You Are God's Garden
CHOSEN, HOLY & DEARLY LOVED
Each year I normally 2 to 3 cycles of monarch butterflies in my butterfly garden. This year as October rounded the corner I had not seen any monarch caterpillars. I was honestly very disheartened by the fact that the butterfly weed that the monarch caterpillars usually devoured down to sticks had instead been infested with aphids, butterfly weed bugs, mites and some sort of disease.
Their stalks were usually full until the caterpillars began devouring them. Every week or so, throughout the spring and summer, I studied the leaves and undersides of the leaves with a microscopic mentality hoping to find caterpillars. I never did find caterpillars but their leaves were disappearing. But it was definitely not monarch caterpillars doing the damage. Through my hearts eyes my garden looked devastated and ravaged!
There was something in the core of my being that ached to be able to observe the transformation of caterpillars to butterflies. But instead of studying terrarium lids with elegant green monarch chrysalis’ dancing with gold jewels, I would find myself standing in my garden surrounded by what seemed to me to be mostly sticks. My soul felt saddened partly because it was a reflection of parts of my own life.
I studied my garden on a day when my emotions seemed to mirror the ragged condition of my butterfly weed plants. They looked devastated and stripped bare. Below the surface, in places only my close friends knew about, was a part of my heart that felt stripped bare of dreams and hopes. There was a grieving only a few knew about.
I was feeling lots of negative emotions as I studied my garden. Where were the caterpillars? I felt the Lord challenge me to “Focus on the butterflies! Where there are butterflies there will be caterpillars!” It was already fall with summer and spring behind us… my plants looked barren and sickly. And yet I knew God was speaking to my heart.
When an email went out to the women in the Upward Bible study asking for ladies who would paint a interpretation of Colossians 3:1-14 I shrunk back inside but felt like I should volunteer. I had 3 friends text me to see if I’d seen the email. So, I took that as a nudge from God. I deal with perfectionism sometimes. So, my plan was an abstract painting. I had never done an abstract, but there was no pressure and I thought it would be freeing and easier. But my garden and the empty stalks of the butterfly weed plants kept popping into my mind. My soul would stir as I envisioned a painting that was about the garden.
I became very aware that the garden was a very clear symbol of my own heart and the heart of every believer at some time or season in our life. The mysterious bugs that gnawed away at my garden were sins of my own and sins against me. So, the whole creative process became a prayer for myself, my friends and for all believers.
The first part of the painting was writing the sins I want to be free from in black. So, in a sense it was a confession and repentance by openly laying myself before God. Then I wrote sins against me or sins of others that have affected my life in red. Then I covered them with black (the darkness of sin in our lives). After that I added a black glitter that has rainbow of colors hidden in it (God’s spirit and presence in the darkness of trials and difficult seasons of our lives). When I painted the sky I let the blue drip down into the soil. God waters our lives with his love!
As I painted the stalks of the milkweed the first layers were symbolic of fire. It is symbolic of a prayer that God would cleanse and refine me of sin even if through difficult trials and it was a prayer that my life would be like a light that brings others to Him.
On the stalks I drew the little bumps that were evidence of the gnawing away at the plants in my garden by bugs in my garden that were doing much of the damage and stripping milkweed of leaves. (symbolic of unidentified and/or undealt with sin in the garden of ours lives. Sometimes those sins (bugs) seem somewhat harmless and as if they cannot really affect our lives (garden) and the fruitfulness. But when we step back from the garden of our lives we can see the totality of all the damage the various bugs/sins have made on us. Some things are distractions, or small idols, that eat up time we could spend in drawing near to God and spending time with Him. For me those distractions that eat up time generally have to do with my computer or dreams/goals that I pursue but let overtake my time. For others it might be something else.
These are the chain of thoughts I wrote during my quiet times as I painted my interpretation of Colossians 3:1-14.
“Focus on the butterflies... focus on freedom… focus UPward not downward on earthly things and trials. Where there are butterflies there will be caterpillars.” Let me surrender even in the seasons I feel stripped and my garden less than what I hoped for.“It’s about the process not perfection. Focus on the sky and hope for the future (as I painted the sky).” YOU ARE CHOSEN, HOLY AND DEARLY LOVED.” The garden of my heart being ragged doesn’t lesson the fact that I’m still chosen and dearly loved. A stripped milkweed is still a milkweed. A bare milkweed stem is still a milkweed with LOTS of purpose!. We are still a holy and chosen people and still dearly loved in our raggedness. “Even in barrenness if you give what you have… with the little you have, I will bring beauty and life. See your garden with my eyes… eyes of faith for the unseen and eyes of faith for the future. Let me free you from cynicism and doubt. Let me free you from your own expectations of what your life and beauty should look like. You are still CHOSEN… my chosen garden purposed to bring life. I love you my garden and bride. I am proud of you! I am proud of you as you have continued to sink your roots in and drink from the water of my Word despite how hopeless you have felt as the “locusts” (unseen and seen bugs, disease) have whittled away at the garden of your heart. Set your eyes on eternal things not appearance or productivity. Your heart will suffer if you focus on outward or production or whether you see “fruit” or order in your world. Set your eyes on things above. Even as your garden is hidden (in Christ) it bears fruit (butterflies).” Note: my garden is hidden around the backside of the house. Gold paint pen (used to draw stripped butterfly weed stalks.) representing a generation chosen and full of purpose. Even when the painting of your life is incomplete and in process there is STILL BEAUTY… and YOU ARE LOVED! Listen to me and not to the clamor of other voices, distractions, unending to do list, fears etcetera. Let me clothe you with the beauty of compassion, kindness, humility, patience towards those who sin against you and hurt you (their sins against you… are based on sins against them and wounds they have not let me heal. Forgive 77x7. Take your eyes off mess/chaos (“garden” of house). Just like I’m preparing your garden for life… so am I your house. However long the process takes don’t lose heart or faith that I AM AT WORK (in the hidden places of your garden and home)! Keep your eyes off the mess and on ME… your worth is not based on a clean house! You have everything you need for life and godliness and life (through art/as you seek to use the gifts God has given)… use what you have within you.” Is the orange too orange Lord? “ You are not too much or not enough! Relax, let go, I am in control!” Back to intensity of colors: Colors can become less intense when mixed with an opposite. We need to let those opposite of us closer. When different, or opposite, colors are mixed new intriguing colors are formed. When colors are too intense more water (God) softens the colors.“Let things dry… pause, ponder… then paint. Water (my Spirit) lessens the intensity and softens intense colors. Butterflies aren’t perfectly symmetrical. They are perfectly imperfect! Layer upon layer, step by step, the masterpiece of your life will flourish (parallel – daily quiet times in the Word). Different mediums are powerful! Water cleans/cleanses (parallel – brushes/souls need to be rinsed and cleansed daily). Symmetry comes when you are aligned with My Word. My Spirit (and people filled with the Spirit) fill in the colors. Thinking to myself , “Is there too much glitter?”“Can you ever have too much of my Spirit? Whether someone likes glitter or not, it will create curiousity and draw people in to study artwork/your life! They will see Christ in you!” In reference to sins against me, I tend to hold back love, expressions of love and affection because of anger due to hurt and deep pain caused by how their sins have affected me .“ I don’t withhold my love due to your sin. I extend myself to offer unconditional love (paid by my blood). I offer myself to my people despite their sin. The consequences of sin are already being experienced inside of the souls of those who sin against you and hurt you. The consequences of shame, doubt, anger, self hatred, feeling unlovable, feeling unworthy. I have called you to be a conduit of my love even as they those who hurt you don’t turn from their sin. If they don’t experience unconditional love through you… who will they experience it from. Offer what you don’t deserve and yet what you long for. The desire/goal (I have for them) is restoration not judgement! Let my desire become yours so that seeing others restored and encouraged (not judging or criticizing those who hurt you) is your driving passion and hearts desire.” Lord, let me start at home where the wounds are the deepest.
After presenting artwork during UPward Bible study after feeling exposed, bare and not-yet-healed-completely vessel before so many women as I cried as I shared about the meaning of Col. 3:1-14 painting I had another revelation as I studied my garden and looked for caterpillars:
Caterpillars still receive nutrition from the ragged looking leaves that are diseased and full of aphids, chrysalis’ form and butterflies emerge and fulfill their purposes (because Christ is in you… friends and children are strengthened). Even as we are being continually renewed and being flushed clean of sins and wounds healed (amidst the chaos of our life’s garden… and even when we feel we have little to give aka the small amount of leaves on butterfly plants)… our lives still bring strength, hope and life to others.
I had finished typing and thought myself done. I had a longing to go stand in my garden and feel and see what God sees in my raggedy garden. Not in a mode of producing or discovering truth… just wanting to “be” and soak in His love for me. My eyes are always open to find caterpillars, so as I rested just savoring the truths I had been re-pondering my eyes saw a large caterpillar. I went closer to see if there any more and how surprised I was when I saw around 16 smaller caterpillars on the siding of our garage hidden under a bunch of leaves laying against the siding.
Baffled, I tried to figure it out. It was really chilly this morning and what I believe is that they were trying to find warmth. They had lost their way! In search of warmth, they found warmth but they were off of the source that was their sustenance and source of life! How like us this is… we search for false warmth that takes us away from our life source… Jesus and His Word! Oh Lord, may we not wander from you in search of things that only temporarily warm our souls.
In days that followed the silent dialogue between God and I continued. It was as if I felt God’s heart as I studied my garden. Each morning I would go out and look for caterpillars that had strayed and then I would very gently placed them back on the butterfly weed. Or if they had devoured a stalk and there were no leaves I would carefully place them where there was more food. In the containers I had placed many of them so they could form their chrysalis’ at the top. There was an abundance of poop because monarchs eat a lot… and therefore poop a lot! I realized that God doesn’t see all my sin but he enjoys watching me and anticipates the day I will fly. He anticipates the butterfly emerging!
Note: 5 weeks after hearing God challenge me to “focus on the butterflies” I have 60+ chrysalis’ to enjoy emerge and fly!