When You Are Searching for Purpose in the Mess

by | May 12, 2015 | Encouragement, Trust, Uncategorized


What you are created for is not a mystery if you pay attention to the way your heart beats with purpose.

When a random thought causes you to walk faster or a smile to spread across your face at the most inopportune moment; when you begin negotiating with responsibility and prudence over what motivates you toward action – listen to what your heart is saying.

Sometimes and maybe often, these are tiny hints to how God made you to flourish.

When we moved to London, I assumed our lives would be that of simplicity in small spaces. We assumed a yard (or garden in English) would be non-existent.

Now, every morning while my son eats breakfast, I sit in our new brown chair in the corner of the dining room, holding a cuppa while looking through the windows at a wall of ivy fluttering in the breeze. I’m wooed into a trance of awe by God’s provision.

All I expected was one lone box of beauty propped on my window sill. But you should know something about me.

Gardening is like breathing. The act of digging deep and pulling out helps make sense of congested thinking, the same way writing helps  process the pages of life God has ordained for me.

I shipped my bird bath and empty pots all the way across the ocean. I did.

We don’t have a car or Home Depot or even a nursery within walking distance. Transporting soil and plants is a challenge in London.


On Mother’s Day, shortly after I stepped inside the church, a new friend greeted me and then asked an astounding question. She overbought plants for her garden and asked if I would I like to have the excess?


After church, I devoured a Sunday roast dinner hosted by a lovely family, inspired by the garden view beyond a wall of open windows.

I couldn’t pull my garden gloves on fast enough after we walked home and I didn’t even have the plants in my possession yet. The possibilities sparked creativity, a hint that creating beauty is a challenge I often accept with enthusiasm.

Bent over, while digging up an overgrown, weedy, neglected plot of earth, I heard a small voice above me saying, “Oh look, you’re cleaning your garden up today too.”

Standing on the top rungs of the wooden fence, I spied my six year old neighbor missing his front teeth; satiating childish curiosity.

“My garden isn’t as tidy as yours, I’m afraid.”

“It’s not your fault,” he said with alacrity, “the previous tenants didn’t take good care of it.”

As I scooped another pile of rocky soil into the shovel, something unnatural appeared on the surface.

“Oh look what I found,” I said to my young neighbor.

With eyes wide as saucers and mouth open, he exclaimed, “A dinosaur!”

Brushing the dirt off the small plastic figurine, I handed it up to him and he thanked me like a proper English boy does without thinking.


When you are awakened out of walking passively through life, tied down like Gulliver by all the little things, Jesus reminds you that the way to the Kingdom is modeled by children.

Be brave about new adventures.

Say what  you think out loud when empathy and compassion are your only motives.

Conquer the walls that keep joy at a distance.

Follow your heart when it races with passion.

Love your neighbor as yourself.

In that uncomfortable middle place between the wilderness of circumstance and the hope of fulfillment, God is looking down and saying, “It’s not your fault. Let’s move forward in cleaning up the messes others left for you.”

He may just give you a gift you never asked for or expected in the process.


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  1. Mary Gemmill

    O Shelly, reading this did my heart GOOD 😉 Out of the mouths of babes huh ? While reading this, I also heard God saying that He knows what is important for your soul to be nurtured, and He knew gardening would be important to you.,, and I heard that verse; No good things does He withhold from those that follow Him… and He gives you all things richly to enjoy. He loves to garden in our hearts at I know you and He will have sweet hours of fellowship in your ” garden”.. Oh how he loves you Shelly !! <3

    • Jennifer Camp

      I was about to tell Shelly how much I adore here words here–how they usher in so much hope, the claiming of goodness and truth. And then I read your words here, Mary, and I am filled with even more gratitude. You both have such beautiful hearts. Bless you both.

  2. Kris Camealy

    I love the way God provides those special things, and experiences that tell us He KNOWS us and He LOVES us. It’s a gift to read about how you are finding His presence and provision there in London.

    Love you, friend.

    • Shelly Miller

      It’s like spring every day here, color bursting out all around us and we can’t help but smell the sweet aroma and be overcome by the beauty. Love you too Kris!!

  3. Natalie

    What a lovely, encouraging story He gave you to share. Thanks for doing the work of sharing in a world where we desperately need it. He does give us the most wonderful little gifts along the way, doesn’t He?

    • Shelly Miller

      I think we are all desperate in our own way Natalie — for hope and a tangible hint to the mystery — aren’t we? I know I am. Your friendship is such a gift, a reminder of God’s infinite ability to bless us with what we didn’t know exists. Thanks for being here.

  4. Joy Lenton

    What a gift God gave you, and what a gift your words are to us, Shelly! I love this heart-warming story of goodness and grace. And it makes me smile to think how well you’re settling into good old Blighty after all the trauma of moving and having flu. Welcome to the UK! You are a great asset. We need you; we need your sensitive eye, your poetic phrasing, your amazing images and your wonderful way with words. Bless you, friend. May your soul find more longings being satisfied right where you are. 🙂 x

    • Shelly Miller

      What an encouragement your words are to me Joy, thank you so much. I”m humbled actually. I do feel God’s pleasure in being here. I’m a bit undone by the ways in which He is rolling out the red carpet for me here. And thankful.I hope we’ll get to meet face-to-face at some point in the future. xxx

      • Joy Lenton

        Me too, Shelly! I pray for grace and healing enough to make it possible before too long. Xx <3

  5. pastordt

    FABULOUS story and storytelling. Thanks so much, Shelly.

    • Shelly Miller

      Thank you Diana, that means a lot to me.

  6. DeanneMoore

    “Let’s move forward…” I love that prompting from the Holy Spirit— and yes, He gets right in the mess with us.” I love your garden and I am glad you packed up the birdbath. It is definitely a keeper. xo

    • Shelly Miller

      And to think you will get to sit in it with me in just a few weeks. *squee*

  7. Celeste

    “Gardening is like breathing”
    We are in the process of moving. We found a great house with a backyard garden. And, when I should be cleaning, I am outside weeding. In the back of my mind the ever present to do list stacks up but when I am gardening it is like I am being ministered to. The created works alongside of creation and together meditate on our maker. For we know, even the rocks will cry out with praise for their maker.
    Life is busy.
    This month in particular. The calendar is an ever present reminder of how we get busy. The garden is my reminder to slow down and breath.

    • Shelly Miller

      Me too Celeste, a reminder to slow down and breathe. You said it perfectly. Thinking of you and praying for your transition. One day at a time my friend, one day at a time. xxx

  8. Megan Willome

    Oh, the ending! Did not see that coming!

    • Shelly Miller

      Love seeing you here Megan. You were on my heart at some point in the writing of this one. xxx

  9. Michelle DeRusha

    What a beautiful story, Shelly – and I was right there with you, bent over the dirt and weeds, unearthing a sweet treasure for your new young friend. Nicely done, friend, nicely done.

    • Shelly Miller

      Thanks Michelle, your words mean a lot to me. I’m grateful.

  10. Rachel Britz

    I love this, Shelly! I think of you often. Love listening to all the goodness that is transforming you in this season. xoxo

    • Shelly Miller

      I think of you often too Rachel. We need to Vox!

  11. Jody Ohlsen Collins

    I guess it’s my muddled emotions this morning that’s making me cry at everything I read…but this. The garden, the child, the truth…and your birdbath. If I were moving across the ocean God knows I’d take it, too.
    “It’s not your fault, let’s clean up the mess.” Oh, our saviour says that, doesn’t He?

    • Shelly Miller

      Love you Jody and all your tears and the deep meaning you find in the simple things of life. God is big in you my friend.

  12. Marilyn Yocum

    There is nothing so wonderful as a garden the needs your love and care.

    • Shelly Miller

      I couldn’t agree more Marilyn. It’s like being an adopted parent. You love the earth you are given by God as an inheritance, no matter how long it is yours to tend to.

  13. Nancy Ruegg

    That quote of Sarah Young’s? It’s from p. 132 in my copy of Jesus Calling. I wrote it in my notebook and love the fact that it was a meaningful sentiment to you, too! And thank you for this, Shelly: “Follow your heart when it races with passion.” When we feel passion toward an activity–gardening, cooking, painting, writing, etc.– it may be one of those hints of how God made us to flourish, and how he wants us to serve Him.

    • Shelly Miller

      I believe we are kindred hearts Nancy. Not surprised that Sarah Young quote stood out to us both! xxx

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