by Becky Ritchey
There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven . . . a time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted. [Eccl. 3:1, 2 NASB]
“Fall is a good time for planting.” That’s what our realtor said when we bought our house in Norfolk eleven years ago this fall. That was when we moved to Virginia from England – or rather, the Navy sent us there.
Have you ever experienced an ‘epiphany’, i.e. a time when someone makes a casual remark that resonates with you so strongly, it’s like a gong clanging inside you? That’s how it was with me when our realtor made that statement about planting. Of course, she was talking about literal planting – gardening, planting shrubs, bulbs, etc. around our new house. But what I felt inside was that God was using those words to encourage me at a time when I desperately needed it.
I was pretty down about moving to Norfolk from Yorkshire, England. Over three years in England I’d embraced the British culture and landscape, making it my home. One of my favorite things was gardening, which was easy in the moist, temperate climate. We found a church soon after arriving in England so I made a lot of close British friends. In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, they nurtured us. During our time there, I also studied theology at grad school in York, volunteered at one of the top tourist sites in the countryside, sang Mozart’s Requiem in a local choir, and learned to ring cathedral bells. Indeed, I put down deep roots in the English soil! Consequently, leaving England felt like my roots were being yanked out of the ground – it was awful! To make matters worse, we heard only negative things about Norfolk and, being familiar with the mid-Atlantic climate, were very reluctant to embrace the move.
That was summer 2004 and the housing market was booming. By some miracle, we were able to purchase a house (we had planned to rent) and negotiated a deal with the seller so we had cash to remodel much of the interior. However, I still missed my English roses, my favorite tea shops, and my British friends. The harsh, piney soil in our Norfolk yard became a dismal metaphor for the new environment where I’d been planted. No more lush, green English lawn and flowers – just gray-green grass and some sickly azaleas under the front window.
The saving grace for me in Norfolk was the church where God planted us as soon as we moved: New Life Providence Church. It was healthy and fresh – perfect spiritual soil in which to grow. It was an exciting time for the church because they were in the process of acquiring their own property. We started services in the new facility one year after Steve and I joined. In the meantime, we started digging in to a great life group, quickly making new friends. Soon, I found ways to serve. I signed up to mentor a student in the Kids Hope program and volunteered with the adult literacy initiative at the Life Enrichment Center. I frequently joined in the Wednesday morning prayer meetings, too, and got healed through soaking prayer sessions. Eventually, Steve and I led a life group for a season and I taught a couple of Prime Time classes. Gradually, I felt like I was flourishing and growing, thanks to the verdant spiritual environment in which God planted me.
I learned a profound truth through my time in Virginia: God knows what is best for us in every season. Although I didn’t want to move to Norfolk, God planted me there in a perfect spiritual environment where He knew I could grow. Of all the seasons of my life, my time in Virginia is where I probably produced the most fruit (to date). Prior to moving there, I had desires stirring inside me for many years, to be functioning in the body of Christ in ways that were never fulfilled. As my life unfolded through ministries in the church, I realized that God was (at last) providing opportunities for me to be the person He created me to be. You could say that I started to bloom as I felt valued and fulfilled in my unique calling.
And now, I find myself in a new season – once again uprooted and planted in a new environment. I’m looking to God for new opportunities to flourish and grow because I know that fall is here again . . . a good time for planting.