I pulled into the cemetery aimed at my familiar perch in the rocks behind the lawn where Ethan was buried.
“Take a walk with me.” God said, inviting me to go a different way this day.
Instead of climbing the rocks behind Ethan’s grave, I went the other direction. Across the field, past the olive trees that boarder the balcony and down the stairs toward the pond on the lower field.
I had thought I would hate everything about this cemetery, but I didn’t.
For example, I was grateful for the hot water dispenser inside the lobby ready to brew whatever teabag was in my pocket.
I appreciated the chapel wall that had been the back drop to Ethan’s casket on the day of the funeral—a floor to ceiling, wall to wall window, revealing a stunning view of the desert below this hill. This was my desert, our setting. Somehow it mattered. Every detail mattered. An echo of purpose, textures of meaning, reminders of all that I had been entrusted with.
And I loved the giant olive tree lit with white lights in the lobby. It was easy to picture just about everything Jesus did and would do happening under a tree like that—teaching the multitudes, breaking bread that had just multiplied like magic, praying as he wrestled into the night sweating blood even as he submitted, marrying his bride and feasting with his beloved fellowship. I saw it all play out before me as soon as I stepped into that lobby. I saw it right through the sick in my stomach, and the swimming of my head. I’m not sure I was even aware that I saw it, but my soul remembers it now, remembers the shift that happened inside, the knowing.
On the day of Ethan’s funeral, I had tucked in behind the giant olive tree and made my tea and walked out onto the back balcony. It was large and regal, like it belonged to the home of a Jane Austen character. I walked up to the rail and found that there was a pond on the lower field. I sipped my lavender tea and felt a settling come over me that somehow did not replace the anguish. I will write my story here, I said to myself. I had meant that I would revisit my novel manuscript, but little did I know that God was actually getting ready to make good on His promise that He would out-write me.
It was now April and God had invited me to take a walk with Him. A walk by the pond. The shrubs bordering the pond were in bloom with something red and something white. A turtle sunbathing on the rocks slipped back into the water for a swim. I put in my headphones and my music seemed to have a mind of its own for it started playing a song I had never heard before.
I’m wanna build you a garden… the voice in the song began to sing.
“Do you remember?” The voice of God whispered in my soul.
In a dry and desert land…
Do you remember what I promised you?
I’m gonna find a river there….
“Yes,” I said faintly. “I do remember.” He was tugging at a promise He written on my heart back in 2014. I called it my garden promise. It came from Isaiah 51:1-3.
I had been reading in Isaiah one day when I ran across those verses and God marked them for me in such a profound way, saying, “If you have faith like Abraham’s I will turn your desert into a garden.” I didn’t know really what the desert and what the garden were symbolic of, and I didn’t know what I was to have this Abraham-like faith for, but I knew it had something to do with my future family. I did not understand what it meant exactly, but I loved the passage and I held it close to my heart ever since.
“I do remember, but the promise feels so far away, now LORD.” I began to pray, “You gave it to me over three years ago. I didn’t know Ethan then. I didn’t know his love. I didn’t know this grief. How could the garden promise have been about all of this?”
Have you seen me turn a desert into a garden in your life yet?
“No…” could it be that He was talking to me about His plan in Ethan’s death back then, even before I had met Ethan?
I walked up a ramp where a patch of roses where in bloom, climbing high and opening wide in yellows, whites, and pinks.
And still the music played:
No one knows what God has seen.
Human kind destroyed this garden.
With bleeding hands, we’ll plant the seeds.
And he’ll make all things live again…
I began crying then. I stopped under an olive tree where I could feel the spray of the fountain against my face. I dropped to my knees because I could see it. Not the garden, not yet. But I could see Jesus’ bleeding hands, and mine planting seeds. I could see it so clearly. The tears where rolling off my face and onto the grass as the song ended.
I stood up and pushed repeat. I took another lap around the pound laced with new blooms.
I wanna build you a garden.
In a dry and desert land
I’m gonna find a river there
I’m gonna find a river there
A prayer began to burn in me, “Lord, I want to be part of that River. Make me part of that River.”
I never needed anything as much as I needed to be part of that River. Now, my soul knew what I was saying. The Holy Spirit was the River, the River of Living Water, and He and His power at work in me, continually following in and flowing out, unrestrained by fear or doubt or pride was what was going to make this garden a reality. I wanted to be part of the River with more intensity than I wanted the garden–from one flowed the other. The River made it possible. The River in me was enough. It was filling me and making me new. Whatever came next, being part of that River was enough.
The song played again and I lifted my eyes to the land surrounding the cemetery below. Desert. All desert, as far as the eye could see was brown dirt and tumble weed and Joshua tree. But just here up on this hill where the cemetery was built, was the green of grass and olive tree. The iridescent blue of still waters, and the splashes of color as warm as the sun in every spring petal. The song ended and again I pressed repeat. Again and again and again, I listened. Until I began to believe.
He wanted to build me a garden.
I began to laugh with overwhelming joy. I spun under the sky in-between the olive trees on the far side of the lawn. He is going to turn my desert into a garden. How could it be? This love was too much.
I felt my heart might explode out of my chest. His love in this promise was more then I could contain in emotion. It was a feeling beyond anything I had ever before known. It was too much for my body to hold. The force of His love poured into me offered the security and the significance my being craved, I grew sure, confident, unafraid. It was almost painful, so overwhelming was the love, my chest actually ached with joy and I couldn’t decided whether I ought to weep or laugh out loud so I did both, looking like a crazy person to any passerby.
But I didn’t care. Let them think I was crazy, this was worth any opposition. I would not let go until I saw this promise fulfilled. I trusted His heart. I would see this promise fulfilled and I would be satisfied with the way He would do it. I didn’t have to worry about how or when. It was enough that I knew, this desert was turning into a garden. It was enough to not let go.
*Garden Song by Jason Upton
“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness,
you who seek the Lord:
look to the rock from which you were hewn,
and to the quarry from which you were dug.
2 Look to Abraham your father
and to Sarah who bore you;
for he was but one when I called him,
that I might bless him and multiply him.
3 For the Lord comforts Zion;
he comforts all her waste places
and makes her wilderness like Eden,
her desert like the garden of the Lord;
joy and gladness will be found in her,
thanksgiving and the voice of song.