Tending the Soul

There was a season of life when my faith was as fragile as a newly unfurled leaf, when all I could do was wait, observe, and cautiously hope that I would experience the faith I once had. I felt far removed from that passionate and zealous girl who once lived overseas and realized a dream of her youth to impact the world, only to have it slip through her fingers.

Prior to moving back to the Southeast from a life overseas, I spent four long years in the desert region of South Texas, where dusty brown was the backdrop, rain was an anomaly, and my soul matched the terrain. After facing loss, trauma, and loneliness in ways I never anticipated, I found myself distanced from God. Reluctant to pray and apathetic towards scripture, my heart was cracked and my soul felt frail. What was once a refuge now felt like an ambush. 

The reality was, I needed God just as much as any other time in my life, no more, no less. But for my heart to receive, I needed him to show up in a new, fresh way. Boldly and humbly, I prayed for just that. Afraid of what may happen if he didn’t answer, but willing to give it one more chance. 

It was mid-July when my feet landed back on Southeastern soil, and the stark contrast in terrain was impossible to miss. Everything was in bloom, and many in my community had gardens boasting beautiful flowers and ripening vegetables. It was too late in the season to plant my own garden, but something about the varying shades of green and the promise of new growth compelled me to try my hand at houseplants again, something at which I had never had success. 

I started with just a few on the windowsill. I learned their needs, admired their growth. I made mistakes, causing them harm, but I watched in amazement as they recovered once I corrected my blunders.

Tending to them and observing them quickly became therapy to my soul.

Soon, my collection of houseplants expanded, trailing from my windowsill, throughout the house, and onto the back porch. My kids jokingly ushered me away from the plant section of every store we visited. I was hooked. 

Then, one day, it happened: my heart began to worship as I took note of the intricacy of God’s design. I sat in wonder at how he created each plant—countless varieties around the globe—with unique features and specific needs to reach their full potential. What began as an external admiration of beauty transformed into an internal reverence of holiness. My soul praised him for his wisdom, his creativity, his faithfulness. 

Could it be? I pondered, as I observed his creations one evening. The sun slowly took its place behind the tall oak tree on the edge of our yard, casting a golden glow over my growing plant collection through the window. Was the God of the universe answering my prayer for Him to speak to me in new ways?

I’m reminded of the psalmist in Psalm 95 who begins the song with an invitation to worship the Lord with him. 

“Come, let’s shout joyfully to the LORD, shout triumphantly to the rock of our salvation!” (Psalm 95:1 HCSB)

I am tempted to think the psalmist is simply full of praise because—of course! That is what psalmists do.

I continue reading, however, and learn what prompted praise in his heart, overflowing into words on a page, was the God’s creation all around him. 

“For the Lord is a great God, a great King above all gods. The depths of the earth are in His hand, and the mountain peaks are His. The sea is His; He made it. His hands formed the dry land. Come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.” (Psalm 95:3-6 HCSB)

I remember the day my hope was restored, standing on my back porch in the humid summer of Alabama, where sweat led me to worship and silent observation became my prayer. I grew up in the lush Southeastern U.S. and spent nearly half a decade in the tropical Amazon Rainforest, but this—THIS—was the green, new life my soul ached for.

Just as the psalmist’s observation of God’s handiwork led him worship the great creator, I found myself observing him in the tiniest flower and the broadest leaf, drawing me once again into his presence. 

Or perhaps realizing I had been there all along.

Ashley Whittemore is a writer, poet, and recovering people pleaser. She, her husband, and their three children lived in the Amazon region of Brazil and Colombia for several years. While they no longer live there full-time, they continue to serve as part of the leadership of The Amazon Network, an organization they founded in 2013. In her free time, she can be found triaging the needs of her garden, houseplants, and chickens.