Growing Cathedrals

The fall harvest in our village. It’s almost time for them to harvest the corn again! And for a few weeks, our roads will become corn drying fields.
I’ve been thinking about seeds lately.
Thinking that they are small and insignificant. They can easily be forgotten, swept away in a pile of dust. They don’t look like much; unless you’re a seed expert, you probably don’t know what kind of capacity for life they have. Will it have flowers or bear fruit? Will it smell good or will it be good to eat? It’s a mystery until there’s some growth.
I’ve also been thinking about sowers lately.
It isn’t a glamorous job. Here in China, seeds are planted by hand… hours in the hot sun, poking one small seed at a time into the soil. There’s a lot of work that has to be done before the seed can even go in the ground. They have to break up the soil and make a furrow. It can be backbreaking work. And they get really dirty… lots of dirt underneath their fingernails. I hate dirt under my fingernails.
I’ve been wishing that Luke 13:18 read a bit differently. I’ve been wishing it talked less about tiny, insignificant seeds and more about grand, big things.
Because in the last couple of weeks, Jacob and I have been talking more and more about the reality that our purpose here boils down to one thing: Seed Sowers.
Tiny and insignificant seeds stuck in the ground with grubby and sometimes clumsy fingers. Not exactly the kind of job description I imagined while growing up.
I’m learning that the hardest thing for me about being a seed sower in this season of my life is how insubstantial it feels. We just got back from a trip to the states, where we were frequently asked, “What do you do in China?”
And what do we say? Sometimes we get the answer right, but more often than not, we say things like: I manage the organization’s IT needs. Or maybe I write stories for the foster home. To be honest, it is hard to connect the little and sometimes trivial things we do for eight hours a day with the big picture of why we’re here, because if he wanted, Jacob could fix computers in the USA, and I can write stories from anywhere. And even though that’s what we do, that’s not really why we’re in China.
So what’s the right answer? The reason we’re here has less to do with what we do and more to do with who we are. We’re in China because, for this season of our life, we feel called to sow seeds of love in the lives of the people here. What do you do in China? We try to love people. But when we say that, sometimes in our own heads – where we desire to hear ourselves saying that we do something where success can be measured, quantified, and evaluated – we hear “We’re bumming around in China and spending too long talking with friends after our lunch hour.”
Because sometimes sowing seeds feels like you aren’t doing anything at all.
I once heard a pastor tell this story… a man was walking along a road and saw three brick layers hard at work. He asked the first man, “What are you doing?” The man said, “I’m laying bricks.” When posed with the same question, the second man replied, “I’m building a wall.” The third man answered the same question with a big visioned answer, “I’m building a cathedral.”
When we reduce our purpose for being here to the job description that we have, we become brick-layers instead of cathedral builders. We deny the power of a tiny seed. We underestimate the plans of a big God.
And I’m pretty sure we’re not the only ones with a crisis of vision. I can’t count the times I’ve heard women say, I’m just a mom.
We’re back in China after a refreshing trip home and we have a renewed sense of purpose for being here. My mini-goal for the next 6 months is to develop and cling to a vision that is bigger than a job. Because a job – even one at a foster home in China – can get tedious at times and overwhelming at others, and my contentment is so much more fickle when it is tied to my emotional satisfaction with a job. Clinging to it as a source of my identity and purpose leaves my soul a little impoverished. And I know that no matter where we’re planted, our purpose and vision should always remain the same, so even if this season of our lives were to end and we were to go back to the USA sometime, we would still need to live for a vision bigger than the daily mundane.
But to believe in a Kingdom-sized (big!) vision, we have to believe in the power of tiny seeds. And we need to faithfully and unashamedly sow them, trusting that God will bring fruit at the appropriate time and in the appropriate season. We have to change our definition and standards of success, and we have to believe that cathedrals can grow out of the tiniest seeds.

12 thoughts on “Growing Cathedrals

  1. Carrie, you and Jacob may be “just” planting seeds…but at harvest time how boutiful the rewards of your labor will be! I have no doubt the day will come when you look at your “cathedral” and think, “Wow…we built that?” And the answer is yes. It isn't always the easiest to see what exactly it is that we're doing, but let someone who has been touched greatly by your work assure you that what you are doing DOES matter! My heart is part of your harvest. 🙂

    I'm glad you made it home safely, but we sure did enjoy having you in Texas!

    Many Blessings,


  2. We've missed you Carrie! And to think for even a moment that you wonder if you are building tremendous Cathedrals … wow … it's so odd to sit here with my family in the comfy USA and wonder the exact same thing but on the other side of things and realize that we aren't reaching out nearly as far as we should. Funny how some of the same phrases you used in your post have been coming up in conversations here but in different ways. (Like Seasons of Life … and purpose and seeds …) So very interesting and makes me continue to place things with God knowing that He is mighty and in charge of so much beyond my small world and perspective.

    Thank you again for sharing with us your days, your thoughts, your journey. You reach so many of us and so many to come. So many seeds … and hopefully so much fruit. You are the sower and God grows the seeds. Thank you!


  3. Funny…..we always want to be sowing someone else's seeds too. I read your blog, see the work you do, and think, “Really, what's more meaningful that that? More important? I want to spend my life doing THAT!”

    And, yet, I'm the director of children's ministry here at a church in the states here in the states, and just the other day someone said to me, “You've got a great job- what an amazing impact you are able to make every day. Someday I hope to be able to do something like that.” And, from where I sit, it seems I'm so wrapped up in curriculum, filling volunteer holes, and writing budgets that I'm not sowing ANY seeds at all.

    What is it about us that makes it so easy to see the seeds others sow, but so difficult to see the ones we sow ourselves?

    You are right though- I can SO relate to what you are saying- sometimes seed sowing can be discouraging- because you never see the “cathedral”. But, I am sure you will be greeted in heaven by a crowd filled with the beautiful Chinese people you've loved whose lives you impacted in ways you may never know till then!

    What you do matters for eternity!!!


  4. I really don't have a lot to add to what Tara, Val and Jenna said here…because they spoke straight from my heart. It is so true that we often don't see the seeds we plant as significant. But God has called each of us to this place, for such a time as this. And I know it may seem mundane and small some days, but I assure you, Cathedrals are being built. Continue to focus on the larger picture and never feel the need to 'explain' what you do, and certainly don't feel any shame or lower level of importance because of it!

    My husband is also an engineer, so I often talk to him about what the two of you have given up for this season in your life, and how greatly I admire what you are doing over there. Your purpose is GREAT and you have reached so many…including all of us who faithfully follow along. You are planting seeds in our hearts, too!

    Welcome back!!

    Blessings and Hugs,


  5. Carrie
    Whether we are working with foster kids or our own kids, no matter what the setting, we are here to “plant seeds.” Your role, my role (just a mom! ha) are tremendous in God's eyes. He doesn't care if it's China or Atlanta, GA. It's the reason we are in this everyday… the big “WoW” for Him is that we don't miss that! I know God is well pleased with the work you are doing, you get it!! Working on the formula, need to know how much you need, I'll e-mail you.
    susan chapman


  6. Great great post Carrie! You are such a good writer. I tried to put these thoughts on my blog the other day about seeds etc….but you have said it perfectly;)

    I know that in the daily routine of Spanish and new culture I have to try and start my morning each day at 4am remembering what God's vision is for my family. BUT I dream about the day that I can see a God size vision on everything around me!


  7. P.S. you are touching lives all over the place in China and loving on the people and they are loving you right back. It is okay to just be the seed planter…..there are many seeds to plant in a country that size;)And it is all about relationship building and that is what you guys are doing AND you are SUCCESSFULLY achieving those relationships too:)


  8. Yep, here I am just a mom and for the second go round with 3 adult children and 3 blessings from China too. And I wonder many days “what am I doing?” I am with my children non-stop hrs and really have to get away from them to even have vision. Much like a farmer needs to go to the house after working in the fields all day .Only then can he see “what he has been doing”. Some days I feel significant other days ….not so much. I bemoan lost moments to teach or love or do the right thing. Sometimes I get it right….sometimes not. It is easy to get lost in the work. Love your blog and the beautiful faces. We would love more children from China but no longer qualify on several points and really have our hands full….but our hearts ALWAYS say yes to more.


  9. Carrie, this post hit me so hard right now. My husband and I are struggling to figure out what (and for that matter) if God has an additional call for us to further His kingdom, more than being “just a mom and a dad” to the three blessings he's given us from the country in which you live. I'll be pondering this post for days to come…


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