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wrecking ballI stood there staring in astonishment, and it was hard to fathom. I mean, I am a self-proclaimed gardener, and a pretty good one too, I thought. This was something different though. It made my gardening efforts look like amateur hour.

Our summers always involve back-to-back weekends of family reunions. This has been going on for over twenty years. The reunions are on both my mom’s and my dad’s side, so I get to bump into aunts, uncles, and cousins too. The reunions are usually at a neutral location, close to most of the people. This can involve a drive of a hundred miles or so, which translates to a full day commitment.

My wife’s birthday usually falls on one of the reunion weekends, and with so many other things going on in the summer, it can be a press to make them regularly. This year, I was waffling about going to one of them. It was at my cousin’s house for the first time, which I had never been to, and the next day we were celebrating my wife’s birthday. In other words, the whole weekend was taken up. 

Ugh! What to do? After some poking and prodding from my dad, I decided to go. 

Now, my cousin and her siblings can look a bit rough around the edges. They lost their father when they were young, and their mother gave them over to our grandparents to raise. It was like they were basically starting over, with three new kids to raise. Growing up with them was a little like seeing these wild children trying to be raised by grandparents who were overwhelmed and under-prepared. What transpired is that the kids entered adulthood with alcohol and drug issues, abuse issues (not from the grandparents), and general instability problems.

It is funny how these impressions of them have become permanently etched in my mind. My only connection with them now is at the annual reunions, and not everyone makes them every year, so really, it is less than that. 

My cousin is now in her sixties, living in rural America with her longtime boyfriend. When we arrived, their place looked pretty nice. They have a modular home on a lot of a little over an acre. The lawn was well maintained, and everything was neat and clean. We hung out in the garage, which was well organized and super nice. Why do I mention that? Because, maybe I was subconsciously expecting some sort of junky, run-down home. 

We all ate, had our annual horseshoe tournament, and I got to wandering around the property. I noticed the garden in the back and ventured over to it. It was there that I stood in utter amazement over this garden—neat rows of evenly spaced vegetables, and no weeds to be seen. Rows of carrots that were already the size of bananas. Onions as big as softballs. Pepper plants bursting with fruit. Snap peas ripe and full, vining beautifully on a trellis. The whole thing was quite frankly... astonishing. 

It was then that I realized how much our preconceived notions about people can really be so wrong. 

I started to compare the garden before me with my own garden. After all, I have been doing it for many years as well. Well, it didn’t compare. Maybe in my mind, my garden should have looked like theirs, and their garden more like mine. 

Then, I thought about my cousin’s background and mine. I grew up in a nice neighborhood in the suburbs. Nice family, great parents. I now have a great family and a nice house as well. I probably “look” the part of having my act together. But the truth is, I may have my act together in some areas, but I definitely do not in others. I am a work in progress, just like she is. Just like we all are.

The problem is that I was filtering this relationship through the lens of outward appearances. Through that lens, I was unconsciously elevating my standing by lowering hers. I wasn’t doing this deliberately, but it was ingrained in me over time. After all, I may see her once a year and talk to her for a good ten minutes. 

What happens, then, is that I don’t get to know her, and all conversation is superficial. I mean, what can you really talk about in ten minutes? I think, 'We don’t really have much in common, and I can’t relate to you because of the “issues” you have (remember the childhood problems). And frankly, I am a little bit better than you.'

It is so ridiculous! 

This facade we can so easily erect over our lives to cement the illusion of having it all together is a great hinderer to actually getting to know people better and to be effective in loving others. It’s a wall builder. Appearances are an illusion to the real you. Sometimes you need the wrecking ball to come sweeping through your garden to realize that maybe things aren’t at all what they seem. 

I felt humbled after the ball swept through mine. My life is also not a victory on every front. I realized that I really don’t know my cousin that much at all, and what I thought I knew is, very likely, all wrong. I lowered the view of myself and raised the view of her. That, in and of itself, changed my attitude, and brought me closer to common ground with her in my heart and in my mind.  

The more I think about this, the more grateful I am to have the Lord reveal His truths to me in so many different ways. I want to be His instrument in this world, and I don’t want to play games. I want to know people and care for them. I want true friendships without pretense. I can’t do that without first being okay with myself and my flaws so I don’t feel compelled to artificially elevate the illusion of myself in pride.

In a moment in time, a trip to the garden triggered a change in me. I felt foolish for maybe thinking that the only one to be able to receive anything out of our relationship was her. As for me receiving anything from her, I didn’t think so. I looked around at all of my relatives and wondered if I wasn’t doing the same thing with all of them. 
Philippians 2:3
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.
Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves.”


As of now, I will be more purposeful to get to truly know people better, expose a little more of me to them, and make room for God to work His way in.

As I am writing this, I am munching on some carrots from their garden. They are delicious, and I am feeling a little more grateful for that relationship in my life.  


Jon Larson
cfaith staff

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