Friends, today is the day! After writing (and re-writing) for over two and a half years, getting on my knees a thousand times to beg God for the words He wanted me to write, and so much life change and refining, Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life, has finally bloomed. This has been a journey of surrender and trust–more than any other time in my life. I’m grateful for so many of you who have prayed me through this journey. My prayer is that this little book will help you cultivate what matters, right where you are.
I believe that small intentional decisions add up.
I believe good things can grow out of hard things.
And I believe new life can come from what feels lifeless.
As I wrote in Cultivate, “New life starts with a tiny seed, which must let go of its shell to sprout. There is power—energy, ability, great potential—hiding in each one. The magic is already inside. You just have to cultivate it.”
Order your copy here in paperback, digital, or audio book. I was so grateful to record the audiobook in my own voice. Cultivate also includes a 10-week study guide in the paperback version and materials for small groups. I wrote this book hoping it would encourage meaningful conversations and connections with friends!
And now for something extra special: the Cultivate photo album. Here’s a peek into the journey of this book and our garden, chapter by chapter. I hope you enjoy these photographs as much as I did in putting them together for you.
Chapter 1: The orchid, Grampa Cecil, the garden covered in snow as I started writing this book, our perfectly imperfect peaches and a few peeks at Grace in the garden over the years.
Garden Company: The company we keep in the garden: Hootie, the butterflies, Grace looking out the window at the “magical trio,” and… the hornworms.
Chapter 2: Seeds sprouting and letting go of their outer shell, running a business from my house, and our Elberta peaches.
Be the Bees: Our lemon tree adventures! The day the first Meyer lemon tree box arrived, “being the bees” and pollinating the trees with a paintbrush, and enjoying some lemonade.
Chapter 3: Garden dreaming through the years and Ari making new garden beds after our season of loss.
All the Plants I’ve Killed: Our multitasking tree.
Chapter 4: Trying to dig old roots out and having to get an ATV to help us, and tilling up the hard ground of winter.
Mama Bird Knows Best: Baby birds in our front door wreath.
Chapter 5: Planting new seeds in faith, and finding out some surprising news.
U-Pick Memories: Blueberry picking at Wanda’s. I actually went to Wanda’s this weekend with Ari and the kids and brought her a book–she was so surprised and excited!
Chapter 6: Growing in the wait – our memorable garden meal with Kristin, waiting for Joshua (Ari and my mom helping with the garden), writing the Word with Grace while we waited, Joshua arrives, and six months later Sarah arrives!
Metamorphosis: A butterfly in the garden–transformed in the dark and given a new life with wings!
Chapter 7: The thick of it – our refining season fighting anxiety and hard emotions, and trying to write this book. We captured photos of the happy moments, trying to cultivate what mattered in the middle of what felt like a mess underneath. Good things grew out of that refining season!
Chapter 8: Dandelions and savoring the harvest.
Heirloom Plants: My Great-Grandmother Irene’s Jonquils.
Chapter 9: Walter, the community God grew around us, adventures in the “magical garden” at the retirement community, and our dear silver-haired friends.
Celebration: Gracie’s marigold celebrations and making our bean tee-pee!
Garden Markers: Marking our plants with the names of special friends and family.
Chapter 10: Preserving fruit and memories, our pressed flower project, and a photo of my grandparents.
The Day I Thought I Would Lose the Garden: The day we discovered some unwelcome garden company.
A New Season: Embracing the frost of winter and a collection of photos from our new season!
I used to believe that gardening was a gentle hobby for those who had more time on their hands. Well, I was wrong. So very wrong. Don’t ever let anyone try to tell you that gardening isn’t hard work!
Last weekend, I tilled up one of our garden beds with a cute helper who had a very practical broom as his garden tool of choice.
After two hours of shoveling, pulling, hauling dirt and manure, and pruning trees, I had to lay down and watch Daniel Tiger with my three little garden helpers!
Tilling the hard ground of winter in my garden each year leaves me sore the next morning—a good kind of sore that reminds me I woke up some muscles that had been dormant and made some progress in that dirt. It’s the same with our lives. Confronting what’s holding us back–pulling the lies out of the ground and digging into truth–takes some muscle. The act of digging into what feels messy or broken may feel challenging or uncomfortable, but it’s necessary to grow new things. The hard work of cultivating will be worth it.
In my upcoming book, Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life, I confront 10 common lies we believe (sometimes unknowingly). I use my story and the lessons I’ve learned in the garden to give each one a strong dose of truth. Life is too short and too valuable to waste it telling ourselves (or listening to) lies about who we are, or what we can or cannot do. So, let’s expose them and bring them into the light where we can do something about them!
Here are the 10 Life-Sucking Lies and 10 Life-Giving Truths from Cultivate. As you read each one, mark in your mind which stands out to you the most:
Lie 1: I have to do it all. Truth: I can’t do it all and do it well. Cultivators pay attention to what matters.
Lie 2: I have to be perfect. Truth: It’s in the imperfect that things grow. Cultivators dig into the season they’re in.
Lie 3: My life needs to look like everyone else’s. Truth: I have a life to grow that is as unique as I am. Cultivators think big picture to uncover their unique path.
Lie 4: It’s impossible to start fresh or move forward. Truth: I can move forward by digging in and breaking up the lies. Cultivators nourish their soil with truth and let God redeem their dirt.
Lie 5: I have to know all the details of the path ahead. Truth: Forethought is important, but faith is essential. Cultivators have faith, believing in what they can’t yet see.
Lie 6: Waiting is not good or productive. Truth: Waiting is a time of ripening. Cultivators ripen in the wait.
Lie 7: Small steps don’t make a difference. Truth: Little-by-little progress adds up. Cultivators tend to what matters, embracing little-by-little progress.
Lie 8: I will be content when I have it all. Truth: I will be content when I live grateful. Cultivators intentionally savor the fruit.
Lie 9: I can do life by myself. Truth: I need meaningful relationships. Cultivators embrace awkward and grow in community.
Lie 10: The past isn’t valuable; it’s all about the future. Truth: Remembering God’s faithfulness helps us cultivate a meaningful legacy. Cultivators preserve what matters for future seasons, and future generations.
I’d love to hear from you! Which lie and which truth stood out to you the most?
To help you break up the lies that have been holding you back lately, I have something for you today. I am admittedly nervous to share this! If you’ve been following my book writing journey over the last two years, you know it has been one of imperfect progress. I wrote Cultivate in the thick of one of the hardest seasons of my life and even had to start over half-way through the process. But, like working in my garden, all of this hard work and digging in was worth it. I’m grateful for how my journey has changed me (and our family!) and I hope this free preview of Cultivate encourages you to grow right where you’ve been planted. Download the first pages of Cultivate (for free) by entering your email below.
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If those first pages encourage you, I would be so grateful if you would consider pre-ordering your copy of Cultivate here. This is so helpful for retailers to have enough copies in stock on launch day. Thank you in advance for pre-ordering! As a thank you, if you pre-order the book before the release day on June 27th, you’ll get these amazing pre-order bonuses. Claim your bonuses here.
And lastly, thank you. Thank you for encouraging me on this journey. I am so grateful for you, friends!
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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!):
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!
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.
When I started the process of creating my first book, Make it Happen, I knew nothing about writing books! But, with my magazine publishing background, I knew that I’d likely have some knowledge (and strong opinions) about covers.
People often judge actual books by their covers, and a great cover is one that matches the heart of the inside pages. A great cover is an honest one, like a genuine introduction from a new friend that leads to a meaningful connection.
We went through many rounds of designs to get to the right fit for Make it Happen, and just as many for my upcoming book, Cultivate.
The thing is, a book stays with you. Our lives evolve and grow over time, but books rarely, if ever, get updated or altered once they are published. As a writer, this can carry with it a lot of pressure. Every few years I update my website a bit to reflect the growth that has happened in my life (we even changed our company name recently). I get to share updates on what God is teaching me here on the blog over time. I get to change my words and photographs based on what’s new and where we are in our story. A book, however, remains unchanged.
So, when I began dreaming about the cover for Cultivate, I thought about the longevity I hoped it would have over time. I wanted the coverto feel like my garden: colorful, joyful, and alive. These are the same qualities I hope my garden, and my life, have many years from now, too.
After several rounds of cover designs, some of you loyal readers may remember we came up with this design below. I painted the background like I had for Make it Happen, and my publisher even released this cover to retailers (it’s still floating around on the interwebs in a few spots!). It’s beautiful, and it matched Make it Happen well.
As my life drastically changed in the season after our adoption, so did the pages of Cultivate. A new book took shape, and it needed a new home for the story that was unfolding.
I hesitantly emailed my editor with a new design I had mocked up, and told her that this book was shaping up to be so different from Make It Happen. It needed a cover that reflected this new story God was writing in my life.
This is what I sent her.
She loved it.
I love it.
We all love it!
And although it’s just the cover, it so accurately and beautifully reflects the heart of this book. The four sections of the pattern represent the four seasons. And the pattern itself reminds me of seeds, changing leaves, and little-by-little progress. It reminds me to cultivate.In every season, in the mess, in the thick of it–right where I am. The suede brown letters for the title are the color of new branches and of soil–the sustainer and nourisher of life. The foundation on which we grow new life.
Readers may not pick up on these subtleties when they first encounter the book. They may only experience the feeling of joy and a colorful life like my garden. But, as they dig in, I hope these intentional design choices make the experience of reading these pages even richer. This is a book about growing a meaningful life right where you are–in every season.
I’m so grateful to also share with you a special film I’ve been working on with Anna and Phil from Twenty-One Films for over a year now. They’ve filmed me, our family, and the garden in every season, and I cry every time I watch this. I hope it encourages you!
Friends, I am an unlikely gardener. I have killed a lot of plants in my life! For the majority of my existence, I didn’t understand how people loved spending time with plants or getting their hands dirty. My mom and grandfather were always out in the dirt, but I just didn’t get it!
And then something unexpected happened. Here’s the very first peek at my upcoming book, Cultivate (comes out June 27th!):
Gardening seemed like a gentle hobby for those who had more time on their hands. Yet here’s a sentence I never thought I’d type, much less live: God was transforming a plant killer like me into a gardener.
Gardening was not a hobby I randomly picked out of thin air; it was a craving. As my life was being changed by God’s grace, my hands followed. I began to feel an insatiable desire to nurture what I had been given—and even more than that, to grow things I never imagined wanting to grow!
One spring day, I decided to get my garden growing. I stood in the yard and opened a pack of yellow pear tomato seeds. As I unsealed the packet, I steadied my hands. If you’ve ever enjoyed an heirloom tomato in the summer, you may have noticed the seeds. They are tiny and delicate. I reached into the packet and touched one with my pointer finger. It grasped onto me as if I now held some responsibility for its life. I could choose to cultivate it or let it remain dormant.
Inside a seed is something powerful: potential. And potential is scary, isn’t it? It calls us to grow—to take action, to become, and to step forward in faith.
Lifting the fragile seed carefully out of the packet, my breathing slowed.
Planting seeds is risky. It’s putting our trust in something bigger than us. It’s optimism and faith. It requires letting go, and I don’t like letting go. I like being in control. I like efficiency, security, routine, and predictability. I like having a plan.
As I looked down at the seeds, I knew I held possibility in my hands.
What do I do now? How do I plant this? When is the right time to plant tomatoes? How deep in the soil do I plant them? How much should I water them? How many seeds do I plant at once? What if I don’t do this perfectly and it doesn’t grow?
I had a choice: risk imperfect progress to grow new life or regret not growing anything at all.
What do you think I chose? It will surprise you! You’ll find out what happened with that little seed in June when the book comes out. : )
But, I did, in fact, start a garden.
Or rather, it started me.
Gracie is so little here! Watering the pineapple sage by Faith Teasley.
I get asked a lot of questions about this gardening thing (step inside Gracie’s Garden here on Instagram) and let me first tell you: I am no Master Gardener. I’m just a gal who happens to think growing things is the greatest thing ever. I have learned a thing or two, and I love seeing friends discover that they can learn to garden–no previous green thumb required!
So, let’s start with some basics. This is part 1 in my Gardening 101 series, with much more to come!
1. Define why you want to grow things. What kind of garden do you want to grow, and why gardening in the first place?
For food? If so, what do you like to eat? For teaching? This is why I first started our garden. I wanted Grace to experience the miracle of growing things–from start to finish–and all the garden has to offer! For fun? My grandfather loved growing the weird things: pineapple sage (we love growing it too!), huge tomato varieties, and unique hybrids. For beauty? Maybe you love the idea of creating a garden space as an environment to enjoy. For filling vases? We love growing several flower varieties just for cutting and sharing with neighbors. For attracting butterflies, birds, and bees? This is why we plant zinnias–the pollinators that love them help to grow all of our veggies.
What is it for you? You may have one reason or 10–there are no wrong answers here. List your priorities and it will help you determine what to grow, and what not to grow.
Maybe you are living in an apartment and only have space for a few pots by the windowsill–that’s great! Maybe you have just enough space for containers–that’s great too. Maybe you prefer low-maintenance air plants or you only want a few great house plants–wonderful. Or maybe you don’t like to eat veggies and you just want pretty flowers–that’s awesome too! The bottom line here: use what you have, and use it in a way that’s unique to you.
‘There are countless ways to grow a garden, just as there are many ways to grow an intentional life. There are kitchen gardens, vertical gardens, cottage gardens, raised beds, roof gardens, square foot gardens, window boxes, rose gardens, wildflower gardens, container gardens, terrariums, herb gardens, water gardens, butterfly gardens—and the list goes on. No two gardens are exactly alike. Imagine your life as a garden. Unique. Purposeful. Unlike any other.’ – another little snippet from Cultivate : )
2. Find out your growing zone.
Like learning your Myers-Briggs personality type, this is very helpful information. Essential, actually. Knowing your growing zone will allow you to know what types of plants might thrive in your area in each season. This is like knowing the gardening language that allows you to read seed packets and plant labels. Most plant labels and seed packets have recommendations based on each growing zone. Look yours up here!
Spotting seedlings growing (with Josh growing in my belly at the time!) by Robyn Van Dyke
3. Find out your ideal date to plant, and put that date on your calendar.
This tip is going to help you cool your jets about gardening for a bit, and help you to plan well! Unless you live in Florida, it’s not time to plant things in most parts of the country. You are not behind if you are just getting started on your garden dreaming–you have time. If you are going to garden outdoors, you’ll need to know what the last date of expected frost will be in your city. Find out here. For us, the ideal date to begin planting is not until after Tax Day – April 15th! Now, let me tell you, I have ignored this recommendation several times. And every time I’ve regretted it. In our area, the weather gets lovely in late February and March is magical, and it makes everyone want to plant things right away. But, wise gardeners know to be patient. I’ve gotten over-eager a time or two and planted tomatoes in March only to have to dig them out before a freeze and give them a temporary abode in my kitchen. Be patient in planting, my fellow gardeners. You’ll be glad you waited. You can also find a full list of exactly when to plant different varieties in your location on the Old Farmer’s Almanac site. Here’s my list for Chapel Hill! So helpful.
My mom and Grace planting our winter garden this last year.
4. Go ahead and do a little Garden Dreaming. Knowing why you want to garden and when you can plant things in your area and zone, it’s time to start dreaming about what you want to grow. We’ll get more in-depth on this next (what grows well with what, etc.), but for now, start browsing seed catalogs and making your dream list. Grace and I did our Garden Dreaming a few weeks ago. We broke out all the seed catalogs (I love Park Seed, Burpee, Floret Flower Seeds, David’s Garden, Renee’s Garden, Botanical Interests, and the Southern Seed Exchange Catalog), and we circled and chatted and had a ton of fun making our dream list. Later, when we sketched out the garden (coming next), we paired down our list. For now, get garden happy and write out all the things you’d love to grow–what you would love to eat, share, or cut–depending on your answers to question 1. We’ll work through our lists in the next post. I can’t wait to hear what you’re dreaming of! : )
5. Repeat after me: you do not have to know everything about horticulture to grow a garden. Every year, some things grow and some things don’t! I still kill plants. I sometimes forget to water. I sometimes don’t weed. And you know what? My garden still grows! Even though I am imperfect, I am a gardener.
(And for some reason, I couldn’t help the tears typing those words.)
You can be a gardener, too, my friend. I’m excited for you!
Next up, we’ll tackle how to choose what to grow, some thoughts on simple garden supplies, fun with seed starting, how to make your own raised beds if you’re interested, and the five things you need to consider before finalizing your growing list: money, time, space, sun, and soil. I have some great (and simple) info coming for you!
Till then, it’s your turn! I’d love to hear your answers to what we just chatted about–and let me know what other questions you have too.
With love from my head tomatoes, The Unlikely Gardener : )