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Why ‘Receive’ Should Have Been My Word in 2015

cultivate

Cultivate was my word for 2015, a year that was probably the most challenging of my life. I didn’t write about that word, Cultivate, all that much. Not because I didn’t feel inspired by the power of its meaning, but because I didn’t really have the energy to think about what I was cultivating. In all honesty, last year was not about the bigger picture of bringing forth good things. It was a smaller season of life. It was a season of receiving. The good, quiet, painful work of receiving.

Last January, just weeks after we got news that our baby would most likely have Down syndrome, I chose that word cultivate, thinking already of what I would do once I had worked through the news of my unborn child’s diagnosis. What would come from this? What would I make of this new thing?

I didn’t really make anything this past year. I simply did what I needed to do. I slowed down.

In the last eight weeks of my pregnancy, my amniotic fluid hovered around the danger zone, and week after week I drove myself across town to have my belly pressed and rubbed with instruments, all checking to make sure Ace was safe in there. My growing bump slowed its expansion. I worried what would be found when the tape measurer wrapped around my middle.

And over and over there was no big answer to those challenges. Drink water, they’d say. Rest.

I wore my eye of the tiger shirt on purpose in those last weeks of pregnancy

I wore my eye of the tiger shirt on purpose those last weeks of pregnancy

Sometimes the work of cultivating gets halted into those first stages: The hard work you’re asked to do looks more like receiving: Put your feet up, mom of two wild boys. Ask your friends to watch them. Take naps. Stop writing so much. Let Florence bring you dinner, again. Receive, receive, receive.

Chris and I have been watching A&E’s six-part series Born This Way, which follows seven young people with Down syndrome living in LA. It’s been a joy to watch their lives and personalities, to see their challenges and gifts. It’s a sweet, kind-hearted show. And it’s helping me make peace with who Ace may be as a young man. It’s helping me make space for that part of his story, when he isn’t a child, when he falls in love, or tries to find a job, or learns how to shop and cook for himself.

I keep remembering that receiving is a process. I need to continue, with each step of Ace’s development, to accept the parts of his story that I hadn’t planned for, and to celebrate the gift that he is. Sometimes that means watching these adults with Down syndrome learn to express their emotions or celebrate personal victories, and reminding myself that my boy will likely experience the world the way they do.

It’s receiving the challenges as they unfold. My little nugget of a baby needs to gain more weight. It’s learning how to feed him intentionally. It’s learning how to play with him in a way that both challenges him and blesses him. In short, it’s being a mom. But being one in which the microscope narrows in on every step along his development, the steps I didn’t even realize we were taking with my older typical boys.

2015 was a challenging year, not only because of Ace’s diagnosis, but because my church lurched and swayed and much was lost and gained. Birth is painful and beautiful and my church birthed a new story, and I was a leader in the midst of it.  Receiving meant owning my decision as a leader. Receiving meant acknowledging the pain and the joy in front of me. Receiving meant believing in the power of Christ to lead us, even when it felt frightening, even when I failed to lead perfectly. Receiving meant pursuing reconciliation.

2015 closed with the loss of an important friend in my life. I’ll write more about Ali when I’m ready to. I’ll tell you this. I scratched my car on the flowering succulent bush in front of her house in November, a week before she passed away, the last time I saw her on this earth. Sometimes I run my hand across the scrape, while I’m calling my kids out of their seats and out onto sidewalks. It’s just a scrape on a car, I know. But it feels like some sort of ebenezer, a memorial of sorts, stones piled high in the place where God was.

We cannot love another person without being marked by them. Sometimes life is about receiving the marks, letting ourselves be hurt because loving people hurts sometimes.

beautiful-soil

On the other side of 2015, I’m beginning to understand this: I wanted to cultivate last year. And maybe I did. This past year was our fourth straight year of drought in California. Rainlessness and hard dry ground. The grass in our backyard dried up into stickers and yellow crackling, lifeless stuff.

The grass lies dormant underneath. At least that’s what the people at the garden store said when I came in to buy grass seed to sprinkle before the coming El Nino rains this month. No, they said. It’s not really dead. What you need is grass food. It’s all still there underneath. Just wait for it.

Before we can cultivate the dormant grass, we first learn to receive the rain. Receiving is making space for more. Internal expansion.

All along there is something living underneath the death we see. It’s waiting for the specific rain that brings it forth into the world. What looks like dry ground. What looks used up and undone.

Cultivating starts small. First we receive.

And then God brings forth what God brings forth.

 



  • Quite that year you’ve had… I know you probably feel like you don’t blog much, but I’ve been reading everything you’ve written, and there is so much depth, so much beauty. Praying for God to give you grace for each moment. And thinking of you often, with love.

  • fiona lynne

    Oh wow, what a year you’ve had. And I also read so much of my own story in your words. I chose Rise as my word last year for similar reasons I think as you chose Cultivate. I wanted to rise to so much, all the potential I saw, all the ideas. Then an international move and a surprise pregnancy knocked a lot of the energy out of me. I’ve been doing the work of looking back and realising I didn’t fail for not rising to what I had planned. Perhaps the rising happened in very different ways, like being willing to lean into this pregnancy with open hands, and receive what it has for me (three more weeks to figure that out!). Thank you for sharing this part of your journey with us x

  • Lori McCully

    Your pieces ALWAYS grow me up, Micah. This piece/post, especially so. I’m seeing my 2015 and now, ’16 with new lens. i live/struggle with severe anxiety disorder, and agoraphobia. I’m wondering now, if there isn’t actually something good could come of this mess, as I work to pull myself out of the trenches of my home. Cultivating and receiving. Hmmmm. My heart feels hope for the very first time in years. Maybe I really am healing and beginning to release the chains that I have had on myself for all these years. All I know is, I FEE HOPE, and it’s a truly great feeling.
    Probably none of this makes any sense to you ( or anyone else that may peruse what I’ve written). But, I really wanted to get it out. Kind of like, when you throw up, you almost always feel a keen sense of relief. THATS how I feel right now!!! Thank you so much Micah, for planting the seed.
    I think I’m ready to feel the sun on my cheeks.
    God is good.
    Lori McCully

    • Andrew Marsh

      Hi Lori.
      It makes sense. Perfectly. You’re honest, you’re looking clearly and you AIM to make it! Keep going, girl!! May the One who sees the way, show you clearly how to follow in 2016!

  • Katie Noah Gibson

    This is so lovely and honest, Micha. I’ve been dealing with some similar challenges these last few months (not pregnancy-related, but adjusting my expectations and learning to ask for help). Thanks for these words, friend.

  • pastordt

    Oh yes . . . receiving is the key to so much, isn’t it? And sometimes it’s the hardest thing we have to do in this life. Kudos to you for receiving well, dear Micha. And I am so sorry for the loss of your friend. One of my closest friends ever died just weeks before I began my pastoral work here in Santa Barbara — I miss her all the time. Still.

  • Andrew Marsh

    Hi Michael!
    Thinking of the garden side of cultivating, you have to cultivate the soil first, before you receive the beauty of the bloom latterly.
    And you have to receive wisdom, to be able to have a vision, to be able to see a picture of how to cultivate growth, be it horticulturally or spiritually.
    You can’t plant a garden, that will delight and captivate with its fragrances and beauty, unless you sit down and think over what colours you want to see where, the height of the planting, etc., in other words, you try to picture your finished goal in your mind’s eye.
    God gives us the wherewithal to do the receiving and the cultivation.
    This past year, you’ve been receiving but never, ever forget the bond, the continuing and continuous bond that you and Ace have been and are cultivating with each other.
    Be proud (pride? Did I just say pride? Dear Lord, you know what I mean here. Thank you) of just how very much you’ve done this year just gone. You’ve received, you’re cultivating. You couldn’t do the latter without the first and the other way round also.
    You just keep on keeping on! And remember too, when you feel drained, exhausted and like “what am I doing for God?” that He is the God of a billion new starts! Now isn’t that great news?? God bless you and your beautiful, growing, changing family.

  • Andrew Marsh

    Micha, sorry for changing your gender. Oops. I didn’t read my text and predictive did it, honestly!!

  • Your words bring life, Micha. “Cultivating starts small. First we receive.” Praying I learn to receive well and that God brings forth beautiful things for you!

  • This is so lovely, friend.

  • Trish Collins

    So beautiful. I’m pregnant with my third boy as well, so your words resonate with me.

    Just FYI, I tried contacting you through your contact page and only got an error.