For those who don’t know, we moved into a new-to-us home last summer. (Because apparently we are just a little ridiculous – while in the midst of a new baby and a new book, why not add a move with four little ones to the agenda, right? Honestly.)

Anyway….when we first moved into our home, we noticed patches of white mould in the grass of the front yard. Not thinking much of it, we – and by “we” I really mean “my husband Brian” – scraped it off and fertilized the grass that remained and then we replanted in the bare patches. But the white piles of mould reappeared, choking out the green grass and eating up the health of the yard. We repeated this process for a few weeks: scraping, replanting, and then watching this mould reappear and spread. Each week, it took over more of the yard to our bafflement. What was it?

Brian mentioned the problem to an older neighbour who had lived on our street since the houses were first built nearly forty years ago. Our neighbour mentioned that years ago there was a tree in that exact spot. Bingo.

Brian dug down into the soil and sure enough, he hit the remaining roots of the tree. The stump, hidden below the surface, well buried, was rotten and poisoning the soil. The only way to remove the mould and stop the spread would be to dig out the stump and the roots entirely.

Now we have a rather large hole in our front yard and every few weeks, he treats the roots and soil with special tree medicine stuff (you see how I’m such an avid gardener?) and digs out a bit more of that rotting stump, slowly and painfully extricating the rot from the dirt so that we can move forward with our plans for the yard. It will take a long time to do it properly and thoroughly.

There’s a metaphor in there somewhere for you, perhaps.

Many years ago, I had committed an egregious sin. And then I buried that sin down into my memories and my consciousness, even convincing myself that I had forgotten it, that its power was broken over me, that it wasn’t important any longer. But the entire time, it was rotting me from the inside out and the evidence of it showed up in my life. No matter how much I fussed over the cosmetics and appearances of my faith, there was a rotten root system poisoning me. 

It’s kind of ridiculous how often I used to get mad at the effects of that rotten thing in my life instead of dealing with the cause, the rotten thing itself.

It took a while for me to be willing to dig down into the dirt and begin the process of rooting out not only the sin itself but the repercussions of it, the tangles of it, the ways that it had poisoned my relationship with others, my identity, my way of thinking, my sense of belovedness before God, and my very soul.

And then it took even longer to really truly be free. Piling more stuff on top of the rot couldn’t hide it – the rot worked its way out into my life and I was tired of just scraping away the effects, I wanted to root out the cause. That was the only way to truly be free and to move forward.

I’ve been thinking of that time in my life a lot lately. Because it was slow and difficult; it required faithfulness and help and counsel, because it was one of the best things I have ever done. Truly.

I look back on my life and I can see the turning point that finally happened when I stopped pretending everything was fine and instead I dug up the front yard of my life, leaving a gaping hole there for all the neighbours to see, and I got to work on rooting out the sin and the lies and the damage.

I think God waits for us in the holes of our lives, too. I didn’t have to do this excavation and healing alone. It seemed like finally unearthing the thing that was rotten and poisoning, giving it fresh air and sunlight, took away its power right from the start and the Spirit rushed in with mercy and love and grace and forgiveness and restoration.

I know people experience and encounter God in different ways throughout their lives but this remains one of the most profound experiences of my life: to encounter God so completely in the very place where I thought I deserved God least.

This is the Jesus that I know: the Jesus who crawls down into our rottenness, our stench, our poison, our brokenness, and then rather than pretend that everything is fine, gets to work on slowly and thoroughly and completely setting us free. Isaiah writes so much about farming and gardens from the place of exile, an image that has had me by the throat for years now.

And I know we all want to rush to the flowers and the streams in the desert because it’s so lovely and redemptive, but first there must be the rooting out of the rotten stumps and the boulders. The restoration of the dirt itself has to happen before the fruit can be borne.

We are still new to this home. It might take a year before that hole in the front yard is really empty of the rot and then my husband will fill it in with the good dirt, the healthy kind, and he’ll plant grass again and everything will be restored to health, even capable of growing things. And then we’ll finally get around to the rest of the dreams we have for our little corner of the earth: we have visions of hydrangeas or lilacs, maybe blueberries.

This post originally appeared in my e-newsletter back in January. If you’d like to sign up to receive the quarterly(ish) email click here and fill out the form

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  • Amanda Mayuk

    Thanks for this Sarah. It’s just what I needed to read this morning. There are a lot of people writing about love and mercy lately, but not as much talk about repentance and holiness….they all hold hands. Thanks again

  • Jenn H.

    Thank you for sharing. I find myself often inpired by the way you communicate, in addition to what you are communicating. Anyway, I needed this and wanted to say thank you.

  • Thank you for this.

  • Trish Finley

    Thank you for being open about this. It encouraged me to look at the places in my soul I’ve been avoiding lately.

  • Thank you, Sarah. I’m grateful for you.

  • Stefanie Trima

    This was very special to me because yesterday I came to term of the sin that I have been living in and a dear friend of mine sent this to me…I am on my road to recovery.

  • Saskia Wishart

    Beautifully said. I am challenged to look afresh at the holes I have been trying to patch over in my own life. I know they are there, but often it seems easier to just fight with the mould on the surface rather than dig down deep and get at the rot. It’s a great metaphor.

  • This met me. Thank you.

  • Jerry and Denise Basel

    An excellent writing and so true! Thank you for sharing this! (www.jdbasel.com)

  • Lee Schott

    Sarah, I appreciate your reflections many times, and this one particularly hits home. I am a pastor of a congregation inside the women’s prison in Iowa, and I read this as I was beginning to put together my sermon for our Holy Week worship tonight. We celebrated Jesus’ last supper with his disciples last week, with a presentation of a Living Last Supper by a visiting church group, so tonight we are in the garden with him, praying. I thought your metaphor of digging out the rotten stump was so powerful, and I have incorporated much of your reflection into my words for worship tonight (with attribution, of course). I wanted you to know that you will reach 50-some-odd women tonight who have many rotten roots and are, many of them, working hard to dig them out. I’m grateful for the ways Jesus dared to say yes to that work.

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  • Such insight and wisdom here…in our own lives, in our communities, in the world as a whole, we often deal with the symptom, rather than confronting the real problem. Lovely metaphor, great post.

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  • Your words inspire courage to dig the hole, and also compassion for the times when we’re “the neighbor” — looking at the hole in someone else’s front yard.