I came home from TGCW14 with a heart full to bursting with all that God said and did over the four days, through the speakers, the workshops, and through the 4000 women from all fifty states and (?) different countries who attended. I also returned to an empty fridge and a burgeoning vegetable garden. Not being ready to fully return to the trials and tribulation of daily life courtesy of the teeming hordes of humanity at Costco, I decided to tackle my overgrown tomato and cucumber vines first. As I picked and pruned and tied and tidied, I thought on the words my husband had shared as he left for work that morning, courtesy of his company’s CEO. “After a major learning experience, you have about three days to create and begin executing on a plan of action that applies all of you’ve learned. After that, insights evaporate quickly, and all the time and money invested is lost.” I walked back into the kitchen with a large bowl of tomatoes and cucumbers ready to be transformed into sauces and salads, thinking about how my morning’s efforts were a powerful metaphor for the spiritual work I needed to do to make sure the spiritual investments of so many in Orlando weren’t squandered.
Planting a vegetable garden can be an enjoyable way to spend a day, but the ultimate goal for most people is the food the garden produces. Had I left my plants to themselves, my tomatoes would have fallen to the earth to quickly ferment into food for worms instead of food for my family, and my husband’s long hours invested in the planting and tending would be for naught. The memory of Paige Brown’s exhortation about Nehemiah’s fears being relieved by the saving grace of God, and Jen Wilkin’s workshop on fearlessly raising daughters, had returned to me with a jolt when I discovered on returning home that, in my absence, one of my daughters had checked out some books with content that was far beyond her maturity. For a moment, I panicked. Thinking on Paige’s reminder that it is the perfect love of Jesus for my daughter and me that casts out fear over her heart being drawn away to worldly things, and praying for wisdom, was a way of harvesting the fruit Paige’s session had produced.
The workshops and many conversations with friends into the wee hours of the morning about the trials and grace-fuelled triumphs of women’s’ ministry gave me a new desire to serve the diverse community of women in my own church. At my husband’s encouragement, I sent off a quick email to one of my pastors, asking if I could share with him some of the insights I’d received in the hopes they might bless our church. Because he is a leader who listens, he replied almost immediately, asking for my “top ten list” of things I’d learned and ideas I’d gleaned, just as a start. My prayer is that in the coming months and years, the women at my own church will also be recipients of the great harvest of fruit produced at the conference.
Because God has promised to do abundantly more than we could ask or think, I’m believing in faith that my desires for my church’s women’s ministry to flourish may call for my willingness to serve in it more intentionally and regularly. With only so many hours in the day, the need to be faithful and available to serve as needed may mean doing some careful directing and pruning of my schedule. That means less time on purposeless social media activity and some adjustments to my sleep and work schedule so I can leverage some before and after hours time in the midst of my other important ministries as a wife, mom and student.
Prior to attending the conference, I had been wrestling for several months over whether my writing and teaching gifts needed to be retired along with my former career technology. God in His kindness had been doing a season of necessary and painful weeding on my heart, exposing some occasions when my sharp tongue had wounded, not blessed. I had repented and sought forgiveness, and the garden of my soul was stripped clean, but I flew to Orlando wondering what fruit, if any, my words could ever bear, and I asked God for direction. He gave it, not once, but multiple times, as people I met spoke of words I had written that had blessed them. That unanticipated encouragement blessed me deeply. John Piper’s admonishment from Nehemiah that, because of Christ, we have never sinned so much in word or in deed to be beyond the mercy and blessing of God, restored my hope that my words might yet be used to build God’s Kingdom, and I returned home newly committed to be fruitful as God enabled.
As I tidied my garden, I noticed that the tomato plants that had been weeded so recently had already begun to be assaulted once again by one of the most hated of all weeds – bindweed. With its pale green tendrils and tiny delicate flowers, bindweed is notorious for mimicking a beautiful budding vine, even as it twines around a growing tomato plant and slowly, insidiously, chokes the life out of the plant until it dies. I muttered imprecatory psalms against the evil weed, reminding myself that Tim Keller’s convicting admonishment from Nehemiah that vengeful prayers against the ungodly are no longer right in light of the cross applied to my fellow image bearers, not vegetational adversaries. In her workshop on raising daughters, Jen Wilkin invited us to consider whether sins of the tongue might be of particular challenge to most women, just as the sin of lust is for many men. As I ripped the weeds away, I prayed that God would keep the weeds of unhelpful, unkind words away from any fruit He might help me bear.
I am beyond thankful for the investments made by so many to enable women from all over the country and world to gather together to hear from God through the book of Nehemiah, and through the teaching of so many gifted men and women. I want to harvest the fruit the conference bore in my own heart, and multiply it in the lives of my family and my church. By God’s grace, with faithful, intentional effort, I will.