Cultivate… What’s in a Word?

Considering where I’ve come from, where I am, and where God seems to be leading, I can think of very few words saturated with more meaning than the word “cultivate.”

I spent my “growing-up years” as the youngest of five kids on a large farm and ranch in scenic northern Idaho.  Springtime was spent moving cattle, putting up hay, hauling rocks and roguing weeds out of fields.  Summer was spent working 14+ hour days harvesting those amber waves of grain about which we sing so proudly. Fall was spent celebrating the victory of harvest, regardless of the size of the crop, and preparing the ground for the next season.  Somewhere in there we found time to camp, fish and explore the great outdoors, simply by stepping out our back door and into the forested playground that we were so blessed to call home. And my librarian mother always made sure we had a book in hand to expand our imaginations even further than the forests would push them.

It was just as idyllic as it sounds. Despite detesting the long hours of hard labor that were required of all of us kids to “keep the farm running” (or, more likely, to instill character), I think all of us kids would agree that we wouldn’t trade it for the world.

One of the many reasons I wouldn’t trade it: I learned the deep significance of cultivation.  I saw year in and year out the work that it took to grow a crop. The careful preparation of the ground. The sowing of seeds. The attention to the growing process to manage weeds and pests. The necessity of water and importance of the seasons.  The gravity of the task of feeding both your neighbor and the world. The faith that God would provide the increase and the fortitude to return to the fields to plant another crop even if we didn’t see the increase the year (or years) prior.

The years on the farm instilled a deep appreciation for God’s miraculous and powerful hand in the growing process. It gave me a deeper understanding of the importance of seasons. I understood the devastation of losing a crop, only to return to sow again with faith that God’s promised “increase” may look different than you expect.

You might say God was cultivating in me an understanding of both beauty and hardship, and slowly revealing the meaning of faith.

Since leaving the farm and pursuing career, passions, community, calling, and a life away from that largely idyllic scene, I have found that God has continued to cultivate these lessons and values in my heart and in my life.

He’s continuing to deepen and broaden my understanding of who He is – a God of beauty, wonder, compassion, power, mystery, and victory – and who I am in Him – a child of God on an adventurous journey of faith.

So don’t be surprised if you see a theme throughout this blog:  Cultivation.  I would predict that most of my musings will likely center around my life spent cultivating – cultivating dreams, passions, callings, relationships – and being cultivated by the Master Gardener and Author of Life itself.

The Genesis Story

God called.  He said there’s a need in Thailand.  He said I’m the computer.

I’ve always felt called to missions.  Between dabbling in humanitarian assistance and development work through various jobs and taking as many opportunities as possible to travel and/or go on short terms missions, I’ve managed to pursue the calling enough to keep it within hearing distance, but not enough to actually grab hold.

In 2008 I signed up for a mission trip to Thailand with National Community Church — the trip that marked the kickoff of the A1:8 initiative.  I’m still not entirely sure why I signed up other than I happened to be sitting in the front row of church the day the trip was first announced and I claimed I was anointed with Pastor Joel’s holy spit.

I’ve never been particularly drawn to Asian culture.  Most of my interest and experience has centered around South America or Africa.  I knew little to nothing about (nor felt any strong calling to fight) the injustice of the sex trade.  But somehow I knew I was supposed to go.  And when October rolled around, I hopped on the plane with ten other folks to see what God wanted to show us of Himself in Thailand.

A blog post isn’t sufficient to recount what we saw.  We saw brokenness.  We saw darkness.  We saw harsh, harsh injustices.  But we also saw compassion.  And hope.  And joy.  And it was that unique juxtaposition of the two sides of the story that broke and moved my heart.

The staff of The Well — the ministry we were working alongside in reaching out to sex workers in Bangkok — made a point to express to us their need for help.  But it wasn’t a conventional missionary pitch for funding or other typical resource needs.  They needed people.  They needed people who could come to show love, identify needs and develop creative ways to meet them.  People moved by compassion to love these girls, believe in them, and believe that things can change in this broken nation.

The needs were great; the workers were few.

Now, I’m not one to claim hearing the audible voice of God often.  In fact, never.  However, as we prayed one evening for the needs of the Well, I heard it loud and clear.  So loud that I argued with it.   It went something like this:

God: “You’re the computer.”
Cori:  “No I’m not.”
God, still calmly: “You’re the computer.”
Cori, less calmly: “Ummmm… negative.  I’m really not…”
And so it continued…

At this point you’re probably thoroughly confused.  I’m clearly not a computer.  In fact I’m one of the least tech-savvy members of my generation.   (But hey – I’m blogging, aren’t I?  Let’s celebrate small victories here…)   But unfortunately I knew all too well what this meant.

Mark Batterson, lead pastor of NCC, told a story a few years ago that has been stored away in my mind.  Or, as Pastor Mark would say, on my reticular activating system.  Forgive my paraphrase (and don’t hold me to the details), but it went something like this:  He was praying with a group of his pastor friends for the needs of their respective churches and communities.  One of the pastors asked for prayer that God would provide a computer to meet a specific need of the church.  Pastor Mark started praying for his friend; he stopped mid-prayer, was reminded that he had a computer to give, and felt God asking that he give it.  Why pray for a need when God has equipped you to meet it?

This was the call.  Despite my best efforts to convince Him otherwise, God told me I was the computer.  I was supposed to, somehow, meet some need of the Well that I couldn’t yet define or understand.

I could write another whole blog about the events that occurred between October of 2008 and December of 2009, but I’ll cut to the chase.  God has unique timing.   He had a few things He wanted to take care of — and more importantly, a few things He wanted to teach me — before sending me.  After more than a year, and the audibility of the call to Thailand having ebbed and flowed over that time as circumstances ebbed and flowed, I decided to give God an ultimatum.  Yes.  An ultimatum.

I wanted a clear answer about Thailand over the holidays before I returned to the mad rush of DC.  I had a number of options on my plate and a number of competing “callings” on my heart.   I needed a clear yes or no.  So I mustered up the guts to trust God for an answer.  (Or, more realistically, dare Him to give one to me…) and He was gracious enough to humor me.  And, in typical God fashion, He did it in style.

The confirmations and affirmations are too many to recount in this post, but they happened.  And they were abundant.  And they have not stopped.  God saw my ultimatum and He chose to raise it about 15 notches.   So, God-willing, Thailand is happening this year.

Hence, the blog.

I’m stepping out out in faith to pursue the crazy calling put on my heart to “go.”  I look forward to sharing the ways in which God continues to captivate and cultivate my heart and life through this journey to Thailand;  I look forward to sharing the adventure of His story.