A few weeks ago, our children heard about the upcoming outreach event at The Sanctuary to help families clean up their yards. My son eagerly asked me, “Mom, can we pleeeaaaase go to “Tend the Garden”?
Our family has had the privilege of being able to take part in some of the other events organized by our Justice and Compassion Ministry, and my kids know what a blessing — and what fun! — it can be to join with other families on a service project.
“Well, we can definitely do Tend the Garden,” I replied. “We are part of Tend the Garden! They’re coming to our house!”
Our four kids were bursting with excitement. “People from the church are coming to OUR house?!” they exclaimed. “They are going to clean up OUR YARD?!”
Our kids started counting down the days to May 5. They couldn’t wait.
I will admit that I wasn’t quite as ecstatic. “Anxious” might describe my emotions a little better.
In fact, when Cheryl Lynn Cain, director of Justice and Compassion, had e-mailed me a few weeks earlier asking if we would be one of the two project sites for Tend the Garden, my immediate internal reaction was, “NOOOOOOO!”
“We don’t deserve it,” I thought. “There must be someone else who needs help more than we do.”
But in her e-mail, she said that God had put our family on her heart. Hmmm. Maybe she was right.
Cheryl Lynn has never been in our yard, so she wouldn’t have known that our garden could use some tending. When we purchased our house, we inherited a lot of landscaping. We have trees that need pruning, bushes that need trimming and weeds that need pulling. We have a large barren spot in the backyard from where we moved our old sandbox. And we have tons and tons of landscaping that could use some mulch.
Our yard is a big project in an ordinary spring. This year, my husband and I had already decided that there was no way we were even going to be able to think about it.
He tore up his shoulder around Thanksgiving, and finally had surgery on it in early March. He could barely use his right arm for the three months leading up to the surgery. Post surgery recovery has been even harder. He still has several months of recovery time before he will be able to start building muscle in that arm and use it at even a minimal level.
Between helping him, taking care of our four kids, and staying on top of my job as communications director, I didn’t really have time to think about the lack of mulch and overgrowth of weeds.
After talking to my husband about the Tend the Garden project, we both knew we had to say “yes.” We know what a huge blessing it can be to serve others. Even though we were uncomfortable, we didn’t want to steal that blessing from those who wanted to serve.
And really, at the heart of our objection was pride. We realized that we like being self sufficient. We like being able to take care of things ourselves. We aren’t used to having to ask for help. We prefer to be the ones serving someone else. It was uncomfortable to be on the other side of things.
We realized that it’s hard to open up your life to people to invite them in, let them see your mess, and raise your hands and say, “I can’t do this on my own.” As the day got closer, I learned a lot about humility. I gained so much respect for the people in my life who have allowed me to come in and help them. I learned so much about serving others by being the one served.
At around 9 a.m. on Saturday, about 10 adults and 10 kids started swarming around our yard. They brought shovels, wheelbarrows, trimmers and work gloves. Joel, our project manager, kept everyone moving and working together. They trimmed bushes. They pulled weeds. They carried mulch. They filled lawn bags. They put down sod. One sweet friend even repaired the screen on our back door.
By the time they were done, we had filled 21 lawn bags with debris. The transformation was amazing. We heard the team that worked on the second house did an incredible job, as well.
Words can’t even begin to convey our thankfulness to the families who came to help tend our garden. We were so blessed. We felt so loved. And we are so humbled by their sacrifice.
After everyone had left, I was spraying down our muddy patio with tears running down my cheeks, so overwhelmed by what had happened. “I can never repay these people,” I thought.
Then, that still, small voice spoke to my heart.
“That’s the point,” I realized. “That’s what grace is. It’s an undeserved gift. You can’t repay it.”
I’ve talked so many times about how our church shows the love of Jesus to people through our actions. That’s what these people were doing for us.
Just like my yard, my heart can be a filthy mess. I’m not capable of cleaning it up on my own. But God showed us grace and mercy. He gave us the free gift of his son to die for us to clean up the dirt and mud in our lives. We don’t deserve it. We can’t repay it. We just have to accept it.
Thank you, Sanctuary, for showing that kind of love to us! We love you!
~ Emily Neal
(To view photos of the two Tend the Garden projects, go to our Facebook page and click “photos.” http://facebook.com/cometothesanctuary)