nutrient found in breast milk – can make an almost ripe gourd crack right before harvest time. I experienced this phenomenon first hand when several of the largest fruits from my first crop splintered and rotted. That was right around the time we had a noticeable earthquake in the Valley and I had some fun showing people how it had cracked my gourds up.
But in all seriousness, I realized that growing up without a mother in my formative year – that is growing up without the grace and nurturing a mother provides – had left "the dust" I'm made of very deficient in calcium. I recalled a passage in the book of Isaiah, one of my absolute favorites, saying, “comfort, comfort, comfort my people”.
I realized that I'd have to grow a whole, new internal mother in order to "self-sooth" and "nurture my inner child", as psychologists might say. But how was I supposed to do something that nobody had ever shown me how to do? Jesus said, “I am the vine and you are the branches”. Well, did that mean that all I had to do was call on His name? Come on now, it couldn't be that simple. Yet, it was, is and will always be just that simple, for there truly is "power in the name". And every time we call on it, He unlocks our prefrontal cortex, which is the wisdom center of the brain and/or what psychologists refer to as "the higher mind".
In fact, scientific studies have shown that the amygdala, which is located at the base of the brain, can actually become addicted to the chemical baths of different spiritual or feeling states. Therefore, a sustained spiritual state of depression can literally block access to "the higher mind", which inhibits reasoning ability. However, the Bible says that Jesus "has power over all spiritual principalities" and that He "makes Satan fall from heaven like lightning". If the mind is to the body what the heavens are to the earth and suicidal depression is a satanic spirit, which it certainly is, wouldn't Jesus's unconditional love be the medicine for such internalized hatred? I'm here to confess that it's the gospel truth. His lightning bolts of love are far "more powerful than death".
This understanding led me to the third major revelation and the natural gardener's best kept secret: composting. As I practiced administering this electroshock therapy and learned to "self-sooth", God gave me insight into some of the natural programming I'd received growing up. He showed me that I internalized some untrue "core beliefs" when my parents split up and my mom left. He showed me how these beliefs had manifest into unhealthy patterns of behavior like self-neglect, self-harm, and entanglement in dangerously dysfunctional relationships. Although I felt guilty and ashamed of my behavior, God helped me separate my behavior from me, as a person. He helped me understand that the reason He hates/rejects sinful behavior is because He loves and wants the absolute best for me.
In other words, God didn't leave me stuck feeling guilty and ashamed. Rather, my sincere repentance allowed me to feel Jesus's compassion, forgiveness, and mercy for the first time. And "the new creation” spiritually reborn from such sweet relief is not a depressed person at all. Rather it's a person who is extremely thankful for the unconditional love Jesus claimed on the cross. And I am, for that love is what gives me the courage to take responsibility for my thoughts, feelings and resulting behavior. It's what gives me the conviction and the hope I need to change the only person I have any right or responsibility to change in this life – me.
Not only that, but God showed me how His supernatural program could turn all of my faulty, human programming and resulting mistakes into an organic gold mine that would not only supplement my own nutrient deficient soil but other people's too. In fact, He promised that in time, the compost of my redeemed mistakes would grow the sweetest, prize winning fruit and that He would surely compensate me for all the ways He'd afflicted me. Now every time I see a bumper sticker that says compost is a terrible thing to waste, I say, “amen!!!"
The fourth and final major revelation came from observing how thirsty gourd plants are. In fact, they require a lot of water – more than most plants do. At the same time, they're highly susceptible to water born disease, like downy mildew. Hmm, water born disease like depression? In working to create a bamboo structure for the gourd vines to climb on – one that would keep the leaves aerated – I realized that God's word provides a similar kind of mental structure that we can train our thoughts to climb on in order to keep them free of dis-ease.
Gourds are also vulnerable to infestations of Cucumber Beetles, which look like cute, harmless little yellow Lady Bugs, which they so aren't. Hmm, "pestilence" like anxiety, the root of which is fear? As I worked to craft a sacrificial cucumber trap for those menacing little monsters, I recalled hearing a lot about 'repressed feelings' in my psychology studies. I'd read that men tend to repress their feelings of sadness and women, their feelings of anger.
Contemplating these scientific and spiritual connections with my feet firmly planted in the soil, I realized that depression was actually an excess of sadness and that anger might actually work as a natural spiritual remedy to dry up all the tears. Hmm.. Biblical “enemies” do nothing if not make a person angry. But learning how to channel that 'fire of life' into His creative purpose.. that tis the challenge.
The Life: As I developed more awareness of feelings I'd been repressing, I came to understand that "the Holy Spirit" is quite literally a whole spirit, which only becomes fully operative when a person can feel all of their feelings – the good, the bad and the wretched. To illustrate, consider how Adam and Eve attempted “to cover their nakedness with fig leaves”. Essentially, they repressed their feelings of guilt and shame, denied accountability for their actions, and blamed somebody else. The word says that God would have forgiven them if they had confessed their sin, which literally means "to miss the mark", and that He would have “healed and restored their land”. But instead of relying on His grace, they clung to their own self-righteous “good works” – material coverings like status, beauty, wealth, intelligence, power, privilege, and prestige. And as a result of their proud denial, they were "cast out of the garden", which is nothing if not a place of growth.
Interestingly, the science of psychology describes the two most dangerous mental health conditions – socio and psychopathy –as an inability to feel guilt and shame. Psychologists also claim that all humans fall somewhere on the various continuums that measure mental illness. Isn't it true? Won't most people do just about anything to avoid feeling guilt and shame?
Yet, our inner compass rose would be incomplete without the ability to feel guilt and shame. And wouldn't a compass with missing feelings be skewed and invariably lead us around and around in a circle – just like the deadly Bermuda Triangle? Thus the definition of insanity: 'to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result'.
Instead, we must learn how to access "the Holy Spirit" continually, just as a captain continually checks his compass in order to guide the ship. But it doesn't stop there. After acknowledging and allowing ourselves to feel whatever it is we feel, we must ask God to show us the correct response to each feeling and/or the response that will produce the best possible outcome for ourselves and others – over time. And by time, we're talking about eternity, because the truth is that everything we do or don't do has a ripple effect on everyone around us. Therefore, we must commit to practicing the correct responses until they become firmly established, habitual patterns of healthy, loving behavior.
The Way: From the growth process, I moved into the curing process and observed how the first few frosts, interspersed with warm spells, worked to draw moisture from inside the porous fruits. Goodness gracious, my gourds were starting to look like a crop of little cry babies with water trickling down their soft green shells. I vaguely recalled hearing a few people tell me that I needed to grow a little thicker skin, he hem.
Strangely, that's exactly what was happening to my gourds. As the sun evaporated the moisture on the shell's surface, it caused a skin to form and harden over the soft wooden fibers underneath. And I realized that they weren't tears of depression this time, but those of repentance, which are filled with love, hope, peace and joy.
Ultimately, this weathering effect left a moldy pulp inside the fruit and dry, flaky layers of mold on the outside. All this is to say that if you look at a curing gourd in the garden, they're not very attractive. You'd never know there was a smooth wooden vessel forming underneath all that moldy mess – a cup even (just like the one mentioned in "If My People”). And once these shabby looking fruits dry out completely, they're ready to open up and come clean. In fact, all of the “toxic flesh” – inside and out – must be removed in order to make them into safe, healthy and useful vessels ready for crafting.
This is what it means to be "transformed into His image". It's a refining process that purifies our thoughts, feelings and behavior. Like tiny little bellows fanning the billions of furnace-like mitochondria within our cells, the Holy Spirit generates a powerful wind that guides us straight to our “desired harbor”. That harbor is our calling in life. It's the thing we most love and are absolutely best at. It's the thing that God designed us specifically for; the thing that only we can accomplish; and the thing that will glorify Him most. In fact, the Bible says that "God gives His glory to no one else".
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