Story, Value, and Becoming More Real
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What It Means to Be a Cultivator

March 29, 2023

Maribeth Barber Albritton

It had been a hard day of anxiety, anger, and tears—not against each other, thank goodness, but against a deep and terrible disappointment. My husband had done a far better job of keeping his head above the emotional waters. I, on the other hand, floundered, trying to maintain a proper Queen Elizabeth II-like “stiff upper lip” yet unable to stop myself from crying every time we looked at each other.

(I may have admired the Queen deeply, but my deep-feeling Italian genes have yet to adopt her British stoicism.)

“Come on,” Casey whispered after hours of me fighting and failing. “Let’s go outside.”

I wiped my eyes for the hundredth time that day and followed him outdoors. The sun was finally out and a soft breeze skipped over our small patch of earth. Casey led me to a particular, well-lit spot in our backyard, wrapped his arms around me, and let me lean my head against his shoulder.

“It’s okay,” he murmured. “We’re going to be okay.”

I cried again, hearing that. But the longer we stood there with the sun bearing down on us, I started to feel warmer. All day I’d been cold, achy, and miserable; now the thick sheet of ice locking in my sorrow slowly melted under the cleansing light.

After a while we sat down. I kicked off my shoes and socks and pressed the soles of my feet into the ground. We talked softly to each other, reminding one another that the Lord had us in the palm of His hand, that we were surrounded and supported by trustworthy friends, that we could trust that all things were working for our good. Half an hour passed before we went inside—but by the time we did, I felt lighter, more hopeful, and far braver than I had in a good 48 hours.

Later that day, we went the grocery store. As we strolled through the frozen section, a cookies-and-cream pie caught Casey’s eye.

“Wow…that looks awfully good.” He glanced at me sidelong, already guessing what my nutrition-obsessed thoughts might be. “But I wouldn’t do that to you.”

Sugar! Bad sugar! Wicked sugar! one side of my brain screeched in protest. But the emboldening effects of Southern sunshine weren’t done with me yet. I smiled. “I think we could do with a pie.”

So after dinner, we each enjoyed a generous slice of fluffy whipped filling atop an Oreo crust. As we finished off the last bites, Casey said, “This is to remind us that God is still very good to us.”

I looked up with a surprised, joyful start. The previous afternoon, I’d struggled in vain with the start of this article, asking myself what it meant to be a Cultivator but bumping up against my own raw emotions. The disappointment had still been too fresh, and the words had come slow and halting. But now I suddenly remembered one of the quotes from The Cultivating Project’s PDF, Good, True, & Beautiful (a PDF we offer to each and every new email subscriber)–and I understood it, for myself and Casey, in this particular moment:

Cultivating is more than gardening or land management. It is a practice, a way of life, a way of being. It is a reclaiming and defending of goodness. It is a choosing of life, over and over again. [1]

I’ve been part of The Cultivating Project for a little over three years now. I’ll never forget the day—December 14, 2019 to be precise— when Lancia Smith contacted me and asked if I’d be open to joining a fellowship of Christian makers and writing on a quarterly basis for Cultivating.

I was halfway through the painstaking process of editing my science-fiction novel and preparing it for self-publication, and my creative well had run dry. Lancia’s offer was like a cup of cold water. My tired soul screamed “Yes, please!” at the possibility of not only joining a diverse, Jesus-loving group of writers and artists, but of writing on the subject I was most passionate about at the time: sacramental, active-contemplative living.

It’s fascinating to look back on those early text messages between me and Lancia and see how The Cultivating Project has grown and changed. At the time, Lancia described it to me as “a team-and-theme mode with a targeted approach to growth and effectiveness as Christian writers.” That goal hasn’t necessarily changed. Our growing maturity as writers is something we still pursue together, even if our group has expanded to musicians, visual artists, and potters.

But it is no longer our only mission. Somewhere along the way, the vision deepened…and the thing we pursue with the fiercest hope and passion is stated in the byline on the homepage of our website:

Whole Lives Rooted in Christ,
Flourishing in the Fellowship of Makers [2]

Cultivating whole lives rooted in Jesus is slow, steady, lifelong work. You will never feel as if “you’ve arrived” (oh, how I despise that pompous phrase), because this is the work of sanctification. And in one of the greatest mysteries of Christian theology, sanctification is something we do with God and God does with us.

There’s a stark difference between earning our salvation (something we as Christians must ferociously deny) and working out our salvation. The first is impossible, and precisely why we need Jesus. The second, however, is a lifelong journey with Jesus, one that requires us to stay in close relationship with Him, repent of our daily sins, and live each day with focused, humble, sacramental intentionality.

As Lancia writes:

The life we cultivate in Christ in our every day rhythms is profoundly different than the world around us. We are witness bearers, gleaming like lights in the darkness. The way we live, love, work, play, make, and rest all bear witness to a Kingdom unlike any that we know on earth. It is a Kingdom marked edge to edge with what is Good, True, and Beautiful. [3]

“The way we live, love, work, play, make, and rest…” These things say a great deal about how I’m tending my own soul. Are my roots choking in the thorny ground of fast-paced, approval-seeking, frenetic productivity? Are they barely covered by the shallow soil of sluggish indifference to the world around me and my calling within it? Or am I turning my face to the Son-King the way the amaryllis in my kitchen window stubbornly leaned her stalk towards the light? Do I allow the light of His countenance, the reassurance of His love, the deep certainty of His sovereignty to water the barren places in my heart? Am I cultivating that watered soil by preaching truth to myself, dwelling on His goodness, and delighting in His beauty?

This, I believe, is what it means to live a whole life rooted in Christ—and it has changed me from the inside out. It isn’t about following rich and powerful liturgies (though those can be helpful tools!). It isn’t about being part of a local church community (though that’s certainly a critical part of the Christian life and I have been blessed by it!). It isn’t even about having a rigid “quiet time” schedule (though a special, carved-out time with the Lord is undoubtedly beneficial).

Living a whole life rooted in Christ isn’t about what I do. It is about relationship with Him. It is about being with Him on a daily basis, trusting and delighting in Him as the Source of all goodness, truth, and beauty—and that trust and delight will color every area of my life with joyful glory. 

Sometimes, though, my life is jarred by an ever-encroaching darkness. Injustice and heartache, depression and anger, confusion and chaos…what do I do when those things barge in and leave me wrecked and fragile, as they have in all-too-recent days?

“What makes a cultivator is not what we have suffered, but how we respond to it.” [4]

This may actually be the defining characteristic of a Cultivator—as well as the thing that made me realize my husband is a Cultivator himself, whether he realizes it or not. By leading me outdoors where we could find peace amid beauty, by reassuring us both with quiet truth, and by reminding us of God’s goodness with something as simple as pie, he chose joy over despair and helped me do the same.

To paraphrase Lancia, “we tended and defended the field given to us.” [5]

We fashion beauty out of the broken pieces with what skills and strength we have. We are namers and menders. We are singers and writers. We are potters and cooks. We are teachers and healers. We are woodworkers and masons. We are prayers and labourers. We are makers and light-bearers. [6]

With those words, I hear a song growing in intensity in my heart. It reminds me a bit of “Do You Hear the People Sing?” from the mighty Les Miserables: it starts out soft and yearning before it swells into something that has often left me in tears. It’s just so intense with passion, camaraderie, and…and…

Ah. Courage. That’s the word I’m looking for.

As Christ-followers and Christ-lovers fashioned in His image, we are tenacious makers and light-bearers alike. But tiny as our lights might be at first, and feeble and amateur as the craft and vocations we tend may appear, they will produce this courage so precious and often unlooked-for. For ourselves and for those living in community with us.

This is the outpouring of a life rooted in Christ. This is what it means to be a Cultivator.

We recently received a question from a reader asking what the difference is between Cultivating and The Cultivating Project. Here’s the simple answer: The Cultivating Project consists of the writers and makers who produce the content on this site; Cultivating is the publication we put out every season: Winter, Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Christmastide.

But I hope this piece has made it abundantly clear that you don’t have to be a member of our small fellowship to be a Cultivator. The Cultivating Project—this stalwart little group established five years ago—was created to embolden you to pursue “spiritual maturity, deep-rooted relationships, and creative excellence.” [7] Cultivating is published every season with the hopes that our articles, photographs, music, and poetry will give you courage to reclaim, restore, rebuild, and renew what is broken and hungry in your own life.

“We cultivate courage that we may be called oaks of righteousness doing the work of restoration.” [8] And you are doing good, hard, courageous work, too, dear reader. Choose life, joy, and beauty, and know in times of both rain and sun, sorrow and delight, that your labor—your faithful cultivating—is not in vain.

[1] Smith, Lancia E. “Good, True, and Beautiful,” p. 6

[2] The Cultivating Project home page 

[3] Smith, Lancia E. “Good, True, and Beautiful,” p. 16

[4] Ibid., p. 9

[5] Ibid., p. 9

[6] Ibid., p. 9

[7] Ibid., p. 4

[8] Ibid., p. 4

Featured image is courtesy of Lancia E. Smith and is used with her glad permission for Cultivating.


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  1. Tresta says:

    This is full of goodness, Maribeth. Thank you. Disappointment is one of the most stinging emotions to deal with and I am so thankful for good people, like your husband, who can be alongside us and point us onward (to pie or nature or whatever is needed!). Grateful to cultivate alongside you!

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