I have a treat–and a first–for you today, friends!

In my upcoming book, Cultivate, I share something I have learned in the garden: “I always thought it was unattainable, this elusive thing called “balance.” But as I’ve observed my garden over the years, I have noticed something. In the seasons, we find balance. The seasons allow my garden to rest and grow at just the right times, and it’s the same with our lives. The seasons teach us how to do life well, revealing a life-giving rhythm: we flourish through intentional periods of stillness, growth, hard work, and rest. We need this rhythm in our days, in our weeks, and in our everything.” – Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional LifeAnd challenging seasons–seasons of doubt, grief, transition, and waiting–can become unexpected gifts.

My friend, Elizabeth Thompson, was a prayer warrior and great encouragement as I wrote Cultivate right in the middle of one of the hardest seasons of my life. I’ve known Elizabeth for many years and her husband played a part in helping Ari grow his faith. She also happens to be an incredible writer, and after reading her new book, When God Says “Wait,” I knew you would be blessed by her too. So, here’s a first on my twelve-year-old blog: a guest post!

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My seven-year-old holds up an apple core, eyes shining. “Mommy, I have decided to be a farmer.”

I raise an amused eyebrow. “Oh really?”

“Yes!” She is breathless with excitement. “I’m going to plant the seeds I got out of my apple”—she opens her palm, revealing a pile of shiny brown seeds—“and they are going to grow into trees so we can eat free apples and save money.”

I swallow my skepticism—Can you actually grow apple trees from seeds taken directly from an apple? Don’t they have to pass through a bird’s digestive tract or something disgusting like that?—and try to mirror her enthusiasm: “Oh, that sounds great, Sweetie! Let’s plant them in the pots out back.” But even as I speak, my heart gives a painful squeeze, because first: She knows I’ve been worried about money and she’s trying to help. And then: Please God let these seeds grow. I’d hate to see her disappointed.

So we head outside and Little Farmer presses her seeds into three pots on our back deck. And then we wait. And wait. And wait some more.

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Meanwhile, life is happy but hard. We—my preacher husband, four young kids and I—are alone in a new town. We are struggling to start a church, find friends, forge a new life from nothing. Money is tight. The kids always sick. The rental house mildewy.

I feel stuck on pause, waiting to feel less lonely. Less inadequate. Less homesick. I’m waiting for life to change. Get better. Get easier. I pray, I read, I do my part—as much as I can figure out my part, anyway—and I wait for God to do His. I know He’s planted us here, I know He is doing things in us, growing things in us, but most days it’s hard to see.

Still the little apple seeds rest underground, hidden from view, and Little Farmer starts to get anxious: “Are my seeds growing? Is anything happening?” The first week, she keeps plucking the seeds out of the dirt to check their progress.

“Honey, you can’t take the seeds out once they’re planted,” I tell her, laughing. “They can’t grow if you keep bothering them. Seeds need time.”

Time.

Seeds need time.

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The lesson hits me hard. I’m not sure if I want to laugh or cry.

God has uprooted me and my family and planted us in unfamiliar soil. He has initiated several beginnings in our lives—new church, new friendships, new baby, fast-growing kids, slow-growing careers—but right now there’s no evidence of growth.

Like my daughter, I’ve been impatient. I keep digging in the dirt, yanking up these seeds God has planted, holding them up to the light, scrutinizing them for sprouts, swelling, any sign of progress: Why are we still lonely? Why isn’t money getting easier? Why does my career feel stalled? Why is life so HARD?

But it’s too early yet. Whatever God is doing, it’s still small, still subtle, still internal—all invisible to the human eye. And I realize that the waiting, the inertia, the stalls, the in-between, it’s all part of God’s plan. Part of His process. I need to stop obsessing, stop trying to rush God’s methods. I need to stop pulling His seeds out of the dirt to study them. I need to relax and rest and let Him do His thing, as long as it takes.

And that’s not all. God hasn’t just planted seeds in my life—He has planted me. I myself am a seed. His seed. I am lying in the dark, covered in dirt. Waiting for God to reveal more of His plan, to grant relief and grace and growth to help us through this painful season. And a scripture springs to mind: “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John12:24).

My Little Farmer’s seeds need their time in the darkness. Their time to wait for death—the moment they cease becoming seeds so they can become something bigger. Something better. If they aren’t buried, if they don’t die, they’ll never be reborn. They’ll stay stuck—forever dormant, forever seeds.

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But I’ve been fighting it, the burial, the darkness, the death. I want out. I want light. I want fruit. I don’t want to be an inconsequential seed facing death and change and transformation. In fact, I don’t want to be a seed at all—I want to go straight to being a tree, tall and impressive and fruitful.

But I’m not a tree yet—in fact, I’m not even a sprout. And there’s nothing I can do to skip all the steps between. There is a growth process, one God designed with infinite wisdom and care. Against my will, I realize, I have to trust His process.

And that means being okay with waiting.

It means being okay with burial, with periods of darkness and confusion. Times of frustration—I can’t find the guy, can’t catch a break, can’t get pregnant. Times of disappointment—I can’t find a friend, can’t conquer debt, can’t kick this weakness. Times of heartbreak—I can’t turn back time, can’t move back home, can’t bring back my little lost baby.

It means being okay with death—dying to my old ways, my own plans, my old self (Luke 9:23–25)—because one of these days, God will turn death to life.

One warm afternoon, my Little Farmer sprints into the house shrieking: “My seeds are growing, my seeds are growing!” The whole family rushes outside and sure enough, nine baby sprouts are nudging out of darkness, reaching for light.

The family cheers and I’m pretty sure God is having a chuckle at my expense. The little apple seeds have made it—survived their days in the dark, their first small death—and God, wise Designer, gentle Farmer, has called them forth. Brought life from death. The little seedlings have many difficulties ahead—autumn is coming, then winter and frost—but their first hurdle has been conquered. Their first wait has ended. And I know my time in the light is coming, too. I’m not sure when, but these seeds give me hope.

I don’t know what you are waiting for, what you are suffering through—growing through—but I pray you find comfort in these words. Hope. Even when we are suffocating in darkness, staring down death, we can take heart knowing that a good Farmer is watching over us.

In His time and with His help, we will see growth and hope and light again. If we’ll stop checking for progress and make peace with His process—more, if we can find comfort in the Farmer’s great love for us—then one day, like my Little Farmer’s seeds, we will unfurl from the dirt and stretch in the sun. We will laugh in His light. And the Farmer will continue to protect us, prune us, and nurture us until we grow tall and strong, bearing seeds and fruit of our own.

Whew!!! Friends! Didn’t that bless your socks off? Thank you, Elizabeth!

Elizabeth Laing Thompson is the author of When God Says “Wait”: Navigating Life’s Detours and Delays Without Losing Your Faith, Your Friends, or Your Mind. She writes at LizzyLife.com about finding humor in holiness and hope in heartache. Elizabeth lives in North Carolina with her preacher husband and four spunky kids, and they were totally worth the wait. You can find her on Facebook and Instagram.

I’d love to hear your thoughts! Are you in a season of waiting? What is God teaching you in this season? What do you hope He will grow in you?

Photos in the garden by Gina Zeidler

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This is called a no-fluff intro. I don’t have an inspiring anecdote for you–I have something better: an honesty challenge. Ready? Fill in the blanks:

If I could hit the fast-forward button on something, it would be _____.

I wish I was better at _____ already.

I wish I was done with _____ already.

Maybe you’re feeling restless in an area of your life that’s not growing as fast as you’d like. Maybe you’re craving change–and you want it yesterday. Or maybe you want to know all the details of the path ahead before you take action on something that you’ve always wanted to do.

We don’t like imperfect starts or slow progress, do we?
We want perfect and finished right out of the gate.

Ready for some life-altering truth? All plants grow through the dirt, and so do we. The best things grow little-by-little over time.

lara casey garden it's okay to grow slowThe first zinnia of the season bloomed in the garden this week. This little plant is about the size of a popsicle stick right now, but it will be four-feet tall by July.

For example, if plant a zinnia seed and dump a bucket of water on it, can I expect a full-grown plant and flowers the next day? We create those kinds of unrealistic and unhealthy expectations in our own lives, don’t we? We chase after fast results, only to feel inadequate when they don’t happen.

Have you felt that?

We often think of slow growth as flawed growth, but the truth is that all good things grow slow–babies, fruit, relationships, and big dreams.

Here’s some encouragement for you from my upcoming book, Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life

cultivate-book-text-lara-casey
How will nurturing growth and embracing small bits of progress get you anywhere fast?

Maybe fast isn’t the goal.

Maybe cultivating an intentional life means aiming for what happens over time—like the richness of relationships—rather than getting to the finish line. When something matters to you, you don’t focus on how slow the journey is to get there; you keep moving forward because the path forward is worth it. The world says do more, grow fast, be big, use these tricks, analyze, do it like those people, get ahead. But that’s not how good things take root.

It's Okay to Grow Slow 2

New homeowners like trees labeled “fast growing” to fill in a space quickly. But fast-growing trees don’t have deep enough roots to last through storms and drought. Good things grow and take root, little by little.

Maybe, despite everything everyone tells you, slow is richer than fast.

Maybe a slower pace will help your roots stretch deep and wide.

It’s okay to grow slow.

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Here are Three Reasons Why Slow Growth is More Powerful Than Fast (and three tips on how to harness the power of slow starting today!):

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What happens over time is better than “instant” results because:

1. When we only focus on the finish line–or on perfect outcomes–we miss all the life that happens along the way. We miss the good things growing right in front of us on the journey. And you know what else? We miss potentially better outcomes.

Grow slow tip: think back to some of the dreams and plans you had as a kid. What if you made a list of dreams and had to stick to that list, no matter what? What if you weren’t allowed to change your mind, change course, or consider new paths as you grew and explored the world–and your talents? If that was the case, I’d be a very unhappy geologist right now. And I likely wouldn’t have met Ari because I wouldn’t have become a personal trainer and worked at the gym where he first asked me for workout advice. I am so grateful my path didn’t follow a linear plan–it was more of a zig zag : ) Slow growth allows us to see better outcomes–and take action on them!

2. Slow growth allows us time to prepare, learn, and… grow! Little by little progress adds up and, in the wait, we are ripened and readied. Trust that what you want to cultivate matters enough to allow it to grow over time as you take small steps forward—and some big leaps along the way too. Your cultivated life matters enough to tend it like a garden and trust that the effort invested over time will add up.

Grow slow tip: When something feels hard because I feel like I don’t “know” enough or I feel like I’m not equipped for the task, I think of Moses. He didn’t feel capable of doing what God asked him to do, and you know what? He didn’t have to be! God helped him and He grew Moses’ character over time. He readied him along the way, not all at once. When you feel unprepared or like you’re not ready, celebrate. Maybe what’s ahead of you is a time of major growth. I often think to myself that the more incapable I feel, the more opportunities I have to grow my faith and put my trust in God’s strength–not my own.

3. Fast growth doesn’t last. Little by little, we learn to care for what we’ve been given. According to multiple studies, a majority of lottery winners end up going broke and filing for bankruptcy. They aren’t equipped to handle financial gain that fast.

Grow slow tip: Most of the time, what holds many of us back isn’t fear of failure, but rather, fear of success. But, here’s the thing: most success does not happen overnight. And you have permission to change your mind or change course along the way if that’s what God says to do. It’s unlikely that you’ll win the lottery–literally or figuratively–and that is a great thing! Instead, you get to go the path of real progress–the path of slow growth. Fast fixes didn’t heal my marriage, grow our company, cultivate my faith, or strengthen my bond with friends. Little-by-little progress added up, and it continues to!

Want more? You got it! Get my new (FREE!) It’s Okay to Grow Slow e-book by entering your email below. This 26-page e-book is full of practical encouragement from people who are cultivating intentional lives and embracing slow, right where they are. I can’t wait to hear your favorite tip!

Lara Casey It's Okay to Grow Slow

IT'S OKAY TO GROW SLOW

26 Pages of Advice and Encouragement on How to Embrace Little-by-Little Progress Versus Overnight Results

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Your turn! What have you been anxious about lately, and which tip above (or in the e-book) resonated with you the most? I love hearing your thoughts. I’ll send one of you to send a Cultivate Shop goodie box.

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We get one shot at this life. We can waste it on things that are fleeting or we can GRAB THIS LIFE BY THE HORNS. This is not motivation. This is truth. If you’re reading this, you have breath. You have decisions in front of you. You can take huge leaps of faith to love, to give, and to spend yourself well or…. you fill in the blank.

You know all those things you’ve always wanted to do? You should go do them.

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What is that thing for you (and what has been holding you back from doing it)?

Need to get motivated, refresh your goals, or a get kick start? Catch the free replay of my one-hour Summer Goals webinar that will inspire and equip you. You’ll learn the top 10 keys to making good goals happen, practical tips, and ways to get–and stay—motivated. Best of all, this is grace-filled goal setting. No perfection, striving, or perfect track-record required. This powerful hour will help you focus on progress, not perfection.

And to encourage you in your summer goals and in making fruitful friendships, I have an amazing giveaway for you today. Are you ready for this?

Welcome to the Ultimate Fruitful Summer Giveaway! We brainstormed all the things we would want to have an intentional and joy-filled summer, and we’re giving all of these things away to one lucky winner. This summer prize bundle includes everything you see here including our NEW Fruitful Friendships Workbook, a fresh set of PowerSheets, our new Fruitful Summer encouragement postcards, and even a copy of my upcoming book!

Enter below…

fruitful summer giveaway

The lucky winner will be selected at random. U.S. entrants only as shipping costs are prohibitive on some of these things. (Thank you to all my international friends for understanding! I wish I had a plane to come deliver these items to you myself!). 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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There is a magic about summer: the smell of blooming flowers in my garden, the taste of watermelon and fresh mint, the sound of kids playing in front yards and jumping through sprinklers, and the thrill of spotting fireflies as the sun goes down. Summer is nostalgic and refreshing because it’s a season of getting out there. It’s a season of connecting and community.

And it can be a season of loneliness.

We see the kids playing together, and we crave the same playful, free, joy-filled connection with our peers.

Are you feeling it?

I am. I feel a longing for new and deeper connections.

fruitful friendship lara caseyPhoto of me and my friend Randi by Amy Nicole.

But, there are some things in the way it seems.

I’m in a season of little “extra” time and full hands. I am craving deeper friendships, but I also relish my time with Ari and the kids. So, what’s a girl to do?

I’ve been praying and thinking a lot about this, and here’s what I believe is the answer (that has me really excited, hopeful, and relieved!):

It’s not about us.

There’s someone out there that needs your friendship, more than you need hers. There’s someone out there who needs your specific story to intersect with hers. It’s not about what we need; it’s about loving others as we have been loved. Fruitful friendship is born from a connection with the Father who makes truly good fruit grow.

nrp-olivia-SWfruitfulsummer-1110My friend Tori and I last summer. Photo by Olivia from Nancy Ray Photography.

Here’s a little truth from my upcoming book, Cultivate, that will shed some light on this for us:

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Good fruit is characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). But here’s the thing we often miss: a life aimed at any one of these virtues will leave you chasing your tail because seeking to obtain the fruit of the Spirit isn’t the goal. Cultivating a meaningful life with God is the goal, and the fruit is the result. In order to live a truly fruitful life, we must seek God above all else. He is the Master Gardener who makes our lives fruitful.

The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. —Psalm 92:12–13

Think about your life and honestly evaluate how you are spending your time, energy, and focus. Are there areas of your life or activities that you know you need to let God heal, change, or strengthen to become fruitful?

Stepping outside of our comfort zones to build meaningful connections could change not only our lives but other people’s lives too. Fruitful relationships aren’t about us; they are about something bigger than we are. The fruit of community is God Himself.

Whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. —Proverbs 11:25

–Pre-order your copy of Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life (releases June 27!)

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Want to know where to start growing fruitful friendships? Sometimes it’s less about hosting a gathering, and more about digging into what we’re wrestling with below the surface right where we are. Gathering together is important, but there’s a more powerful step that we often miss: connecting to the author of close connection and fruitful friendship–God Himself. Maybe for you, that means praying to ask for His help, forgiving someone who may be hard to forgive, saying we’re sorry, saying thank you, or taking a leap of faith to love someone in ridiculous big bold ways. For me it means, little by little, choosing God over my fruitless ways: forgiveness over bitterness, hope over despair, and imperfect over perfect. It means letting go of the friendship guilt and embracing the season I’m in.

There’s so much freedom to be found in standing on the ground we’ve been given–mess and all. And in letting others stand with us.

Broken fences

In writing this to you and letting these thoughts sink in deep, I let go of what I thought friendship had to look like. I flipped the script (and you can too). While I can’t get together with friends often, I can go deep with them when I see them, and I can pray like I would want to be prayed for. This season won’t last forever, and I’m grateful for what it’s teaching me:

Skip the fluff.

Love people right where they are, with what you have. No one needs me to be the hero of their story–they just need Him. I can give that to people.

What about you? How are you feeling about your friendships? Are you in a season of transition or restlessness too? I’d love to hear from you, right where you are.

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Join us this week for the third-annual Fruitful Summer series to learn how to embrace awkward and get out there to make meaningful connections. This five-day series is packed with free downloads and tips that just might surprise you! Sign up here and get the NEW Fruitful Friendships Workbook here.

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Writing this post makes me feel happy and sad all at the same time. As I was writing this, Jess gave me some encouragement: “So often we feel like we have to be one or the other–happy or sad, not in between. But “and”–the middle ground–is often more true.”

Yes! That’s where I am. This is sad and happy. Exciting and bittersweet.

We’re so happy that Sarah and Chris are expecting a baby this fall, and yet sad that our time with Sarah will be coming to an end soon. She has blessed our family immensely. The last year has been a dream (I rarely use that phrase but it fits here!) as we’ve welcomed Sarah into our family–and into the mess and fun of every day life here at the Isaacson house/Cultivate and Southern Weddings office.

Lara Casey Blog Hiring Caregiver10These two love Sarah so much!

I’m so happy for what’s ahead of Sarah (we got to hear the audio recording of the baby’s heartbeat this morning! Ah!!!) and I’m really grateful she’s not moving to another city. : ) Sarah has blessed our children, us, the ladies in this office, our neighbors, our friends–I could go on. What happens in this house is pretty unique, and Sarah has been a ray of light for all of us!

Lara Casey Blog Hiring Caregiver3Celebrating Sarah’s birthday this year.

As you can see in these photographs, she’s pretty amazing. She works hard and loves God passionately. We trust that God will bring us another great fit for our family!

Lara Casey Blog Hiring Caregiver7Please note Sarah’s tank top. ; )

We are looking for someone special, and perhaps that person is you! We are seeking a full-time caregiver and House/Office Manager, starting August 1st. Please apply if you meet ALL of these requirements. Lara Casey Blog Hiring Caregiver8Oh sweet Sarah’s!

Who you’ll care for:

Almost-two-year-old boy (Joshua)
One-year old girl (Sarah)
Kindergartener girl (Grace)
A handful of fishies and a bevy of houseplants : )

We’re looking for:

Joyful Caregiver
Hard Worker and Self Starter
Health-Oriented(non-smoker, etc.) because this job takes a ton of energy!

Lara Casey Blog Hiring Caregiver4Gracie loved decorating for Sarah’s birthday.

We need someone who can commit to two years with us. Must be able to start training August 1st. If you are applying from out-of-state (our previous three caregivers did this!), you must be able to relocate to the Chapel Hill, NC, area by August 1. The ladies in my office and I will gladly help you hunt for great living arrangements. We love this area!

Lara Casey Blog Hiring Caregiver6Taking all the kids to the doc together!

Must be extremely organized, energetic (three kids will keep you on your toes!), joyful (we love to be silly), and experienced in childcare. A background in early childhood education is a plus. College graduates only. Must have own transportation (although you’ll use our minivan to cart the kiddos around!), and a clean driving record. In addition to caring for our three children while I work, you will also be responsible for managing this unique building we call our home and our office. There are not only three kiddos who look forward to meeting you, but lots of ladies too!

Lara Casey Blog Hiring Caregiver1Another reason I love Sarah: she loves being silly with Grace and igniting her imagination!

I run a business with multiple employees from home, so I am here all day as well, and I’ll be transitioning to homeschooling Grace a couple days a week in the season ahead. (Please let me know in your application if you have experience with homeschool.) We will spend a lot of time together, caring for these children alongside each other. Hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, with occasional date nights/Saturday hours (maybe 5-10 total per year).

Lara Casey Blog Hiring Caregiver2And now I’m getting teary-eyed. We love you, Sarah. 

Our faith is a cornerstone in our home. We are seeking a caregiver who can teach and reinforce Christian principles and lead by example. We are looking for someone who has very strong integrity, is calm under pressure, confident in their faith, and is willing to develop a passion for shaping our children’s hearts alongside us.

Please pray about this position and only reply if you meet ALL of these requirements. We’ve had four wonderful nannies over the last five years, and know the qualifications fit our family well. We will be doing several Skype interviews with potential candidates.

Please APPLY HERE by June 1st. This is a full-time salaried position. We will begin Skype interviews the first week of June. Please read through this post and the application thoroughly. Your attention to detail is part of the interview : ) We are praying for you as you apply!

P.S. If you know someone else who this would be a great fit for, please pass this post along. Thank you!

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