Thursday, February 19, 2015

Every Bitter Thing is Sweet Book Review

Recently Bethany House Publishers sent me the book Every Bitter Thing is Sweet by Sara Hagerty to review.  This book is about Sara Hagerty’s journey to find God in all circumstances of life, with an emphasis on “barrenness”. 

The inside of the dust jacket give an explanation of this book that led me to think it was going to provide some sort of profound insight into Sara’s life that I might take away to use in mine.  Two of the paragraphs read:

“Whatever lost expectations you are facing – in family, career, singleness, or marriage – Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet will bring you closer to a God who longs for you to know Him more.”

“Going beyond the narrative to offer timeless insight, Hagerty brings you back to hope, back to healing, back to a place that God is holding for you alone – a place where the unseen is more real than what the eye can perceive.  A place where every bitter thing is sweet.”

I was hopeful for that insight or revelation she would share from her own life that would help me in mine.  And while I hate to say it, I was disappointed.  I tried.  I really did.  But this book was easy to put down, and while I tried to find hope and joy in the words, they came across as more pedantic than relatable. 

I did read it completely.  I was hoping that somehow what I desired would be revealed at the end. There was a happy ending in the author’s fertility, so it has that going for it.  The author was truthful in her struggles, and in the fact that she turned to God for help amidst them.  It was nice to have a list of scripture “for your continued pursuit” as she penned.

But overall, the book’s overtone felt rather disconnected and her descriptions rather vague.  I found myself drudgingly finishing it.  While it turned out not to be my style of preferred reading, that sort of style may be appealing to others.  I much prefer a book that gives me interesting stories I can feel a part of, and situations from which I can learn, shared in a different format. 

This book gets a “thumbs down” from me.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

How to Clean Out That Heart Garden of Yours - Part II

While the Northeastern corner of the United States is clearing out snow from the winter storm, here in Arkansas I'm still looking at my garden.  We've only had a few inches of snow, so my little garden spot sits, soaking up the nitrogen from the pretty white blanket that fell only a few days ago.

When I took the pictures I've shown below, it was only three weeks ago, and we had beautiful, sunny, warm weather.  It won't be long until it completely melts, the temperatures warm again, and I'll be eager to get my planting started.  So now we'll go back to my preparations before the snowfall.

Remember in Part I of this same title, where I cleaned out the surface areas of my garden space?  It was so encouraging to get rid of the clutter so I could get a good look at the soil!

Remember where we cleaned off the surface area of our heart gardens?  It was so encouraging to get rid of the clutter so we could get a good look at our hearts!

The process continues here.  Let's have some MUSICA to help us along.

After doing all of that clearing, I decided to rake through the soil to see how it looked underneath. The top layer looked wonderful.  The soil was loose, moist, and looked beautiful.  From all outward appearances, my garden looked like the best little plot to grow my veggies.

There are times our spiritual lives look beautiful from the outside.  And there are times we need to dig a little more to make sure that it looks the same deep inside - inside our hearts - the very place our spiritual fruit takes root.  

I knew that I needed to rake a little deeper to truly know if the garden would need more work, so I could prepare it properly for the new growing season.  I was a bit disappointed when all I was able to get my rake through was the soil that was about as deep as the head of my rake. The rest of the soil underneath had compacted well during the winter.

Sometimes under all the weight of the clutter on top of us, our hearts seem to compact - or harden. When that happens, it takes a bit more effort to break up the hardened spots and reveal what's beneath.  It's not an easy task.  But it must be done, so we can adequately gauge the condition of our little 'garden' space.

So I used a little bit more force and tried to loosen the soil with my rake.  To my dismay, there were tons of little roots that caught up in my rake and made it even more difficult. They weren't just in one little spot either.  Everywhere I moved the topsoil aside, I was met by hard-packed, root-ridden soil. Not an easy thing to deal with, but I knew I had to do it just the same.

When our hearts are thick with the roots of bitterness, anger, sorrow and darkness, it's not an easy task to break through them.  But we know we must do it just the same.  

I knew I was in over my head already.  Time to ask the experts.  Those who believe in organic gardening like I do, have the experience to back it up, and hold true to helping others with genuine care for the earth and their food grown in it.

I didn't hesitate to do this because I know that the food I would be growing would feed my family, and I wanted to grow it the best way I could.

Sometimes when we dig deeper into our hearts, what we find is too confusing or overwhelming to deal with on our own.  In those cases we have to call in the experts to help us.  Good, Godly counsel is the key here.  We must find professional people who believe the same doctrine we do, use God's Word in their counseling and our healing, and hold true to helping others with genuine care for their hearts and their lives.

We must not hesitate in doing this.  Because we know that the 'fruit' we are growing will feed our souls and, in turn, feed the souls of our families (not to mention everyone else with whom we come in contact).  After all - we want to grow our spiritual lives the best way we can!  

The experts were so very helpful.

The first thing I needed to do was correctly identify the roots so I would know how to deal with them. That way I would know how best to prepare my garden for the seeds I was going to plant.

We have to correctly identify what we have in our hearts so we know how to deal with it. Then we can set about preparing our hearts for the seeds God wants to plant.  

Then it was suggested that if the roots were negatively affecting the potential growth - if they were too compact and invasive - it would be best to get rid of them.  Otherwise it would be too difficult for the seeds to take root and get the nourishment they need from the soil.

If the 'roots' in our hearts are identified as anything against God's Word and are negatively impacting our lives, it's time to get rid of them.  They'll choke out the seeds of love, hope, and joy God wants to plant in our hearts.

Others pointed out that if the roots were beneficial to the soil, but still took up too much space, I could thin them out.  Then they could be used for the benefit of all the organisms in the soil, but be under control so they don't cause a problem.  When used in the right way, these roots could support and encourage the growth of the new vegetables this year.  And the benefits from them would be seen in the years to come.

In our hearts, 'roots' like these are often called our 'past'.  They are life events that have served to grow us and mature us.  Some are the mistakes God has corrected, areas where God has healed us emotionally, physically and spiritually.  And some are victories He's provided in our lives.  

We don't want to obsess about these things so they take up too much space in our hearts. So many times we spend too much time living in the past, and there isn't room for God to grow new seeds in the present, let alone in our future.

When we keep these 'roots' under control, these past life experiences can be used for our own benefit. To remind us of how God was active and alive in our minds, hearts, souls and lives. That He truly cares, is still here to support us now, and will be here for the rest of our lives.  

As a bonus - God gives us the opportunity to use these little 'roots' for His glory - to share and encourage others so their own Heart Gardens can grow.

The general consensus was that if the roots are a positive part of the natural eco-system of the soil they should stay.  That way they could still provide the most beneficial environment for healthy soil and healthy plants.  The gardening experts said that I was doing right in seeking what is good for my little garden.  They also encouraged me to guard my garden against harmful toxins to keep it pure.

They said that these good roots help the soil store the much-needed nutrients for all the other organisms that will help my plants grow and prosper.  They are essential in my garden as a whole - not just one section of it.  Without these roots the soil could dry up, become barren, break apart, and blow away.

There are some 'roots' that are beneficial to our hearts.  Like the roots of a tree that hold it in the ground so it doesn't fall over in the strong winds and storms.  

We must be grounded in our faith.  Grounded in the One and Only true God.  We will do right in seeking what is good for our Heart Gardens.  Seeking God with our whole hearts - not just one section of them.   

These good 'roots' are found in God's Word, in His commandments, in His promises, in living for Him. 

They are found in the positive influence of Godly people, in biblically sound teaching, and in our desire for God to permeate our hearts and our lives.  In holding fast to these 'roots' we can guard against the 'toxins' in the world and live a life that is more pure.  

Without the 'roots' of God's Word, our spiritual lives - our Heart Gardens - could dry up. Become barren.  Break apart.  And blow away.

We must be vigilant, intentional, determined.  We must thoroughly prepare our Heart Gardens by removing the harmful elements, and keeping only what is beneficial.  So we can be ready for the Master Gardener to plant His seeds and grow our lives into flourishing gardens of His love and delight.  

I thought about my own life.  There were a few questions I asked myself.

On the surface does my life give the appearance of a well-maintained garden, with fertile soil ready for the seeds to be planted?  Ready to yield the fruit of those seeds, and in turn nourish others?  When I talk about appearance and what I look like, I'm not talking about my clothes or my face.  I'm talking about what my life looks like.  Not even what I say.  But what I live.  When people look at me, do they see me living out the life I profess?  A life that is fruitful for God?

When people look at us, do they see us living out the life we profess?  A life that is fruitful for God?

Most importantly, do they see it both on the outside and on the inside?  What happens when that outer layer is pulled back?  When it's all said and done, what do I look like on the inside?  Have I tended to my Heart Garden as diligently as I have my vegetable garden? Am I ready with a clean heart for God to plant His seeds?  

When it's all said and done, what do we look like on the inside?  Are we ready with a clean heart for God to plant His seeds?

If not, I need to put down the rake, take off the gloves, get on my knees, and get some "cleaning" done.  If have, then it's planting time!

With our Heart Gardens ready . . . we're ready for God to plant His seeds so we can flourish and be fruitful for God.

Writer, Rebecca Goings said it best with this picture I found on

Photo Credit:
Happy gardening, dear ones.