To an 8 year old our yard seemed like 40 acres. My short stature had me eye to eye with the handle of the lawn mower. I only have flashes of memory from that day because I've tried to block it out. Lewis and Clark had it easy compared to the vast wilderness in front of me. I pushed and pulled my way through the jungle of that East Tennessee plot of land. What felt like 9 hours later, I wanted to claim the second country of Chad. Such was my struggle to mow our yard for the first time. After 36 years of mowing the grass, it is still a place of much anguish and wrestling - mostly in my heart, but it usually starts on the outside. My mind must be pre-wired to flip a switch when I step onto that green carpet. The blades of grass, the stubborn weeds, the bare spots, seem to have a conversation behind my back. I can hear them whispering.
Prepare for battle, he's coming. The blades of the beast are spinning… no, wait. He's pulling the handle, still pulling, still pulling. Now he's kicking it and speaking a foreign language. Now his family is gathered around the mower. I think they are praying. Hold out at all cost. We must survive this day.
What may seem a strange way to approach a very common task to any homeowner consistently became my place of struggle. My most difficult conversations (between me and whomever I was battling in my head) occurred on the grassy knoll of my heart and my overgrown yard. I also battled my own weakness, fear, inadequacies… you name it. If it was a place of potential growth or change in my life, it was the moment I finally got the bleepin' mower running that the fight began. Throw in a couple of huge Labradors who have been laying land mines all week and you have the perfect setting for me to become a non-Christian… or become the man I am supposed to be in Christ.
In this most contentious place, Jesus suddenly starting showing up, taking the mower for a few turns while I listened to Him.
My most vivid memory happened in high school. I didn't own this yard (my Dad still owns it), but boy did it own me. I decided to proactively distract myself by using my Walkman with a cassette sermon from Bill Hybels (still one of my favorite teachers). I still don't know how I got it. No one had computers at that time and our church library was stocked full of RC Sproul, a stout reformed theologian, but somehow I had a message from the lead pastor of Willow Creek church in Barrington, Illinois.
I would be led by John's memory (John 14: 1-4) of that final night with Jesus, the words spoken in the dimly lit upper room, disciples sitting around the table. I was pushing and plodding through the lawn, but in my mind and heart I was at the table, listening and leaning in to His every word.
This was how that sermon felt. I didn't hear the standard "turn in your Bibles… yada yada" or "today we will be talking about this, this and this." Instead, I was there. I could smell the freshly baked flat bread, the subtle mixture of herbs and olives, the sweet smell of oil burning in the lamps.
Bill Hybels asked the question many of us have asked: What will heaven be like? In an almost supernatural way, I believed he had the answer. I listened with zeal, hoping to finally hear what it would really be like.
I had stored away weird images from Sunday School of clouds and bright lights. Symbolic imagery from Revelation had been hard to ignore as well: gold streets, gates made of jewels, trumpets, crazy looking beasts with too many eyes. I even heard a man who claimed to have had a vision of the New Jerusalem describe the walls as made of people. I kept picturing myself plastered into that wall in an awkward position. How long do we have to stay like this?
What I really wanted was something I could hold on to, a description that would move past symbolism and take deep root in my life.
Then he said it. The one word I have used to describe Heaven more than any other.
We would have a home with Jesus. We would live with Him, talk to him, be welcomed by Him. I was only a teenager, but for that moment, I forgot the sweat and the smell of fresh cut grass and my heart was cut deep with the joy of having a home forever with Jesus.
Keith Green's song "I Can't Wait to Get to Heaven" beautifully and simply captures the reality of this home (in a cheeseball, 70's kind of Christian song way) with these lyrics:
In 6 days you created everything, but you've been working on Heaven for 2000 years.
In their moment of fear and worry about what would happen, Jesus promised a home that He would be preparing for us.
What's better than a home in Heaven with God? A God who promises to come back and get you. A Savior who will do whatever it takes to bring you home. One who is committed not only to prepare a place for you, but to prepare your heart and life to live with Him forever.
For that moment (and a few others over the years), the work was skillfully accomplished by the Creator. The One who thought of grass in the first place, and more importantly the human heart and soul, was pruning, digging, cutting and creating. I realized that I was in His yard and He was loving every moment of shaping this boy into a man of God.
He's still doing it and that's the only thing I'm counting on.
Time to pour a glass of sweet tea, sit on the porch, smell the fresh cut grass, and think of home.